I left Fiji a week ago for a quick trip to the US. The main purpose of my visit was to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school in Boston. It was a great ceremony, and he flew back to Sophie with me today and will spend a month with us on the boat. This will be Max’s second visit with us since we left San Diego last year.
The thing that struck me the most about this particular trip to the US is the quality, price, and sheer volume of food that my fellow Americans eat. Granted, I was there for a week of celebrations and a bit of a homecoming, but for lack of a better word the overall experience was remarkable.
My food trip started last Monday at my parent’s house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I had completed a simple 3 leg, 28 hour journey to get from Sophie in Savu Savu to Logan Airport in Boston, and it was 3:00 AM by the time I snuck into their guest room and touched my head to a pillow.
I had a quiet morning reconnecting with my parents and ate a Sophie-like breakfast of fruit and toast. But then my brother John swung by with his family on their way back from Cape Cod, and to celebrate my arrival brought with them some takeout lobster rolls. These are considered a New England delicacy, and the ones John brought with him were ENORMOUS. That monster in the photo at the top of the blog is just HALF a lobster roll.
In case you missed it, please let me share it with you again.
Of course I ate it. It was delicious.
Earlier in the day I had gone with my father to a seafood market and bought 8 lobsters along with some clams for steaming. My mom wanted to have some extra food “just in case” anyone happened to drop in. She made a good call, because my daughter Sara was driving down from Maine with her partner Julie, and I had my second lobster meal of the day. The lobsters were OK, but I had never met Julie before and she seems quite nice.
The two of them will be joining us in Vanuatu in September.
The next day I wandered around Shrewsbury visiting some of my old haunts. This included a long walk with Sara.
This is the house I lived in from birth through age 2. I have no memory of it, but it now seems a little small for 2 adults and 5 children. Heck, it seems around the same size as Sophie.
This is Saint Mary’s, the catholic grammar school that I attended from first through eighth grades. I even worked as janitor there for a couple of years, cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms after school. When Sara and I walked past last week, there was a funeral taking place. In addition to being a janitor, I also used to be an altar boy and loved weekday funerals because it gave me a chance to get out of class.
After the school, we walked up the hill to visit the public library. My mom told me they bought a house in the center of town so that we could walk there every day. I did so.
Here is the house I lived in for 16 years. It’s up the street form the library and looks WAY fancier today than it did when I was a kid. The woman who bought it from my parents 14 years ago installed things like the brick driveway, iron railings, lampposts, rooftop patios, and an addition out back. When I lived there it was a great home for my parents, their nine children, and my grandmother. It also required a lot of work, and we had to do chores every day. We did so because it was the right thing to do and also because there was an occasional threat of a wooden spoon.
It was also the source of a LOT of fun. I wrote last year about how we had a pig roast in Tonga with some other boats. Well here is a photo of my parent’s first pig roast in our back yard. They used a fieldstone barbecue that must have been there since the house was built over a hundred years ago. (Please note the wooden keg of beer next to a rhubarb patch in the background of the photo.)
As part our reconnaissance mission, Sara and I snuck into the church parking lot next door and were pleased to see that the old pig roast barbecue is still there.
After visiting the old homestead, Sara and I walked another couple of blocks to visit my grandmother’s grave. She grew up in Newfoundland, which is now part of Canada. The grave is made from granite. This is where my parents will be buried when they die.
As part of her enscription, she has this ball of yarn and crossed knitting needles carved into the headstone. I am not sure what my parents will want as their headstone icons, and I should probably ask them.
OK, I hate being chided about anything, especially going off topic in a blog. Please forgive me for sharing this little walk down memory lane. Let’s get back to food.
That afternoon, Sara and went to Wegman’s, a local gourmet mega-supermarket in the nearby town of Northborough, in order to stock up for a family barbecue that night. In general, I found Wegman’s to be 3 times the size of the largest grocery stores in New Zealand with food that was half the price. I think most people in the U.S. don’t appreciate how inexpensive food (and beer) is there compared to most of the rest of the world. I was a little overwhelmed, especially after spending 6 months in New Zealand where food is expensive. We wound up getting 6 racks of ribs (at $4 a pound!), vegetables, berries, beer, wine, shortcake, whipping cream, and other assorted barbecue stuff. I cooked the ribs in tinfoil on the grill for 5 hours at ~140 degrees F, and they were falling-off-the-bone awesome.
(Jenna just pointed out that you can buy onions here in Fiji for $4 a pound).
The next stop on what was quickly becoming my stateside eating tour was the Boston steakhouse Grill 23 for a Wednesday night pre-graduation celebratory dinner with Max. Back when I worked in the business world, it seems like I would have meals like this once a week. What you are looking at here are 10 oz. filet mignons with buttered mashed potatoes and sides of mac and cheese, asparagus, mushrooms — all preceded by New England seafood chowder and followed by a bourbon apricot crisp. (I also feel like I weighed like 69 pounds more back then compared to know … and “he still lives” to tell about it!)
Anyway, in case you are keeping track, in my first three days in New England I had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, and a decadent filet mignon restaurant meal.
For the morning of Max’s graduation I was still able to squeeze into my suit and head over to Harvard Yard with Max’s girlfriend Becca to watch the morning commencement exercise.
Unfortunately, a proud parent standing next to us decided to record the entire 2 hour parade ceremony on her iPad and blocked our view of Aretha Franklin (and lots of other people) as they walked by. Later on the Law School had a luncheon ceremony where they awarded individual diplomas to all of their graduates. The boxed lunch contained a grilled chicken breast with fried plantains, fruit, and rice. It was excellent, Sophie-like food on a beautiful late spring New England day.
Needless to say I was very proud of my son.
Later that evening we prepared for a celebration barbecue at Max’s apartment on the Cambridge-Somerville line. Earlier in the day his sister and his mom drove out to a German butcher for some sausages, a very Utzschneider thing to do. We had all of our Boston cousins coming over and wanted to celebrate in style with 2 types of bratwurst, Nurenburger wurst, Weiss wurst, and excellent sauerkraut.
To kick things off, Max’s cousin Danny, also known as “the wingman” for his ability to be there when you need him whether it’s a bar or an Oktoberfest tent, took care of the fire. In real life Danny is a biologist in Switzerland.
Once the coals were ready, the brats went on. Here we go again …
While the meat was cooking I took a moment to peruse the bookshelf immediately inside Max’s door. Here is what I found.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Max is going to be a labor lawyer. Like I said, I am very proud of him.
Soon the sausage was ready and the beer was flowing. Here is Max and my brother John talking about life with an admiring Sara in the background. John is a successful corporate lawyer, and Max is, well, Max. Nothing like beer and sausage to help bridge any type of ideological and generational divides. If only real life could work this way.
It was a fun party, we stayed up late, and I even got to see my niece Caroline and her fiancé Alex. They are getting married in Maine in July, and the Sophie crew plans to be there. Here is Caroline’s ring.
But all good things have to come to an end, so on Friday morning I woke up at 6:00 in order to take my eating tour down to Washington DC for my 30th college reunion. I said goodbye to Danny and Sara and headed on my way.
Fortunately I made my flight and was at my hotel in Arlington just in time for lunch. I met up with some of my old Georgetown friends and we decided to walk around DC for a bit. Phil suggested a butcher that sells really good deli sandwiches, so off we went. We ordered our lunch, and it seemed to take an extremely long time to be prepared. We soon would understand why. Phil and his wife Alice ordered a “4 Meat Grinder”, and the result was a sandwich almost a foot and a half long and weighing nearly 5 pounds. (“Grinder” is a northeast US term for a foot and a half long, 5 pound sandwich). This thing was even more impressive when it was laid out on a picnic table.
I decided to be much more subdued and ordered a simple pastrami sandwich, one that I agreed to split with my classmate Laura. Well, this is what HALF a sandwich looked like:
I think the same people who measured John’s lobster roll measured this sandwich. My guess is that this half weighed in at 2-3 pounds, which is more than what we would cook for dinner for Sophie’s crew of 4 back on the boat. But the meat had been wood smoked to perfection.
Of course I ate all of it. It was delicious.
Later that afternoon we walked around our old neighborhood and stopped off at the various houses we lived in. Here is a photo of me, James, and Maureen (who joined us in New Zealand in February) hanging out on the stoop of the “2114” house we lived in for 2 years. The house is looking much fancier today than it did back in the 80’s.
It was a fun walk.
Later that night there was a class reunion reception that ran late. The food was reasonable: sliders, salmon skewers, salad skewers, and what seemed to be fried mac and cheese cakes. (I skipped those but overall I was surprised I could move after the pastrami). But it was a lot of fun to reconnect with many people I hadn’t seen in 30 years.
We all stayed out until 3:00 AM, but I was able to wake up in time to make my 8:30 AM flight to Boston where I hooked up with Max, Becca, Sara, Danny and my father for a dumpling lunch in Boston’s Chinatown. Then Max and I headed for the airport and Fiji (where I am right now.)
So over the course of the week we had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, steak, sausages, pastrami ballast, cocktail food, and dumplings. I saw family, friends, and a memorable academic ceremony. I’m full and I am tired and I am glad to be back on Sophie.
At the bar at Logan Airport there was a display advertising Fiji Water.
Since we actually were flying to Fiji, we decided to pass.
Still pretty lucky.