The day Big Papi called me ‘Mami’

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Tonight Boston said goodbye to one of the greatest to ever don the Red Sox uniform. David Ortiz wasn’t just a fearsome presence at the plate; he was a guy whose love of the game seemed to envelope everyone around him. He played with a passion and sense of humor you felt in the stands, and an enormity of talent that made the seemingly impossible real time and again.

And once about 10 years ago, Big Papi did something else amazing: He called me “Mami”.

We were eight hours into an interminable commercial shoot for Vitamin Water starring Ortiz and former Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher.

Perhaps you’ve seen the ad. In it, the two men are playing on a doubles badminton team presumably in the championship of a tournament in Hong Kong. It’s match point. The crowd is going crazy. Somewhere up in the rafters safely out of the shot, my dad and I are yelling and clapping on command. Again and again we break into raucous applause far out of the frame. (The Craigslist posting for extras neglected to mention that we should probably be Asian.)

We were basically the stars of the whole thing.

After eight hours of cheering and waiting and cheering and waiting, occasionally watching Urlacher or Ortiz dive for the shuttlecock or attempt a wicked spike, we broke for lunch. My dad and I saw the opportunity to end our dalliance with Hollywood, but there was just one thing I needed to do first.

“Excuse me, Papi?” I said as I waded cautiously into the Red Sox great’s conversation.

“What’s up, Mami?” David Ortiz replied.

We told him we were Bostonians, big fans. We gushed a bit ungracefully. Then we snuck out of that commercial shoot, smiles clutching our cheeks, and never looked back.

Thanks for that, Big Papi. Thanks for everything.

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I wrote this book when I was 12 (and it sorta came true)

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So, I’m hanging at my parents’ house in Boston this week, sleeping in my childhood room, sitting on the radiator in the dining room to do work and basically transforming into high school me minus the weird crushes and all-bagel diet.

I am one of those people whose rooms are still more or less how they left them. My kitchen apron from summer 2000 at Chimney Corners Camp (Yippie Ai Aides forever!) is still hung over the door. A photo collage of the Newton North gymnastics team is still on the wall. There are framed pictures of friends I haven’t seen in a very long time and a somewhat creepy double exposure photo of 16-year-old me taken by my then-boyfriend (who did not, as it turns out, become a professional photographer).

And on the bookshelf next to the bed, I just discovered a true masterpiece: I Can’t be Late!! By: Sarah Feldberg.

Yes, I am a published author. Excuse me while I update my LinkedIn profile.

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Please, walk down the middle of the street this weekend

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While the East Coast braces for winter storm Jonas Brothers and toddler-height snow accumulation, San Francisco is just laying back in the cut of perpetual dampness. Seriously, El Niño is one wet kid.

I know, I know. We need the water. Life-ending drought. Desert-inducing climate change. I know it all. And, yes, I’m eternally grateful for this year’s snow pack and the rising levels in local rivers and lakes. Thank you, clouds. Thank you, precipitation. You’ve been missed!

Still, there’s something undeniably thrilling about the collective anticipation of a really big blizzard. The rush to the grocery store, the stocking of booze, the planning of movies to watch and cookies to bake and pajamas to wear. These are good, simple pleasures.

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Best. Hair Day. Ever.

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My dad got an Apple TV recently and found a bunch of old videos on his computer, including the gem where I got this screenshot. It features me, almost age 4, having a dance party with my neighbor Kyra in my parents’ living room. (Thanks to Mom and Dad for that awesome haircut. Now you know where Amelie got her signature look.)

Generally, I find home videos of small children pretty useless—including those starring yours truly—but this one reminded me of the kind of uninhibited dancing that generally ends sometime before middle school (and only resumes after the fifth vodka soda). Let’s all break it down a little more often—looming hangover not required.

 

Thinking about Boston

The women's leaders, including eventual winner Rita Jeptoo, fly past us at mile 21 of the 2014 Boston Marathon. By Tovin Lapan

The women’s leaders, including eventual winner Rita Jeptoo, fly past us at mile 21 of the 2014 Boston Marathon. By Tovin Lapan

It’s taken me a few weeks to digest my trip to Boston for this year’s marathon—an undeniably joyous, inevitably sad, wholly inspirational weekend in a city that’s usually just home.

As one of Boston’s holiest days turned to chaos and despair last year, I sat on a couch in Las Vegas, riveted and disturbed, wishing I could be there with loved ones and grateful to be far away. I promised myself (and my boyfriend) that this year we would be there. Boston strong. Home sweet home. All of that.

When we landed for a long April weekend that would culminate in the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, there was a buzz of energy about the city that I didn’t recognize—a mix of nerves, enthusiasm, pride and fear. The recent tragedy and the town’s gritty resilience echoed in every BAA jacket, every Boston Strong poster, ever lean-legged runner walking the Back Bay in sneakers. Even the mundane carried the weight of meaning. It was, frankly, a bit overwhelming.

The day before the race, Tovin, our friend Tristan and I hopped the Green Line to Copley for lunch and a little sight-seeing. Instead of staring into cellphone screens or at the passing homes and tunnel walls, strangers on the train were striking up conversations, swapping marathon stories, and sharing why they’d decided to come or who they were here to watch. The ride felt nothing like a normal trip on the T. It was warm and oddly welcoming, like we were all regulars in some stuffy, chugging coffee shop on rails.

By the time I hit the course on Monday morning—mile 21, just past the crest of Heartbreak Hill near my parents’ house—I didn’t know what to feel. So I did what I’ve always done at the Boston Marathon: I cheered, and watched, and marveled, and encouraged. I hugged runner friends who arrived red-faced and beaming, laughed at the military police taking pictures for posing families and screamed my head off when Meb came streaking by on his way to being the first American to take the laurels in decades.

And when it was time to go, I finally felt calm. Boston strong. Home sweet home. All of that.

Are the chefs lying to me?

Biscuits: the homemade variety. Photo by Tovin Lapan

This is a blog about biscuits. Incredible biscuits. But it’s also about the truth.

It all started last year when I picked up a copy of Saveur in the Denver Airport and opened it to find a picture of Island Creek Oyster Bar chef Jeremy Sewall with his famous biscuits. Giant, fluffy, golden monsters draped in honey rosemary butter that sell for $4 a piece at the Kenmore Square restaurant in Boston, these biscuits had become a minor obsession for Tovin and me since we tried them a few summers ago. I’d tried to get the recipe through a half-hearted Twitter campaign. But the ICOB social media team stayed tough. Damn them.

But thanks to Saveur, the recipe was mine. There was much rejoicing and texting.

Tovin and I whipped up a batch not too long after landing back in Vegas. We followed the recipe step by step, but the dough was dry and crumbly. So, we tried again, shaping bigger biscuits this time, hoping to approximate Island Creek’s pillowy carbo goodness. More crumbs. Finally, I asked a pastry chef for her professional diagnosis. More buttermilk, she said.

Our third attempt was the best one yet—dough that kept its shape, large, hot biscuits with soft, fluffy centers and lots of that honey butter. But something was still off. We were still eating amateur hour.

I mentioned my plight to a friend whose work involves the restaurant industry, and she laughed. Chefs never give out their real recipes, she said. What we’d gotten were general guidelines, a rough sketch that with the proper technique and generous tweaking could come close to the real deal. The recipe wasn’t a blue print, it was paint by numbers directions.

Which brings me (finally) to the question I’ve really been wanting to ask: Are the chefs lying? Are they keeping the secrets of their signature dishes even as they claim to reveal all? Is it all a big farce?

Either way, I’m determined that Tovin and I will conquer the Island Creek Oyster Bar biscuits. (On a recent trip to Boston, a friend with some inside information mentioned layers.) With some experimentation, a few more batches and maybe a tasting session or two at the source, we’ll get closer. And when we want the real thing, well, we’ll know where to go.

Your new favorite biscuits (trust me)

The biscuit-lover in this family is definitely Tovin. The man has a Montgomery Biscuits baseball hat (their mascot is a biscuit with a pad of butter for a tongue), nicknamed our dog Biscuit and orders the delightful carb bombs pretty much everywhere we go. Two years ago at his birthday dinner, we discovered the best biscuits in the world. They’re made at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston.

Yes, Boston isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word biscuits, but these beauties are golden brown flaky treats drenched in butter and honey with a hint of rosemary. They run $4 a pop, and take up most of the plate they’re served on. I’ve been singing their praises ever since that dinner, and thanks to Saveur annual Saveur 100 issue, now I have chef Jeremy Sewell’s recipe. We haven’t quite been able to capture the lightness of his version yet. But I’m confident we’ll get there with a little more practice.