I packed up my things and scoured my mother’s house for loose objects to take with me, little things she would not notice were gone. I opened the fridge, said goodbye to everything in there, and closed it. My brother rang the bell when he and his wife arrived outside. They helped me load my suitcases into their car before heading out for our 5-hour drive to Princeton, New Jersey, which is where they currently live. I’ve moved and they’ve moved from Boston. The chickens have flown the proverbial coop and we are all now guests in what used to be our home. But certain places bring back memories and make us feel at home again. For me, that’s Craigie, Citizen’s, OTTO’s. For my brother and his wife it’s Simon’s Coffee Shop, near Porter Square. It’s a small, unassuming neighborhood cafe where customers are treated as individuals. Time is taken to make things pretty, crunchy, warm. When I asked for a bag to take a small leftover to go, the guy reached over for said leftover, wax paper wrapping and taping it down himself. That kind of thing. We stopped here to fuel up before hitting I-90. A sandwich and some coffee, one last nice thing in Cambridge.
The able baristas at Simon’s take their latte art pretty seriously and each espresso drink comes with a wonderful rosetta or multi-tiered tulip carefully formed out of foam. I had a fantastically rich, dark mocha which was blended nicely, not too sweet in the least. The fluffy white milk froth was dotted here and there with specks of bittersweet cocoa powder that melted into patches, providing periodic boosts of flavor. The milk was steamed to a nice temperature too.
And to eat, my sister-in-law asked the guy for the sandwich they regularly ordered back when they lived in Cambridge but one which was no longer on the menu. “The old turkey sandwich.” After quickly checking whether they still had everything to make it, he rang us up and a few minutes there it was. Turkey, Swiss, lettuce and tomato layered between two slices of multigrain toast, smeared with a thin layer of honey mustard. I had thought I was done with turkey for a while after eating it nearly every day of the week that followed Thanksgiving dinner. But, surprisingly, the sandwich hit the spot. The meat was clean. The fibers separated nicely, as they do in real meat, as they don’t in the mucous-coated cold cut often passed off as turkey in many a deli sandwich. And the fibers were not dry but juicy, plump and soft, with the slice of tomato adding even more moisture. The Swiss added a funky kick while the honey mustard provided the majority of the flavor, tangy and sweet with a nice bit of heat too. Crunchy toast with crisp, earthy-tasting grains was a nice contrast to the delicate white meat.
A brief glimpse into what trigger’s their nostalgia. And with that we were off, on route back to the lives we chose.