Category Archives: Boston/Cambridge events

Just Another Scandalous day in Harvard Square

 

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Kerry Washington took time out of her busy schedule playing the best-dressed, Châteauneuf-du-Pape-sipping, popcorn-munching D.C. fixer on television—Olivia Pope in Scandal, of course—to play with some Harvard undergrads in the midst of a frigid New England winter.

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT) comedy troupe chose Washington as their 2016 Woman of the Year. The oldest theater company in the nation, HPT is operated by Harvard students and associated with notable alumni including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jack Lemmon, and Rashida Jones (not to mention several U.S. presidents).

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The 66th woman honored with the prestigious Pudding Pot award, Washington now shares the privilege with an illustrious group of women including Katherine Hepburn (1958), Meryl Streep (1980), Whoopi Goldberg (1993), and Helen Mirren (2014).

With that in mind, earning the unconventional award is no small feat, as Washington proved on stage January 28.

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(Mike Lawrie photo)

Following the annual parade––sequined, wigged, fabulous cross-dressing HPT cast members escorting the Woman of the Year down Massachusetts Avenue in a Bentley––was the traditional, sometimes humorous roast of Washington on stage at Farkas Hall.

It started with an innocuous introduction, peppered with a few playful jabs from the roast hosts, HPT President Bobby Fitzpatrick (’16) and HPT168 Producer Kennedy Edmonds (’17):

  • Washington made the Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people of 2014 list…along with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un. (Well played, HPT.)
  • She turned down admission to Yale, which her roasters claimed was her only redeeming quality. (I beg to differ.)
  • Instead, she attended George Washington University, prompting the punchline, “Sounds like nepotism.” (HAH!)

 

The Pudding Pot dedication was interrupted by an audience “heckler”–a cast member dressed as Monica Lewinsky, in what else but a blue dress and black beret. (HPT relies heavily on stereotypes and caricatures, and this proved no exception.)

Lewinsky claimed that Washington was “playing seductive all wrong” (referring to the latter’s onscreen illicit romance with fictional U.S. President Fitzgerald Grant), and challenged the guest of honor to earn her award.

Lewinsky’s parting words: “As I always say, ‘Watch out for Hillary!'”

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Thus commenced Washington’s Herculean tasks:

Since her character Olivia Pope plays a D.C. political fixer, the HPT cast claimed that she first must “break shit” as she participated in a game show called “Smash That Thing!”.

Her first target was a piñata, which she teased represented “the jokes that hurt me deeply.”

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The second was a bouquet of balloons with her face, which the cast instructed her to pop. Without missing a beat, Washington joked, “That’s, like, against my Neutrogena contract.”

Then, the “Smash That Thing” host told her she must destroy a 12-inch Lenovo laptop. Washington balked. “Only at Harvard…” she said, followed by, “This is crazy! Somebody needs this!”

She agreed to take a hammer to the laptop if HPT donated a functioning one to someone in need. They acquiesced, at least in the moment. (I’ve yet to follow up on that agreement.)

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Before obliterating the screen, Washington yelled, “Take that, Monica!”

When the host informed her that there was yet one more smash task, Washington replied, “Is there a Bentley?”

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(Keith Bedford photo)

The remaining endeavors included egg cracking (on the host’s bouffant hairdo), a pseudo-Neutrogena ad involving a Harvard “pimple boy,” a popcorn-eating contest with “Fat Elephant,” an altercation with Donald Trump‘s Harvard doppelgänger, and serenading a personified “bitch baby” (another Scandal reference) to sleep.

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(Elise Amendola photo)

In the star-studded performance rife with nods to pop culture and current events, the highlights were Washington’s impromptu musical numbers. She and an HPT Ray Charles sang a lullaby duet  (Washington played Charles’ wife in the 2004 film Ray), and she belted out a captivating rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do With It.”

 

Needless to say, Washington handily earned her 2016 Woman of the Year Pudding Pot. She claimed, “This is the best worst day ever,” and said the HPT cast got her to do things that she had been avoiding for years.

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Washington graciously accepted the honor with some parting words:

“I’m joining the ranks of esteemed women who have made asses of themselves.”

Toying with her roasters, she called out HPT for their exclusion of women, saying that they “make really ugly drag queens.” Washington’s dig prompted the fake Lewinsky to flash a blue-pantied crotch in an unscripted response.

In response, Washington praised the real Lewinsky for her anti-bullying activism. Then, she asked the cast and the audience to stand and make pledge:

“Repeat after me: I, state your name, followed by the appropriate Roman numeral,” she started, underscoring the WASPy privilege associated with Harvard.

After implying that the members might try acting for a few years, then give up to run their dad’s hedge fund, Washington struck a more serious note and reminded everyone that equal pay, diversity, and making room for others at the table are essential responsibilities, particularly among the Ivy League elite.

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“Please don’t stop stepping into other people’s shoes,” she said. “They don’t have to be pumps.”

Almost as an afterthought, Washington casually reminded everyone to tune into the February 11 midseason premiere of Scandal.

You can watch HPT’s 168th performance, That 1770s Show, at Farkas Hall through March 6. The cast takes the show on the road to NYC’s Kaye Playhouse Theater March 11-12, and then to Bermuda’s Hamilton City Hall March 16-18.

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Yoga Hurts So Good (Or Does It Just Hurt?)

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The word “yoga” invokes visions of incense, gongs and meditation––not torn hamstrings, cracked ribs and hospital visits. Yet, the number of yoga-related trips to the emergency room is on the rise.

Enthusiasts tout the discipline’s positive results, which include stress reduction, boosted energy levels, improved sex life and greater flexibility. But a growing dialogue about the risky nature and potential harm of yoga has emerged, particularly as the number of students––and subsequent number of injuries––increases.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicates an upward trend of yoga-relate injuries. It reported 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms in 2010, an increase from roughly 5500 in 2007. Since these statistics do not include injuries treated by chiropractors, massage therapists and other non-traditional healers, the overall number is likely higher.

Many experts––including instructors, sports therapists and chiropractors––argue that the risks and issues stem not from the practice itself, but from other sources. The most frequently cited culprits include inexperienced instructors, a commodity-driven yoga business, personal ego, preexisting medical conditions and overemphasis on the physical components of a yoga routine.

e2436a739044a9bf6a7eb2c660a4f288Dr. Sunit Jolly, D.C., is a Boston-based chiropractor who has treated many patients with yoga-related injures. She attributes the pain to a misalignment resulting from a series of movements and a gradual breakdown.

“I don’t think it was yoga that actually hurt them,” Jolly says. “Most people assume [they feel pain] because of one specific injury, but the truth is that unless you have trauma, it happens slowly over time.”

As a result, when students start a yoga practice and injure themselves, they directly link the pain to specific postures and activity.  The most common injuries Jolly address relate to the lower back, which is usually affected by lumbar flexion activities common to yoga.

“If people are coming from prolonged sitting, their ligament restraints are relaxed,” she says. “With lumbar flexion, the restraints aren’t working, and the spine will go beyond its natural limit. Yoga can be the straw that breaks the camels back, so to speak.”

Jolly believes that yoga injuries fall into two major categories: people who push their bodies into painful positions without paying attention to the discomfort; and those whose spines slowly slip out of alignment and result in pain when shifted into certain postures, often those with lumbar flexion.

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According to the independent yoga organization North American Studio Alliance (NAMASTA), between 2008 and 2013, the number of people practicing yoga increased by 20 percent. Also, the amount spent on yoga-related products increased 87 percent, totaling approximately $27 billion in 2013. With more people practicing yoga, a higher number of injuries naturally follows.

However, yoga teachers like Justine Cohen, owner of Down Under Yoga in Newton and Brookline, rarely encounter students injuring themselves. Cohen attributes the low rate of injury in her studio to proper instruction and uniformity in teacher training. She believes that yoga classes, in general, lack these two qualities, which has resulted in preventable physical injury.
“You can get hurt from any activity done badly or incorrectly,” she says. “Well-instructed yoga doesn’t tend to result in injuries.”

Cohen claims that Down Under Yoga employs managers with extensive training to greet students and counsel them on appropriate class levels. All of the teachers learn about their students’ respective backgrounds before allowing them to join advanced classes. Cohen says that she has a strict policy of directing inexperienced students to introductory levels.

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Joetta Maue, who specializes in Ashtanga yoga––a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois––agrees that proper instruction is essential to preventing injury. Maue has taught yoga around the United States, including Ohio and Massachusetts, for 14 years, and learned firsthand the consequences of faulty practice as a student. While in triangle pose, she required assistance in adjusting her hips, which the instructor pulled forward, resulting in injury.

“I love deep adjustments, but that was the one time I got injured doing yoga,” Maue says. “The teacher didn’t need to hold my hips. She could have just reminded me.”

She also believes that as yoga grows in popularity, the market has become over-saturated and filled with insufficiently trained instructors. As a money-making industry, yoga has expanded into a numbers game, which can compromise the quality of teaching, Maue claims.

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“There is a lot of pressure for teachers to please the masses,” she says. “Now the practice is more commodity-based.”

Whereas yogis used to study for years before teaching their craft, the Western market has now made teacher training a fast-paced, convenient process for aspiring instructors. Maue studied for nearly a year before teaching, but that has changed since her training nearly two decades ago.

“I don’t buy that you can learn to be a teacher in a month,” she says. “There is now little difference between yoga and exercise classes. Both need to make money.”

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Steve Weiss, an instructor specializing in the Iyengar practice––a detail-oriented form of hatha yoga developed in the 1970s by B.K.S. Iyengar––also stresses the pitfalls of modern teaching credentials. Rather than an emphasis on knowledge, wisdom and specific experience, the basic teaching qualifications require a minimum number of practice hours, Weiss claims.

“Teachers come from a variety of backgrounds that do not have a sign-off from anything other than an organization that merely recognizes hours,” he says. “That seems to invite some serious problems of an illusion of some certified training guaranteeing knowledge, but what’s the basis of that knowledge?”

Weiss also believes that an overemphasis on the physical aspect of yoga, rather than the mental or spiritual, often results in physical pain. He claims that Iyengar himself stresses that yoga is not  solely a physical practice.

“Discussions on yoga in the 19th century in America, primarily by Swami Vivekananda, renounced the physical practice,” Weiss says. “Vivekananda was worried people would be too infatuated with their own physical improvement and miss the point of yoga entirely.”

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He agrees with Vivekananda and believes that modern practitioners in the Western world trade spiritual development for a physically strenuous practice, often leading to imbalance and subsequent injury.

Colleen Carney, owner of Back in Motion in Boston, has noticed a greater focus on yoga’s physical component. During her 23 years as massage therapist, specializing in athletic training and recovery, she has seen a range of injuries, many resulting from yogic postures.

“Yoga has increased in popularity over the last five to 10 years and has become a go-to exercise,” she says. “People gravitate toward it because they have an impression that it’s extremely beneficial, and they subconsciously believe that they can’t get hurt.”

image-full;max$248,0(Colleen Carney, Boston-based massage therapist and owner of Back in Motion.)

Carney encourages yoga practice, particularly for individuals who want to increase their range of motion. However, her concern is that individuals who use yoga as a sole exercise practice do little else physically and, therefore, increase their risk of injury.

“People who do a lot of yoga can do splits when they’re 50, but they often lack strength and stability,” she says. “They need to do something to hold up over time.”

She also warns that flexibility alone, a primary reason people practice yoga, does little to benefit the body. It constitutes but one element of many that help with overall physical wellness.

“Anything we do has wear and tear on our bodies,” she says. “I don’t want to bash yoga.”

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The best solution, according to Carney, includes a mixture of dynamic strength-training exercises and more passive, flexibility-oriented activities. She says that relying solely on the latter increases the chance of discomfort and injury.

“It’s overrated to be stretching so much,” Carney says. “Mobility and flexibility come from joints, and [over-stretching] can dislocate joints or pull ligaments.”

She believes that the increasingly popular heated yoga adds to the practice’s overall appeal. The hotter the class is, the more intense the workout feels, even if artificially. It makes students feel that their flexibility is greater than it would be in normal circumstances.

“There is an idea that sweat equals a workout,” she says. “I can sweat, too, if I’m in a 150-degree room.”

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Carney emphasizes the importance of balance in exercise for optimal health and minimal risk of injury. she encourages variety to mix up routine and work on an equilibrium of strength, flexibility, endurance and agility.

“When anything hurts, you have to pay attention,” she says.

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The Evolution of Steve Darwin

Patrons sip on mugs of herbal tea, nibble scones and line up to order specialty sandwiches at Darwin’s Ltd. on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. A light murmur of coffee-fueled socializing circulates the café and sandwich shop at lunchtime.

“People come here not just for the food, but for something else,” says owner Steven Darwin. “You can ask them what that is, and a lot of them don’t know.”

Darwin thinks he knows what it is, though. He attributes the business’s popularity to life changes made 15 years ago, when he faced major personal and professional crises. Darwin overhauled his diet, attitude and beliefs, and started a regular yoga practice. The results helped improve his work life and his marriage.

“I don’t think that Darwin’s would have survived as a business if I did not discover yoga,” the 49-year-old business owner says.

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In 1993, Darwin and his wife, Isabel, opened the sandwich shop, and eventually expanded the space to accommodate a café. Another Darwin’s Ltd. thrives on Cambridge Street on the opposite side of Harvard Square, and a third will open on Massachusetts Avenue near MIT later this year.

After opening the first store, where Isabel initially worked as the head chef, the couple struggled to share a tiny work space. Tensions mounted and Darwin’s physical and mental health declined. In 1998, while on a camping trip with his wife and college friends, Darwin suffered a nervous breakdown, causing him to consider ending both his marriage and his business.

“I wasn’t healing because nothing was congruent,” Darwin says. “Everything was a reflection of what I was, which sucked at the time.”

He explains that ‘namaste,’ a common term used in yoga, is like a mirror image. It can reflect the positive aspects or the darkness and negativity, depending on whatever emanates from the individual at the time.

“Namaste means ‘the light in me reflects the light in you,’” Darwin says. “Or it could be the asshole in me reflects the asshole in you. It could be anything. [It’s] my energetic person that dictates my business.”

Darwin decided to change his approach to business and life, and he sought help from friends, conventional doctors and alternative healers. One acquaintance introduced him to rolfing, a type of forceful massage therapy that repositions tissue under the skin.  The rolfer encouraged Darwin to take regular yoga classes between sessions to maintain a level of openness.

Shortly after his daughter, Chelsea, was born in 1998, Darwin took that advice and worked yoga into his daily routine. He explored different yoga types and found the classes at Baptiste Yoga in Porter Square––when owner Baron Baptiste charged only $10 per class and taught them himself––the most helpful.


Baptiste told students that one or two classes per week would make them feel better, but that practicing yoga five times per week would change their lives, Darwin recalls. Three months into his own practice, Darwin felt that his life began to transform in positive ways, but he still struggled with health problems. His medical doctor referred him to Ron Cruickshank, a Cambridge-based homeopathic healer and acupuncturist.

Cruickshank, a fan of Darwin’s Ltd. and its menu, nonetheless placed Darwin on an austere dietary regimen––restricting for one year all forms of caffeine, dairy products, refined sugar, processed foods, drugs and alcohol––claiming that the plan was to crash Darwin’s system and, ultimately, shake up his life. Cruickshank predicted that the internal changes would affect his patient’s external environment, notably with a massive turnover of employees.

Darwin, skeptical of the restrictions, asked Cruickshank incredulously, “Do you know what I do for a living?” Most items at Darwin’s Ltd. contain at least one of those ingredients.

Cruickshank emphasized the importance of trusting in universal principles, regardless of how unlikely his predictions seemed at the time. Darwin reluctantly acquiesced, but noticed almost immediate results. He says that within one month of this drastic shift, 15 to 20 of his employees left voluntarily, and new, more qualified workers replaced them.

“My energetic level changed, resulting in a new dynamic,” Darwin says. “There was a crescendoing effect. It was no longer the environment it once was, and people were dropping like flies.”

Shortly thereafter, he expanded his business on Mount Auburn Street. The growth felt easier and more natural after the internal cleansing process. Everything, Darwin says, ran more smoothly, and the concrete results encouraged him to take yoga more seriously. He upgraded from a casual practitioner to a yoga teacher, and underwent a four-year teacher study project while running his business. Eventually, Darwin worked as an instructor at Karma and be. in Union yoga studios.

He admits to approaching the discipline with a more ego-driven attitude than he does now. Practicing alongside younger, less athletic students and instructors, Darwin felt tempted to push himself beyond reasonable physical limits.

“I thought, ‘If this scrawny 21-year-old can do it, so can I,’” he says. “It was self-induced and required a a trip to the chiropractor.”

He has less to prove now, but that process has occurred over several years. Isabel believes that her husband’s ego initially prompted him to teach yoga, and it provided a humbling experience. After receiving honest feedback from his yoga peers, she says, Darwin began to see himself differently.

“Steve’s motivation to become a teacher was about ego, about receiving the attention and admiration that a teacher receives from his students,” she says.

Isabel thinks that he grew less controlling and more accepting as a result of teaching yoga. According to Darwin, his wife and his staff, he now delegates more responsibility to his managers, trusting their abilities and judgment in a way he didn’t before.

In the basement office of the Mount Auburn shop, Darwin describes some of the more recent challenges––plumbing, grease traps, coffee machines––plaguing his business. The phone rings, as it often does. Employees swoop in and out of the office. Pandemonium ensues, yet Darwin smiles and sits calmly at the center of the chaos.

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His general manager, Joetta Maue, a former yoga instructor and longtime practitioner herself, says that she has seen changes in both the store and her boss since meeting him 11 years ago. In 2003 she started working for Darwin, when he had a regular yoga practice but hadn’t yet begun teaching it. After more than two years at Darwin’s Ltd., Maue left Boston. She returned to the city and her job at the store in 2012, and observed a newfound calmness in her boss.

“I notice a difference when he’s attending more yoga classes,” she says.

Maue notes that Darwin is now more aware of the need to let go and trust the people he has trained. During her first stint at the store, she sensed that he had was more anxious and controlling.

The two remind each other when they need to attend more yoga, she says. Such prompts encourage Darwin to continue his practice, but he attends fewer classes now than he has in the past. Fearing that absorbing any more might make him dogmatic and obnoxious, he has scaled back on the physical routine. Too much of anything, he says, is just too much.

Still with Isabel, who has been his partner for 29 years, Darwin now manages his marriage, work and life with less stress. He stopped teaching yoga last summer and spends more time rock climbing, mountain biking and skiing with his wife. Darwin focuses more on the expansion of his stores, which has become a full-time venture. He still applies yoga to every facet of his life, though.

“I had to really trust that these principles do work, and then reposition myself as believing this,” he says. “Even though in Scientific American terminology, there’s no proof of any of this shit.”

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Valentine’s Day Massage

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Aloha and happy February!
Winter is halfway over, the days are getting longer, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
Aloha Boston Massage wants to help you make this a memorable holiday for yourself and that special someone.

What better way to heat up the season and honor Cupid than with a relaxing massage?
It’s a gift that your sweetheart will never forget.

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Here are seven great reasons to say “I love you” with a massage this Valentine’s Day:

1) It’s low-carb and easier on your blood sugar (and hips) than a Russell Stover chocolate sampler.

2) Shoveling snow is hard work after a Nor’easter. Thank your loved one for all of that hard work with the promise of having those knots kneaded out.

3) It is cheaper and easier to book than dinner for two (or even one) at O-Ya.

4) Natural and healthy, it is non-GMO and appeals to every taste: no dairy, gluten, peanuts, pesticides, additives, preservatives, artificial colors or sweeteners added!

5) A massage is a much grander gesture than a last-minute Hallmark card or stuffed puppy holding a heart.

6) Of course she loves you, but this is a way to guarantee that she leaves fully satisfied. (Uh, relaxed, that is…haha!)

7) For all of the single folks, show your appreciation to the greatest loved one of all: yourself!

So, what are you waiting for? Buy a gift certificate or book your Valentine’s Day massage today!

http://www.alohabostonmassage.com

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FoMu: An Alternative Ice Cream Experience

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(Astrid Lium photos)

Vegan ice cream sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. But this ostensible contradiction bears a striking resemblance to the original milky treat. With the help of FoMu (as in “faux moo”), the non-dairy alternative is quickly scooping out a niche in Boston’s ice cream market.

FoMu is a specialty shop offering vegan-friendly alternatives to the usual ice cream options. According to co-owner Deena Jalal, “it is like ice cream for foodies.” At the two store locations, customers of all dietary backgrounds can choose from unconventional flavors like avocado, Thai chili peanut, and rice honey lavender alongside the more traditional vanilla bean or chocolate.

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Jalal and her husband, Hin Tang, opened the first FoMu alternative ice cream shop and café in Allston on May 30, 2012, but the idea was a decade in the making. Jalal believes that the business move was a fateful one.

“The universe just aligned us right,” she says. “And it flowed.”

Jalal and Tang initially embarked on more conventional career paths––in marketing and finance, respectively. But the entrepreneurial couple had dreams that transcended life in corporate America.

“For years we said, ‘we’ll open an ice cream place someday,’ ” Jalal recalls. “We always had the dream in the back of our heads.”

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The duo created their local, vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free product with widespread dietary restrictions in mind. They have a growing number of friends and family members with allergies and lactose intolerance, whom they wanted to accommodate while also creating a healthy treat with broader appeal.

Jalal and Tang started with coconut milk because of the health benefits, flavor, and low rate of coconut allergies. Containing omega fatty acids, vitamins B and C, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, coconut provided a natural, healthy alternative to cow’s milk.

“It’s a cure for everything,” Jalal says.

They added almond and cashew-based blends for some frozen creams, and a soy base for the soft serve options. Agave and unrefined organic cane sugar provide the sweetness. Gluten-free cones and toppings are available for the wheat-free customers. FoMu’s kitchen is located in Watertown, where small batches of ice cream are made daily and delivered. Local partners include Taza chocolate, George Howell coffee, MEM Tea, and Bonnieville cookies.

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The couple started by selling their product to local cafés, including Veggie Planet and Life Alive. The demand grew quickly, prompting Jalal and Tang to open their own shop. They found a space in a predominantly vegetarian corner of Allston, near other vegan-friendly restaurants like Grasshopper and Deep Ellum.

The name, which is self-explanatory, also has a sense of humor. “More effort went into that name than our own son’s name!” Jalal says with a laugh. “We wanted to embody what we were putting out with something abstract and obvious.”

They applied the same thoughtfulness and fun to the dynamic menu, which expands and changes slightly with the seasons. The inspirations generally come from foods and beverages that Jalal, Tang, and their loved ones enjoy. Paying homage to a friend who frequently ordered dark n’ stormy cocktails, they transformed the rum-based drink into an ice cream flavor. Thai peanut stemmed from Jalal’s love of Thai food. Salted caramel, the shop’s biggest seller, seemed like an obvious choice.

But not all of the experiments translated so well. “Unfortunately, sriracha didn’t work out,” Jalal says. “It was too garlicky, and that’s gross.”

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FoMu immediately attracted a loyal following of vegans, lactose intolerant customers, alternative foodies with a sweet tooth, and health-conscious parents treating their kids. Regulars began to encourage a second location in the funky, vegetarian-friendly neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Taking their advice, the co-owners found a vacant space on Centre Street. They opened the second shop in the former shoe store, Got Sole, on April 16, 2013.

Jalal attributes FoMu’s popularity to the alternative options it provides, as well as the overall quality of their product. She notes that many of the patrons are animal-free for varying reasons, both personal and political. Many first-time patrons don’t realize that the ice cream is non-dairy.

“Across the board, people come in, they try it, and they like it,” Jalal says. “We use good ingredients. There’s not a lot of crap in it.”

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The friendly atmosphere and unconventional flavors attract employees along with customers. FoMu’s staff currently includes about 30 workers. Some of them, like Vanessa Saravia, started as patrons.

She discovered the shop while doing laundry in the neighborhood and started working there in June. Saravia moved from her home in California to attend Boston College, and began to miss the robust food culture that she believes Boston lacks. FoMu helped assuage the homesickness with its tight-knit community and unique flavors.

“It’s like ice cream with personality,” she says. “I’m not even vegan, but I still come in here on my days off.”

Her favorite parts of her job include the mandatory ice cream tasting and the connections she makes with customers, particularly the weekend regulars. When she started, Saravia recalls the patience and reassurance of the patrons, who recognized her as the new girl in the shop. They offered encouragement rather than frustration when she was learning the ropes.

Her weeklong training included an education of the shop’s health-conscious philosophy; a crash course in the ingredients and health benefits; a hands-on apprenticeship of the specialty coffees; and, of course, taste testing the goods.

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(FoMu co-workers Vanessa Saravia [left] and Megan Ramette take a break at the Allston shop.)

Saravia’s co-worker, Megan Ramette, offers samples to an eclectic crowd of customers on a Sunday afternoon. A six-person, three-generation family stands in line, trying bites of cardamom pistachio and cherry amaretto before placing their final orders. Tattooed men in black tee shirts with skulls and eagles sample the smaller variety of nut blends. Bespectacled hipsters in skinny jeans test out the chunky chocolate flavors.

Ramette offers each one with a smile and asks every patron if they would like to try another.

“I get tons of questions and requests for lots of samples,” she says. “You can try as many as you’d like. You want to know what you’re gonna get, right?”

Roxbury resident Jacquinn Williams frequents Jamaica Plain’s restaurant-strewn Centre Street, where she first discovered FoMu. Both lactose and soy-intolerant, Williams embraces the vegan ice cream option, and returns to the shop regularly. Her favorite flavors include saffron rosewater, honey lavender, maple walnut, and mango habanero.

“Life for me is all about reading [food] labels and avoiding most fast food and semi-slow food eateries,” she says. “If I could eat [at FoMu] every day and not be fat, I would.”

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(A small cup serving of bourbon maple walnut ice cream)

Jalal acknowledges that FoMu doesn’t appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t shake her confidence in the product. She doesn’t deem J.P. Licks, located just blocks away in Jamaica Plain, a competitor. There is enough room in the neighborhood for the traditional and alternative non-dairy counterparts.

“We really are such a specialty product,” says Jalal. “We’re supplementing, not competing, with a healthier, more conscious product.”

With two retail shops established and a growing fan base, Jalal and Tang remain open to expanding their retail and wholesale sales. The goals include more Boston locations as well as business at high-end grocers like Whole Foods.

The couple take the same laid-back and open-minded approach to the future in the same way they have every other step of the process. Again, Jalal emphasizes the importance of not forcing circumstances and simply letting them flow. In the meantime, she spends every day between the two shops, doing what she loves.

“I have an awesome job,” Jalal says. “It’s ice cream!”

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Porter Café Adds Irish Flair to Centre Street

A modern Irish pub in West Roxbury offers craft beers, hearty food and a lively atmosphere.

 (All photos provided by Astrid Lium.)

Overview: , which , is the newest addition to Centre Street’s restaurant scene in West Roxbury. Located on the same block as and across the street from , Porter rounds out the area with a modern Irish pub option. Co-owners and Ireland natives, Paul Murphy and Dermot Loftus, have worked at various establishments around Brookline and Dublin, taking their expertise and experience to West Roxbury.

Atmosphere: Long and narrow, the pub utilizes its small dining space with a few tables and a lengthy bar. Red walls, warm lighting, high ceilings and virtually no artwork give the place a cozy, down-to-earth vibe. Wide mirrors reflect the light and walls, making the interior feel more spacious. The background music is low and folksy, but the chatter can reach almost intrusive decibels when the restaurant is packed with patrons. The size, ambience and exterior facade somewhat resemble Matt Murphy’s in Brookline, which may be explained by the owners’ previous experience there.

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Drinks: Long on beer and wine options, Porter is really a bar with sit-down food service. By the glass ($7-$9) or bottle ($28-$45), wine options include sparkling, white, rosé, and red. The pub is best known for its beer (about 75 to choose from), which is categorized as draft ($5-$6), can ($4-$6), large format ($7-$19), fruit ($5-$8), or bottle ($3.50-$8). From local lagers and California pale ales to Irish cider and fruity Canadian brews, Porter runs the gamut. And, yes, there is Guinness.

Appetizers: The food menu takes up less space than the beer list. Porter keeps its options simple yet somewhat diverse in nature. Starters include mussels steamed in coconut curry sauce (served with crusty bread, $11), simple mixed greens (with goat cheese and lemon caraway dressing, $7), and grilled fish tacos (two of them, served with salsa and cilantro lime cream, $8).

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Entrées: The meaty establishment offers one vegetarian-friendly main dish: roasted butternut squash risotto ($16), which is warm and filling. The others are all more carnivorous in nature: braised pork shank (fall vegetables, crushed Yukon potatoes, red wine reduction, $$19), roasted cod (buttered leeks, cauliflour, $18), and steak frites (maitre d’butter, cress salad, $18).

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Desserts: What Porter lacks in liquor and sweets it makes up for in craft beers and hearty bar food. The filling dishes wouldn’t leave much room for dessert, anyway.

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Service: Just like the restaurant itself, Porter Café’s service is straight-forward and no-nonsense. The waitress was accommodating when asked something, but granted enough privacy to enjoy a meal in as much peace and quiet as can be expected in a small, crowded pub. Competent yet not overbearing, the overall service was fine and reflective of Porter Café’s laid back nature.

Contact: 1723 Centre St., West Roxbury
617-942-2579
http://www.portercafe.com

Hours: Open nightly for dinner:
Tuesday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m.
Sunday-Monday, 4-10 p.m.
Bar is open until 1 a.m.

Owners: Paul Murphy and Dermot Loftus

Chef: Jimmy Whelen

Price: $$

(This article was originally published by West Roxbury Patch, http://westroxbury.patch.com/groups/business-news/p/porter-caf-adds-irish-flair-to-centre-street, on January 25, 2012.)

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Poppin’ Tags in Boston: Think Globally, Thrift Locally

Poppin’ tags: v., Popping off tags of higher-priced merchandise and switching for clearance or lower-priced tags; shopping for goods (especially clothing) in abundance.

Thrifting: v., The act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, consignment shop or other charitable organization.

Poppin’ Tags in Boston: Think Globally, Thrift Locally from Astrid Lium on Vimeo.

Even if footy pajamas or broken keyboards don’t make their shopping lists, consumers can unearth stylish goods with only 20 dollars in their pocket. In a slumping economy, frugality has made a comeback. With influences like Macklemore––whose single “Thrift Shop” has gone viral and topped Billboard charts––shoppers, particularly youth, boast a cachet of cool while “poppin’ tags” on a shoestring budget.

For decades secondhand goods have generated a cult following, an alternative market for lower incomes, and a source of unique finds for fringe fashion, costumes and theme parties. More recently, the list has expanded to include diverse appeal, reflected in an increase in resale donations, consignment shops and a growing online presence.

Compounded by a pop culture endorsement and an accompanying lexicon of slang terms, “thrifting” has hit the mainstream. As the economy limps toward recovery, discussions about carbon footprints abound, and “green” trends gain momentum, the used goods industry expands its niche.

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According to NARTS, The Association of Retail Professionals, the resale industry in the United States currently generates approximately $13 billion per year. A member of the association, Goodwill Industries, accounted for about $3.53 billion of retail sale revenue in 2012. Established in 1902, Goodwill Industries now operates more than 2700 stores and continues to grow.

Buffalo Exchange, a secondhand chain known for funky clothing and accessories, started with a 450 sq. ft. shop in 1974. Since then, the company has expanded to 43 locations in 15 states, including two stores in Boston and Cambridge. Buffalo Exchange claims that its clothing is “by the community, for the community” with the majority of goods sold locally.

Using statistics from the consumer research firm, America’s Research Group, NARTS reports that 16-18 percent of Americans shop at thrift stores annually, and 12-15 percent patronize consignment shops. In comparison, about 11 percent prefer factory outlet malls, 19 percent opt for apparel stores, and 21 percent shop at major department stores.

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“It’s a sign of the times,” says Dasan Harrington, a regular thrift store shopper and donator.

He and his wife, Zoraida, both 38, frequent secondhand shops around Boston for bargains. The couple live in Dorchester with their two children, and venture to Boomerangs thrift store in West Roxbury a few times per month. While he peruses the store’s eclectic CD collection, she searches for rain gear.

“I look at everything,” Mr. Harrington says. “You can find good stuff that’s unique.”

Sometimes they leave empty-handed, he admits, but on this particular visit the duo found nearly matching trench coats. Other patrons thumb through paperbacks, test the buoyancy of sofa cushions, and cinch belts around gently worn slacks and dresses.

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Owned and operated by the non-profit organization AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC), Boomerangs thrift stores invest their proceeds to the committee’s work. Founded in 1983, the AAC aims to educate, help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provide support for those affected by the virus.

Boomerangs’s Director of Community Outreach Liz Donovan asks a cash-paying customer, “Do you mind if I give you a lot of random change?”

Her question reflects the Boomerangs shopping experience: a montage of different donations, styles, volunteers, and customers. The store attracts disparate groups of people and products to form a diverse community.

“People are bumping into each other here who wouldn’t elsewhere,” she says. “They speak different languages and run in different circles, but talk to each other when they’re shopping. Rich people antiquating mix with poorer people on a budget who need the discounted items.”

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Donovan, whose own wardrobe is comprised of Boomerangs items, has seen the company expand to four locations: West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, The South End, and Central Square in Cambridge. She attributes the steady growth to a variety of affordable goods, well-organized merchandise, a welcoming atmosphere, and a loyal base of donators, patrons and volunteers. Also, in the last few months, social media and the the song “Thrift Shop” have boosted interest in the store.

“People play the song on their phones while they’re shopping here,” Donovan says. “Students come in at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning and Tweet things like ‘Poppin’ tags @ Boomerangs’. It’s fun and has been a boon to business, prompting conversation.”

She views thrifting and  recycling clothing, accessories, furniture and home goods as a step in the right direction. As shoppers embellish items––by altering, painting or sewing them––they make them more their own and, according to Donovan, participate more in their own lives.

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The charitable, local and musical elements of thrifting have boosted sales for The Thrift Shop in Roslindale, as well, according to store manager Chris Roth.

Relying on local donations, the store’s sales benefit The Home For Little Wanderers (or The Home), a Boston-based non-profit organization. Established in 1926, the organization provides services––including counseling, foster care, life skills training and mentoring––for Boston youth and families. Originally based in Jamaica Plain, the shop moved to Roslindale, a more affordable neighborhood, 12 years ago.

“Roslindale Square has changed,” Roth says. “To get well established in an area takes time, and we have grown with the community.”

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With two full-time employees, three part-time workers, and ten dedicated volunteers, the store has maintained a loyal following while generating more money for its cause. Since the 2008 downturn in the economy, Roth noticed more furniture donations. Despite financial struggles, his year the sales reached a record high of $125,000 for The Home.

Roth believes that people are more open to shopping at thrift stores. While some view it as a hobby, other for others approach thrifting as a way to pay it forward. “Some people buy in bulk, but I feel like they’re often doing it for others,” he says. “Some guy bought a dozen dresses, probably for a women’s shelter.”

As for Macklemore’s hit song, Roth noticed that teenagers have stopped by the store with greater frequency in the last year. “Kids have started ironically coming in with more curiosity and interest.” he says.

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Kristina Nederosleva, co-owner of Deja Vu in Newton, has transformed her consignment hobby into a full-time business. She moved to Boston for graduate school in 2009 and wanted to generate income while studying.

“I figured there had to be a way to make money, short of selling myself on the street,” she says with a shrug and a giggle.

What started as a quick way to make cash for a weekend getaway––with a bag of clothing, a trip to Buffalo Exchange, and $70 in her pocket––quickly grew into Simple Exchanges, a consignment business operated from her one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge. Nederosleva wanted to provide a service and simplify the process between buyer and seller by removing unnecessary steps and splitting the profit with her donators.

While running Simple Exchanges, Nederosleva researched the details of the industry, and worked part-time at the consignment shop Second Time Around. She moved to Deja Vu in September 2012, where she worked part time until buying into the store in February, which she now co-owns with Oksana Pan. Carrying a array of brands from Ann Taylor and Oilily to Kate Spade and Gucci, Deja Vu attracts an diverse demographic of shoppers.

“Everybody likes to shop and customers get upset if they can’t find something,” she says. “We see such a wide range of age, income and personality. Someone might carry a Chanel wallet, but she’ll come in and buy a $10 one here.”

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Nederosleva attributes the initial growth to a slipping economy, and longstanding success to perennial elements like personal service, local charm and unique finds. She believes that fads or popular songs have less long-term influence on the popularity of her shop or the industry in general.

She has noticed rapid growth for both Deja Vu and the local consignment business in general, noting that 10 to 12 secondhand store have opened around Boston within the last couple of years. “They’re all still here,” Nederosleva says. “This [business] isn’t going to die out.”

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