Category Archives: Boston/Cambridge events

Gimme some (maple) sugar!


Silver and red maple trees in my back yard, awaiting a tap. (Astrid Lium photos)

I grew up in Vermont, the maple capital of the United States. The humble Green Mountain State‘s 5% of the world’s syrup of the gods beats out its 49 competitors for that sweet title. Québec has a stake on about three-quarters of the globes syrup supply, which is partly why I attended university in Montréal.

I was eleven years old before I tried a cheap fancy Grade A knockoff. While on a school trip in Rhode Island the class enjoyed pancakes and what resembled bona fide syrup. The mystery substance made me nauseous. I had seen Aunt Jemima on the shelf at White’s, but never had she made her way into our pantry. The only syrup I knew came from St. Johnsbury’s own Maple Grove Farms or from a Hardwick sugar shack (that town exports goods besides sophomoric “Hardwick jokes”).

I quickly returned to that sugary friend upon our return to Vermont.


Three taps for two trees. They are available online and at most hardware stores for about $2 each.

When I moved to Massachusetts, known more for oysters and chowdah than syrup, I brought my dark amber with me. Then I met a man who tapped his own trees and made his own syrup (about one quart of it, anyway) every spring. I fell in love with him, even before I discovered this sugaring hobby of his.

2013 marks the fourth consecutive season that my Maine-iac maple man (“As Maine goes, so goes Vermont“?) and I have made sweet syrup, albeit in small doses. Keep in mind that the sap:syrup boiling ratio is about 40:1.


Every sugaring experience may be somewhat different, but ours is simple, cheap (sorta), and easy. I just read a Yankee Magazine article about a Vermont sugaring family who uses reverse osmosis to reduce fuel, improve efficiency, and expedite the process. I’m jealous. I wish that I had reverse osmosis…or even knew exactly what is was.

To get started, this is what we needed:

  • 40-degree days and freezing nights
  • Maple trees (one silver, one red)
  • 5-gallon Ace Hardware bucket (brand optional; I receive no compensation from Ace for my plug.)
  • 3/8″ drill
  • Hammer
  • Taps
  • Extension cords connecting the drill to the nearest outlet


Find a spot on the tree to drill, deep enough to fit a tap. On the red maple, we drilled two holes. (If a tree is 19-25 inches in diameter, two is recommended. You can find more on hobby sugaring.)


Philosophize with a hammer…hard enough to secure the tap.


On an early-March morning, with temps running in the low-40s, the sap should start flowing immediately. We always have better, faster results with the red maple.


Voilà! The first part of the sugaring-in-our-back-yard-in-Boston process is complete.

More to come as the days grow longer, warmer, and sweeter…

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Harvard Celebrates 40 Years of Jazz

Cecil McBee on bass, Brian Lynch on trumpet and Benny Golson on tenor saxophone were among the Harvard All-Stars who performed at Sanders Hall as Harvard celebrated 40 years of jazz.                          (Eric Antoniou photo)

Jazz at Harvard has come a long way, baby.

Before 1971, the African American-dominated musical genre was unheard of at the Ivy League institution. Since then Tom Everett has founded and nurtured a successful program for Harvard students interested in jazz performance.

On Saturday night the weekend celebration of Jazz at Harvard’s fortieth year culminated with a sold out performance at Sanders Hall. Harvard’s two student jazz bands, along with a notable alumnus and the Harvard All-Stars, comprised of jazz masters and former guest musicians, played for more than two hours to an enthusiastic crowd.

The undergraduate Sunday Jazz Band, directed by Mark Olson, opened the show with an energetic performance of Neal Hefti’s “Flight of the Foo Birds.”  That musical introduction triggered wild applause and approving whistles from the audience, which set the scene for the following pieces.

With Olson still at the helm, the band followed with “Peedlum,” by Hank Jones, to whom the song was also dedicated.

Olson and Ingrid Monson then introduced Everett, who took the reins for the second set, directing the Monday Jazz Band in renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and Charles Mingus’ “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers.” Ever the gentleman, Everett truncated the latter title in his introduction to appease a civilized Harvard audience.

The third song, Benny Carter’s “Myra,” added a lyrical dimension with jazz vocalist Samara Oster. The waifish undergraduate’s delicate appearance contrasted the depth and strength of her voice, infused with scatting and smiles. Oster and tenor saxophonist Alex Rezzo wrapped up the piece with a playful back and forth, as though enjoying a musical tennis match.

Before introducing tenor saxophonist Don Braden, the soft-spoken Everett articulated the essence of the evening. “Harvard is not the jazz center of the world, but the significance of jazz is gaining recognition […] that is what we are celebrating tonight,” he said.

Braden, a 1985 Harvard graduate and former pupil of Everett’s, joined the band with his sax to perform one of his own compositions, “Landing Zone.” The song prompted wild applause and standing ovations, both on and off stage.

He then played Illinois Jacquet’s well-known solo performance in “Flying Home.”


Golson was included in a video montage that featured former Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence. (Eric Antoniou photo)

A video montage kicked off the second hour of the celebration, featuring past Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence, including Carla Bley, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Slyde and others. Footage of Jacquet invoked another standing ovation among performers and patrons.

Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri then joined the students on stage and they all performed Palmieri’s “Elena, Elena.” Lynch strutted to the microphone like a cool cat in a dark suit, porkpie hat and sunglasses. He silently commanded the stage with his trumpet playing and very presence.

Palmieri was more understated, yet equally talented, at the piano. He was the straight man to Lynch’s more comic and animated onstage persona.

The remaining Harvard All-Stars, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Haynes, joined Lynch and Palmieri for the finale.

Golson manned the mic and honored Everett with his smooth voice. “Forty years ago, Tom Everett had the audacity to suggest Harvard start a jazz program and someone had the audacity to hire him.”

The crowd chuckles.

“Was it easy?” Golson continues. “Of course it was!”

The crowd roars.

“What can I say about Tom Everett?  He is an icon in his own right.”

Everett bashfully nods his head and waves from the stage.

The ensemble then reminded the audience what was being celebrated as they performed Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Charlie Parker’s “Steeple Chase” and “Blues for Moody” in memory of the late jazz musician James Moody.

The spontaneity and experienced improvisation of the old timers complimented the organization and air tight preparation of the student bands. With the All-Star band leading the way, the Ivy League venue morphed into a smoky jazz bar for a set, without the smoke.

One of the highlights was Roy Haynes’ vibrant drum solo, which he played in a funky suit and orange Uggs. Golson gently joked afterward of the 86-year- old drummer’s youthful performance. “[Haynes] has been lying to me for years. He’s really 20 years old!” Golson said.

This article was originally published in the Bay State Banner on April 14, 2011.

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Hasty Pudding Still Punny After All These Years

Stage right: a chimpanzee dressed like Gilligan in bluejeans and a sailor cap perches at a typewriter. He pokes at the keys and reads his words aloud.

“To be or not to be… Nah, too existentialist.”

He tries again: “Beware the Ides of March… Hmm, too topical.”

Scratching his head with a hirsute hand, the primate––aptly named Jim Pansy, played by Harvard sophomore Sam Clark––decides on a more original opening line. His words revert to monkey screeches as the typing resumes, the stage lights up and the curtains open.

So begins Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals (H.P.T.) 2013 performance, “There’s Something About Maui.”

The Hasty Pudding Club, whose former alumni members include William Randolph Hearst, J.P. Morgan and John F. Kennedy, celebrates its 165th anniversary this year. The festivities include the usual theatrics expected of the troupe: bombastic burlesque, pun-laden dialogue, and a chorus line finale comprised of ivy league boys with stocking-clad kicks rivaling those of the Rocketts.


This year’s student-written, directed, and acted performance takes place at a local watering hole called Sand Bar on the island of Little Maui in 1942. The motley cast of characters includes:

  • Princess Lei, a voluptuous and lovestruck hula girl
  • Helen Killer, a blind spy with a license to kill
  • Amelia Airhead, a ditzy pilot with her head in the clouds.

The cast and orchestra perform original songs entitled “Lethal Webbin’ ” and “A Soldier to Cry On,” among others, for a crowd of nearly 250, filling the Hasty Pudding Theater on Holyoke Street in Harvard Square.

The now co-ed club has a female president, writers and choreographers contributing to the production. However, keeping with tradition, the dramatis personæ remain all male, requiring some of the members to cross-dress for their roles. After the curtains close, the cast returns to the stage and earns its standing ovation with an explosive can-can in stilettos and sequins. A patron leans over and whispers, “these are our future congressmen and world leaders.”

Though rooted in history, H.P.T. reinvents itself every year with contemporary references to pop culture, politics and current events. It reprises its perennial plug for the Harvard Coop, as well as light-hearted digs at Radcliffe counterparts and rival Elis. The spectrum of entertainment attracts a variety of patrons.

Longtime Boston resident and business owner Chris Lutes has attended the H.P.T. performances for the past four years. In 2009, his Cambridge-based restaurant group, Tigers and Bears, started sponsoring the club, which piqued his interest in the shows.

“It’s a great escape,” says Lutes, 51. “I forget that those are 20-something boys up there on stage.”

His daughter, Lilah, who turned 17 on Valentine’s Day, attends the show with him every year as part of a birthday tradition. This year, before the performance, she discovered a local treat honoring of the club: Hasty Pudding ice cream featured as J.P. Licks’ flavor of the month.

“It tastes more like frozen banana pudding than ice cream,” she says.

H.P.T. neophyte Nora Wasson, 84, attended her first performance this year. She drove from her home in Warwick, R.I., to attend the show.  Wasson enjoyed the witty lyrics and clever puns, of which she heard and understood only some. “I wish that I was sitting closer to the stage,” she says. “I heard laughter and felt that I missed a lot of the jokes.”

The show’s combination of bright costumes, uplifting music and dance moves appeal to Wasson the most, which entice her to return next year. “I can’t believe that men are so loose in the hips as to do the hula.”

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Nourish Your Soul


Susan Cabana at her store Nourish Your Soul in West Medford. (Astrid Lium photo)

“Juice is such a life changer,” says holistic health counselor Susan Cabana.

A diet trend for some and a weight loss aid for others, juicing has become a passion and purpose for Cabana, who now builds her lifestyle and livelihood around it.

On June 9, the vivacious 45-year-old entrepreneur opened her shop, Nourish Your Soul, in West Medford, Mass. The business features fresh juices, smoothies and cleanses, and emerged in the wake of what Cabana refers to as “life challenges.”

In November 2004, her husband, Christopher, died unexpectedly at the age of 37. Cabana was suddenly a widow and single mother of three girls, then aged 5, 3 and 1. Less than five years later, in February 2009, she was laid off from her long-term financial job at Putnam Investments. “I was in a dark place for a while,” Cabana recalls. “It was like losing Chris all over again.”

She eventually began to make positive changes for herself and her family. Cabana, a longtime resident of Winchester, Mass., started to run more regularly, practice yoga daily and make healthier food choices. “I kind of woke up and decided to live,” she says. “Chris would want me to.”

While working in finance, convenience influenced many of her decisions. Relying on “whatever got me through the day” meals often consisted of quick, easy and processed foods. Those habits changed after she lost her job and examined her life more closely.
With the help of yoga, Cabana took more time for introspection. She eventually saw the layoff as an opportunity to take her life in a different direction. “I never thought it would happen, but it was truly a gift,” she says. “I’m not sure I would have been able to leave something so stable.”

Cabana enrolled in Natalia Rose’s Intensive Teacher Training program as well as the holistic Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She also completed the Prana teacher-training program and became a certified yoga instructor.

Since going into business for herself, she has not looked back. As a holistic consultant, Cabana has attracted several clients, many of whom joined friends and family as juicing experimenters. “My clients often made excuses about why they wouldn’t juice,” Cabana says. “But they told me that if I made the juice, they would drink it.”

Less than four months old, Nourish Your Soul has already attracted regular customers and local press, including a nod from Stuff Magazine’s Top 100 list in July. Relying on word-of-mouth advertising thus far, Cabana has not promoted the business in more traditional ways. “There is no need to advertise just yet!” she says with a chuckle.

The next step for Nourish Your Soul is to add more edible treats to the liquid menu. Cabana also hopes to expand to more locations and add a delivery service in the near future. “I want to provide a healthy alternative to what is out there,” she says. “The standard American diet is lacking on so many levels.”

A believer in balance, Cabana says that deprivation is not sustainable. One to indulge on occasion—especially in dark chocolate—she views juicing as a lifestyle, not a diet. “Yoga is about combining the mind, body and soul,” says the holistic health consultant. “Juice does the same thing.”

Still juicing everyday, Cabana also recommends her favorite elixirs to loved ones. “My kids all love something different,” she says of her daughters, now 13, 11 and 9. Her 20-month-old son, George, from a recent relationship that was short-lived, regularly drinks a version of her green lemonade. “The sippy-cup age is a good time to start incorporating juice into the diet,” Cabana explains. “It isn’t too taxing because there is no fiber to digest.”

Her mother has also integrated fresh juice into her diet after battling two bouts of cancer. According to Cabana, the nutrients have helped boost her mother’s immune system. “Juicing has helped with the healing process,” she says. “And sharing it with others helps me heal, too.”

Nourish Your Soul’s juice and smoothie produce comes from Russo’s market in Watertown, Mass. Cabana opts for local and organic ingredients when she can, emphasizing the need for large quantities.

Focusing more on seasonal options, she introduced Watermelon Mint juice in the summer and plans to add a carrot and root vegetable-based juice/soup for autumn. To view the entire Nourish Your Soul menu, visit

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Blizzard of 2013


New Englanders are making noises about how Nemo harkens back to the big bad blizzard of 1978. The lack of technology and preparedness left scores of folks stranded in their cars on I-95. It also left the region with a hefty price tag: $520 million in 1978 dollahs, which equals about $1.85 BILLION in modern, inflation-adjusted terms.


When I heard Governor Deval Patrick’s “driving ban” the libertarian in me recoiled. I had no desire, of course, to drive in the tempest. But the government-sanctioned proscription of it suddenly made me want to hop into my heated leather seats an joyspin down Washington Street.

I didn’t. Instead I:

  • charged all of my Mac electronics
  • baked peanut butter cookies, broccoli potato medallions, and a random mash of perishable items best used before dawn
  •  double-checked my stash of Ikea votive candles
  • Netflixed “The Day After Tomorrow” to see how bad things could be…say, if I lived in a dystopian version of Manhattan


A buried Saab and eight hours of shoveling are pretty much all I had to show for my trouble. These hardcore Yankees got me beat.

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Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Oct 31, 2012

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Boston-based documentary filmmaker Alberta Chu loves to combine two passions––art and science––in her work. She does it yet again in her latest film, Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm (2011), which premieres November 7 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Alberta’s fourth documentary, Lightning Dreams highlights the story of Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand’s most prolific art patrons.

She took the time to talk with me about her career path, the journey leading up to this film, and the voice that she hopes to offer her subjects in the fields of art and science.

ASTRID LIUM: How did you get involved with documentary filmmaking?

ALBERTA CHU: I started out as a biologist, [and] I worked as a researcher in L.A. at a biotech company. I had always wanted to get into journalism, and I thought maybe science documentaries could be a way for me to use my science background and break into documentary or journalism. I started a science consulting company, [where] scientists who were tops in their fields would consult with Hollywood screenwriters and set decorators for accuracy. We worked on one of the X-Men films to develop the Wolverine character [and] help them figure out what his supernatural powers would be. It was a way for them to bounce ideas off scientists and get more creative.

How did working as a researcher lead to documentary films?

I did a segment on volcano research. As a researcher there were tons of stories being produced all the time, and I met tons of producers and directors. Most of the stories I would pitch were science, and on one of the shoots I was producing for Sci-Fi Channel I met Greg Leyh, the guy in my film that is premiering at the Museum of Science. I found out that he was building the world’s biggest tesla coil for this billionaire art collector in New Zealand. I pitched it around L.A., but no one wanted to do it, so I decided to make an independent documentary film called The Electrum about the project in the year 2000 about the Electrum sculpture. That film played at a lot of festivals, aired on PBS, won a bunch of awards.

What is the documentary about?

The film was about a quirky group of scientists and engineers that build the world’s largest tesla coil, which ends up in New Zealand. But the guy who commissioned it––the billionaire–– gave me permission to do the film but he didn’t want to be in it. He was very private at the time. His name is Alan Gibbs and he’s … just totally cool. He’s building a giant sculpture park and the reason he likes art is the likes the mental sparring with the artists. He likes to push them to do better work. He pushes everyone around him, you can see why he’s so successful because he never settles for anything. He’s always pushing for more … so that’s why he’s the owner of the world’s biggest tesla coil!

How is your relationship with Alan?

He’s bigger than life. It’s been so interesting to have interactions with him, and he likes my films. So he’s been sort of like my patron, in a way. So he invited me to do the Serra film (2003-04), then the Anish Kapoor film (2009-10). Then he asked me to do a film about the Electrum sculpture in 2010, about 10 years after the original film was made. He wanted this new film to include his perspective. The new film, Lightning Dreams, is about the conception and the whole story of the sculpture.

Why do you do the work you do?

I make films about scientists and artists because they see things that aren’t there yet. They’re envisioning the future and I think that’s really inspiring. They inspire me to make films about them, and my hope is that my films will inspire other people to push boundaries of what’s known and unknown and to look and wonder and dream themselves. Because that’s the only thing that humans can do that computers can’t. There’s something about creativity that’s impossible to articulate. I mean science and art really are the same thing and they have become very divergent in today’s culture.

How do you choose the topics for your documentaries?

I’m about making films about creative people that are changing the world for the better, who want to make a difference. I make films about scientists that are making a difference, trying to make the world a better place. If I can give a voice … I can help them announce their victories and inspire people to help with what they’re doing. I can help them get out their important messages because they are doing very important work. A lot of time they can’t explain it to a regular audience, and I can help.

Do you feel like you’re a translator in some way?

Yes, translating ideas and concepts for a general audience, totally. I hope to be. And same with artists.

It can be a challenge, though.

Yeah, it’s hard to create something. It’s not easy, none of it’s easy, it’s all work. It can be very rewarding work, but if I can help a scientist or artist expose their labors and their victories … and their failures to a wider audience, that’s what I’m about — finding the most interesting creative people in the world, and telling stories that really inspire people to create.

– Interview by Astrid Lium, Twitter: @astridspeak

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Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Roasts Marion Cotillard

Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals turns 165 this year! The troupe is celebrating with this year’s performance, “There’s Something About Maui,” and its annual roast of two Hollywood darlings.


The 2013 Woman of the Year honor was bestowed upon Marion Cotillard, marked by a January 31 parade and roast in Harvard Square. The 37-year-old French actress, best known best for her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Parisienne chanteuse Edith Piaf in the 2007 biopic “La Vie en Rose,” also appears in “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Rust and Bone” (“De rouisse et d’os”), among others.


Honored on stage by Hasty Pudding Theatricals President Renée Rober and Vice-President Ben Moss, Cotillard subjected herself to a series of puns and knocks to her career. She follows in the footsteps of Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore, and Claire Danes, among a litany of other A-listers, as HPT’s guest of honor.


Before earning her illustrious Pudding Pot award, Cotillard had to pass tests in a dream within a dream within a dream (a reference to the plot of “Inception”). They included teaching Gwyneth Paltrow how to act (and execute death scenes), sketch better than Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dali, and sing better than the HPT reincarnation of Edith Piaf.


The lovely Mme. Cotillard passed her tests and entertained a packed theater in the process.


The 2013 Man of Year, announced on February 4, is Kiefer Sutherland, whose roast is slated for Friday, February 8, at 8pm.

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