Monday, March 31, 2008

Springtime in Rhode Island

Well, maybe not just yet -- temps have been rather chilly of late and the wind has been a bit brutal. (Is that like a "bit pregnant" I wonder?) But the sun has been shining more often than not and it just looks like spring is hovering somewhere in the shadows waiting to leap out and surprise us with something cool like trees blossoming. (Yeah, the new dessert menu; go ahead, click on it to get a larger view)

Naturally rain is predicted for the next two days. Well like they say, "April showers. . . "

Anyway, it's been another grand week here in the Ocean State. Susie continues to develop her pastry skills and I continue to marvel at the wonders of the Internet.

Susan is now working up yet another series of trio desserts for later in the week: (1) chocolate mousse meringue baskets, (2) pecan praline ice cream sandwiches and (3) vanilla bavarois (bavarian creme) lemon bites. I hope to get photos. . .

In addition, she continues working on perfecting things like Baked Alaska (the photo above shows some of her first versions), and of course testing new things. This week I think she's working on something involving macaroon ice cream sandwiches, and heaven knows what other delectable things she has got planned for the folks lucky enough to stop by Gracie's for dinner this week. (photo: Matt and Cara working the line at Gracie's.)

As for me I spend an unhealthy amount of my time in front of the computer screen. Between blogging and trying to empty our house of various trinkets and baubles, pushing them onto unsuspecting folks on Amazon and eBay, I'm pretty busy.

Otherwise the past week has been fairly routine: we enjoyed the wine flight at Gracie's last Wednesday. This time it was a staff member from the Savory Grape wine shop in East Greenwich who came by to show three of their favorites: a delicious Sauvignon blanc from northern California, a Bordeaux and a scrumptious Nero d'Avola from Sicily my favorite).

On Friday afternoon Dick and Dorothy came down, bringing their circular saw. No, they don't normally drive around with a major power tool in their car. Susie needed some cutting done, part of the ongoing work on organizing her studio at the back of the apartment. They stayed for dinner and the four of us ran a totally unscientific but tasty side-by-side taste test of pizzas from two different pizza shops in town. I picked up a pie from Fellini's on Wickenden and Dick drove over to Bob and Timmy's just off of Atwell's avenue on Federal Hill, and picked up one of their famous grilled pizzas.

The toppings on both were delicious but the crust on B & T's grilled pie was almost underdone; anyway it was very soggy. You can read more about that on my other blog, Dining in Providence.

So the time continues to fly by: we occasionally slip in and out of a moderate melancholia, longing for the feelings of ease and comfort of living in Siena or Paris (or even Florence for that matter). I don't know, maybe it just feels like home there. Strange, but there you have it.

The upside of living here is that Providence is really a great town. A small, but wonderful big city. We couldn't have made a better choice. The focus on food here is actually palpable and you can almost feel the energy that comes out of so many culinary imaginations firing at once.

And Gracie's. . . . Susie has found a home there to be sure. Everyone treats her so well and they give her incredible support -- and the opportunities for experimentation are endless.

Anyway, the wine flight this week is Rhode Island wines -- should be illuminating, don't you think? On Saturday we hope to see Martin Yan (of "Yan Can Cook") at Johnson & Wales University for a demo session of Chinese cooking. Afterwards we head off to Dick and Dorothy's for dinner.

Sunday I hope to slide over to the Saltwater Fishing show at the Rhode Island Convention Center downtown -- maybe pick up a couple of rods and reels or a boat or two -- at least shoot some photos for an upcoming article in Prime Time magazine (one of my ongoing gigs now).

It's nice living in the big city. Now if they would just fix the roads. . .

Wish you were here,

Steve

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What a week, more or less

The past week or so has seen Providence stumbling toward spring -- the weather has been windy, chilly and lots of rain. But no snow! Clear and cool this beautiful Saturday morning though and more is predicted for the next few days. Have we seen the end of winter here in the Ocean State? Of course I probably jinxed everything by declaring one way or the other but I stand firm that spring is here, officially and literally. Trees next door are even starting to bud and that tells me I can't be far off the mark.

Anyway, the weather notwithstanding it has been a fun-filled and curious week.

The City Graffiti Task Force was in our neighborhood doing some cleanup work -- we see them every so often around town. The city doesn't tolerate graffiti, and while it can't eradicate it completely at least it seems determined to tackle the problem head on and does what it can to keep the eyesores to a minimum.

A week ago this past Wednesday Susie and I drove up to Whitinsville, MA, where we met up with brother Dick for a wine tasting at Friendly Liquors.

Bill Giannopolis, the store's owner, puts on this shindig several times a year and it is always a fun event -- lots of folks come out to taste the wines and sample a little food as well. Anyway, as you walk in you're given a glass and a list of all the different tasting stations, and you're also given a number. If you like any of the wines tasted you just tell the person at the table and they put your number of how many bottles you want and a runner comes and collects the wines and sets them aside for you. Once you're finished you stop at the checkout table to tell them you're ready to go and they bring the wine to the checkout register. That's it!

Although it can be a bit tight this is in fact a great idea and an effective way of trying new wines. And everything is discounted in the store as well -- 20% off! Pretty good deal all the way around.

Anyway, after we toured the tasting tables the three of us headed off to Dick and Dorothy's where Dorothy had prepared a wonderful meal for us all -- we worked up quite an appetite tasting all that wine.

This past Monday Susie and I tried a new restaurant that just opened near our home: Broadway Bistro

As you might expect, this is located on Broadway, just a few blocks west of I-95 and along our walking route downtown. And it is just that: a bistro. After we sat down at a 2-top in the small but cozy dining room with a long bar at the far wall, we were both struck at just how much it felt like a small cafe in Paris.

The service was smooth and friendly, in fact one young woman handled everything out front: waiting on tables, tending the bar, you name it. And she did it easily and effortlessly. The kitchen is small but easily observed on the right side of the far wall and you can informally poke your head in and say hi.

The wine list is short but sweet -- Susie and I started off with a glass of prosecco and, since we both had fish for dinner we each had a glass of Santa Barbara chardonnay. And speaking of dinner Susan had the salmon, pan-seared to perfection on a bed of delicious shredded veggies and rice, and I had the fish 'n chips: a perfectly done, hefty piece of lightly battered cod that was moist and juicy; the chips were indeed what we Yanks call chips but the Brits call crisps. Whatever you call them they were homemade and exquisite bites of potato that complimented the cod very well indeed.

I couldn't help but notice this month in both Rhode Island Monthly and the latest issue of the Providence Phoenix, the restaurant reviewers focused on Loie Fuller (yes, yes I know it's pronounced Low Fuller), which, curiously enough is right across the street from our apartment but we haven't eaten there -- yet. The lines have simply been too long. So along comes something a little different for you without having to wait: the Broadway Bistro. The decor isn't art nouveau but it is very Parisian, the food is worth the trip, the service right on the money and the music is very eclectic and quite enjoyable. (The Broadway Bistro, 205 Broadway, where else?)

This past week has seen plenty of wonderful feedback about the big spread on the story of Susie's change of life, swapping the one white coat for another as many have noted. Susie also continues her experimentation with various desserts for Gracie's and she and Chef Joe make quite a creative team.

Lately she's been tinkering with different piping styles for a Baked Alaska that may very well get on the menu:

Another experiment that will probably get on the menu is a banana mousse-caramel creme thing that defies description and must be eaten to be appreciated:



And yes, it tastes as good as it looks!

And what better way to end out the week than over a glass of wine at Gracie's bar, just talking and watching people enjoy an evening shared over good food.



Wish you were there,

Steve

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pet Show Slide Show

That right folks, it a simple little slide show of Rhode Island's latest pet show, held at the RI Convention Center in Providence just a week ago. With a little help of Dave Brubeck:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I can't get the d'Orsay put of my mind

I suppose the title needs no further elaboration. This video was taken in late October of 2007. Just let me say the next time you're in Paris, skip the Louvre and its lines -- go to the Orsay. Spend a half day and get the audioguide.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Providence Pastries

prov·i·dence [prov-i-duh-ns], noun, "the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth. Fate destiny, judiciousness."

Prov·i·dence [prov-i-duh-ns], noun, "a seaport in and the capital of Rhode Island, at the head of Narragansett Bay."

grace [greys], noun, "simple elegance or refinement of movement."

To appreciate the overwhelming impact these words have had on our lives just follow this link to the featured story in the Wednesday Providence Journal's Food section. Read all about!

One would think that the last two-and-a-half years we spent abroad, no, probably more than three years overseas more or less, were leading us to this very point.

It seems providential that we ended up at Gracie's in Providence. It also seems I've stretched this metaphor as fas as possible for the moment.

Providence or just luck.

I'd bet on Providence.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Voting, tires, parfaits and my dad

Well I got out voted this last Tuesday. Never mind that my guy didn't make it -- rest assured he will be there when it counts. (Yep, that's my polling place below; the Parenti apartments.)

For the third time in less than a year we had to have a huge bolt removed from our left rear tire. Always the same tire if you can believe it. The first time was when we lived in Maine last summer, the second was just a couple of weeks ago when we left our care with a valet parking attendant in downtown Providence, and then the third time was just three days ago I noticed the head of the bolt (see photo) as I was walking up to the car. And the funny thing is the tire works just fine with this huge hunk of sharp metal stuck in it. Of course when you take it out. . .

But none of this is surprising since the roads in New England are in atrocious shape. We were just in Vermont a week or so ago and the roads, particularly in Rutland, were simply terrible. And downtown Providence isn't much better. In fact the quality of our highway infrastructure is falling almost as fast as the value of our dollar. We're fast heading toward third world status I should think. Another fine legacy of the Bush administration. . .

It's been a mild March so far -- all the storms that nailed the Midwest this last week came our way in the form of rain -- and plenty of that. Providence has a thing about storm drains -- they don't seem to have them. So naturally there's plenty of local flooding during the monsoons.

Susie continues to work on developing her parfaits (French for "perfect"). These two are "cookies 'n cream" and "white chocolate raspberry surprise" (the surprise is small chunks of brownie hidden inside)

The latest on my dad is that so far we haven't heard from the college about the DNA test. It's been a month now and they seem to be dragging their feet. Why is what we keep asking ourselves. Why? (You're right! That's my dad holding me on the slide. By the look on my face if it hadn't been for him I'd still be sitting up there.)


Wish were here,

Steve

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Rhode Island Pet Show

It was a rainy Saturday morning so I decided to drop in at the pet show going on at the Rhode Island Convention Center right here in Providence.

In fact it's the 15th Annual Rhode Island Pet show and The International Cat Show, sponsored by Petco and the PetCo Foundation and coordinated by the folks at Osborne Jenks Productions.

It's been lots of years since I had a pet -- dogs were my thing -- and am astounded at what an industry owning a pet has generated today. The place was packed and there was plenty of queueing to get inside.

Anyway, as I entered the exhibition hall, on the right hand side I noticed several rings where some of the "Best in Show" kinds of things going on, dogs being put their paces in front of judges, that sort of thing.

There was also a runway where different breeds were brought out by their owners while the announcer explained each breeds unique characteristics. Fascinating.

Anyway, the dog judging was on one side of the exhibition hall with the cat judging on the opposite side, safely divided by the several aisles of vendors. (photo below: cat judging.)

And I mean vendors selling everything from caskets and burial plots for your pet (www.angelview.com in Middleboro, Massachusetts) to pet food, pet clothes, pet toys and of course pets themselves. (photo below: vendor showing a green vine snake.)

In fact, there were several exhibitors talking about the advantages of having snakes for pets -- and their snakes were a big draw to be sure. Frankly I could see one advantage of owning a 20-foot python; you wouldn't hear that next-door neighbor's yappy little toy poodle for long. . .

There was also a group demonstrating why ferrets make great pets.

One of the more unique "vendors" at the show was a couple from New York City urging people to join www.barkthevote.org, an organization that is seeking to get pet owners out and walk their dogs to the polls and vote! (photo below: Ella McGuire and her two dogs Schmitty and Pudge from barthevote.org)

In other words, pretty much everything you could possibly want or need for your pet or to help you choose a pet was on display at the show.

Actually it was pretty cool. Even if you didn't own a pet. There were lots of happy folks hanging about and so many stories. . . And of course the photos: you can access the photos online by just clicking here or you can view them in the slideshow below.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Susie interviewed, again!

OK, OK so it's not big surprise for most of you -- Susie is the pastry chef of Gracie's.

But I'll be you didn't know that besides being interviewed recently by the food writer of the Providence Journal (known locally as the ProJo), she was also asked a few questions by food blogger Stephanie Obodda.

If you want to read the interview, just go straight to Stephanie's blog. Or cut and paste the following link:

http://stephaniedoes.com/

As for me, I recently interviewed Michele De Luca-Verley of La Maison du Coco for an upcoming article in Primetime magazine. Michele is one of Rhode Island's premier chocolatiers, and one taste of her tea-infused truffles and you'll be a believer. Here are a few photos I took that day:



Ciao!

Steve

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rutland Friends

We left Rutland, Vermont for good in the fall of 2005. Our house sold soon afterwards and we've pretty much been on the trail ever since. Until now that is. Now we've come to settle -- for the moment -- in Providence, Rhode Island. OK, that's old news.

We just returned this past Monday from a flying visit to our old haunts in the Green Mountain State; we went to see a few folks and to catch up on all the news in the Great White North.

And white it was! We left the rain-drenched shores of RI and in less than four hours found ourselves gliding down roads where the snow walls were higher than our Mini. And it was brutally cold to boot.

We stopped at the hospital and Susie peeked in and said howdy to the folks still working in the ED. After that we took a quick spin around our old neighborhood and saw that all of the pine trees in our yard -- front and back -- had come down in last April's horrible storm. We had heard about the devastation but this was shocking. Thankfully no one was hurt and the house was pretty much unscathed. Still. . . .

Anyway, we drove the few short blocks to Jack and Pat's house, where we watched Jack prepare their offering for the evening's wine tasting: a roasted vegetable salad. Pat had to take their son to Lebanon, NH to catch a bus back to Providence and she showed up not long before we all had to hightail it over to the Louras house for the wine tasting.

As usual we all had a grand evening, spent mainly in catching up on all the news -- it had been over two-and-a-half years since we had all been together -- and of course eating scrumptious food. June provided an exquisitely tender corned beef --a first for me by the way -- and Debbi and Joe brought wonderful venison medallions in a rich brown sauce, and LoriLee brought the most fantastic crab cakes. John Louras generously opened his wine cellar and hauled out a half dozen bottles of some of the most delicious wines we had had in a long time: the Cote Rotie and Silver Oak seemed to be the big hits, at least with me! For dessert June brought oput a luscious cheesecake and Susie put our her brioche d'amandes. Man oh man. . .



The next morning Susie and I said arrivederci to Jack and Pat and then rendezvoused with our old friend and former realtor, Winnie Denis.

To look at Winnie is to see what a life spent smiling can do for your physical and emotional well-being. She looked like a 20-year-old we thought. Constantly moving, saying hi to a half dozen folks in the cafe, smiling always, and a genuine smile with an honesty that catches you off guard.

We made a couple of quick stops and then hit the potholed roads for the trip back south. It was 30 degrees, gray and dreary spitting rain in Rutland but by the time we got home it was nearly 50 and sunny.

It was nice to see friends after so long an absence but I have to say I don't miss the weather up north one bit. And the roads. . . .

So here's a little slide show of some images of our wine group, both past and recent for you to ponder over:



Wish you were here,

Steve

Siena slideshow

Just a few images from our many trips to the center of the Universe. . .

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Firenze 2006

Here are some images I took in Florence, Italy (Fireze, Italia) while we were living on Via dei Servi in 2006. It was a grand time: we got to spend Memorial Day at the American National Cemetery outside of Florence and see Italy beat France (France!) for the World Soccer Cup on a big screen TV in the Piazza Annunziata! Was that cool or what?!

Music is by Massive Attack.

A look back. . . at Normandy

Here's a visual recap of our very short but very sweet visit to the Normandy Beaches in September of 2006. If you haven't yet been, by all means go.

Anyway, you can watch a slideshow of some of my images from Normandy set to music. . .



. . . or you can just check out my images:


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Leap Year, Chocolate and Dead Pets

Happy Leap Year!

I trust you all did something special on the extra day we give ourselves each year? (Frankly, I've always wondered how the folks who were born on February 29 celebrate their birthday the other three years.)

As for us, well we've been enjoying moderately weird times amidst an unusually good feeling about this place.

Take the weather. Today, the first day of March, began with a driving snowstorm early in the pre-dawn hours, changing to rain soon after the sun rose, then rising temps to melt the snow, with more rain, then back to snow briefly and finally sunny skies by late in the afternoon. As the sun slides eastward we are the recipients of simply gorgeous colors.

This week has been interesting to say the least, culminating in a bit of spooky coincidence, the good kind I might add.

Susie has been working long hours lately but loving every minute of it -- her desserts are continuing to evolve and I promise to get some of them online soon. The simple fact is I have to wait until they're plated to get truly decent photos and that means going into the restaurant late in the evening. Patience. All comes to he who waits.

Anyway, Wednesday we had a pleasant evening -- after a long day for Susie we went back into town, to Gracie's for the weekly wine flight -- this week it was three "Supertuscans" matched with three small tasting portions of some of Chef Joe's spectacular food. We weren't disappointed on either score. The wines were very nice: Argiano from Montalcino, Piocaia and Fattoria Di San Fabbiano both from near Arezzo. The food also matched well: raw tuna, duck confit and a delicious smoked polenta.

We had originally planed to do the wine flight and then go to a nearby Cuban restaurant for dinner (in honor of Fidel's retirement I suppose). Anyway, we soon found ourselves in a groove sitting at the bar at Gracie's, warm and comfortable, with smooth music playing around our ears and so decided to, well, just eat at the bar. And so we did.

We each had the Maytag salad (chock full of wonderful Maytag blue) topped with several of Gracie's homemade potato chips. We followed that with Chef Joe's homemade gnocchi (way to go Cara) topped with wonderful, earthy mushrooms. Our wine was a well-matched pinot noir from Louis Latour.

Thursday was quiet but Friday became the highpoint of the week -- at least for me.

I'm working on an article for the April issue of Primetime magazine, the feature stories will focus on desserts and I'm interviewing several Rhode Island chefs. Well Chef Joe kindly hooked me up with Michele De Luca-Verley who is an incredibly talented chocolatier. Working out of her home in Portsmouth, RI, Michelle's company, La Maison du Coco, She produces delicious tea-infused chocolate truffles. I went to visit her to take some photos for the magazine and thought I would share some of them with you:



After I left Michele's I drove to the nearby pet cemetery. You have got to see this to appreciate why it's worth the trip: the first pet was interred in, I believe, 1936 and, hold on to your hat, the celebrity burial here is "Pookie," longtime companion of "Edward and Wallis, Duke and Duchess of Windsor." See, you can hobnob with royalty right there out in the quiet Rhode Island countryside.



Anyway, that evening after dinner we watched our latest movie from NetFlix, which was -- that's right folks: Chocolat:



How cool is that?

The one big disappointment for me was not being able to Barack Obama -- he was scheduled to speak at Rhode Island College today and I headed over there about noon to check it out.

The college is located in a largely residential area with narrow two-ways streets and the traffic jam was enormous. I turned my car around and headed home.

Hey, he's got my vote and I'll be working for him this Tuesday.

Stay well, keep warm and be cool.

Wish you were here,

Steve