Saturday, April 26, 2008

A few photos from the Marathon

Just in case you didn't see the short movie or the slide show I put online, here are several images of Dick VandenBerg running his first marathon in four years. Back in the saddle again, as they say in the cavalry.






Friday, April 25, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boston Marathon, the fast, musical version

Ok so you've seen some of this -- actually more of it than you probably wanted. But here's the much faster, leaner version. Hey, at least the music by Simple Minds is pretty good!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boston Marathon 2008

Well, we returned to Boston yesterday for the Marathon.

Susie's brother Dick from Douglas, MA, was running for the first time in four years -- he's run something like 14 or 15 Boston Marathons over the years and knee surgery knocked him out for the past few years. But he's back in fine form as everyone discovered Monday.

Patriot's Day began slightly overcast in Providence as Susie and I headed off for the train station about 8:30 a.m. After a 30-minute walk we strolled into the station and after a wait of about 20 minutes or so boarded the commuter rail for Boston. An hour later we got off at the Back Bay station, and a quick 15-minute walk put us right about Hereford and Newbury streets, the usual spot for catching Dick as he closed in on the finish line.



It had been five years since Susie and I had a chance to see Dick run in the marathon. There is now live music, buskers really playing a variety of jazz styles along Newbury, as well as outdoor art for sale -- fairly kitschy I thought -- but still plenty of people come out for the show.

Anyway, another first was that we beat Dorothy to our rendezvous spot -- she got caught in some horrendous traffic snarls since the Red Sox were also playing as well! But she soon arrived and shortly afterwards Susie's sister Mary arrived, along with her daughter Mallory and their friend Karen.

It was a gorgeous day, the sun was out but the air had just enough coolness to it to be comfortable even out of the shade.

A little after 1 p.m. Dick rounded the turn off of Commonwealth avenue onto Hereford and I could see him with his hand in the air signaling to his fans -- he shot by me but I got a few quick snaps.

The photos are in the slide show up there; the video is right here:



After we said arrivederci to Dick and Dorothy and Mary and Mallory we had some time to kill before our train so we strolled around the Boston Garden and through the Common and back again.

We were back in Providence before 5 p.m. and a stroll towards home brought us by Broadway Bistro. We thought, "hey let's stop in and have a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate the day and Dick's return to running in the Big Time." Well, the atmosphere was so inviting, the conversation with Suzanne behind the bar so engaging and the smells wafting out of the kitchen so tempting that we couldn't resist the obvious: we stayed and ate dinner.

In the twilight Susie and I strolled back to our apartment firmly convinced that it was truly grand day to be alive!

Wish you had been there,

Steve

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Food, wine and song. . . in Providence

Sunday was a beautiful day here in Providence and we made the most of it. That morning Susie and I strolled over to Nick's on Broadway for breakfast -- again. We arrived a little before nine and the "joint was jumpin." The wait was 15-30 minutes but we didn't mind. With the layout at Nick's it's a great place to watch the food being prepared, the people eating it and to strike up the occasional conversation with a another "chowhound."

They finally called our name and we were soon ensconced at the bar -- our favorite place since you get to watch all the action -- and frankly on a busy Sunday morning that can be riveting.

But what to order? was our dilemma that morning; a dilemma we experience every time we go to Nick's. Derek Wagner's menus is creative, imaginative and full of wonderful ingredients. Of course it may seem rushed as you watch the choreography behind the counter but each dish is carefully and lovingly prepared. (photo: Susie's incredible dacquoise with lemon curd.)

Susie ordered one of the wraps: scrambled eggs and prosciutto with mozzarella I believe. They finish the wrap off on the griddle to give it a toasty and slightly warm edge. Incredible.

I ordered one of the specials, the potato-fennel cakes topped with a pair of perfectly poached eggs, finished off with Hollandaise sauce. For an added treat I also ordered a side of the scrumptious maple pork sausage.


Notice the greens? I asked what they were and even though Derek was moving in six directions at once, he explained that they were called "lamb lettuce," also known as "mache." His idea, he told me across two counters, was to provide both a pleasing color contrast and a refreshing crispness to the other elements on the plate. It certainly worked for me.

Oh, and we're not sure but we think we just happened to be sitting next to "Nick."

You just can't go wrong with a place like this.

Later that afternoon -- after Susie worked for a few hours at Gracie's -- the two of us drove over to East Providence to explore some of the more than 14 miles of the East Bay Bike Path.

After I picked Susie up in front of Gracie's and made a u-turn, we couldn't help but notice across the street that the revolution had returned to Providence, at least in front of the public library -- part of the Ben Franklin traveling show and exhibition going on inside I suppose.


The sun was out as we parked the car just off of Veterans parkway and started a hike along the old railroad bed that runs along the east side of the bay. The sun soon disappeared the headwinds turned rather brutal. But it was nice to be out and the bike path is a grand place for some exercise.

Monday brought even more food adventures. Susie and I spent a wonderful evening enjoying good food and great company -- or great food and even better company -- anyway we had a grand time at Gracie's.



Working with the folks at the Savory Grape wine shop in East Greenwich, RI, who brought in the owner of Easton Wines in California, Gracie's put on a spectacular dinner last evening. I had been asked if I would come and take some photos and naturally Susie came along.

We arrived about 6 p.m. and already the folks were gathering at the bar, steeling themselves for the culinary surprises hovering just around the corner in the kitchen.

Susie and I sat with Gracie regulars Bill and Christine and two other couples who happened to be big fans of the Savory Grape.

The tables were laid out with a casual elegance and the participants were a casually informal, fun loving bunch, clearly eager to learn not only about Easton's wines but also what was in store for them in the kitchen.

We didn't have long to wait. Here's the breakdown:

First Course
Tuna "Nicoise" Terrine with Crisp Leeks, Haricot Verts, White Anchovies, Cured Olives, Re Manfredi First Press Olive Oil, Tomato Water and Eva's Pea Tendrils.
Wine Pairing: 2006 Easton Sierra Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Truffled Fava Bean Agnolotti with Buerre Noisette and Morel and Fava Bean Fricassee.
Wine Pairing: 2005 Terre Rouge Enigma (Marsanne, Viognier, Rousanne)

Third Course
Over Roasted Point Judith Black Bass Accompanied by Crisp Pork Rillons, First of the Season Ramps (of the onion family), a Terre Rouge Buerre Noir.
Wine Pairing:1999 Terre Rouge Noir (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Fourth Course
Seared Wolfs Neck Farm's Hangar Steak Glazed with Banyuls Shallot Jus and Served with Triple Cooked Chips, Pan Roasted Spicy Greens, Creamed Garlic.
Wine Pairing:2002 Easton Shenandoah Valley Estate Zinfandel

Dessert
Baked "Rhode Island," Johnnycake Sponge Cake Topped with Rocky Road Coffee Milk Ice Cream and Crisp Gooey Marshmallow Meringue.
Wine Pairing:Easton Late Harvest Zinfandel

This may sound like a small thing, but I've never, ever had fresh peas that were so perfectly cooked, nice and crisp, as if they were right out of the pod and warmed just enough. And the thin-sliced fava beans! Don't get me started on those. . . Incredible!

You should have been there. . . And the song? Just hit play!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another wonderful week to be alive in Providence

April 6, last Sunday marked the fiftieth year since my parents were married. Unlike most kids, I had the unique opportunity of attending my parents' wedding. I remember my mom wore this chic dress with a fur thing around the collar. And a hat of course. Although they never had much money mom and dad were always spiffy dressers. I was less than three weeks away from turning 10 years old, precisely the age that my niece Mallory will be celebrating this month.

April. I like this month. Spring is here, and summer is just around the corner.

We've had some odd weather here in the Ocean State -- but I suspect that weather on this planet has always been odd, no matter where you live. Certainly it's better here than in Bangladesh or the North Pole. Anyway, after rain, wind and temps all over the place, yesterday, Thursday, was an absolutely gorgeous day, a peek at what summer promises to be like here in Providence.

This last weekend was a curiously enjoyable time. On Saturday Susie went in to Gracie's of course and I grabbed my camera and headed off to the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler's show at the convention center. I've already blogged my notes from the show but let me say it was quite a learning experience: who would've thought they had fishing simulators? Anyway, it was fun for me and I took a few interesting photos -- assuming you enjoy staring at fishing lures. . .


Susie and I had originally planned to get over the Johnson & Wales university Saturday afternoon to see a cooking demo by Martin Yan ("Yan Can Cook"); I hoped to pick up some tips on cooking better Chinese food if nothing else. And from what I remember of seeing him on TV years ago he is quite the lively character so it promised to be entertaining as well. Unfortunately Susie had a long day at Gracie's so we had to forgo the pleasure of meeting Martin.

That evening we drove up to Douglas, MA to have dinner at Dick and Dorothy's house -- they had also invited several of their old friends, Bill and Becky and Phil and Donna, over as well. It had been years since we had seen this group together and so there was plenty of catching up to do. Yet it was almost as if we had been with them just last week. Very friendly folks, warm conversation and good food , plenty of good food, topped off my Dick's chocolate "item", which rounded out a fun and lively evening. We drove back to Providence relaxed, content and ready for a quiet Sunday.

Sunday was quiet enough but overcast and with a cool drizzle hanging in the air for much of the day. Still that didn't prevent us from attending the 25th anniversary party of the West Broadway neighborhood Association, or WBNA, of which we are now officially members.

Created in 1983 by a handful of citizens who were tired of the lack of services provided to their neighborhood, the organization todays counts more than 250 households and businesses as members and boasts a large volunteer network working with a full-time executive director. Bounded (roughly) by Broadway to the north, Cranston avenue to the south, and the service road to the east and Route 10 on the west, the WBNA provides help and assistance in repairing sidewalks, replanting trees, volunteer cleanup of the Dexter Training Ground.

One might say that much of the rehabilitation of this part of Providence, the "West End" I think it's called, is the result of the work of the WBNA. They are one of the driving forces behind renovating and remodeling many of the older buildings in the neighborhood as well.

We attended our first meeting of the WBNA on April 1 and heard about the party scheduled for the 6th at Julian's on Broadway. Naturally we planned to attend. And so we did.

It was an overcast and drizzling afternoon when we headed over to Julian's.

You had to roll a pair of dice to get in -- paying whatever the roll was for cover. Of course Susan rolled a 10 and I rolled a 7. You would've thought one of us could've rolled "snake eyes."

Anyway, we had often walked by Julian's but had never been inside. It is very funky with lots of hard-to-find beers on tap and plenty of creative food on the menu.

The place was already starting to fill up so we grabbed a couple of glasses of wine at the bar and searched for someone to take our membership dues -- it turned out to be Jean, one of the WBNA officers. We proceeded to sign up and so are now officially members of the WBNA. While we didn't feel significantly different it left us both with a rather pleasant feeling. We're happy living here and want to do whatever we can to help support the growth and development of our neighborhood.

On Tuesday I discovered the East Bay Bike Path, which runs from East Providence all the way down to Bristol I'm told, some 13 or so miles. Anyway I walked along just a portion of it on a sunny day and enjoyed myself immensely, getting a reasonably good view of the city (photo above) and the the remains of the working side to the northern head of Narragansett Bay.


One of my goals of late has been to shoot some video of Susie in the kitchen -- and I had a perfect opportunity earlier this past week to do just that. We had arranged for her to call me and let me know when she was going to pipe some meringue for the Baked Alaska that's now on Gracie's menu. The phone rang Tuesday mid-morning, it was Susie on the other end saying she would be ready in half an hour. I grabbed my cameras, jumped in the car and after running a couple of errands found myself in the kitchen at Gracie's, camcorder in hand. You won't necessarily learn a step-by-step how-to pipe from this video but here it is:


On Wednesday we stopped by Gracie's for the regular midweek wine flight: Oregon and Washington state wines this week. Adelsheim Pinot Gris (a recent favorite of ours as it turned out), a Semillon, and two reds. The wines were very nice and the reds smoothed out gracefully (get it gracefully?) with the food. We've come to see these evenings as a nice way to enjoy hors d'oeuvres paired with several wines before heading home for dinner.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Piping meringue at Gracie's

Here's a short bit of video that I shot of Susie piping meringue in the kitchen at Gracie's, yesterday, Tuesday, 8 April. This is the Baked Alaska, which went on the menu last week, and consists of banana ice cream on a chocolate cake base topped by delicious meringue of course!

Bon appetit!


Monday, April 07, 2008

WBNA 25th Anniversary party

This past Sunday the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, or WBNA, celebrated it's 25th year.

Created in 1983 by a handful of citizens who were tired of the lack of services provided to their neighborhood, the organization todays counts more than 250 households and businesses as members and boasts a large volunteer network working with a full-time executive director. Bounded (roughly) by Broadway to the north, Cranston avenue to the south, and the service road to the east and Route 10 on the west, the WBNA provides help and assistance in repairing sidewalks, replanting trees, volunteer cleanup of the Dexter Training Ground.

One might say that much of the rehabilitation of this part of Providence, the "West End" I think it's called, is the result of the work of the WBNA. They are one of the driving forces behind renovating and remodeling many of the older buildings in the neighborhood as well.

We attended our first meeting of the WBNA on April 1 and heard about the party scheduled for the 6th at Julians on Broadway. Naturally we planned to attend. And so we did.

It was an overcast and drizzling afternoon when we headed over to Julian's.

You had to roll a pair of dice to get in -- paying whatever the roll was for cover. Of course Susan rolled a 10 and I rolled a 7. You would've thought one of us could've rolled "snake eyes."

Anyway, we had often walked by Julian's but had never been inside. It is very funky with lots of hard-to-find beers on tap and plenty of creative food on the menu.

The place was already starting to fill up so we grabbed a couple of glasses of wine at the bar and searched for someone to take our membership dues -- it turned out to be Jean, one of the WBNA officers. We proceeded to sign up and so are now officially members of the WBNA. While we didn't feel significantly different it left us both with a rather pleasant feeling. We're happy living here and want to do whatever we can to help support the growth and development of our neighborhood.

After finding a table we had some of the delicious food provided for the occasion. The place was filled with families, young folks and older folks like ourselves.

A typical mix you might say, except for one tiny thing. There was only one person of color in the room, and to our knowledge not person of latino or hispanic or spanish or Central American origin. And yet our "neighborhood" is made up of, we have been told, a largely hispanic population.

Curious, eh?

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Year of Momentous Occasions

In short and in sum:
  • My Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary,
  • the completion of my 60th year,
  • the successful achievement of 25 years of wedded bliss,
  • niece Mallory's 10th year,
  • brother Greg's 50th year,
  • Susie's continued success as a pastry chef at Gracie's.
Things yet to be done:
  • getting dad back from wherever he is,
  • my finding work
  • seeing family and friends, again and again. . .
Time flies when you're having fun! Don't let it fly away.

Don and Helen Soper's 50th Anniversary

Today, April 6, marks the fiftieth year since my parents were married. Unlike most kids, I had the unique opportunity of attending my parents' wedding. I remember my mom wore this chic dress with a fur thing around the collar. And a hat of course. Although they never had much money mom and dad were always spiffy dressers. I was less than three weeks away from turning 10 years old, precisely the age that my niece Mallory will be celebrating this month.

So, yes I came from one of the nation's first postwar dysfunctional families -- my father had been married twice before and both ended in larger-than-life failures. Still, the first marriage produced my half-brother Don and the second me; and in a way the the second also produced my other half-brother Greg, who turns fifty this year on April 10.

April, or at any rate this April, marks a few major benchmarks to be sure.

Saltwater Fishing in Rhode Island

Last Saturday I took my camera and dropped by the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler's show at the Convention Center in downtown Providence. I'm not sure what I expected or in fact what I hoped to achieve by going -- but one never knows about such things. So when I got there I was actually quite surprised at what I found. . .

Fishing simulators: if you wanted to learn how to cast or to perfect your casting this was certainly one place to start.

And a boating simulator, sponsored by Kellogg's and their "Fishing Team."


Who would've ever thought Kellogg's had a fishing team. I thought maybe NASCAR yes, but fishing? I must admit it looked like a blast --and hey, a pretty good way of learning to drive a boat, wouldn't you say?

The simple fact is, for us non-fishing types, fishing is a big business. (They even have their own channel.) A very big business in rods and reels it would seem, as Mr. Orvis could probably tell us. And sure enough there were plenty of vendors selling those as well as a hundred other gadgets and fishing gear. And outfitters of course: from deep sea fishing to kayak fishing, to towing services. You had to be keen on fishing to appreciate the intensity of the folks looking for the right service, the right piece of equipment or the right lure.

And don't forget the boats, plenty of boats. No bikini-clad girl smiling and waving the "boys" to "come aboard and check out the instruments. These were serious people. Just middle-aged guys talking fish, water and how to spend your time on the one looking for the other.

And this seemed to be very very much a "guys" only outing. Groups of fishing buddies, fathers and sons, and the occasional grandpa helping his grandson pick out his first rod and reel perhaps?

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime (for me) opportunity of watching three guys tying fishing lures -- not as boring as it sounds since these three gentlemen were pretty funny, and very serious at the same time.

And of course the game wardens were there, handing out literature and probably trying to explain why their hair is so short -- all with a great smile.

All-in-all this was a pretty amazing show.

Anyway, if you want to know more about this fascinating world of fishing on salt water check out the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Rain, wine and a Baked Rhode Island


It has rained pretty much all week -- or so it seems. Good for the plants and flowers soon to bloom, I know, but bad for the roads here in Providence. The water hides the potholes making for dangerous driving conditions. Why just the other day a VW beetle that had been reported missing with two occupants was found in the bottom of a pothole on Washington street right near the police station. Funny thing is it was on top of a school bus.

OK, it's not that bad; but it's close.

Otherwise it's been quiet here in Providence, center of the New England Culinary Universe -- Boston being one of our many satellite food communities.

Gracie's has been hoppin' and Susie is right in step -- she's been working her pretty tail off prepping new sets of trio desserts for a variety of parties this last week and working on one or two new things to be added to the menu, like the Baked Rhode Island (see below).

This past Wednesday Susie and I made our (now regular) trip to Gracie's for the "wine flight of the week." The deal is you get to taste three wines (the theme changes each week) and a tasting of three edible tidbits prepared by Chef Joe's just for those wines. The tasting runs from about 5:30 until about 7:30 -- hey these folks are flexible.

Anyway, by the time we arrived the bar was packed and so we grabbed a small table in the lounge. With a great view of the Trinity Rep theater we could easily keep an eye on the ebb and flow of humanity both outside and in.

We've been pleasantly surprised with the wines at these affairs, and have enjoyed learning about new wines and how they match up with food. (We now have a new appreciation for South African wines, for example.)

The food as always was delicious -- this is the second time we've had Chef Joe's incredible porkbelly. Frankly he is a master at creating a dish that literally melts in your mouth like butter and yet tastes like pork.

There was also hanger steak on a small quarter of brussel sprout, ummmmm good!

And normally I don't care much for foie gras but that evening the preparation was truly mouth-watering; it was almost as if it had been lightly fluffed with a hint of citrus to it, spread over a wonderful homemade cracker. Man oh man!

The wines that evening were OK but generally no match for the outstanding food. The tasting consisted of three vintages of zinfandels from Jonathan Edwards, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Edwards, a producer in Connecticut arranges with growers in Napa valley to have grapes sent to Connecticut where they are bottled and then marketed as Connecticut wines. Don't ask me why. Anyway we thought the wines lacked balance between fruit and acid --a balance that we easily detected in the glass of Latour Pinot Noir that we enjoyed as a follow-on that evening. The zins did bear up a tad better with the food, it is true, but the body was never there.

We did get a chance to try one of Susie's new Baked Rhode Islands: a cornmeal cake base, coffee brownie chunk walnut ice cream and meringue, of course.


Oh, and before we left I sneaked a quick peek in the kitchen and caught this incredible piece of meat heading out front -- which I thought should have gone with me but someone else had apparently had the audacity to have ordered it first.

So next week is Pacific Northwest wines -- Gracie's pours a superb pinot gris from Adelsheim so we've eager to see what they have for us next Wednesday. And we can't wait to see what Chef Joe concocts for the wines. My fingers are crossed for a threesome of fish but we'll just have to wait.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

West Broadway Neighborhood Association


Last Tuesday, 1 April, was the meeting of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, or WBNA. Located in an old Texaco gas station on Westminster, just a block down from our apartment, the WBNA is a coalition of neighborhood organizations trying to make the "West End,"or at least this part of it, a nice place to live.

About 7 p.m. Sue and I grabbed our coats and headed over to the meeting. She had just gotten back from Gracie's and barely had time to shower before we had to leave.

But hey, it was a nice balmy evening for a short walk.

The small meeting room, in the old garage portion of the gas station, was about half-full of folks who live in the area. One of our builders, Peter, was there to talk about the rehab project of the old funeral home. He and Bob even laid out some munchies and wine for anyone from the meeting who wanted to come and take a look at what had been done to the Prata family funeral home (quite a few did in fact).

The meeting last about an hour with several folks making brief presentations on upcoming events and resources in the neighborhood.

It was kicked off with a talk by a rep from the city parks department and one from the Neighborhood Planting Association. They brought everyone up to date on the upcoming planting of trees in and around our neighborhood for this season. They also talked a bit about how folks could apply for tree plantings (mostly free) on their street.

They were followed by a young man who talked a bit about the farm fresh program and how people could buy shares for the season -- in other words, getting on a food plan for fruits and vegetables from local farms throughout the coming season.

A woman then talked for a few minutes about the status of the local coop store at 1577 Wesminster, almost right across the street from the WBNA office. Several years in development the store may (or may not) open this year. They are about a third of the way to their target number of shares, although we have no idea how the money issue stands at present. As you can see from the photo the projected land remains untouched. (The property in question is where the decaying building in the center of the photo now stands, sort of.)

Afterwards we both commented that a store, no matter how small, within walking distance would be a real step forward for the neighborhood to be sure. We're certainly planning on buying shares.

Upcoming events for the WBNA are:

6 April (this Sunday) is the anniversary party celebrating 25 years since the WBNA was created. Its going to be held at Julian's on Broadway from 5:30 to 7:30 and we're definitely planning on going. Great opportunity to meet more local folks and to put our money where our mouths are and join up!

12 April the RI Statewide Historic Preservation Conference is going to be held inside the Armory -- it's 40 bucks for the day-long program but I say it's worth it to get a serious look inside one of the states most gorgeous -- and underused -- buildings. Quite an architectural wonder.

26 April is spring cleanup, definitely needed.

17 May will be a neighborhood-wide yard sale -- this should be interesting.

After the meeting Susie and I and Deidre, who lives in our building, strolled back to the "home." We stopped in at one of the empty units, the model, sipped a little wine, ate a few munchies and met some of our neighbors who had taken Peter and Bob up on their offer to see the place and have a glass of wine in the bargain.

We invited Deidre to join us for dinner -- baked rice and a roasted melange of meat and veggies I had put in the oven before we walked to the meeting. She accepted and the three of us spent the evening getting to know each other. We've lived here for four months now and had hardly said much to each other than a quick hello.

It was, I thought, a fitting ending to a neighborhood meeting.

Wish you had been there,

Steve

You can find out more about the WBNA by checking out their website: http://www.wbna.org/