Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Thin Ice in Providence

Well, OK, it was actually in Connecticut. I took Susie to see figure skating at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut but had no idea it involved arm wrestling on ice.

Anyway, after meandering around Connecticut back-roads on the most beautiful day of 2010 (so far), we found ourselves face-to-face with one of the most ostentatiously huge structures poking itself out of the wooded wilderness of eastern Connecticut.

Aside from the rather depressing scene which greeted us inside after we parked the car -- row upon row of people, many elderly, barely able to stand or walk, sitting and punching a small button over and over and over . . .  Well, that was troubling indeed.

And after some curiously stupid problems caused mostly by the folks who run Foxwoods -- problems which affected many of us trying to see the show -- we actually did get inside, found our seats, front row almost on the ice itself, and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon watching very handsome young men swirling pretty young women all over the blue-red ice especially created for this ABC television event.

If you don't believe me, check this out for yourself:

Susie's in Paris

Susie called me early yesterday morning to say she had a smooth trip from Boston to Paris and arrived in the 11th arrondissement in Paris safe and sound. No lines in Boston,  flight left on time and touched down early at Charles de Gaulle. After waiting in a horrendous passport control line at the airport -- after all, what are governments for other than to annoy the life out of us -- she picked up her checked bag, called the shuttle to say she had arrived and they pulled up soon after.

After unpacking and settling in she took a nap. although still a bit "lagged" she rouse dherself and went out strolling around the neighborhood. After paying her respects to Leon Blum (at the eponymous Place) she walked down Ledru-Rollin to rue Charonne, up Charonne to Faubourg Sant Antoine and over to Place Bastille where she sat outside with a glass of wine, watching the world speed by.

From the Bastille she headed back to rue Charonne (via rue de Lappe) and to the Bar au Soupe where she had a delicious tasting of three different soups, with a small cheese plate, hot, fresh made bread and a glass of wine -- all for 12 euros! (We had eaten thre together once before -- nice folks and the soups are all freshly made each and every day.)

Then a stroll back home and to bed.

Me? I'm enjoying leftovers in Providence, thank you very much, and it looks like the high point of my week will be grocery shopping. The only travel challenge for me will be dodging the growing number of large holes in our streets.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chili Festival in Providence

It wasn't a riveting event, nor did it runt he risk of making a serious headway in the wide world of chili competitions. In fact the dozen or so chilis I tasted were generally devoid of flavor, and, with the exception of the oyster chili I was given, were fundamentally unremarkable.

But the music was fun, the folks seemed to have a good time and, from what I could tell, it was all for a good cause.

This last photo pretty much says it all. Yummeeeee!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Leaving Gracie's

This past Wednesday Steve and I went in to Gracie’s for a glass of wine at the bar as a sort of final farewell.  Interestingly, being St. Patrick’s Day AND the first round of the “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament in Providence, traffic was a sight to behold!  It took us 6 light changes to even get through the intersection just before Gracie’s, where fortunately we then took advantage of the valet parking.

Whew!  We ordered two glasses of Westport Rivers sparkling wine and decided we would each have a bowl of Gracie’s signature rigatoni for our supper. 

Following the amuse bouche of marinated yuzu fruit we were treated to seared scallops with a cauliflower couscous with pine nuts and currants. Our palates were refreshed by a cool and creamy yuzu sorbet, after which we proceeded to dive into our large bowls of rich, piccante rigatoni.  We could only eat a small portion of the generous servings, giving us plenty of leftovers for lunch. 

Dessert came next, the tart du jour for Susan, a light coconut cream served with cinnamon ice cream, and crème brulee for Steve.  We enjoyed every bite.

We chatted with Ellen, Gracie’s owner, for a bit before our meal, and she encouraged me to “write on the wall” before I left for Paris.  This has become a Gracie’s tradition over the years.  When an employee moves on from their work at Gracie’s they often write some pearl or sentiment on the kitchen wall to leave their mark, as it were.  I had some thoughts already written down, so I went in on Friday morning, as Danielle and Melissa were starting their workday.  I had decided that the wall downstairs over the pastry table was a fitting spot for me, as opposed to the general kitchen wall upstairs, since I had done so much of my work over the last 2+ years in that space.

Here is what I wrote: 

“Ah, how I love the feel of cool, smooth dough, the aromas of baking wafting from the kitchen, the flavors and textures of an oh so delicious dessert.  It’s been a true adventure and a learning experience unlike any thus far.  I’ve given it my all, and now it’s time for me to go.  May your days be luscious and your nights even more so.  And . . . always save room for dessert!  Your pastry chef, Sweet Nell.”

I added to my note higher up on the wall: “For J.H. wherever you are, I’ll see you Wednesday at  1pm  S.V.” 

Chef Joe Hafner and I met regularly in the early months of my employment, although the regularity of our meetings varied after I got to know the routines a little better.  We used to have a running joke about “meeting on Wednesday at 1pm” since for any number of reasons our meetings often got postponed.

And there you have it. 

To Chef Joe and Ellen: Thanks for everything.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Free at last, free at last, Susie has been set free at last

Last Friday, March 5, was Susie's last day at Gracie's. She spent several of her remaining few days explaining the nuances of Gracie's approach to desserts to Melissa, her erstwhile replacement, who will be stepping into her shoes this coming week.

Melissa (that's her on the left), is an incredibly talented and creative Johnson & Wales student who will be graduating this spring. She's bright, motivated, reliable, and asked all the right questions. Susan's assistant Danielle (on the right), who has herself make serious strides toward her own professional development in the world of pastry, rounds out the pastry "department" at the restaurant.

Susan misses the work but it's vital that she move on. It's terribly hard for little compensation, difficult enough for someone in their 20s let alone their 50s, but truth be told she never wanted to work in a restaurant in the first place. Nevertheless, the growth in both her professional development and self-confidence as a chef during the past two years has been tremendous.

So now she's looking to the future: Paris first, spending time studying French and developing her croissant techniques, visiting friends and strolling the city, clearing her head, lightening her heart and thinking next of Valerie's wedding, Melissa's wedding and then. . . ?

Sweet Nell's Baking company has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

Stay tuned - this is one story that's only going to get better.