Maple sugar season – when sugarhouses all over the northeast come to life – is my favorite sign of spring. It generally runs from late February through mid April, when longer, warmer days cause the sap to run. Making syrup really hasn’t changed, it’s still a very manual process….buckets hung from trees to gather the sap, wood fires to boil the sap in rural shacks. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup; remember that the next time you balk at the price of real syrup. I’m pretty sure the ingredient list for Aunt Jemima is just high fructose corn syrup and one melted brown crayon for color.
An old-fashioned tradition that has thankfully survived is seasonal pancake breakfasts right in the sugarhouse. I had several on my short list, and narrowed it down to Williams Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts for a couple of reasons: it was a bit closer than a few of the others, and also seemed the least likely to have a wait. I’d really like to get to Gould’s one of these days, but a wait of up to two hours is possible. Since it was already a two hour drive, and my backroading turned it into a three hour drive, I wanted to get right down to pancake-eating when I arrived.
From Worcester I took 122 north, a two lane road through the rural towns of Barre and Petersham before linking up with Route 2 (The Mohawk Trail). Once out of Worcester the route quickly turns wooded and pretty and looks much like New Hampshire. Around Petersham you skirt the northern border of The Quabbin Reservoir, at about 40 square miles the largest inland body of water in Mass and the main source of water for Boston. Its creation in the 1930s caused the destruction of four towns; cemeteries and town memorials were moved and even today you can drive down roads that once led to these towns but now dead end at the reservoir.
During maple season, if you are driving in the rural northeast and see a rough wood building with steam coming out of it they’re probably making maple syrup.
All you need to know now is….is this a pancake making sugarhouse or a non-pancake making sugarhouse? Out of the car and we breathe in the smell of woodsmoke. Inside the rustic post & beam building are rows of picnic tables and a counter where you place your order. I stuck with the basics, really good (hot, fresh & light) pancakes, their own maple syrup, and a side of bacon to cut the sweetness. Nothing about the experience is remotely fancy: paper plates, the tables are shared, and you pick up your food when your number is called. And that’s good. Fancy would be wrong here. I grabbed a bottle of Grade B (deep color, robust flavor) on my way out the door. Typing this makes me want pancakes for dinner tonight!
I made a quick pitstop in Historic Deerfield for a few pictures. This sign gives a brief history.
The village today is an outdoor history museum comprised of twelve historic buildings, eleven of which are on their original sites. There’s also an inn with a full service restaurant. The house below was a beautiful bright robin’s egg blue but it’s not as evident in the photo, because of the competing blue sky.
I plan to get back to the Pioneer Valley when the weather warms up some more. I have a list of places I’d like to visit in this Jauntful guide. There’s so much to do here once you start looking around.
I just heard about hygge today and have fallen in love with the idea. It’s a Danish cultural concept that if summed up in one word would be cozy….but it’s so much more. To the Danes, hygge (pronounced sort of like ‘hoogah’) is a feeling, a concept that has elements of family & friends, camaraderie, hominess, food & drink shared with those you love, some would add safety & contentedness, and CANDLES. Apparently those short winter days close to the Arctic Circle have bred in them a deep love of candles and all manner of twinkling lights. In early January spring seems so far away but the reality is the first day of spring is only about 75 days away (even if true springlike weather won’t show its face in New England quite so soon). I’m going to fight the urge to wish winter away and will use the idea of hygge to embrace it instead. My perfect hygge day would be hanging out with a small group of my closest friends, a pot roast in the oven, sipping red wine in front of a fire. Extra points for nasty weather outside.
Another lovely Scandinavian idea is friluftsliv which translates directly from Norwegian as “free air life”. It means spending time outdoors, in all seasons, hiking, camping, or even just going for a walk or taking pictures. Since hygge comes easily to me, I will have to work at friluftsliv this winter.
If you’re looking for some motivation to get out of the house on a Saturday morning, look no further than Pawtucket, RI. Truly. Hope Artiste Village is probably my favorite repurposed mill in the area. Chock-full of artists, designers, cafes and even a coffee roaster, it hosts (every Saturday November-May, 9AM-1PM) a kick-ass wintertime farmer’s market. To give you an idea of the scope of this market, I counted four vendors selling grass-fed beef alone. There are stalls loaded with winter vegetables like kale, winter squash & potatoes….herbalists selling skincare and natural remedies, soup, freshly made cheeses, knitted alpaca mittens, local oysters….you name it. Get a coffee from New Harvest Roasters, a stuffed crepe from La Creperie, then walk around and plan out your dinner from what’s available that day. If you’re still hungry, The Bread Lab is right in the complex, interior doors open to the action, and offers brunch & live music on market days. If you want something quicker, the mill courtyard is full of food trucks. You’re having so much fun, why stop now? About a block away is Bucket Brewery, run by a great bunch of guys putting out some shockingly good beers. Walk over from the market for a tasting, they’re open 11:00AM-5:00PM on Saturdays, as well as Thursdays 1:00PM-7:30PM. After that, hop in your car for a 3 minute drive to Foolproof Brewing. According to their website Saturdays are for tours, so call ahead for a reservation (although they will accommodate walk-ins). It seems they do a ‘tasting only’ option on Thursday nights.
This first picture is McCarten Violins, one of the tenants of Hope Artiste. Aren’t they beautiful? I suspect I’m drawn to violins after my failed attempt to become a musician in 4th grade. It wasn’t bad enough my glasses made me look like Benjamin Franklin, I decided to play the violin…and failed.
I know I should just let Pawtucket bask in its glory by itself today but I have two pics of Providence I feel like throwing in here. The beautiful skyline from the Point Street Bridge:
The building in the picture below is one that I was mildly obsessed with as a child. Even driving by it scared me, I felt that you could get a shock just looking at it. Back then, it was actually producing electricity and you could somehow tell that by looking at it. It glowed brightly and just looked….electrified. According to Wikipedia:
“The South Street Station (also known as The Narragansett Electric Company Power Station or Narragansett Electric Lighting Company Power Station) is an historic electrical power generation station at 360 Eddy Street in Providence, Rhode Island. It is a massive brick and stone structure, built in stages between 1912 and 1952. Despite three major phases of construction, the 58,000 square foot building has fairly consistent Classical Revival styling. The building, an excellent example of early 20th-century power plant design, burned coal to provide electrical power to the city. It was gradually taken over by the more modern Manchester Street Station, and was decommissioned in 1995.
Narragansett Electric Company is a subsidiary of National Grid USA. The Rhode Island Historical Society was planning to build a “Heritage Harbor Museum” within the building. Construction ceased and the project was canceled in 2009 due to lack of financing.
In 2013 Brown University along with the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College announced that the vacant South Street Power Station would be a redeveloped with student housing, retail, a URI/RIC nursing school, administrative offices, a new parking structure, and additions to the adjacent riverwalk. The project is slated to also include student housing built on a parking lot along Point Street.”
That’s all for now. Happy New Year!
I know it seems a bit early but it’s only because I want you to get out there and enjoy some Christmas events! You know if you don’t plan ahead it won’t happen.
I’m a bit of a history geek and my favorite of the living history museums is Mystic Seaport. For the 35th year they are presenting their Lantern Light Tours, a progressive play set on Christmas Eve 1876. Leave some time for lunch or dinner at S&P Oyster Company in downtown Mystic.
Old Sturbridge Village offers up Christmas By Candlelight, with a full slate of traditional activities such as caroling, roasting chestnuts and the like. The on-site Oliver Wight Tavern offers special dinners to coincide with their Christmas events, as well as Brunch with Santa.
Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth NH is unique in that it encompasses over 300 years of American history, up to 1954 when the site was saved from urban renewal. Sticking with the historical theme of ….candles….their seasonal event is the Candlelight Stroll. Weekends in December bring sleigh rides, live music and seasonal entertainment along walkways lighted with wood and glass candle boxes. This would make a fantastic weekend away, as Portsmouth is a great small city, full of shopping and dining options.
People tend to forget about Newport once summer’s over but it’s really got a lot to offer in all seasons. December brings Christmas At The Newport Mansions, probably the best time to see these amazing Gilded Age mansions decked out in their holiday finery. You can’t go wrong with dinner at The White Horse Tavern; in their own words “from farm to table since 1673″. Yes, really: 1673.
I’d like to end with a reminder that this Saturday, November 29th is Small Business Saturday. Shop local! Shop small!!
No? Well, you will be soon.
This post is All Connecticut All The Time. I didn’t intend it to be, it just happened. One of my favorite places in CT is Sharpe Hill Winery in Pomfret. Classic New England:
This area of northeastern CT is known as The Quiet Corner, and also The Last Green Valley. If you were to fly over New England at night, this area is the only place from DC to Maine that is in darkness, it’s truly rural.
Right around the corner is The Golden Lamb Buttery, a highly regarded restaurant that has been in the same family for generations. I pulled over to take a couple of pictures and realized a wedding was going on. You couldn’t ask for a nicer setting, the only incongruous note was hearing that horrid song “Happy” blaring out of the barn. This beautiful guy coming over to say hello made up for it.
This fall the abandoned village of Johnsonville CT has been getting a lot of press after it was announced it would be auctioned off in October. Oh if only I could get my hands on $3M!! I wasn’t able to buy it but I was able to visit and take pictures.
I’ve always heard of Gillette Castle but never got around to going. Wow, I was really missing something! The castle is cool although it was closed for the season and we didn’t get to go inside. But the real star of the show are the grounds which have become a state park, with amazing views of the Connecticut River.
Driving home I saw this cool old barn:
Now for a couple of Rhode Island pictures. As I got closer to home the light was really cool and I saw a lot of nice foliage in Acotes Hill Cemetery in Chepachet, so I had to pull in. I love a good cemetery.
Hard to believe the holidays are almost upon us. In my next post I’ll list some holiday events in case you’re looking for things to do. Stay tuned!
I’m going to run for City Council. I’m going to run the concession stand at the high school football games. I’m going to start a Neighborhood Watch. I’m going to be all-in with this town. Seriously Portland, you had me at hello.
I expected to like Portland before I got there. On the drive up we got off the highway to cruise through Old Orchard Beach. I hadn’t been there since I was 12 years old but as soon as I drove into town I remembered the street where my mother bought a Ginsu knife from a street vendor. They meant it when they said those things were guaranteed for life…I still have that knife and use it daily. Not kidding.
From there we headed up Route 1 to the Portland Head Light, called the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Let that soak in. THE WORLD. How can they tell? I don’t know but I believe Them. It was pretty and I liked taking pictures of it.
A bit further north on Route 1 we drove into downtown Portland, which reminds me either of a larger Salem MA, or a smaller Boston. They seem to love pretty signage as much as I do.
I’ve always been pretty smug about Providence’s status as a foodie city but man, Portland has them beat. These people are obsessed (in a good way) with eating local. We had a fab dinner at Caiola’s in the West End, awesome brunch at East Ender (fried-chicken-and-waffles-with-maple-sour-cream-awesome!) and visited two breweries, Shipyard and Rising Tide. They had a wonderful farmer’s market but I didn’t get anything since I didn’t have a fridge and a kitchen.
The only downer was the heat & humidity – after a temperate summer, we had a couple of days of brutal heat & humidity that coincided with my visit. I still loved it, but I’d like to get back here in boots & sweater weather.
That’s the tagline for Rhode Island’s own Narragansett Beer. While the concept – a shandy made with Del’s Lemonade – and the can (PRETTY!) are both really cool…..true RI street cred in a beer goes to the Coffee Milk Stout from Ravenous Brewing in Woonsocket. But a picture of this can taken on Block Island is a really cool bit of Rhode Islandia.
I’ve found an app called Aviary….it’s a photo-editing app, similar to Instagram. I love what it does to pictures….kinda fake, kinda old fashioned looking. When I put it like that it doesn’t really sound so good. August in Rhode Island was not typical this year. We tend to get one week that feels like September, mid-70s, dry…..this year almost all of August was like that. One day recently I went out for a drive and found two beautiful red barns, about 5 minutes apart from one another And I filtered them thusly (the first one looks like it should be in an old-timey oatmeal ad). All these pictures were taken with my iPhone…just a coincidence that they were all taken that way.
This next picture was taken from Napatree Point looking back towards Watch Hill, which is a village of Westerly, RI. Napatree Point is a long skinny spit of land sticking out into the ocean, right on the Connecticut line. Up until 1938 it was lined with beautiful homes, about 40 of them I believe, grand shingled New England cottages. Unfortunately they were all wiped out in the Hurricane of ’38. The land was never built on again. The first picture is the original shot, the second was with the filter applied:
Two shots of a place dear to my heart, East Sandwich Beach, Sandwich MA:
Is it just me, or does the sky in the second picture look a bit like Parrish Blue?
And I guess by now you expect this. I’ll leave you with two shots of Block Island, pre-filter and filtered:
Hopefully my filter phase has now come and gone.
Does it get any better than that? Not in my world. As daytrips go, the Connecticut River Valley is a bit of a sleeper, it reminds me of SouthCoast MA in that regard. Rural, pretty, with a bit of sophistication. Once again, see my Jauntful guide for the area for specific recommendations of things to see and do.
So many pretty spots I don’t know where to begin. We had a great lunch at The Blue Oar, a BYOB on the river. Hard to beat this view. I had a medium rare burger, with some Salmon River Red from Priam Vineyards up in Colchester.
The village of East Haddam is home to the Goodspeed Opera House, and the beautiful Gelston House restaurant next door. No, I didn’t see Fiddler, but after seeing this cool place I wish I had. Had a glass of champagne on the Gelston House patio overlooking the river. (did I tell you I turned 50 on the day I was there?). It’s a hard place to leave!
Okay, on to Chester. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more charming village than this. A handful of shops, and three – count ’em – THREE really good restaurants in this teeny place. The River Tavern, Restaurant L&E and Otto. A shopkeeper told us they have a farmer’s market on Sundays, all the shops open early and they close the town to car traffic. A highlight was the studio and gallery of Leif Nilsson, an Impressionist painter. Just gorgeous.
We wrapped up this beautiful day in the amazing village of Essex. Its claim to fame is it’s one of the few American towns ever to be attacked by a foreign power. It happened during the War of 1812, when the British destroyed 28 vessels with an estimated worth of $200,000. That’s in 1814 dollars! You can’t go to Essex without a stop at The Griswold Inn, affectionately known as The Gris. An old colonial hotel/restaurant/tavern. Go. You don’t be disappointed. None of my pictures of Essex came out good ….hard to imagine since it’s such a gorgeous place.
I’ll leave you with yet another of my favorite places…Block Island! You saw that coming, didn’t you?
A discovery I made recently is the website Jauntful. It’s an easy way to create your own travel guides and a perfect fit for this blog. I’m hopeful they will soon create a widget for WordPress like the Yelp one to the right of this post. In the meantime, I’ll embed links to individual guides as they relate to what I’m posting about. I will try to put aside my resentment at not having invented this website myself.
A couple of weeks ago I visited the village of Padanaram in Dartmouth MA; I had forgotten how beautiful this corner of Massachusetts is. Recently there’s been a push to expand tourism in the region, complete with snappy nicknames (SouthCoast! FarmCoast!) and some polished social media: Discover Farmcoast and their blog. This might be the perfect daytrip, and there is more than enough to make a long weekend out of it. I would suggest starting in Padanaram (Faunce Corner Road exit off 195, just before New Bedford), if it’s lunchtime try the Black Bass Grille. Head west along the coastal roads to take in Horseneck Beach, and stops at Buzzards Bay Brewing and Westport Rivers Winery. If you can time it right, you won’t regret dinner at The Back Eddy. Fresh, local seafood with a Portuguese slant.
A doorway in Padanaram –
The deck at the Back Eddy –
From The Back Eddy follow Adamsville Road into Rhode Island, and the towns of Little Compton & Tiverton. Tiverton Four Corners is an historic crossroads with a few pretty shops, a couple of art galleries, some of RI’s best ice cream at Gray’s, and a fantastic cheese shop. In between you’ll find rolling fields, stone walls & farm stands.
A place I’m lucky to be able to spend a lot of time in is Sandwich, MA, one of the prettiest towns on the Cape. These pics were taken from the boardwalk….I’ve decided I need to swim here at some point this summer:
A rosé tasting on the deck – Les Dauphins won hands down, although I freely admit I bought them based on how pretty the labels were.
A late spring tradition is the Fields of Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill, NH (home of Polly’s Pancake Parlor!). Spring was late this year so the flowers weren’t as abundant as in years past, but it was still pretty.
I’ll leave you with a picture of Bristol (RI) Harbor, sunset on the longest day of the year.
I was beginning to think winter would never end. Not that you’d know it from these pictures but we are well and truly into spring now. My most recent pics aren’t very springlike because I lost the download cord to my camera, keep forgetting to order a new one, and have had to resort to my phone. The first two are from Providence. You know how I feel about this city. They don’t call it the Paris of New England for nothing.
They actually don’t. I just made that up. But look at these scenes of Westminster Street and tell me I’m really that far off the mark. Lots of small local businesses have sprung up, clothing, housewares, and a pair of little restaurant/bars. Flan y Ajo and Bodega Malasana are owned by a husband/wife team. Flan is an honest-to-goodness tapas bar that can accommodate about 14 people (that includes standing at the bar) and Bodega is an equally teeny wine bar, with both house wines and a small but interesting selection of tapas going for $5. Yup, you read that right.
An interesting trend is the rise of nano breweries (like a microbrewery but smaller). I guess they’ve always been around, what’s different now if they actually distribute to local bars and restaurants, and they do weekend tastings like wineries. In the past month or so I’ve been able to try brews from three different Rhode Island nanobreweries, and visit two of them. Coffee Milk Stout is a riff on coffee milk (a kid’s beverage made from coffee syrup). Most Rhode Islanders grow up on this stuff, a gateway drug to Dunkin Donuts coffee in adulthood. Coffee Milk Stout bubbles up from an industrial park in Woonsocket, courtesy of Ravenous Brewing. I’ve yet to visit them, I usually get my fill of their product at Ciro’s Tavern, right off Main Street in Woonsocket. This is an English-style pub w/great food, cool brews, trivia nights, live music….it’s basically the Cheer’s of northern RI.
Bucket Brewery is my new favorite place. Located in an old mill in Pawtucket, on the Providence line, its name comes from the disparaging nickname for Pawtucket, “the bucket”. I love when someone takes a supposed negative, owns it and runs with it. I think we tried six different beers the night we were there? And – no kidding – each was better than the last. Here is a snap of me playing barmaid. Besides the great beers, the guys who own this place couldn’t be nicer….so far this has been one of my favorite nights of 2014 (the entire group concurred).
I wanted to bring some fresh tap beer to a friend’s one evening, so I swung by Bucket Brewery. Je suis désolée! A hand-lettered sign on the door informed me they were closed to attend a beer fest. I immediately got on my Yelp app as I recalled there was yet another nanobrewery nearby, also open on weekends. Foolproof Brewing to the rescue! I fell hard for their Raincloud Porter and got a growler home safely.