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My Rhode Island Hit Parade

Here is, in no particular order, a list of my favorite spaces and places in this beautiful state.

1.  The Spring House on Block Island.  An old Victorian grand hotel, the front porch of the Spring House is the perfect place to while away an afternoon or evening.

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2.  Napatree Point, Westerly.  Now a wildlife preserve, this spit of land was swept bare in the Hurricane of 1938, killing 15 people.   Today it’s a peaceful beach free from the crowds that swarm other local beaches.

napatree

3.  The view of Providence from Prospect Terrace Park.   I love this statue of Roger Williams gazing out over the city he founded.  I recently found out that H.P. Lovecraft frequently visited this park.

Roger Williams

4.   The Ocean Mist.  The O’Mist is a legendary beach bar, hard by the shores of Matunuck Beach.  People once played volleyball in front of the deck, but severe erosion has claimed most of this space…..pro:  you feel like you’re on a poor man’s cruise ship….con:  the future of the Ocean Mist is iffy.   Come for live music, excellent fish tacos, and a great beer selection.

oceanmist

5.  Diamond Hill Vineyards.  Yes, a winery in Cumberland is one of my favorite spots!  It’s really come a long way over the last few years, a great spot to hang out and sip wine.  This picture was taken on a beautiful December day, when it warmed up to over 60 degrees!

diamondhill

6.  The Towers, Narragansett.  The entire town qualifies for my Best Of list, but the Towers are an iconic and beautiful landmark.  Built as part of the Narragansett Pier Casino in the 1880s, they’re now a venue for private events.

narragansett

7.  Wickford Village.   Shopping and dining with views like this:

wickford

8.   THIS BARN.   I am on a quest to get a picture of it in all seasons.  Come on spring!!

scituate barn

9.   The Pawtucket Wintertime Farmer’s Market.  I can’t believe this place doesn’t get more press.  It’s bigger and better than the summertime markets.   I counted four vendors selling grass-fed meat.  FOUR.  There are fresh winter veggies, seafood & poultry, products such as herbals, honey, pickles, chocolates.  My routine is to grab an insanely delicious crepe (my fave is brie, spinach & craisins), a coffee from New Harvest, and stroll around for an overview before I buy anything.

pawtmkt

10.  The Clarke Cooke House, Newport.   Four stories of fun in a beautiful Colonial-era building, from the basement nightclub to fine dining on the top floor “Porch”….and five bars that I can think of.

clarkecooke

Well, there you have it!  Do you agree with my choices?  Am I missing anything obvious?  Be in touch and let me know!

 

 

Sugaring Off Season (or mud season for the pessimists)

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.

Williams Farm 2

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.

Old Deerfield Sign

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.

Wells-Thorn 1747

Dwight 1754 Springfield

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.

Hygge…wha?

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.

violins

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:

PVD

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.[2]

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.”

electric

That’s all for now.  Happy New Year!

Locavore Challenge

I’ve decided to “eat local” for one week.  I’m still working out the details, such as….what’s local?  I think 100 miles from my home sounds about right.   Can I use anything currently in my pantry?  I think so.   And what sort of timing?  I think the next few weeks would be my best bet; if my planned week fell during a time that blueberries, tomatoes & corn were all in season I’d eat well.  Are you wondering why eating local matters?   There are actually a lot of important reasons.

Sustainability – small scale local farms tend to focus on practices such as little or no pesticide use, crop rotation and other tactics to keep the soil healthy.   And it’s not hard to figure out how it benefits the environment if you buy a head of lettuce from a farm 10 miles away, rather than one that was trucked 3000 miles from California.

Preserving open space – pretty simple, if a local farmer can’t make a go of it, he is likely to sell his land to developers.  Do we really need another condo complex?

Biodiversity – this might be too big a topic for my little blog.   I say either google it or tell me you want to know more.

If this topic intrigues you I highly recommend you read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollen.  Yeah, I know you’re busy, but it’s important, and could possibly change your life.  If you live in Rhode Island or nearby Massachusetts, a great resource is the website Farm Fresh Rhode Island.  It’s an easy way to search out farm stands, CSAs, farmers markets and all things locavore.

This is a place I plan to try very soon:  Blackbird Farm, grass-fed meats, raised right here in northern RI.
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