Friday, January 15, 2010

My Heart Bleeds for Haiti

Just taking a moment to call attention to the situation in Haiti, which is horrifying and very sad.

While it certainly is heartening to see how the entire world has jumped to attention in efforts to help, the tragic devastation of the island nation is of grand proportions - something that will likely take years and years to turn around.

Though I'd never been to Haiti, I have a friend who spent 3 years there in the Peace Corp and loves to regale any audience with stories. Those years have been fondly remembered - he learned Creole and came to love the people.

Even if you have no money to give, a good thought or a prayer can help too.

I'm sure there are many ways to give; this is just one and likely old news by now: by texting 90999 to Haiti you can donate $10 to the Red Cross for Haiti Relief Fund. It adds up! Last time I checked the fund had reached $4 million.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wickenden Street Bridge Demolition 01.14.10

Here's your daily dose of demolition.

This is the view today, after 4 full nights of action.

I thought I'd be more upset at the noise and inconvenience, living essentially across the street from all this, but I'm really not. I'm grateful. I look at it like a huge neighborhood landscaping project that I don't have to pay for (yeah, taxes, so what) or worry about.

Where will all the displaced pigeons go?

Click on the picture to view more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Twin Oaks

Scallops in Bacon
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats

What can be said about Twin Oaks that hasn't been said before? Since this old-school bastion of Italian American food has been around since the 1930's, I'm guessing not a lot remains untapped, but here's my take.

Having grown up in Cranston, Warwick, and Providence, Twin Oaks was to me always in the background. I have vague memories of going as a child, or hearing grandma rave about her leftover lobster club, but really, it was not front and foremost in my life.

Lately, however, for many reasons I suppose, including my ever-growing sense that this world is a scary and cold place, I've been reaching out to things that bring me comfort. Since this is largely not a conscious process, it was an innocent question that brought the words 'Twin Oaks' to my lips a month or so ago: "Where do you want to eat, Steph?"

So we were.

To understand Twin Oaks, one must first take in the sheer size of the operation. This place is big, and busy. Wander in during lunchtime on a weekday and you're likely to find nary a booth to call your own. Friday and Saturday nights? Plan to wait, my friend, unless you've got connections. Despite the magnitude - or perhaps because of it - this place runs extremely efficiently. The service is very fast and exceedingly polite - not in an ingratiating way, but in a no-nonsense old fashioned way. It's like you're stepping back in time.

The time warp thing is likely due to its long history. In 1928, during Prohibition, owner William DeAngelus, Sr. began distilling whiskey to sell to friends, and the basement of his home became a speakeasy. After federal agents shut this operation down, the original Twin Oaks opened later that year, with seating for 56 in 3 small dining rooms. Today, in its current location, there are six dining rooms that can accommodate close to 650 people.

And the food? It doesn't get more old-school than this. The menu is huge, with sandwiches and specials popping off the page at lunch, and everything from broiled steaks to veal parmesan to baked stuffed shrimp pleasing the dinner crowds. The appetizers run to the old fashioned as well, with offerings rarely seen anywhere these days - like celery with anchovies, sardines on lettuce, and fried smelts.

I usually get broiled swordfish and the man has his chicken parmesan fix. Or a steak. Last week it was a steak. These bacon-wrapped scallops were an appetizer special. They went very quickly.

With such history, I recommend that Anthony Bourdain take time to visit Twin Oaks when he comes to Providence later this month! It reflects the patina of this state so well, and is a comfort on many levels, especially in the frigid days of winter in January.

Twin Oaks
100 Sabra Street
Cranston, RI 02910-1099
(401) 781-9693

Wickenden Street Bridge Demolition 01.13.10

Here you go, curious people.

This is the progress after 3 full nights of work at tearing down this bridge.

We got a notice that they'd go from 8pm to 5am, but they start earlier than that. I'm happy to see this eyesore disappear, bit by bit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Art of Losing

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

"One Art", from The Complete Poems 1927-1979
by Elizabeth Bishop

It seemed to me that 2009 was, in many ways, about losing - both in my own life and in the lives of many I know. This observation is from my own perspective, obviously. I also am aware that this past year brought a great deal of positivity and new beginnings to many - myself included. But at the same time, for me, it was not the best year. It wasn't just the actual, tangible losses suffered - losses of loved ones and friends, for example - but a subtle loss of hope. The economy continued to tank, and my own life just felt, largely, stagnant. It was the build-up of several years of frustration in other matters that still have little to no resolution in sight. Matters that I'd taken too far to heart - matters that, if I kept allowing them to, could have taken my over my life's energy entirely.
With the advent of a new year and new decade (I first wrote 'century'!), there has been a perceptible shift, both in my perspective and in life's actual events. There just seems to be so much possibility that has displayed itself, almost out of nowhere. It's as if the year 2010 came in with so much energy and is inflating us all.

Today I drove by my childhood home, the place I had lived from age 6 until I moved in with a man at age 20. It remained the home of my mother and sister until my mom's death in 1997, when I was 24.
Every now and then I drive by, and each successive time the place manages to simultaneously tug at my emotions more while becoming increasingly unrecognizable as my home. Today was no exception.
I had other things planned after this spontaneous drive-by, but it was all I could do to compose myself for the journey 'home'.

Anyway, I found this poem in a book which I've had for years on my shelf, and serendipitously pulled out this evening, The Girl's to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.
I'm going to devour this one slowly.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Beaver Butter

Beaver Butter
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
I know I am completely juvenile for finding humor in food packaging laden with sexual innuendo.

I've long mourned the fact that Little Rhody Egg Farms has removed the little dancing egg on their cartons with the caption, "We Just Got Laid at...Little Rhody Egg Farms!".

Just remember - It's Always Better with Beaver Meadow.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy 2010, Y'all!

Roosevelt Lobby, NOLA
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats

So we emerge into a new decade as well as a new year!

(I'm all reflective tonight, so as I listen to the man playing Wii golf and sip my potato vodka, I will let loose some of my random thoughts.)

First of all, it just hit me the other day that we are indeed embarking on a brand new decade as well as turning the calendar over for another year. The past 10 years have been filled with some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of my 36 years. There were quite a few new additions to my family (blood and chosen!). People were married and others were buried. Relationships ended and other, more lasting ones, were forged.

I learned a lot, about myself, about the world, about pain, and about joy. It was a difficult decade, but then again, it did teach me to appreciate how fragile we are, which in turn lead me to value every moment a little more than I used to. Is that just part of growing older?

There is much still in my life that is not the way I want it to be, but I think above all, I've learned that life is not perfect. It's a process, and while the grass may always seem greener over the septic tank, it smells pretty bad there too. Trade-off?

I wish you all prosperity, success, health, and happiness in the coming year. Here's to 2010! (That's 'twenty ten'. Not 'two thousand ten'. I made up my mind...)

The Big Easy in December

Best Bloody Mary Ever
Originally uploaded by whatstepheats
Made a short jaunt down to the Crescent City a couple of weeks ago. Wandered down Bourbon Street one Sunday morning, and stumbled into this place from which many people were emerging with beautiful Bloody Marys. I think it was La Bayou?

(It was just across the street from several people puking on the sidewalk; I know that helps narrow things down a bunch. Puking post-revelry drunken folks were prevalent since the Saints had played the night before. Or maybe they are always prevalent. It was not far from Bourbon House...if that helps.)

This Bloody Mary was made with 2 ounces of olive-infused vodka (our generous bartender added a little extra, just because we looked like we needed to relax a bit, shake the Northeast off our shoulders...), plus the best commercial mix I've had (Zing Zang, which I've not seen in these Northerly parts). Also, it had all that I consider essential in a Mary. Celery, olives, sure. Those are standard accoutrements.

(You'd think celery and olives are omnipresent in Bloodies, but not in Little Rhody, where I've had bartenders all over ask me how to make such basics as Manhattans. What's up with that?)

In addition to the celery and green olives, this baby had a pickled string bean, a peperoncino, and a pickled cocktail onion. It was so spicy and wonderful. Our bartender kept feeding us extra pickled goodies on the side, claiming them to be 'fresh out of the jar'. Indeed.

New Orleans is quite a cocktail town! The bartender in our hotel made me a Vieux Carre the first night we were there, and it was everything I could have imagined. Having tried to order one at various places up here in Rhode Island (even those who proclaim to respect bourbon and rye-based cocktails), only to be met with blank stares, this was landmark.

Everyone seemed to be focused on enjoying life. Mardi Gras was touted, and there was much mention of the annual Tales of the Cocktail - clearly the cocktail is king in this town. Cocktails before dinner are de rigueur; a person need not feel like a stand-alone lush for ordering one because the entire table seems to do so.

Anyhoo, my first trip to NOLA put hooks in my soul. We managed to fit in quite a restaurant itinerary: Cochon Butcher, Cochon, Mr. B's, Domenica, and Lilette. Drinks at the Roosevelt's bar. Caroling in St. Peter's Square. All of this in upper 50 to mid-60 degree temps with sun - in December!!!

NOLA, beautiful NOLA. You've won me over. Swoon.