The olden days

Posted on November 28, 2011 by Leave a comment

“What were the olden days like, Grandma and Grandpa?”
It was my favorite question, queried constantly to my beloved grandparents as I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s. They talked of riding streetcars, living in turn of the century (that’s the 19th into the 20th-century) New York and moving to the suburbs – East Orange, N.J. — from the wilds of Brooklyn when my dad was a child in the early part of the 20th century.
Now the tables are turned, and I’m the grandparent, being queried on the “olden days” by my beloved grandson, Jack, who’s 7 1/2. It’s a Q & A project for his second grade class study on “Acton Long Ago.”
I didn’t grow up in Acton, but my answers are probably like a lot of other grandparents, who grew up in my time and are being interviewed for this project.
Back in our “olden days” of the ’40s and ’50s, we played jump rope, hopscotch and kickball. Girls loved playing with dolls and paper dolls and being with friends. Boys loved playing sports and being with friends. We walked to school and came home for lunch. And our TVs — if we had a TV — were tiny and black and white with two or three channels, not hundreds of cable options like we have today.
Computers were far away in some science fiction future we only read about or imagined in comic strips or movies.
But we were still lucky kids, especially when we had grandparents who loved — no adored — us.
And that hasn’t changed in 60, 600 or 6000 years. Grandparents love doting on their grandkids, cherishing them and offering a listening ear without judgement or condemnation.
My grandparents did it for me and my sisters. And I do that now for Jack, Molly and Claire.
How would Grandma and Grandpa Davies react to these three little miracles — their great-great grandchildren and my perfect grands?
I think, first of all, that they’d laugh a bit when they realized their granddaughter is now a grandmother herself. How could that happen, they’d think, recalling my rebellious teen years when they always stood by?
Then, they’d marvel at how funny and smart kids are today — especially Jack, Molly and Claire. And while they wouldn’t be able to fathom computers, the Internet, iPads or remotes, they’d marvel at how far the world has come.
But they’d still take delight that, despite push buttons and multimedia electronics, kids still play dolls, jump rope and play hopscotch and kickball, keeping the “olden days” alive — at least for this generation.

Making Connections on an Autumn Night

Posted on October 11, 2011 by Leave a comment

The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, was the perfect setting to celebrate the beauty of autumn, good food and new friendships last evening. We’d had the gift certificate for nearly a year — thanks to our daughter and son-in-law’s generous gift last Christmas. But we never seemed to have the time or right clothes to wear through the busy summer months.

But we purposely planned to use it this weekend and now we are happy that we’d put it off for so long.

The first benefit of waiting until the end of a busy holiday weekend is that the cordial inn wasn’t nearly so busy as it would have been if we’d ventured there on Saturday or Sunday night.

We arrived promptly for our 6 p.m. reservation and had a few minute wait while the staff was putting finishing touches on the elegant dining rooms. First plus of the evening – meeting a friendly traveler enjoying his book in the inn’s comfortable reception area.

Small talk evolved. “We’re from Massachusetts,” we said. “I’m from Chicago,”  he noted. But “Chicago” really turned out to be Lake Forest, the lovely North Shore Lake Michigan town where we’d enjoyed the first year of our marriage 45 years ago. So we talked about the places we remembered there, told him about places to visit with his wife in Maine – their first trip to our favorite coastal state. Good feelings and a new friendship, if only for 15 minutes.

We shook hands, wished him happy leaf-peeping, then scurried in to the comfortable dining room, with its fabulous tableaux of fall colors displayed behind glass – orange pumpkins, golden gourds, purple, wheat and yellow mums all displayed artfully on shabby chic wrought iron pieces and worn wooden benches. I’d love to be able to make such an arrangement, I thought. But mine would be just piles of pumpkins and pots of flowers, not an aesthetically pleasing work of art. The array, though, made us happy, again, that we’d put off our dinner until fall.

And then there was the blueberry martini. I’m not one to drink cocktails, staying true to my chardonnay or pinot noir inklings. But last night, for fun, I ordered a martini, infused with blueberry and vanilla vodkas with three perfect berries floating in the glass. It smelled luscious from the moment the server placed it before me. Blueberry cobbler in a glass with a bit of a kick. Aunt Marge’s martini was never like this. Oh, yum.

Dinner followed – 4 perfect oysters, each infused with a different sauce – béarnaise, caramel popcorn, seaweed wrapped and one more I can’t remember but know was different and delicious.

Then silky smooth corn chowder infused with basil oil, the perfect intermezzo, followed by a fabulous beef tenderloin, cooked to medium rare tenderness and served in pools of pureed parsnips, I think.

The plate was perfection, except for that one lone nub of cauliflower that looked a bit forlorn on the plate and seemed lacking in flavor, almost as if it had been boiled to over-doneness. Maybe roasted cauliflower would have been a better choice, or even a few roasted root vegetables – sweet potatoes, red onion, butternut squash, turnip, parsnips — to add a shot of color to the plate. But why quibble with near perfection, especially since the meat was done to my liking.

We both had tenderloin and kept shaking our heads in disbelief that we were eating the whole thing, especially since one would have been more than enough for us both to share.

On to dessert – first a little taste of a jellied something or other – actually like a sophisticated raspberry gelatin in Bavarian cream. served in a tiny cordial glass.  That would have been plenty, I thought, full from my tenderloin. But no, a beautiful flourless chocolate cake arrived, accompanied by a lovely scoop of mint ice cream, drizzled with some caramel sauce and joined by a couple of tiny chocolate truffles. A chocoholic’s delight, I  wished I had more room for it.

And on the sweets came – a pedestal of petit fours including a tasty pecan morsel and another tiered chocolate one. My, my, I thought, this is one of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever encountered. We even received a sweet send-off with the check – three tiny muffins to cap the evening. I ate one and brought the other two home for morning breakfast, as if I ever would want to eat again after this gustatory encounter.

But it wasn’t only the food that made last night special. It was our servers Annika (I hope I am spelling her name correctly) and Ruby, who made the evening an event we will never forget. Annika is from Poland and talked amiably about her time here working in the U.S.

Ruby, a local girl from nearby Sanford, added a friendly casual touch to our evening, one we had not encountered on other visits here. A Jennifer Garner look-alike, she has big plans and ambitions to go in to this business. She is learning it from the ground up, having worked already in housekeeping and dishwashing at the inn and now on the dining room’s serving staff.  She is a natural and should go far with her friendliness and pleasant nature. We wish her well. Annika, too. They made the evening comfortable and comforting, not a bit stuffy as we’d occasionally felt on earlier visits.

And our next door table neighbors – the Brunos from Westford at the inn to celebrate their 30th anniversary – added to the  connections we made last night as we shared stories with them. Their sister teaches and lives in Acton. And it turns out our daughter knows her. One other reason last night was special.

Still basking in the glow of our autumn night at the White Barn Inn, we came home, fell into the soft covers and dreamt of perfection — food, flowers, service and new friendships that all added  up to a night to remember.

A “folksy” feel

Posted on July 27, 2011 by Leave a comment

It’s the end of July, which means one thing around here – the Lowell Folk Festival.

It’s been that way for 25 years, a great record, for sure, for one of the region’s premier events. And it’s free and always will be, organizers pledge.

I was working at the Sun 25 years ago, and no one paid much heed to the first Festival, brought here by the National Council for Traditional Arts as the National Folk Festival, an event that moved to various cities every two or three years.

I didn’t  go to the first one, since I was working on a food story on a local banker who was a gourmet cook. I can’t remember the banker’s name, but I recall doing the interview at his house, as he cooked seafood for a pasta sauce and we briefly discussed the festival taking place downtown. Little else.

Some talk in the newsroom the following Monday, but little else. The next year, the Globe picked up on the Festival and visitors to Lowell were spotted toting copies of the Globe Calendar section around, using it as their guide. That created a firestorm in the newsroom, and the following year, we did our own guide, with lots of laboring over cover art, schedules, maps and menus.

I somehow inherited the crafter profiles, something I’ve done for years. Most years, I didn’t cover the fest, just came and soaked up the ambiance, music and food. Got to know a lot of the food folk, too, since we’d always do a story the Wednesday before that concentrated on one of the groups, their recipes and the hard work that went in to getting it all together.

A few memories stand out. One year, early on, I volunteered as a musician escort – that meant I was the person assigned to herd my assigned musician to his appointed stages on Friday night and Saturday, when he was performing. I shelled out more of my own money for orange popsicles for the guy. But the topper came when he asked if I could find him a little female companionship for the night. I didn’t realize the title “musician escort” meant finding him an escort and wasn’t about to head to Appleton or Middlesex Street to locate a girl for him. End of that job, thanks very much.

Another highlight was always the high-stepping parade with former LNHP superintendant George Price at the helm. Loved the excitement he always generated with his trademark umbrella.

Other highlights: Audrey Ambrosino’s wedding to Gregg Lamping a few years ago the night before the Festival started, with the venerable Joe Wilson serving as clergy; the fun-filled opening night party, hosted by Mike Kuenzler, that’s become one of the most coveted tickets in town and always serves as a great spot to hob-nob and catch up with folks, and the food, of course, that glorious food.

Glad the whole downtown now embraces the Folk Festival, with activities on every street corner, sales at the shops and the bars throbbing with their own musical energy.

Last year was my last year as a Sun staffer covering the festival. I retired a week later. But they asked me to write the crafter profiles again this year in the Steppin’ Out special section, coming out on Thursday and serving as the definitive guide to the festival. And I’ll be back again, covering Friday night’s opening for the paper – hope the heat, humidity and rain hold off this year.

It will be fun to see people, especially Audrey Ambrosino and Gregg Lamping. They’ll join Jack Baldwin and me on Thursday at 11:15 on WCAP-AM to reminisce about past Fests and what this one holds.

And it will be great, once more, to celebrate the Lowell Folk Festival with  the folk of Lowell. Hope it goes on for another 25 years and 125 years after that…

My midsummer funk

Posted on July 17, 2011 by Leave a comment

I’m in a funk and I don’t know why.

After all, it’s summer and there’s beauty all around me – gorgeous gardens; warm, sunny days; time spent with loved ones enjoying relaxing activities with little to worry or care about; silly movies, lobster rolls and ice cream; beaches, sand castles,   picnics, festivals, fireworks and more.

But I still have a sense of foreboding, and it usually hits me around mid-July, half way between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when summer clothes go on clearance, stores start advertising early back-to-school sales and the days get noticeably shorter each sunrise and sunset.

I love summer and all that it offers. And I felt so invigorated on its first day in June as I savored all of its promise. But the promise turns at times to disappointment, frustration, even fear and anger during these so-called idyllic days. Trouble can lurk around the corner, bees sting, knees get scraped, mosquitoes bite. Ouch!

So what’t the cure to my midsummer malaise? Trying to look on the bright side of life by keeping busy, weeding the garden, writing a story, venting to friends. All this helps and makes me realize that, while it’s mid-July and summer’s now entering its second half  and racing towards the finish, good days still lie ahead before we face autumn’s brilliant colors and falling leaves and winter’s snow, cold and ice.

And, while I don’t want to wish my life away, I know that looking ahead, six months from now, it will be January, the days will get longer, spring catalogues will be in the mail and I will again have the promise of summer approaching in the future, instead of looking it squarely and watching it disappear before my eyes.

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