Pick Your Own Fruit at Sweet Berry Farm

Picking Berries at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI.

Picking Berries at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI.

There are so many reasons to love Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI.  In the fall they have pick-your-own apples and pumpkins (they make the best pumpkin muffins on the planet — perhaps, the universe).  Also, their farm stand stays open from mid-April through the end of December, which extends the ‘market’ season by several months.  Even better, their farm stand doubles as a quaint grocery store that carries mostly local products — you can buy the Sweet Berry Farm jams, honeys and pastries, but you can also buy milk, eggs, cheese, and pasta.  They even make their own frozen gourmet dinners.  The farm also has a little café (indoors and outdoors) where you can sit and enjoy some of their  muffins, soups, sandwiches and salads.

On their 100 acre farm, they grow vegetables (beets, carrots, corn, salad greens, squash, etc.), fruits (apples, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc.), flowers, and trees.  Their extensive pick-your-own schedule  begins with strawberries in early June and ends in December with Christmas trees.  (They allow you to tag your tree months in advance, but if you’re like us, it also works to pick one of the unclaimed orphan trees around December 20).

Today, Madeline and I went to pick our own — peaches (firm but tasty), blackberries (beautiful but tart) and the last of the raspberries (perfectly sweet).

Pick-your-own peaches at Sweet Berry Farm

Pick-your-own peaches at Sweet Berry Farm

Here’s the picking schedule, in case you want to try for yourself…

Strawberries: Early June through early July
Summer Raspberries: July through mid-August
Fall Raspberries: Late August through September
Blueberries: Mid-July through August
Peaches: Late July through early October
Blackberries: Early August through September
Apples: September through early October
Pumpkins: Late September through October
Christmas Trees: Tagging starts in October

Sweet Berry Farm
915 Mitchell’s Lane
Middletown, Rhode Island

Newport, RI Rainy Day: Save the Bay

Save The Bay Exploration Center

Madeline touches a sea urchin at the Save the Bay Exploration Center.

What do you do on a rainy day in a place like Newport, RI where the summer activities include swimming, surfing and sailing?  Well if you’re among the super-cool, you’re surfing.  I know, because today we drove in the rain over to Easton’s Beach (“First Beach” to the locals) in Newport, RI where a half dozen surfers paddled out.

But if you’re looking for a more low-key adventure, then you’ll enjoy the Save The Bay Exploration Center tucked inside the beach’s rotunda.  This teeny, friendly aquarium features 14 tanks full of about 150 species that live in the Narragansett Bay.  One ‘touch tank’ allows you to reach in and hold the starfish, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and other sea critters.  The staff has abundant patience and knowledge to share with visitors. The center also has tanks with horshoe crabs, sea horses, and lobsters, as well as tables where kids can color, read or play games — all marine-themed, of course.

On rainy days, there’s no beach parking attendant which means you’ll save the $10-20 parking fee.  And your $5 admission (free for kids under 3) supports Save the Bay, an organization dedicated towards protecting, restoring and exploring Narragansett Bay.

Save The Bay Exploration Center
175 Memorial Blvd.
Newport, RI 02840

Why Providence, Rhode Island?

Why Providence, Rhode Island?  This is a question I find myself answering daily as I inform friends and colleagues that after a decade of nomadic wanderings, my husband Geoff and I are buying a house and moving our family and our stuff (currently spread across three states) to Providence, Rhode Island.

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

The root of this question can be traced to our original question — where should we live?  — which we have spent a decade pondering and avoiding.  In the past 10 years, we have lived in three countries and four states.  We’ve moved eight times since our daughter Madeline was born two and a half years ago.  It’s no wonder that every time we get in the car, she looks at us and demands, “What’s going on?”  A month after one of our several moves, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to move (again), to which one of my friends mused, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.”

As we have wrestled with the question of where to live, we forced ourselves to look closely at our priorities and narrow down the three things we felt we couldn’t compromise.  Here were mine: 1) enough room to have a home office and guests; 2) a walkable city that has some international culture; 3) more local donations to the Democratic party than the Republican.

We considered New York City since until a few weeks ago, we owned a one-bedroom apartment there.  But neither of us have careers there and it’s an expensive, intense city.  To live in New York, we’d sacrifice my number one requirement, foregoing amenities like outdoor space, parking, and guest bedrooms.  But we’d also lose something much more fundamental: freedom.  New Yorkers walk fast — they have to.  They need to get whatever they’re doing done so they can get back to the real task of making more money.  Don’t get me wrong — I adore New York.  It’s like a charming lover that spends all your dough — you kind of resent it but you also kind of believe it’s worth it.  When you live in New York, you scoff at the world wondering why anyone would live anywhere else but the greatest city on the planet.  When you don’t live there, you wonder why anyone would.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

Another contender was Boston, Massachusetts where many of our friends live.  Geoff and I both went to college and grad school there, and Madeline was born there.   We lived in Back Bay for three years, the Fenway for one, and even Cambridge, Massachusetts for a year.  And after all that, I can honestly say I don’t like Boston.  I feel bad saying that because I think Boston likes me, but it’s nothing personal.  It’s just not my type.  I recognize Boston’s redeeming qualities and ‘on paper’ it looks like the best option for us.  It’s liberal (gay people marry), intellectual (27 colleges), and pretty (swan boats).  What’s more, it’s near Geoff’s work, and most of my contacts in film and education are there.  But I’m just not in love with it.  To me, Boston has all the disadvantages of city life, with too few of the advantages.  If I’m going to live somewhere where I need to sign my kid up for preschool a year in advance, it should be New York.  Because in New York, you have a city that satisfies every niche all night long.  There’s Times Square for pulse, Central Park for nature, and a taxi when you need one.  In Boston, you have the T which will probably take longer to get somewhere than walking, and lots of luck hailing a taxi.  In Boston, there’s not even a Pinkberry, but it still costs you several hundred dollars a month for parking.

Around New York City and Boston, there are dozens (hundreds?) of affordable, lovely suburbs which we know we don’t want to live.  In fact, we spent four years living in one of them — Winchester, Massachusetts — a town with good schools and historic houses.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

So that has left us with Providence, an actual city close enough to Boston to work there a few days per week and one where we can afford a whole house with a driveway and a yard.  No doubt, I’m put off by one of my friend’s remarks, “If there is one place I’d like to burn to the ground, it’s Providence.”  And a doctor I met in Providence recently told me no one’s moving to Providence, only out of it.  To make matters worse, the Rhode Island government announced yesterday that they’d be shutting down for 12 days, forcing over 80 percent of the government workforce to take unpaid days.  The state’s unemployment rate has reached 12.7%, second only to Michigan.

So why indeed Providence, Rhode Island?  I can’t say it’s because I love Providence.  Even though it’s where I was born, I don’t know it very well, which is part of what makes it scary, and so alluring — it’s another adventure.  And whether we live there for a few years or a lifetime is yet to be determined and the start of the next question we will ask ourselves.

Simmons Farm’s Petting Zoo

Simmons Farm Petting Zoo

Simmons Farm Petting Zoo

Simmons Farm — what a sweet little stop along the side of Route 114 in Middletown, RI.   Not only do they have a farm stand with the best corn on Aquidneck Island (which we refer to as ‘crack corn’ for its addictive properties), but they also have a petting zoo. For 25 cents, you can purchase some grains to hand-feed the goats, llama, lambs, and horses. Forget feeding the pig, who will inevitably be too fatigued to bother with you.

Simmons Farm
1942 West Main Road
Middletown, RI

Hurricane Bill: Epic Waves in Newport, RI

Surfer Rides Wave Brought by Hurricane Bill

Hurricane Bill blew 10-20 foot swells into Newport, RI, but politely spared us the actual hurricane.  Last night, we read the surf report, which anticipated today would bring “epic” waves.  Although both First Beach in Newport, RI and Second Beach in Middletown, RI had large swells, the majority of the area’s bravest surfers headed out to the rocky coast of Newport’s Cliff Walk where they found the largest and certainly ‘epic’ (at least for Newport) swells — double overhead.  No, I was not among them.  In fact, I didn’t see one female surfer climbing in or out of the water.  So my surfboard remained safely in the basement, and I remained enviously on the shore.

Another video of RI surfing…

Olga’s Cup + Saucer

Homemade pizza with dough from Olga's Cup + Saucer.

Homemade pizza with dough from Olga's Cup + Saucer.

Olga’s Cup + Saucer began in 1988 as a seasonal bakery on a farm in Little Compton.  Over 20 years later, their popular Providence bakery makes delicious homemade breads,  scones, bagels, and other pastries using ‘traditional Artisinal techniques’.  Open for breakfast and lunch, their dishes like french toast, pulled pork sandwiches, and black forest ham pizzas all feature their homemade breads and doughs.   With their seeded bagels (more of a bready texture and covered with sunflower and other seeds) and their blueberry muffins (one covered with almond slices), you really can’t go wrong.

You can also find a selection of Olga’s pastries, breads and pizzas (as well as the ready-made dough) at a variety of farmers markets throughout the summer — Coastal Growers Farmers Market in Saunderstown, RI on Saturdays; East Greenwich Farmers Market on Mondays; and Aquidneck Growers’ Market in Newport, RI on Wednesdays and Portmouth, RI on Saturdays.  Yesterday we made a few pizzas with Olga’s thin pre-rolled dough — Geoff took the dough out of the freezer; added market tomatoes, local basil, fresh mozzarella from Narragansett Creamery, and some grilled mushrooms; and set them directly on the grill for a quick, smoky, and delicious pizza.

Olga’s Cup & Saucer
103 Point Street
Providence, RI

Washington County Fair

Richmond Sandwich Barn at the Washington County Fair.

We were alerted to the annual Washington County Fair about a month before the event by the sign on Route 138 and immediately put it in our calendars.  The first day of the Fair (Wednesday, August 12) turned out to be a humid and overcast day, and we arrived at the Fair for the first evening.  Now in its 43rd year, the Fair features everything from a dairy clipping show to a tractor pull to country music performances to amusement park rides.

Fair food ranged from the insipid to the superb — a lousy, skinny corndog from some volunteer station versus a flavor-packed steak sandwich from Richmond Sandwich Barn.  Perhaps the greatest surprise came from the Volunteer Carolina Fire Association who made the tastiest, doughiest homemade clamcakes I’ve ever had.

My 2-year-old daughter Madeline had a blast yelling ‘baa’ at the sheep with their never-fail response, and she spent about an hour dancing in circles in front of the antique Wurlitzer band organ formerly used in carousels.

What’s not to love about a fair?

Washington County Fair
Route 112
Richmond, RI

The Dawg House

Note: We recently drove past here in summer 2010, and it appears that the Dawg House is no more.  If anyone knows anything, please post a comment!

I have driven past The Dawg House in Middletown hundreds of times without seeing it. It’s at the end of a small plaza just before Rt. 138 on Aquidneck Ave. (It is only 2 blocks from Frosty Freez). Hot dogs are not hard to make well, and here they follow all of the standard rules: there is a large cabinet outside for daily roll deliveries; the rolls are steamed, soft and fresh; and the hot dogs are high-quality New York style hot dogs — long and thin with a juicy snap when you bite into them.  So far so good.

Where's the Hot Dog?

Where's the Hot Dog?

What makes The Dawg House special is that Roger, an amicable co-owner thinks long and hard about the flavors to add to his already tasty hot dogs. On one visit, he was in a heated discussion about Peanut Butter — not for the hot dogs — just for the academic exercise (he’s a die-hard fan of the pristine peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co.)  He’s just as passionate about hot dog condiments, as he makes all of them in-house. (He will happily experiment on you with some of his combinations).

His New York red sauce with onions is the best I’ve had, much thicker and with larger, sweet onions. His baked beans are delicious, but would be better as a side dish, since they mask the flavor of the hot dog.  Sauerkraut is fresh and crisp, and his mustard has finely ground seeds in it.  My only complaint is that the condiments overpower, so take advantage of the “buy four get one free” and get a couple without too much on them.

Possibly the best thing about The Dawg House is the prospect of a perfect summer lunch. A dozen hot dogs from here (eaten at tables outside beside the shop) followed by soft serve from Frosty Freez a few hundred feet away!

The Dawg House
1132 Aquidneck Ave. (Gambrell Plaza)
Middletown, RI
(401) 324-4089

The Newport Antiques Show vs. Armory Antiques

The Newport Antiques Show offers fine furniture and art for antique connoisseurs.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

In its third year, the Newport Antiques Show arrived in town this weekend to showcase 40 regional antique dealers selling fine carpets, antique artwork, etched wooden furniture, dishes, grandfather clocks, etc.  Not surprisingly, the show featured a lot of nautical themed objects like paintings of ocean scenes and miniature wooden boats.  The $12/person ticket cost supports the Newport Historical Society and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newport County.

I can certainly appreciate the beauty of fine antiques, but knowing very little about them makes guessing prices a bit like an absurd Price is Right.  For example, one painting I supposed worth $10,000 was being sold for $180,000.

The only thing I might consider buying was a 10×14 hand-threaded antique carpet from India circa 1920s sold by Oriental Rugs Ltd. At $9,500, it seemed a relative bargain (if you have the money) considering I saw much less interesting rugs for more money at ABC Carpet in New York City just recently.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

We enjoyed the visit, but left empty-handed.  Since we hadn’t quite gotten antiquing out of our system, we decided to go to Armory Antiques on Thames Street in downtown Newport, a better bet for people like us who care only what they themselves like and prefer a bargain.  The store is open year-round with no admission charge and features antiques from over 100 dealers.  It’s a much rougher style of antique hunting — with a variety of retro games and toys like Barbie dolls (some clothed, others not), dishes stacked high, paintings leaning on furniture, and plenty of knick knacks.  Likely due to the economy, quite a bit is discounted.  I saw a charming painted wooden crèche in the form of a candle holder — when lit, the fan above swirls causing the figurines inside to circle like a carousel.  The price had been slashed three times down to “$95 firm.”  In addition, several of the vendors offered 25% off formerly “firm” priced items.

At Armory Antiques, it feels more like you might discover some treasure — not of value as an investment, but of personal value.  And in fact, an unsigned pastoral painting listed at $250 struck my eye, and I bought for $200 cash (see the photo at right).

Newport Antiques Show

Armory Antiques
365 Thames St
Newport, RI 02840


Summer Indulgence: The Corn Dog

Niman Ranch corn dogs frying.

Niman Ranch corn dogs frying.

I’d never eaten a corn dog before about a week ago when Geoff made them for us.  Somehow the combination of hot dog and fried cornmeal ‘bun’ creates quite a taste sensation, and Madeline is always glad to eat anything that’s served on a stick.  We decided to make them again tonight — although last time we made them with Oscar Meyer hot dogs, and today we went upscale with Niman Ranch.


1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. Marie Callender’s cornbread mix
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. sugar

Mix together all ingredients.

Heat a pot of of oil. Test the heat of the oil by dipping a drop of the batter into the oil.  If it browns slowly and evenly, it’s ready. Dip each hot dog in the batter and fry until brown.