Christmas at Blithewold

My personal favorite in this year's Gingerbread Wonderland -- "Guatamala" by Brianna Ritoli.

If over a foot of snow isn’t enough to put you in the ‘Christmas spirit’ then you might need to take a trip to Blithewold. The 45-room English style manor house is decked out with shimmering lights and wintery decorations for their annual event Christmas at Blithewold. The front door opens onto their 18-foot “Big Tree” decorated with their theme for the year — Fairy Tales and Fantasies. Each room has its own theme such as The Night Before Christmas, The Owl and The Pussycat and Frosty the Snowman and remains roped off (elegantly with ribbon) so you can peek in. Of course, Madeline simply slid right underneath it, but I grabbed her in time, so the displays remain intact. Don’t forget to stop in the Carriage House on your way out where the “Gingerbread Wonderland” features mini-gingerbread houses of all styles made by area children. And keep your kids from eating the candy — if I can do it, anyone can.

A scene from the classic 1950s Frosty the Snowman decorates the nursery.

Christmas at Blithewold
Through Sunday, January 03, 2010
101 Ferry Road (Rt. 114)
Bristol, RI

O Christmas Tree: Our Rhode Island Tour of Tree Farms

Lockwood's Tree Farm -- nice trees for a reasonable price, plus some extra hospitality.

On Saturday, we had grand plans of heading to the far reaches of Rhode Island to find a Christmas tree.

Let me clarify. I always have found it amazing when we lived in New York that we could drive an hour or two and wind up in some rustic town along the Hudson or a farm in Pennsylvania. Leaving Providence, however, it takes only a few minutes to reach a bucolic setting, as if everything in Rhode Island is miniaturized even the distance between city and country.

Geoff had read about Duquette Tree Farm in Chepachet, RI so we headed west. Our mistake was stopping for a late lunch along the way at Bishop Hill Tavern– not because the food was bad, because, in fact, it was pretty good for a random bar/restaurant, especially one that posts a sign, “Warm Beer. Cold Food. Slow Service. Have a Nice Day.” The problem was that our lunch ended after 4 pm which, in winter, is night or at least looks like it. We didn’t know when the farm closed but guessed it’d be hard to pick a tree in the dark. Nevertheless, we decided to visit Chepachet for the state’s oldest store, Brown & Hopkins Country Store, and happened upon a line of charming antique stores, which we made our way into just a few minutes before they closed at 5.

On Sunday afternoon, we were ready to try again. This time I started with some research and called around. Turned out Duquette Tree Farm didn’t have larger 8-9 foot trees left, but they recommended Lockwood’s Tree Farm not too far from them. I also tried calling Big John Leyden’s Christmas Tree Farm but they never answered the phone. Instead of taking the good advice of a farmer, we decided to be adventurous and drove out to Greene Tree Farm & Nursery because I read they had maple syrup, and well, I’m the kind of person who will go those extra 10 miles for good maple syrup. Plus, over the phone, they said they had 8-9 foot trees, and the cost was $40 for any tree.

Picking a tree in the rain is not nearly as romantic as picking one in the snow, and we trudged around the farm amid drizzles looking at trees. They had plenty that were tall enough, but many were planted a bit too close together so they inevitably were thinner on one side than the other. Also most of their trees were a yellower green, which if I knew anything about them probably indicated that they were cypress instead of fir or something like that. Worse yet, their dilapidated maple syrup stand was filled only with debris.

Enjoy some cupcakes while you wait for your tree.

So we got back in the car, stopping along the way at Pezza Farm in Johnston, RI which didn’t have larger trees and whose wreaths were $50 each. Hence, back in the car to Lockwood’s Tree Farm in Smithfield, RI. As we drove up to their red barn placed alongside their field of trees and a pond for skating (although a bit wet for that currently), we knew we had found the place for us. With very little effort, we found a wonderful tree — tall, full, green, and trimmed — for a reasonable price of $45. Apparently the rain had curtailed business that day so they were glad to see us too. Even better, the owners welcome visitors into a heated room where they offer candy, cupcakes, and hot cocoa for the kids and cider and coffee for the adults — all for free. And every tree comes with a string of lights. Now that’s country charm that’s well worth the 15-mile drive from Providence.

Lockwood’s Tree Farm
129 Austin Avenue
Smithfield, RI

Duquette Tree Farm
87 Reservoir Road
Chepachet, RI

RI Christmas Tree Growers Association

Farm Fresh RI’s list of Christmas tree farm vendors:

Butcher Shop Café & Deli

Plenty of seats and a tasty breakfast awaits at the Butcher Shop.

When Geoff accidentally left for Boston with the car keys this morning, I decided to walk Madeline to school which is 1.5 miles from our house. It doesn’t sound so bad, and it only took about 25 minutes. But having to turn around and come back home seconds later for the same journey with no breakfast and no caffeine was definitely not a good thing. So I decided to stop on my way home at Butcher Shop Café & Deli. I’ve passed this place four times every school day in the car, but never stopped. Today, it appeared to me like a mirage in the desert — oh please let there be egg sandwiches. Yatzee! I’m not sure that after my 2 miles of walking I could accurately judge (cardboard might have tasted good), but I’m pretty sure it was the best egg sandwich I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t oozy as some, but the bacon was crisp and meaty and the egg on the well-done side — just the way I like it. How did they know?

The best egg sandwich ever, or maybe I was just really hungry.

It’s the perfect neighborhood joint — they’ve got a mini-grocery on one side where you can buy meats, breads, dairy and then a little café on the other where you can order breakfast and lunch to stay or go. They have an extensive catering menu and take plenty of holiday orders. The sandwich menu looks quite serious including what they call Dave’s famous hamburgers and the world’s best tuna, egg and chicken salads. It seems it might be worth walking to school more often.

Butcher Shop Café & Deli
157 Elmgrove Avenue
Providence, RI

Seven Stars Bakery

Seven Stars Bakery

The plethora of breads and sweets at Seven Stars Bakery.

The olive bread at Seven Stars Bakery comes damn close to matching the fougasse from Bread & Roses in Paris, which is no easy feat. But that’s not all. Seven Stars Bakery offers a stunning assortment of breads, pasteries, cookies, and muffins — all baked fresh daily. For lunch, they offer a few sandwiches made on their artisan breads like ham and cheese on a buttered baguette — also very Parisian. I’ve fallen for their cinnamon twists (twisted dough rolled in cinnamon sugar), rich fudge brownies that look like little cakes, and crisp gingerbread star cookies. I haven’t tried everything, although I’m working on it.

Seven Stars Bakery

820 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906

342 Broadway
Providence RI 02909

Rumford Center
20 Newman Avenue
East Providence, RI 02916

Also at the Winter Farmers’ Market Saturdays in Pawtucket, RI