New England

maggiesfamrToday's adventure begins as I leave Boston over the Tobin Bridge to Route 1 North to Middleton. I go by giant box stores and chain restaurants I've only read about. Although people drive fast in the city, outside the city they're worse. When you slow down to pull off, you're lucky they don't take you out although sometimes they do. People love shopping here, I can tell, and it's enchanting because parking is free and there's so much of it.

It's hard not to notice that the word "eatery" is big along Route 1 and we're not being snippy. As I pull in to Maggie's Farm parking lot, I see the Sol Bean Café next door and yes, here's another sign that says not just eatery, but 'healthy eatery.' Anyway, I've arrived much too early. Sadly, there's no bookstore, no market, no place to window shop, so I drive back a couple of miles to Home Depot. I manage not to buy anything. The parking is intoxicating.

Maggie's Farm: Bob Dylan wrote a song by this name in 1965. While I like '60s tunes too, the surfing ones like 26 Miles and Surfer Girl, the lyrics to Maggie's Farm describe a sad worker scrubbing floors, underpaid and fined. I'm sure Maggie's owner Mark McDonough knows something I don't. Anyway, I thought it might be farm-ish if not an actual farm but it's not, although their logo has a sheep wearing sunglasses. On their site it says they purchased "a classic 1953 International Harvester tractor to become the icon of the restaurant" but I didn't see it. What is certain, however, is that I'm very, very near a farm.

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claires.jpgI hail from New Haven, although I've frankly never in my life hailed, even for a taxi cab. It's simply not my style. I visit the Elm City (although I'm not sure why it's nicknamed thus as all the elms died in a blight decades ago and are just coming back) a few times a year because my sister and I have bestowed our adorable mother on a fine new home, shared by three hundred other beloved parents, each compartmentalized in lovely little one and two bedroom lives with shared common rooms.  All human needs are provided. It's like living on a space station.

Whitney Center is located just outside the Yale community and many professors and Ivy League elders retire there.  Hence, the level of conversation, dining and entertainment is four star.  The only complaint Mom's ever had about the place is that she feels she must dress up for dinner, lectures and screenings at, what she so brightly calls "The Finishing School." Sis has outfitted her in Lord and Taylor's finest, which she now even wears to the laundry room.

When I visit as winter thaws, however, she is eager to leave campus plainclothes and give her
perpetually parked car a little workout -- it's generally sat sedentary most of the winter.  Our favorite local lunch place is called Claire's Corner Copia, at the corner of Chapel and College, at the edge of the Yale campus. 

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ri1.jpgIn the mid-1970s, when I lived in Providence the food wasn't very good. Sure there was great local seafood, especially clams and lobsters, but if you wanted to eat out, your choices were pretty much limited to diner food and and Mafia Italian.

To get decent food I would travel to New York to buy ethnic ingredients, read cook books and taught myself how to cook.

Recently I had the chance to return to Rhode Island to write a series of food and travel articles. I spent two weeks traveling around the state, eating in a great variety of settings, from diners and beach-side clam shacks to upscale bistros and fine dining restaurants.

I discovered a lot has changed in Rhode Island. The state is now home to dozens of passionate chefs with incredibly smart palates.

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eastside-grill-logo.jpgWhile back home in Massachusetts for my father's 70th birthday – which is so hard to believe – my husband, older sister Sue and I wanted to take him out one night for a first-class, adult meal before the nieces and nephews descended and the backyard grilling began. We tried to get him to choose a place he wanted to go, but he wasn't in the mood to decide, so he left it up to us. He was thrilled we were there – it's been a year since we were together – and glad for a night out, but the occasion was something he would rather have ignored. I can't say I blame him.

Since I haven't lived in the region for two decades I deferred to my sister, who's had her whole life to scope out the area. Having just come off a 5-day seafood bender while on Cape Cod – with no complaints mind you – we were in the mood for something a bit heartier. Plus, we had to please the parents, which is not always an easy task. Dad will eat just about anything. Mom is a bit more selective. Sue's choice of the Eastside Grill fit the bill perfectly.

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atkinsapples.jpgLiving in Los Angeles, we know it's Fall by looking at our calendars not by the weather. October is usually one of our hottest months with no colorful, falling leaves, frost or crisp, cool days to be found. While I don't miss Winter, after two decades of living in the California sun, I still desperately yearn for the sights and smells of Autumn.

Since traveling is rarely an option, I have begun to enjoy the season by living vicariously through pictures and blogs I find on the Internet. The current crop is all about apples. The visions of pies, tarts and cakes, as well as piles of this fresh fall fruit have left me craving one of my childhood's sweetest and simplest joys: the Atkins Farms Cider Donut.

My grandmother was obsessed with them and subsequently, so were we. It was her way of treating us, without breaking her bank. (They cost a quarter a piece then, now still a steal for 50 cents.) Once harvest season began, we'd head out to Atkins to indulge in their – now famous – baked goods...and fresh-pressed apple cider. Heated to take the chill off the morning.

They bake the donuts fresh every day, infusing them with the cider and liberally dusting them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  The recipe hasn't changed in over 35 years with good reason.  In 2008, they were rated by Saveur Magazine as one of the 12 best donuts in the country. Something I – and most of Western Massachusetts – have known since 1972. Well, 1976 for me.

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