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Gracie’s Continues its Star Chef’s Dinner

gracieGracie’s in Providence will host a Star Chef’s Dinner Monday, October 20, featuring Chef Taylor Knapp. Gracie’s Star Chef Series began in 2007 and has been a great success, inviting chefs from all over to come share their craft with the Providence community.

Gracie’s will welcome Chef Taylor Knapp from First and South in Greenport, New York, who is known for his dedication to fresh ingredients and new ideas. He’s often found with wet shoes from foraging for seaweed or black-walnut-stained fingertips. Gracie’s says that the chef asks us to “think about what we’re eating, where it comes from, and the history behind the ingredients.” He believes that food “should be given as though it were a gift, prepared with care, love, and thought, just as you would prepare a meal for a loved one. Slow down. Simplify. Focus on the things we’re putting on the plate.” Knap will soon open Peconic Escargot, the only domestic escargot greenhouse and source of fresh escargot in the United States.

The event will involve fresh canapés, a five-course tasting menu and a wine menu provided by the Savory Grape in East Greenwich. The dinner will feature fresh ingredients from the Eastern end of Long Island as well as Rhode Island’s local resources. Tickets can be purchased by calling Gracie’s at 401-272-7811 or email tenneal@graciesprov.com.




Curling Up with a Good Book will Never go out of Style

Throughout tough economic times and a rise in new technology, one area of the arts that has especially struggled is the bookselling business. Stories of people slowly trading a trip to a bookstore for a click of “download” or “order now” are common, and even the book selling super-powers are being brought to their knees (RIP Borders). In a world of e-books and publishers publicly duking it out with online vendors, a storefront with glossy covers in the window is a sight for sore eyes. So with all of the hype about the decline of the “picking out a physical book for yourself” experience, the question remains: How are bookstores in our little state really doing?

For such a small state, each region of Rhode Island has its own score of distinct, independent shops. Eastern RI’s Barrington Books, for example, has readings by nationally renowned authors, while South County’s Wakefield Books keeps itself current with staff recommendations for in-store picks.

One of the most well-known bookstores in the Providence area is Symposium Books. For Symposium owner Anne Marie Keohane, Rhode Island offered the perfect setting for a book business in 2004 when Symposium’s original Westminster Street location opened. “We had been working in the publishing and book business [in New York], respectively, and decided to venture out and open our own bookstore and wholesale business in Providence. The city was being revitalized at the time and we immediately fell in love with the old architecture, cozy feel, beauty of the city, and the lovely people.”

Keohane acknowledges that the general business environment has not been especially hospitable for independent booksellers. “It’s no secret, the future of bookselling was shaky for a few years, but we ducked and wove and got nimble and changed with the market,” she said. She says that the key is to stand out and stay interesting. “We’re all about keeping you guessing about what treasures you may find when you walk through the door. We carefully curate our inventory to be unique, quirky, fun and thoughtful.” Symposium recently opened a second store in East Greenwich and Keohane says business is going well.

Another store that calls Providence home is Wayland’s Square’s Books on the Square, which is faring similarly to its counterpart. “Business is moving merrily along. The annual slower periods are slow and holidays are crazy. We are holding our own in this difficult business climate,” said Carol from Books on the Square.

She credited some of Books on the Square’s continued success to the tumultuous battles occurring between writers, readers and Amazon. “People have begun to recognize the value of their local indie bookseller,” she said. “We are a resource and knowledge base. As readers, we can suggest titles. Discuss different authors. We can relate and cross genres to help find the perfect read.”

Perhaps more off-the-beaten path is Allison B. Goodsell, Rare Books. Located in Kingston, Goodsell offers a wide variety of rare and used books in an authentic setting. The store has a worn, wooden sign simply marked “Rare and Used Books.” Upon entering the store, a patron is struck by the old world charm — while a true reader is struck by the undeniable smell of old books. Her collection boasts Rhode Island history, children’s books, gardening and natural history, architecture, design, art, cookbooks, Americana, classic literature and poetry, maritime and military history.

Goodsell resorted to collaboration to stay fresh and relevant as time goes by. “We are happy to share our space with Sandy Neuschatz offering vintage postcards, old maps, bottles, baseball cards and more Rhode Island history. And recently, the Brown Group Realty established an office within the store. This diversity and the addition of a few general antiques keeps the store fresh and new.”

Symposium and Books on the Square both found that selling novelty items as well as books helped draw customers in. “Some bookstores have gone into gifts or cafes to increase sales. All carry sidelines. We try and limit our sidelines to book or writing related items,” said the Books on the Square coordinator.

The apprehension and eventual acceptance toward novelty items was echoed by Symposium’s Keohane, who never wanted to sell anything but books. “To stop ‘Main Street America’ from declining further and to encourage purchasing from all local stores, people realized that they have to spend their dollar locally. In return, it’s up to us to keep it interesting and worthwhile for them to come shop.” Symposium now carries bookmarks, mugs and imported chocolates. “We’re working on a line of t-shirts and Rhode Island items and are giddy about ordering for the fall and winter.”

The common attitude among the booksellers is one that will bring joy to bibliophiles across the state: optimism. For Symposium, “Those who switched to e-readers are coming back bit by bit. The newness is over and folks are realizing that at the end of the day, it’s still screen time with a reading device and just not cozy like a physical book. Symposium is always glad to have the prodigal readers return!” The general consensus is that small Rhode Island bookstores are not going anywhere and will continue to be a beacon to those who still believe there is nothing better than a good old-fashioned paper book.




Desserts On-the-go with a Heart

First came frozen yogurt, then cupcakes. Dessert trends seem to be unfolding faster than I can lose the weight I gained from the last one, but the latest has me thinking that the extra minutes on the elliptical are worth it. The newest addition to the trendy dessert roster is the macaron, and, as I recently discovered, a local RI business is doing it just right.

As a point of clarification, “macarons” are not to be confused with “macaroons.” A “macaroon” is a merengue and coconut based cookie that is often dipped in chocolate, and was more than likely the highlight of your Italian grandmother’s Christmas cookie tray. A “macaron” is merengue and almond based confection that is somewhere between a cookie, a cake and a gift from the gods.

Last week I decided to make a trip to the weekly Movies on the Block off Westminster St. Block in Downtown Providence. My motivation was more than my mother’s being appalled by my never having seen Smokey and the Bandit. I had recently heard it through the internet grape vine that “Macaron Millie sometimes makes an appearance!” I paused. Macaron Millie? I delved further into internet oblivion. Gracie’s on Washington St. has a bakery called Ellie’s, which among its many sugary good offerings, features macarons. Macaron Millie is Ellie’s food cart that serves macarons with a twist that my sweet tooth possessing, food obsessed self found intriguing and craving inducing: macaron ice cream sandwiches.

I arrived at Movies on the Block (which I highly recommend) and was disappointed to see that Millie wasn’t there. My macaron eating dreams were slowly fading until I remembered that, like many portable food entities, Millie probably had a Twitter. I found @MacaronMillie and decided to make a last last-ditch plea.

About halfway through the movie, I looked down at my phone to see that Millie had answered me. “I only have cherry balsamic left,” they Tweeted to me, “but it’s delicious and I’m here!”

photoI went over to the cart-toting bike  and introduced myself to the guy manning the cart as “the girl who begged you to come here via Twitter.” He explained that Millie had just finished a stint at the Concert Under the Elms series at the John Brown House Museum and was not scheduled to be at Movies on the Block this week, but had seen my Tweet and biked over before returning to homebase.

Not only did the service go above and beyond, but the product was delicious. Macarons are notoriously difficult to make, but these were soft, light, tasty, and, of course, filled with homemade ice cream. Cherry balsamic sounded like an odd combination to me, but upon eating it I realized I had been very wrong. The tart balsamic ice cream complemented the sweet/tart cherry macaron very well and I found myself regretting only buying just one.

Jim Almo from Ellie’s explained that the development of Millie came from a love of food-trucks and the Providence community. “We feel part of the idea of a neighborhood, especially in a downtown area, is being able to be out meeting your neighbors, friends, colleagues, and visitors. It made sense to us to be able to get out of the bakery and meet people and try to be a larger part of what makes Providence so special. The idea of Millie is born of that aesthetic.” Jim went onto explain that while Ellie’s serves traditional macarons and other goodies, only Millie serves macarons with an ice cream filling. The flavors are constantly changing so there is always something new to try. Some of their past flavors have included strawberry and sherry shortcake, rainbow sherbet, and pistachio raspberry.

Follow Millie’s movements on Twitter @MacaronMillie, or visit her stationary counterpart at 194 Washington St. in Providence.




Jared Paul: The Underground Voice of Providence

By Melanie Rainone

Jared Paul is a poetic and musical powerhouse that calls Providence home. As a nationally acclaimed spoken word poet and hip-hop artist, he draws his inspiration from social injustices and fuses his two art forms together to create something unique and powerful.

JaredPaul.Press.3Jared’s upbringing and early introduction to hip-hop took him on a journey that introduced him to poetry, community action, and national activism. He has become a radical and artistic voice of Providence, bringing the culture of poetry, working with the  youth and community at large with a little rabble rousing thrown in.

“Hip-hop is poetry. Hip-hop is the continuation of the oral tradition. It’s poetry put to music. The rhyme scheme, the meter, the metaphor, hip hop is the first music that was more about poetry than it was about music.”

Jared grew up in the Manville neighborhood of Lincoln. “I grew up below the poverty line in terms of the state’s eyes, but both of my parents loved me a tremendous amount and I had a really great childhood. We always had all of the things that we needed and most of the things that we wanted.”

Jared has fond memories of Manville, speaking of a strong community and many children his age with whom to play. “We had to see from a very young age the real time class divide.”

It was in this environment that Jared found music.“My friend Joey gave me Public Enemy at the bus stop in 7th grade and it changed everything for me,” he explained.

“They had all of these powerful songs about life, and about a lot of the same things we were going through or that our friends or family were going through. From that moment on it was our main music, and a main influence in our lives: it informed us, inspired us, picked us up when we were down, gave our anger validation.”

It is hard to tell the story of Jared without mentioning Sage Francis. Francis is a hip-hop artist and spoken word poet from Rhode Island whom Jared credits with his introduction to poetry and political action.

Jared and Sage met as students at URI, but Sage’s influence on Jared as an artist began long before the two ever became friends. The copy of Public Enemy that Jared got from his friend Joey at the busstop, the album that Jared says started it all, had been given to Joey by his older brother, who had gotten it from Sage Francis.

“He was my friend, but he was also kind of like a superhero: he was an amazing performer, his writing was better than anyone we knew, he was a black belt in karate, he had a kickass hip-hop show on [URI’s radio station, WRIU] 90.3FM, he had a full beard, and could easily beat up a grown man.”

It was Sage that brought Jared to his first poetry reading at URI. “All these teenagers relatively sober with informed opinions on politics, music, life.  Reading poems and songs about love, loss, struggle, the military, sex, poetry, culture. Everything. I didn’t know anything like that existed … I had the opposite of a nervous breakdown, I had a nervous awakening.”

JaredPaul.Press.2Jared became involved in the Providence slam poetry scene in 1998. It took him three years to make the team, but the year he did coincided with the National Poetry Slam being hosted in Providence. He was a part of Team Providence for the next seven years. During that time, Providence made it to the semi-finals at Nationals five times, and Jared made it to finals stage at the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2006 and again in 2007.

But Jared sensed that an outlet for adults was not enough. In 2002, Jared made a proposal to the Providence Slam staff to start a youth poetry slam. “I knew that youth of Prov were hungry for it, and the movement was growing around the country,” said Jared. He coached and directed the Providence Youth Slam until 2009, during which time they made it to the finals stage three times and were featured on HBO’s series Brave New Voices. “Team Providence became one of the most respected youth slam teams and communities in the country and folks gave us a lot of love,” Jared said. “Coaching and working with the youth, was easily one of the best experiences of my life.”

Jared’s work with Rhode Island youth extended beyond poetry. “I wanted to work somewhere in the overall movement for social justice,” he said.  A friend of his was a group home counselor and referred Jared to a non-profit. “They recruited me for a specialized program working with teen sex offenders and sex crime survivors,” he said. “It was the hardest, most eye opening, educational, enraging, and spiritually damaging work I’ve ever done.” He worked there for four years until he began touring full time.

CTRstrip3For anyone familiar with Jared’s work, it is fueled by passion about social injustice. He does work as an environmental, animal, and human rights activist, causes that are the main subject matter for his poetry and music. His poem entitled “Conspiracy to Riot: 2008 RNC Arrest Story Pt. 1” tells the story of Jared’s arrest for felony riot at the Republican National Convention in 2008. This was not the first time Jared found himself in trouble with the law, after being part of the mass arrest that happened during the 2004 RNC. This past January, it was announced that New York City agreed to pay nearly $18 million for the arrest, detention, and fingerprinting of hundreds, making it the largest protest settlement in history.

After all of his national recognition and success, the question remains: why Providence? “For such a tiny city we have a crazy arts and music scene, and a super strong counter culture,” he said. “There are protests every week, there’s an organized radical labor contingent, one of the strongest, most tenured poetry communities in the country.” Jared currently lives in Providence as a part of the AS220 Artists in Residence program, describing AS220 as an internationally recognized beacon of hope.

“The time I set aside for direct action goes to picketing with hotel workers in my neighborhood at the Renaissance and the Hilton as they fight for fair wages and better working conditions.” He also volunteers with the Providence Poetry Slam and participates in protests and hearings organized by Occupy providence and the Olneyville Neighborhood Association.

Aside from his activism work here in Rhode Island, Jared is working on various upcoming poetry and music projects. “Right now I’m working on my book and a brand new album, so my focus is there,” he said. Jared’s first book (title to be determined) is due to be released in the spring of 2015. He describes it as a collection of poetry, autobiographical short stories, and personal essays about traveling, protesting, and social justice organizing.

CLEAN MACHINE by Jared Paul

Biking to my father’s house after dark, making good time.
Providence flies past and I’m already crossing into Pawtucket.
 
There’s hardly any traffic and the night air is soft and cool.
The speckled sky brightens the further I ride from downtown.
 
After pedaling non­stop for twenty minutes, Main Street
turns into Lonsdale Avenue and a glorious downhill begins.
 
Nearly a mile with the wind at my back and gravity on my side.
As I pick up momentum, cars, trees, and buildings blur together.
 
The bray of advancing motorcycle engines sparks up from behind.
Fifteen men on sportsbikes pull close, begin passing on the left.
 
Accelerators rev in a rush of piercing headlights and neon plastic.
 
My ears recoil as they roar by— I nod, waiting until the road is mine again.
 
The last rider to pass reaches out and gives my raised bottom
a playful pat. I look over in surprise, he winks.
 
Someday, you’ll be man enough for one of these, his eyes seems to say.
He hits the gas with a blaring whine of the engine, races to catch the others.
 
Their tail lights disappear around a corner and off into the distance.
The night is quiet once more but a heavy curtain of burnt exhaust remains.
 
I’m given to a moment of flatulence and the gas eases out behind me.
I whiff but there is nothing there to smell.
 
The sportsbikers have helmets and I have a helmet.
They have two wheels and I have two wheels
 
but my bicycle runs quietly on quinoa and kale,
and the exhaust is clean as a whistle. 
 
 



Books on the Square Supports Community and Local Talent Alike

Books on the Square welcomes home local author Hester Kaplan

by Melanie Rainone

Books on the Square has been a Providence staple for over 20 years. Located on Wayland Square, they offer a large selection of new and used books, as well as a book club, story hour for children, and book readings. As a part of their June line-up of authors, Books on the Square welcomed local author Hester Kaplan for the inaugural reading of her new collection of stories, Unravished.

IMG_1386Kaplan expresses positive feelings toward not only Providence, but also the bookstore in which she now stands. “Books on the Square has always been great with local readings, it’s very supportive of local authors.” For Books on the Square, the feeling is mutual. “We do tend to support local authors,” said the organizer of the reading, “Here in Rhode Island the local connection is of greater importance.”

The store serves as an integral part of the community, an importance that is evident in the familial atmosphere. “The store is part of a larger community. A place where we know our customers and they know us. Aside from book events, the local neighborhood association holds its meetings at the store. They support candidate debates at election time, using our space. The store is part of and partners with the Wayland Square Association to promote Wayland Square with numerous activities throughout the year,” said the organizer.

Kaplan’s reading was only one of the many events happening at the store during the month of June, but it proved to be a popular one, no doubt a result of its local flavor. Everyone walking into the store knew each other, brought together not only in support of Kaplan as an author and community member, but of a familiarity with Books on the Square. People meandered around like it was a friend’s home rather than a bookstore. One woman, clutching her plastic cup of wine from the refreshment table in one hand and a copy of Kaplan’s book in the other, said, “There are people I don’t know here,” sounding perplexed.

A group of patrons talked about how crowded it typically gets on the nights of readings such as this, and how they purposely got there early because the last time it had been a struggle to find a seat. They were IMG_1385soon proven right. Seats filled quickly and more had to be brought out.

The reading began, and proved to be far from formal. Kaplan began by saying, “I’m going to stand, not because I’m authoritative, but because the sun is in my eyes.” This elicited a laugh from the crowd, the first of many to be heard throughout the night.

Kaplan read one of the four stories from her new book, “The School of Politics.” The story is set, as Kaplan put it, in “No medium sized city in particular.” Again, laughter ensues.

For anyone not from the area, sitting in the audience of a reading of “The School of Politics” would have seemed like sitting through a prolonged inside joke, but, for Rhode Islanders, it was a reminder of many jokes that they had once laughed at together as a community.

When asked what made her choose her hometown as the setting, Kaplan said, “It’s an irresistible cast of characters – colorful.”