Wanderlust Wednesday – Worcester, Massachusetts, by way of Springfield

Pop Quiz: How did Worcester, Massachusetts make its money?

Answer: Corsets. The Royal Worcester Corset Factory was the largest U.S. employer of women in 1908.




File:Elizabeth and Mary Freake.jpg

Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary. Worcester Art Museum.


I spent all of 18 hours in Worcester last week. It has the bones of any successful city of the turn of the century. Money made in industry went to civic projects, art museums, and city beautiful movements. It is home to the American Antiquarian Society, a repository of historic newspapers, prints, and myriad other documents important to our history. The Worcester Art Museum has a respectable collection, including their famous mosaics and the portraits of John, Elizabeth and Mary Freake. The kooky Higgins Armory is there. It’s the second largest city in New England, behind Boston.

I tried to take the train to Worcester from New York City. You have one option: the Vermonter, leaving NYC at 11:33am and traveling to New Haven before turning north and running through Hartford. You reach Springfield, Mass. at 2:59. Otherwise known as limbo.

Springfield Mass Bus Station. RL Fifield 2012.

I am totally committed to train travel in this country. I was prepared to wait the 3 hours for the Lake Shore Limited heading to Boston. But alas, this train was already 1.5 hours late and getting later. The 1926 Springfield Union Station still survives, mothballed and due for a $78 million renovation in 2012-2013. But instead, my purgatory would be a small Amtrak waiting room c. 1980. Read: Hell. The very cheerful agent was well-rehearsed on advising frustrated Amtrak passengers to make the last hop to Worcester. I received the $14 fare refund (minus $5 refund charge) and rolled off toward the all-too-colorful Springfield Bus Station. By the time I had relaxed in my hotel room, gone out for supper , and came back, I heard my train arriving at the beautifully renovated Worcester Train Station. I was a little wistful not to arrive by train there myself.

I had dinner at the very chummy Northworks Bar & Grille, full of locals and Courtyard Marriott business travelers. Weirdly, the only other time I ate in Worcester, over 10 years ago, I had eaten in this very same place. I like to sit at the bar (I saw several women tucked in out of the way booths – see my post on Eating Alone). My dinner companions and cheery bartender Kelly all had an eye roll after a lounge lizard departed. Kelly brought me the perfectly sized dessert when I claimed the offerings to be too large – about 4 bites of apple crisp in a small glass prep dish. Thanks, Worcester.

Worcester Train Station. RL Fifield 2012. Boy, I wish I had arrived on a train.

Museum Monday – Here Come the Trains Again: Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

Once again Transit Tuesday is busting in on Museum Monday.

RL Fifield 2012.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is located in Strasburg, just outside Lancaster. It’s close to the outlet store schlock on Route 30 east of Lancaster, but once you turn off the main drag, the view gets rural real quick. Strasburg is amazingly preserved, and on the eastern edge of town is a collection of over 100 rail cars. Across the street is the Strasburg Rail Road. We visited Thanksgiving weekend and the Rail Road was hopping with Polar Express kiddie traffic.

Squeal! GG1 known as Blackjack (add up the numbers). Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. RL Fifield 2012.

Dr. V and I felt like kids and wanted to climb on all the cars. Some of the engines and a caboose were open, with old railroaders talking about the equipment and their past work. The train shed reaches further than the eye can see. Old Pullman cars lead to wistfulness. A pile of other cars in varying states of preservation sit outside the shed, including Reading passenger cars and a Metroliner. And, ooo! A GG-1! The pinup girl of the Pennsylvania Railroad!

Budd Metroliner Snack Bar Car with original preserved interior, c. 1969. That’s geeky Baby! RL Fifield, 2012.



I was shocked at the amazing layouts of G-Scale model trains that kids were free to run around. I see how carefully my Dad mans the switches, couples the cars, and avoids collisions. These kids have no such training and send the cars hurtling around curves.  At a few hundred dollars each, these engines ain’t cheap.

Exhibit Hall at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Yeah, Baby, Yeah! That’s retro. RL Fifield 2012.




There is room for improvement. It’s clear that the Railroad Museum’s stock (ha) in trade is their large collection of well preserved rail cars. You can watch their preservation lab in action via CC TV into the train shed, or through specially arranged tours. Their exhibition space on the second floor could better tell the story of railroading. My museum studies self squealed when I entered the exhibit – it probably hasn’t been updated since the museum opened in the 1970s. However, they have an excellent website. It even includes a page dedicated the various grants they’ve received and how the museum has expanded, acquired climate control, and other projects, which can be of use to other institutions. That’s forward thinking. Show your constituents how your non-profit organization runs and they can understand better how they can fit in.

Western Maryland Railway Promotional Display from the 1950s. Great piece from the era of railroad decline. Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. RL Fifield 2012.

Should We Feel Sorry for Twinkies?

Mourning miniature, 1788. Brooklyn Museum. 21.474. 

Twinkies. I’ve had a few. I’ve had more pink Snowballs and Suzy-Q’s than Twinkies. I was mildly horrified and fascinated to watch Anthony Bourdain eat embalmed fructose syrup used to make Twinkie filling out of the pipes of Zubal Books, a former Twinkie factory (watch the clip here). PS – I don’t advocate the storage of archival and library materials near a food source.

Now that Twinkies and Wonder Bread are gone, should we be sorry? In this era of resurgence for real food, slow food, artisanal food, should we artificially prop up that which is artificially made? Sure, a miniature apple tarte tatin at $6 each isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But ever tried a Big Mac after a 15 year dry spell? It doesn’t taste as good as you remember. Time to go to Shake Shack instead.

I do feel for the former workers of Hostess. Their loss is found in the convergence of poor financial management on the part of Hostess, a loss of interest in their main products, and an economic downturn. It’s not an enviable position to be in during these times.

But I can’t recommend that we eat more Twinkies. Everyone should recognize that to eat one Twinkie (let alone the two per pack) is out of line with a healthy diet. How many Twinkies does each American have to eat in order to sustain Hostess? And would that Twinkie lifeline diet justify the money the federal government would have to spend to counteract the poor effects of the fructose laden food on our health? As I was finishing this post on the evening of November 30, WNYC came on with a segment on the decline of interest in Twinkies due to healthier eating with Steve Ettlinger, author of Twinkie, Deconstructed. The guest did note an affection for Snowballs, so now I don’t quite feel so gross. He offers a Twinkie recipe in his book. They still aren’t good for you. But the ingredients are things that your great-grandmother would have recognized (thanks Michael Pollan’s Food Rules). It’s real food, if not quite true to the original.

RIP Twinkie.




New York at Night

RL Fifield. 2008.

It’s something about the light of shops shining out onto the sidewalks, people wrapped in coats, the tall buildings above transformed into shadows, dotted with light. When I conjure the city in which I live, it’s at night.

Try listening to Coltrane’s Greensleeves while hurrying past others, huffing in mufflers and balancing packages. Tell me it isn’t an anthem for this city (or any Coltrane, for that matter). Yes, I know, there are crabs that gripe about those who listen to iPods while walking, you should listen to the city instead etc. (This is the same group that says “New York is so over” – see my post on New York Calling – and gets voicemail) But Walkmans and boom boxes came before, so layering on your music is a tradition. Go ahead, pipe in that Coltrane, or what have you.

Daytime is a little stark in the Big Apple. The cracks in the pavement are much harder. Strewn trash and lines on faces are exposed. We squint in the sunshine.

McSorley’s. 2003.

We come to New York for the day job (or promise of a day job). But night stretches out with possibility, time is suspended. Whereas smaller towns button up, New York keeps going. Night is close, and cozy. Night is the natural habitat of neon lights, may they be preserved. Look out at the lights in the apartment buildings in your street.  I always marvel at the number of lights that burn into the darkness on those early mornings when I can’t sleep. We are a city of nighttime thinkers, writers, artists.

Perhaps 40 years ago, New York night threatened. It cloaked desperation and provided opportunities for upturn, role reversal, want fulfilled through violent acts. But the photographic record shows a city of evening dwellers. We are going out, we are coming home, we are looking into the camera. Weegee, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Sid Grossman, Alfred Stieglitz.

Our subway runs all night long, and is never empty.

RL Fifield 2010.

Transportation Tuesday: Time to Get Geeky – The Amtrak History Website

Perhaps Amtrak is a little late for many rail fans, but the Amtrak history website led to me losing a few hours last night while I poked around the various features. Amtrak will never have the glamour of the Baltimore and Ohio’s Royal Blue service. But for those of us still attracted to the possibilities of passenger rail service, Amtrak is what we’ve got. After 40 years of service, there’s some stuff to look back on.

Features on the website include a chronological history, a virtual tour of the Amtrak Exhibit Train, an online archive of photographs, promotional material, timetables, and ephemera, and a blog. Those of you who enjoy 70s and 80s graphics will find a treasure chest worth of ad porn to click through. The search function for the Archives works well, but the related site The Museum of Railway Timetables (yes! there is such a thing, and I admit, I looked at it) requires too much clicking, requires downloading images to see them clearly, and the thumbnails are a bit small to really browse effectively.

It’s a corporate website, so this isn’t a place to complain about delays on your recent trip. Rail has generated a lot of chatter in the last ten years, so from this place, it is intriguing to look at the ephemera of the most difficult years for passenger rail in the US.


Caraway and Salt Flatbreads from Agata & Valentina, NYC. RL Fifield 2012.

Caraway. It’s lyrical.

It’s herbal, savory, and astringent. My French friends confuse it for a cumin seed.  It evokes strong feelings of admiration or disgust, depending on whose palate is assessing it. And it’s one of my favorite flavorings.

When I was a child, caraway appeared solely in rye bread and in sauerkraut on Thanksgiving (yes, Marylanders include sauerkraut on their Thanksgiving table, and I definitely had some Thursday). But caraway was widely used in the past in confections, breads, liqueurs, and other foods. Its complex flavor pairs well with sugar, such as matching the seed to dried currants in an Irish Soda Bread. Those versions missing the caraway are merely sweet; caraway matched with currants and sugar heightens the flavor of both and make you consider further the combination, who thought it up, why you’ve never thought of it before, and where else you might introduce caraway.

Here’s a recipe for Carraway Cakes from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, followed by a photograph of Wiggs, made by Mr. DeM at Fort Lee Historic Park last Saturday. Wiggs are a yeast biscuit of sort with carraway and lemon peel (sometimes caraway comfits were used) served for breakfast and often dried out into rusks. Thanks for the information, Mr. DeM!

Carraway Cakes from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery (1774 Version), pg. 360-361.


Carraway Brandy (thanks again to Mr DeM for the reference)

The Compleat Housewife, E. Smith, 14th edition, 1750.pg. 264.

To Make Carraway Brandy…..
Steep an ounce of carraway-seeds and six ounces of sugar in a quart of brandy for nine days, and clear it off, it is a good cordial….

Mr. DeM’s Wiggs (a yeast biscuit with lemon peel and caraway), baked in the outdoor bakeoven at Fort Lee Historic Park on Saturday, Nov 17, 2012. RL Fifield, 2012.

Transportation Tuesday: Amtrak’s Quiet Car

I was putting together another post on Amtrak when I stumbled across a New York Times Opinion on Amtrak’s Quiet Car by Tim Krieder. The Quiet Car is at first brilliant: I settle myself away from the din of the other carriages. There’s the cellphone conversation we’d rather not hear about (surgery, sales, boyfriend). The businessmen strutting their acumen to each other.  The travelling family unaware that others are using the train. The Quiet Car is for single people who enjoy being alone with their own minds. Here there are no phones, no animated conversations. It is exclusive. You settle in your chair, and its peaceful.

And then the agita begins.

Why is that guy tapping his pen? A phone rings, someone answers it and whispers (loudly) into it. A harried mother enters the car, apologizing that she can’t find seats for her brood elsewhere, and says her kids are very good (they’re not). You begin to wonder if you yourself are offending. Crap, I needed a throat lozenge, and I can’t get the wrapper open. Each sound makes you glare at your fellow passenger. I alight from the Quiet Car in relief, making extra noise rolling my suitcase onto the platform. A bit of depression sets in, thinking that I certainly was Quiet Car-worthy.

I don’t seek out the Quiet Car anymore. When I had to write a paper in college, I didn’t choose the tomb-like college library; I trudged off to the public library, for the constant hum of activity, the kids below, the beeping barcode scanner at the circulation desk. It spurred on the writing, it occupied those other thoughts that might get in the way and distract me.

Cleveland’s West Side Market

My brother Mr. F is Cleveland’s Man about Town. During my May visit, he toured me around a number of sites and neighborhoods, including Shaker Square, downtown, Detroit Seaway, and Cleveland’s West Side Market.

West Side Market. RL Fifield 2012.

I knew zip about Cleveland, beyond its being the butt of many jokes – most of these, I found out, are told by people from Ohio. Sure, Cleveland suffered the same blight that most cities have suffered over the last 60 years of anti-urban sentiment, and is enjoying a bit of renewal now. West Side Market opened in 1912 and celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Like any city, neighborhood market buildings were crucial centers of trade for the neighborhood until the advent of refrigeration, frozen foods, and the supermarket, which reduced the need for daily shopping. Most of Cleveland’s other markets, notably the Central Market, died through atrophy, and a 1949 fire of the historic market building left little to work with. Check out this site on Cleveland History and its page on Cleveland Market history hosted by Case Western Reserve University. With the rise in interest of how our food is produced, new life was breathed into old style market culture. Maingate Marketplace, introducing a farmer’s market, retail market building, and other shops was proposed to revitalize a blighted, underserved area described as a “food desert.” This project seemed to have stalled in 2010.

RL Fifield, 2012.

West Side’s central hall is full of permanent stalls vending both specialty ingredients and prepared foods, the side arcades display staggering arrays of produce, artfully stacked and wittingly hawked. A favorite of mine were the Bakewell Tarts at Reilly’s Irish Bakery. Markets are one of the the two things I seek out in every city I travel to (train stations are the other). The worst part about visiting market buildings in other towns is that when you are travelling, you don’t have the opportunity to buy fresh ingredients and put them to use. It’s the best reason I can think of to rent an apartment when staying in a city for a longer length of time, and live like a local.


Steamed bun with pork, cabbage, and egg from Kim Se Cambodian Cuisine. RL Fifield 2012.

Java Up: The Coffee House: A Cultural History

Grab your mug, get some joe, and crack open The Coffee House: A Cultural History by Markman Ellis (Wenfield and Nicolson, 2004).

I was aware of the role the coffee house played in discourse and the exchange of news. In comparison to the other beverage-oriented meeting places – taverns, ale houses etc – coffee was a sober and benign drink that did not impede industry. But I did not expect the controversy over the arrival of coffee, the government’s desire to squelch the coffee house as an opposition gathering place, and several opinions about how bad coffee tasted.  The book traces coffee’s journey from Turkey and the opening of the first London coffee house by Pasqua Rosee, sponsored by the wealthy Edwards family, around 1652. Ellis takes his history up to the present day, including discourse about twentieth espresso bars and Starbucks.

Ellis discusses the period method of roasting and brewing coffee, the wares in which it was served, the men and women who served it, and the discourse that took place in 17th and 18th century coffee houses. There were plenty of contemporary harsh words against coffee. Ellis discusses that the method of brewing coffee during the 17th century could be responsible for its bad press. Green coffee beans were roasted in a long-handled frying pan over the fire, giving the beans a much smokier flavor than we are used to today. The coffee powder was then boiled in a copper pot. Whereas those original consumers of coffee in the middle East required that roasting, pounding, brewing, and drinking take place in quick succession, English coffee houses lost that rapidity. Along with dubious methods to extend the coffee, the drink became described by some as “Horse-pond Liquor” and “Syrrop of Soot, or Essence of old Shooes.”

Time for a second cup.

Moll King, proprietor of the somewhat sleazy King’s Coffee-House in Covent Garden Market. Photo: Wikipedia.

A Dinner in Winter, 1756

As Winter settles around our shoulders, I like to consider what was considered seasonal fare in the eighteenth century. I’m a big fan of eighteenth century table maps (see my post on Winterthur’s Robert Jocelyn dinner journal here and visit the Winterthur digital interactive feature here). In The British Housewife (1756) I found this table map noting how the dishes for the first course should be laid out, complete with engravings of the food itself. Protein is the order of the day.