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Bike Initiatives on a Roll North of Boston
Dec 10th, 2015 by

(We interrupt these recipes for a word about bike safety. This is an article I wrote and a video I created about bike accidents in communities north of Boston. It was published in the Boston Sunday Globe on Nov. 29, 2015.)

By Mark Micheli

It happened to cigarette smokers and drunk drivers.

Richard Fries believes the next major shift in what’s not socially acceptable will zero in on impatient motorists, bicyclists, and even pedestrians.

“It used to be acceptable to be drunk and drive,” said Fries, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. “It used to be acceptable to smoke — in a school. And here we are again. The times are changing.”

Fries said he is expecting — and fighting for — a world where bicyclists not only feel safe on the roads, but that they belong there and they matter. And he believes communities north of Boston — with a few exceptions — are working toward that end.

  • In Somerville, they’re planning the city’s first elevated bike lanes, to be separated from traffic by a curb and the sidewalk by a buffer zone with plants.
  • In Salem, they’re planning to connect the Salem State campus and the Marblehead Rail Trail to an off-road path reaching into downtown. That trail could eventually join the off-road East Coast Greenway stretching from Canada to Florida.
  • Beverly and Lowell this year adopted the Complete Streets program, which requires city engineers to consider all users when improving roadways, making accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians where appropriate.
  • There’s work being done to connect rail trails in Topsfield and Boxford, as well as trails in Amesbury, Newbury, Newburyport, and Salisbury.
  • This year, a portion of the Northern Strand Trail was built in Revere, providing the missing link to create 7½ miles of continuous off-road riding from Everett, through Malden, Revere, and Saugus, to the Lynn line.

For Fries, it’s all about the realization that many bicyclists ride not for recreation, but out of necessity to get to jobs, schools, to shop, or simply to use their cars less. And that, he said, is why off-road trails, in combination with on-road accommodations, are needed.

“We’re not talking about working out,’’ he said. “We’re talking about expanding people’s radius of unmotorized travel to about a 3-mile radius.

“Imagine if they built 5 miles of the interstate highway and then you had to drive 10 miles more to get to the next section? That’s where we’re at right now in the construction of bike facilities.”

Somerville, he said, leads the regional pack on bike-friendly accommodations, with more than 30 miles of painted bike lanes, eight bike boxes — areas painted on roadways where bicyclists can wait in front of motorists for the light to change — and a police department more concerned with why someone violated a road rule than issuing citations.

“Our police force is so good at this,’’ said Brad Rawson, the city’s director of transportation and infrastructure. “I see it all the time in my daily commute.”

“They ask them ‘Why are you running a red light? Why are you riding a bicycle the wrong way down a street? Why are you crossing mid-block?’ Those types of things,” said Bonnie Polin, chief safety analyst with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. MassDOT gave $40,000 to Somerville this year for extra police details to work at problem intersections. She said some safety improvements have come from the answers police get.

The 12 communities the state chose for the extra details program — a list that includes Salem, Haverhill, and Lynn — have the highest ratio of bicycle and pedestrian crashes compared with total accidents, Polin said.

Somerville has some of the region’s worst hot spots for bicycle accidents: Four of the state’s top 10 bicycle crash clustersare in the city. Overall, according to MassDOT statistics, Somerville has 13 such clusters where 589 accidents occurred from 2004 through 2013. One was deadly; 382 others involved injuries.

The city seems to be zeroing in on the problem spots; the plan to build elevated bike lanes along Beacon Street, from Inman Square to Cambridge’s Porter Square, is one of the solutions officials envision. Some 300 bicyclists per hour travel that route during morning and evening rush hours, said Rawson.

In Lynn, both the severity of bike problems and the city’s response are quite different. The city doesn’t make the top 10 list on accidents, but it is home to three bicycle crash clusters where 41 accidents occurred from 2004 through 2013. Twenty-four of those accidents involved injuries, and one a death.

There are no plans to fix those spots, said James Marsh, the city’s community development director, who said that narrow roadways make such work all but impossible. He said Lynn is instead focused on a much larger project to develop its waterfront, which would include three pedestrian bridges over the Lynnway, where he said two or three people have been killed in recent years. Those plans, however, are years from design and completion.

To Fries, Lynn is the least bike-friendly community north of Boston. It has no bike lanes, he said, and is the last holdout to approve the Northern Strand Trail from Everett to Nahant Beach. Similarly, Swampscott is the last town to agree to completion of the Marblehead Rail Trail, which some abutters — not town officials — are delaying. Filling in those two gaps would create an off-road path from the North Shore into Boston.

Barbara Jacobson, who works with municipal officials as program manager at the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said there is little political will in Lynn to support bicycling. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Still, the city has taken some safety steps. It took part in the program that provided money for more detail officers at dangerous intersections, said Lynn Police Sergeant Ned Shinnick, and it conducted two bicycle and pedestrian safety audits. In addition, it will likely add shared bicycle/motorist lane markings on Lynnfield Street as part of a new project.

Some communities require a push to become more bike-friendly. Last year, Lowell considered removing newly painted bike lanes from Father Morissette Boulevard, but bike advocates fought back, packing a City Council hearing. Now the city is working on better markings for those lanes, said Nicolas Bosonetto, Lowell transportation engineer.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,’’ said Bosonetto. “As more people come back to the urban center they’re expecting more amenities, more walkability, more bicycling accommodations, more transit.”

“I believe the next frontier in bicycle advocacy is not the hip, happening, Boulder, Colo., Portland, Ore., Cambridge, Somerville, Manhattan,” said Fries. “I think it’s the Brocktons, and the Lynns, and the Lowells. Those are the communities where folks can really use good basic bike infrastructure.”

Bicycle safety improvements underway north of Boston

Beverly

  • Road projects considering bicyclists and pedestrians are planned for Bridge Street; the Beverly/Salem bridge; Routes 97 and 1A; and River Street.
  • Bike lanes to be painted on Brimble Avenue, with plans to add shared bicycle/pedestrian paths.
  • Signs, shared lane markings, and possible traffic-calming measures are planned for Cabot Street.

Haverhill

  • Improvements along the Merrimack River and boardwalk will include accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians.

Lowell

  • Plans to connect off-road paths.
  • Working with state to make VFW Highway safer for all users.
  • Working with UMass Lowell to make Pawtucket Street safer for bicyclists, pedestrians. ? Safety improvements at VFW Highway/Bridge Street intersection, including realigning road and shortening pedestrian bridge.
  • Planned redevelopment project to make Lowell Overpass safer.

Lynn

  • Planned waterfront project could include three pedestrian bridges over Lynnway and boardwalk connecting to Lynn Shore Drive.
  • Shared bicycle/motorist lane markings on Lynnfield Street.

Salem

  • Accommodations along Bridge Street to the train station.
  • More bike lanes planned for Lafayette Street (Route 114).
  • Off-road path planned along Canal Street to connect Salem State campus and the Marblehead Rail Trail to the downtown.

Somerville

  • Spring construction start planned for first elevated bike lanes, along Beacon Street from Cambridge’s Porter Square to Inman Square.
  • Safety improvements for Holland Street south of Teele Square. ? Safety improvements are being studied for Elm Street near Davis Square.

SOURCES: Cities, towns, and the Mass. Bicycle Coalition.

Mark Micheli can be reached at markfmiceli@gmail.com.

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Giant Peruvian Lima Bean Soup (From Taranta Restaurant in Boston’s North End)
Oct 19th, 2015 by

Here’s a recipe I got when I was shooting Dorm Room Chef videos for the Boston Globe and Boston.com. It’s delicious and very healthy, according to Taranta chef/owner Jose Duarte.

Duarte’s restaurant is unique in that it features both Italian and Peruvian dishes, two cultures that are part of his heritage. Watch the video above to get the recipe. It’s only 2 1/2 minutes long and the recipe is pretty easy to make. I also wrote the recipe below.

I’ve made it dozens of times and plan to make it again soon, now that the weather in this part of the country is getting colder.

Ingredients:

  • Giant Peruvian lima beans (About 1 1/2 cups). I couldn’t find anything labeled “Peruvian lima beans” at the supermarket so I just bought the largest ones there.
  • Water (About 1 1/2 cups)
  • Chicken stock (About 3 or 4 cups)
  • Garlic, chopped (A few cloves)
  • Celery, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Carrots, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Potato, diced (About 1/2 cup)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (3 or 4 tablespoons)
  • Egg (1 large egg per serving)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Add the lima beans, the water, and enough chicken stock to completely cover the beans (about 1 1/2 cups) to a crockpot and cook for about 6 hours.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a ban over medium heat. Add the celery, garlic, carrots, and potatoes and cook until tender (about 3-5 minutes).

Add the lima beans and the remaining chicken stock to this pot and cook until nearly boiling.

Add one egg at a time and stir gently to cook the egg. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve each portion of soup with one egg. Pour a little olive oil over the top of each serving too.

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Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves
Oct 11th, 2015 by

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura.

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

This recipe was printed in the Boston Globe’s food section at least 15 years ago, probably closer to 20 years ago. I cut it out of the paper then and used it to make these today but unfortunately, there’s no date on the clipping.

The headline on the article was “Tuscany’s last secret,” and the recipe for the frying batter, which can also be used with vegetables and zucchini blossoms, was taken from the Fine Art of Italian Cooking, by Giuliano Bugialli. I think the Globe should ask readers for their favorite recipe from the Globe’s food section over the past fifty years and then print an article based on the top 10 selections.

Here’s the recipe:

TUSCAN FRYING BATTER

Ingredients:

  • All purpose unbleached flour, 1 1/8 cup
  • Kosher salt, a pinch
  • Ground black pepper, just a little
  • Nutmeg, a pinch
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Egg yolk, one from an extra-large egg
  • Dry, white wine, 1/4 cup
  • Vodka, unflavored 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Cold water, 1/2 cup

What to do:

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, mixing very well and incorporating just a little of the flour from the rim of the well.

Add the egg yolk, wine, and vodka and incorporate more flour.

Finally, add the water and mix everything together very well. The batter should be very smooth with no lumps.

Let it rest at least one hour in a cool place.

FRYING THE SAGE LEAVES

Heat about an inch or two of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Insert a wooden spoon in the oil and if bubbles form about it, it’s hot enough to cook the leaves.

Dip the leaves quickly in the batter, being sure to coat well on both sides and cook in the hot oil in several batches. Cook each leaf about one minute or two on each side. Remove from the oil when they turn golden brown and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow the oil to drain.

Sprinkle salt on the leaves and a squirt of lemon juice.

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Caponata, aka: Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Sep 20th, 2015 by

Spread a little of the caponata on Italian toast slices to make sweet and tart crostini.

Spread a little of the caponata on Italian toast slices to make sweet and tart crostini.

This recipe is one of the best I found in a very long time. It is a delicious blend of sweet and sour flavors with a mingling of soft and crunchy textures that melts in your mouth creating a desire for more and more. It is addictive.

The recipe, first printed in the 2005 edition of Gourmet Magazine, got the highest score on Epicurious.com: four forks, and the 18 people who reviewed it said they would make it again.

So what is caponata and what can you do with it? It’s a blend of bite-sized eggplant, tomatoes, celery, green olives, and red bell peppers that have been enhanced with some garlic, onion, parsley, basil, sugar and red wine vinegar.

It is delicious, by itself as a side dish, or when mixed with pasta. It also makes the best crostini when spread generously over toasted ciabatta slices. It’s very versatile and can be used imaginatively in a thousand different ways. I just put the last of it on some lavash bread, along with some goat cheese and arugula to create a roll-up sandwich. It was better than an eggplant (or chicken, or veal) parm sandwich on a braided roll.

This recipe takes a little work but it’s worth it. It makes a big batch that you can enjoy for several days or even a week.

Again, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!!

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Santana Is Pure Joy
Aug 19th, 2015 by

The late Tito Puente made a few bucks last night. But more importantly, he would have been proud when Carlos Santana and his 10-piece band played a booming version of his ode to rhythm, “Oye Como Va,” which means “Listen to how my rhythm goes,” when you add the line “mi ritmo” after it.

I saw Tito Puente and his band at the Charles Ballroom in Harvard Square about 15 years ago. During that show he made a speech before playing that song, explaining how Santana made his song a hit and how at first he was a little angry and jealous, especially when audience members would say to him after his show, “you play Santana music.”

He said he used to argue with them and explain that he wrote that song and that Santana was playing Tito Puente music. “Until the royalty checks started rolling in. Now I tell them, ‘That’s right. I play Santana music!’,” he said right before his keyboardist started pounding on the opening chords to that song.

Santana is now an old master, but his chops on the guitar are as good as ever. Pure joy flows from it and he accentuates his guitar solos by offering the audience little treats:  a few riffs of classic songs thrown into the mix.

Last night, those little treats included a few riffs from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I’m With the In Crowd,” and “Layla.” He doled out many more and the audience, dancing in the aisles, ate them up.

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Some Easter Dinner Favorites
Apr 1st, 2015 by

The passing of the stuffed artichokes from Easter dinner 2010 in the RootsLiving dining room.

The passing of the stuffed artichokes from Easter dinner 2010 in the RootsLiving dining room.

These tried and true side dishes show up at the RootsLiving dinner table every Easter. If you’re looking for ideas to wow your guests this year, try these recipes. Nan’s Mashed Potatoes are rich, creamy and flavorful. And there’s no better way to make carrots than to follow French Chef Paul Bocuse’s recipe for carrots in cream.

Here is a list of Easter dinner favorite recipes:

And of course there’s plenty of ham, but ham needs no recipe. Just heat it up, and don’t forget the pineapple.
Find more recipes in the Food section.
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