Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Marliave Sisters

Inside Scoop: I feel boastful today, so I'll say that this is one of the best stories I've pumped out in a while. Classic DeMarco, if you will: a heart-warming, salt-of-the-earth tale with good rhythm, flow and quotes. The banter between the ladies and Frank, who is a non-stop talker, was funny. He butted into our conversation so often - and made so many faintly disguised pleas to be in the story - that I started laughing at the lunch table. I'll look for some quotes and publish them at the end of the story. The only bummer was that this was supposed to be on the cover of City Weekly, but instead ended up buried inside. That doesn't happen often. Now, we'll have to see about payment. Another battle awaits, I'm afraid.

The Sisters of Marliave are not departed
Charlestown trio sticks to tradition

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent | December 25, 2005

''The Sisters are here," calls out a member of Marliave Restaurant's wait staff, and inevitably, heads turn to see whether a group of nuns has walked through the door.

But sit within earshot of Ruth, Rita, and Joan's customary table -- second floor, under the middle window -- and you won't hear much talk about holy miracles. Unless, of course, someone spotted a Karen Scott sweater at Filene's for 30 percent off the markdown price.

The Marliave ''Sisters" -- Ruth Humphrey, 73; Joan O'Halloran, 75; and Rita Healey, 85 -- know more about shopping than almost anyone else treading Washington Street this holiday season. When they were all young women in the late 1940s they made a pact to spend Saturdays combing the racks at Gilchrist's, R.H. Stearns, and Jordan Marsh. A leisurely afternoon lunch at their favorite Italian restaurant, the Marliave on nearby Bosworth Street, completed the ritual.

Downtown Crossing has changed enormously since those halcyon days, when a fancy Betmar felt hat cost $4.98 at Raymond's and Neisner's Five-and-Dime served hot dogs for pennies. This spring even Filene's, the shopping district's grand old lady, will close its doors to make way for condominiums or office space or a discount store or some other form of modern progress.

Through it all, the Sisters, or so they're called, have been here. Climbing aboard the No. 93 bus in Charlestown where they live, they have made the trip to Downtown Crossing almost every Saturday for some 55 years. In the thick of blizzards they've pounded on Marliave's door, the only customers to make it that far. Summer heat waves likewise have not held them back from a good sale.

''We kept telling our kids. 'Don't do this on a Saturday.' 'Don't get married on a Saturday.' 'Don't do confirmation on a Saturday,' " says Ruth, ''because we can't go."

They arrive at the Marliave about 1 p.m., a fresh white cloth atop their reserved table. As always, Rita sits on one side and Ruth and Joan on the other. Anne Battit, their waitress, brings dishes of sliced pepperoni, french fries, and rolls and butter for them to nibble on as they chat away about life's ups and downs. At 2 p.m. they order their main meal: chicken marsala, no mushrooms, for everyone.

The entire restaurant knows the drill.

''We used to get chicken cacciatore. Oh, it was delicious," says Rita. ''Then we changed to marsala one day. The chef came up and wanted to know what was wrong with the cacciatore."

The original group had seven ''Sisters": the O'Neil sisters -- Ruth, Rita, May, and Doris -- plus Audrey, their sister-in-law, and good friends Bernie and Joan. They'd get to Downtown Crossing by about 9 a.m. on a Saturday and sail through a veritable sea of department stores.

There was Woolworth's and on the corner of Winter and Washington, Gilchrist's. For a man's dress shirt, it had to be Kennedy's; for baby clothes, R.H Stearns.
''I used to buy my hats at Raymond's," says Rita. ''I would go in and try them all on."

''We always wore hats," says Joan. ''To church, you wore hats."

During the week the women would leave their jobs at the Charlestown HealthCare Center, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, and a bank -- bearing a different name depending on the decade -- to scout the sales during lunch hours. On Saturdays, with their mothers or someone else baby-sitting the kids, they would return to cash in on the bargains.

And so it went for decades, until shopping malls came on the scene, and the old-time
department stores began to disappear one by one.

Still, even as Downtown Crossing lost its luster, the Sisters kept coming back.

''I don't like malls. Period," says Rita.

''You take the bus from here to Charlestown. That takes, what, 15 minutes?" asks Ruth.

No matter what shops came or went, the Marliave was a constant. Jerry Collocini, their bartender for 30 years, was always ready with a joke or a song. On Saturdays, the regular crowd -- some doctors, a lawyer from Boston University, some contractors named O'Connor, another bar-goer named Bill -- would fill the room.

''Nobody bothers you in here. That's why we come here," says Ruth on a recent Saturday, a cranberry drink in her hand. ''We can sit here for hours if we wanted to. And they would never say, 'Oh you have to leave.' "

''I did try to throw them out," corrects Frank Iacoviello, the restaurant's owner, speaking up from behind the bar. ''They refused to leave!"

Iacoviello has known the women for 10 years, since he bought the Marliave, and such friendly bickering is by now part of the Saturday tradition. As Rita describes the handbag and glasses she has at home with the Marliave name on them, Frank jokingly barks out that they're stolen.

Naturally, some changes have been inevitable, the women say. Pushcarts clog Washington Street, much to their chagrin, and politically correct ''holiday trees" have replaced the old-fashioned Christmas trees they grew up with.

Doris, Audrey, Bernie, and May have all gone. Last year, Jerry the bartender retired because of a heart condition.

Jordan Marsh and its Enchanted Village were taken over by Macy's. Their beloved Filene's will be next.

''I went into a bank in Charlestown," says Ruth. ''I was at the counter, and the woman said, 'What are you going to do without Filene's? I used to see you every day in there walking around.' I said, 'I don't know. I guess we'll survive.' "

And so will their tradition, they pledge. In spite of what pessimists say, Joan believes Downtown Crossing is very much alive and well. ''When there are sales, it's packed like it always was," she says. This very month, Ruth says she snagged her best-ever bargain: a $150 Karen Scott outfit for a mere $43.

Though the Marliave is showing its age -- the 137-year-old restaurant has barely changed over the decades -- the food and service are still very good, and Frank is still there on Saturdays to give them trouble.

Whenever their daughters or grandchildren are around, the women take them to the Marliave.

''As long as they're here, we'll be here," says Joan.

A few minutes later, Frank barks from the bar again, telling the women they won't get any french fries or pepperoni next week.

''OK," says Ruth, then threatens to relocate the Sisters to another downtown eatery. ''Shepherd's pie. They serve that over there."

''Yeah. It's frozen. It's made in Chicago," Frank says.

''So are you!" says Rita.

''I'll make you a shepherd's pie next week."

Peter DeMarco can be reached at

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Decked-out breads

Inside Scoop: The cranberry "presents" were possibly the best breads I've ever eaten. I thought I'd be the hero at Christmas and pick some up, but when I arrived at the bakery at 11 a.m. on Dec. 24 the line was out the door and around the block. I was flabbergasted. There must have been 100 people waiting to get in the bakery. It reminded me of people waiting outside Fenway for tickets, or at the movies for Star Wars. Crazy. Abe the owner was out serving complimentary hot cider to the masses, and he sort of recognized me but couldn't connect my face to the Globe. I thought it was kind of neat that he had no idea who I was, even though this article probably tripled the size of the line. If I'd only kept their delicious breads a secret ...

Calendar section, 12-22-05

You’re desperate for a last-minute Christmas gift, but sour eggnog sounds better than braving the mall again. Stay sane and swing by Clear Flour Bread (cq) instead, where doughy crème puff snowmen ($9.50), pink and white candy cane breadsticks ($3) and chocolate, turtle-shaped Challah breads ($4.50) await.

“You could think of something creative for almost every time of the year, but the holidays are when we do extra special things,” says bakery owner Christy Timon. (cq)

Infusing breads with vibrant, all-natural colors tops that list. Timon’s pumpkin-shaped rolls are harvest orange with green, spirulina algae tendrils on top ($4.25.) Her royal lilac ciabatta rolls ($1.75), made with head baker Yozo Masuyama’s (cq) secret ingredient, Japanese sweet potato powder, are shockingly purple. We fell in love with the tri-colored holiday bread wreaths ($6) and cranberry “presents” – pink sweet bread loaves shaped like wrapped gift boxes, complete with edible ribbons and bows ($3).

“I’m interested in helping people sit down and eat together. I think that will solve a lot of the world’s problems,” says Timon, who runs the bakery with her husband, Abe Faber (cq).

Great bread and peace on Earth. What could be better for Christmas? Clear Flour Bread, 178 Thorndike St., Brookline. Open M-F, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Christmas Day. 617-739-0060.

Peter DeMarco

- 30

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Proof is in the pudding

Table Hopping: Christmas Pudding
By Peter DeMarco

Anyone who’s read Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” knows that Bob Cratchit (cq) and Tiny Tim ate plum pudding on Christmas Day. Though the dessert is hard to find nowadays, plenty of other puddings can be found to celebrate the holidays with - coconut, chocolate, lemon, Indian, rice, and custard among them. So grab a spoon, and don’t be a Scrooge.

Full Moon Restaurant (cq)
344 Huron Ave.

Chocolate addicts will fall hard for Full Moon’s warm chocolate pudding cake. Served in a blue ceramic dish with homemade whipped cream – the coldest and thickest I’ve ever tasted - this super-rich dessert is as warm as a just-baked cookie, as moist as a brownie and as gooey as a hot fudge sundae. “It’s comfort food,” understates chef Julian Frigo, (cq) who owns Full Moon with his wife, Sarah Wheaton. (cq) Table crayons, a play area and grilled cheese sandwiches give Full Moon a kid-friendly feel. But most of the food is decidedly adult, including the pudding cake, which is made with “lots” of coffee, and Frigo’s maple bread pudding, which tastes like a sweet version of syrup-drenched French toast. (Both $4.95)

Durgin-Park (cq)
Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Durgin-Park, the city’s second-oldest restaurant behind the Union Oyster House, may have the oldest Indian pudding recipe in America. Made with cornmeal and molasses, the early colonial dessert – despite its name, settlers probably created it - is grainy like porridge but slightly sweet. Normally served with ice cream, our waitress forgot to put some on. Fortunately, Durgin-Park posts its pudding recipe on its website. My advice: make some at home, add raisins, and top with a scoop of rice pudding ice cream from Christina’s of Inman Square. But be sure to give yourself enough time: Durgin-Park’s longtime chef Tommy Ryan (cq) bakes his Indian pudding for 6 hours to get it just right.

Café Brazil (cq)
421 Cambridge St.

“Brazil is a country of coconut,” says Café Brazil owner Valter Vitorino (cq). So for a true taste of Rio, try his manjar de coco – coconut pudding with prune caramel sauce. Made with coconuts and coconut milk, and corn starch to add thickness, manjar is served bottoms-up on a dish with a single, caramel-soaked prune on top. Custard lovers can also try Café Brazil’s pudim, ($2.95) an equally-tasty baked custard pudding with caramel sauce, as they soak in the restaurant’s bright colors, weekend guitarist and a brilliant fresco of swimmers on Copacabana Beach. (cq) Just what one needs to forget winter’s chill.

Busy Bee Restaurant (cq)
1046 Beacon St.

I strolled into the Busy Bee on the advice of an old friend who confessed a weakness for big globs of chocolate pudding served on plain white dishes. Though he hadn’t been to the restaurant in years, everything about the place was just as he’d described: the old-style counter, the hearty food, the cheap prices – and the pudding, served with whipped cream from a no-name aerosol can. “If it works, I keep the same,” (cq) says owner Peter Christakis, (cq) who opened in 1966 after immigrating from Greece. Pudding has always been a big seller at the diner, where Christakis makes a daily batch of either rice, chocolate, tapioca or custard. Like his $4.10 hamburger and French fry plates and $3.95 Spanish omelets, it’s a bargain at $1.95 a dish.

Sonsie (cq)
327 Newbury St.

For simple pudding go to the Busy Bee. For pure decadence head to Sonsie. Pastry Chef Michael Blau-Shane (cq) has created two dishes for pudding lovers to feast upon: a layered lemon soufflé pudding with fresh mango and coconut meringues, and a traditional warm chocolate bread pudding served with a goose-egg size dollop of fresh whipped cream. The soufflé is strong and almost tangy while the bread pudding is so light it just about melts in your mouth. “It deserves to be shared with someone else,” noted one of my dining companions. Indeed, someone special. ($8)

Mount Vernon Restaurant (cq)
14 Broadway

As a Navy cook in the 1940s Bill Trabucco (cq) made gallons of grapenut custard pudding for the troops. After the service he brought his recipe to the Mount Vernon Restaurant, where he and his pudding were mainstays for 57 years. Though Trabucco has retired, you can still order his grapenut and tapioca puddings, each one thick and yummy and topped with a flourish of whipped cream. “The grapenut custard is one of our cheapest and biggest sellers,” says general manager Brett Henry, (cq) whose grandfather, John, opened Somerville’s oldest restaurant in 1935. “From our oldest people to our youngest people, its one of our favorite desserts.” Spoons aweigh!

- 30

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Still cleaning the Mystic

Inside Scoop: Sometimes I wonder if editor Tom Coakley ever reads my stuff because he rarely changes anything. Not that I'm complaining ...

Mystic River clean-up efforts make progress but fall short
Published in Globe Northwest 12-15-05

By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent

Some 60 shopping carts and 90 rubber tires were yanked from the Mystic and Malden rivers this summer during the largest river clean-up in recent memory. And yet, it wasn’t enough.

When the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pulled its clean-up boat from the water in early November, dozens if not more pieces of heavy trash had to be left behind.

It’s anyone’s guess when the remaining trash be removed, or who will pay for it. The MWRA, which sponsored the $28,000 clean-up in lieu of paying an unrelated federal fine, is out of money. Medford, Malden and Everett, the three cities bordering the rivers, are strapped for cash. River advocates likewise lack the thousands of dollars needed to put a crew back on the water.

“There’s a huge backlog, and they made a huge dent in,” said Nancy Hammett, (cq) executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association, praising the MWRA’s efforts. “Cleaning the rest of it, it obviously takes money.”

Still, Hammett and other conservationists are optimistic that this summer’s clean-up is the start of good things to come. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is slowly proceeding with plans to restore wildlife habitats along the Malden River, will likely remove some trash as part of the project. More than 250 tons of buried old tires and rubber shoe lasts have been hauled away from the fledgling River’s Edge residential and office development to make way for nearly 8 acres of riverfront parkland. Should that project take off, further river beautification efforts could follow.

A handful of companies responsible for industrial pollution of the rivers (portions of the riverfront are part of a federal Superfund site) could be made to pay reparations; retail stores whose shopping carts are dumped in the water could be persuaded to remove them.

Hammett’s watershed association, meanwhile, is drafting an action plan for improving the watershed that could include anything from blocking vehicular access to dumping sites to funding another clean-up boat.

At the very least, this summer’s effort, during which crews spent two months and hundreds of hours purging the Medford portions of the Mystic and Malden rivers of every piece of garbage they could find, provided a long-overdue glimpse of what’s possible.

“The bulk of the debris left is in and around the Malden River. That’s an area that’s undergoing an incredible transformation from a hidden, neglected area to housing and public use,” said Fred Laskey, (cq) the MWRA’s executive director. “I would suspect you’ll see, very quietly, demands and pressure increase to get that cleaned up.”

For information on the watershed association’s action plan go online at

- 30

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Back behind the wheel

It's winter, so you know what that means. We got about three inches on Sunday, Dec. 3, so I bolted from the Nieman Narrative conference and hit my route by 2:15 p.m. It only makes sense that I had to literally jump from journalism to plowing in one day. Check out my daily plowing journal on my new blog, Plowing: the sophomore season.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No peeking

Inside Scoop: Three things about this story. One, I made tons of minor errors that editors thankfully caught. (I broke the rules and used the spelling of someone's name as it was given to me by the person's neighbor. Always go to the primary source!) The other is about Lisa Blackowitz's last name, and how I used common sense to avert disaster. She works for this rape crisis center and didn't want me to use her professional name. In fact, she didn't want her name in the paper at all. (Jeremy and his wife, X, ...) So I suggested we use her husband's last name, which she immediately agreed to. Thank GOD we live in a day where women don't automatically take their husband's last names. Though having a couple with the same last name makes it a lot smoother on the ear. ("The Blackowitzes were home, but David Eng and Andrea Canty were not.") The third thing? I found out about this filming because it was happening on my block! The Blackowitzes are just two doors down. I'm such an investigative reporter. Actually, you'd be surprised how much effort went in to finding out the names of the couples and such. Trading Spaces' PR division didn't call me back until after I'd written the story, so I had to report around the main source by going to neighbors and the like. RW1 all over again, though not exactly the Bronx. PS - Globe Northwest went with a slightly different version.

(City Weekly, 12/4/05)

For TV show, homeowner pals give each other a space lift
By Peter DeMarco

When the crew from the home-improvement TV show "Trading Spaces" showed up at Lisa and Jeremy Blackowitz's Davis Square condo, the scene was about as quiet as a tripped car alarm. White production tents dotted the street, a table saw buzzed at all hours, and camera crews came and went from their third-floor walkup.

But just what were workers doing inside the home? Were they ripping apart the bathroom, the living room, or the kitchen? Painting, wallpapering, or cutting old furniture in half? Staining hardwood floors, or plunking down thrift-store rugs?

Curious neighbors and passersby could only wonder.

"Trading Spaces," which airs on Saturday nights on The Learning Channel, features a pair of friends who swap homes for a few days and pick a room to redecorate, with an interior designer's help, for less than $1,000.

"Ever sit in someone's home and wonder what would happen if you stripped, ripped, and painted as you pleased?" asks the show's website.

Security on the set is tight. Crew members aren't allowed to talk about the show or let anyone inside the home.

The spokeswoman for Banyan Productions, which produces the show, can't comment on any of the remodeling choices. The show's participants, likewise, are instructed to reveal next to nothing until their episode has aired.

"If a crazy designer bolts your things to the ceiling, you've got to have fun with it," said Jeremy Blackowitz, a 29-year-old lawyer, about his approach to the show. "You can't take on the opportunity dreading it."

The Blackowitzes switched homes for two days with friends Andrea "Dre" Canty and David Eng, who live in Arlington Heights. The twist? Canty and Eng lived in the Blackowitzes' Somerville condo for seven years before selling it to them in 2003.

"We made some very poor decorating choices," Canty said of their time in Somerville during the show's filming three weeks ago. "We're here to right the wrong."

But details she could not reveal.

Still, like a trail of sawdust, there were clues. As carpenters worked outdoors on Kingston Street one afternoon including on-air carpenter Jimmy Little, with his bleach-blond hair a piece of furniture began to take shape. By Thursday evening, it appeared that they'd built a new kitchen cabinet.

"Joe, will you bring up two orange paint trays?" someone yelled from a third-floor window, letting slip another hint of goings-on.

"There sure was a lot of tile work," grumbled another worker within earshot.

At some point, an old red door emerged from the condo. Later on, a new, glass-leaded French door went up the stairwell, where the pinging sound of an automatic nail gun echoed.

Downstairs neighbor John Corcoran said the Blackowitzes' kitchen was filled with "bright colors" before Canty and Eng showed up to remodel it. But he couldn't say what had been changed.

"The production people have been nice, but they haven't even asked me if I wanted to take a look," he said during the filming.

Over in Arlington, Canty and Eng's neighbors were just as intrigued and mystified.

Next-door neighbors Peter Cox and Sue Aman said Canty was hoping the Blackowitzes would remodel her half-finished basement. (Canty and Lisa Blackowitz work at Rape Crisis Services of Greater Lowell, where their boss saw an ad for the show and encouraged them to apply as contestants.)

Crew members, however, appeared to be filming on the first floor of the house, Aman said during the week of the shoot.

"My son has a Bob the Builder outfit. I was going to send him over there in it to snoop," Aman said, referring to her 1-year-old, Ian. "Who could resist a cute kid?"

Still, Aman had seen something of note: On the second day of shooting, she spotted on-air interior designer Hildi Santo-Tomas climbing into a pickup truck.

Another neighbor, Lydia Cummings, said she couldn't imagine what was happening inside Canty and Eng's Dutch Colonial, the interior of which she described as "simple, plain, and elegant."

Once the crews disappeared, however, Cummings figured she'd find out fast enough.

"I'll invite myself over and see what happened," she said.

For everyone else, the episode will probably air in late January.

"We are not allowed to tell what our reactions are to the room. We're not allowed to take pictures of the room," said Canty, apologetically. "You'll have to wait for the show to see whether I love it or hate it."