The Best Vacation Ever – Part I

I was at church last night with a wonderful group of women I’ve been journeying with for the last several weeks.  We were practicing silence and guided prayer, which I will leave to others much more knowledgeable than I to document.  What I want to write about is where the practices led me.

We were to go, in our minds, to a safe place. The place that came to me was a cottage where Jeff and I stayed when we took a trip to Maine for our 10th wedding anniversary.  It was an absolute oasis where we spent two utterly relaxing weeks.

So this morning I pulled out the photo album from the trip and as I was paging through it I realized that without even knowing it, I was blogging on that trip.  OK, back then we called it journaling; but you know, tomAto / tomAHto!

Although the cottage is no longer available for rent; many of the restaurants are still in business and worth reading about if you’re taking a trip to Maine!  So I am going to share the trip with you in installments!

August 3, 2003

We’re sitting down to a delicious breakfast of homemade muffins, fresh fruit and the freshest eggs I think I have ever eaten.  They are from the hen-house, which is a stone’s throw from our door and which Lucky loves to visit each time he can escape.

 

[Lucky was a wonderfully crazy Golden Retriever with many issues! You’ll read a lot about him and his “brother” Dakota over the next several days.]

 

This breakfast and the beauty of our surroundings eases the “pain” of yesterday…

 

We got up at 3:11 a.m., showered, packed the car and got on the road by 4:46 in an effort to beat the traffic.  Ha!!! The car ride began with the boys [dogs] walking around the back of the SUV and being generally uncomfortable. At our first stop in Lebanon (yes, we didn’t make it very far) I got in the back to lie down with them thinking it would calm the savage beast. It worked for Dakota – he snuggled up next to me and slept.  Unfortunately Lucky continued to pace like an expectant father in the maternity ward.

 

Once back on the road, we sailed through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (which was very interesting) and stopped once in Connecticut.  We attempted to get a Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield (Exit 24 of I-95), but arrived to find a “CLOSED” sign in the window.  It was, however, a great place to take Jeff’s picture and to potty the guys.

 

Super Duper Weenie

Back in the car we headed for Massachusetts.  Once on Route 84 we were in the midst of what we affectionately refer to as the Mass. Turnpike Toll-Booth Parking Lot.  Apparently stopping for 30 minutes to an hour at each toll-booth is a common practice on summer weekends in New England. [Remember, the trip was before the wide-spread use of EZPass]. Let’s just say the second “half” of the trip was L-O-N-G!!!

 

At exit 3 in Maine we became impatient and decided that seeing the back roads would be a nice change from highway driving – or more accurately – “highway sitting.”  Jeff got out the atlas and found our alternate route – Route 202 – which is the one exception to the atlas scale.  For all other routes, the scale is one inch equals five miles.  On Route 202, one inch equals 100 miles – or so it seemed.  At first we didn’t let it get us down because we had visions of passing clam shacks and beautiful Maine scenery.

 

Our visions were slightly skewed – either that or we were driving through the Bronx again!  We passed what seemed like hundreds of pizza joints and literally no seafood restaurants (unless you count the lobster roll at McDonald’s).

 

We also came to realize that several other vacationers to Maine had gotten sick of driving on Route 202, stopped, got out of their cars, slapped ‘FOR SALE’ signs in the front windows and began walking to dinner at a pizza joint.

 

Cars weren’t the only things for sale on the roadside.  We could have bought snowmobiles, trailers, homes, fruit, a tractor-trailer for $8,500, and of course pizza.

 

We were surprised when we passed the most run-down trailer park from the ’50’s.  Where were the New England style houses?  And towns….forget it….on the map, heavily populated areas are shown in orange.  Well, heavily populated areas have approximately 3 homes.  In one “orange” town we saw the most people we had seen since we began our trek on Route 202 – it was what appeared to be a family reunion of 15 of the most frightening people we have ever seen.

 

Finally, we were nearing our destination – Kents Hill / Fayette.  We started to relax and to look for Fayette Corners Road.

 

I think it is important to point out here that we are on a trip celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Much like a day from our honeymoon trip where we drove around aimlessly through Falmouth, MA looking for Aunt Mitzi and Uncle John, our spirits began dampening when we realized that either Fayette Corners Road does not exist or it is not marked.  We also began to fear that Cornerstone “Cottage” would be an old, leaky Air Stream trailer with no electricity or running water.

 

Dakota and Lucky were so antsy – and who could blame them?  Except for a few rest stops to potty and stretch our legs, we had been in the car nearing 13 hours.  During the trip, Lucky only laid down one time for 10 minutes – by the 13th hour he looked utterly exhausted – his eyelids were drooping and he could barely hold his head up – luckily he was resting it on the cooler.

 

We pressed on though, and after driving the same stretch of road several times and ultimately asking some locals for directions, found Fayette Corners Road.  Interestingly enough, there is a street sign – the only problem is that it is 1/4 mile AFTER you turn onto the road!

 

We easily found Baldwin Hill Road and Ellis Road – our final turn.  Expecting the absolute worst, we saw a beautifully carved rock announcing our arrival at Cornerstone Cottage.  We turned into the drive and all our fears melted away like cotton candy in the rain.

 

Cornerstone Sign

Wildflowers were growing around the beautifully planted garden and the hens welcomed us with a rousing melody.  The sound of gravel crunching under our tires began to seem as relaxing as a mountain stream gently trickling with cool water.  We were “home.”

 

Cornerstone's Garden

The Hens and The Cottage

The Cottage

Eric came out to greet us and show us around.  As we walked into Cornerstone Cottage, we began to notice the fine craftsmanship in the house – however, every time we have walked in since, we have noticed something else.  I think the most obvious touch is the “spiral” stairs that still have tree bark on the faces.  It is so warm and comfortable here.

 

Inside the Cottage

Ahhhhhhhhhh.  That is the sound of our stress melting away.

 

We wandered through the cottage looking at the details and settling in.  Then we headed for the beautiful deck, which of course was hand crafted.

 

While having a lazy conversation with Eric, Jeff began to do what looked like some sort of tribal dance.  This stirred up Dakota, who ran over to participate.  The next thing I knew, they had both been stung by bees.

 

The Deck with the BeeseWhile I calmed Jeff and Dakota, Eric headed under the deck to investigate and found a hornet’s nest, which he said he would dispose of after dark.

 

Bellies empty, we parted company with Eric to begin our quest for lobster.  We went inside where Dakota promptly threw up three times.

 

This initiated a call to the vet in Pennsylvania to make sure he wasn’t having a reaction to the bee sting, which prompted our search for Benadryl.

 

The four of us got back in the car (yes, we swore we would not get back in the car for at least 24 hours) and headed for Hallowell, stopping at the Fayette Country Store on the way for some relief for Dakota.

 

The scenery seemed to magically change.  ON the way to Cornerstone Cottage we were seeing the worst, but now that we had relaxed a bit, we were seeing the best.

 

And the best site of all was Hattie’s Chowder House – our choice for the evening and an entry in Jeff’s “little black book.

 

In Search of Lobster

Not wanting to leave Dakota alone, we ordered our food to go.  We each ordered a lobster roll and we shared some of Hattie’s famous lobster stew and clam chowder.  Sitting on some poorly lit steps in an alley-way, we had an incredible meal.

 

It was difficult to decide which soup was better – just when you thought you had made up your mind, your mouth was teased by the flavors of the other.  I still haven’t decided.

 

We threw away our trash and, with sticky hands, headed back to Cornerstone Cottage for the best night’s sleep in pitch darkness.”

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Best Vacation Ever!!!

In the meantime, what was your “best vacation ever?”

Milestones, Markets & Mozzarella

Friday was the anniversary of the first date Jeff and I shared.  Interestingly enough, for that date HE cooked for ME!  22 years ago yesterday, I drove my little red Dodge Colt to his house in Lawn, PA (one of those don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it towns) for dinner.  If my memory serves me correctly that night was quite snowy, much like the winter nights we’re experiencing this year. I also remember having those excited/nervous butterflies in my stomach – would the night go well?  Was he a good cook?  Would this turn into something?  Ah, youth!

For dinner, Jeff made stuffed shells and a salad.  And for dessert – bananas foster.  I was hooked!  He went to a lot of trouble to make a nice dinner for me.  He didn’t just get take-out or throw burgers on the grill, he actually put effort into it.  And he seemed to enjoy the process, which was something we had in common.

I also remember distinctly while sitting at the table talking after dinner Jeff said to me, “I’m so sorry.  I have to clean up this kitchen or I won’t be able to pay attention to you.”  Holy moly! I wish I could say that the kitchen cleaning OCD has lasted throughout the years, but I would be a liar if I did.  That’s not to say that Jeff doesn’t clean the kitchen – he does. (Typically he gets sick of the mess before I do and even when he’s not cooking he’ll sometimes come into the kitchen and banish me to the living room while he cleans up so I can continue in a clean workspace.)  But his tolerance for dishes in the sink and a mess on the counter is dramatically higher now than it was 22 years ago.

Yep, that’s how long it’s been!  22 years since that first date.  22 years of ups and downs.  22 years of laughter and tears.  22 years of love (and some moments of hate).  22 years of being stupid and hopefully getting smarter when it comes to one another!

Through the years we’ve celebrated our “first-date-a-versary,” our “proposalversary,” and our anniversary many different ways.  The one I remember best was our tenth wedding anniversary.  We were on vacation in Maine (my favorite vacation to date) and were staying overnight at a bed and breakfast in Acadia.  We made reservations at a very nice restaurant in Bar Harbor.  We had spent the day hiking and, separately, we were each kind of dreading getting dressed up and using our best manners.  Almost simultaneously, we each blurted out that we didn’t feel like getting all dolled up to celebrate.  So, in a rare moment of spontaneity for Jeff, we scrapped our dinner reservations at the nice restaurant, threw on shorts and t-shirts and headed to The Lobster Pound where we ate fried clams and fresh steamed lobster with butter dripping down our arms!

Today, we are adventuring through Lancaster.  Our first stop, Lancaster Central Market.  If you’ve been reading the blog from the beginning, you’ve read about this farmer’s market previously.  Although I’ve made several trips to LCM, Jeff’s never been there.  This morning he suggested we visit the LCM and also make a stop at Spring House Brewery and Tap Room.

We got to the market an hour before closing, which was just enough time to make it through all the aisles and to buy the things on our list – and, of course, a few things not on our list.

Part of the reason I like the LCM so much is because the building is beautiful…and incidentally, it has been a market for over 275 years!  That’s pretty cool.  Another reason I like it is that I can find things there that I can’t easily find other places – like micro-greens, a selection of sprouts and every time I’ve been to LCM I’ve been able to find Tuscan kale, which I love!  They also have a great selection of prepared food vendors, coffee vendors and other interesting items as well.  On this trip I found fresh turmeric…I have no idea what to do with it, but I bought some and will learn about it!!!  It looks like mini ginger root, but according to the vendor it is not nearly as fibrous as ginger.

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After marketing, we browsed through some of the interesting shops that surround the market and ultimately we made our way to the Spring House Taproom. We had to wait for seats and ended up at the bar, where we remained for the duration of our stay.  Jeff ordered a sampler, which included healthy-sized samples of 9 Spring House Brewery beers.

The Beauty of Beer

We enjoyed our rare time alone together talking and sipping from the sampler (and me from my Diet Coke with occasional sips from Jeff’s beers).  We also chatted with the bartenders and asked about the interesting names of some of the beers. Among those we tasted were Seven Gates Pale Ale, Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout (which Jeff has had before and really enjoys), She Monster Mango IPA (which has nothing on Alter Ego Brewing Company’s (AEBC) Mango Habanero), Lil’ Gruesome Peanut Butter and Jelly Stout, and Smoked Porter (which smelled amazing – I didn’t really appreciate the taste, but I should let you know I’m not much of a beer person (unless it’s brewed by AEBC)).

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There was so much beer in the sampler that Jeff needed a little something to eat….and, of course, I didn’t want him to eat alone!  So we ordered some Monster Mozzies, which are made in-house (including the mozzarella) and are ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!  They are served with house-made tomato bacon jam, which was over-the-top good!!!

Monster Mozzies

It’s only fitting that we’re celebrating this “versary” with food (shopping for it, buying it, and eating it) since our first date revealed our mutual love of cooking and eating.  Since that fateful evening 22 years ago, we’ve been cooking, eating and entertaining together.  We’ve shared many meals, tried many recipes, and (as our waistlines will attest) we’ve enjoyed a lot of good food.  Most importantly, we’ve been enjoying life together….one bite at a time!!!

Happy Birthday, Pop-Pop!!!

Today is my dad’s birthday.  If my math is correct, it is his 48th birthday, which makes me……uh, that can’t be right…..younger than I was when I got married…..I never have been too good at math.

Even though TODAY is the day, we did our celebrating as a family this past Friday evening.  Jeff and I, my mom and dad, and Laura and Shawn (my sister and BIL) went to DK Dogs on Derry Street in Harrisburg for dinner.  I know to many of you this doesn’t sound like the kind of place you take you father to celebrate his birthday; but for MY dad, it’s exactly THE kind of place! For my dad, the four food groups are hot dogs, ice cream, bread and beer – and you can get ’em all at DK Dogs.

If you go to DK Dogs, don’t expect fancy.  It’s not.  Don’t expect table service.  There isn’t any.  But do expect great food.  It’s abundant.  Now if you’ve been reading for a while you may be surprised to hear me label the food at DK Dogs great since I typically like my foods a little more sophisticated (not snooty).  But when you go into the experience wanting a good hotdog, you will not be disappointed…in fact, your expectations will probably be exceeded!  The difficult thing will be picking which dog(s) you want to order from a varied selection.

DK Menu

Collectively we ordered 3 DK Dogs, 1 Philly Dog, 1 Pittsburgh Dog, 1 Ultimate New Yorker Dog, 1 Chicago Dog, 1 Reuben Dog, 2 large orders of fresh-cut french fries, 1 order of Konstantine Fries, 2 Yuengling Lagers and 2 large bottles of water.  Whew!  And then we waited for our food….

Waiting

The following are descriptions (from the menu) and pics of the dogs:

  • DK Dog – Sharp American cheese, Mustard, DK homemade chili, onionsDK Dog
  • Philly Dog – Grilled onions, mustard, provolone cheese on a pretzel rollPhilly Dog
  • Pittsburgh Dog – Fried bacon wrapped dog, swiss cheese, DK homemade coleslaw, mustard on a pretzel rollPittsburgh Dog
  • Ultimate New Yorker Dog – DK homemade country brown kraut, mustard, sweet relish, New York onions with red sauce

Ultimate New Yorker Dog

  • Chicago Dog – Pickle spears, mustard, onions, sweet relish, hot banana peppers, tomatoes, celery salt served on a poppy-seed rollChicago Dog
  • Reuben Dog – DK  homemade country brown kraut, swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing

Reuben Dog

Although you know what fresh-cut fries are, you may not know what Konstantine fries are.  I didn’t get a pic of the Konstantine fries before they were devoured, so image the picture below smothered with rich gravy and cheddar cheese sauce.

Fresh Cut Fries

After dinner, we all drove back over the river and reconvened at our house for coffee and cake.  It was nice to have a break in the action to digest and to see a beautiful sunset over the river.

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During the day on Friday, in addition to making food for our Saturday kayak trip, I made a Coffee Walnut Cake with Coffee Mascarpone Cream Icing for my dad’s birthday celebration.

The following are some pics of the process of making AND EATING the cake:

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In our family we don’t really need a reason to get together over good food, but it is fun to have a reason for a celebration!  And although we’ve been lax as a family on birthdays this year – giving gifts and cards months late – we did this one right!

Happy Birthday, Dad!  You’ve taught me many lessons over the years.  Some you meant to and some you didn’t – but I learned all the same!  You’ve given me a lot of good advice too.  You may not have thought I was listening; but I was.  Two things in particular come to mind….

  1. You can’t make people respect you.
    AND, my all time favorite,
  2. Take your foot out of the shoe.

What’s the best advice you’ve received from your father?

Can you guess which DK dog I ordered?

You Can’t Win ‘Em All…..or Can You?

Over the weekend my dear friend Holly and I were texting back and forth about how much we miss seeing one another, so we decided to meet for lunch this week.  After a surprisingly short game of dueling datebooks, we landed on Thursday (today).

Since Jeff had invited me to try a new crepe restaurant in Harrisburg for lunch one day this week, I thought I’d combine both dates and hang out with both Jeff and Holly at lunchtime today.  I love it when a plan comes together!

Pointing to JeffWe decided to meet on the early side of the lunch “hour” and it’s a good thing we did.  Au Bon Lieu – on Third Street in Harrisburg – is tiny.  There are only 6 small tables inside and 2 even smaller tables outside.  Jeff and I arrived at about 11:50 and there were only two tables available.  We snagged the one in the window and waited while Holly found a parking place.

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a fraiche perspective

I’ve been fighting a cold for over a week now and as a result I’ve been a little bit cranky.  Let’s be honest – summer colds stink!  I’ve gone from a throat so sore I would swear I was swallowing broken glass to a stuffy head to a ridiculously runny nose to sneezing….I am a walking Nyquil ad!!!  But today I am determined not to let it get me down as it has for the past several days.  If I’m going to have to live with this cold, then it’s going to have to live with me!

Wall of Vendor NamesSo this morning, after much sneezing and using too many tissues to count, I resolved that not only would I drive Macy to her salon appointment (yes, my dog IS at the salon – do you have a problem with that?), I would enjoy the time I had to spend waiting for her.  After I dropped Macy off, I drove aimlessly for a while trying to decide how to use my “free” time.  Since it was after noon and my belly was a bit hungry, I thought about where I could go for a nice lunch – somewhere I hadn’t been before and somewhere I could write about to inform my readers….hmmmm.

Well, truthfully, I drew a blank.  How is that possible?  I write a food blog.  I spent the next few minutes berating myself for not having a list of restaurants to try on days like this.  Then I berated myself for not moving more quickly on my “get a smart phone” errand.  There I was, in the car with no internet access…the horror!

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Trying Something New

We all have our issues. I sure have my share (I know there are those who would argue that I have MORE than my share).  But this morning I am feeling so sorry for my little four-legged girl, Kissy.  Kissy is the living embodiment of love.  She wants 3 things out of life – food, to love, and to be loved.  Like me, she doesn’t necessarily want them in that order every day!  She is sweet and calm.  She is funny and beautiful.  And she has more than her share of health problems.

She had two entropion surgeries in the month before we rescued her.  Entropion is a turning in of the eyelids, which causes the lashes to rub against the surface of the eye. She also has chronic ear infections, severe skin allergies, thyroid issus, chronic eye issues (likely from the entropion), a bum back leg, and an ever-present odor, which we refer to as her “funk.”  Yet she is perfect!

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

Today is my husband Jeff’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Baby – and we found a great way to celebrate!

When I asked Jeff last week what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said he needed time to think about it.  He was mulling over the idea of either going out for sushi or having dinner at home. On Thursday, after getting a recommendation from a trusted source, I called him at work and suggested a day-trip to D.C. for oysters.  Of course, being the king of travel planning, he asked for more information and after I obliged he happily accepted.  He LLLOOOVVVEEESSS oysters!

Union Market Entrance

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Eating My Words….After Eating Some Seriously Amazing Food

Sometimes the most unappetizing thing to eat is your own words!  Especially when you are not shy to share your opinions – like me.  So today, instead of breakfast, I AM eating my own words…fortunately I have a nice cup of coffee to wash them down – thanks, honey!

For quite a while I have been saying that I don’t believe we have any REALLY good restaurants in Central, PA.  That is not to say that there never have been…..some of you may remember The Empire in Carlisle or Brian Kent’s in Hershey….and it is also not to say that there aren’t current restaurants where you can get a good dish (dare I say even a great one), or good service, or nice atmosphere.  The problem I find is that these things rarely come all at the same time in Central PA.

So when I am asked about my favorite restaurant or where I like to eat, I usually preface my answer with something like, “If you don’t mind traveling…..”.  Or, my answer is that I prefer to cook at home.

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Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

The Finished Product w BrushstrokeJeff and I are having some friends over for dinner this evening.  It will be a very casual dinner as I try out some recipes for one of the cooking classes I’ll be teaching at the Kitchen Shoppe in the spring.

I am excited for this new journey and have been learning so much along the way.  Each iteration of a recipe teaches me about the effects of all kinds of things – a change in spices, different cooking times, higher or lower temperatures, fresher ingredients – on the end result.  It has been a fun process and I am thankful for the support of my family and friends – those people who are willing to eat not only the successes, but the failures as well!!!

For dessert tonight, we’ll be having Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.  Some people find the idea of baking with olive oil quite strange; frankly I feel sorry for those folks because they are missing out on some amazing moisture and flavor!

I thought I’d show you the process of making this cake.

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Be It Ever So Humble…..

We just returned from a fantastic weekend with friends in Newport, Rhode Island.  If you’ve been following, you have read of our adventures and have seen some pics of great food.  The food yesterday was no exception!

We began our day later than usual and with a continental breakfast at the hotel (this was not the good food part, but it wasn’t bad); but once we got in full swing, there was no stopping us!  We left the hotel, bundled up and began the Cliff Walk.  The weather was perfect.  The skies were bright blue and although it was a little windy, the temperature was in the 40’s which made for a great walk!

Cliff View

We meandered from Memorial Avenue to The Breakers and back.  Unfortunately, the entire Cliff Walk isn’t open due to some storm damage from Sandy.  We missed what we affectionately refer to as Rice Krispie Beach and we missed our favorite part – walking over the boulders that make up the far end of the “trail.”  We heard from a shop owner (but did not confirm) that it will take approximately $8 million to make the necessary repairs.

Pesce

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S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Night

Yesterday was a wonderful day. To recap, we found a new spot for breakfast because our favorite spot, The Franklin Spa, is closed until February 1st.  The original plan was to do the Cliff Walk yesterday; however it was very cold and windy. So we put it off. Instead we walked around town and shopped and had some drinks and shopped and had some drinks.

We got hungry around 2:30, but didn’t want to eat too much because we were going to see some friends from church who moved to Newport last year and we were having dinner with them.  So we decided on bloody Marys and soup at the Brick Alley Pub in downtown Newport.

The wait was long, but that did not deter us.  We ordered 6 bloody Marys and settled in for our 45 minute wait. Fortunately, a bar table became available and we decided to have our soup shoulder to shoulder.  While we waited we looked at all the interesting things on the walls and, of course, talked and laughed and laughed and talked.

My Kind of Six Pack

My Kind of Six Pack

Words to Live By

Words to Live By (see center)

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Good? Morning…..Yes Indeed

The morning got off to a rocky start. We were all a little sluggish and then when we finally got moving and walked in the ccc-cold to our favorite breakfast spot, we were greeted by a sign that read, “Gone Fishing.  See you on February 1st.” Ohhhhhhh noooooooooooooooo!$*&!

Dejected, we walked back to our “hotel” to regroup.  Never fear, Jeff is here!  He not only has a list of back-up restaurants, he also will talk to anyone and has no qualms about asking a bazillion questions.  I love that about him.  He used this superpower to get a recommendation for an alternate breakfast spot – the Corner Cafe.

With much trepidation, we got in the car and headed to this new restaurant.  Fortunately we were not even a little disappointed! Our first decision was juice.  They had amazing combinations.  Jenny and I shared a Vitamin C Booster and it was d-lish! It was made from orange, cranberry, red raspberry and grape juices. Mmm mmm mmm!

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Salvation

I’m not sure if our souls were saved from sin or if we were led to sin; but dinner tonight at The Salvation Cafe was heavenly!

It’s not that rare to go to a restaurant and have one really good dish on the table. However in my experience it is exceedingly rare to have every dish at the table be exceptional, but that is exactly what the chef at The Salvation Cafe was able to produce this evening.

We ordered a pitcher of red sangria and three amazing appetizers to share:

  • Mussels in green curry coconut sauce with Thai basil.
  • Crispy Calamari with sweet and spicy vinaigrette and wasabi cream.
  • Quattro Formaggi with whole grain crostini.

Mussells CalamariQuattro Formaggi Appetizer

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Getting There is Half the Fun

Today was the first day of my absolute favorite weekend of the year.  Jeff and I take an annual trip to Newport, R.I. and for the last two years we have been going with good friends – the kind of friends who are like family!

Jeff & I and Jenny & Tom met up with Holly & Jeff at Holly & Jeff’s house AT the appointed time – 9:00 a.m.  Anyone who knows me knows it’s miraculous that I was (A) on time and (B) on time in the morning!  But we were.  And it’s a good thing we left when we did because we hit lots of traffic starting around the George Washington Bridge in NYC.

We were slowed to such a rate that Jeff was able to take some really cool pics of the bridge:

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Market Value

Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday.  Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading.  Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting.  Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.”  That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking.  It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

Ladies Who Lunch

Growing up I remember doing a lot of “visiting” on and around the holidays – in fact, it was one of my favorite parts about this time of year.  Visiting in my family typically occurred at one of three places – my grandmother’s house, her sister Mary’s house, or their sister Mag’s (Margaret) house.  Later in the evening, after each of the three families had finished their main holiday meal, all the families got together and……well…….ate some more!  Not a full meal, but there was always food and drink.

My Aunt Mary (actually my mom’s aunt, but we called her Aunt Mary)  had the best setup at her house for the large number of people who gathered because she and her husband – Uncle George – had a basement with a table that I thought could seat about 100 people!  Invariably, the women gathered either in the kitchen or the dining room (usually the kitchen), the men around the t.v., and the kids in the basement.  If I promised to be quiet, I got to sit with the big girls in the kitchen…..so, believe it or not (and I know this will be a stretch for those of you who know my ability to talk), I was quiet – most of the time!

What I remember enjoying was all the generations being together talking and laughing.  Yesterday we had a mini recreation of holiday visiting at my mom’s house.  My Aunt Pam (again, not my aunt, but my mom’s cousin – but they may as well have been sisters) came out to visit from Bethlehem; so my sister (Laura) and her girls (Vanessa and Ashley) joined my mom (Connie), Aunt Pam, and me for lunch.  It was great to have several generations around the table talking and laughing!

My mom made lentil sausage soup – Ina Garten’s recipe from her book Barefoot in Paris – and served warm bread and rolled provolone cheese & salami.  It was a warm, hearty, satisfying lunch with exceptional company and great conversation.  Cross-generational communication is always interesting to me! And I am seeing things from a new perspective these days….as I was growing up I was in the youngest or younger generation at gatherings and now I’m smack dab in the middle, so I have a new view of things – I get to listen to the younger generation and be amazed at how smart younger people are these days and occasionally roll my eyes!

Our time together was heart-warming to me….we ate good food and talked about all aspects of life – from work and careers to relationships and life lessons.  We also talked some about family history.  I love hearing stories about how things used to be; but I also love the exuberance of the generation who is just beginning their own traditions!

For dessert I made an Apple Upside Down Cake – an adaptation of a recipe from Diane Phillips – one of the instructors at the Kitchen Shoppe.  In a recent class, Diane made Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce – since I couldn’t find nice pears, I used apples and it was a nice twist on the original using ingredients that were available to me in the moment. Luckily, I was able to garnish the serving platter with the most delicious chocolate-covered candied orange peel made by my Aunt Pam – a treat we always enjoy.  We also sipped Aunt Pam’s homemade Limoncello Cream, a variation of standard limoncello from Sorrento (which you can usually purchase in a liquor store).  Limoncello Cream is made with lemons, grain alcohol, milk, sugar, and water.  It warms the body as well as the soul and since it’s not readily available, has to be homemade!

After lunch Laura and the girls left – each going a separate way. Vanessa home to West Chester to have dinner with her boyfriend, Justin.  Ashley back to school in Millersville. And Laura home – just a bit down the road in Mechanicsburg.

Mimi (my mom, Connie), Aunt Pam and I left for a little shopping.  We went to First Impressions in Linglestown – one of my favorite shops and then to Community Aid and Making Sense in Mechanicsburg. Aunt Pam won the prize for best bargains of the day.  For under $20 she bought a Talbot’s down vest, a Ralph Lauren sweater-ish vest, a three-piece velour and wool outfit from Saks Fifth Avenue – with the tag still on, a cute purse and two aperitif (no, Mimi, not “a parakeet”) glasses that I think are Mikasa. Wow – she is a consignment guru!!!

As we were driving along the river going from the East Shore to the West Shore, God treated us to the most amazing sunset…..I just have to share a photo with you, but the photo simply does not do justice to the beauty we saw before us!

In the last several years, time and distance and life (literally birth and death) has changed the makeup of our extended family.  Gatherings of extended family don’t happen nearly as often and they certainly aren’t the same as I remember them. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a family lunch yesterday and I hope we can use it as a spring-board for more extended family gatherings.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins and I miss that time.  Although it won’t ever be exactly what it was, I hope that we can create new traditions and memories for all the generations!

Photos of the Apple Upside Down Cake w/ Warm Caramel Sauce Garnished with Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel

 

Diane Phillips’ Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 Medium pears (firm-ripe (about 1 pound))
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Note

Recipe courtesty of Diane Phillips

Directions

Topping - using first 3 ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Pour into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle around the edge, overlapping them slightly, with the pointed ends toward the center.
5. If necessary, cut a little off the pointed ends to make the slices fit better. Or if the pear slices don't reach all the way to the middle, arrange a few shorter slices in the center to cover the bottom of the pan.
Cake
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
8. Reduce the speed and add the milk mixture, it will look curdled. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
9. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer t he pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, using pot holders, carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.
10. Serve the cake warm with vanilla ice cream and/or warm caramel sauce.
Warm Caramel Sauce - using last 4 ingredients
11. In a medium speed saucepan, melt the butter, and add the brown sugar, stir until the sugar is melted.
12. Add the cream, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
13. The sauce can be cooled, and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop.