Despite South Korea’s sinking Sewol, ferries are still safer than air travel

Ok, so this is just an interesting read. Ferries are safe and as you travel about, don’t shy away from considering them as a mode of transportation (often, the rides are pleasant and provide stunning views).

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Great Spring Weekend Getaways – Articles | Travel + Leisure

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So desperately need a getaway…even if just for a weekend.  While I was a bit concerned about how skewered to the South and West this T+L list is at the beginning, I quickly realized they saved the best for last, the great Nor’ east!  While I’ve be to both the NH and ME attractions, it was long ago and must say, after the winter we’ve had, a weekend sojourn is definitely something we, my husband Tony and I, must get on the calendar (albeit, weekends for us start Sunday afternoon after he’s done teaching on Saturdays).

Great Spring Weekend Getaways – Articles | Travel + Leisure

Note, am testing Windows Live Blogger with this post…apologies if it’s all screwy, duplicated, etc…

A Big Hot King Cake Mess…

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A Big Hot King Cake Mess

A Big Hot King Cake Mess

Well I did it; this weekend I made a King Cake in honor of Mardi Gras (why else would one make a King Cake?).  I didn’t have a recipe readily available so did the Google thing and found one on allrecipes.com.  The reviews were solid and the recipe seemed straight forward, albeit I was hesitant to bake with yeast, something I’ve never done before.  While I followed the recipe to a tee, that sucker came out hard as a rock and those I served it to were a bit thrown by the lack of a cake-like texture.  I was appalled, but hey those eating it were kids and let’s be realistic, they’ll eat anything.

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Tony demonstrating proper kneading technique.

I’ve only had King Cake once before, many years ago, and don’t remember it being that hard.  My husband, who is pretty agile when it comes to baking with yeast, was of no help.  After tapping the hard exterior he began drilling me about my technique.  Apparently, following the recipe should have yielded a softer cake.  I’m confident I did everything right, but was a tad bit devastated, pondering what went wrong and where I went amiss.

The dough was slow to rise, which I believe was my down fall (and was the reason I dubbed it the Jewish King Cake).  We believe that the kitchen wasn’t warm enough and the air too dry.  In speaking with a colleague, an engineer who loves to bake (something about the exactness of the measurements and the reactions between the ingredients that thrills those types), he offered some advice:

  1. Make sure the yeast isn’t old or expired.
  2. Preheat the oven to ~ 100 degrees, once the dough is ready for the rising process, turn off the oven and pop the dough, in a lightly oiled bowl, into the oven.
  3. Run a kitchen towel (clean, obviously) under the faucet and wring out cover the bowl with the towel.

We’ll have to wait another year before I attempt this festive delight again (who can eat that much sugar more than once a year?), however will be fine tuning my skill set when it comes to yeast between now and then; ultimately, hoping to create, next year, a cake that doesn’t require a saw to cut it…

Winter Doldrums…

It’s been a long winter, way too long (almost as long as I’ve been neglecting this site), and the natives are getting restless.  My taste buds and desire to travel, however, were tempted by a recent post on CNN about Tasting Your Way through 2014.

Winter, 2014, Lodi NJ

Winter, 2014, Lodi NJ

While most events aren’t based in the Northeast, I wondered ‘what’s a girl to do’ when the artic vortex has left us knee deep in Snowmaggedon?  So, I took matters into my own hands, hunting down these Northeast Jems to get us through the remains of winter:

The 6th Annual New York Beer Week, winding down this weekend, has a lot to offer, including a Beer Crawl through Williamsburg and the PSE&G Blackout, both taking place tomorrow, and an Urban Oyster Brewery Wine Tour on Sunday (say that 10 times fast).  We’re also smack dab in the middle of NYC’s Restaurant Week, where 3-course meals can be had for $25/lunch and $38/dinner, not bad for some of NY’s finest restaurants.

In Pennsylvania, there’s the 4th Annual Uncork the Alleghenies Wine Festival, held on March 8th which features more than 15 PA wineries.  The event also offers special VIP sessions with private wine tastings (tickets are limited, so get them while they last).   On April 11th & 12th, there’s the PA Herb Festival in York featuring ‘nationally known speakers, workshops and numerous vendors of plants, herbal crafts, products for the gardener, cook and crafter’ if that’s your thing (not telling the big man as he’ll be dragging us there, and Lord knows we already have more herbs than we know what to do with…).

In April, the fine folks in CT pay tribute to the American Liver Foundation with its Flavors of Connecticut event, held on April 1st in Plantsville.  The event ‘is a culinary experience that goes beyond the traditional gala and provides each table of attendees with a local chef who will prepare a multi-course dinner tableside.’

In my hometown of Boston, there’s the March 4  Taste of the South End
benefit for the AIDS Action Committee of MA that features more than 40 restaurants and is held at the Boston Center for the Arts.   There’s also the 25th Annual Boston Wine Festival held at the Boston Harbor Hotel through April which is the nation’s longest running wine and food pairing series hosted by either a winemaker or wine proprietor.

Yes, there's water/beaches in NH

Yes, there’s water/beaches in NH

In April, in NH, Share our Strength holds its Taste of the Nation Manchester event.  Guests will enjoy cuisine from more than 50 of New Hampshire’s top chefs paired with wines from 30 vineyards courtesy of 5 local wine distributors. Taste of the Nation is New Hampshire’s premier culinary event features guest mixologists, beer, specialty cocktails, and fabulous entertainment!

In Vermont, later in the season, one can enjoy The 16th Annual Stowe Wine & Food Classic, taking place June 13-15 at Trapp Family Lodge. As Maria just passed away, I’m sure it will be a celebration to remember.

Nothing to report for Maine, they’re still under a pile of snow; and I tend not to go much farther south than PA, so these will have to do for now.  This weekend, in honor of Mardi Gras, I’ll be making a King Cake; something I’ve always wanted to do, but have feared.  ‘Why,’ you ask.  Well, yeast intimidates me; but I enlisted the big man, aka Tony, my husband, to actual make the cake, so we’ll take some videos to provide you with a fun and entertaining way to herald in the Lenten season.

Oh, yes, you may see a wine/beer theme going on here…tends to be the trend in the Rivera household…may need to rename the blog.

Syrupy Sweet

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While this year’s been an anomaly, typically when March rolls around people are pretty antsy; it’s not quite spring and winter seems to be dragging on. It’s usually at this point that parents are looking for something to do, anything really, with their kids. And, inevitably, growing up, we would find ourselves piling in the station wagon taking a little excursion to the Maple Sugar Farm in South Natick (however, I believe, it’s really named the Natick Community Farm).

And, that’s the flashback I had, which, by the by, made me chuckle, as I opened an email at work touting the NY Maple Weekend. May seem like an odd email to get at work, but being in the travel industry I do receive all kinds of newsletters with little tid bits about where to go, what to do, etc.

Maple syrup is one of the original ‘farm to table’ products out there; and as an ode to my youth and for those looking for something to do with or without little ones (I plan to go to an event or two), following are some Nor’east Maple Sugar Festivals to check out:

  • 17th Annual NY Maple Weekend (March 17, 18, 24, and 25): Producing approximately 565,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2011, the highest production rate in 64 years, the New York State Maple Producers Association’s Maple Weekend is chuck full of demonstrations – from boiling sap over an open fire or running it through highly scientific equipment — and family-friendly events.
  • 11th Annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend (March 24 – 25, 2012): The largest producer of maple syrup in the US, producing 890,000 gallons of syrup in 2010, the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend is held at sugarhouses throughout the state. The weekend is the public celebration of the state’s maple season and a chance for folks to visit sugarhouses throughout the state to learn about Vermont’s first agricultural crop of the year. Activities during this free event will be different at each sugarhouse but will include the opportunity to watch maple syrup being made (weather permitting) and to often sample syrup and other maple products.
  • 46th Annual Vermont Maple Festival (April 27 – 29, 2012): Held in downtown St. Albans, this celebration is a nod to the end of the maple season in Vermont. Attractions include an Exhibit Hall, a Fiddlers’ Variety Show, Sugar House Tours, Pancake Breakfasts, a Sap Run Road Race, Cooking Demonstrations & Contests, a Giant Parade, Maple Creemees, Maple Sugar-on-Snow, and Maple Cotton Candy.
  • New Hampshire Maple Weekend (March 24 – 25, 2012): An annual open house held by the approximately 100 sugarhouses throughout New Hampshire, the weekend showcases the maple syrup producers’ amber-colored liquid jewel and the products made from it. Various houses will be offering samples of syrup, maple products and refreshments, some complete with petting farms, pancake breakfasts and other family friendly activities.
  • 65th Annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival (March 24 – April 1, 2012): Held in Meyersdale, the first festival was held more than 60 years ago. Events include Pancake breakfasts and dinners, a quilt show, the crowning of the Maple Queen and, even, tea with the Queen for the little ones.

While we didn’t see any tapping into Maple trees, last weekend was spent in Pennsylvania. As we entered our friend’s house, I envisioned a scene from the ‘hot air club.’ Greetings were made and there was a sudden flurry of activity as everyone shifted spots to make way for the perpetually late Tony and Paula (the big man takes all the heat for that one, as I, being German, personally am just too uptight to continually show up places late – the Stifter clan can stop laughing now). While there, we had a wonderful dinner which was topped off with an amazing selection of desserts, one of which was an absolutely delectable pecan pie, bought at a local shop, The Village Farmer & Bakery. If you’re ever in the Delaware Water Gap area, it’s definitely worth the stop.

If you check out any of the Maple Syrup festivities, let me know, I’d love to share your findings with others. In the interim, the Vermont Maple Syrup organization has a great site with lots of Maple Syrup recipes, above and beyond pancake syrup, you can try at home.

Mortified (aka One for the Record)…

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Recently, while sick as a dog, my head all fuzzy from various medications, I sat, glued to the iPod (trying to pen a blog post) watching that Julie & Julia (or is it Julia & Julie?) movie. Not even 5 minutes into it, I couldn’t help but think ‘holy shit; people are going to think I’m trying to mimic this movie’ (assuming that’s what Alice’s Facebook reference was about). Well, for the record, that’s certainly not the case, not at all. Want proof? Well, a few things to consider:

365 Days of French Food: I’m really not that much of a fan of any one chef to solely cook their food for a year, especially if that chef’s forte is French cuisine. Seriously, my love of cooking in general doesn’t stretch that far; baking, well, that stretches a bit farther.

Spare Me the Drama: The lead chick was way too melodramatic. In addition, dressing like Julia did absolutely nothing for me (perhaps that was some sort of suggestion from her husband); actually I checked the dosage on my meds to see if I was hallucinating her Julia Child inspired blue button-downed shirt and string of pearls…eeks. And, well, maybe I’m cynical, but seriously, you’ve never poached an egg and the thought of roasting a duck gives you a nervous breakdown. Come on! Even I’m undaunted by those two tasks.

Superwoman: She’s working all day, coming home, cooking like a mad woman and then writing a blog? Everyday?!? I don’t know, I’m doing this as a creative outlet and to learn a bit about cooking and the Northeast and am having a hard time mustering up an article a day (well, lately we’d have to say an article a week/month). Perhaps I should look into this, but did she really write an entry a day? I’d rather have nice split between writing and spending time enjoying the company of good friends and the fruits of my labors (and lately, more often than not, the fruits of my friends’ labor).

Epicureans’ Lifestyle: My use of epicurean focuses on the philosophies of Epicurus as a whole. In addition to the food, it’s also the good friends and how the intermingling of the two is but the most pleasurable of pursuits. And, of course, I’m sprinkling in my love of the Northeast and travel which must be considered as a distinguishing factor (or, so I’m telling myself).

Last Laugh: However, I did find the tidbits about Julia intermingled throughout the movie fascinating. Really didn’t know much about her and the movie did a nice job shedding some light on the gal’s culinary pursuits. But, I must admit, my greatest joy while watching the movie was passing out, right after the chick receives a call from some editor (was it the Sacramento Bee?) asking if she has any comment about Julia not liking her…Ha, talk about mortified! It was pure bliss falling into a drug induced slumber as that chick’s horrified facial expression danced across the screen as it dawns on her that, well; unfortunately, Julia’s just not a fan. I’m sure the movie had a happy ending (even if not, Julie, I’m sure has done fine with her blog and the movie. And one can only ask who’s having the last laugh) and I’m glad to report, I’m really not interested.

The holidays were spent in the company of good friends, enjoying many a splendid meal, some on the elaborate side, while others more casual in nature, like a recent dinner of Soupa Verde (a Portuguese ‘green’ soup) and sandwiches. Then there was January; unfortunately, I spent January sick, sick, sick. I’m finally on the mend and am back at this epicurean thing. I’ll be posting about some of my trials and tribulations over the past month and will begin to outline the classes I plan to take this spring. One of the more interesting ones is the re-creation of a 12 (or, perhaps, 15) course meal from the Titanic. Not sure if I’m actually interested in the food, but am intrigued by these folks ‘teaching’ us how to prepare such a feast and then serving it in the course of 3 – 4 hours (I’m convinced my 20 minutes to cut an onion just won’t do well here).

If you seen anything that interests you and want to join along, just let me know as I’d love the company.

Christmas Festivities…Part I

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Today commences, what I believe to be, the beginning of the true Christmas season.  Tony and I do the gift giving thing on Little Christmas, January 6, and since we started this tradition, Christmas has been less stressful and more enjoyable, helped, immensely, by my December schedule at work, which usually entails having at least the last two weeks of the year off.   Yesterday was spent in Pennsylvania, dining at a little gem of a restaurant, A Taste of Portugal on Route 209 in East Stroudsburg.  Typical Portuguese fare, the prices are right and the ambience as homey as one could want.   The late afternoon drive home was capped off with billowy pink clouds and the mountains of the Delaware reflecting the rays of the setting sun.

Thursday, in honor of the Winter Solstice, we had a down and out Polish feast for dinner.  My theory is that there are two secular, non-patriotic days that should be celebrated each year in the company of good friends — the Winter and Summer Solstice.  Our friend, Brian, was kind enough to bring a selection of sausages and pierogies, as well as authentic sauerkraut, mustard and mayonnaise for dinner.   Himself a Pole, he picked everything up in Wallington, a town that has remained predominately Polish over the years.  In fact, the town is so steeped in its heritage that preference is given to those of Polish decent, no matter how much money others are offering, to homebuyers in Wallington.

Once Brian got settled in the kitchen, it’s not uncommon for friends to come over and man handle our kitchen, I demonstrated my cooking prowess in a manner that was borderline embarrassing.  ‘Help yourself to whatever you need, I’m no good in there,’ was my bold proclamation.  Kind of funny considering that the only culinary skills needed were the ability to boil water and toss some pierogi’s around in a frying pan.  The pierogi’s were delightful (not that I’m a connseiure of the pierogi).  

Super Deli

Coming from Super Deli, the lovely little suckers had a very subtle crunch on the outside; the insides were soft with a warm, almost creamy, texture of potato that left behind a surprising hint, actually the perfect tasting, of pepper.  The kielbasa and kabanos, purchased at Adams’ Deli, stuffed and smoked on premises, were also tasty.  Eaten on Polish rye bread, the sausages were accentuated by Bacik Musztarda and Polonaise Horseradish; delightful on their own, but even better when combined.  The meal was complemented with homemade apple sauce (from the ‘bible,’ aka the Fannie Farmer Cookbook), and clam dip (old family recipe) and wonderful Polish pastries that were made and delivered by one of Tony’s students. 

Earlier in the day, I had the pleasure of dining at the award winning Saddle River Inn where I had the most wonderful of tarts — truffle mushroom and onion.  The Inn, appropriately enough situated in the quaint town of Saddle River (yes, Jersey has some quaint towns), is a century old barn that is consistently ranked as a favorite by Zagats

Italian Cookies...Yummy!

Wednesday was spent at the Portuguese Club and, on Tuesday, I finished making my cookies.  Monday was spent in the good company of friends — both for lunch and dinner.  Dinner was a Portugese classic — the mixed grill (essentially a lot of meat on a plate) and, for lunch, we had Manny C Burgers.  Made by our good friend Manny C, it is perhaps the best burger I ever had.

Having recently received the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) newsletter, I’ve begun plotting out 2012.  Am also preparing for the second half of my holiday with a trip to Massachusetts on the agenda as well as some more dinners with a motley assortment of characters.

My Italian Grandma’s Cookies…

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I’m not Italian and have no right headlining this post as ‘My Italian Grandma’s’ anything.  However, I think it fair to say that we all have that one little ole Italian lady that strikes a sweet chord within us.  Mine is Annie, a lady, at least 75 years old, that I worked with for ~ 9 years.  She truly believed that she was the glue that kept her department together and that no one else could figure out the computer system.  She was always ready with a kind word, a random pill from the bottom of her purse, and, the wonders of home-made Italian food — whether it be a main meal or a random selection of desserts.

Smiling right back at yah...Annie's Cookies

Without fail, Annie would make her Italian cookies at Christmas and, after the first bite, I believe it fair to say that I was addicted.  It took me many years to work up the courage to ask her about them, and a few additional years before I became so bold as to ask for the recipe; something she more than happily gave up.   I’ve probably had the recipe for 5 years or so, and this is the first year I pulled it out in an effort to liven up my holiday selection, of, well nothing but monster cookies (when a recipe makes ~ 400 cookies, do you really need any other?). Annie’s cookies have been yanked from the oven and will be frosted/sprinkled tomorrow, but according to the look on my Italian husband’s face, I believe, I found something good.    I have no idea as to where Annie got this recipe, I fantasize that it’s been handed down from generation to generation, and, for all I know, it could be from a book or the back of a bag of flour, but it is with the most heartfelt and warmest of thoughts that I share it with you today:

Annie’s Italian Cookies:

Melt 3 sticks of margarine; add one cup of sugar and cream together (Note, I, personally, use butter).

Add three eggs, mix thoroughly and then add 4 teaspoons of baking powder to mixture, one teaspoon of flavoring — organe, anisette or whatever you prefer, mix again.

Add 3.5 cups of flour or more and mix again (I wound up using about 5 cups of flour).

The doug should be pliable, not stiff.  If too soft, add more flour until the dough can be worked and is not sticky but very, very soft.  Make round balls, about 1 inch round, bake at 375 for about 15 minutes or until you see that the cookie looks whole and not soft.

Icing:

After the cookies have cooled, make a mixture of 1.5 cups of confectionery sugar, add 1 teaspoon of flavoring (to complement the flavoring used earlier, if not the same one); and 1 teaspoon of water to the sugar.  Mix together ( it should be thick, like cream.  If too loose, add more sugar), then dip the cookie into mixture and put round, colored sprinkles on top.

I also made pumpkin cookies tonight (a favorite), but alas, feel woefully inadequate as my aunt had a cookie party recently and wound up with ~1200 cookies.  I think I made all of 100 cookies today…oh well, c’est la vie.

Monster cookies to follow tomorrow (a half batch…) in between stuffing sausages…

A New England Christmas Pagaent

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Decked for the Holidays in New England

Some things in New England go beyond enchanting — a church at night with its steeple aglow reaching toward the heavens, the beach and mountains all within easy driving distance and, most especially, Christmas when houses come alive with the sparkle of a candle and wreaths decked out in big red bows, often times both adorning the windows.  This past weekend was spent in Harvard, Mass.   Settled in 1658, this community of 7000 possesses all the charm one would expect of a New England town.  There’s a general store (yes, one general store and that’s about it); the town square is flanked by two churches — one at each end; and ‘Lover’s Lane’ is quite literally off of the town square. 

We made the pilgrimage up North to see our nieces — India and Sophie — in the town’s Christmas pageant.  A gift from the town’s children, the story of Christ’s birth was brought to life through song and scripture readings.  The simple set was adorned with ~ 30 actors, ranging in age from a few months to 16-17 years, whose costumes mimicked the wardrobe of the period, and a choir whose well-trained voices brought us back to Christmas’ of old.   Tony, the musician of the family, was especially impressed by the second ‘We Three Kings’ soloist.  With an angelic voice, this girl graced us with amazing delivery of intonation and pitch that embodied the spirit of the play.  Afterward, candles were handed out and we, along with scores of Harvard’s residents, strolled down the common for the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree.  

Weldon, Fannie Farmer's House in Harvard, MA

In a town Fannie Farmer wanted to live in (she was building a house, ‘Weldon’ named after the culinary saying ‘well done’, but wound up sick and dead before it was finished), epicurean delights were a plenty.  Tony made pizza (in an electric oven none-the-less), we had a wonderful chocolate cake for my sister’s birthday, and lady bug cupcakes compliments of Sophie.  After the pageant hot cocoa was whipped up while burgers and dogs were quickly barbecued for the kids.   My sister, Alice, has a dining room great for socializing, so much time was spent around the table, a table used on the farm by my father’s family, talking, laughing and explaining to the New Englanders that there is a difference between Stromboli and Calzone.

We left Harvard venturing out to Route 2, aka the Mohawk Trail, for a casual ride home.  A four-lane road, lined with evergreens and birch trees, the drive was beautiful, enhanced by the remants of a soft snow fall that magically capped off the landscape.   There’s not much on Route 2 itself, but there are quite a few things just off the beaten path, in Orange — home to the US’ first automobile factory; Turner’s Falls, a national registered historic district; and Greenfield, with its mountain and Poet’s Tower.   

Wolfies, South Deerfield, MA

Arriving in Deerfield and needing to dine, we resisted the urge to do the touristy thing, Chandler’s Restaurant at the Yankee Candle store, and opted to go to a cozy little restaurant in town, Wolfies.   The menu, prominently featuring the restaurant’s logo, a wolf in overalls, cookbook in one hand, cleaver in the other, featured such items as the King Philip and Arrow Head sandwiches, roast beef and rib eye, respectively.  Typical pub fare, my burger, the Wolfie Burger, was delicious and Tony was impressed with the Roast Beef Club.  The waitress, Teresa, was warm and friendly while running from table to table, making sure everyone was happy with their meal.

We ended the weekend having dinner with our good friend Manny C.  He’s promised to give me some tutorials on cooking — he’s an amazing cook, Portuguese his specialty — and may even appear in a video or two (he doesn’t know that yet).  At any rate, we’ll be going to his house over the weekend so he and Tony can stuff sausages…a direct product of the pig that they killed last week.

Random Musings for the Weekend…

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It’s that time of year when my weekend ends on Monday evenings. Actually, beginning Friday, I’ll be on holiday until the new year and am very excited as I can definitely use the time off to organize various projects I have for 2012; a big one being the plotting out of Q1 and the various classes I would like to take.  However, in the interim, few thoughts:

Tony's PIzza

Hmmm...Pizza from Restaurant Biola

Pizza, Pizza:  Pizza can be made in an electric oven!  My sister asked Tony to man lunch yesterday, specifically requesting his pizza.  Tony was honored, but then went into panic mode as he realized that she has an electric oven.  Here’s a guy who makes absolutely amazing pizza, but whose skill lies in gas stoves and wood burning ovens.  He was completely wigged out.  However, he stepped up to the plate, saying, ‘let’s do this.’ And, alas, the pizza was great even if he dotted over them as they baked away in the (gasp) electric oven.

Mohawk Trail:  What an amazing drive/trip.  Oh so picturesque (even if everyone kept saying ‘it’s so pretty in the fall’) and very relaxing (construction on 91 and all).  I’ll do a separate post, but parts of the route, Route 2 in Massachusetts, reminded me of driving Route 80 along the Delaware, Route 17 in southwestern New York, and just Massachusetts in general, in all its splendid glory.  While I tried to avoid the touristy thing, going to the Yankee Candle Shop in Deerfield, it’s apparently the only thing to do in Deerfield or, at least, the most convenient, was the highlight of the day, not taking into account the wonderful little liquor store we found with fantastically flavorful wine from the Rioja region of Spain.  We tried to go to the SugarLoaf Nature Reserve area, but couldn’t physically find it.  Happily, especially for our tummies, we avoided the restaurant at the candle store, Chandlers, and found a local, yokel hole in the wall in Deerfield, Wolfies. 

Baking:  As the clock ticks, the realization dawns on me that I have much baking to do for the holidays.  We have a relatively open weekend and will be spending a fair amount of time creating delectable treats for friends, family and, even, students alike (yes, I get suckered into making cookies for all of Tony’s students).  On the agenda, Monster (a Stifter family recipe) and Pumpkin cookies as well as cream cheese cupcakes…yummy.   Will round this out with a few desserts and some relatively easy apps for our winter solstice dinner as well as our Little Christmas party (details to follow).

Cards have  been sent, the tree trimmed and house decked out (as decked out as it’s going to get at any rate).  Am gearing up for the week ahead, planning my baking, getting ready for the winter solstice, and trying my best to enjoy the holiday season — a bit of snow would we welcome at this juncture (actually, it was nice as Route 2 was dotted with the remains of an early season snow fall).   We’ll review our weekend sojourn and let you in on some holiday baking tips; and we’ll do our best to maintain sanity and enjoy time with some amazingly wonderful friends over the next few days.