For a Stinking Good Time

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As I reflect upon last weekend’s jaunt to the rolling hills of the Battenkill Valley region of upstate New York, I can’t help but smile at the number of farmers’ markets and road side stalls, with trust boxes, selling everything from zucchinis and tomatoes to bulbs of pungently aromatic garlic. And while some find the end of summer to be bittersweet, I look forward to the warm afternoons and crisp evenings of fall. But,

Purchased at the Cambridge, NY Farmers’ Market

before the apple and harvest festivals kick in, the lag time between mid/end of summer and early October is garlic festival season and here in the northeast there are plenty to choose from. The Garlic Seed Foundation has a complete list; however, for those traversing the countryside of the northeast, a condensed list follows:

September 1 – 2
The Pocono Garlic & Harvest Festival (Shawnee, PA) – celebrating its 24th year, Shawnee Mountain Inn hosts food and craft vendors that offer everything from garlic vinegar and garlic ice cream to garlic-themed pottery and paintings.

The Garlic & Herb Festival (Bennington, VT) – Celebrating it’s 23rd year, this festival has been featured in Yankee Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and Reuters. Garlic lovers flock to this picturesque town to sample garlic and herb inspired food and crafts from hundreds of vendors.

September 15 – 16
Long Island Garlic Festival (Riverhead, NY) – Long Island’s only garlic festival, featuring the wonders of ‘Garliciana’ with vendors showcasing a wide variety of garlic inspired foods, crafts and music. The festival will feature a garlic eating contest as well as a Junior Iron Chef competition for the kids.

The Garlic Festival at Olde Mistick Village (Mystic, CT) – In its 11th year, this award-winning festival will showcase all things garlic with local restaurants, merchants, artisans, authors and artists as well as village merchants who will offer garlic-related activities and products at their stores. Note, this is one of the few festivals that is free.

September 22
Susquehanna Valley Garlic Festival (Milford, NY) – With garlic varieties from around the world, all grown locally, the Susquehanna Garlic Festival features braiding demonstrations, growing tips and other educational sessions, and live entertainment for young and old alike.

September 29 – 30
Hudson Valley Garlic Festival (Saugerties, NY) – A local tradition, this festival hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year.  The event is a “fun celebration of the harvest of what garlic aficionados lovingly refer to as the ‘stinking rose’.”

The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival (Orange, MA) – “The Festival that Stinks” is celebrating 20 years of ‘Peace, love and garlic’ and is held on a beautiful historic farm amidst the rolling Massachusetts countryside.

October 6 – 7
Easton Garlic Fest (Easton, PA) – Festivities include the Gastric Garlic People’s Choice Contest, Dangerous Dessert Contest, Farm to Table Iron Chef Cook-Off, over the top 3 Mayors Cook-Off and the exciting First Responders Cook-Off.

Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival (Bethlehem, CT) – In its 14th year, the Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival will showcase cooking demonstrations and lectures, and will have a variety of garlic and fall provisions available for purchase.

Our friends at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival include a fantastic listing of the varieties of garlic on their webite as well as what to look for when shopping for garlic, check it out.

The festivals listed above feature educational lectures and demonstrations, vendors selling garlic and a selection of arts, crafts and games for the little ones. Most have an admission fee that, in the grand scheme of fees, appear to be reasonable.

So, with the summertime waning, I encourage you to hit the road and check out a not-so-typical festival for those who love the stink, and the taste, of garlic!

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It’s Been Such a Long Time

4 years; really?!?  It’s been four years since I last wrote.  While I failed to put ‘pen to paper’ in that time, I’ve been (quasi) busy.  Professionally, I left my job of 15+ years; put myself on a self imposed year-long sabbatical; and subsequently found gainful employment working for a Fortune 200 tech company.  Personally, I continued my travels through the Northeast (and elsewhere).  Spending time in Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and on the Cape.

This go around, the blog is in earnest — places to go, food to eat and classes to take will all be explored.  Some posts may be more educational while others might just be myself pontificating about the whimsy of the day.

For now, I’m going to sit back, relax, and revel in the lingering tastes of the sausage and pepper sandwich and cannoli I treated myself to at our Church’s Italian Festival.

two sausages on charcoal grill

Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com

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…