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One of the reasons my son was most excited about our recent visit to Pennsylvania was to show us around one of his favorite places to eat and drink – Tröegs Brewery in Hershey PA. As we pulled into the parking lot on a Friday evening, the place looked packed, but he assured us that the tasting room was large and it would be worth the wait, should there be one. He also advised checking out the merchandise in the gift shop, since it closes early. All sorts of tee shirts and beer related souvenirs arranged in a spacious store with a window into the production facility.

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Upon entering the tasting room, we were greeted by a host who explained how to get beer and food and described a number of specials. The room is full of booths and long tables to share. We were in luck when we spotted a table of folks getting ready to leave, so we sat down and studied the beer menu to make our sampler selections. Sampler trays are offered two ways – six samples from their Year-Round Beer list for $8 or Pick Three from the whole list which includes limited draft beer and Hop Cycle Seasonals for $5.50. The detailed beer menu included information about ABV and IBUs as well as clever descriptions, such as “colossal, palate-numbing” for the Impending Descent Stout, which was my favorite.

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Beer orders are placed at the bar – food orders are placed at a counter where you also pick up your trays of food after your buzzer goes off. We decided to share a couple of appetizers from the “Shared” section of the Snack Bar menu - Poutine hand-cut fries with turkey neck gravy, celery salt, sage, cheese curds and cranberry ketchup and a charcuterie tray which came on a round wooden board and included house made pickles, radishes and horseradish mustard.

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Entree selection was even trickier! So many interesting choices from a menu that changes seasonally and includes a list of farms and friends which source their ingredients. I had the crispy chicken leg with mole spices, black bean tacos, pumpkin guacamole and pickled chayote squash. David ordered a troegswurst sandwich, and Ben got the beef short rib pot roast with root vegetables, and duck fat mashed potatoes which came in a canning jar. It was accompanied by a wheat roll and a little paper cup of the most delicious smoky butter I have ever tasted. Candice got duck confit with almond stuffing, pear relish and cardamom syrup.

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Since I am a sucker for holiday brews, I had to order one Mad Elf Ale – brewed with sweet and sour cherries, local PA honey and chocolate malt!

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We piled back into the car, stuffed and happy, yet doubting whether we had made the best menu choices in light of all the other tempting selections we had not been able to sample.

Lucky for us, our Sunday drive brought us back to Hershey for a little time at the outlet mall and a chance to see the Hershey kiss streetlights in the daylight – and it just so happened to be dinner time. Visit #2! No complaints.

This time we all knew what beer we liked, and the menu took less time to sort through. We started with a basket of popcorn with brown butter and rosemary salt to share. David got the deconstructed lamb burger which is served on curried naan, Ben chose the venison and aged cheddar bologna which was served with a tiny cast iron skillet of braised red cabbage and I decided to try the wood smoked trout salad. No traditional salad here! It was served in a small canning jar and tasted like tuna salad’s worldly sophisticated sister. Another round wooden serving tray with bread crisps, crème fraiche, lemon rosemary jam, pickles and radishes and a tiny trio of creamy potato pancake like hash browns.

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I love eating out and trying new dishes, but I describe the food at Tröegs in such detail because it is an awesome brewery that could get by with serving their Oktoberfest pretzels and other simple bar fare. Instead the menu might trump the beers!

What did we do when we left? Go back to Ben and Candice’s apartment and continue the food coma by watching Chef.

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A full page add for counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan in the Sunday New York Times Book Review a few weeks back intrigued me enough to order the book from the library. When I got the the deaths of the main character’s adoptive parents at the end of the first short chapter, I knew I was hooked.
Willow Chance is a science-obsessed misfit/oddball/lone wolf/weirdo/genius. If all of those character descriptions are accurate, then she fits into 5 of the 7 classifications of students seen by Dell Duke, her school counselor who is himself a counselor’s nightmare. Through Duke, Willow has met lone wolf Quanh-ha and his sister Mai Nguyen, who are Vietnamese. Since Willow was adopted from Vietnam, she connects with these two as “persons of color” like herself. But when she insists that they will be willing to take her into their family upon the deaths of her parents, the greater themes of the book – family, acceptance, grief and recovery – begin to surface.

This book is labeled a YA novel, appropriate for upper elementary grades of gifted students who are often, themselves, intelligent oddballs. (Willow has been treated skeptically by teachers at her new school because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in 17 minutes before.). She is a protagonist readers will fall in love with, laugh will, and cry with. She reminds me of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl – one of my all time favorite characters!

Even if you don’t normally read YA literature, Willow’s story will charm you. I see a movie on the horizon – read it soon!

After an especially busy weekend of working at Quarry Hill Winery, my manager insisted I celebrate with a glass of wine at a recently opened tasting room and retail wine store in historic Milan, Ohio. The Wine Post sits on Main Street, and as we arrived they were dismantling the rides from the Milan Melon Festival which was just concluding. Walking into The Wine Post was like stepping back in time. It feels like you are entering a hardware store, but the shelves are full of WINE!

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Dark blue walls complement the white pressed tin ceiling and an awesome wine bottle chandelier hangs in the middle of the room.

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Wine barrels have been made into high top tables, there is a comfy looking leather couch and lots and lots of wines to peruse.

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But the best part is the small tasting room in the rear which can be separated from the front retail shop by sliding wooden barn doors that hang from the ceiling. Here a selection of wines and beers are listed on a chalkboard and an intimate bar beckons folks to sit and chat. A few more barrel tables and even some church pews offer seating under the string lights that hang above. I understand this back space will also host events and be available to rent.

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Due to its Melon Festival popularity, the watermelon wine was sold out, but we three enjoyed a nice bottle of red and casual conversation with the other partons. Every detail of this little gem of a wine bar is perfect.

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We stayed until closing time and promised to return! Soon!

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California by Edan Lepucki

August 30th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

California
Edan Lepucki’s California made its way to my radar when Stephen Colbert urged viewers to buy it amidst his Amazon vs. Hachette rant . Apparently, California was recommended to Colbert by one of my long time favorite author, Sherman Alexie, so the late night plug was something to take seriously. A bit of research about the author turned up the information that Edan Lepucki is a graduate of Oberlin College, just down the road, so we headed out the next day to Oberlin, Ohio on a book search! Certainly her book would be available in Oberlin, hopefully at our favorite spot to book browse – MindFair Books inside the Ben Franklin Store on College Street. No California there. Disappointed we were having to head to the Oberlin College bookstore, which is a Barnes and Noble affiliate, we found the most informed looking employee and asked for the book. He had never heard of it, never heard of the author and was unaware that she was returning to campus to read from California in November!

Now we were on a mission! We drove the the big brother Barnes and Noble store at Crocker Park and there is was. Feeling like a traitor, I bought it. At least I didn’t order it from Amazon.

The novel is another post-apocalyptic dystopian tale. Cal and Frida have fled what remains of LA for bare existence in a wilderness hideaway. Frida is still mourning the death of her brother, Micah, who appears to have given his life fighting the remains of civilization. Without giving too much info, the story is two parts Cormac McCarthy’s The Road mixed with one part Hunger Games. I think high school students would enjoy it well enough.

Finally, a week or so after I finished the book, I found the bookstore I would have liked to have purchased it in when we were visiting Ithaca, NY. Shout out to Buffalo Street Books for their anti-Amazon display!

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What a little gem of a book! Marie-Helene Bertino‘s first novel is told in a fresh new voice, worth listening to. At the center of the story is The Cat’s Pajamas, a fictional blues club in Philadelphia, where the story unfolds over a single Christmas Eve day and night. The chapters are titled by the hours of the day, and its events are narrated, sometimes a few different ways, in chronological order, with some intermittent flashbacks to provide some back story. The characters are a motley crew – a principle, a teacher, a young student, a jazz club owner, a cook, a couple of lovers and a couple of sorry sorts. Bertino’ conceit of the jazz riff works splendidly and the experience of the novel was music to this reader’s ears.

Pie of the Month Promise – An Update

August 29th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in Dining In - (0 Comments)

The pie of the month promise is still going strong. I thought I was being much better about documenting this year in pies, but I seem to have fallen far behind. The August pie begs for some description, though. Sweet Corn Custard Pie! Sweet corn season is in full swing here in Northeast Ohio, and our Fresh Fork CSA bags have been including corn lately, so after every meal that features corn, we have several ears to cut off the cob. This recipe calls for 3 cups, and that was not a problem!

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The corn kernels need to be roasted in the oven until they begin to char a little. This gives the corn an additional nutty sweetness.

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Then the corn is combined with heavy cream and whole milk to steep for a while. Finally the corn solids are strained out and the corn cream is combined with the sugar and eggs to make the custard filling.

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It was tricky to know just when the pie was perfectly baked through. I think I took mine out of the oven a bit too early and the result was a very creamy center. We shared the pie with friends who enjoyed the sweet corn goodness. Although the first grader in the bunch was quite skeptical of corn pie and would have rather had a fruit pie. Maybe next month!

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Dining in the Finger Lakes

August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in Dining Out - (0 Comments)

Lunchtime on a day of winery visits found us at the highly recommended FLX (Finger Lakes – of course) Weinery.
Get it ? A weinery on the road to the wineries! Any kind of hot dog, sausage, burger you want and lots of original toppings served up in a brand new building.

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This funky, fun eating establishment has just opened this spring, but their emphasis on fresh and local ingredients should mean a good business for them in the coming years.

We were lucky enough to eat dinner twice during our trip at The Stonecat Cafe where local cuisine takes center stage. Both nights we had an amazing meal out on their covered patio. Both nights the wait staff was attentive, chatty and interested in our total satisfaction.

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The first night I chose the Cornmeal Crusted Catfish which was finished with a smoked tomato coulis and served with fresh dill cole slaw. It was delicious paired with a glass of a Keuka Lake a Vineyards Vignoles 2013.
When we decided to return for dinner on Saturday night, we were able to get a late reservation and purposely arrived early to sit at the bar for a drink from their amazing specialty cocktail menu. I wish I could remember exactly what my seasonal feature was called but it was made with Finger Lakes Distilling Vintner’s Vodka and local cherry juice! Although it threatened rain, we were seated on the patio and assured we could be moved back inside, but the storm stayed away and we had an amazing dinner. Three of us ordered the special, which was shrimp and chorizo in a rich tomato sauce over seasoned polenta with fresh green and yellow beans on the side.

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David splurged on the Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye which was finished with a cognac cream demi-glacé and served with rosemary mashed potatoes and seasonal sautéed veggies. We also took the wine steward’s recommendation and ordered a bottle of Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore – so yummy!

We have our waitress at Stonecat to thank for a restaurant recommendation for our day trip to Ithaca. When she told us she would eat lunch at a The Moosewood Restaurant, my eyes lit up!!! I have been enjoying Moosewood cookbooks that my husband gave me as gifts for years. And my award winning culinary teacher best friend had never heard of it.

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Moosewood is a worker owned restaurant that has been acclaimed as a driving force in the world of creative vegetarian cooking for 40 years. Moosewood was named one of the “thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th Century” by Bon Appétìt magazine. The menu changes daily, and our friendly waitress helped us make excellent choices. I had the vegetable stew which was served over farro and topped with crumbled feta and David and Danette chose the polenta pizza with mushrooms and roasted sliced tomatoes. Every bite was fresh and flavorful.

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Finding the Moosewood was an added bonus on this perfect little get away to the Finger Lakes. If we ever return, I would revisit each of these amazing eateries!

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How does someone who works every summer weekend at a winery relax? By visiting other wineries, of course! A quick summer trip with our best traveling friends took us to the Finger Lakes in New York for some wine tasting and relaxation. After a pleasant drive to Lake Keuka, our first stop was Dr. Konstantin Frank’s large and lovely winery. Dr. Frank immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950′s and brought a knowledge of Ukrainian root stock that still informs their large selection of quality wines. Read all about the interesting history of this legendary winery on their website.

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Tastings at Dr. Frank’s were FREE! and the view was so very beautiful.

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We only had time for one more winery before closing time on a Wednesday, and we made an excellent choice with Herron Hill, also on Keuka Lake near Hammondsport, NY. Herron Hill indeed sits up on a hill and has a lovely outdoor stage and eating area.

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Our accommodations for the weekend were at Magnolia Place Bed and Breakfast in Hector, on Lake Seneca. It is a gorgeous house with beautifully appointed rooms and amazing breakfasts. Lots of porches give guests plenty of places to sit and relax.

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Our host, Ted, suggested that before we leave we hike up the hill behind the house between the vineyards to enjoy the views of the lake. It was lovely!

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Our second day of winery visits took us most of the way around Lake Seneca. After a morning of browsing in the shops in Watkins Glen, we headed north along the west side of the lake and began our wining at Shaw Vineyards because I had been told we would find the best dry reds there.

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We were the only ones visiting their lovely tasting room, and we did enjoy the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a delicious dry Rose.

Next stop – Herman Wiemar Winery. The tastings here are given amongst the kettles. This trip we seemed to really be enjoying the dry Roses.

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Well fed after a lunch stop at FLX Weinery and ready for more tastings, we headed to Villa Bellangelo – a fun place to visit with beautiful views, nice wines – especially a yummy 2012 Meritage – a well-informed wine tender and Scooters!!! I had so much fun posing with my best friend, Danette, on the pink scooter in front of a vineyard backdrop.

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The scooters are great advertisement props for their Scooter line of wines. Sold in 1.5 litre bags with a pour spout, the Red Scooter, White Scooter and Pink Scooter table wines were too sweet for my taste, but a fun addition to the other offerings in the large gift shop at Villa Bellangelo.

Next stop – a winery and distillery on the same property. On the east side of Lake Senaca , Damiani Wine Cellars and Finger Lakes Distilling Company share the same driveway and are a walkable distance apart. We had an enjoyable tasting with Garrett, who shared his wealth of knowledge about the vodka, gin, brandy and whiskey made on the premises.

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At Damiani Wine Cellars, we found a great dry Riesling and finally sat outside and enjoyed a whole glass of wine and awesome views of the lake.

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Downstairs from the tasting room is a nice “cellar” which opens out to a side patio. We found out there would be a house band and open mic entertaining later and we promised to come back after dinner so that David could have his New York harmonica debut. If we lived in the area, I think Damiani Cellars would become a regular hangout.

Along with day trips to Ithaca and Corning, we did manage to squeeze in a few more wineries north of Hector on the east side of Seneca. Hazlitt 1852 Winery was hopping. They have an outdoor venue that was full of people sipping wine slushies, I think. We had a limited amount of time – most wineries close at 5:00 – so we headed directly for the busy tasting room where we had one of the speediest and most uninformed tastings of the trip. However, Hazlitt makes a Cider Tree sparkling cider that is delicious! We spent some money in their crazy gift shop, which had handbag-sized single serving plastic bottles of their most popular wines as well as magnum sized bottles of their crazy Red Cat Wines.

Just down the road, we found Penguin Bay Winery, which had a very basic tasting room and a fun place to pose for a photo.

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They had a nice floral Dry Riesling and also a silky French oak aged Pinot Noir! You can drink wine and support the penguins at Penguin Bay Winery, since a portion of all of their wine proceeds are donated to the penguin exhibit at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY!

Our last tasting was in a basic barn behind a farm house called Standing Stone Vineyards. Here we were served by Sheila, a mature lady who reminded me so much of my dear co-worker, Anita at Quarry Hill. We bought a bottle of their Stonehouse Red mainly for the old black and white photo of the former farmer’s wife, Marie, and her chickens on the label.

Each winery was different, many of the wines were high quality, the weather and lake views were gorgeous! A great get-away!

********* Did someone say beer?*********

I have to at least mention that we spent a lazy and memorable hour sampling beer at Ithaca Beer Co. the afternoon we visited Ithaca. Outside of the spacious tasting room and restaurant, there is a huge outdoor area with picnic tables under a hops-trellised pergola. Bocce courts, a wine bottle wall and adirondack chairs invite visitors to waste more than an hour enjoying their variety of beers. We decided to try some flights which include 4 four ounce pours. Mine was the Seasonal Flight which included Ground Break, Cayuga Cruiser, Country Pumpkin, and White Gold. If you are in Ithaca, make this a sunny day destination!

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A funny title for a just-plain-fun in the sun summer read. When I started reading this light hearted romantic comedy, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Richard, an English artist, has cheated on his perfect French lawyer wife. He has sold the only painting that has the power to keep them together. I didn’t see myself developing sympathy for either of them.

And then the book got funny! And I had some time on the beach with this, my only beach book. Courtney Maum is a blogger and humor columnist. She lived in France, where half of the novel takes place. This is her first novel, and it follows a pretty predictable story arch. I can see it being a beautifully funny film, and I would go see it in a heartbeat, because I did end up feeling for Richard. His foibles made for a perfectly funny summer beach read – and an especially ironic beach photo.

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I am a bit of a sucker for any book with an Emily Dickinson epigraph. The title of McBride’s debut novel comes from these lines,
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –
which aptly introduce this novel in four voices. Set in Las Vegas, the story is narrated by Avis, Luis, Bashkim and Roberta. They all have separate and complicated lives that converge when an act of violence propels them into the same conflict arena. According to the author’s note, the plot was reimagined from an unbelievably sad headline news story. I’m not a fan of this sort of literary conceit. However, McBride’s theme is genuine and is summed up by Avis in one of her later sections with these lines – “It all matters. . . . What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”