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During a recent trip to Chicago to visit our daughter, we mastered Uber well enough to get us anywhere we wanted to go in the city. And I wanted to go to Eataly, Mario Batali’s 63,000 square foot Italian food emporium.  Just inside the front door was a dedication to Ernest Hemingway that reassured me we were probably going to like the place.  Of course, I am a fan of Batali from my daily, treadmill-time watching of  The Chew, which he co-hosts.  Also, David gifted me with a copy of Batali’s new America Farm to Table cookbook from Christmas.  I had read enough about Eataly to be intrigued and, I must say, it exceeded my expectations in a way that any store as large as five Trader Joe’s might!

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The motto above the door is one I certainly approve of!  If we had know that we could have gotten a glass of wine and walked around with it, we probably would have.  As it was, we really didn’t have any intention of eating a meal at Eataly, but the power of suggestion overwhelmed us.  Inside the two-story building are eight Italian themed restaurants, the largest of which is La Pizza & La Pasta, where we eventually took a seat at the counter so we could watch the daily pasta dishes being prepared.

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Lucky for us, there was no waiting.  Probably because it was still Sunday morning, but David and I used the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” justification for ordering a glass of wine to go with a “pizza of the day”, which happened to be prosciutto!

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Our very friendly server started us with a plate of oil and a brown paper package of freshly baked bread before helping us select a Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to go with our pizza.

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We had a great time watching the preparation of the Daily Pastas and had no problem finishing the pizza, which had been perfectly baked in a stone pizza oven, also in view, and generously covered in fresh mozzarella and prosciutto.

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Fortified and ready to shop, we walked around for the best part of an hour taking in the fish counter and it’s corresponding restaurant,  Il Pesce, as well as the meat counter.  I understand there is also a meat-centric restaurant called La Carne, which is in  a remote corner of the second floor and a vegetarian eatery called Le Verdure, as well.

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If you to to Eataly, I would probably suggest starting the the center of the second floor, La Piazza, which is the busy Italian city center where you can order a glass of wine and stand at one of the tables to enjoy items coming directly from the counters or production corners located right behind them: La Mozzarella, Il Crudo, I Salumi & Formaggi and Il Fritto.

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We were off to investigate Italian wines!  I have a new interest in Nebbiolo, red Italian grape variety that is being grown at Quarry Hill Winery, where I work part-time.  Nebbiolo is most commonly used in Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  I though perhaps I could learn a little more about the grape from the young guy working in the wine department.  He was initially very interested in talking to me, but when I began asking some specific questions that were out of his range of knowledge and explained that I work at a winery in Ohio, he admitted he was also from Ohio – an OSU grad.  He suggested we could sample some wines at the nearby Vino Libero counter, where 6 casks of wine were “on tap” and, once again, you could stand at a tasting counter and enjoy your wine with a selection of marinated olives, or salumi, or prosciutto di parma, or even spicy tuna.

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I must say, the whole Eataly experience was a feast for the eyes.  Even the signs for the Toilette were clever!  We decided our trip home on Amtrack would allow for a small bag of groceries which we chose mainly from the selections of First Anniversary Celebration Sale bins that were prominently placed throughout both floors.

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In addition to a particularly flavorful Provolone that we found in the cheese shop, we brought home some a small jar of a white truffles and mushroom sauce, a tube of Triplo Concentrato dei Comodoro tomato paste, and a box of Barilla Bucatini n.9 – my new favorite pasta!

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Next time, and there will be a next time, we will plan on eating our way through both floors.  Mario Batali may have created a culinary circus in Eataly, but who doesn’t enjoy a culinary circus?

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.

A Day of Michigan Wineries

November 10th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Wining Life - (0 Comments)

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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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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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This year for Christmas, I gave my husband a book and a promise. The book was the The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book – Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily and Melissa Elsen. The promise was that I would bake a pie a month throughout 2014. I even gave him a little pad of sticky tabs to mark his choices.

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We have never been to the Four & Twenty Pie Shop in Brooklyn, and other than the fact that the book has awesome photographs, there was no special reason for selecting that particular pie book. The gift was really just a way of challenging myself to overcome my pie inadequacies. My husband grew up in a house where baking a pie was no more of an event than whipping up some scrambled eggs. In fact, he once told me this. My mother-in-law is an uncontested pie baking queen. For this reason, I shy away from baking pies. It seems like there will always be comparisons to her recipe. So bring on the pie challenge.

Half way through January and no pie had been selected until yesterday. He chose Cranberry Sage pie. One of the nicest features of The Four & Twenty book is that the recipes are arranged seasonally. He chose from the Winter section a pie that looked like Christmas dinner! What an appropriate place to begin.

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Whole fresh cranberries, dried cranberries, and grated apple go into the filling, along with white and brown sugars pulsed in the food processor with some fresh sage leaves! The photo showed a modified lattice top, but I already had a single crust worth of pie dough waiting in the fridge from the Chicken Pot Pies I have made last week from another new cookbook. My son gifted me with Michael Symon’s Carnivore Cookbook for Christmas.

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Since Symon’s dough recipe made enough for another single crust pie, I opted for a Streusel Topping recipe from the back of the Four & Twenty book.

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Similar to my mother-in-law’s recipe, this preparation called for two different oven temperatures. The pie starts baking on the bottom rack of the oven at 425 degrees, and then finishes on the middle shelf at 375. We could hardly wait for the pie to cool! It smelled amazing. We called some friends and invited ourselves over to share the first pie of the month. Who can refuse last minute visitors with warm pie?

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The fruit filling wasn’t runny, the subtle flavor of the sage was surprisingly lovely and the egg and vanilla made it taste slightly custardy. Who can’t wait for February? Will it have to be cherry for President’s Day? I’ll keep you posted.

Day two began with smoked haddock and eggs at The Croft House where breakfast is the highlight of the day. Eddie, who used to run pubs, waits on his guests while his wife, Barbara prepares food in the kitchen. Eddie aims to please and was full of weather predictions and travel suggestions for our trip to the wedding at the Langdale Chase Hotel in Windemere, almost an hour away. Although it was rainy, the views were spectacular across the lake and the hotel was full of historic elegance – a perfect venue for an intimate, emotional and classical fairy-tale wedding. We were honored to be among the select guests.

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The day after the wedding was ours to explore the charm of Cockermouth – and try to appreciate not having to drive anywhere. It is a charming and very walkable town. Our first stop was inside of Mitchell’s Auction House to sit and take in a bit of local color.

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Then on to the birthplace and home of poet William Wordsworth right in the middle of town. Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. It looked like it might rain, but most of the day featured sun peaking through the clouds, which brought to mind a Wordsworth favorite:

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 10
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
1804

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20131030-074832.jpgCockermouth experienced a devastating flood in 2009, and many shops and business still display the water marks and before and after renovations photos. No where was this history more evident than in J. B. Banks Traditional Ironmongery and Hardware Shop with a small hardware museum in the back end of the fascinating shop.

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Many interesting storefronts line the streets of the town – the butcher, the grocer, the fishmonger and the bike shop with an name that made us giggle!

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Luckily, we had worked up a thirst by the time we walked across the bridge to the Jennings Brewery which sits in the shadow of a castle. We took the 45 minute, thoroughly enjoyable brewery tour with Phil, who ended the tour in the tasting room and insisted that anyone who wanted sample each of the available brews in their charming little pub.

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20131030-081025.jpgDinner was at Tarantella, where I chose a local fish, panfried bream.

We realized we were still recovering from the time change, so we retired early to watch enough BBC news to assure us that the US government was, in fact, up and running again. Pleasant dreams!

After a long night’s flight, we arrived in the UK bright and early on Tuesday October 15 and fetched our rental car – a Volvo diesel wagon – from the Manchester airport car hire and we were off. With very little adjustment time for David, he was driving on the wrong side of the highway to Liverpool in order for us to meet our John Lennon Fab4 Cab Tour at the appointed 10:30 time. Thanks to the Mary Poppins voice on the GPS we arrived with enough time to have breakfast at Leaf, a restaurant I had chosen when researching the best full English breakfast in Liverpool. We were not disappointed – except that there is no cream for your coffee. Just milk in the UK! David got the full English breakfast which included two sunny side up eggs, black pudding, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, toast and baked beans.

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We still don’t get the baked beans part. I ordered the pescatarian full English which swapped the sausage for some smoked salmon.

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Plenty of time to eat and find a car park to ditch the car and meet Eddy, our most enjoyable Beatles tour cab driver. In approximately 3 hours he had us in and out of the cab to stop at about 15 different locations in Liverpool associated with the life of John Lennon. He carried a binder full of photos in plastic sleeves to augment his narration by showing us historic photos in front of many of the buildings.

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Beginning with the hospital where he was born, we got a full dose of John Lennon history and learned quite a bit we did not already know.

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The tour was a great way to see Liverpool, which turned out not to be the dirty, industrial city I had imagined. The only problem was I kept falling asleep every item the cab began moving.

We had to keep moving on to get to Cockermouth in the Lake District two and a half hours north of Liverpool. We checked in to our lovely room at The Croft Guest House and met another Eddie – our host. He gave use directions to a great place nearby for our first pub dinner and pint – The Castle Bar.

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