Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New Year's Day Celebration

What will you do to celebrate the first day of 2009? I don't know about anyone else, but as much as I've enjoyed all the cooking and eating and partying during this holiday season, I'm ready for an outdoor activity, something different and unique. So, where did I go for ideas?

My book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket of course! And, judging from the number of gift books I sold in the weeks before the holidays, a lot of folks already know that Cruising Connecticut is not just for summer picnics. In fact, it is not only for picnics. First and foremost, it is a day tripping book. I've long believed that when a picnic is added to a day trip, it is twice the fun, but I'm realistic to know that each outing requires its own meal plan.

So, picnicking or not, here are five suggestions for a January 1, 2009 celebration:

1. A hot dog roast at the top of Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury. This would be a fun destination for a family or a group since it will take a few backpacks to carry all the stuff, like charcoal (there are grills), utensils, hot dogs, rolls, condiments, chips, and drinks, oh, and maybe a salad or two if you can manage it. The parking area and entrance to the park is on Route 185, seven miles west of Hartford. The hike to the top, one and one-quarter miles, is invigorating, and isn't this just what we need after indulging for the past week? As you look out at the flora and fauna covering the beautiful countryside, you will agree that it is a great way to celebrate the New Year.

2. Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. Although many people think of the beach only during warm weather, there is a segment of the population that knows beaching is a year-round activity. I still remember many years ago when I was in another state over the New Years holiday and saw a man x-country skiing right on the beach. Up until that point I had never seen a snow-covered beach, and was I ever disappointed that I didn't have my skis with me! Although it doesn't look like Connecticut will have another snowfall before January 1st, you can still enjoy a brisk walk on the sand or on the boardwalk or one of the walking trails while you observe the ocean in a different season.

3. All the wineries in my book, Gouveia Vineyard in Wallingford; Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield; Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston are open until at least 5:00 on New Year's Eve, but it looks from the website like Haight-Brown will also be open on New Year's Day. It's probably a good idea to call ahead to confirm (860-567-4045) but wouldn't this be a cool way to welcome in the New Year?

4. Connecticut College Arboretum in New London. In this chapter of Cruising Connecticut, I focus on my "Spring Wildflower Hunt", but I also talk about the versatility of the Arboretum's Native Plant Collection. I suggest visiting in different seasons, like "late summer for the meadow's native grasses and wildflowers, October for the fall foliage and hydrangeas, and winter for the hollies and conifers."

5. I've never been to Mystic Aquarium or Mystic Seaport on New Year's Day, but I think it would be a fun time to visit.

Whatever you do to celebrate the first day of the New Year, enjoy and be safe. Oh, and go to my website to check out the special holiday price for Cruising Connecticut, lasting only a few more days.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A White Christmas

There is no doubt we will have a white Christmas in Connecticut this year. And, I'm happy about that. But, I was not happy when I had to miss A Christmas Carol at the Hartford Stage on Friday because of the first snowstorm, OR the Connnecticut Authors and Publishers Association holiday party on Saturday because it took me so long to shovel my car out, OR the shopping and lunch date with my daughter today because a second storm hit on the heels of the first.

I tried to take it in my stride since a lot of folks missed more important events, like a friend who was supposed to fly to California on Thursday but didn't get off until today. Now that called for a pity party.

To get in the mood for baking and gift wrapping today, I got out my holiday CD's and sang along with the old crooners, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. The music, plus a glass of wine, got me right into the holiday spirit!

During the next couple of weeks, I hope to take a drive to one of the light shows around the state. The 45th Annual Festival of Lights on Constitution Plaza is lit every day at dusk until January 6th, and the Festival of Silver Lights at Hubbard Park in Middletown is open from dusk to dawn every day through January 7th. Also, luminary candles will light up the Town of Woodbury on Christmas Eve, and hopefully West Hartford will get to light their 400 luminaries on the lawn of the West Hartford Art League Saltbox Gallery. It was postponed two Fridays ago because of the weather and re-scheduled for this past Friday, but with the storm, assume they had to postpone it again! Some towns, like Watertown have posted a map that drivers can follow to view all the spectular houses decorated for the holidays.

What about your town? Are there any special outdoor displays or light shows? Let me know and I'll share them with my readers in next week's blog.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fun Holiday Activities

What a season! Not only are we busy with our day to day comings and goings, we also have shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, entertaining, and all the usual holiday activities. And, don't forget to sneak in a few holiday festivities. Check out the following possibilities in Mystic:

Mystic Seaport Lantern Light Tours: "A New England Holiday Tradition" takes you through the Village as it was on Christmas Eve in 1876. Dates: December 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 27 & 28. Tours start at 5:00 and run every 15 minutes; each tour takes one hour. Reservations are recommended. Check website for rates. or call 860-572-5331.

Mystic Seaport Carol Sing. On December 21st from 3-4pm. Just bring a canned food item for local charity and admission is free. Also, The Mystic Seaport Planetarium will present The Star of Bethlehem. Call 572-5315 for more information.

Olde Mistick Village Festival of Lights on December 12th begins at 4:30pm. Enjoy complimentary refreshments in Meeting House and holiday music and outdoor entertainment from 5:30-8:30pm. Event phone number is 860-536-4941.

Mystic Aquarium free admission on December 12th from 5:00-8:00pm with a canned food item to be delivered to local charity.

Mystic Aquarium Holiday Sea of Trees through January 2, 2009. Over 20 trees donated by local charities are on display throughout the Aquarium, all decorated with different themes.

Whatever you do for your Holiday Outing, be well and safe.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Great Thanksgiving Recipe

If you are like me, the three days prior to Thanksgiving will be spent planning the menu, looking for recipes, the old favorites as well as interesting new ones, shopping for ingredients, and cooking and baking. All for one day, but so worth it, especially if we get to spend it with the important people in our life. I hope however you choose to spend Thanksgiving, it is filled with peace and joy.

This recipe for Banana Nut Bread is from my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket. It has also been a Thanksgiving Day staple in our family for more than 75 years. If you like your bread sweet and moist, you will probably agree this really is the best.

Best Ever Banana Nut Bread

3/4 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed bananas
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and sour cream, mixing well. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add this mix to creamed mixture alternately with the bananas. Stir in vanilla and nuts.
3. Pour into greased and floured 9x5-inch loaf pan.
4. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and bread breaks away slightly from the edge of pan. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on rack.
5. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Special Activities at Well-known Destinations

From time to time, I like to check the websites of some of the destinations in my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket to see what may be new and exciting.

At Hammonasset Beach State Park (Madison) two cabins are being built for the "State's first foray into Cabin Camping." This is good news for folks who have never camped and want to get a feel for the camping environment before buying equipment, or for those who may have retired their tents or campers but still remember the joys of camping at the beach.

There was a recent newspaper article about the number of people who have been visiting Hammonasset during some of the warm days in October and early November. I agree that the beach is a great off-season destination, to walk along the water's edge, sit on the sand wrapped in blankets with your face up to the sun, or hike one of the nature trails.

If you visit, be sure to stop in at Meigs Point Nature Center where you will find the usual reptiles and amphibians, but also the most amazing history of Hammonasset, beginning with the Ice Age, about 10,500 B.C. For the rest of November, the nature center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10-5. From December through March, hours vary depending on school programs.

White Memorial Conservation Center (Litchfield) is the State's largest nature center and wildlife sanctuary. Because this park is a four-season destination, it appeals to hikers, bikers, birders, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. Inside the Museum, nature's bounty is clearly evident through the use of photographic murals, animal mounts and interactive exhibits.

Check the website for hours and the many Special Activities listed for November and December, such as an Autumn Bird Walk, and Wreath Making Using Natural Materials, both free.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apple Harvest Cake

The best thing about October, well, right next to viewing the fall foliage, is apple picking, and then getting together with my daughter Holly to make holiday pies. But, there are also cakes, cobblers, muffins, salads, or simply biting into a crisp, juicy apple straight from the fruit bowl. Yum!

This Apple Harvest Cake recipe is an old family favorite and also one of the recipes in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket. Enjoy.

Apple Harvest Cake

5 apples
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Peel and pare apples. Cut into thin slices. Combine sugar and cinnamon and mix into apples. Put to one side.

4 eggs
2-1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

* With electric mixer, blend eggs, sugar, oil, orange juice, and vanilla. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to liquid ingredients and blend with mixer. Continue mixing at medium speed until thick and lemon colored.
* Grease and flour bundt pan. Batter and apples are added to pan in layers, 3 for batter and 2 for apples. Begin and end with batter.
* Bake for 1-1/2 hours. Place on rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn pan upside down on cooling rack, allowing cake to drop out of pan.

Bake in 350 degree preheated oven.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October Happenings

Well, depending on what part of Connecticut I visit, the foliage is either near peak, at peak, or just past peak. I hope that everyone has already taken a relaxing drive to enjoy this October phenomenon, and with the warmer-than-usual weather, perhaps stopped for a picnic as well.

If not, there are still two weekends left and lots of special activities going on. Here are a few suggestions:

Elm Knoll Farm, Somers, through October 31st ~ Their website boasts one of the largest pumpkin farms in Connecticut, plus a new corn maze, petting zoo and so much more. Be sure to check out the evening Haunted Hay Rides.

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic, October 24 & 25 from 5:30 - 7:30 pm. ~ The Spooky Nature Trail for families is a self-guided tour through haunted woods, plus treats and cider, crafts and games.

Connecticut Trolley Museum, East Windsor ~ Some of the unique activities at this location are: Pumpkin Patch Time through October 26, Rails to the Darkside on October 24 & 25 from 6:30 - 9:00 pm., and Night of the Haunted on October 19 from 6:00 - 8:00 pm with special guest researchers and authors.

Visit this creative and fun website to get the full effect of these Special Events.

Talcott Mountain State Park, Bloomfield/Simsbury ~ The Heublein Tower is well-known for exquisite views of the countryside, especially during October. On October 19 from 10:00 - 5:00 pm there is another reason to make the one and one-quarter mile climb to the top of the mountain. The "Tower Toot" is the Friends Annual Fund-Raiser. Food and drink will be available for sale, music provided, and face painting for the kids. In addition, the gift shop will be open all day. Click Outdoor Recreation, click State Parks & Forests, click Find a Park. (At the Talcott Mountain State Park there is a link to the Friends of Heublein.)

Have fun!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fall into Connecticut Campaign

Exciting news for Connecticut residents like me who look forward to exploring the state during fall foliage. Yesterday, Governor Rell announced the extension of her "Staycation" program through November. Hundreds of businesses and attractions are taking part by offering discounts for lodging and restaurants and reduced admission fees to attractions throughout the state.

I am happy to join this campaign by offering a 25% discount on web orders for my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket. This book will guide you to attractions that are also taking part in the "Fall into Connecticut" Campaign, such as Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Mystic Aquarium and Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, both in Mystic, Old New-Gate Prison in East Granby, Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Stamford, and Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston.

In addition to the above destinations, Cruising Connecticut has thirty-three other exciting day trips, all with picnicking facilities and a suggested menu, plus one or two recipes suitable for each destination. Even if you're not a cool-weather picnicker, you will find many of the recipes comforting when served at home during a blistering wind or snowstorm, such as White Bean Chicken Chili, Jambalaya, Carousel Chili, Sandwiched Meat Loaf, and Wild Mushroom and Oyster Chowder. And, all the bread and dessert recipes!

Check out the "Fall into Connecticut" participants at Cruising Connecticut is listed under the Town of Glastonbury, the location of my publishing company, or simply go straight to my website for my offer,

The most important thing is to get outside and enjoy the beauty of autumn in Connecticut. I love the quote chosen by the sponsors of the Campaign: I cannot endure to waste anything precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house." Who could have said it better than Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Big E

The Big E, the largest fair in the Northeast, takes place in West Springfield, Mass and runs from September 12th through the 28th, so if you haven't been, there is still one week to go. Visit the Midway for daily parades, attend concerts, go on thrilling rides, shop at Craft Common, and so much more. And, be sure to visit my favorite, The Avenue of the States.

Each of the New England Buildings is a scaled-down version of the original State House, and you'll want to experience all the exhibits and goodies unique to each state. In the Connecticut building, don't miss "Love to Read Connecticut Authors", a book store sponsored by Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA.) If you visited last year, look for us on the opposite side of the room in a much larger space with room to browse the 115 titles representing 62 Connecticut authors.

I will be there signing my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket on Thursday, September 25th from 10-3:30 and 6-9 and would love to meet you. Sharing the booth with me from 6-9 will be Patricia Sheehy with her two novels, plus her latest book, Giving with Meaning Please stop by to say hello.

What will I be doing during my down time, from 3:30 to 6:00? Why, stuffing myself with all the great food of course ~ Maine baked potato, Vermont's fresh blueberry pie, seafood from Rhode Island ~ well, you get the idea. Oh, and I can't forget my once-a-year Creme Puff, The Big E's signature dessert found in the New England Center, plus a bag of the best kettle corn ever, popped outside the back of the one of the New England buildings. Actually, since I discovered last year that kettle corn can be frozen with no loss of flavor, make that two, to go!

For more information:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Picnic Season is Far From Over

September is a bittersweet month for me. I find it hard to flip the calendar from August to September without bemoaning the fact that the carefree days of summer seemed to fly by ~ again, and sad there were so many events I did not get to. On the other hand, September has some lovely warm days with comfortable cooling breezes, plus the state's breathtaking foliage is on this month's heels. And, best of all, both months are great for picnicking. Now, this is a happy thought.

Speaking of picnics, I recently happened upon an interesting website,, which bills itself as the "webs foremost authority on picnics and picnic planning." Check out the various topics, such as Free Picnic Table Plans, Picnic Products Guide, Picnic Baskets, Picnic Games & Ideas, and Free Cookbook.

One of the most interesting topics for me, under a heading titled Picnic Related, is Find a Picnic Area, which brings up a map listing 109 locations in America to picnic. You simply find a state and click on a flag for a pop-up of the destination. Imagine my surprise when I clicked on Connecticut and found zero destinations. I thought, how can this be, there are so many wonderful spots to picnic in this state! But, I rectified this omission when I saw an invitation to send in your favorite picnic area. And, when I checked back a short time later, there was my blurb about Gillette Castle State Park. No doubt I will send in more suggestions, and perhaps some of my readers will do the same, no matter where you live.

Most important ~ while the weather is still nice ~ get out there and PICNIC!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Check Out These Dates!

From time to time, I check Chase's Calendar of Events for special food days. If I find one for a specific food used in one of my recipes in Cruising Connecticut, I often print that recipe on the back of my bookmarks and pass them out during a book signing. Recently, I shared Loaded Oatmeal Cookies during National Pecan Month (April) and Cold Marinated Asparagus during National Asparagus Month (May).

Although the following dates have absolutely nothing to do with day tripping or picnicking or even food, they gave me a smile and I hope they give you one as well.

We missed this one, but Happiness Happens Day on August 8th, is sponsored by the Secret Society of Happy People. This is about encouraging "the expression of happiness and discouraging parade-raining." I like it!

I don't remember what I was doing on August 8th. I assume I was happy, since most days I am, but I thought, why leave it to chance, and added the date to my 2009 calendar. (I know it seems early to have next year's calendar, but I already have two Cruising Connecticut book talks scheduled.)

Coming up on September 2nd ~ are you ready for this one? Be late for Something Day. "To create a release from the stresses and strains resulting from a consistent need to be on time." I knew this was an authentic group when I went to the sponsor's website (The Procrastinators Club of America) and it said, "Click! To see our predictions for 2004."

Well now, there appears to be a little rivalry between the procrastinators' group and the non-procrastinators' group, because the very next day ~ September 3rd, is "Do it! Day (aka Fight Procrastination Day.) The sponsor of this day, a Productivity Coach says, "Feeling overwhelmed? Too many things left undone? Hard to focus? Today is your day to turn your Do Its into Did Its!"

My personal favorite? On September 9th, we can celebrate, Wonderful Weirdos Day. "All of us are blessed with one or two wonderful weirdos in our lives. These are the folks who remind us to think outside the box, to be a little more true to ourselves. Today's the day to thank them. So give them a hug, and say 'I love you, you weirdo!' "

Hmmm, I wonder if I will get a hug!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Marlborough Barn Closing

I was saddened to learn in a recent letter mailed to customers, that Marlborough Barn has closed its doors. As of this date, they are marking down prices on the entire stock of merchandise to prepare for a Retirement Sale, reopening for an invitation-only sale on August 26th, 27th & 28th and to the general public from August 29th through Labor Day.

Marlborough Barn was a natural for inclusion in the Shopping Picnic section of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket ~ the quality and variety of merchandise is unequaled, and the picturesque property, including duck pond with picnic tables makes picnicking a visual and relaxing experience.

Here is my opening chapter: "This may be a 'shopping picnic," but at Marlborough Barn it is also much more. As we wander through the Village, we discover treasures we didn't even know we wanted, oddities we have not seen anywhere else, and enough ideas to boggle the decorating mind."

On a personal note, I have been visiting this Connecticut Landmark with family and friends for as long as we can remember. For us, The Barn was always more than a destination; it was an event. One that will be missed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Picnic Recipes

Last week, I told you about my exciting picnic at Gillette Castle State Park with Kara and Scot of Better Connecticut. Since then, so many people who saw the show remarked on how beautiful the table looked, I thought this week I would share more information about the recipes.

All the recipes are from Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, but for those who do not have my book, here is how you can obtain most of them:

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies: posted on my April 12th blog.
Wild Rice and Ham Salad: presently posted on my website.
Fresh Squeezed Lemonade: recipe given below.
Fresh Fruit Kabobs: on 8" wooden skewers I threaded the following five pieces of fruit: Pineapple, strawberry, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon.
Chicken Caprese: This recipe will not be posted because it was contributed by Les Harris, a Glastonbury Chef specifically for inclusion in Cruising Ct.

One of the reasons my picnic table looked so great is that when planning a menu, I make sure color is one of the key ingredients. Of course, I want the food to be a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, but color also guarantees a variety of healthy foods.

Speaking of color, in retrospect, I thought the table could have used a little more green and wished I had gone with my first instinct of adding my Cold Marinated Asparagus to the menu. Next time!

Fresh Squeezed Lemonade
Lemonade is the ultimate hot weather drink, and this recipe finds the perfect balance between sweet and tart. There is an added step with the syrup-making process, but the result is well worth the effort.

4-6 ripe lemons ~ 1 cup water ~ 1 cup sugar

* Wash lemons. Cut in half. Squeeze lemons to make 1 cup. Depending on the lemons, you may get less juice. If necessary, adjust the water and sugar accordingly. Set aside.
* Cut half of the squeezed lemons in slices and remove rinds.
* Put water and sugar in covered saucepan. Add rinds. Bring to a boil. Remove cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
* Remove from heat and cool. Strain into pitcher. Add the lemon juice and 5 1/2 cups cold water. Stir and refrigerate.
* Servings: 6 eight-ounce glasses.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Special Picnic at Gillette Castle State Park

My daughter, Holly, and I went on a picnic recently to one of my favorite spots at this time of year, the pond at Gillette Castle State Park. And, I invited some very special people to join us ~ Kara Sutherland and Scot Haney from Better Connecticut, WFSB.

Of course, they brought a cameraman along, who taped an informal interview about my book, Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, and artfully zoomed in on the colorful picnic table. Then we dug in. The menu consisted of Chicken Caprese, Wild Rice and Ham Salad, Fresh Fruit Kabobs, Loaded Oatmeal Cookies, and Holly's Fresh Squeezed Lemonade.

All the recipes are from my book of course, although none happened to be in the suggested menu for Gillette Castle. I just sort of grabbed recipes from various day trips, which is what I usually do and have suggested my readers do as well.

What a great visit we had with Kara and Scot, and they loved the picnic. You can see the video that was shown on Better Connecticut on August 1st by going to my website, and clicking on About the Author. You will find the link at the top of the page.

Now, most of you already know that this is an amazing State Park, but you may not know about the list of fantastic Upcoming Events:

September 20th ~ Gillette Family Day with various activities, including the Essex Steam Train.
October 4th ~ Wine Tasting, Hors d'Oeurves, music, silent auction and more.
November 11th ~ Lecture on the construction of the Castle and grounds.
December 21st ~ Magic Lantern Theater with their world renown act.

Check the following website for more information:

Monday, August 4, 2008

More Vineyard News

This is a great time to visit the wineries featured in Cruising Connecticut 2nd Edition. And, don't forget your picnic basket!

A recent email from Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield brings news that the grapes are on the vines. This means of course, that they are in the midst of their busy wine-making season. Still, they have an ambitious Events Calendar, with exciting happenings almost every weekend through 2008.

Choose from a range of different wine Classes to Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Pairings, to a Vineyard Walk, Cellar Tour & Bounty Lunch. Autumn features a Harvest Festival and an exciting Harvest Rail Vineyard Express. Check it all out at

In New Preston, Hopkins Vineyard, announces a brand new wine, Lady Rose.

Their annual Harvest Festival Celebration, which takes place September 20th & 21st features Wine Tasting with Complimentary Wine Glass, Live Music, and Artisan Cheese, Pate and Fresh Fruit Sampling. Or, bring along the awesome Sandwiched Meat Loaf recipe paired with this day trip in Cruising Connecticut. *

Gouveia Vineyard in Wallingford, has live entertainment every Saturday from 4:00 to 7:00 pm.

Their awesome picnic facilities, both inside and out, include a large comfortable room that was built especially to encourage visitors to "come visit us for a spell."

Each of these vineyards consistently produce award winning wines. Check their website often for a list of wines, as well as updates on future events.

* If you do not have Cruising Connecticut send me an email and I will be happy to forward recipe. (

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Day Trip and Picnicking

I recently spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Colchester visiting both Cato Corner Farm and Priam Vineyards.

Cato Corner Farm is a small family farm with a mother-son team, who raise 40 free-range jersey cows without the use of hormones or subtherapeutic antibiotics. From the cows' raw milk, a dozen styles of aged farmhouse cheese is produced, such as: "Bridgid's Abbey," our most popular cheese...smooth, creamy, & medium mild with a rich finish; "Drunken Hooligan," rubbed in wine grapes from Priam Vineyard; and, "Fromage d'O'Cow," Hooligan's bigger brother, a wide flat wheel that is especially stinky & rich.

This was my first taste of fresh farm cheese, and it was a memorable treat. Of the several I tried, each was consistently outstanding in taste and texture.

The farm welcomes visitors for cheese tasting and purchase on Saturdays. For more information, plus directions and hours:

Close by, Priam Vineyards is a 40 acre farm with 24 acres of grapes grown free of insecticides. Their wines have won numerous International Wine Competition medals each year, including six in 2008. Tasting is on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and some holidays, from 11-5, with extended hours on select Fridays. Wine tasting, including a wine glass with logo cost $6.50.

What about picnicking? A wine patio adjacent to the barn is convenient and attractive, or consider a walk to the top of the vineyard. There, you will not only find a picnic table or spot of lawn, but a striking 35 mile view of the countryside.

It if isn't convenient or desirable to pack a picnic, no problem. Menus are available at the winery to order lunch or dinner delivered right to the wine patio. Or, on Sundays from 11-3, enjoy a Farmer's Market with fruits and vegetables grown by Priam Vineyards and local farmers, some of whom also bring baked goods.

Check it all out on their website ( by clicking on "Events & Tasting."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Potpourri of "stuff" to Share

--In my 2nd Edition of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket I added a note to the Downtown Cabaret Theatre chapter to the effect that musicals were expected to be offered only intermittently during the year.

So, I was particularly pleased to receive a mailing announcing that 42nd Street "Direct from the Tropicana in Atlantic City" will be playing from November 21st to January 4th. Personally, I am looking forward to this production and wanted to share the information with my readers.

Check their website for other scheduled shows during the coming months.

--There is a new website that showcases products grown in Connecticut. Check out for a list of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products, seafood and much more. They are all listed with easy access to the farms (including maps) where these items can be found.

I was curious about the season for broccoli, but it seemed to be the only vegetable not on the list. Although there is a "Chart of Seasonality" it wasn't coming up, so I simply telephoned the farm. I was told that broccoli should be available in a couple of weeks, which will be in time to make my Bleu Broccoli for an upcoming picnic. (If you do not have my book but would like a great new broccoli salad recipe, email me and I'll send it to you. (

The other information on this site wasn't as impressive. For example, when I clicked on Events, there was only one listed, for October 11, 2008. And the exciting Topics on this page, like Farmers' Markets, Farm Tour, Cooking Demonstrations and the like all brought up the same message, "No events. Sorry. Please choose another category." I guess because the site is new, they do not have all the information posted yet.

--Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic ( always has a lot of special activities planned. One in particular, a July 22nd trip to Garden in the Woods, home of the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, Mass. caused me to reflect on my six week Connecticut Spring Wildflower Hunt back in 1973. That adventure turned my day tripping into a passion, which in turn led to writing Cruising Connecticut. Isn't it fascinating that just one step out of our normal routine or comfort zone can lead us to the most wonderful places!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Soup is a refreshing addition to a summer picnic

I used to think soup was something you served hot on a cold winter night. That is, until I wrote Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket and asked my daughter to help me find some suitable picnic recipes to go with my day trips. Surprise, surprise, she concocted Melon Strawberry Soup and I quickly expanded my narrow concept about soup. Try it and let me know what you think.

Melon Strawberry Soup
(Courtesy of Holly McCarthy)

Soup course ~ side with salad or sandwich ~ dessert. Take your pick. This soup will remain chilled for hours so it is a practical yet delicious addition to a summer picnic menu.

1 package (12-ounce) frozen whole strawberries (will only use half)
1 large cantaloupe
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 bottle (16-ounce) lemon-lime carbonated beverage

* If strawberries are a frozen block, partially thaw, break apart and refreeze.
* Remove rinds and seeds from cantaloupe and cut into chunks. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add orange juice, lime juice, and honey. Whirl until well blended.
* Pour into a pitcher and chill for 2 or more hours. Before leaving for your picnic, cut one-half of the frozen strawberries in half and add to soup mixture. Pour into a 2-quart wide mouth thermos to transport to picnic.
* To serve, measure 3/4 cup soup into bowl and add 1/4 cup of the carbonated beverage.
*Yield: 5-6 one cup servings.

** Fun Alternatives! **
For a festive occasion, replace the carbonated beverage with champagne.
For a little more color during blueberry season, add a few to each bowl.

For those of you who already have Cruising Connecticut, don't forget about the delicious Gazpacho contributed by Chris Prosperi of the Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury (Page 24.) You'll love this one.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

National Picnic Month

July is National Picnic Month! I discovered this fact on the website,

This caused me to wonder about other special days, so I checked Chase's Calendar of Events at the library, where I found the following interesting days coming up in July. You may want to note them on your calendar:

1. July 2 is "I Forgot Day." This is a day to make up for all the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. that you forgot to acknowledge during the year. Personally, I'd be in trouble if I only had one day a year to catch up on all my "forgots."

2. July 23 is "Hot Enough For Ya Day." On this day, we are permitted to ask the following question when nothing of intelligence comes to mind: "Is it hot enough for ya?" I actually asked this question today, first because it really was hot, but also in the event it's not that hot on the 23rd, I didn't want to miss my once-a-year opportunity.

3. July 27 is "Take Your Houseplants for a Walk Day." Supposedly, if they get to know their neighborhood, it will bring on wellness. They didn't say, but I feel sure this would work for humans as well.

Well, I'm not sure about the other events, but with the July 4th weekend, school being out, the first full month of summer, etc. there will certainly be plenty of opportunities to picnic.

So, in honor of National Picnic Month, anyone ordering a book from my website ( during July will pay just $12.00 rather than the retail price of $15.95. However, you must use the online order form for this offer. Just print the form and mail with check for $12.00 (plus tax) for each book, along with appropriate shipping and handling charges. Just write "Per Blog" anywhere on the form.

Speaking of all the birthdays, anniversaries, etc., at this price, why not order an extra book for a gift. Then you won't have to worry about "I Forgot Day."

Happy Picnicking!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Check Out These Upcoming Special Events

Many of the destinations in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket offer special events during the year that should not be missed. I recently learned about the following:

June 21 from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. & June 22 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Haight-Brown Vineyard sponsors "Taste of Litchfield Hills" including "fine cuisine, upscale shopping, live entertainment, plus winery tours & tastings." I will be signing books on Sunday. Find out more at or call 860-567-4045.

July 17 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the Mark Twain House & Museum presents "Twain at Twilight" on the lower lawn. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy their picnic supper while listening to New Orleans Jazz. I will be listening as well, and signing books. Find out more about this free concert and another on June 22 at or call 860-247-0998.

July 26 from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Florence Griswold Museum takes part in the Old Lyme Midsummer Festival with the "En Plein Air" market on the grounds of the museum. Over 20 Connecticut vendors will offer fresh flowers, breads, cheeses, and specialty foods, or enjoy a prepared lunch under market umbrellas along the Lieutenant River. Find out more at (Click Upcoming Events on left; click July on right) or call 860-434-5542.

The last Sunday in June, July, August, and September, and October 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine opens its Viets Tavern for tours and skittles. In my book, I write that prison guards frequented Viets Tavern during their free time to "eat, drink, and play skittles, a game first introduced in England in the fourteenth century." At the time my book went to print, the tavern was open to visitors "occasionally." So, I was happy to learn of these specific dates. Find out more at or call 860-653-3563.

Be sure to check the above websites for costs and full description of these events. And, check the websites of the other destinations in Cruising Connecticut to learn about additional offerings throughout the year.

Have fun!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Connecticut Open House Day

What a curious day!

Having no commitments for a change, I decided to take advantage of Connecticut's annual Open House Day. Like a kid in a candy store, I poured over the 200 or so tourist attractions listed in the brochure. Many were offering reduced or free admission, complimentary product tastings, or special demonstrations.

I circled five possibilities, but as it turned out I had a few things to attend to in the morning, and with a couple of the venues having limited hours, I ended up revising my original list to just two destinations. I left home at 12:00 and drove to Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam for a free tour of the Victorian Theater, something I had been wanting to do for years. The hours listed were 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During the drive, I listened to the rebroadcast of Faith Middleton's Food Schmooze, having missed it during the week and knowing there was a call-in segment for listeners' favorite picnics. By the time I got to the parking lot, it was 1:45, and I sat in the car to finish listening. At approximately 1:03 I walked into the theater and was told they had just ended the tours. When I questioned the fact that the brochure had said 2:00 I was told the reason for the change was that today's performance time had been moved up to 3:00 and the actors would be coming in soon to get ready.

Although I was disappointed, it was a lovely day and the drive was pleasant, so I simply set off for my next destination, Rose's Berry Farm in South Glastonbury. At least the pick-your-own strawberries, plus "free snacks, beverages and wagon tours of the farm" was offered until 5:00, although really, I was only interested in picking berries. By the time I arrived, my mouth was watering for the first native strawberries of the season. But, when I arrived, I was told there was no picking after all because the berries were not quite ready.

As I headed for home, I thought, so much for the information listed in that glossy colored brochure, until I remembered the quote in my own book by John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, "What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style."

Isn't that the truth!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Yale University Art Gallery Exhibit

I recently read that Vincent Van Gogh's 1889 painting, "The Starry Night" will be on display at the Yale University Art Gallery, as will his "Cypresses", both on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The dates are June 15 through September 7.

"The Starry Night" is said to be Van Gogh's "most celebrated" and because of the anticipated popularity of this exhibit, crowds will be limited to insure that viewing will be the best experience it can be. Advanced timed ticketing is available online at

Folks who have my book, "Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket" already know that this art gallery is the oldest university art gallery in the United States, founded in 1832 with Colonel John Trumbull's gift of his paintings of the American Revolution.

AND, that all exhibits are FREE, all the time, not only at this gallery, but across the street at the Yale Center for British Art, which has the most comprehensive collection of British Art outside the United Kingdom.

What a wonderful time to visit these renowned museums. And, do take a picnic to enjoy at the lovely town Green, just one block away, either before or after your museum visit. For more information about New Haven, visit

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Books and Gift Baskets

Earlier this week, I received the ultimate compliment from a friend who called to thank me for a gift basket. He said, "I was so excited to receive a basket from the 'Martha Stewart' of picnics." That was a gift in itself! I did not put my book in this particular basket since the recipient already had a copy, although I did include items to go with the theme of my book ~ gourmet foodstuffs that could easily be carried to a picnic, or enjoyed at home.

When gifting my book, I sometimes include a small plant and a bottle of wine, preferably from one of the wineries in my book. With a supply of inexpensive baskets on hand and cloth napkins for lining the basket, I'm always ready when I need a gift basket.

Now, I do believe every book stands alone as a thoughtful gift, but when you want to give a little something more, think about placing the book in a basket and adding appropriate item or items to carry out the theme of your book.

For example, for a mystery or adventure aficionado, I might add a classic DVD of the same genre, along with a package of microwave popcorn, or for someone special, a couch throw to curl up in while reading. If I was giving a cookbook, I'd splurge on some of the new colorful utensils I've seen at the kitchen shops. And, for a children's book about the seashore, for instance, how about a small stuffed whale and some fishy crackers. Well, you get the idea!

Not in the mood to give a gift book, in a basket or otherwise? For bountiful gift giving ideas, check out "Giving with Meaning" at While there, click on Patricia's Great Gift Ideas Blog.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Celebrate the Season

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and if you are like me, you are looking forward to the first-of-the-season cookout. Many of us will invite friends and family over for a backyard barbecue while others will load up the car and head out to their favorite destination.

If it's the latter, why not visit one of Connecticut's 138 state parks and forests open to the public year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset. Rich in terrain, diverse activities, and locations around the state, they provide an opportunity to get away from concrete and blacktop for a few hours and enjoy another color of Connecticut ~ earth tones. You will come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and isn't that what a holiday is meant to do?

Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket artfully describes the fun and unique activities located at the following State Parks (seven) and one State Forest: Devil's Hopyard (East Haddam); Gillette Castle (East Haddam); Kent Falls (Kent); Hammonasset Beach (Madison); Dinosaur (Rocky Hill); Talcott Mountain (Simsbury); and Harkness Memorial (Waterford.) Also, Mohawk State Forest (Cornwall.)

All have excellent picnic facilities, including grills and picnic tables, most have hiking, many have fishing, a couple are interpretive, some are handicapped accessible, and I repeat, all have picnicking. If you don't have my book yet and want to visit this weekend, check out the particulars at

Speaking of unique, the following is a new and delicious recipe from Cruising Connecticut (P. 72) to enjoy at a state park ~ or wherever you end up. As for me, I'm still waiting to see what my daughters are cooking up!

Halibut en Papillote with Pesto (By Chef Richard Moriarty)
Richard says, "At the Center for Culinary Arts, students learn that steaming is a terrific way to prepare nutritious meals quickly. En papillote (awn-poppy-yote) is a cooking method where the food is steamed in its own juices. Parchment paper or aluminum foil is used to wrap the food in a tight package, providing a neat, quick efficient cooking medium. And here's the best part. If you use tinfoil to create your papillotes you can ook them outside on the grill. These bundles of flavor can be prepared in advance and cooked quickly at service time. Foods that are appropriate for steaming are vegetables, fish and shellfish. Halibut with pesto en papillote is an easy fix that still looks elegant, even presented in aluminum foil."

* Place 1 pound fresh halibut steak in the center of one sheet of tinfoil about 14 inches long, and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle 1 oz. dry white wine over the fish. Spread 4 tbs. pesto over the top of the fish in an even layer. Fold the long sides of the foil over the fish and seal by crimping the edges together. Then twist one end into a tight seal and bend it upward into a thin handle. Repeat with the other end. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
* Preheat the grill to hot. Place the tin foil papillote on the grill and cook until done, about 10-12 minutes. Unseal the foil and serve at once. (Serves 2)

Basil Pesto (Makes about 2 1/2 cups)
* Place 6 cloves garlic, peeled in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until garlic is minced. Add 1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and 1 cup fresh curly parsley, washed and pulse until minced. Add 3/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, rough chopped and pulse until well chopped, but not fine. Add 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and pulse until just mixed. With the processor running, add 3/4 cup Olive oil quickly and process until just mixed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
* This pesto freezes well, and can be used in many different recipes.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Display at Gillette Castle

In the 2nd Edition of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, I let my readers know about the newly restored electric engine that once pulled William Gillette's miniature train around a 3-mile course on his estate. Now displayed in a prominent place in the Welcome Center, it is a magnificent memorial that will be enjoyed by all future visitors to Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette's train has taken a fortuitous route through the years, first giving ultimate joy to Gillette and his guests, then spending many years delighting visitors to Lake Compounce. It reminds me of "The Little Engine That Could" when I think about how many visitors had the thrill of riding in Gillette's railroad as it circled the lake ~ approximately 168,000 times! I was one of those visitors. But, eventually, the train would be placed in storage to sit idle for over ten years, so it is exciting indeed, to finally see this engine back home where it belongs. And, looking so grand!

For this, we can thank the Friends of Gillette Castle State Park
( for their vision, dedication and tireless years of fundraising and research, and Ted Tine of Ted Tine Motorsports, and the many craftsmen who restored the engine to its full authenticity. It is the Friends' hope that one day they will have enough funds and support to restore Gillette's steam engine.

You can see a photo of the engine, along with photos from other destinations in my book, on my website (

Plan to visit this landmark soon ~ and don't forget to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at Grand Central Station.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Talking Books Program to produce "Cruising Connecticut"

The Greater Hartford Talking Books Program of the Connecticut Volunteer Services for the Blind & Handicapped (CVSBH) asked me for permission to record Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket.

I was thrilled to learn that my book would be available free of charge to 10,800 patrons in Connecticut who cannot hold or read printed materials. Also, that Cruising Connecticut is one of 100-125 books that will be produced this year and one of 2500 books recorded since 1974 by this organization with an all volunteer staff of 250 members.

It was especially rewarding for me to be able to read the beginning pages ~ Dedication, Acknowledgement, Introduction, and Contents. And, to learn a little about the in-depth screening each book goes through for accuracy, diction, emphasis, and clarity. CVSBH has been cited as having the highest standard of excellence of all Talking Books Programs in New England.

If you know of anyone who might benefit from this program, you should also know that all recordings are made available nationally through a listing with the Library of Congress. For more information, call 860-528-1996.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Picnic Basket (or bag, or any container used exclusively for picnicking)

In today’s busy world, even fun requires organization and planning. And, since picnics are meant to be fun and carefree, try stocking your picnic basket ahead of time, so when the opportunity comes along for a picnic, you can walk out the door with more speed and less stress.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

1. Grab your odd silverware pieces from the drawer. If necessary, supplement your supply at a tag sale or discount store. Now, wrap them in a dishtowel and put aside to pack in your picnic basket. Admit it ~ it’s much more pleasant to eat a meal with utensils other than plastic.

2. When you are shopping in the discount stores, “think Picnic” and meander over to the colorful array of unbreakable glass and dishware. What a great time to replace the paper products we normally use.

3. Start collecting food containers and insulated bags that keep food both hot and cold. A wide mouth thermos is useful for chili and soups. And, you probably have a cooler, but do you have enough large and small ice packs to fit different size containers and coolers?

4. I’ve always been partial to fabric picnic cloths. They don’t get blown away and torn like paper or plastic and we save some trees in the process. Buy a piece of fabric to match your new dishware (a large square for ground picnics and/or an oblong piece for picnic tables.) Hem the edges to size, or even easier, make a running stitch about 1” from each edge and let the kids fringe the edges. They’ll love it. (Don’t forget, when packing the picnic basket put the tablecloth on top.

5. Since the trend these days is to “go green”, how about cloth napkins. I hate hemming napkins, so I always check the sale shelves in the discount stores. I have found really nice ones for under $2.00.

Now that we have the necessary items for our picnic basket (dishes, cups, silverware, picnic cloth and napkins) let’s finish up with a few convenience items, many of which you can pull out of drawers and cabinets and not even miss:

serving spoons
paper towels (I’m not 100% green!)
Hand sanitizing wipes
Corkscrew, can and bottle opener
Bread knife/carving knife/paring knife
Cutting board
Salt and pepper
Containers/wraps for leftover food ~ but remember: when in doubt, throw it out.
Plastic bags for rubbish and dirty dishes
When applicable: Charcoal, fire starter, aluminum foil for grill, utensils, pot holder

I also like to pack the car with a blanket, and water for both drinking and washing hands. Oh, and if you decide to go for a drive with no particular picnic destination in mind, throw in a Frisbee and a ball.

Now, there is nothing left to do but schedule that picnic with family and friends. And, have some fun!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Family Picnic

"Let's Bring Back The Family Picnic" was the title of an article written by John Rosemond last year calling for a "national movement to bring back the picnic." He thought the picnic movement important enough, even if it meant taking kids out of organized after-school sports!

I love the part about the "national movement" to bring back the custom of picnicking, but I don't believe we have to take such drastic steps as giving up sports. What if we simply give more thought to the idea of picnicking as we go about our daily lives, so that we are organized and ready to go when we have a welcome break in our daily routine?

Here are some suggestions to accomplish just that:

1. "Think Picnic when you are grocery shopping for ingredients to prepare dinner. Example: If you are planning to make a meatloaf, double the ingredients and the recipe. Wrap the extra meatloaf (or one-half of the large loaf) and place in a freezer bag marked "picnic." Think of all the other meals you make where you could easily double the recipe for instant picnic meals.

2. "Think Picnic" when you are cleaning up after a meal and wondering what to do with the leftovers. Leftover roasts, sliced and frozen separately (place wax paper between the layers so you can un-thaw the exact amount you will need) will make the perfect sandwich for a picnic. Almost any food will serve as a delectable picnic at some future date, whether it is an appetizer, meat, side dish, soup, bread, or dessert. Even casseroles, if heated to a proper degree and placed in a wide-mouth thermos, can be a choice picnic item.

3. Buy foods especially for picnicking and put them away. Juice boxes and bottled water can go into the freezer until needed for the picnic. Then, place directly into your cooler. They also work well when placed in a backpack along with a sandwich. By the time you are ready for your picnic, the drink will be un-thawed and your sandwich still cold.

What if you haven't gotten around to doing any of the above, but an opportunity for a picnic comes along? Don't despair. Simply "wing it" by scrounging around the fridge and cabinets and grabbing what you can find. After all, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes great when eaten out of doors with family and friends.

The real value of the picnic is, as Rosemond says, "an opportunity for the family to tone down their daily lives, get away from it all, and just relax and enjoy one another's company." I couldn't agree more!

Next time, I will tell you how easy it is to "think Picnic" in order to get the picnic basket stocked with all the accessories, so it is ready to walk out the door with you at a moment's notice. Because, really, when you don't have to worry about finding and pulling dishes and utensils from drawers, cabinets, and closets, you are more than halfway there.

So, starting today, let's all "think Picnic."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Publishing Options

Well, it didn't take long for me to jump back into the exciting world of author, marketer, promoter, distributor, speaker, and my friend Gina would probably add, popcorn vendor and elephant sweep. When I made the decision to self-publish, I wanted to "do it all," to experience each phase of the process. It was and continues to be an amazing journey. For me! But, for folks who prefer to travel down a different path there are plenty of options.

If you have questions or concerns about the world of publishing, author Patricia Sheehy ( and I will be giving two talks on this very subject. "From Manuscript to Finished Book" will explore some of the opportunities and challenges of both traditional publishing and self-publishing. The dates and locations are:

Saturday, April 26th at 1:00, Borders Meriden
Sunday, May 18th at 4:00, Borders Farmington

Hope to see you.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Recipe for National Pecan Month

In honor of National Pecan Month, I thought I would share my recipe for "Loaded Oatmeal Cookies." This is an original recipe from Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket and one that seems to get a lot of raves. Try it and let me know what you think.

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate morsels
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
* In mixing bowl, blend butter and both sugars with electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla and mix into batter. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to creamed ingredients, mixing well. Add oatmeal, cranberries, chocolate morsels, and pecans to batter and blend.
* Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
* Bake 10-12 minutes or until set and just barely golden.
* Leave in pan for 1-2 minutes; remove to rack to finish cooling. When cool, pack in covered container to keep fresh and soft.
* Yield: About 4 dozen.

Pecan Facts: According to, research shows that in addition to cholesterol-lowering properties and heart-healthy fats, pecans contain more than 19 important vitamins and minerals. This "All American Nut", first discovered growing in North America and parts of Mexico in the 1600's is grown in 14 states and enjoyed around the world as the perfect nut. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture statistics show that over 346 million pounds of pecans were produced in the U.S. in 1999, with the majority of the world's pecan production (80%) coming from the U.S.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Springtime in Connecticut

As much as I love every minute that I spend in Florida during the cold months, I am the consummate snowbird, happily returning to my roots each spring. Family and friends welcome me, I am comforted by the familiarity of home and surroundings, and ready to plunge back into the routine and rhythm of life as author, researcher and speaker. If there is time, I will go on my traditional spring wildflower hunt to seek out the early wildflowers poking through the hard, brown earth. In late April, it is the Marsh Marigold, found near brooks and swamps, with its brighter-than-gold glint that takes my breath away, and the fragile but determined Dog's Tooth Violet that is appreciated for its lovely contrast to our still drab wooded areas. There are dozens of destinations throughout the state where you can find spring wildflowers, two of which are described in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket ~ Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury and Connecticut College Arboretum in New London.

April also begins my round of book signings and speaking engagements, with three scheduled this first week. The groups, clubs and organizations who ask me to speak are an enthusiastic audience and I love sharing information about the diverse leisure-time activities in Connecticut, the available picnicking facilities, and great recipe ideas for the occasion.

This year, as always, I have some new experiences to look forward to, including a guest appearance on Prudence Sloan's Talk of Connecticut radio show (WDRC AM 1360) and the taping of two cablevision shows. Also, for writers out there who may be struggling with the question of whether to choose the traditional route of publishing or to self-publish, I will be part of a panel of authors at three Borders Bookstores during the next two months to discuss this very question. Check out my spring schedule thus far at (About the author.)

Yes, it's good to be home.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two New Day Trips

It was a difficult decision. Which two, out of about 92 possibilities, should I add to the 2nd Edition of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket? (Release date: April 10, 2008)

I knew I wanted another winery to add to the two I already have, because the number of Connecticut wineries has grown so fast during the last few years ~ there are fifteen listed on the Wine Trail ~ I thought this category was deserving of a third day trip. Also, during my book talks around the state and sharing information about Haight-Brown Vineyard and Hopkins Vineyard, folks would ask me if I knew about this or that winery, and I was anxious to check them out. By chance, Gouveia in Wallingford happened to be first on my list. I was immediately impressed, not only because of the visual appeal, both inside and out, but by talking with Joe Gouveia. He had an interesting story to tell, and because I am a storyteller, this excited me. But, the clincher was the incredible picnic facilities; I was blown away and you will be too. Read more on Page 214 on my book.

The second new day trip is The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, a premier tourist attraction in Connecticut. I love the research part of writing a travel book, and one of my favorite categories is Historic Homes & Gardens because of the interesting characters I get to know: The Boothe Brothers, Florence Griswold, William Gillette, the Harkness Family, Henry Bowen, and now Mark Twain. Read more about this fascinating man and his home on Page 102.

And, as Twain said, "It is of no use to keep private information which you can't show off" so I will also give you a sneak preview of the fantastic recipes included with each day trip: Prudence Sloan, Radio & TV Food Show Host gives us a Spanish Tapas picnic, and a Cold Lobster Salad Roll is the creation of Adam Alderin, Chef at Max Fish, the Max Group's newest restaurant in Glastonbury. Yum!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A New Picnic Recipe

How do you define a "perfect picnic?" For me, it is the coming together of four factors: ideal weather (not too hot, not too cold, not too windy,) good company, and delicious food. Add either a stimulating activity to enjoy before or after the meal, or pleasant surroundings in which to relax while enjoying good conversation.

Such was my spring picnic on March 20th. Although it was cool and overcast earlier in the day, by the time I picked up my friends at 4:00, it was sunny and warm. Yes, weather in Florida, like Connecticut, can change in a minute.

We "cruised" over to Bayfront Park in Sarasota, situated on an island peninsula, surrounded by the Sarasota skyline, John Ringling Causeway, and the blue waters of Sarasota Bay. Within the park are two restaurants, a playground, fountains, walking paths, and of course, picnic tables. We found our ideal table near the water, highlighted by the late afternoon sun.

The picnic basket was overflowing: fried chicken, stuffed shells, caramel beans, tossed green salad, and finger desserts. One of my contributions was a new bean dish from a neighbor's 92 year-old cousin who lives in Venice. Thanks to Florence and Carl for permission to share this recipe with my readers. And, for another great picnic recipe, see Click What's in our Picnic Basket?

Margo's Caramel Beans
1 pound lima beans
1/2 pound butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar

Soak lima beans overnight in water. Pour off water. In pot, put lima beans and cover with about 2" of water. Cook until tender (45 minutes to 1 hour.) Pour off most of the water.

Add butter and brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste. (You can also add 1/2 tsp dry mustard, bacon bits, maple syrup, or more sugar.)

Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Time may vary depending on how much liquid there is. Beans should be moist but not runny.

May all your picnics be perfect! Click Comments and tell me about your favorites.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What do you do when it Rains on Your Parade?

Or, rather, what do you do when the weather does not cooperate for your outdoor picnic? The answer: If it's overcast or only a light intermittent rain is threatened, think about changing your destination to one that has picnic shelters, such as Devil's Hopyard State Park, Gillete Castle, Roseland Cottage, or one of the wineries, all described in my book. (

What if the weather keeps you indoors? In Connecticut, there were many times when the weather did a 90-degree turn in the time it took me to toss the salad prior to packing it in the cooler. When this happened, we usually just ate your picnic at the diningt room table like any other meal.

But, the most fun was when I continued to pack up the goodies, declaring we would still have our picnic and to follow me. In the living room, I spread my colorful picnic cloth on the floor, inviting everyone to take a seat around the perimeter, and proceeded to unpack the basket. By the time this ritual was finished, everyone was back in the mood for a picnic, especially since I tended to make everyone's favorite dishes. (Doesn't everyone do this for a picnic?) We played word games while we ate and soon forgot all about the weather outside. Children especially love the spontaneity and absurdity of a picnic on the living room floor.

One good thing about a home picjnic, if you forget to pack the condiments, or heaven forbid, the corkscrew (the thing I forgot most often until I bought a spare one to keep in the picnic basket) ~ they are just a few steps away.

I'll let you know if the weather cooperates for my first-day-of-spring picnic here in Florida. (Yesterday, the high winds prevented most outdoor activities.) Wherever you are, Happy Spring! At the first sign of pleasant weather, enjoy an outdoor picnic.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Greetings from Sunny Florida!

I decided to finish the last of my edits for Cruising Connecticut's 2nd Edition while vacationing in Florida. The fact that I could be outdoors during the winter months and picnic has inspired me.

Picnicking at beaches and parks is universal of course, but I found distinct differences between my home state of Connecticut and my vacation state of Florida. For example, at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center, I talk about fending off the ducks looking for a free handout; at Lido Park in Sarasota, it is the seagulls, and the squirrels, and even raccoons, whose normal nocturnal nature has been turned upside down from being fed by visitors. And, instead of the shells and stones I collect at Hammonasset Beach State Park, at Casperson Beach in Venice, I join the folks who are collecting shark's teeth.

Whatever the setting, an ideal picnic is still the same: delicious food eaten outdoors, preferably combined with good company and a fun activity. And, although I may have had a head state on the picnic season, everyone will soon be able to catch up. March 20th is the first day of spring; with its promise for new growth and new beginnings, more relaxing times and outdoor fun, it's the perfect time to dust off your picnic basket and get ready for picnicking in Connecticut.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cruising Connecticut's 2nd Edition

Welcome to my new Blog!

Readers reply on the information in travel books to be as current and accurate as possible, so I recently grabbed my picnic basket to revisit my favorite places. The result ~ the Second Edition of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket will be launched on April 10.

As I cruised around the state updating the information in my current chapters, I experienced the same sense of adventure that prompted me to write the First Edition, and somewhere along the way I made the decision to add two new day trips and picnics, each accompanied by an exciting picnic recipe contributed by a Connecticut celebrity.

Also new on my website is a slide show of over 100 photos that I took at locations in Cruising Connecticut ( plus a new page for updated information to destinations as I learn about them.

I am happy to have this new venue to share day tripping, picnicking, and recipe ideas with my readers on a regular basis. Until next time, remember that Spring is right around the corner which means spending more time outdoors. Yea!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


“You may know that Connecticut has a Clocktower Museum, but did you know we have one because two packrat brothers couldn’t stop collecting, so they started buying museums in which to house their stuff? And you may know that the state is loaded with nice little picnic spots, but did you know how to find them? Connecticut is full of such little gems, and Jan Mann has gone out to find them. Plus, she’s sweetened the pot with some quick though tasty recipes. Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

Susan Campell, Columnist, The Hartford Courant,

Author of Connecticut Curiosities.

“From the moment I park the car and step outside, I know it is going to be a memorable day. The sun is shining and the resident mocking bird greets and serenades me all the way to the Carriage House. Inside, friendly staff members are welcoming, and the Bowen’s 'company drink', pink lemonade, has been prepared for thirsty visitors."
~ Roseland Cottage

“Even during the short walk from the parking area to Heckscher Farm, we imagine we could be in Puddlyby-on-the-Marsh, the town where Doctor Dolittle’s practice became so successful after his parrot, Polynesia, taught him animal language. It is fascinating to watch the interaction between visitors and the animals and, yes, the animals do talk back.”
~ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

“One hour after game time—I finished my research almost one hour ago and want to go home. I am still looking for my car. That “Tips from Tailgaters” suggestion on Joe’s website, the one about tying a helium-filled balloon to the antenna—it’s a good one.”
~ Football tailgating Party

“After lunch, the ambience of this country setting causes us to linger—but not for long. There is more shopping to do!”
~ Marlborough Barn

“No one else is outside on this September weekday afternoon, and only the unpacking of our picnic basket and the melodious river flowing amidst the rocks interrupts the quiet.”
~ Brookfield Craft Center

“The first picnic option is next to a large pond to the immediate left after entering the park. On this day in mid-summer, it is covered almost entirely by variegated shades of pink, fuchsia, and white water lilies, and on closer inspection we see a frog hopping from one green lily pad to another. Really!”
~ Gillette Castle

What are some of the things you carry in your picnic basket? Jan Mann