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!