Monday, August 23, 2010

Q&A's From My Book Talks About Connecticut Attractions

For the past five years I have had the privilege of traveling around the State talking to folks at libraries, garden clubs, civic organizations, church groups, newcomers clubs, and book stores about the great destinations for day tripping and picnicking in this state. During some 180 appearances I been asked many questions, a few of which are posted here along with my answers.

Q. What is your favorite day trip?
A. It would be impossible to pick just one, plus the favorites sometimes vary from visit to visit. But I'll tell you about some of my personal favorites in each season: In the Fall,the wineries,and it’s also a great time of year to hike up to Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park. Plus every year, on a weekend day closest to October 15, I take my annual fall foliage day trip to Kent Falls in Kent, Cornwall Covered Bridge in West Cornwall, and Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, the latter to marvel at the beautiful foliage on the banks of Lake Waramaug; in the winter, Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, and especially during the holidays when they are decorated, Gillette Castle and Mark Twain House; in the Spring, Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury and Connecticut College Arboretum in New London for spring wildflower hunts and almost any place in Mystic; and in the summer, Main Street, Essex, and any place in or near the water, one of my favorites being the Thimble Island Cruise in Branford.

Q. What is your favorite place to picnic?
A. My favorite picnic is always the one enjoyed at the same location as my day trip/activity, but if I take the activity out of the equation, in the summer it’s the pond at Gillette Castle State Park (on the left before you drive up the hill to the Castle parking area) filled with pink, white and fuchsia water lilies. I like picnicking at the Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park at any time of year for the diverse areas available at the top of the mountain, all with great views, and Gouveia Vineyard in Wallingford because of the option of picnicking outside in the nice weather or in a comfortable room inside when the weather is questionable.

Q. After scouring the state day tripping for so many years, you must know about everything that is available?
A. Even I find it hard to believe, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface. There are numerous state parks that I have never visited, all with their own unique points of interest, historic homes I will probably never get to, hiking and biking trails, museums, and new wineries seem to be springing up faster than I can count.

Q. Was it hard to decide which places to write about.
A. Yes, I struggled with this decision, but I wanted diversity, not only in activities, but in locations throughout the state. This meant I had to leave out some great places because they were too close to another destination. Others did not have a suitable place to picnic. And, still others went out of business or changed drastically between the time of my research and years later when I finally got around to publishing my book.

Q. How did you decide on the recipes?
A. First, I designed a suggested menu for each day trip that suited both the activity and the picnicking facilities. For example, my picnic basket looks very different when I am visiting a state park with picnic tables and grills than when I am taking a walking tour of Hartford and stop for a light lunch on a park bench. Then, I found or designed recipes that covered all the food categories, because I wanted them to be enjoyed at home as well as on picnics.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Picnics Japanese style

Today, I am happy to welcome a guest blogger, Alexis Bonari, who shares with us the charming customs of picnicking Japanese style. Thank you Alexis!

Picnics Japanese Style

If anyone enjoys a good picnic more than Americans and the French, it would be the Japanese. Many of their traditional holidays incorporate picnics into the festivity plans. If you ever need an excuse to have a picnic, here are a few Japanese picnic traditions to savor:

Moon Viewing Festival (O-tsukimi):
The moon is believed to be the most beautiful it will be all year on O-tsukimi. Therefore, the people of Japan arrange nighttime picnics to view the moon and the fireflies that are abundant at this time of the year.

O-tsukimi is celebrated on August 15th of the Japanese Lunar Calendar. Because the dates of the lunar calendar change from year to year, the actual date to celebrate O-tsukimi usually occurs in September or October of the standard calendar. Derived from an equivalent Chinese holiday over 1000 years ago, the traditions associated with O-tsukmi have long since taken on a completely unique, Japanese set of characteristics.

Foods are prepared to represent the moon. Dumplings and satiomo (taro potatoes) are served to guests. These are also offered on an altar to the moon. Other important foods are pumpkin and chestnuts. Food is eaten outside on the grass or just inside the doors of a teahouse.

Cherry Blossom Viewing (Hanami):
The end of March and the beginning of April mark the beginning of Hanami, cherry blossom viewing time. During this popular holiday, Japanese take time out to sit under the cherry trees and indulge in a picnic. Walkways between the trees are illuminated by torches, allowing the picnic festivities to continue into the night.

Traditional picnic foods are prepared at home and brought to the gathering in bento boxes. (These are wooden or lacquered boxes with partitions in them for different varieties of food.) Foods commonly brought to a Hanami celebration include: fish cakes with pink designs, spring herb dumplings, grilled fish, simmered spring vegetables, and other artfully arranged delicacies (

Japan has a long cultural history of celebrating nature. It is therefore no surprise that outdoor eating holds a special place in their festive traditions.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online education. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.