Friday, December 9, 2011

Enjoy the Holiday Season

The newspapers and magazines are chock-full of things to do in Connecticut during the holiday season and I'd like to join with all the other revelers out there and share some of my own favorites:

Florence Griswold Museum: "The Magic of Christmas, A Holiday Tradition."
Gillette Castle: The castle has been transformed to reflect "The Nutcracker Suite." www/ct/gov/dep/site. Click Outdoor Recreation. Click State Parks & Forests.
Mark Twain House & Museum: Variety of Christmas functions are being offered.
Mystic Seaport: Check out the popular "Annual Lantern Light Tours."
Mystic Aquarium: "Breakfast with Santa" and "Winter Waterland."
Connecticut Trolley Museum: "Winterfest."
Stamford Museum & Nature Center: Various Christmas exhibits and displays.

In addition, many of Connecticut's vineyards have organized special events and extended hours for the holidays: A sampling worth checking out:
Gouveia Vineyard (
Haight-Brown Vineyard (
Hopkins Vineyard (

For complete information on these destinations and others, check out the special price of $8.00 (half off retail) for Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket purchased during the holiday season. And, remember, a personalized and autographed book is the perfect holiday gift for all your favorite people.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Football Tailgating Recipe

In 2006 when I was doing research for a Football Tailgating Party Chapter for Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, I was lucky enough to discover the website of Joe Cahn, the Commissioner of Tailgating. He says, “Tailgating is the last great American neighborhood, the tailgating neighborhood, where no one locks their doors, everyone is happy to see you and all are together sharing fun, food and football.”

Joe not only granted me a telephone interview (he lives in New Orleans) but generously shared his recipe for the Jambalaya he brings with him as he travels to football stadiums across the country. Oh, along with the pot of Jambalaya, he also brings his cat “and navigator” Sophie and a 40-foot motor coach. What fun.

For all the football tailgating fans as well as the couch potato football fans, I am happy to share Joe’s recipe:

Joe’s Jambalaya

“This is my favorite recipe because you can put just about anything in it. If it walks, crawls, swims or flies, it can be thrown into Jambalaya. Everything goes into one pot so clean-up’s a breeze.”

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt and ground black pepper
1-1/2 lbs. Sausage cut in 1/4 inch slices
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
5 cups chicken stock or water flavored with chicken bouillon
1 tbs. minced garlic
4 cups long grain rice
2 tbsp. Kitchen Bouquet (browning agent)
2 tbsp. seasoning salt
2 cups chopped green onions

•Season chicken with salt and pepper; brown in hot oil in 8 quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium high heat.
•Add sausage; cook 5 to 7 minutes.
•Remove chicken and sausage from pan; set aside.
•Add onions, celery, green peppers and garlic; cook, stirring 7—10 minutes or until vegetables begin to wilt.
•Stir in chicken stock, reserved chicken and sausage, seasoning salt and Kitchen Bouquet. Bring to a boil.
•Add rice and return to a boil.
•Cover and reduce heat to simmer.
•Cook 10 minutes; remove cover and quickly turn rice from top to bottom completely.
•Replace cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
•Stir in green onions.
•Serves 12-15.

For brown jambalaya, add 1 heaping tbsp. brown sugar to hot oil and caramelize, or make a roux, or use Kitchen Bouquet. For red jambalaya, add approximately 1/4 cup paprika or use 1/2 stock and 1/2 tomato juice or V-8 for your liquid. For seafood jambalaya, add cooked seafood when rice is cooked.
If using an electric stove, reduce cooking time by 3-4 minutes.

Four Tips:
•Use 1 cup of rice for every 2 cups of vegetables (onion, celery, bell pepper)
•Use 1-1/4 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of uncooked rice
•1 cup of uncooked rice will make 3 cups of cooked rice, season accordingly
•Cook jambalaya for a total of 25 to 30 minutes, stirring well after 10 minutes

Happy Tailgating and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Connecticut Fall Foliage Day Trip

According to the Fall Foliage Experts there is still time to enjoy Connecticut’s changing color. Last Sunday I drove to Keene, New Hampshire in place of my usual foliage trip where I had a wonderful afternoon and a visit with someone special. However, if you haven’t had an opportunity to view the spectacular color yet, try my favorite Connecticut day trip. These destinations are all located in Litchfield County, and have great picnicking facilities.

Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston ~ At the big red barn you can have a wine tasting, find some terrific gifts for yourself or others, and sit upstairs at the Hayloft Wine Bar for a glass of wine and a cheese and fruit platter white savoring the view from the window. Outside, look down the hill and across Lake Waramaug and marvel at one of the best foliage sights in the state. Picnic at a table outside the winery.

Kent Falls in Kent ~ the parking lot is conveniently located right off the main road. Walk through a covered bridge, then cross the meadow to the foot of falls that plunge approximately seventy feet in a dramatic cascade. Make the one-quarter mile climb to the top with vantage points along the way. Have a game of Frisbee in the adjacent meadow. Picnic at a table near the falls. Click Outdoor Recreation; click State Parks & Forests; click Find a Park.

Cornwall Covered Bridge in West Cornwall ~ located just seven miles North from Kent Falls on Route 7. Drive through the 173-foot long bridge which has been in continuous operation since 1864, park the car on the other side and walk through the bridge and back again, peeking out the window openings on each side for postcard views of the Housatonic River. Who knows what you might see. Picnic at tables or on the ground while watching the river activity.

Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall ~ Drive up the 1,683-foot mountain, less than 4 miles. Enjoy great foliage during the drive, but expect to be wowed at the top with a panoramic view including Mount Greylock to the North, and the Catskill Mountains to the West. Picnic at tables at the top or at pullout areas on the way up or down. (See website under Kent Falls)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Special for lovers of books, day trips, picnics or recipes

Those of you who are a regular visitor to my blog know that I love to talk about all the great leisure-time activities there are available in Connecticut. You may even know that I am nearing the 200 mark for book talks to libraries, civic groups, women's and men's clubs, newcomers and garden clubs, PTO's, and other organizations.

On Thursday, September 22nd at 7:00 pm. I will be speaking at the Windsor Library, 323 Broad Street, Windsor, Connecticut.

My talk will focus on stories about my years of scouring the state looking for the best day trips and picnic areas and the menus and recipes that are customized for each trip. They are all in my book Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, which on this evening only is available at a great discount.

Since this presentation will be filmed by Win TV, a local television station, I hope to have a packed house for the event. Therefore, anyone who hands me a piece of paper with the words "Special Blog price" may purchase a book or books at half price, which is $8.00 including tax. The rest of the audience will get the usual direct purchase discount of $15.00 including tax. (The retail price is $15.95 plus tax.)

Please come if you live in the area. I would love to meet you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Recipe for Labor Day Parties

Labor Day Weekend originated as a way to honor the everyday working people, and I guess it still does so today. After all, we have a three-day weekend, a last hurrah for the end of one season and the start of another. What will you do to celebrate? If you fall into the majority, at some point during the weekend you will have a cookout or a picnic.

Here is one recipe that is fun to make and easy to serve for an at-home picnic but with a little planning can be prepared ahead, carried to your picnic in a cooler and assembled at the picnic site. Either way, it’s sure to wow anyone who gazes upon its colorful bounty. Oh, and it’s tasty too!!

Jan's Antipasto Platter (taken from Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket)

I start with a 24X16 inch platter, although any size will do depending on the number of people you plan to serve. Here is what I place on the platter:

First, the bottom is spread with lettuce leaves (I use Boston lettuce because the leaves are flat.) Then, I take one each of a green, orange, and yellow whole pepper, carefully shaving off the bottom if necessary to keep them standing straight, then hollow out the inside and arrange in opposite corners and middle of tray. They hold carrot sticks, burgundy olives and stuffed green olives. In the opposite corners of the tray I place two short ice cream dishes, one holding cherry tomatoes and the other, marinated mushroom caps. Somewhere in the middle of the tray sits a pile of sweet roasted red peppers and a tiny fork.

Now that the color palate is complete it is time to think about heartier fare. This is where the rolling, stabbing, stacking and threading begins, followed by the creative placement of each item in between the peppers and bowls.

First, one pound of ham and one pound of Swiss cheese are rolled up together, slice by slice, the ham on the outside and the cheese on the inside, held together with toothpicks. Each one in cut in half or thirds. A pound of hard salami is simply folded over, piece by piece, piled in two stacks and fanned out. Next, a stick of pepperoni is sliced into one-quarter to one-half inch slices, and a block of cheddar cheese is cut into cubes. Then they are threaded on colored plastic picks, first a pepperoni slice, then a cube of cheddar cheese, then another pepperoni. When I get tired of threading, I simply scatter the rest around to fill up empty spaces. Cheese twists (mozzarella and soft cheddar) are partially separated at the top pulling each of the three or four pieces down about 2 inches to form a curly top. These are placed in two separate piles on the tray, although I decide they would also look smashing standing up in something.

Finally, I add springs of fresh parsley here and there and a clear container of colorful plastic toothpicks.

This Antipasto Platter can be modified in dozens of exciting ways. Just have fun with it but don’t forget, it’s not only about filling up the platter with favorite foods, it’s also about the presentation. For your platter to be the attention-grabber it longs to be, there needs to be a variety of shapes and lots and lots of color.

Happy Labor Day.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Connecticut Picnics are a Breath of Fresh Air

What is it about eating in the fresh air that makes everything taste better? Maybe it’s just being outside that expands our view from the confinement of the dining room table and four walls. Our senses are suddenly heightened with the stimulating sights and sounds of our environment.

Picture picnicking on a bank watching the river and the boats glide along in perfect harmony, by a pond with frogs hopping from one water lily pad to another, on a rock at the foot of a waterfall, or on a patch of grass looking out at Long Island sound. What about picnicking at a park bench overlooking a flower garden, or a wide expansive green lawn watching your youngsters in a playground just a few feet away.

If you live in the country you might want a different kind of stimulation. Try a city tour where people are coming and going, fountains and traffic are flowing and everyone is busy except you. You are picnicking. Suppose you want some physical stimulation before your picnic. Choose a picnic table in the middle of the Air Line bike trail or in a state park after a refreshing hike, tubing on the river, or an invigorating climb to the top of a waterfall or a mountain. If you are the touring type, choose to picnic at an attraction that focuses on authors, dinosaurs, trolleys, Indian Studies, or animals.

Wine enthusiasts can picnic at a variety of vineyards, history buffs may choose the Mystic Seaport while shoppers will head to Mistick Village or Main Street, Essex.

For both history and architectural buffs, there are any number of fascinating homes to visit, all with a variety of picnicking options, from a park bench to a spot of lawn to the proverbial picnic table. None of the facilities are an afterthought, but have been designed to fit into and be an essential part of the total experience.

All these places and more are found in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket however, you don’t need a book to find your way to a picnic adventure. In fact, there are few places in Connecticut that do not allow picnicking, and if you run across one, simply enjoy the experience and then have a tailgating picnic in the parking lot, or drive on to find a spot by the side of a country road.

Why not share your picnic pleasures with other readers. Simply comment on this blog or email me at and I’ll post your suggestions in a future blog.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Holiday Picnicking

I guess it is no surprise that July 4th is the single most popular day of the year to picnic. And, I imagine there are as many unique places to picnic and menu items as there are picnickers.

Check out an interesting article on this topic a friend discovered on the web. It's from and the subtitle is: “In a boat, in the nude, with cold chicken, warm bananas, McKnightley or Mole…” I bet that got your attention! Simply google the title, 10 Best Literary Picnics.

Now, both my planned picnic destination and menu for the 4th seem especially traditional. I will be at the home of a family member and the menu will most likely consist of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, salads and other sides including the mandatory Shady Glen Cole slaw, chips, and of course something decadent for dessert. One thing is certain: it will be both simple and casual. Since there have been a fair amount of family functions recently everyone is looking forward to a low-key, relaxing day.

I hope that wherever you picnic this weekend and whatever you decide to pack in your picnic basket, the day will be filled with joy and meaning.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Enjoy a Concert and Picnic on the Lawn at Goodspeed Opera House

This suggestion came from a member of the audience at Newington Library where I spoke last week about day tripping and picnicking in Connecticut. It was a welcome reminder about a favorite destination of mine, one that I had wanted to add to my day tripping and picnicking book, well, at least the picnicking part.

My idea was to include attending a play at Goodspeed Opera House under my category of Arts, Music & Theater with picnicking on the property before the performance. The only reason it did not make the cut was because I already had two chapters in East Haddam: Gillette Castle (Historic Homes & Gardens) and Devil’s Hopyard State Park (Fall Fun & Foliage) and I needed to find venues in other parts of the state.

Music on the River, sponsored by the East Haddam Parks & Recreation, presents a series of free concerts on the lawn at Goodspeed Opera House on Monday evenings from 6:30-8:30. Food and drink may be purchased at the Gelston House next door or bring a picnic dinner. Parking is available at Goodspeed parking lot behind the Gelston House. Check out this year’s lineup of talented groups and performers at

There are so many places in Connecticut like the venue above where we can enjoy a leisure-time activity and a picnic right at the same location. What is your interest? Whether it is hiking, biking, theater, water fun, boating, wineries, visiting historic homes and gardens, or even shopping, there is a destination that is perfect for you. Need suggestions? Let me know what you enjoy doing and I’ll give you some great ideas for getting out and enjoying the season.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy May Day

I hope wherever you are this first day of May has a spring-like quality to it.

Speaking of “days”, reports that the 2nd week in May is Wildflower Week. I love it, since at least in the East where I live, this is the height of the wildflower season.

Many years ago, I decided to go on a Wildflower Hunt. In a period of 6 weeks (from the last week in April through the first week in June) I visited over 20 Connecticut State Parks, Preserves and Nature Centers searching for the elusive and mysterious wildflower. And, it was during this 2nd week in May that I found the most wildflowers, all on a one-half mile trail. The surprising number of 35 was thanks to the two friends who accompanied me, along with their three wildflower guidebooks.

This amazing place is The Botany Trail at Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust in Woodbury, Connecticut. Here is what I say about the Botany Trail in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket:

“This hunt also appeals to novices in the group. In fact, anyone who enjoys a spring walk will savor every step along the one-half mile woodland trail interspersed with a pond, streams, and open meadow. Wildflowers are everywhere, from the common phlox and violets adorning the edge of the trail to the pink lady slippers hiding in thickly-wooded areas and wild columbine flourishing near shaded rocks. Indeed, at every turn there is startling evidence of both the bounty and beauty of this nature center. My personal favorite is a cluster of painted trillium, the tip of each perfect white petal delicately brushed with a palette of pale pinks. What an exquisite contrast to the monochromatic woods and stone fence sharing this space.”

Another favorite of mine is Connecticut College Arboretum Native Plant Collection in New London, Connecticut, for two reasons. First, the variety is large but the hunt is easy due to the identification markers along the boardwalk trail, and second, because the 25-acre collection of trees and shrubs in addition to wildflowers makes this a destination suitable for all seasons. By the way, May 16th is Love a Tree Day and I can’t think of a better place to find a tree to hug.

Although I didn’t have any youngsters with me I have often thought this would be a wonderful way to introduce them to wildflowers. They will love getting into the "hunt” using a color-coordinated wildflower identification book to identify a blossom they found. This is a fun, no-cost outing that parents and children can enjoy together.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Picnic Baskets and Other Things Tied Onto Car Roofs

Some friends and I were chatting about picnicking and the best containers for transporting food and incidentals.I told them for me, A PICNIC BASKET is a must. I’ve had the same rattan basket for years and it is always ready with all the picnic necessities: plates, cups, silverware and assorted serving spoons, napkins, tablecloth, placemats, small cheese board, sharp knife, can opener and corkscrew.

Why a picnic basket? Not only do I like the romantic notion of a picnic basket, I feel that a picnic is the grandest of occasions and a basket simply takes this role more seriously than any other container. The simple act of lifting my picnic basket out of the closet fills me with excitement and anticipation for what is to come.

However, everyone agreed that a picnic basket alone is not adequate for most picnics. We all have a variety of great canvas bags that hold picnic foods pulled out of the cupboard: potato chips, crackers, paper towels and a can of anything. And, of course a cooler is almost always a must. Yet, for the simplest of picnics, just one of the above containers will often do just fine, especially if we are alone or with one other person, and the destination is close by.

Someone asked where I got the idea of a picnic basket tied onto the roof of the car for the cover of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket. It started with the memory of a 40-year old adventure.

Back in 1972, my husband and I and three daughters, ages 14, 12 and 5 were planning a trip to Southampton, England to visit relatives and impulsively decided to add on a 4-week camping vacation in Europe, traveling through 7 countries. We boarded a ferry in Southampton with all our rented equipment and when we docked in Le Havre, France my husband left us and our “stuff” waiting on the boat while he found a car rental. He came back with the biggest car they had, a 2-door Simca. While we all managed to squeeze our bodies into this doll-size car without a trunk, there was no room for anything else. So, we found some rope and tied everything to the top of the car.

These items included: 1 tent, 2 cots, 5 sleeping bags, camp light, camp stove, folding table and four chairs, place settings, dishpan and various products for washing dishes. Oh, and of course, 5 pieces of luggage. What a sight. Our belongings towered higher than the body of the car!

If there was one tiny plus, it was when we reached the various borders, we were never asked to remove our assorted paraphernalia from the roof for inspection. In fact, we hardly ever stopped the car. When the guards saw us coming they waved us right through.

When I was thinking about ideas for the cover of my book, the image of traveling through Europe with that bizarre-looking car somehow popped into my consciousness and I immediately knew I would use an oversized picnic basket tied to the roof of a car as a starting point. And with the help of a good design team the idea just developed into a fun and whimsical cover that, after five years, still makes me chuckle.

These days, as work on my second book continues I sometimes pause to wonder if I will be lucky enough to get the same kind of inspiration for my new cover.

Need some inspiration to plan your first picnic of the season? Just lift that Picnic Basket out of the closet and watch what happens!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1 is Plan a Solo Vacation Day

“Wanderlust stirrings? Tired of waiting for friends’ timetables to coincide with yours? This is the day to follow the lead of 34.8 million U.S. adults who have taken a vacation by themselves in the past three years. Spend the day checking out all the opportunities for Solo Travel.”

When I ran across this day in Chase’s Book of Days I knew I had to share this idea with as many people as possible and to wholeheartedly endorse the idea of solo travel.

My first solo trip was neither because of wanderlust, although I’ve had this yearning for as long as I can remember, nor was it because I got tired of waiting for friends’ timetables to coincide with mine, although a couple of my later solo trips were for this reason. My first solo trip was a weekend away in a nearby state simply because I desperately needed a break from the strain of work, school and family responsibilities. So, leaving my husband in charge of the house and kids, I impulsively gave myself the gift of some much needed R&R. This was the just the beginning of an amazing adventure over the past thirty years.

Some of my solo trips have been to far-off places and others right in my own home state. The latest, a year and a half ago, was a drive through ten western states visiting ten national parks, and the experiences on this trip have prompted me to write my second book which will be published next year. But, the place isn’t important.

Neither is the reason. There are probably as many reasons to go solo as there are places to go. Go solo for the luxury of having complete control over your vacation, planning the exact trip that will rejuvenate and refresh your body and your spirit, for the opportunity of taking on an exciting new challenge, of doing something entirely different and even slightly out-of-character. Go to tune into your deepest desires and to find another side of your wonderful self.

The benefits will be to expand your world and to arrive home feeling strong and renewed, full of confidence and self-empowerment and with the satisfaction of having a deeper connection with everything and everyone around you.

So, use this day to start planning that solo trip you’ve been thinking about taking, or merely to think about the possibilities. Then check out the sponsors of Plan a Solo Vacation Day. Their website is a “clearinghouse of information” in all areas of single travel with many resources for you to start thinking about and planning either your first or your 15th solo vacation.

Still feeling hesitant about taking that first step? Pick up a copy of Gina Greenlee’s book, Postcards and Pearls, Life Lessons for Solo Moments on the Road where you will find inspiration and ideas for how to begin an amazing journey, both in the world and within the most important person in the world, YOU!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter is Not Just for Shoveling!

I may be wintering in Florida, but my heart is back in Connecticut with friends and family who are trying to cope with the mountains of snow and sending me photos so I can see what I am missing! Oh, and waiting for the next storm.

Thinking back to a lifetime of winters in Connecticut I realized the times I actually enjoyed this season as opposed to merely tolerating it was when I was outside participating in a sport or activity: hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, building a snow fort or a snowman, having a snowball fight, ice skating (with those big, inviting bonfires!)

If you are experiencing cabin fever at this point why not plan a winter picnic. And, just so you won’t think I have lost my mind I did an online search to see if I could find some like-minded individuals. It turns out there are plenty of folks getting outdoors for some good old-fashioned fun.

Check these out: In search bar type in: “A Chef’s Incredible Winter Picnic” and read how chef Ken Oringer combines his yearly tradition of cutting down a Christmas Tree with a tailgating party. Of course, you don’t want to wait until next December ~ simply replace that activity with another. He also shares some tempting recipes. In search bar type in: “Planning a Winter Picnic.” This article by J.E. Davidson prompted one reader to respond by recalling that when they were children they went cross-country skiing in a state park with finger sandwiches packed in backpacks and when they came to a picnic table they just brushed the snow off and sat down to eat. He ended with “It was sooo cool!” Sometimes as adults we forget how much joy children get from the simplest pleasures. This article by Aimee is a great resource for enjoying winter and picnicking with kids. Includes Picnic Ideas for both Romantic and Family picnics. Click on “What’s In Your Picnic Basket” to access my hot spiced cider recipe to help keep the chill away.

Hopefully these sites will inspire you to lift out your insulated containers and your warmest socks and mittens and on the first free day that the temperature reaches an acceptable level, get outside and enjoy a winter picnic. You’ll never feel the same way about winter again.