Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Historic Homes in Connecticut Ready for the Holidays

Only three weeks until Christmas, and still so much to do: presents to buy and wrap, cards to be written and mailed, a holiday menu to plan and social dates to get on the calendar. A day trip might be the furthest thing from your mind. On the other hand, if you looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit and discover new ways to celebrate the season, consider visiting one of the following Connecticut Historic Homes.

Following are just some of the festivities; visit each website to get all the exciting details.

William Gillette, also known as Sherlock Homes, built Gillette Castle in East Haddam in 1914. Tour this ingenious masterpiece, complete with Holiday Decorations on weekends in December: 8&9 and 15&16 from 10-4. www.ct.gov/dep/site. Click Outdoor Recreation; click State Parks & Forests; Click Select a State Park or Forest.

Florence Griswold House & Museum in Old Lyme continues its holiday tradition of the Magic of Christmas. Enjoy teas, performers, decorations, shopping, and hands-on fun for families. In the main house, see how families celebrated Xmas in 1910. In fact, Florence Griswold celebrated her 60th birthday on Christmas of that year. In the museum check out the 12-foot Artist Tree, back for its 9th year with over 130 painted palettes by artists from across the Country. www.flogris.org.

The Mark Twain House & Museum along with Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford will present the sights and sounds of a Victorian Holiday Celebration at Nook Farm. Enjoy a guided tour of both homes to see how the families decorated for the holidays in the late 1800's. www.marktwainhouse.org.

Visit this blog again soon for more ideas for holiday day trips, all from my book Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket 3rd Edition.

Also, check out my website for two specials. www.cruisingconnecticut.com.

1. On my "What's in our Picnic Basket" page there is a free recipe from my book. Crab and Crackers is a good appetizer for any occasion, but if are looking for something new and special for the holidays, this is it.

2. On my Order page, check out my special "gift book" price. Two books for less than the cost of one. This is a limited offer so don't miss out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Good Weekend For Daytripping

Thanksgiving not only means turkey and apple pie, but many of us also get to enjoy a long weekend and the joy of company. Why not take yourselves and/or your visitors on a Connecticut daytrip.

Following are a list of daytrips from Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket that have special  activities going on this weekend:

1. Haight-Brown Vineyard, Litchfield is hosting a wine, cheese and chocolate pairing class on Saturday, November 24. www.haightvineyards.com
2. Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford will host Hal Holbrook on Sunday, November 25th. www.marktwainhouse.org
3. Mystic Aquarium will show The Polar Express 4-D Experience Premium on Friday, November 23. www.mysticaquarium.org
4. Mystic Seaport has Field Days on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, November 24. www.mysticseaport.org
5. Olde Mistick Village will host Santa and Mrs. Claus on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, November 24 from 12-3. Also, the Festive Brass on Friday, November 23 at 2:00. www.oldemistickvillage.com

Whatever you do on this holiday weekend, enjoy!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What a Beautiful Weekend For a Picnic OR Apple Picking

I hope you all had an opportunity this weekend to enjoy your favorite outdoor activity.

Saturday afternoon I met some family members at Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford for an outdoor picnic. It must have been the sunshine, along with the 70 plus degree temperature, because everyone else in the world had the same idea. Dozens of tables and chairs on the huge side lawn were already occupied at 2:00, as were the tables on the patio on the opposite side. We did find one small empty table by the front door which a willing worker, Larry, helped me move to the front yard so there would be more room for our group. And, he came back shortly after with another table and several more chairs. This was probably my last picnic of the season and it couldn't have been more perfect.

Sunday was another gorgeous day, which I figured would be my last opportunity for a fall foliage excursion. Unfortunately I had some paperwork to do and couldn't get out, but I kind of went vicariously with my daughter and son-in-law. They decided to day trip to some of my favorite places: Litchfield, Kent Falls State Park in Kent, Cornwall Covered Bridge in West Cornwall, and to the top of the mountain in Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall. They shared their findings, such as the tower at Mohawk State Forest is gone.

One of their favorite parts of the day was driving on all the country roads, reporting that while the foliage was just a bit past its peak, "it was pretty darn good." So, there is still time folks.

Have you been apple picking yet? I know Lyman Orchards in Middlefield has a good supply of apples for picking and I'm sure there are other places still picking throughout the state. But, they won't last much longer. Whether you pick your own apples or buy them, don't let the season go by without making my favorite apple cake. This one is taken from my book Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket 3rd Edition.

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

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
* 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 applies 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.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Visit the Big E For the Ultimate Picnic

Those of you who have read my blog in the past know that I love picnicking, which is simply enjoying a meal outside, either from your own picnic basket or someone else's. In this case, you don't even need a picnic basket. Just an appetite and some cash will buy you scrumptious foods from around the world, all of which can be enjoyed at the biggest fair in the northeast.

The Big E at the Eastern States Fairgrounds in West Springfield, Mass runs from September 14th to September 30; seventeen days to visit dozens of concession stands. And, don't forget about the Avenue of the States where you can sample the best foods each state has to offer. Then, simply step outside with your tasty treasure and enjoy your picnic.

The Maine Building: giant baked potatoes served with an array of toppings
The Vermont Building: for the best maple syrup and cheese
The New Hampshire Building: for fresh baked pies
The Rhode Island Building: for seafood
The Massachusetts Building: for chowda and lobster rolls
The Connecticut Building: for fried dough and on the outside Rosco's hot dogs and steamed hamburgers

And, of course, the famous Big E Cream Puff at the New England Center is a must. I've never tasted better.

Don't miss this yearly tradition of not only the best fair foods, but also gifts from around the world, daily parades, exhibits, rides, top name performers, Storrowton Village Museum, the Super Circus and more.

If you happen to visit on Thursday, September 27th, stop into the CAPA bookstore in the Connecticut Building between 10-1. I'll be there with other local authors to sign our books. As a matter of fact, during each of the 17 days you will not only find the best books on every genre right there, but authors signing and personalizing them for your favorite gift recipient.

I'd love to say hello, and hear about your favorite picnic foods.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Passion Took me to Some of my Favorite Places

Last week, I talked about my original passion sprouting branches and guiding me to other pursuits. However, my main passion, day tripping and picnicking, like the mighty oak, has grown so strong through the years, it still has the power to bring me great joy whenever I get back to it.

In early June, before the weather got really hot, a friend and I hiked the one and one-quarter miles up to the Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury.  Interesting how the trail gets steeper as I get older! But, it was invigorating. I dropped some of my books off at the bookstore, then climbed the stairs to view the dining room and Gilbert Heublein's bedroom, both renovated in recent years to resemble the way they looked in the early 1900s. After a light lunch at one of the picnic tables we walked around the outside admiring the flora and fauna before heading back. A great afternoon.

Twice this year, I took visitors on the Thimble Islands Cruise in the Stony Creek Section of Branford. Both times, it was a beautiful day for the 45-minute narrative boat tour through the interesting islands. The unique dwellings never fail to amuse me. On one island sits a 27-room Tudor Mansion with miniature golf course, swimming pool, gardener's cottage and other amenities, including - why not? palm trees. And, then there is the island with one small room on stilts.

Both times, we simply parked and waited for the next available tour. Once it was the Sea Mist and the other, Volsunga IV. Both were fun and informative. At the town beach which is adjacent to the dock and where I suggest picnicking, I found something new - a cement slab with several picnic tables. Nice.

Although it had not been planned, on the way home after both visits, we ended up on Main Street Essex. We drove almost to the bottom of Main Street - normally we would have enjoyed walking but it had been a full day - to visit the Sweet Pea Ice Cream shop. Yum.

I didn't have time to tour the following places in detail this year, but I did enjoy driving to and eyeballing the following destinations when I dropped off the 3rd Edition of my book to the gift shops:

Connecticut Trolley Museum, East Windsor
The Nature Center at Hammonasset Beach State Park
Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam
Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford
Rose's Berry Farm, South Glastonbury (a new addition to the 3rd Edition)
UCONN (Bookstore)

Future plans this year include Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford for an annual family picnic on the lawn and some of the younger generation want to revisit Farmington River Tubing in New Hartford, although we only have until Labor Day. Yikes! We'd better get going. I still have vivid memories of the 2005 trip with five teenage grandkids and the fun we had. In fact, the chapter in my book is all about that trip.

And, finally, I can never let mid-October go by without my annual fall foliage day trip, usually to Kent Falls & Cornwall Covered Bridge in Kent and West Cornwall, (only 7 miles apart,) Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall, and Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, where the view across Lake Waramaugh is the best.

What is your passion? Whatever in your life is calling to you, whether it is spending more time on your art, taking a class, renewing friendships, or getting out and about more often, take time to pursue it with vigor and joy. Discover the gifts that are waiting for you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Passionate Pursuit Sprouts Many Branches

Isn't it interesting how a simple passion can grow like a mighty oak, and then branch out to take you in unexpected directions. Such as it was with day tripping and picnicking. For many years, I was absorbed in touring Connecticut to discover everything the state had to offer in the way of leisure-time activities. There was no end to the destinations I found, and after awhile I had enough information to fill a book.

So, that's what I did, wrote a book about all my favorite places; then because accuracy and timing was crucial, it was obvious I needed to self-publish; and, oh yeah, how to get my book baby out there so people could find it. Well, now I was in the marketing, promotion, and publicity business, and what automatically follows is warehousing, distribution, accounting, and well, on it goes.

During this process, I found another passion - speaking to groups about day tripping and picnicking, sharing all the exciting possibilities for adventure. In all, there have been over 200 book signings and talks during the past six years. And, this is where the irony comes in.

My original passion of day tripping and picnicking has taken me along so many roots (sorry!) that I sometimes long for the joy of those carefree days when I actually had time to cruise around the state with my picnic basket.

But, there are no regrets. I've couldn't be happier with the course my journey has taken. I guess that's the way it is with a passionate pursuit. Like a tree, it just keeps on sprouting and growing in new directions. The latest direction is my new book to be released in 2013, a travel memoir about a solo cross-country trip I took to visit ten national parks. Talk about an adventure.

Although I am working hard on this book, I still managed to get to some of my favorite Connecticut places during the past few months. I'll tell you about them next week.

I hope your passion takes you to incredible places!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Cool Drink for Summer Picnics

Cranberry Herbal Iced Tea perks up the usual iced tea drink and it's fun to try different variations. When carrying to a picnic site, pack the iced tea and soda water separately. Mix just before serving.

Cranberry Herbal Iced Tea

3 cups cranberry juice cocktail
6 oranges and spice tea bags
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart soda water

Bring juice to boil. Remove from heat, add tea bags and brew for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Cool slightly, then refrigerate.

When ready to serve, combine one-half tea and one-half soda water. Serve with plenty of ice cubes.

This recipe makes 6-7 eight-ounce glasses of tea when mixed with the soda water.

For one glass: use 1/2 cup juice, 1 tea bag and 1 tablespoon sugar. Combine with 1/2 cup soda water.

Options: Substitute cran-raspberry or other variations of cranberry juice. Substitute orange almond tea or any fruit tea.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Little Known Facts About Well-Known Attractions in Connecticut

For years I had been visiting Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, enjoying the Mansion, the gardens designed by renowned Beatrix Farrand, and just strolling around the spacious lawns leading down to Long Island Sound. I thought I knew everything about this park.Then I discovered that just a few steps from the mansion, although hidden from view was an endearing pet cemetery with names and dates of deceased family pets.

Recently, I got to wondering what other destinations had treasures that visitors might not know about. For instance, residents spend many hours each summer at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison without being aware of the wonderful picnic area right across the street from East Beach. Just in back of the Nature Center, tables sit on a green lawn near the Friendship Pond and Butterfly Garden.

Speaking of scenic picnic areas, when you visit Gillette Castle, do you drive straight up to the castle without knowing or being aware of the lovely pond on the right just past the entrance? The summer is especially pleasant when the pond is blooming with pink, fuchsia and white water lilies. Picnic tables are plentiful.

How about the two very distinctive museums in Connecticut that are free and practically within steps of each other on Chapel Street in New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery is the oldest university art museum in the Country and Yale Center for British Art is in possession of the most comprehensive collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom.

All this information and more are in Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, a day tripping and picnic book with recipes. The 3rd Edition has just been released this month. Check it out on my website www.cruisingconnecticut.com.

Oh, and if you want to visit the pet cemetery next time you're at Harkness, send me an email at jan@cruisingconnecticut.com and I’ll let you know the exact location.

Monday, April 16, 2012

National Pecan Month

Thanks to Georgia Senator Max Cleland who in 2001 established National Pecan Month. Now, every April we are reminded of the delicious taste and health benefits of this “All American Nut.” Since this is one of my personal favorite nuts, I decided to join in the celebration by sharing one of the recipes in Cruising Connecticut with a picnic basket that contains pecans.

The following recipe is simple to prepare, packs well and is delicious, all necessary criteria for picnic fare. And, since April is the beginning of picnic season, don’t waste a moment. Get outdoors and have a picnic!

Wild Rice & Ham Salad

2 cups cooked wild brown rice
½ pound lean ham, cut into bite-size chunks
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
Salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup pecan halves

In small shallow pan spread pecan halves in a single layer. Bake in 350-degree F. preheated oven until tasted – approximately 5 minutes. Watch closely. Cool. (I personally like smaller pieces so I cut them in half again.)

In large bowl, stir together rice, ham, raisins, and scallions. Add salt and pepper.

In small bowl, whisk oil and vinegar together until well blended. Slowly pour over rice and ham mixture until the salad contains the amount that suite you. (I almost never use the entire amount.) Toss.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. Just before serving, garnish with pecans. Serve on lettuce leaves.

Serves 4-6
Note: Refrigerate salad overnight, or at least two hours before packing in cooler.

If you like this recipe, you’re sure to like another recipe in my book that contains pecans. Hint: It’s sweet. It can be found on the page “What’s in Our Picnic Basket” at my website, www.cruisingconnecticut.com.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Picnicking and Penguins in Florida

Oh, wait. Did I say Penguins? Sorry, I've had Penguins on my mind ever since a man yelled to someone trailing behind, “Hurry, come and see the (bleep) Penguins!” For a moment, we were stunned into silence, I, because he had been so thoughtless with his (bleep) language in a family-like setting, and my friend Phyllis, because he had mistaken Pelicans for Penguins.

Phyllis is a sea world buff and after a brief pause, and deciding he has harmless, she patiently explained to him the many differences between a penguin and a pelican. His reply: “Are you sure?” Obviously, he was a visitor to our shores!

We were standing on the North Jetty at the Southern end of Nakomis Beach in Florida. After our Penguin versus Pelican incident our attention returned to the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico, although one could not help but glance to our right from time to time to watch the amusing antics of the dozen or so Pelicans fishing for their supper in the rather choppy water.

Earlier we paused near the rocks in the small channel between the North and South Jetties where we spotted playful dolphins and while watching the various boats come and go. I'm not sure how many fish were biting but the fishermen attracted plenty of water birds looking for a free hand-out.

A few days later, I returned with a picnic supper, arriving almost two hours before sunset and settling myself at a picnic table near the jetty. In between watching all the goings-on, I enjoyed the late afternoon sun, and read. Shortly after unpacking my picnic a couple asked if they could share my table and we soon stuck up a conversation. It was a pleasant diversion.

As they were preparing to leave the husband remarked that he was getting hungry, and I said no wonder, having to watch me feed my face. I decided the next time I go alone I will be sure to bring extra food; it would have been nice to be able to share dinner with such enjoyable company.

A few minutes before the sun was ready to set I walked down a sandy path adjacent to the Jetty with my camera. My best photograph this day: An orange sunset framed by a Palm tree on the left and a boat on the right.

What I like best about this destination and so many others in Florida is that whenever I visit I am guaranteed to see the same beautiful beach, water, sand, rocks, or palm trees, yet depending on the season, weather and group dynamics, there will always be that element of unpredictability.

Although there is one thing I'm sure we won't see in this area - a Penguin.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Ultimate Picnic

A google announcement came across my computer recently describing a one-of-a-kind dream trip where guests can fly to a private, uninhabited island or sand bar on Little Palm Island. Here, hidden away in the Florida Keys you will be served The Ultimate Picnic.

Key West Seaplanes, the region’s premier provider of luxury seaplane charter service will also fly you to the Island for brunch, lunch, dinner, or an overnight stay to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, only accessible by seaplane or private ferry service.

A few days later, I received an email advertising Tropical Super Bowl Trips where visitors pull up lawn chairs and “lots of picnic tables” in front of a big screen on the beach.

I took these two messages as a sign for me to turn off my computer and get out to my own beach for my first picnic of the year. Although my beach wasn’t private and my picnic would be simple, it would nonetheless be fun and entertaining.

Venice Public Beach in Florida was scheduled to have a drumming circle on this night so I arrived just after 5:00. In previous years I had been to drumming circles on Siesta Key and Nakomis Beach and had enjoyed not only the drumming, but the impromptu dancing, hula hoop-ing and general feeling of merriment while waiting for the sunset.

There were quite a few people already there when I arrived, but because they were all sitting on towels, stretching, I suspected they were waiting for a Yoga class. They were. I must have misread either the date or the place. Well, I could have just moved to a different part of the beach and still had my picnic without the drums. But the seagulls were lined up by the dozens and although they were facing the water, I've learned you cannot fool these birds. The first morsel that went into my mouth would signal a free-for-all.

One of my "7 Rules for a Perfect Picnic" is to Be Flexible. I have had years of practice in Connecticut through the years when it rained on our picnic and we had to move it indoors.

Here, being flexible simply meant moving a few feet off the beach to an outdoor patio next to the concession stand where a performer was already singing and playing the guitar. It was still musical entertainment, just a different kind.

It may not have been one of the exotic picnics that had been trying to tempt me, but hey, I was outside in beautiful Florida in February having a picnic.

On this day, when I really needed a break, it was perfect!