Sunday, December 27, 2009

County Comes to Town….A Visit to New York City

There’s no better time to visit New York than at Christmas. Everyone seems to be in a happy mood – at an accelerated pace, but happy just the same.

It’s been five years since we were in the city…enough time to forget what a pain it is to drive there. We managed to switch lanes at the last moment, when the Lincoln Tunnel “green” sign on our lane turned to a blaring red “X”, and, after searching several levels of the Port Authority Parking Garage, ditched the car and set out on foot.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrasts between home in Lancaster County and this day in New York City. New York assaults all your senses at once – the horns, the rapid movement of scores of people walking and cars bumper-to-bumper, the smell of a dozen different kinds of food – and most memorable this time of year – the smell of chestnuts roasting on street corners.

Lancaster County is certainly known for its smells too - the most memorable being the fertilizer that is spread on the fields, especially in the spring. Certainly a visitor to both NYC and Lancaster couldn’t help but notice the aromas. And the chimes from the church across from our inn is very much a part of the experience of Terre Hill.
Instead of the brick walkways of downtown Lancaster, we walked across metal grids, beneath which could be heard the roar of subway cars below the streets of New York. And there in front of us were two horses (hey, we have lots of those in Lancaster!). These belonged to the mounted police but were no less majestic and well-mannered than the ones pulling a buggy.

There is an “energy” about both places….Lancaster’s large vistas of farmland give one a sense of peach and calm. It makes you feel small compared to all that is around you. NYC’s energy is infectious and also makes you feel small in comparison – the vistas are mostly vertical, rather than horizontal, with buildings soaring into the sky.

There is a mix of cultures in both places – the Amish and Mennonites blending with the “English” in Lancaster. In New York there’s a diversity of cultures coming together. Because New York and Lancaster County are big tourist attractions, you are likely to hear several languages on any street corner in either place.

There is a juxtaposition of old and new – from the dazzling electronic billboards at Times Square – (there used to be just a few, now they are everywhere) to the classic art-deco architecture. There are brand new shiny skyscrapers next to century-old churches. The bike-riding couriers fight for space on the street with a limo that would easily seat twenty.

In Lancaster, the Amish travel by horse and buggy, and use the same roads as modern vehicles. And both the Mennonites and Amish use the shiny new roller blades. Stores along Route 30 offer the latest in everything from fashions to electronics.

We walked past the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, stepped in to sniff the aromas of what Dean and Deluca had cooking, admired the tree in Rockefeller Center and waved to the skaters. Times Square was very busy – but in less than two weeks this will seem quiet compared to the million people that will jam this intersection to welcome the new year.

Lancaster, too, has its busy places – the hustle and bustle of Route 30, the excitement of the new downtown Convention Center, Gallery Row and all of the places whose business it is to produce food – from hand-twisted pretzels to chocolate to ice cream. Amish and Mennonites love to skate on the ponds and streams. There is skating all winter at Clipper Stadium as well.

We ate lunch at Tony’s (Times Square) at 2:30 and were lucky to get the last of the tables. Everyone here seemed to be celebrating – there were big tables filled with folks and their shopping bags. Downstairs I passed a little girl dressed in a green velvet dress with white fur trim, and a waiter carrying a huge tray filled with glassware and then piled with linens, all balanced on one hand and carried way high above everyone’s heads.

The restaurant was a study in efficiency as waiters hoisted the table next to us and carried it over our heads down to the front of the restaurant…no matter, a new one soon appeared, was reset, and ready for the next customers. Drawings of Broadway actors and actresses lined the walls, next to a huge menu board. I loved my dish of Tony’s Chicken – a chicken cutlet in a balsamic sauce with tomatoes and basil and, I am sure, lots of garlic. Bruce’s Chicken Parmesan was probably the best we’ve had since eating in Little Italy. The pasta was perfect and the sauce and bread to die for. I would have been happy to sit all afternoon and drink wine – as we were quite possibly the only two people in the restaurant without an alcoholic drink in our hands. There is no better place in America to eat Italian food than in New York City.

Lancaster County also has its share of special foods – showcased at the immense smorgasbords offering Pennsylvania Dutch fare. The sight is not unlike what we found in NYC, with big tables of families and friends gathered together….sans the alcohol.

We walked past the theaters where we had seen so many Broadways shows, past Spiderman (opening in February), Minnie Mouse, two of the Muppets, and two people being interviewed on the street by a TV reporter. Lancaster, too, has its own grand lady of the theatre, The Fulton, where we’ve enjoyed wonderful performances. We also have Sight and Sound, a huge new theatre dedicated to Christian stories.

Looking at the perfect blue sky and the helicopter overhead, I couldn’t help but think of that day in September nine years ago when people were going to work and sightseeing….and then the world stopped. We, too, had a tragic day in 2006 when a gunman opened fire on a one-room schoolhouse in southern Lancaster County. Citizens of both places will never forget, nor will the world that watched these events.

This day was a study in contrasts and similarities. Both destinations are special treasures – found only in America.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Twas Three Weeks Before Christmas

It is December 6th and twelve kinds of cookies are made and packed away – we are about halfway through the Christmas Cookie Marathon. This is a special time in my kitchen shared with my husband. Though it is normally not his territory, he has honed his skills as dough-roller-outer extraordinaire. With Christmas tunes in the background and flour in the air, I’m a happy camper. It is a time to relax and work and share some laughter after a busy fall at the inn. And, since many of my cookies must be packed and shipped by December 15, we start baking the weekend after Thanksgiving.

I don’t know what it is about food, but some of my earliest memories are in the kitchen, helping Mom. Most center on the holidays – with the bustle of preparations for large crowds and the excitement of the coming gathering. She was always patient with me – for I was not, and probably will never be, a “tidy” cook or baker. We had an extensive family and, with three brothers, there was no meal too big, no desserts too rich, and certainly no such thing as too many cookies.
Ah, yes, the cookies - this yearly tradition of making cookies at Christmastime started a long time ago…
I always loved to give home-made gifts – sometimes it was crafts, sometimes chocolates (when I was in high school I enrolled my boyfriend and myself in a chocolate-making course). I was never sure if he was all that interested in the chocolate, but we had a lot of fun and he liked to eat the creations. Over time, I settled on just giving cookies every Christmas. I would stay up late many nights and lug in big platters of cookies to every job I ever had. It became my “thing” to do for the holidays.

Soon friends were sharing their family favorites. Over the years, I’ve compiled my tried-and-true recipes, but I always like to add a new cookie just to keep it interesting.

Two years ago I decided to try my hand at making marshmallows. Gourmet printed a recipe for Toasted-Coconut Marshmallow Squares – this seemed the perfect little stocking stuffer gift for my Mom – a real marshmallow lover.

I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly – doubling the amount of coconut. You’ll see why later.

I think this would be a great recipe to make with kids – especially the final process. This year I made the recipe with my mom. She pronounced it too “fussy” but I think it’s fun, and there’s no denying that these are not the boring white cubes that arrive in those plastic bags. You will need a candy thermometer and will have best results if you make these on a dry day.

Toasted-Coconut Marshmallow Squares

4 cups unsweetened dried coconut
3 (3/4 oz) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup water, divided
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350 and toast coconut in baking pan until golden – about 7 minutes. You’ll want to stir it frequently – it tends to brown around the edges first.

Spray a 9-inch baking pan or use a silicone one. I like the silicone – you can bend it to get the squares out. Sprinkle with ½ cup toasted coconut.

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ up cold water in mixer bowl – mix a little and let sit while you make the syrup.

Heat sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining ½ cup water in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium heat without stirring, washing any sugar crystals down the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Ok, I don’t do the pastry brush thing – I just boil it. Put the thermometer in and boil until it registers 240. Remove pan from the heat and let stand until the bubbles dissipate.

This is when the recipe turns into a science experiment. With mixer at low speed, pour hot syrup into gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl, increase speed to high and beat until very thick – about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and coconut extracts and beat 1 minute more.

Spoon marshmallows over toasted coconut in baking pan and press evenly with dampened fingertip to smooth top, then sprinkle with ½ cup toasted coconut and press in – I find that wearing food-grade gloves helps.

Let stand for 2 hours or until firm. This is a good time to get the kids – they’ll like this part.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and cut into the tiniest pieces you can. Put remaining toasted coconut in a bowl. Dredge the pieces in the coconut and watch them grow. This is why you want the pieces really tiny lest they become the blob that ate Lancaster County. The first year I could not believe that a small 9 x 9 pan would yield enough marshmallows for everyone in Terre Hill.

Even if you don’t like marshmallow, you owe it to yourself to try a small square. These are really heavenly.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Christmas in Lancaster County

Recently I had a chance to go on a lion hunt in Lancaster County. And they were joined by zebras and tigers and bears too. Find that hard to believe? I was in the storage rooms of the Millennium Theatre of Sight and Sound – a Christian Theatre in Strasburg. I had gone to the offices of the theatre for training – The Artist's Inn will be listed on their website for lodging. We can also order tickets for all shows and behind-the-scenes tours at a discounted rate.

If you’ve never been to Sight and Sound, you’re in for a real surprise. It is big, seating 2,000 people, and is the dream of Glenn and Shirley Eshelman. Built upon the site of their former theatre (it burned when a spark from a welder’s torch caught fire backstage), it opened in 1998. Performances feature live animals and animated ones that look and act so real you’ll have a hard time telling them apart. The original theatre began in what is now called Living Waters Theatre – a smaller 600-seat theatre on Route 896 next to the Millennium Theatre.

The buildings to support the theatre include animal quarters and production facilities for elaborate sets. Everything is locally made and every detail, from the minute you walk in the front door, to the last act of the show, is both professional and well organized.

We visited on a day that the theatre was closed and employees were decorating for the Christmas season. Even the bows for the 30-foot high tree were lined up, waiting to take their place …not unlike the actors awaiting their cue.

My favorite show has always been Noah, but there’s nothing like the Miracle of Christmas at the Millennium Theatre or the Voices of Christmas at the Living Waters Threatre to put you in a holiday mood.

There’s a lot of excitement this year as a new show opens on March 6 – the story of Joseph. Don’t wait too long to get your tickets – whether it’s for the Christmas season, Joseph, or a back-stage tour….we know you’ll enjoy the shows and tours – just as so many guests of The Artist's Inn already have.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Apple A Day

It seems like everyone is talking about the flu…be it swine or the regular run-of-the-mill variety. I’d rather avoid getting either of them. So it’s time to boost our immune systems and do all those things that Gram and Mom said to do – get plenty of sleep, gargle with salt water, clear your sinuses and…yes, eat an apple a day to keep those doctors away.

I know of a great place where you can get enough apples to carry you through the entire winter. Not far from The Artist's Inn, along Route 340 near Bird-in-Hand, sits the quaint store of Kaufman’s. The Kaufman family (now in its 5th generation) has been in the business since 1915, and they harvest apples—by the ton. Here are some of the huge bins piled up in the back of the store.
They currently carry Braeburn, Cameo, Cortland, Crispin, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Idared, Jonagold, Jonathan, McIntosh, Red Delicious, Rome, and Stayman apples. Sound like enough?

They also make cider – 102,000 gallons this year.
A visit to their store is a must on your next trip to Lancaster County. But don’t wait long….winter is coming! You’ll find the pretty apples inside, the outside bargain bins are shown here and are still great for baking pies and cakes, and making applesauce. Kaufman’s is closed on Sundays, but has a website, online store, and a blog.

Here’s an easy recipe I tried recently, courtesy of Whole Living. It goes well with baked pork chops (and I only changed the recipe a little).

Apple, Leek and Butternut Squash Gratin

· 3 tablespoons olive oil
· 2 medium leeks, white part only, trimmed of roots and tough outer leaves, thinly sliced crosswise, well washed and dried
· Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
· 1/2 cup dry sherry
· 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus leaves for garnish
· 2 tablespoons butter
· 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
· 1 pound apples, such as Gala, Cortland, Baldwin, or Macoun, peeled, halved, cored, and cut
into 1/8-inch thick slices
· 1/2 cup freshly shaved Parrmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add leeks and 2 tablespoons water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add sherry and sage and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes; set aside.

Melt butter in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish, arrange squash in overlapping layers; season with salt and pepper. Spread leeks evenly over the. Squash. Arrange apples in an overlapping layer over the leeks. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 1 hour.

Uncover and sprinkle cheese over the top. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. The tip of a paring knife should easily pierce the gratin. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with sage leaves. Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Kitties

It Was the Best of Times:

I was talking to my Mom on the phone one sunny afternoon in May while sitting on the back porch. I noticed some movement in the shrubs by the Carriage House. Kittens were jumping up and down inside the bushes. I could see their heads appear on top of the bush, next there was a tail in the air! I watched as they made their way to our backyard, jumping and running and doing all the cute things that kittens do. The weeks went by and the kittens were around more and more. They were so tiny and Mom was still nursing – but all were very skittish and (I assumed) feral. And so, being the cat lover that I am, and knowing that the odds of these kittens leading a full life was very low, we set out some boxes with towels for beds and fresh water and food. But they liked the coconut mat and windowbox under the porch.

We knew that their only chance for ever being adopted was to trust people. All of our four cats were strays. Unfortunately, we live a small “apartment” inside The Artist's Inn. Outdoor cats have an average lifespan of four years, but indoors, that average soars to 14 years.

I don’t know when we started to name them, but they were simple names used to tell the difference in them: Big Red, Little Red, Tuxedo Man, The Man in Black, Mom. They would entertain us at night as we ate dinner on the back porch. They chased after fireflies, climbed the tree (and go down backwards!), jumped on each other, rolled and played, ran and jumped into the air – all under the ever-present watchful eye of Mom. And a mom she was – quite good actually – cleaning her kittens, and being so patient as they landed on her head and pulled at her tail – not unlike small children waking up their parents in the morning in bed. Guests delighted in seeing them in the early morning and cat lovers would often try to pet them.

That is why my flowers were a bit trampled and thinner this year, why we didn’t put fresh water in the bird bath (lest the birds become dinner) and why there was usually a towel on the Adirondack chairs to cushion their nap.
And so the process of socializing the felines started. Our cats loaned us a toy they hardly ever used. It was a stick with a rawhide string attached, and, at the end, a white lambswool “mouse”. It was a hit from the time it appeared on the porch. And so I would spend as many evenings as I could trying to tame the kittens…starting with letting them “catch” the mouse, then having the mouse “touch” their bodies, then having the stick scratch their head or tail, and finally getting them to be brave enough to have a human hand touch them.

Tux was the bravest. We scooped him up and held him in our palm – and once he felt the warmth of Bruce’s hands, there was no turning back. Every time we went out to the back, he was there looking for attention. As so the Friis, who came to bike and visit, went home with our little Mr. Tuxedo Man (although it took quite a while to wake him from his nap under the boxwoods). They wanted Little Red as well, but she was just not tame enough to come to them – even though Tuxedo Man was her best buddy. And so Little Red was left behind.

The report came back from the Friis’s vet – no feline leukemia, no fleas, no ear mites, no diseases of any kind. He was in great shape and ready to take over the household.

With that successful adoption, we were inspired to move on to the other kitties. I started to put out milk on the porch twice a day, and call the kitties by name. Their little heads would appear and even Mom enjoyed the treat. Little Red was the next to be petted. It happened one sunny Sunday afternoon. Bruce lay down on the porch and she and Big Red went all around smelling his hair and nose – and eating the treats that we tossed to them.

They would visit our porch parties regularly, as if patrolling and checking on us, but were still pretty aloof.

As the weeks went by we were able to feed them all treats. Big Red was probably the most affectionate. I got to hold him like a baby and he would stand by the porch door on his back legs, looking in at Chardonnay. Did they know they looked alike? He would stand in my windowboxes and meow and Jack would come over and they would smell each other through the screen. And they were both talkers. What they had to say to each other remains a mystery to me, but it sure seemed like they had a lot to talk about.

Mom was not spending as much time around our yard, and the kittens were now answering my calls more than hers. Our goal was to get them all spayed and neutered and adopted out to homes. Progress was slow and when Bruce’s cousin stayed for a visit, he was able to catch Little Red by the scruff of her neck. But as she was held in the air screaming, I just didn’t have the heart to trap her and I made him release her. It was my hope that I would win her over my way – with gentle persuasion so that she would learn to trust people. And so he let her go.

It was the Worst of Times:

One day as I was driving down Main Street, I felt a terrible thud and my front tires went over a bump, and, in what seemed like slow motion, the back tires went over a bump too…..dreading what I would see in the rear-view mirror, I caught a glimpse of the tiny little mottled kitten (yes, there was a fifth) pulling his injured body off the road. By the time I went back he had gone somewhere alone to die. I felt awful and still do.

As I parked the car at home, I saw Mom on the back ledge by the gardens. She seemed to know and I explained how sorry I was. Did those big eyes understand? Was that why she was waiting for me and didn’t run? Can they tell by the tone in your voice? I was now more determined than ever to get these kittens off the streets and into homes.

While Big Red and Man in Black would stick fairly close by (and I knew their sleeping places) Little Red was spending a bit more time away. Her favorite spot to snooze was on the back steps from the Garden Suite. Although the spot was sunny, there were several times when she was in the way of guests going down the back stairs, and fell from the steps into the lilac bush.

I started to get concerned because she wouldn’t always answer my calls. One busy Saturday she appeared for milk and her tail was huge. She seemed to be dragging it behind her. I called my vet and, although they couldn’t look at her that day, I arranged to have her boarded – she would be safe and they would evaluate her on Monday. And so the kitty that I had never picked up, got scooted into the dining room while I ran for the carrier in the basement. I’m not sure who was more scared, but on the fifth try and wearing my biggest oven gloves, I managed to get her into the carrier and off we went to the vet. Man in Black and Big Red looked on as she was hurried past them crying all the way.

That Monday we learned what we had feared – she had to have her tail amputated – apparently she had gotten it caught in something and had pulled so hard to free herself that she had damaged the nerves in her back end. We had her spayed since she was undergoing surgery anyway and we were scheduled to pick her up on Wednesday. I was busy with guests, and Bruce was away when the vet called. The surgery had gone fine and Little Red was recovering but there was a chance that the nerves would not regenerate and she would be somewhat incontinent. She was making it to the litter box in her little cage but, he warned, in a house, she may not always have the time to get there.

We hoped and prayed and waited for her return. She was the runt of the litter and seemed even tinier than before, with just a stub of her tail left. So inside she came--and adapted as though she owned the place. At first she hid under the couch to sleep, but as she became more comfortable, she took up more and more space on the couch – stretching out her toes, leaning her head against the arm, and once fell asleep with her head in the food bowl! She took her antibiotics like a trooper, and learned to jump on the back of my chair and onto my lap. She immediately took control of all the toys, especially the one with the merry-go-round ball. She would paw at my leg and squeak for attention. She ate everyone’s food, watched as the printer pumped out papers and was patient as I prepared breakfasts. As she regained her strength, she and Jack would run and jump and climb all over each other and even paw at each other under the closed door. Often I would get up in the middle of the night – just to check on her – she would be laying on the floor just outside our bedroom door, wanting to be with us.

But it was a rough go from the start. Little Red, try as she might, just had no idea sometimes when she was urinating. Most poops would be caught, but there were those that she missed and would try to clean up by pawing imaginary litter across the floor. A bleach bottle in my left hand, paper towels in my right, I would inspect the floors all hours of the day. We restricted Little Red mostly to our family room and covered the couch with piles of towels – which I laundered twice a day. And we hoped and prayed that she would regenerate her nerves. We researched the condition and talked with vets – all saying the same thing – this is a serious condition and one that may get worse.

It was about this time that the Woolleys came to visit. Big Red and Man in Black had now abandoned their little beds down below and were sleeping every night and afternoon on our side porch. Paws landed on each other’s head, rested in their ears, tails and legs intertwined, they didn’t mind and the two were inseparable.

I found myself going out to love them a lot during the day, and they seemed grateful for the visit (or was it the treats?!). I could now carry Big Red around like a baby. I looked for them every night before I went to bed, tucked them in and greeted them before I set the table for breakfast. If the window was open and they saw me, they were quite vocal about getting their morning milk.

Big Red charmed his way into the hearts of the Woolleys (guests at the inn) and they offered him a home. As he was in the carrier on the porch, Man in Black came over and pawed at Big Red as if to say goodbye. And mom must have heard the cries, because she appeared on the porch as well. We hadn’t seen her in days. Is there more communication going on with these kitties than we know? It was so sad to see him go and see Man in Black left all alone.

That is when Man in Black started to cry – every time I went onto the porch, he cried. Was he crying for the loss of his brother, Big Red? Was he crying because everyone else was gone and only he was left? It seemed like he was spending all his time on the porch. At night he would stand on the windowbox and cry to come in. Bruce’s mom had agreed to take him – if only we could get him tame enough. The clock was ticking. He had been eating treats out of my hand, and now became very brave and let me pet him, but would run if I tried to pick him up. These cats surely tried to teach me patience.

The day came when Little Red got her stitches out and Bruce put her outside to reacquaint her with Man in Black. (We had planned to take them to Priscilla’s farm, where they could look out for each other.) They played like crazy all day, running around the house, up and across the porch, into the yard to chase after butterflies, hardly stopping to eat. That night I kept looking on the porch for Man in Black. I had hoped that he and Little Red would sleep together – just as he had with Big Red. But there was no sign of either of them.

My last guests arrived late that night, and as I was turning out the lights, a black form on the sidewalk across the street caught my eye. Man in Black must have been hit by a car and dragged himself to the sidewalk. I stood there and cried – just that day I had been able to rub his belly, and he rewarded me with kissing each finger. I had looked up and Mom was in the corner of the porch, witnessing the little miracle. But all the lessons had been in vain, for I had failed to find him a safe home fast enough to get him away from the danger of living outside.

How sad to end this little life of 6 months – Man in Black was probably the most loving with his siblings – he was always grooming one of them, and I’m convinced, if given the chance, he would have been a very loving and handsome addition to any family.

As I stood there with just the moon lighting the way, my mind raced to Little Red and I starting calling earnestly for her. I had to find her and get her inside again. I did find her, running wildly next to Main Street, clearly saddened by her brother’s passing as she ran back and forth to him.
And so she came inside again and I cuddled and comforted her cries. She had been through a lot in 6 months – getting her tail caught in some horrible terror, going to the vet with strange cats and dogs and noises and smells, losing her tail, and now witnessing her brother getting hit. Was she with him when it happened or did she find him after? Did she narrowly escape the same end?

I was glad when the rain came on Sunday to wash away the blood left on the sidewalk from Man in Black.

We researched cauda equina syndrome; and learned about lower motor neuron bladder, we cleaned up after Little Red and hoped for a miracle and the nerves to regenerate. Although there was great improvement on one day, the next day would bring bad news again. Both Bruce and I had grown to love this little fighter and would gladly give her a loving home – if only she could control herself.

Bruce was at a show talking to a customer when he learned about The Best Little Cat House in PA – a no-kill shelter for cats that have no other hope. He called and found out information and Lynn seemed to know a lot about Little Red’s condition – in fact, they had a cat with the same problem. Could this be the answer?

A date was set – unfortunately it was a Saturday. I cancelled my trip to see family, cancelled the innsitter and rearranged my schedule on a busy Saturday to drive to the facility and see if Little Red would like it. I cried two days before, the whole time there, and since. I packed her favorite merry-go-round toy and, of course, the mouse, loaded her into a carrier and set it in the front seat. She is so tiny that she didn’t weigh enough (even with the carrier) to set off the seat belt alarm. Did she know where we were going? I had told her and she looked at me the whole way there – past Hershey, past the two dead cats on the road, past the places where I turned around because I couldn’t concentrate on the directions.

It is a wonderful place – full of things that little furry ones like – lots of windows, a place to go outside (safely), plenty of food, places to investigate and other kitties.

But, I had never been to a shelter before and I was not prepared for what I saw. A cat with one eye, a kitty born paralyzed with his feet turned the wrong way, cats with brain and kidney tumors. Cats were craving affection, especially the ones in the “other” room – where they separated the leukemia and AIDS cats. My heart ached for them. How could I leave my perfect kitty here – would she contract the upper respiratory infection that the little grey cat had? Would she have anyone who could play with her? Would she have anyone to cuddle at night when she cried? Would they notice if her condition got worse? Would she live a long life?

The answers to my questions were mixed – they have a staff of volunteers, but never enough. The kitties have no rules and can come and go outside whenever they want - something that we could never give her. Once you leave a cat you cannot ever visit it again (thank you insurance companies) and once you leave it, you leave it like an unwanted pile of clothes at Goodwill – she belongs to them and you cannot, under any circumstances, have her back (thank you to the lawyers of the world).

All of these things weighed heavily on my mind. My cell phone wouldn’t work at this remote location so there was no talking with Bruce. His words rang in my head: This may be Little Red’s only hope for a happy home”. I watched as she lay still in her carrier – eyes wide as two other cats climbed on top. And so I tried to make my decision, and in the end I left her. As Charles Dickens said, "There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart." Unfortunately, we had to choose the wisdom of the head this time. But our hearts will ache for quite some time.

Little Red will probably adapt – she’s a fighter and will have other cats to play with, will be fed and kept safe and warm. There are very good people at this shelter and she will meet cats from all over the world. Her basic needs will be met, but the cuddling and comfort that a family pet receives is gone and she will have to adjust.
We miss her terribly. How I wish I could take back the day that she got in trouble. How I wish I could have worked more quickly on taming these cats and finding them homes. How I wish I had just taken them in where they would have been safe -(even though we were at our limit with two and now have four cats).

How I wish I had a place big enough where Little Red could be isolated and cared for by us, but we do not have that luxury.

So, what have I learned from all this? That you may not always have the time to love something, so you’d better love it with all your heart and soul. That everything in the world needs love and that we all need to take care of someone. That we never know when our time is up and that it’s important to remember the good times. That it’s important to take pictures – I have only a few of all those happy times. And that cats live in the moment – and there’s a wisdom to that. The porch is now quiet and soon winter will set in. All that there is left to do is to somehow trap Mom and get her spayed so that she will not be bringing more litters to the neighborhood. Poor Mom has seen her babies leave one by one. If she’ll let us, we’ll provide warm towels and food and water and her basic needs will be met as well.

And so ends this tale of two kitties – two kitties that beat the odds and ended up in loving homes with furry friends.

If you would like to help, consider volunteering at a local shelter – cats and dogs need to be loved, walked and groomed. Consider donating food, gift cards from PetSmart, or money. Have your cats and dogs spayed and neutered. Not only does it cut down on the explosive growth in population, but it helps lower the spread of disease. Keep them inside and give them lots of love.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” - Charles Dickens

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

All the County is a Fair in Lancaster

Harvest time is here – bright pumpkins dot the rolling hills, fields of mums stretch through the farmland. Farmers are busy cutting down corn, drying tobacco, and bringing in the last of the tomato crops.

There’s a busy-ness as a touch of fall starts to turn the leaves just a bit…you can feel it in the early morning mist…things are changing. This is a time of celebration, and Lancaster County sure knows how to party. There’s a change in the air….a distinct aroma….could that be….funnel cakes?

From one end of the county to the other, Lancaster Countians have Fair Fever. State routes are closed for days at a time, streets are jammed with vendors selling every imaginable kind of greasy food, hawkers entice you to try your hand at games of chance, and midway rides thrill the young. Kids get off from school, every non-profit organization is involved in some way, and you’ll make it to your appointments only if you plan a little extra time for detours.

Inn guests have long enjoyed these fairs, with their vast array of contests – from scarecrow judging to cake decorating competitions. Guests can sense the strong community support here. They’re impressed by all the parades – babies in the morning, pets in the afternoon and at night the Homecoming Queens, dozens of marching bands from around the state, and local businesses transforming tractor/trailers into floats.

Guests are also surprised and delighted by the skills demonstrated in the apple balancing race and the water-balloon throwing contest. (These may not be listed on anyone’s resume, but they sure make for good entertainment. And most of it is free – from the musical groups to the local radio broadcasts.)

All of this is impressive, to be sure. But what my guests comment about most are the chairs.
Yep, just ordinary lawn chairs.
People put them out on the sidewalk to reserve a “spot” as early as noon on the Sunday before the Thursday parades. Kids walk to bus-stops and ride their bikes by them. No one moves them or would dream of stealing one, for this is a long and respected tradition. Welcome to small-town America at its best – with the respect of another’s property and your neighbor’s right to claim a good seat.
So, if you are planning a trip to Lancaster this September or October, pack your chairs and, you too, can get a good spot to see the parades and enjoy the fairs. It may be your last chance to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of late summer.

For a listing of fairs, schedules, and directions see

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The summer of Two Tomatoes in Lancaster County

Bruce thought we should plant tomatoes. I looked at him, and said “why?” Our bed and breakfast is in a great little town in Lancaster County, surrounded by the richest non-irrigated farmland in the country. These farms produce a bounty of the best foods - just outside our door - at unbelievably fair prices. Why on earth would Bruce, an artist and big fan of staying indoors on hot summer days, want to grow tomatoes? The answer was as good as any, “I just want to”.

And so off I went to the nurseries. I looked at all the different kinds of plants, mostly heirloom. This is shear torture in April - as you begin to salivate just reading the description…your mind wanders back to summers past and the bright red meat of perfect tomatoes. I picked out five tomato plants, knowing that this would produce way too many tomatoes for the inn, but thinking that I would make sauce out of the rest, as I have done for the past ten years.

After a rainy spring, I got behind on planting and so the tomato plants went in late.

Then there was the issue of watering them. It seems both of us forgot – even when reminded – and after a week away, I returned to find them gasping. A little digging by Bruce produced the old tomato baskets that I had used long ago when I had a real garden – now we just hoped the plants would someday grow into the cages.

But I’m afraid we just got too busy to pay much attention to these plants. And, let’s face it – tomato plants are not the prettiest sight in the garden. So I didn’t want them in my flower gardens where guests would see them. Their location in the herb garden by the side of the inn tends to get overgrown but hopefully most guests don’t ever see it. It doesn’t get all-day sun but I had hoped that it would get enough to make them happy. I put them next to the basil, thinking that they should get to know each other as they most surely would meet again.

I have fond memories of my dad in his garden, tending to the plants, pinching off the suckers, training the branches, tying white cloth to help bear the weight of the fruit,. His garden was planted in straight rows, basked in plenty of sunshine and watered consistently. Weeds didn’t have a prayer of surviving. Our tomato plants could only dream of such care.

And so it is now the end of summer and time to harvest our bounty.

Both of them.

There is hope that there will be a third, but it is pretty small and still green.

But I’m grateful to be a neighbor to these farmers and support them. They produce crop after crop, one as delicious as the next. As I look at the box of tomatoes in the kitchen, I know that the sauce (or gravy as they say in New Jersey) they will produce will be so much better than anything I could buy in a jar.
Lancaster County farmers are safe for another summer - there’s no competition here!

Here is how I roast my tomatoes.

Sundried Tomatoes:

Cut thin slices of fresh tomatoes, remove excess seeds and place on a silpat (or parchment paper) on cookie trays. You can place them close together, they will shrink a little.
Sprinkle with a little of your best olive oil and a small amount of kosher salt.
Bake for about 2 hours in a cool oven – about 175 or 200. You don’t want them to completely dry out but this will really concentrate their flavor.
You can freeze them, store them in the fridge for a week, or serve – I like to top them with a nice Parmesan cheese and serve them at the inn with an egg dish. Bruce has been known to eat an entire tray while standing at the kitchen sink…..hey, maybe that’s why he wanted to grow tomatoes!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Container Gardening, Lancaster County Style

I’ve always liked container gardening – cute bunnies holding armloads of flowers, baskets overflowing with blooms, cupid pottery set on tabletops to bring color to unexpected places.

A trip to Germany and Austria reawakened my love for window boxes. I love to stuff them with flowers in the warm months, pumpkins in the fall, and fresh greens for the winter. It’s a special treat if the greens trap some snow - somehow it seems to frame the window, giving it the appearance of an old-fashioned Christmas postcard. And so, when we opened the inn, I wanted to have flowers everywhere – in the gardens, on the porches, in vases in the rooms, hanging from the windows…. Of course, the reality of having window boxes is that I’ve seen small nursery plants carried away by birds looking for nesting material, pumpkins dropped from the second story as I tried to arrange them through open windows, and greens blown away by fierce winter winds. Ah, well—they are still undeniably romantic. Like a string of pearls around a neck, window boxes make the inn look “dressed.”

Lancaster County has a unique style when it comes to container gardening. Locals here pretty much invented the word “frugal”. They never throw anything out that still has a useful purpose. And talk about creative! You can’t help but be inspired. This explains why I now plant flowers in a chicken feeder, pig trough, coal bucket, old washtub, and wringer washer. I’ve created a mini-herb garden in an old roaster, and made a centerpiece of primroses in metal canning containers.

Maybe it’s the whimsy that I like – the look of surprise on guests’ faces when they realize what they are looking at.

So enjoy the color and playful “pots” when you visit. But beware—this knack for pairing plants and innovative containers is quite contagious, and I’ve often heard guests say, “You know, I have one of those gathering dust in the basement…”