Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Greens at The Inn

Maybe it’s all the Christmases of past that were spent in Williamsburg.  Or the two trips to Germany and Austria when I fell in love with overstuffed window boxes.  Maybe it’s the fact that we live in an old house with original shutters and window boxes that my Dad made.  Whatever the reason, I have an overwhelming desire to hunt, gather and stuff this time of year…in a natural, green way.  I feel that we owe the window boxes some companionship through the cold winter months when they miss their summer flowers. 
As luck would have it, my neighbor cut down a large evergreen about a week ago.  Don't worry - it wasn't this magnificent tree.  We just borrowed a few branches from him.  My friend Karen and I made several runs with the wheelbarrow down Main Street…and she magically transported empty concrete urns into works of art in front of the inn.

 If you look around your yard, you may find the same – boxwoods that need to be thinned, scotch broom that should be cut closer to the ground so that it can withstand the harsh winter wind, holly trees that need shaping.  It doesn’t take the best or biggest branches to make fat overstuffed window boxes and they are simple to do.  Every scrawny twig finds its place to fill in the gaps.  Just be sure to push the branches in securely so that they won’t blow away. 
Boxwoods look great closer to the bottom and hollies are strong enough to stand proudly in the back.  The shapes provide enough contrast to make it interesting.  Water the dirt and your greens will stay fresh longer. 

The window boxes seem to dress the house for winter and, once snow nestles between the branches, I think they help insulate and keep the draft down.   A few beads, an occasional bird or decorative spray, wrapped by a ribbon and your house is decorated not only for Christmas, but will be looking good for several months to come.
In the summer, I love to throw open the windows and catch the breeze, but in winter, I feel comforted when I look out and the house is embraced by the branches in my window boxes! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving – Was It Just A Figment of My Imagination?

There used to be a holiday this time of year – a day off work to gather with family and give thanks for life’s blessings.  But this year there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it, and I’m afraid that next year it may disappear altogether.

A local store is advertising the fact that you can shop their Christmas specials starting at 6:00 a.m on Thanksgiving Day.  I feel that my beautiful horn of plenty and the few Thanksgiving decorations are up for about one week before the boatload of Christmas stuff must be brought down from the attic.  (It’s always tricky decorating around guests so we must start early to get all three houses finished.)

In a world that seems to rush by faster every year, the whole idea of Thanksgiving may seem a little, ah, old-fashioned.  Perhaps that is why I like it so much. It is so rare to take the time to reflect and give thanks.

Yes, the two holidays have always been related.  The Christmas season traditionally starts with the Macy’s Parade in New York City, but stores hardly wait for that seems like it’s still August when they start putting up the fake trees and dancing Santas.’s our most “American” holiday, and it appears it’s the only non-commercial one left.  So enjoy it while it lasts.....before you rush off to stand in line tonight to get into the nearest mall.

Here’s my short list of things for which I’m thankful:

To be surrounded by people I love
To be able to bring joy and comfort to those who stay with us
The sound of laughter in at our inn
To learn to be happy with my talents, limited as they may be
To appreciate the beauty that is Lancaster County
To be able to share with others and give back – whether it’s time, talent, money or just a smile
To be grateful always, for everything, especially good health
To look for the good in every person and situation

And my wish for the year to come - to be able to give thanks next November having enjoyed more of the same – at Thanksgiving time - a holiday that I’ll always celebrate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cookin’ Up Something Good in Lancaster

It’s not often that an innkeeper can get away in the fall. Ah, but a bit of planning paid off last week when I attended a cooking class with Scott Martino at The Good Cooking Store in Intercourse.  You may remember that I met Scott on my first visit to this store –he was handing out samples of his Italian spaghetti sauces.  (See my previous blog, It's a Good Thing For Cooks in Lancaster County.)

The setting is delightful – Upstairs on the second level of the store is a state-of-the-art kitchen complete with TV screens and room for 18 of your closest friends.

Scott started out by saying that he’s not a typical chef with an ego that fills the room.  We were encouraged to ask any kind of cooking question during the whole process.  This casual atmosphere gave us time to jot down some notes ....while being served a three-course dinner.
Dinner was Radish and Cranberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper, Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Sweet Pea and Asiago Risotto favorite.....Chocolate and Valoplicella Crema with Fresh Whipped Cream.  Yum!

Scott was trained in the classic French style – hot pans to sear and seal in the juices and finishing in the oven. I had taken cooking classes a long time ago at a French restaurant that used the same technique.  However, this kitchen had brand new All-Clad cookware which stood in start contrast to the beat-up pans of my favorite French restaurant from long ago.

Scott's advice was that the most important thing is to cook love into everything you make – don’t just follow the the food.  And remember that butter is better.  I soooo agree!

He also talked a lot about working at various restaurants like The Loft and Doneckers, passing along little tricks of the trade.

A little present appeared in the back of the book of recipes....10% off all non-sale items that evening.  It provided what little incentive I needed to shop at one of my favorite stores.  And so I set off – the Cuisinart double boiler was a good buy at $34.99 – it will fit snugly over 1, 2 or 3 quart pans and had a nice rounded bottom that will make tempering chocolate a dream, a little pig that will sit on my soup kettles and hold my spoon (after all, soup season is just around the corner) and a new Kyocera ceramic knife.  This is my kind of store and there is always something that I need. 

Ah, a wonderful evening out indeed. To see the list of cooking demonstrations and upcoming classes, click here.  If you’d like to make it a complete girls’ night out, don’t forget to book your room at The Artist’s Inn.  We’re only 20 minutes away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pumpkin Crazy in Lancaster County

Whether it’s Fairytale, Cinderella, One Too Many or the plain old Jack-o-Lantern, Lancaster County is covered in pumpkins.  I recently visited two of my favorite farms to share some pictures with you.  They are right around the corner from The Artist's Inn.

As the summer landscape gives way to cooler weather, there’s no loss of color – from mums and asters of every color to the vast array of pumpkins that seem to float in fields around every turn.  Gourds of every size and shape decorate front porches, and roadside stands boast huge boulder-sized pumpkins of every shade of orange.  They seem to exist just to make us happy.

If you are lucky, you’ll take the time to explore some new varieties....and choose some to take home - they make great souvenirs!  But you’d better hurry – the heavy fall rains have left many pumpkins rotting in the field.  Be sure to store them out of the weather so they’ll last longer.

We admit it – we ARE pumpkin crazy.  

Look closely at the pumpkin on the left.  Luke carved the words in it when it was young, and as it grew, so did the welcome!  Of course, no fall decorations would be complete without including our own Cat in the Hat.  As you can see by his smile, he likes pumpkins too!

But my favorite pumpkin this year is one that no one can explain.  It has no name and grew in the middle of the gourd patch, looking a bit like a giant candy corn.

For more about pumpkins and gourds, read out other blogs on this subject: Lancaster County - The Land of Pumpkins!Pumpkinology, and Gourd-o-Mania!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Love a Piano (and More!)

It was a dark and stormy night last week when we set out to Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre  to see their new play – “I Love a Piano” – celebrating the songs of Irving Berlin.  The play is jam-packed with American standards and it tells the story of a piano that made its way through quite a few owners from the 1920s, through WWII, and into the 1950’s.

From “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, to “There’s No Business like Show Business”, the energy of just six people on stage was remarkable. And I loved the tap scenes with the men.

While I didn’t know all of the 50+ songs, I knew quite a few – you will too!

The great thing about musicals is that they take your mind off all serious topics of the day and let it float through the night with joy.  They are a great break from reality.

There is usually one song from a musical that gets stuck in my head.  That song was “Blue Skies”.  It was one of my dad’s favorite songs and he often sang it – or at least the refrain.  And when I’d call from two states away and ask how he was, he’d often answer – “we have blue skies shining above”. 

Maybe I remember that song the most because at the end of the show, we walked outside to pouring rain, lightning and thunder.  It was the second day of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which would bring torrential rain and flooding to Lancaster County.

If you need a break from reality, head to Dutch Apple for “I Love a Piano”.  It's only 30 minutes from The Artist's Inn.  I'm happy to report that we do have "blue skies" once again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Enjoying the Red, White and Green of Lancaster County

Lancaster County wineries sure know how to throw a party.  Whether it’s jazz in the evening, picnics on the lawn or tasting new wines while enjoying the view, you are guaranteed to have a good time.

Recent rains have turned the county green once again and views from many of the wineries are relaxing and reminiscent of Napa or Sonoma. – and you don’t need to buy a plane ticket!  Harvest season is just a few short weeks away, and fall colors always go better with a glass of wine.

Here’s a listing of events that are just a short drive from The Artist’s Inn.  Then again, a day of tasting followed by a night on the porch provides some spectacular views as well.

Moon Dancer Winery - Live music Friday nights, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Mt. Hope Winery - Mt. Hope winery has the biggest party of them all – the PA Renaissance Faire...every weekend until October 30.

Nissley Winery - Lawn concerts every Saturday night until Labor Day

Tamanend Winery - Offering winemaker dinners
Twin Brook Winery - Enjoy their gazebo concerts on Friday evenings.

Waltz Vineyards – Here are some pictures from one of their lawn events.


Don’t let summer slip away before you enjoy the red, white and green of Lancaster County.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dance Explosion at American Music Theatre

One of the best things about going to a high-energy theater performance is that it is so exhilarating. That delightful “high” feeling affects me long after the last curtain goes down. I sing in the shower, croon in the car (if I keep those speakers turned up high, I sound halfway decent), and dance while I’m brushing my teeth, as the tunes from the show bounce around in my head.

The latest show from American Music Theater delivers a ton of excitement – from Broadway tunes to songs by famous singers and dancers. Michelle Rajotte must have an endless source of energy.  I’d be exhausted just from the costume changes she makes in one night. She and Melanie Gaskins do a terrific version of Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag. That is most impressive, since it comes toward the end of the show.

So, what was my favorite part? That’s hard to say. I loved the tributes to Fred Astaire, Elvis and Michael Jackson, and OF COURSE, In The Mood and any tap number. And I’m not sure which of the men tumbled high across the stage several times, but whoever he was, he was incredible and I hope he heard my applause. Then there was the drum solo – making me regret not taking drum lessons. Wah.

If there was one song that I wasn’t too crazy about it would be Oklahoma. Judging by the audience reaction, clearly I was the only one there that night that didn’t like that song. I don’t understand why I can’t remember guests’ names from last week, yet I know every word of that song. Maybe it’s because just talking about it firmly embeds in my brain, sort of like being stuck in the movie, Groundhog Day.

I’m sure there are many songs from the show that you’ll like. So if you need an energy boost, don’t miss this original production at AMT. It is playing until October 8 right here in Lancaster County.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Napa Meets Lancaster and the World Rejoices

Those of us who have been mourning the loss of Effie Ophelia can now raise our wine glasses and cheer. The intimate space at 230 North Prince Street has been brought back to life by Taylor and Leeann Mason.

Ma(i)son, An Urban Cookery, features a marriage of Italian cuisine with a French flair, and there are enough changes to make the space seem new while maintaining that wonderful “Cheers” like familiarity.

Unlike Effie’s, Ma(i)son takes reservations – a welcome change. We couldn’t get in on a Wednesday, but on the second try we were able to reserve the Chef’s table for a Thursday night. The small restaurant echoed with laughter and two large groups were clearly enjoying their evening.

We could watch the care and attention to detail that every dish received before being sent out of the kitchen.

Taylor’s smile lit up the small kitchen and Leeann was warm and welcoming.  She was born in Lancaster and moved away when she was four, so it is a bit of a homecoming to move back from Napa Valley.

We shared some of our wine, Cherry Tree Merlot from local Waltz Vineyard and urged them to visit Kim and Jan Waltz when they got a chance.

Dishes feature local produce and cheese from Lancaster County farms – in fact, we recognized the cheese from one of our favorite local Amish cheese makers.

The menu is small and seasonal and will change often – Taylor was already talking about dishes featuring the anticipated tomato crop. We liked both the Ricotta Fritta (so light and delicate) and the Squash and Zucchini Salad. The squash salad had a light dressing and the herbs on the tomato salad oozed the freshness of summer. Crusty bread and the house-made butter with herbs were a nice touch. Yum.

I had the burrata – mozzarella with braised artichokes and country bread, (yes, now that I think of it both dishes show my love of cheese) and Bruce had the slow roasted pork with swiss chard over cannelini beans. The pork melted in your mouth.

Desserts danced on our tongues - a blueberry tart with a hint of lemon and honey in the crust and a lemon verbena crème brulee served, of course, in a small mason jar.

If you go, tell them The Artist's Inn sent you.  Better yet, give us a call and we'll meet you there!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summertime...and the Eating is Easy in Lancaster County

You just can’t beat the fresh taste of summer foods...tomatoes that are still warm from the sun, corn that crunches on the cob and vegetables that look like they are posing for the latest gourmet magazine.

Lancaster County is all about food – after all, we provide it for over six million people a year and grow countless acres of feed for animals too.

There’s a procession of different fruits that parade through the season, each one sweeter than the last...

I thought about all that tonight as I ran out for some tomatoes at the farm stand around the corner - how lucky we are to live in a climate with ample rainfall, and the richest non-irrigated soil in the country.

One time I stopped at this stand and the farmer had run out of lettuce...when I inquired if he had any, he produced a knife and went out to the field to cut a small head of lettuce, for which he charged me only half price. Now THAT is fresh!

We really delight in showcasing these local foods at The Artist’s Inn. The breakfast tomorrow will feature zucchini bread, cantaloupe with lavender syrup, roasted potatoes, asparagus and swiss frittata, dutch apple sausage and double chocolate brownies. Everything is from Lancaster County: the flour, eggs, milk, cheese (from a certified organic old-order Mennonite cheese farmer not a mile from our inn), cocoa and chocolate from Wilbur (in Lititz) and the sausage is made at Shady Maple Farm Market – just three miles up the road. Even the lavender and the herbs are from the inn garden.

The best part is that when you visit, you can take home much of the home-grown goodness of Lancaster County. Just ask us where our favorite farm stands are located.

Here’s a very simple side dish that we live on in the summer: Fresh tomatoes, sprinkled with baby basil leaves, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Add a little Lancaster County goat cheese and I’m in heaven....or maybe just in Lancaster County.