Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh Tanenbaum

I’ve always loved White Pine for our Christmas trees.  We used to be able to find them at a local tree farm and cut them ourselves.  Now we’re lucky enough to find them at all. It seems that Concolor and Fraser Fir are all the rage.  Feeling a bit like Charlie Brown, we search out the lots and usually find a few white pines.  Way at the back of the lot.  This year the selection was particularly small.

But we're fortunate enough to live in a part of Lancaster County where several local businesses  carry trees.  There's no need to go to Lowe's or Home Depot, or, gasp, Costo.  It really adds to the experience when the entire business is dedicated to Christmas.   Frysville Farms is one of our favorites.  It's family run and in business since 1760.  They not only carry trees, but have pine roping and a great selection (over 80,000) of poinsettias. I’ve blogged about these beautiful poinsettias before.  See:  Great Places to Shop.  
But on this particular day it was all about the tree.  So we set out looking for White Pine.
Concolor and Fraser Firs were piled high over my head.   

 Spruce and Douglas Fir were also plentiful.
As we made the long walk to the end of the lot, I wished we had come earlier in the year—even though it was still November.
There they werek, at the very end.  We usually take advantage of the tall ceilings at the inn and get a very substantial tree, but this year, we had to settle for one just a little over six feet tall.
It looked even smaller after it was wrapped.

But once our modest White Pine was decorated, it was transformed- just like Charlie Brown’s - into a beautiful tree, with its long graceful needles softly enveloping the ornaments. 

Holidays are often noisy and fun.  They fly by way too fast.  But those days that the tree is in the house are wonderful, filling the air with its scent.  I love to light the tree in the morning while it’s still dark outside, or sit in the room at night with only the tree lit.  It’s about my favorite thing to do at Christmastime.
Perhaps it’s the symbolism of light in the darkness, or the memories reflected in the ornaments, or the fact that ours will be a quiet celebration this year, but more than ever before it seems that the little things mean the most - like the tradition of caring for a live tree.

And when the quiet, bare days of January come, I will surely miss the noisy, cluttered days of Christmas, but I’ll be especially aware of the empty spot in the sitting room where our tree stood.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Importance of Dining Together

I recently had the chance to attend the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland with my good friend Paula.  It was a feast for not only the taste buds, but the eyes as well.

Beautifully decorated cakes….


Incredible wines, and terrific chefs. 

We saw Michael Symon, Jeff Mauro, Jason Roberts, Ann Burrell and, my hero from a long-ago cooking show called “Cooking Live”, SaraMoulton.  What I liked most about Sara’s show is that she invited people from around the country to cook with her.  And something always went wrong.  Always.  THAT is when you learned how to fix mistakes, adapt to the changes, and still create a good dish.  As far as I know, it’s the only show of its kind ever.  I am forever grateful to her and learned so much from her show – most importantly, not to panic.  (And yes, she really IS that tiny!)

The chefs talked about their recipes, their careers, gave tips on cooking and fielded all kinds of questions from the audience.
There seemed to be chefs everywhere – even in the restrooms!
I won’t say we were the very last to leave, but we really did enjoy the show.

As I thought about it, I realized that all the chefs offered up the same bit of advice:  sit down at the table and have dinner with your family!  They urged us to take one or two nights a week, drop the cell phones, I-pads and tablets into a basket, turn off the TV, and share a meal and talk. 
As our lives become increasingly chaotic, Americans tend to eat more and more on the run.  It’s a rare night when the phone isn’t ringing, the kids don’t have soccer practice and there’s not some kind of meeting.  But if we lose this most-important component, I fear the fabric of the family will start to unravel.  It’s a custom that crosses all cultures, geographies and income levels and will pay big dividends in the future because setting the lines of communication early creates a path for future relationships. 

Maybe that’s why guests at the inn like breakfast time so much.  I often hear that the interaction with the other guests is one of the reasons they find bed and breakfasts so appealing, so relaxing and civilized – their words, not mine!  You don't often find that in a hotel.
As we prepare to sit down tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving, I wish you, your family and friends a wonderful mealtime together – a time for sharing, being grateful and just enjoying the art of conversation - at least until half the table runs out to shop and the other leaves to watch the football games!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Old Houses – Where Love Lives

What is it about an old house that exudes warmth the minute you walk in the door?  Can it possibly convey the laughter and happy times that have happened within its walls?   I think so!

Last week my mom and I received the good news that her house had sold.  So we traveled back to a suburb of Cleveland to clear out some furniture, dishes and clothing.  I knew this would be a tough trip.  Yes, the packing was hard work, but the help of friends and cousins lightened the load.  I was more concerned with packing up my emotions.

This small house that my parents built so long ago and where I was raised would be called “home” no matter where I lived.  The one filled with laughter, late-night card parties, backyard bar-b-ques, and graduation pictures taken on the front lawn.  Even though the living room was now empty of furniture, I could still see the Christmas tree that held so many gifts when my brothers and I would travel back.

The old black wall phone used to be by the side door –when phones had curly-cue cords – and I would stretch it straight as far as I could out the door so that I could sit outside on the stoop and have long conversations with my girlfriends.
I could once again see the swing that my dad built tall and strong - and I can still feel the excitement when you swing just a bit too high and you lift off the seat for a moment. 
Here was the back yard that once held the garden which supplied half the neighborhood with vegetables.
And the kitchen.  A tiny space that created an endless oasis of incredible food – cakes, pies, cookies, pierogies, turkeys, kielbasa, chicken paprikash, and that very special treat on Christmas Eve – shrimp cocktail.  This was the kitchen where I learned to bake – sometimes ending up with more flour on me than in the cookies!
That house held so many memories for both mom and me – it was difficult to leave it for the last time, and I was grateful for the pouring rain that mixed with my tears and rushed us along. It would have been unbearable to leave it in sunny weather.

Several realtors had commented about the “good feeling” of the house.  So maybe it’s NOT just me! 

 I do know one thing – I’m so grateful that our inn feels the same when I walk in.  Probably because we’ve been fortunate enough to know the Homans – a family that lived here from 1931 until 1989. They raised five children here and we’ve been lucky enough to hear their stories and share them with our guests.  And I feel that the house is grateful to once again have its hallways echo with laughter – this time with guests from around the world.
Of course a house witnesses both the good times and bad.  But I’m an eternal optimist and hopeless romantic.  So the good times will always take precedence.

Can people feel the good times?  Since so many of our guests return again and again, I kind of think they can. 
And perhaps, every now and again, we all just need to go “home”, to a place of love and laughter.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fun at American Music Theater

We caught the American Icons Show yesterday.  It was a non-stop toe-tapping treat from the moment the curtain opened.

My mom really enjoyed the Motown Tribute, Bruce loved the Sinatra songs, and I can’t get enough of the dancing.  But my favorite song was their rendition of Billy Joel’s  New York State of Mind with Wess Cooke and Marybeth Kern on sax.  Wow.
With all that fun energy in one place, how can you go wrong? 
The show will continue through October 7.  As with any show at American Music Theater, we can offer discounted tickets to our guests at The Artist's Inn.
American Icons

Monday, July 30, 2012

There’s A New Red in Town

As an innkeeper, I try to keep up to date with everything that is going on in Lancaster County.  Especially the fun stuff.  I feel that It’s my duty to tell guests about great places to experience, whether it’s a new show, restaurant or attraction.

And so I attended the opening of Thorn Hill Vineyards Tasting Room.  It's only about half an hour from The Artist's InnAs I entered, I quickly found some innkeeper friends and a “girls night out” was born.   

The owners – Jack and Amy Thorn – are Pennsylvania residents that own vineyards in California. 
They offer 11 different varietals – including one of my favorite reds – Petite Sirah. 
 We chatted with Amy, munched on wonderful cheeses and enjoyed this upscale tasting room.  And, of course, we joined the Wine Club.
If you are in need of a girl’s night out, this is the place for you!  The schedule includes music on Friday nights, trivia nights and...special nights for girls only.  YAY!  Here’s a link to their schedule.
Don’t be surprised to find me there - strictly for research, you know.  I may even take Bruce sometime! 

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my job?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Magic of Summer in Lancaster County

Maybe it’s the early morning dew shining in the sun, the corn leaves blowing in the breeze, or the never-ending succession of blooming flowers.

It could be the sight of an Amish farmer plowing his field, Amish children running down the lane, or produce bulging from the bike baskets of our Old-order Mennonite neighbors.

Perhaps it’s the song of the birds, the sight of a buggy crammed full of giggling girls, young Amish boys in straw hats, or young girls tending the family garden.

There’s corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, and ice cream at a nearby dairy farm.

Farm stands are loaded with fresh produce, and cows watch as you bicycle by.  Seems like time goes a little slower, the air smells a little sweeter, and smiles are everywhere …..that’s the magic of summer in Lancaster County.

But sumer doesn’t last forever….don’t let it slip away.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Fun Way to Scoot Around Lancaster

If you want to see the back roads of Lancaster County, but you think riding on the train is too fast,  traveling by buggy is too slow, and parking the car can be too much trouble ...

then a scooter may be just the right speed and size!
You can stop anywhere you want - to get a close-up of the cows, shop in town, or grab an ice cream cone. 

First you need to pick a color you like.

Marc will explain everything you need to know.

 Then you need to grab some friends and head for the back roads of Lancaster County.

We tried it and sure had fun!   Guests of The Artist's Inn enjoy a special discount with Strasburg Scooters.  We think you'll like it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Secret Behind Innkeepers' Great Breakfasts….

Part of why the food tastes so good at bed and breakfasts is because it looks so nice.  Most innkeepers know how to create wonderful food with fresh local ingredients.  They dress it up, serve it in a beautiful atmosphere….and voila - guests feel pampered!

Certainly garnishing plays an important role – as does an accessible herb garden.  But most innkeepers  I know have great stuff.  From beautiful linens to quirky serving dishes, B&Bs set a table that matches their excellence in the kitchen.

So….what do two innkeepers from Lancaster County do when they get a rare day off?  Well, go shopping for more stuff, of course.  That’s just what Lynne Griffin (of the Australian Walkabout) and I did.  I discovered Marlyand China years ago.  They used to sell only wholesale, but have now opened up their showroom and website so that you, too, can enjoy all that great china you find at The Artist's Inn.
This is the overstock room - a treasure trove of vases, dishes, cups and platters.

I don't often use them for breakfast, but I have the covered casseroles,

several of the pitchers, and the platters on the bottom shelf.
Although the showroom is small, we managed to fill several bags full of great "stuff". My friends are usually more organized than I am; Lynne's the one that marked the boxes so that we could get everything back to the right inn.
The folks at Marylnad China are very helpful trying to wedge fragile packages into a small car.

Whether you need platters for your muffins,

berry bowls for fresh fruit,

serving dishes for jam,

or a tea set for your Babymoon package, you can fine all that and more at one of my favorite "secret" shopping places, Maryland China.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Just in time for Easter – Cheesecake with Warm Spiced Plums

Last night we invited friends over for dinner.  I made an Indian dish that we love, Tikka Masala and, because it has a bit of a bite to it, I wanted a creamy but not-too-sweet dessert.  I decided on a cheesecake – and combined several recipes to come up with this one.  I hope you like it.  It would be a perfect ending to an Easter dinner……and you just might find it at our Easter celebration this weekend.

1 ¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick melted butter

Combine dry ingredients, add butter, and press down in a 9-inch pie pan.
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sour cream
8 oz. cream cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Put first four ingredients in blender and liquefy for 30 seconds.  With the blender running, slowly add cream cheese in chunks.  Stop now and then to scrape blender.  Add melted butter. 
Pour into crust and refrigerate for about an hour.

Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes.

Chill until set.

Warm Spiced Plums:
Just before serving, clean and slice four plums.  Sauté in a small pan with 3 tablespoons of sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ cup water.  Stir until the plums are soft and the sugar makes a nice sauce.

Spoon over cheesecake.
Serves 8 – 10.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

That's a Whole Lot of Bananas!

Just three miles from the inn lies a food lover’s dream. 
It’s the largest smorgasbord in Lancaster County.  In a county that has quite a few PA Dutch restaurants, that’s saying something!  Here are the numbers:  40 items on the salad bar, 7 meats, 14 vegetables and over 25 desserts.
Each day of the week features a different highlight.  Tuesday is seafood night – a favorite of our guests. 
Our advice is to go hungry and get the roast beef, broasted chicken and dried corn.  We can’t get enough of these!  A smorgasbord is also an opportunity to try some Pennsylvania Dutch foods that you might be curious about – like chow-chow, chicken-corn chowder, pepper cabbage, and shoofly pie.

Though it’s big – I recently learned that it’s the largest one on the east coast, (last year they fed 1,345,000 people), they do a great job of keeping it very clean.  And you’ll never feel rushed.

Shady recently earned a plaque from Sight and Sound Theaters announcing that they are the dining choice of their customers.  Speaking of numbers, that’s a lot of folks as well!

Our guests not only enjoy the enormous buffet, but the gift shop and farm market too. 
And what a farm market it is.  Shady makes its own sausages - we serve the sundried tomato and basil chicken sausage at breakfast.  It has a large bakery section (try the gourmet peach bread) and even carry gluten-free whoopie pies.  Shady buys fresh local produce from our local farmers auction (just outside of Terre Hill).   

And, best of all, Shady Maple is very good to the community, supporting a lot of local charities.  So the money stays locally rather than benefiting some huge company out in Arkansas. 

I was at a luncheon recently and learned that Shady’s two biggest sellers are donuts (they sold one million last year) and bananas -  over 600,000 lbs. - that’s more than the 30,000 in Harry Chapin’s song!

So the next time you find yourself in Lancaster County and craving either a banana or donut, you now know where to go!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Inn with the Old!

Most folks love new things and I am no exception, especially if it’s a gadget for the kitchen or pair of shoes.  But what really makes my heart beat fast is something old.  Something that has stood the test of time, been loved and cared for and has a well-worn patina.

Bruce was brought up in a household that always loved antiques.  But I didn't have much exposure to them until I met him.  And so a whole new world opened up when we started dating.  And my love affair with all things old is still going strong.

Friends were visiting last weekend.  They started out as guests in 2002, and after spending many weekends antique shopping, we have become friends.  These are dangerous folks because they have elevated the art of buying antiques to a level of incredible taste and style.  They asked us to go to the VillageBarn Antique Shop in nearby Churchtown.  While we had been there before, they said that the quality of the antiques was remarkable.  And so we innocently set out for a quick visit.

And there it was.  Across the room.  It was love at first sight.
Bruce and I have always wanted a grandfather clock, and we could kick ourselves for passing one up at auction several years ago.  They seem such a distant relative from the modern high-tech digital clock. And to have one that is beautiful, functional and patiently ticks - a piece of furniture instead of an accessory.
And so we talked....well, not for long.  But we did try to learn what we could.  
It was made in 1820 in Philadelphia by Thomas F. Joyce. This is the year that:
- Maine is admitted as the 23rd state,
- Tomatoes are proven to be non-poisonous,
- Missouri imposes a $1 bachelor tax on unmarried men between 21 and 50, and
- 67 Philadelpians die of yellow fever in September.

A different time indeed.  You can't help but wonder who it was that first wound this clock.  And so it was decided, we'd take it home.  Now began the process of taking it apart,

inluding the pendulum
the weights
and the face.  We learned how to set it, wind it,
and level it. 

We finally welcomed it to The Artist's Inn!

with plenty of ceiling space

Not in the market for a clock?  No problem.  The Village Barn is only ten minutes from the inn, is open every day but Tuesday and Wednesday and has so many wonderful items.   It's located in a restored century old tobacco warehouse in Lancaster County.
We’ve bought several antiques before, but on my list right now are:
An adorable French lunchbox - the green one on the left

This antique tray

This really neat apple butter bucket (not sure what I'd do with it as it is REALLY big!)

and I loved these boots as well.  But our friends bought those, so I'll get to see them whenever we visit. Here are some more items that you might like!

But you are warned.  Visiting this shop may result in falling in love with something irresistable, something you may have never seen.....something old.