Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fall Delights At The Lakeside Cider Mill

     What would fall be without the inevitable search for cider doughnuts? As we motored north on highway 87 in the Autumn of 2010 we called our usual place and found they were sold out. Disappointed but not surprised, I quickly developed a plan B which involved a computer search for Saratoga Springs and cider doughnuts. I drove while John manned the. iphone
      The first call found a farm only open on weekends. The second call resulted in an open shop and farm stand just a few miles up the road in a town located just a bit south of Saratoga called Ballston Springs. “Yes”, came the answer “we have plenty of cider doughnuts” as I pressed my foot slightly harder on the accelerator I realized I was smiling from ear to ear.
   If I could have described my ideal vision of a New England farm stand where shopping for the doughnuts would be as much of a thrill as eating the doughnuts, I could not have conceived of a place as charming and befitting of the event as the Lakeside Cider Mill. We entered the parking lot and I could hardly wait to park the car. Had I not been driving I am pretty sure I would have asked John to slow down just long enough to have me safely jump out of the car.
     I began snapping pictures as I approached the building like some Autumnal paparazzi, torn between my desire for the perfect shot and the perfect doughnut. I was even more charmed as we entered the store. It was obviously a working convenience store serving the local community year round. It seemed to me that the place came alive in the fall. I marveled at the pumpkins, gourds and apples that were everywhere as the smell of baked goods filled the air. “Hot apple cider and a dozen cider doughnuts” I gushed as I approached the bakery staff wide eyed and grinning like a fool.
     Turns out the Lakeside Cider Mill had been a farm since the late 1800’s and was purchased by the Pearce family in the late 1940’s. Their literature says it has been in the same family for three generations. Perhaps that is why we found everyone working there so helpful and friendly.
     The Lakeside Cider Mill along with leaf peeping, whoopee pie hunting, maple syrup searching and friend visiting will now become one of my fall in New England rituals. As many times as you visit an area there are always new wonders to be discovered and delighted by. Thank You Lakeside Cider Mill for providing one of these seasons delights 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Ventura County Fair And A Lesson Learned

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." ~E.B.White

     Recently we decided to spend a relaxing Saturday rediscovering Ventura California and attending the Ventura County fair. Every time I travel north from LA on the California 101 freeway I am reminded of listening to the radio in the seventies, hearing the group America singing Ventura Highway and knowing that someday I would take that road. I didn’t know then just how often I would travel the 101. It has become the prelude to many of our most memorable road trips. When we arrive in Ventura I generally find myself thinking back to my teen years and my dreams of the California coast. Generally one word usually crosses my mind, gratitude.

     We arrived at Ventura with an appetite and chose to grab lunch at the Anacapa brewing company in the heart of downtown Ventura. We sat outdoors enjoying our calamari, people watching and making friends with a couple of black labs at the next table. Main Street was alive with activity on this summer Saturday morning. Crowds happily milled along the avenue bobbing in and out of the boutiques eateries and thrift shops that line the street. After lunch we joined the crowds making our way toward mission San Bonaventura.
      We have had the opportunity to see quite a few of the 21 missions established by Fr. Junipero Sera on our trips up and down the Coast. Seeing the ornate alter and statuary, it is easy to imagine a time when these missions were the heart and soul of their towns. I began to think about all the people who have come to worship in those weathered wooden pews for the past two hundred and thirty years. In the end we are all connected. We all pray for health, peace and the ability to care for those we love.

     After paying our respects in the church we wandered through the courtyard enjoying the flowers finally realizing we had better get on our way. It was time to head to the Ventura County fair. If someone had ever asked me if I was a fan of county fairs I probably would have said I that at best I was lukewarm about them. The image of crazy crowds wielding sticky cotton candy, pushing and shoving one another as they wind up the midway like salmon on a mission was overall decidedly unappealing to me. I don’t really like the food found at fairs either. I do love decadent treats like eclairs, pastries and rich ice cream but, fried butter or fried  kool-aid really aren't my thing. I had been to a small fair once before and although it was a nice day out, it didn’t thrill me.We have spent a great deal of time in Dallas whose State fair is touted to be one of the best,  yet we have never had the desire to attend. Why Ventura? Why now? I can't say I gave it a lot of thought. It was just meant to be part of a Saturday outing. I guess that it is all part of the magic to be found on an just an ordinary Saturday. 

     I should have known when we found a perfect parking spot with no trouble at all that I was in for a paradigm shift. It was a cool afternoon, perfect for a visit to the fair. We entered the midway and I was not bothered at all by the crowds. I loved watching the pure joy on the faces of the parents as they watched the pure joy and wonder on the faces of their children. It was heartwarming and spoke to me of a simpler time before game boys, cell phones and social media. Most of the fair food was fried as usual but, this time seeing the signs made me smile. I didn’t try any but, I was momentarily tempted at the fried Oreo stand. This visit was turning out to be lots of fun.

     We strolled through the amusement park area hand in hand watching huge gravity defying mechanical rides hurl their passengers round and round. The riders squealed with delight all but drowning out the game barkers who assured us a fabulous prize could be ours if only we would “step right up”. Bright lights twinkled on every ride as calliope music filled the air. I was on a date with my sweetheart and it was very romantic.

     I think the highlight of our visit to the fair was visiting the  exhibit Halls. How did I not know or not remember that the large halls throughout the fair grounds house exhibits of some of our favorite pastimes and hobbies? I recalled that there were ribbons and prizes for best of show at county fairs and suddenly I understood. Fairs are about community and about sharing pride of accomplishment. I enjoyed wandering through the agriculture and botanical halls, where I was glad to see healthy living and healthy eating promoted. I was actually learning a great deal at this fair. Imagine that.
     John and I spent a lot of time in the photography hall. We are avid photographers and loved seeing the travel, nature, portrait and animal photographs on display. We enjoyed the textile hall as well as the chicken, bunny and aquarium areas but, I have to say it came as no surprise that the food hall was my favorite building.
     I was impressed by the variety of canned and preserved products on display. I had never seen such a collection. I analyzed each jar and read all the ribbons. I began happily looking for interesting canning ideas when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed a room full of breads. I ran over to explore them more closely but stopped short as I happened upon racks of pies, pastries, cookies and cakes. I didn’t know which to check out first. John had grown up with county fairs and had even been a member of his local 4-H so this was no surprise to him. I think he enjoyed seeing me discover it for the first time. I found myself wanting to contribute my own culinary offerings and for a moment fantasized about winning a blue ribbon of my own. I was beginning to understand more about county fairs at every turn.

     As much as I hated to leave the food pavilion, we did want to get over to see the farm animals before they went to sleep. We love watching the animals and seeing all the different varieties on display. Seeing the parents introducing their toddlers to perhaps the first baby animals they had ever seen I was reminded of my own childhood visits to the Catskill Game Farm in New York. My mother bought me a cone full of feed to give to the animals. I remember feeling happy and a little scared as well. We watched the sheep and goats for quite a while but it was getting chilly and we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. One last stop and we would be on our way.
      Our final stop was a commercial hall where barkers were hard at work selling the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. The only booth that caught our interest was the Vita Mix booth. We had decided in February that we would buy each other a Vita-Mix for Valentines Day. We try to get each other Valentines Day gifts that we believe promote heart health. It’s become our tradition. Here it was August and we had not gotten around to actually buying the Vita-Mix. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
     Growing up in Manhattan the only fair I ever attended was the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. I must admit that I had more than a few misconceptions about county fairs. I now see that beyond the cotton candy and roasted corn, county fairs are a celebration of communities coming together to learn from, laugh with and lean on one another through good times and bad. It is the very same conclusion I drew after seeing Fr. Serra’s mission. So what has not changed in two hundred and thirty years is that when we gather in communion as friends and neighbors we are comforted, healed and strengthened by each other. It was a very good day at the fair.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Santa Catalina Island: Adventures In Avalon

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”~Kahlil Gibran
     I’ve always been a bit star struck. Names like Lucille Ball, Liz Taylor, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart fuel stories of a studio era Hollywood that fascinate me.  As a little girl I would watch television and see the stars heading off to Catalina for long weekends away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. It all seemed so glamorous.

     Finally it was our turn to visit the legendary resort. Our alarm went off way before the first light of day but I was already awake excited about the adventure ahead of us. Thick gray clouds hung in the air as we drove to the port of Los Angeles but I wasn’t worried about the weather. I knew we would have a wonderful day no matter what. Our ship left San Pedro at 7:15 AM for the one hour and fifteen minute, twenty-two mile ride across the Pacific to the port of Avalon on Catalina Island. As the ship approached the harbor we could see the sun break through as if to welcome us.


Our first order of business in Avalon was breakfast at Sally’s Waffle Shop. It was the kind of local spot that we always hope to find when on the road in a new city. The tiny counter and ten tables were crowded with visitors who sipped coffee as they planned their day. The short order cook churned out breakfasts with lightening speed while servers balanced piled high plates in a space not much larger than an SUV. Well fed and entertained we crossed the street to the tour kiosk at the green pier and selected our tours and activities for the day. 

      Our first tour was a two hour bus trip hosted by Melinda, a local who has been living on Catalina for decades. We learned that Catalina is owned in large part by the Wrigley family of chewing gum and Cubs baseball fame. The Wrigleys set aside large parts of the island as a nature conservancy, which has protected Catalina from over development. This tour would cover a small part of those protected lands. On a lucky day you can see Buffalo herds as you travel up to the airport. Catalina has had buffalo since 1924 when they were brought over for use on a silent film. It turned out to be a lucky Day for buffalo spotting. We found ourselves in the midst of a rather large herd gathering at the lake and basking in the sun. We were all thrilled to get such a close up look at these beautiful beasts and we lingered taking photos and sharing the moment


After the bus tour it was time for our submarine ride. I was a bit relieved to find out that this sub only partially descends. The tour was a bit contrived in that the tour company has trained the fish to swim up to the windows by using food that patrons can release through a chute for a fee. It did however give us the opportunity to see the endangered state fish of California, the Garibaldi. I was mesmerized by the giant kelp forest we traveled through. Tall strands of kelp surrounded us, glowing in the diffused sunlight, waving rhythmically with the movement of the ocean. The kelp here grows at a rate of two feet per day. We were told that the only thing on earth that grows faster is bamboo.  


When people think of Catalina they automatically envision the iconic Avalon Casino a twelve story art deco style ballroom and theater completed in 1929 to showcase a new innovation in film called talkies. The term casino was not always associated with gambling; it is a term that means gathering place and has been adapted in our vernacular to define a gambling hall. We absolutely had to take the tour and see this work of art for ourselves.

     The theater was spectacular with hand painted walls and perfect acoustics. Every detail was a work of art. After a short film about the history of the casino we were led up to the ballroom. Visions of big bands and a bygone era danced in my head. The ballroom was enormous and ornate with the original wood floor and lighting fixtures. I danced with John right there in the middle of the tour so we would always have the memory of dancing at the Avalon ballroom. He is a very good sport about things like that. 


 Another part of the casino houses a history museum. One of the current exhibits was a collection of Rock and Roll photographs by Patti Boyd who had been married to George Harrison and later Eric Clapton. She has written a book about her adventures and shared some of her personal photos which we loved seeing.


 Late afternoon found us hungry and a bit tired after a day of sightseeing. It’s hard to know which places are good when visiting a new town. We took some advice and selected Armstrong’s. This place was right on the water and we decided that even if the food was average at least the view would be worthwhile. We were seated at the waters edge with a view of the marina and the casino. It could not have been a more relaxing dinner. We lingered over our margaritas, ceviche and fish and chips watching the boats and the sea birds who were also looking for some dinner.


We decided to take a sunset walk down the road to lover’s cove to take some photos. The setting sun always seems to intensify the colors of the scenery. The sea turned a deeper blue and the rock formations took on a golden hue as we walked along the path toward a big craggy rock that was home to quite a few sea birds. We lingered at the rock watching the birds settle in for the evening.


As night fell lights were switched on and the harbor began to twinkle all around us. We sat on the beach exhausted but happy listening to an outdoor concert knowing that it would soon be time to leave and knowing that we would never forget the magic of Avalon.