Jammin’ at the 2013 New York State Fair

sage and blueberry

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I entered my upteenth jelly/jam competition at the New York State Fair this year – I can’t quite remember when I entered my first, but I think it was around 1990. And, it all started out with a group of girlfriends who didn’t have much $, and noticed that at the time,  you could get a free ticket ($6)  and paid parking ($3) for entering recipes in the Culinary Division of the NYS Fair – for a cost of $5 and a postage stamp. No brainer, right?

Well, things have certainly changed – ticket prices have risen ($10) and there’s no more paid parking (bummer) – and entry fees have gone up to $7. Oh, well, still ahead of the ballgame…and still having fun! I was the only one that actually entered from the get-go, but no sour grapes there…unless they’re in one of my jams:-)

Since food was always at the forefront of my family history, it’s no surprise that my mother was quite the jam/jelly maker. As soon as berry season came round, Ma would load up my brother Alan and me into the old blue and white Ford(?) wagon and go berry picking.

I particularly remember blueberry picking, because Ma would tie  a clothesline “strap” to a couple of old white porcelain enamelware pots (the ones with the navy blue stripe around the edge) and put them around our necks so we could pick berries. At least that was the plan. It was lucky for Ma that the lady tallied up the blueberries on the way out…and didn’t watch us as we ate two berries for every one in the pot. But we had a blast.

I still have fun picking berries at the patch down the road – local folks have had these great blueberry bushes for generations, and this year, they were loaded to the hilt. Dave & I piled up the quarts and headed home to freeze them…or, in my case, make a few batches of low-sugar blueberry jam. And one jar found its way into the New York State Fair “Taste of NY” Jam…from local produce…and I left the Fair with a Third Place white ribbon – made my day for sure.

But my day got even better when one of my newer entries in the savory division, Sage Jelly, garnered a Blue Ribbon – and, I thought that one was a long shot! It has an interesting taste, and can be used as a dinner condiment for real or faux meat entrees (yeah, I’m a vegetarian) or on toast. Very tasty…and the judges agreed. They even made a note that this is a really nice surprise for the category.

Though my favorites were made from wild berries on PondView Lodge’s acreage, the judges didn’t quite have a wild enough palate for Chokecherry Jelly and Mayapple Jam…though one of them noted that they really liked the Chokecherry Jelly, but it got marked down for a technicality – wasn’t translucent enough to be classified as a jelly. But they noted to please try again next year – I appreciate the encouragement and thought that was a nice gesture.

Well, I will try again next year with those wilder varieties, but in the meantime, I’ll bask in the  reflections from my shiny new 2013 New York State Fair ribbons…

Cheap Chic

dining setting

Well, for any of those who followed our major kitchen renovation last summer, you’ll know that “cheap” was definitely not the case.

However, we lucked out with some of the decor items – here are a few of them…

The dining chair fabric was bough on-line…from a fabric store that my Mom used to take me to…a LONG time ago…still a family-owned business with wonderful fabrics and now, an on-line store – Osgood Textiles in West Springfield, MA. Needless to say the fabric cost was very cheap…and the fabric was great!

The placemats were found last fall – end of season clearance at, none other than, Dollar General – for $.50 apiece – I bought all 8 of them – they match the curtains and colorscheme of apple green, warm grey and sky blue.

Finally, the dishes…well, we looked at all sorts of dinnerware sets and just couldn’t find anything we liked. Until we went food shopping at a local Tops Market. There, at the end of the aisle, was a group of coordinating colors of microwave-safe stoneware. We could mix and match colors, and they were…cheap, cheap, cheap.

So, I guess, you never know where you’ll find the perfect accessories – including a very nosey black Ninja kitten…

Finally-Finished Hoosier

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Well, we’ve been working on this old hoosier kitchen cabinet on-and-off for about a year. It needed some repairs (which my hubby, Dave, wonderfully took care of) but was basically good shape…especially considering its age. My best guess, so far, is that it is a Hoosier brand unit from 1910-1920, though the hardware and glass etchings on the top unit look more similar to some pictures of a Sellers unit I saw on the web. Whatever the case, this beautiful old gal is now sitting pretty in our renovated kitchen.

We used the same Benjamin Moore organic paint (Snowfall) as the built-in cabinets which was a bit tricky to use…since it dried faster than you can whistle Dixie…I think it looks great, though, and really lends a true farmhouse flavor to the updated kitchen. I stripped all the hardware of paint, and then soaked it in distilled white vinegar to remove any rust, wire-brushed and oiled with 3-in-1 oil. Most of the nickel-plating was gone on the hardware, but I’m going to use it as it is – it has character. And besides, replacing it (or replating) would cost a small fortune…:-)

After I paint the inside of the flour bin/sifter with foodsafe paint I ordered from a local appliance house, I plan on loading it up with flour and using it as a baking station, just as it was designed to be decades ago. It will be really cool to use that old unit as I’m prepping wild edibles for lunch or chokecherry jelly and mayapple jam for canning.

And, of course, what would a farmhouse kitchen be without a few rescued “feline finds” exploring and keeping the kitchen mice-free…here at PondView…

Three Little Distractions

Well, I’m a bit behind schedule with the blog — I’ve had three little distractions show up at our PondView doorstep…literally. One momcat and two little kittens. So I figured I might as well feature them in the blog…give them a little star power.

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The “distractions” have been in residence on our front porch, temporarily called “the kitty encampment”. The grey & black kitten got adopted last weekend, but Farah and Gracie (everyone gets names here) are still here, still waiting for a good home  (and spay appointments), but looking a lot better than when they first showed up.

About two weeks ago I noticed a black cat crossing the road, and I thought it was Dodger, our barn resident “wild child”, but then I saw a second black cat following…and my heart sank. I checked it out and found a very small timid black cat…with a black&grey kitten. She was checking me out, but the kitten was hiding – so I went and got some food and put it at the edge of the yard, under a large pine tree and left – when I came back, the bowl was empty, so I took it in the house. I later saw her crossing the road again with not one, but two little black kittens. Another heart sink.

The breakfast and dinner food routine continued for a day or two, and then I found mom waiting at the edge of the yard before feeding times – she eventually came over to me and let me pet her – she was just skin and bones – it broke my heart. The road crossing really had me concerned, so I decided to move the food dish closer to our front porch, hoping that she might prefer that to where she had been stashing her kittens. In the meantime, I setup a porch chair with fleece pillows and an open-doored cat carrier for shelter.

Sure enough, she started coming on the porch for the food & water…but no kittens came with her. On day six, however, at dinnertime, she showed up, ate some, but left some food in the dish. Usually, I would bring the dish in so it wouldn’t attract other critters, but something told me to leave it out. After spending some time with her on the porch, I went in and got busy doing stuff. I looked out the window a little while later, and bingo, three feline butts were lined up at the food dish.

Fast forward to today…we were happy that the little grey & black female got a great home with our neighbor’s brother – she’ll have a “big” feline brother and a canine companion – and she’s scheduled to get spayed as soon as she hits the magic “4 months or 4 pounds” mark.

Farah and Gracie are still with us – yes, they always get names – Farah is now able to get spayed, so we’ll be taking her to the Spay and Neuter Syracuse clinic in two weeks – great place, great people. And, we’ve started networking with all the local animal lovers to see if we can find them good homes. We keep praying, networking, feeding…and hugging.

And, in the meantime, we’ll enjoy these little gifts that God has put on our doorstep…

Katie M’Lady…We Still Miss You

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On this day last year, we lost a beautiful soul.

Katie, our 12-year-old huskie-mix, CNYSPCA “graduate” crossed over the Rainbow Bridge…and we were left behind…with big holes in our hearts.

She may have left us physically, but her spirit is interwoven into our daily lives…and all throughout the PondView property.

We adopted Katie from the CNYSPCA on Good Friday of 2004, two months after we lost another great soul, our beloved boxer-lab-pit mix, Zeke (more on him in a later blog). She had been picked up as a stray, and they guessed she was about 4-years old.

From the start, she was very mellow, but after we moved up to Williamstown, once she got used to the lay of the land, she loved every inch of it. Daily walks, hikes, snowshoe expeditions…she went on them all. She even lived through the blizzard of 2007, where we were at the epicenter of Mother Nature’s memorial 10-long 132″ snow dump. Even so, she went out snowshoeing with me every morning,  following my snowshoe tracks to get through the snow!

But she was sneaky – very sneaky. She knew when I was distracted  (usually via the phone), and she would saunter over to the cat food, clean the plate, then walk by me, licking her lips. Very smooth…

Everyone loved her, including the two wild “barn boys”. All our old neighbors in Chittenango would come out every time we took a neighborhood walk, and she was affectionately known by all the kids as “the dog with the waving ears”…She never met a person (or ice cream cone) that she didn’t like. And she especially loved my great-nephew, Max – Katie was the love of his life, and it broke his heart when she passed.

I see her everywhere…at the top of the back hill…under the stairway (her own personal den)…laying out in the backyard…guarding the gardens…and following us around on our daily missions.

We buried her in the backfield where she always love to run, between two young pawpaw trees. Our wonderful neighbors, Annie & Sue, gave us the solid cherry plaque for her grave. It stands, facing the sun, to mark the resting place of one of the best dogs God ever created.

We still miss you, Katie M’Lady…you’re still in our hearts…

A Great Time on the AutoTrain!

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I had heard about Amtrak’s AutoTrain back in the 80’s when it launched and thought it would be really fun to take it sometime – packing up my bags AND my car seemed pretty cool. Time passed, and life got busy, and well, you know how it goes.

Fast forward Christmas 2012…my stepson and his wife said they’d love to have us visit sometime. They live in Florida, and when we decided to take a break from PondView, we thought a visit in the spring would be fun. Of course, the idea of flying didn’t exactly thrill us. Long lines, luggage inspection, security, missed connections, having to rent a gas-guzzling Hummer even though you reserved a compact eco-car because “none were available at that time”…not much fun.

So I checked out to see if Amtrak’s AutoTrain was still running – and sure enough, it was. To seal the deal, one of my husband’s co-workers took it a few times with her family and had a great time, so he was game. Looked at the options, selected the small sleeper compartment (for 2), and made the reservation for the 16-hour train ride from Lorton, VA to Sanford, FL.

It was a 6-hour drive from our place to Lorton, VA, where the AutoTrain departs, so we packed up the car the night before and got up bright and early for the drive. We arrived in plenty of time (despite the crazy traffic in the Baltimore/DC area) and drove up to the entrance lanes where our car was inspected and photographed and assigned an auto number for unloading. Grabbing our overnight stuff, we headed to the station and checked in; we were told the train would be open for boarding at 3PM and that complimentary wine & cheese was available in the lounge car – they had a great spread, with fresh-cut veggies, crackers, a nice selection of cheese, and two choices of wine. Not bad…not bad at all…

Next came our compartment…a nice little cozy 2-person unit that had neat little storage cubbies, piped in music channels, comfy seats and 2 drop-down bunk beds. All the coffee, tea and bottled water we wanted…newspaper…magazine…our steward, Cliff, gave us the rundown about where to find the bathrooms, shower, dining car (full-course dinner and continental breakfast included) and made dinner reservations for us. This was proving to be a lot more fun than sitting in the airport…or eating peanuts on the plane…

So we relaxed, read to our hearts’ content and enjoyed some of the scenery while sipping on an assortment of beverages. I even took an early shower (full-sized standup…with handlebars…of course) and stretched out before dinner. We met an interesting couple at dinner and talked Antiques Roadshow – they were professionals, we were by far amateur antique admirers – all while eating a pretty good full-course meal including dessert and coffee. There was even a nice vegetarian option which was quite tasty, and the waiter was entertaining – as a matter of fact, all the staff we crossed paths with seemed to be having a blast. Find that at an airport.

After dinner, Cliff came and checked on us, they when we were ready, he came and made the bunkbeds appear – pretty clever – what a fun job…to design all these cool little gizmos. Comfy pillows, plenty of blankets…beddy-bye…surprise…I had a dream about trains…

The next morning, we got up and used the bathroom down the hall, then headed down to breakfast. Coffee was great, again the waiter was fun, and they had a nice spread of fresh fruit, cereals, bagels, juice and muffins. We met a couple of new people, one moving down to Florida with his car, and the other was returning home after a motorcycle road trip up to Virginia. More great conversation and then back to our compartment for some more reading before we pulled in to Sanford, Florida at 9AM…a full half-hour ahead of schedule. No way THAT would have happened if we had flown.

It was cool to watch all the cars unloading from their special train cars – a team of Amtrak drivers drove them down the ramps – that’s where the vehicle number comes in – they call out the numbers, just like bingo, as the cars are unloaded and you pick up your vehicle in the loading area. Not a scratch or dent…nothing…no lost luggage….nothing!

As we pulled out of the lot on our journey to Pompano Beach, we looked at each other and said, “Would definitely do this again!”…so thanks, Amtrak, for one of the most enjoyable (and unique) journeys we’ve taken…

Mayapples are a’sproutin

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We PondView folks are so fortunate to have a few mayapple patches already established on various areas on our property. These alien-looking plants seem to pop up overnight, and then start their unfurling as the season goes along. Mature plants have a Y-formation and produce, first, a white petalled flower in the middle, and then, a green-yellowish fruit resembling a small lemon or lime. These fruits are what I’m after…and usually I have to compete with all kinds of critters to get them.

Sometimes, to be sure that I get my fill of mayapples, I’ll pick them just as they’re starting to ripen, stick them inside a brown paper bag, and tuck away in the back of the counter area…in the cooler, dark region. Eventually, they’ll ripen up on their own.

I’ve even taken to fencing in some of these small patches so I can have enough to make a batch of Mayapple Jam. This beautiful, citron-colored preserve has a very gentle taste reminiscent of strawberry/banana combination…at least to my palate! Spead on a freshly-toasted english muffin or bagel…pure delight…and a cup of good coffee…life doesn’t get much better than that…

Mayapples Podophyllum peltatum are members of the barberry family, and have several other names — mandrake, Indian apple, umbrella plant, to name a few. They grow and spread by rhizome, and when established and in ideal conditions can continue for years. They love shady and well-drained soil – usually hedgerows or openings in forest floors. Only the ripe fruits (softer and more yellow skinned) are edible – unripe fruit and all other plant parts are poisonous, so pick with caution.

Mayapples can be found in many parts of the country, so if you’re poking around in the woods or field-edges, be on the lookout for the little umbrellas!