MEET SANTA CLAUS IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE IN A MAGICAL, FESTIVE HOLIDAY PROGRAM

OFF THE MAP TRAVEL

Finland-based New Off the Road Travel Program is Holiday Perfect Offering Dog Sledding, Reindeer Farm, Snowmobiling and More

Launching in November, a new seven-day, six-night Ultimate Christmas Invitation itinerary transports visitors to the Arctic Circle to meet Santa Claus in his home, deep in the Lapland forest.  The program includes accommodations, activities and some meals as detailed below.

The festive journey starts in Helsinki before heading to Lapland with a personalized, handwritten letter and photobook from Santa Claus, highlighting all the ways guests have been “nice” this year and requesting the traveler’s presence at a one-on-one meeting at Santa’s home in Lapland.

Designed to enthrall all ages, the Ultimate Christmas Invitation from specialist travel company Off the Map Travel, creates a personalized experience for each member of the traveling party. Perfect for pre-Christmas shopping and celebrating throughout the festive season, the program is offered from November to January and begins with an overnight in Helsinki in the art deco boutique hotel Lilla Roberts where guests receive a “golden ticket” for the “Polar Express” overnight night train from Finland’s capital city to Rovaniemi, above the Arctic Circle.

“The itinerary builds suspense and anticipation up to the moment of meeting Santa in person. With no queues and a location in the most festive place on earth, the trip is a dream for those who love Christmas and Santa Claus,” noted Jonny Cooper, Arctic travel expert and founder of Off the Map Travel.

Guests can also stargaze and search for the Northern Lights through huge skylight windows in exclusive Aurora loft rooms at Rovaniemi’s contemporary Arctic Light Hotel. The magical city, just above the Arctic Circle is perfect for an immersion into Christmas and for numerous shopping opportunities.

To complete the experience, the tour continues to Inari, a center of winter activities, the birthplace of Finnish Sami, and the home of Santa. There, with winter clothing provided, guests can choose from outdoor programs including dogsledding, a reindeer farm meet-up and sleigh ride, and snowmobiling through the brilliant Lappish landscape.

In Inari, at Santa’s workshop, participants will have a personal meeting with Kris Kringle himself with plenty of time to chat about Santa’s feelings about this year’s holiday, his elves and, of course, you.  As no Christmas holiday is complete without a gift, visitors will receive something very special before embarking on a sleigh ride to the Wilderness Hotel Inari, an unusual “round” log cabin resort with comfortable beds, a personal sauna in each cabin, and views over Lake Inari or River Nukkumajoki. In the evening, the cabin’s open fire is invites you to cozy up and search for the Northern Lights in the clear skies.

The seven-day, six-night Ultimate Christmas Invitation itinerary is priced from $3806 USD  per person, (at the time of this writing) including all activities, transfers, one night’s accommodations in Helsinki , one night’s accommodations in Rovaniemi, three nights’ full board accommodation in Inari, and the overnight train to Rovaniemi from Helsinki. Flights are additional. As with any itinerary from Off the Map Travel, this program can be tailor-made to fit the wishes and requirements of the guest.

Detailed itinerary:

Day 1

Arrive in Helsinki and take your private transfer to your hotel and check into your connecting rooms at Lilla Roberts. On arrival to your room, you will be greeted with a personal invitation to head north to the beautiful wilderness of Finnish Lapland for a magical Christmas adventure! Tonight, explore the Christmas markets and the festive spirit to get you in the mood.

Day 2

Enjoy Helsinki today before you head to the train station to board your overnight train to Rovaniemi. Watch the amazing scenery as you head north and perhaps get a glimpse of the Northern Lights as the skies darken.

Day 3

Arrive at Rovaniemi late morning and take your private transfer to the city center and to your hotel; the Arctic Light Hotel where you will check in to your Aurora Loft room. Evening at leisure to explore the city and enjoy dinner in the city. 

Day 4

After breakfast, take you private transfer to Inari. On arrival at the Wilderness Hotel Inari, you will check in, receive your program for the next few days, and pick up winter clothing especially for the planned outdoor activities. Afterwards it’s time for a delicious dinner in the restaurant.

Later, head out to try to spot the Northern Lights outdoors in the snowy wilderness or simply cozy up in your Aurora cabin looking towards the night skies.

Day 5

After breakfast it’s time for an n exciting dog sledding adventure. You will be taught how to handle the sled before you set out on the husky safari, where the huskies will pull your sled through the beautiful winter scenery.

The dogs’ enthusiasm is infectious and as the animals fall silent on the trail, you will realize that this is one of the best ways to experience the wintry beauty of Lapland.

This afternoon you’ll travel by car to a reindeer farm to meet one of this area’s most famous residents. You will meet the reindeer herders and learn about the importance of reindeer in Lapland. You will also learn how to lasso a reindeer and have a short ride in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Day 6

Today the winter adventure continues with a snowmobile tour, no previous experience required. First you will get familiar with the snowmobile, have full safety instructions and a driving lesson. After everyone feels comfortable, you will journey into the nearby surroundings through the beautiful Lappish scenery.

This afternoon is the highlight of the trip you’ve all been waiting for — meeting Santa himself! Meet Santa, enjoy a chat with him and receive a special gift.

Tonight, you will end your stay in Finnish Lapland with a beautiful trip to the Aurora Camp. This activity takes in the amazing surroundings of Inari. You will be comfortably seated in a sledge that is pulled by the guide’s snowmobile. At the hut there is a hut with an open fire to warm you, and your guide will also serve warm drinks to keep you cozy.

Day 7

Check out this morning and take your transfer to Ivalo Airport ready for your departure flight. 


OFF THE MAP TRAVEL

The team at Off the Map Travel works with experiences and destinations that allow people to explore hidden wonders of our planet. Specializing in Soft Adventure OTMT creates tailor-made holiday itineraries offering authentic experiences not offered by many larger travel companies.  For more information on Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call 1-646-701-0041; email info@offthemap.travel  or visit FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube or Pinterest..

Beef It Up! 50 Mouthwatering Recipes for Ground Beef, Steaks, Stews, Roasts, Ribs, and More

Beef It Up (Storey Publishing) is a focused collection of recipes by popular food blogger Jessica Formicola offers 50 tasty ways to serve up protein-rich beef meals without a lot of fuss. Flavorful beef suppers (Cheeseburger Soup, Shepard’s Pie Mac & Cheese) are featured along with new classics (Sheet Pan Steak Fajitas, 20-Minute Mongolian-style Beef ), salads (Southwest Steak Salad w/ Chipotle Ranch and Steakhouse Salad w/ Blue Cheese), quick hits (Empanada Hand Pies and Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce), and the tried-and-true burgers, steaks, and chili. Juicy photos provide the inspiration and confidence cooks of all levels need to deliver on the promise of a great meal every time.

Jessica Formicola

The creator of Savory Experiments, Formicola is a trusted food and lifestyle blog. She appears regularly on national networks providing cooking demonstrations and entertaining ideas. She has contributed to Parade, The Daily Meal, Mashed, and Better Homes & Gardens, and has partnered with over 100 national food brands on product releases and cooking tutorials. Formicola lives near Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and children.

Chapters Include

Crockpot, freezer and make-ahead friendly mealsShredded Beef 5 Ways, Tips on cooking ground beef, Uses top sirloin, one of our less expensive cuts, How to Properly Brown Beef, 4 Inexpensive Cuts of Beef & How to Make Them Taste Fantastic! Myths About Cooking Beef, What to Look For When Buying Beef.

Red Wine Beef Stew

There’s nothing quite like a steaming bowl of beef stew on a chilly winter night. It’s like your food is giving you a giant hug.

What makes this recipe extra special is that instead of requiring a long simmering time to tenderize the meat, it calls for a New York strip steak, because that’s what I had on hand when I first created this stew. That was years ago, but I still prefer the same cut because it results in the tastiest, melt-in-your mouth beef stew you’ve ever eaten while also reducing the cook time to under an hour. Red wine and hearty root vegetables add sophistication to the cooked-all-day flavor. What’s not to warm your heart?

PREP TIME | 25 minutes COOK TIME | 50 minutes SERVES | 6

  • 3tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2  pounds New York strip 1/2 (2 large steaks), trimmed, 6 cut into 1-inch pieces, and
    patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups dry red wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ½ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup chopped white onion
  • 6 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes, about 3/4 cup
  • ¾ cup julienned carrots
  • 3/4 cup julienned parsnips
  • 1/2 pound small red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
  • Fresh oregano leaves and grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
  • Loaf of crusty bread, for serving
  • Combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside
    2 tablespoons of the mixture to thicken the stew at the end. Toss the beef with the remaining flour mix- ture, shaking off the excess flour.
  • Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium- high heat. Working in batches, sear the beef, turning the cubes every so often to brown the outside. The meat does not have to be fully cooked. Cook each batch for 4 to 5 minutes, then transfer to a paper towel–lined plate.
  • Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping the bottom to incorporate all those little brown bits that will dissolve and add flavor. Stir in the broth, thyme, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to medium and bring the liquid to a low simmer before returning the cooked beef to the pan.
  • Add the onion, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes, and bring back to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft when pierced with a fork.
  • Ladle 1/4 cup of the broth into a small bowl and whisk in the reserved 2 tablespoons flour mixture until smooth. Add this paste to the stew. Cook for 5 minutes longer. The cooking liquid should coat the back of a spoon, but not be thick like gravy. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and season to taste with additional pepper.
  • Ladle into bowls, top with fresh oregano and Parmesan, and serve with slices of a crusty bread to soak up every drop.

Freezer Friendly: Freeze an extra batch or single servings in air- tight containers for up to 3 months. Thin with water or beef broth if it’s too thick when thawed. 

Easier Beef Burgundy

Beef Burgundy, or Boeuf Bourguignon, the rich French dish made famous by Julia Child, is not an everyday meal, but it is well worth the time and effort to make it. The first time I tried it, I had to read the confusing directions several times and the dish still didn’t turn out as planned. Eventually I figured out ways to cut corners without losing any flavor.

The main cooking techniques are (1) browning the meat to add to the richness of the sauce and (2) braising it for hours over low heat to achieve a meltingly tender texture. The lengthy cooking time allows layers of flavor to develop and mellow, so that each bite has dimension.

PREP TIME | 45 minutes

COOK TIME | 4 hours

SERVES | 8

  • 1 1/2 pounds tender chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive
    oil
  • 7 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup fresh pearl onions, peeled
  • 3/4 cup diced carrots
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
  • 10-12 sprigs fresh herbs, tied into a bouquet garni
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups halved or quartered white mushrooms
  • Pasta, mashed potatoes, or rice, for serving
  1. Arrange an oven rack in the lower-third position and preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).
  2. In a large bowl, toss the beef with the cornstarch to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, cooking until browned and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel–lined plate. Set aside.
  4.  In the same pot, add the beef, working in two batches. Brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total, then transfer to a clean bowl. Repeat with the next batch, ands et aside.
  5. In the same pot, without wiping it out, add the onions, carrots, and garlic, tossing to coat in the rendered bacon grease and browned bits. Cook until lightly browned and starting to soften, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
  1. Reduce the heat to low. At this point there should be little to no oil or grease pooling if you tip the pot to one side, but if there is, spoon it out. Pour the wine into the pot and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Keeping the pot on low heat, whisk in the tomato paste, then the broth.
  2. Return the beef, bacon, and cooked vegetables to the pot and add the bouquet garni and bay leaves. There should be enough liquid to fully cover the meat and vegetables. If not, add just enough additional broth to do so.
  3. Cover the pot and bake for3to4hours, or until the beef falls apart when spilt with a fork. If there is any fat on top, skim it off with a spoon before stirring. Remove and discard the bouquet garni and bay leaves. Cover the pot.
  4. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they reduce in size by a third. Stir the mushrooms into the beef mixture.
  5. Serve over pasta, mashed potatoes, or rice.

Chopped Beef Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce

This salad came about when I was wondering what to do with leftover beef skewers and satay sauce. Tender meat perfectly seasoned along with a slightly spicy peanut sauce sounded delightful in a salad.

Satay refers to the peanut sauce, not the skewers themselves. Most satay sauces are blended with dry roasted peanuts, but to save time and not require a heavy-duty blender, I used creamy peanut butter. I like the added crunch of more peanuts, while my husband opts for fried Chinese noodles. Pick your favorite or use both, but don’t skip the crunchies!

PREP TIME | 20 minutes active; 3–4 hours to marinate

COOK TIME | 10 minutes SERVES | 4 as entree

FOR THE BEEF

  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/3 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh lemongrass
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound Milanese-style beef, cut lengthwise into 1-inchwide strips (see Cook’s Notes)

Make the beef: Whisk together the onion, soy sauce, lemongrass, sugar, garlic, oil, fish sauce, ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne in a large bowl until a paste forms. Slather this marinade on the beef and place it in either an airtight plastic bag or a shallow dish. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 24 hours.

To cook, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the beef from marinade, gently shaking off the excess. Working in batches, add the beef to the hot skillet. Cook for only 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned, then flip the meat and cook on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into bite-size pieces.

Assemble the salad: Equally divide the red and green cabbages, bell pepper, carrots, and scallions among four large salad bowls or plates. Top each serving with some chopped beef, cilantro, peanuts, and a liberal amount of sauce.

FOR THE SALAD

  • 4 cups thinly sliced or chopped red cabbage
  • 4 cups thinly sliced or chopped green cabbage
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts or fried Chinese noodles
  • Spicy Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)

Cook’s Notes | Adjust the spiciness of the sauce by adding 1 to 2 more teaspoons of Thai chile garlic sauce, red pepper flakes, Sriracha, or even chopped fresh jalapeno.

If you can find thinly sliced Milanese-style beef at the grocery store, save yourself time and trouble and buy it! If not, partially freeze a top round roast. Beef is easier to thinly slice when a little hard. Using a very sharp knife, cut it into

1/8-inch-thick slices. You might need to cut them in half again vertically to get them 2 inches wide.

Fresh ginger is also easier to grate when slightly froze

Spicy Peanut Sauce

Makes 11/2 cups

  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1–3 teaspoons Thai chile garlic sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • Juice from 1 lime (1–2 tablespoons)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated

Whisk the peanut butter, coconut milk, soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce, water, chile garlic sauce, lime zest, and lime juice in a small bowl or blend in a small food processor until well combined.

Serve at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. If the sauce thickens, add additional coconut milk or water to thin. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Recipes are excerpted from Beef It Up! © by Jessica Formicola. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

 Photography © Dominic Perri.

Road Trips & Recipes: Hidden Surprises in Horse Cave, KY

Guest Road Tripper Kathy Witt takes us to underground Kentucky in her latest travel piece. Always glad to have you, Kathy!

Mammoth Cave National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve located in southcentral Kentucky, recently made headlines for adding six miles to what is already, at 426 explored miles, the world’s largest cave system.

A 25-minute drive away in tiny Horse Cave, KY, another cave is newsworthy in its own right as one of the world’s few caves located directly beneath a town. Hidden River Cave (www.hiddenrivercave.com) is not only Kentucky’s largest, privately operated cave, it stretches out beneath Horse Cave’s downtown, a National Historic District, with an entrance located directly off Main Street.

Play: Hidden River Cave is also home to the world’s longest underground suspension bridge, swinging far above the river rushing below. Completion of the bridge in 2020 made it possible for guided tours to reach Sunset Dome, inaccessible to the public for 76 years. At 150 feet wide, 200 feet long and 100 feet high, give or take, it is one of the largest free-standing cave domes in the United States –a sight to behold in glowing shades of red, yellow and orange.

The main entrance to Hidden River Cave is off Main Street in downtown Horse Cave, KY.
Photo: Kathy Witt

Before hiking down the 200-plus steps into the cavern (and yes, you’ll have to climb back up them on your way out), visitors can read about the history of the cave at the free-admission American Cave Museum. Home of the American Cave Conservation Association, the museum offers self-guided tours of exhibits on karst geology, a landscape characterized by sinkholes, sinking streams, caves and springs, as well as the archaeology of caves. Photo: Kathy Witt

Local Amish craftspeople custom-built the tepee accommodations at Horse Cave KOA Holiday. Photo: Kathy Witt

Stay: For a small town (population: 2,400), Horse Cave has an unexpectedly delightful array of accommodations, including country cottage vacation rentals, waterside campsites and glamping options. At Horse Cave KOA Holiday (www.kygetaway.com/horse-cave-koa-holiday), climb into the treetops for cozy overnights in a treehouse. Crawl into a Conestoga wagon or slip into a custom-built tepee, each one beautifully furnished and fully equipped – from Keurig coffeemaker and refrigerator to private patio and firepit.

A pioneer adventure awaits at the Conestoga wagon accommodations at Horse Cave KOA Holiday.
Photo: Kathy Witt

Clean, comfortable and scenically situated overlooking gently rolling hills and pastures, the campground also offers cabins and pull-thru RV sites, beautiful new bathhouse, fishing pond, jump pillow, playground and seasonal swimming pool.

Tuck in amidst the treetops in a Horse Cave KOA Holiday treehouse. Photo: Kathy Witt

Eat: Besides its cave and Conestoga wagons, Horse Cave surprises with horse-drawn buggies seen hitched downtown and clip-clopping along the rural roads. The town has a large Amish population and thriving Amish business landscape. In fact, Amish craftspeople constructed the treehouses and tepees at Horse Cave KOA Holiday and one of Horse Cave’s most appealing restaurants, Farmwald’s Restaurant and Bakery (www.farmwalds.com), is Amish owned.

The gift shop at Farmwald Restaurant and Bakery is cozied up with Amish-made items arrayed among a seating area with fireplace. Photo: Kathy Witt

This rambling building with country-store setting is destination dining at its best, with freshly baked donuts, breads and melt-in-your-mouth fried pies and made-to-order deli lunches like grilled ribeye and build-your-own cold-cut sandwiches, chicken baskets and fish dinners.

Hidden River Cave is home of the largest subterranean suspension bridge in the world. Photo: Kathy Witt

A gift shop spreads over half of the building, offering everything from local honey and jarred condiments to wooden toys and woven baskets to home décor and accessories spilling from shelves and adding charm to a seating area near the fireplace. Most of the items are handcrafted by the local Amish community.

A kangaroo at Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo shows its enthusiasm for feeding time.
Photo: Courtney Thompson

Treat: Horse Cave has two different animal encounter experiences that pair perfectly for a family-fun outing. At Dutch Country Safari Park (www.kygetaway.com/dutch-country-safari-park), drive through or board the hay wagon and bump along a dirt road through the wilds of Kentucky backcountry to see Watusi, water buffalo, camels, llamas, wildebeests, ostriches and other animals. Feeding the animals is part of the fun, and these well-trained beasts will nose into the wagon to eat from extended hands or directly from the bowl.

American Cave Museum is next door to Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, KY. Photo: Kathy Witt

Visitors to Horse Cave’s Australian Outback at Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo (www.kentuckydownunder.com) discover they are at one of the few places in the country where it is okay to feed and pet the kangaroos, take selfies and even nap with them.

Farmwald Restaurant and Bakery’s chicken basket with toast and a side of gravy is comfort-food delicious.
Photo: Kathy Witt

“We are the only place in Kentucky where you can get close to Bigfoot (kangaroos are macropods, meaning they have big feet),” said park spokesman Brian Dale, “And we almost always have a batch of new joeys in and out of the pouch in the Outback.”

Interactivity: A Great Way to Learn

Visitors to Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo are often surprised at how soft and friendly the kangaroos are. Photo: Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo

Interactive experiences are the big draw here: feeding parrots and lorikeets; mining for fossils and gemstones at the sluice; exploring scenic Mammoth Onyx Cave; and watching animal shows that feature a dingo, porcupine, serval kitten, woma python or another one of the zoo’s most beloved and intriguing residents. Explore the Outback by foot or on wheels, with a rental of a four- or six-passenger golf cart.

Read: Visit www.kygetaway.com to plan your adventure to Horse Cave, KY.

RECIPE

Farm Beans with Amish Relish and Hoecakes     

Farm bean ingredients

  • 2 C of dried pinto beans
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic from the garden
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 8 C of water

Rinse beans in colander. Put freshly rinsed dried beans in a large bowl, cover with cold water and let soak overnight in fridge. Drain soaking water and rinse beans. Place in large cooking pot. Add water, garlic, bay leaves and salt to beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cook until the beans are tender, 2 to 3 hours. Stir frequently and add water as needed to get desires soup texture, i.e., beans thoroughly cooked down with a bean-rich broth.

Serve in bowls with a topping of Amish corn relish and a freshly fried hoe cake (see recipe below).

Hoe cake ingredients

  • 1 C self-rising cornmeal
  • 1 farm fresh egg
  • 3/4 C buttermilk (more or less based on preferred consistency)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Mix all ingredients, except oil, to create batter. Add vegetable oil to skillet and place on the stovetop at medium high heat. Place spoonfuls of batter into the skillet to create desired size cake. Fry hoecakes until bubbles appear on the tops and their edges are cooked. Flip each of the cakes and cook the other side until golden brown. Repeat with remaining batter. As each cake is removed from the skillet, place on paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

Writer/Author

About Kathy Witt

Writer and author Kathy Witt is a member of SATW Society of American Travel Writers and the Authors Guild

She is the author of Secret Cincinnati; The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, GA: A Photographic Portrait

NEWCincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures arriving October 2022.

NEWPerfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler arriving Fall 2023.

www.KathyWitt.comwww.facebook.com/SecretCincinnatiNKY

www.LinkedIn.com/in/KathyWittwww.Instagram.com/Kathy.Witt

The top 10 reasons to city-break in Cork this autumn

With its warrens of narrow streets, vibrant spirit and warm welcome, Cork is the perfect city break destination for when the nights are drawing in.

Here are 10 reasons why you should be in this historic city as the seasons switch.

1. Food worth travelling for

Thanks to an abundance of high-quality local producers and a profusion of creative and passionate chefs, Cork has a deserving reputation as Ireland’s food capital. Whether you’re browsing the overflowing stalls at the famous and centuries-old English Market or sampling dishes at the city’s amazing restaurants, pubs and cafés, great food will always be on the menu.

2. And all that jazz

Having hosted jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and Mel Tormé throughout its long history, the lively Cork Jazz Festival pulls in thousands of music fans every October. Sponsored by Guinness and with events taking place in pubs and venues all across Cork, the city will be buzzing once again this autumn with groundbreaking music, fun and charm from 27 – 30 October.

3. Titanic tales

One of the most popular day trips from Cork city is to the town of Cobh, a beautiful Irish seaport with a bittersweet history. Once the main point of emigration from Ireland, Cobh was the Titanic’s last port of call before she sailed onwards to her fate. The story is told magnificently at the Titanic Experience located in the old White Star Line offices on the seafront.

4. Epic Cork City Gaol

Cork City Gaol ( museum), Cork, Ireland

Experience life in the nineteenth and early twentieth century at Cork City Gaol, a museum that offers a unique insight into the city’s history, both inside and outside of the prison walls. Take a trip back in time and wander through the wings of the gaol, accompanied by the shuffling feet of inmates and the jingle of the warders’ keys.

5. City sight-seeing

You can easily explore Cork on foot, but it’s worth checking out one of the excellent, locally led tours to find out what really makes Ireland’s second city tick. Cork City Walks are full of history and folklore, or you can jump on an open-top double-decker bus and see the sights with Cork City Tours.

6. Art galleries galore

Crawford Art Gallery

As a former European Capital of Culture, Cork is packed with museums, galleries, theatres, music and dance academies and more. You will find everything from opera to street art within the thriving art and culture scene, with the Crawford Art Gallery, the Glucksman Gallery and the Lavit Gallery among the best visual art spaces to make a beeline for.

Cobh, County Cork

 

7. The Wild Atlantic Way

One of the best sections of the 2,500km Wild Atlantic Way route starts – or ends – in Kinsale, just half an hour away from Cork city. This makes the city the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the breath-taking scenery and remote peninsulas of West Cork.

8. Ring the Shandon Bells

A visit to Cork isn’t complete without climbing to the belfry of the eighteenth-century St Anne’s Church to ring the world-famous Shandon Bells. There are 135 steps to reach the viewing balcony, but the reward is fantastic panoramic views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Old_Cork_Waterworks_Experience_Entrance

9. Fitzgerald Park

For a gorgeous feel of autumn foliage in Cork, head down to Fitzgerald Park on the banks of the River Lee. Home to Cork Public Museum, the Sky Garden, a series of sculptures, cafés, walks and more, the park offers a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

10. You can kiss the Blarney Stone

The world-famous Blarney Castle, home of the iconic Blarney Stone, is one of Ireland’s top attractions and is located just ten minutes from Cork city. Legend has it that kissing the Blarney Stone will give you the ‘gift of the gab’ – as in great eloquence or persuasiveness. A great reason to go!
 
www.ireland.com

Three Ways to Celebrate California Wine Month in September

Harvesting during night and the early morning hours helps the fruit arrive at the winery with cool temperatures assuring high quality fruit, reduced energy costs and cooler working conditions for workers. Photo credit: Wine Institute of California.

Enjoy Immersive Harvest Experiences and Festivals, Pair Iconic California Recipes and Fresh Produce with California Wines and Support Local Wineries



September is California Wine Month, a time to celebrate the annual harvest season and raise a glass to the state’s vibrant wine community. As California vintners and growers harvest more than 110 different grape varieties for the 2022 vintage, wine lovers around the country can join the month-long festivities. These range from immersive harvest experiences to special wine tastings to wine festivals, along with exciting ways to celebrate California Wine Month at home.

Golden Eye pinot noir harvest, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California

“California is the top U.S. wine producer, driven mostly by multi-generational family businesses,” said Robert P. Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute. “California Wine Month celebrates the hard work of hundreds of thousands of employees in our wine community, the tremendous pace of innovation and the exceptional wines coming out of the state.”

California’s wine industry has played a vital role in the state’s culture and economy for more than 250 years. California makes up 81% of wine production in the United States and 95% of exports. Within the state’s 147 distinct winegrowing regions are 621,000 acres of vineyards, 4,800 bonded wineries and nearly 6,000 winegrowers.

“California’s diverse and expansive wine country is one of its top tourism draws,” said Caroline Beteta, Visit California president and CEO. “From high-end pairings and legendary wineries to sustainable vineyards and neighborly barn tastings, there’s an experience — and a wine — for everyone to enjoy.”

California is also a leader in sustainability, with the state’s winegrowers and vintners making significant investments of time and dollars in innovation and new processes to preserve the land and environment for future generations. More than 2,400 vineyards have earned certification under the California Sustainable Winegrowing program, and more than 80% of California wine is produced in a Certified California Sustainable Winery.

Madrona Vineyards, El Dorado County

Ways to Celebrate California Wine Month

 Participate in Events and Experiences at California Wineries

More than 24 million people from around the globe visit the state’s winegrowing regions every year, and California Wine Month is one of the most exciting times to do it. And for those in California, wine country is just a short trip away. Join wineries across the state for more than 40 harvest-themed events, activities and experiences — and more will continue to be added throughout September. These include behind-the-scenes vineyard and crush pad tours, grape-stomping competitions, wine and food festivals, hands-on harvest experiences, charity wine auctions and more. For the latest details on offerings, visit the Discover California Wines website.

Pair Iconic California Recipes with California Wine

Los Carneros wine tasting. Cuvaison

It’s no coincidence that California wine pairs perfectly with the state’s farm-fresh produce and trend-setting cuisine. To help consumers experience this delicious culinary connection at home, Discover California Wines has partnered with California Grown and Visit California to create the free “Iconic California Dishes to Celebrate California Wine Month” e-book. The book features recipes for dishes that evoke the state’s sunny and relaxed vibe — all paired with California wine and creative, wine-based cocktails. Bring harvest home with recipes including Avocado Salad with Hidden Valley Ranch-Style Dressing, Wine Country Chicken Salad and the California 75, a classic wine-based lemon cocktail with a literal and figurative twist.

“We say what grows together goes together,” said Cher Watte Angulo, executive director of California Grown. “Since California provides over 50% of the nation’s produce and over 80% of the wine, it makes sense that people celebrate with both a sip and a bite of the Golden State.”

Discover and Enjoy California Wine

Whether visiting wineries in person or online, there’s no better time than California Wine Month to pick up a few bottles of wine to share with friends and family. It’s also easy to find a great selection of California wine at your local grocery store or wine shop. 

California Wine Month Partners

South Coast Winery Grape Stomp

Ask about special activities and offers from California Wine Month restaurant, retail, association and organization partners. They include: Albertsons, California Grown, California Restaurant Foundation, The Calistoga Depot, The CIA at Copia, Epic Steak, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Ironwood Laguna Hills, Oakville Grocery, Olea Newport Beach, Pavillions, Safeway, Sapphire Laguna Beach, Vine Restaurant & Bar San Clemente, Visit California and Vons.

About Wine Institute Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy group of 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses that initiates and advocates state, federal and international public policy to enhance the environment for the responsible production, consumption and enjoyment of wine. The organization works to enhance the economic and environmental health of the state through its leadership in sustainable winegrowing and by showcasing California’s wine regions as ideal destinations for food and wine travelers to the state. To learn more about California wines, visit DiscoverCaliforniaWines.com.

Photos courtesy of California Wines.

Glass Pumpkin Festival Returns to Hocking Hills

Renowned glassblower Jack Pine’s popular event returns.

What started as a way for families and individual arts fans to get out of the house and experience beauty is back again by popular demand in 2022. Launching Friday, September 23 and running through Sunday, September 25, the Third Annual Glass Pumpkin Festival is open from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Parking is limited and festival-goers are encouraged car pool and reserve their spot for $5 at GlassPumpkinFestival.com, with each reservation receiving a $5 coupon towards their Jack Pine pumpkin purchase.

Festival History

A highlight is the unveiling of Jack Pine’s annual Pumpkin of the Year, with the festival marking the first opportunity for fans of the legendary glass blower to snag the highly collectible, limited-edition glass pumpkin. The Glass Pumpkin Festival was launched by Jack Pine in 2020 during COVID to offer families a safe and beautiful escape centered around a stunning outdoor arts experience set in the magnificence of Ohio’s most visited location for fall foliage.

Pumpkins Galore!

Attendees will again be amazed by thousands of spectacular hand-blown glass pumpkins — in a rainbow of colors and finishes — that will fill the five-acre grounds of Jack Pine Studio in Laurelville. Each pumpkin features Pine’s signature strong saturation of colors and unique finishing technique, which result in stunning lustrous works of art.

An outdoor artist’s market will feature fine artists from around the region, showing and selling their work. Pumpkin ice cream, donuts and rolls will complete the sensory experience, along with food trucks serving an array of offerings. The festival is an unmatched opportunity to find gorgeous fall décor and the perfect handcrafted holiday gifts for even the most difficult-to-buy-for recipient.

Jack Pine’s talented team of glassblowing artists will be at work throughout the festival, allowing attendees to watch firsthand as they blow, turn and stretch pure molten glass into exquisite works of art. World-famous pumpkin carver Gus Smithister will be live-carving a monstrous 600-pound pumpkin into an eyepopping real pumpkin sculpture, with plenty of more manageably sized pumpkins available for purchase. Kids activities will keep budding junior artists entertained while inspiring their creative side.

Beautiful Hocking Hills

Jack Pine Studio, a hand-blown glass studio and gallery located in the heart of beautiful Hocking Hills and is open to the public daily throughout the year. Pine, who has been blowing glass for over 20 years,has had his creations featured in galleries and museums around the world. In addition to his own work, Jack Pine Studio’s onsite gallery features the work of a number of other fine artists, from heavy metal sculpture to delicate glass jewelry. For studio history and details, jackpinestudio.com.

Enjoy food and fun and watch glass pumpkins being made.

Photos courtesy of Teresa Riley.

Great Recipes Using Coo Moo Jams and More

Highland Coo Cows? Yes, there are such things and they’re adorable or as adorable as a cow can be. To see one of these fluffy long-haired and rather large cows, you’d have to travel to the Scottish Highlands. Or more easily, you can find a drawing of one of these cuties—and supposedly sweet natured cattle—on the label of Coo Moo, the name Julie Deck chose for her line of jams–Peachy Mango Madness and Apricot Habanero as well as a Wooster Sauce to use to add a burst of flavor to a variety of dishes.

The Story

“I love Jam. I love Scotland. I love the Highland Coo cow. These things that I love so dearly inspired me and helped me create Coo Moo Jams. But the journey getting here has been an adventure full of love, hard work and determination.” Julie Deck, Founder of Coo Moo Jams

Corn, Tomato, Cucumber and Avocado Salad with Feta Cheese and Coo Moo Wooster Sauce

  • 3 cups fresh corn (cut off the cob, raw or cooked) 
  • 1 large avocado (diced) 
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes (sliced in half or any tomato cut into small pieces) 
  • 1/2 cup red onion (chopped) 
  • 1 cup english cucumber (chopped)
  • 1 cup feta cheese 
  • 2 tbsp Coo Moo Wooster Sauce 
  • 3 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 tbsp lime juice 
  • 1/2 cup mint (chopped and optional) 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Corn, Cucumber, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Feta Cheese and Wooster Sauce

 Mix the c

Mix the Coo Moo Wooster Sauce, olive oil and lime juice in a separate bowl. Once thoroughly mixed pour over the corn mixture. Mix with a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more Wooster Sauce to the top for more an additional boost of flavor.

Watermelon Feta Salad

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Coo Moo Apricot Habanero or Peachy Mango Madness Jam
  • 3 cups cubed (1/2 to 3/4 inch) seeded watermelon, drained (from a 2 1/2-lb piece, rind discarded)
  • 6 cups baby arugula (6 oz)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (1 oz) optional
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta or ricotta salata (1 1/2 oz)
  • Coarsely ground black pepper to taste

For dressing mix the vinegar, olive oil and Coo Moo Jam in a small glass jar with lid and shake. Put all remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Poor the dressing over salad.

coomoojams.com/

 

 

 

 

 ww.erinselderberries.com

 

 

 

 

GOING PLACES: THE TECHNOLOGY OF TRANSPORTATION TAKES OFF AT ARIZONA SCIENCE CENTER

Ride a mini hovercraft, guide a blimp through sky hoops, and land an airplane on a flight simulator!

Arizona Science Center presents Going Places from Friday, September 2, 2022 – Monday, January 2, 2023. Fasten your seatbelts; Going Places – the Technology of Transport has arrived! 

Created by the renowned Scitech in Perth, AustraliaGoing Places is an interactive science exhibition that explores the technology humans have developed for travel. If you have ever wanted to pilot an airship, ride on a hovercraft, or control traffic in a city, now is your big chance!

“This exhibition is packed with innovation,” said Guy Labine, The Hazel A. Hare President and CEO of Arizona Science Center. “It demonstrates the way mankind has developed new technology to overcome obstacles such as gravity and distance while providing great fun for children, parents, and students.”

Tom Zaller, President, and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions states, “Imagine Exhibitions is proud to partner with Scitech to bring Going Places to Arizona Science Center. Human modes of transportation have changed so much in just the past 150 years. It is exciting to present an exhibition that allows visitors to dive deep into these innovations, get behind the wheel (literally!), and speculate on where we will go in the next 150 years.”

Explore!

Explore how different modes of transportation have shaped society and get hands-on with a multitude of challenging interactives. Fly a plane, ride a hovercraft, race your friend on a recumbent bicycle, or learn to fly an airship! YOU are the driver in Going Places’ interactive exhibits—providing the chance to experience transportation in ways you never dreamed possible!

As well as exploring the technology that gets us around every day, visitors will also explore the way that travel has shaped the social fabric of our time. Visitors will even see new technology and get a glimpse of where our future is headed.

Exhibits and Kiosks

With 18 exhibits and eight information kiosks detailing the incredible technology pioneered by humans to make the farthest reaches of our planet accessible, Going Places is a wild ride!

This exhibition invites guests to observe, understand and use an incredible range of travel technology to see how it makes our lives easier and better. It also highlights how we’ve leveraged design and innovation to respond to Earth’s awesome size and natural processes, like gravity, wind, currents, waves, friction, and changing landscapes..

With so many hands-on exhibits, Going Places promises to be a wild ride.

Information

Going Places is open daily to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for a limited engagement through January 2, 2023. Pricing for the exhibition is $6.95 for Members and $8.95 for Non-Members. General admission tickets are required. Children under 3 are always FREE. Tickets are available to purchase at Arizona Science Center and azscience.org

Going Places: The Technology of Transportation is created by SciTech and produced by Imagine Exhibitions and is generously supported by Waymo & Amtrak

About Arizona Science Center 

The mission of Arizona Science Center is to inspire, educate, and engage curious minds through science. The Center, located at 600 E. Washington Street in downtown Phoenix, features more than 300 hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, a range of interactive online science content, the state-of-the-art Dorrance Planetarium, and the five-story Irene P. Flinn Giant Screen Theater, and exciting science programs for people of all ages. CREATE at Arizona Science Center®, adjacent to the main building, is a 6,500-square-foot community maker space that provides workshops, including 3D printing, laser cutting, woodworking, and sewing. Arizona Science Center offers programs for all ages, including CAMP INNOVATION, Teen programs, Professional Development and Learning for Educators, and so much more. To learn more or to reserve tickets, visit azscience.org or call 602.716.2000.

About Imagine Exhibitions

Imagine Exhibitions is currently producing over 40 unique exhibitions globally in museums, science centers, zoos, integrated resorts, and non-traditional venues, with millions of people around the world visiting our exhibitions each year. In addition to developing successful traveling exhibitions, Imagine Exhibitions designs, opens, and operates permanent installations and venues, and consults on building, expanding, and directing museums and attractions. With decades of diverse experience in the museum and entertainment industries, Imagine Exhibitions consistently develops exhibitions that educate and excite while exceeding attendance goals. For more information, visit ImagineExhibitions.com or find us on Facebook.

Road Trips, Reads & Recipes: No place like home at Beech Mountain, NC’s Land of Oz

Special guest blogger Kathy Witt, author of the soon to be released Cincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures, shared a new post.

Land of Oz offers spectacular views from its perch atop Beech Mountain. Photo: Kathy Witt

High atop Beech Mountain in North Carolina and hidden within the trees is the somewhere over the rainbow: the Land of Oz. It is as magical as the world L. Frank Baum created in his classic Oz book series that was brought to the screen in the 1939 Academy Award-winning movie. And it is where those looking for their heart’s desire find the Yellow Brick Road.

Professor Marvel has set up shop at the Land of Oz. Photo: Kathy Witt.

Play:

The Land of Oz opens only during its annual events, including Autumn in Oz (www.landofoznc.com/autumnatoz), a festival featuring an interactive theatrical experience, with performances by the beloved Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion and frights compliments of the Wicked Witch of the West and her band of Winged Monkeys.

The most famous pair of striped leggings in the world may be seen at the Beech Mountain History Museum. Photo: Kathy Witt

From the twister that rocks the Gale’s Kansas farmhouse to the Emerald City, visitors experience the story brought to life as the Yellow Brick Road unwinds through the site of the original 1970s theme park.

The Yellow Brick Road leads visitors to Munchkinland.

Autumn in Oz takes place over three weekends: September 9-11, 16-18 and 23-25, 2022. Admission tickets are $55 (www.showpass.com/o/land-of-oz-theme-park). Rounding out the fun are live performances, face painting, craft and memorabilia vendors and food and beverages for purchase. Add-on experiences: Scenic Lift Ride ($15), a round-trip chairlift ride to the park from Beech Mountain Ski Resort; and exclusive access to the Over the Rainbow Observation Deck ($6), for unparalleled views from the top of Beech Mountain on a site that has not been open to the public in more than 20 years.

“I’d turn back if I were you.” The Wicked Witch’s Castle at the Land of Oz. Photo: Kathy Witt

Stay:

The Klonteska Condominiums at 4 Seasons at Beech Mountain (www.beechgetaway.com) are homey and comfortable and have spectacular views of the mountains. Two-, three- and four-bedroom units feature private, covered balconies for taking in those views, plus gas-log fireplace, equipped kitchen and large whirlpool tub in the master bath. Located in downtown Beech Mountain, the condos are close to shops and restaurants, and a short and scenic drive to the Land of Oz.

Enjoy pizza, air hockey and more at Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria, located at the top of Beech Mountain. Photo: Kathy Witt

Eat: When it comes to restaurants, Beech Mountain is all about the local experience, from the always-bustling Famous Brick Oven Pizza with live music, arcade and air hockey to the cozy and iconic Alpen Restaurant & Bar, a traditional European inn.

Fred’s General Mercantile is a Beech Mountain staple and has been serving delicious food, groceries, and Beech Mountain apparel since 1979. Photo: Kathy Witt

Locals and visitors alike find Fred’s General Mercantile (www.fredsgeneral.com) irresistible and can while away a couple of pleasant hours browsing its shelves. The store was established by Fred Pfohl in 1979 when the original Land of Oz Theme Park was still open. Pfohl worked summers at Land of Oz while attending Appalachian State University. When he and his wife, Margie, decided to build the store, Jack Pentes, who designed the theme park, prepared the blueprints.

Glinda the Good Witch greets a visitor during Autumn in Oz. Photo: The Land of Oz

Visitors come to Fred’s for fresh produce, stuffed animals, clothing, hardware, ski gear rentals and more. They also come to enjoy made-to-order breakfasts – the Fred Muffin is a fan fave – at Fred’s Backside Deli, as well as hot and cold sandwiches, grilled burgers, soups, salads and other lunch fare and sweets including cakes, pies and cookies.

Treat:

The most famous pair of striped leggings in the world may be seen at the Beech Mountain History Museum. Photo: Kathy Witt

The Scarecrow is a fan favorite during the Land of Oz’s Autumn in Oz event. Photo: The Land of Oz.

Before heading to Autumn in Oz, stop in at the free-admission Beech Mountain History Museum (www.facebook.com/BeechMountainHistoricalSociety), a true jewel of a museum operated by Beech Mountain Historical Society volunteers. Inside is a diorama of the original Land of Oz Theme Park along with related memorabilia and the volunteer guides love to share the Oz chapter of Beech Mountain history. Also here is the definitive backstory of the park – Tim Hollis’ photo-rich book, The Land of Oz. Museum hours during Autumn in Oz are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.

Read:

The perfect souvenir of your visit to the Land of Oz? Author Tim Hollis’s book, The Land of Oz, available at the Beech Mountain History Museum.
Provided

Tim Hollis visited the Land of Oz on a rainy day in the summer of 1975, returned while working on his book, The Land of Oz, and then again for the book’s launch in 2016.

“The park is a unique opportunity to live through the plot of the movie,” he said.

Hollis also has a museum in his hometown of Dale, AL. Among the thousands of cartoon characters, board games, lunch boxes, Christmas and Halloween collectibles and more at the Tim Hollis Pop Culture Museum is “The Wizard of Oz” memorabilia: toys, games, coloring books, the 40 original Oz books written by Baum and his successors – even a smattering of park souvenirs. The free-admission museum is open by appointment only with 48-hour’s advance notice. Call 205-648-6110.

For more information, Autumn in Oz and Beech Mountain, visit Beech Mountain Visitors Center, www.beechmtn.com.

Ingredients

  • 9-inch pie crust
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1 1/2 sticks of room temperature butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 C walnuts

Instructions

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients and then fold in 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup of walnuts.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 350-degrees until a toothpick comes out clean. (Fred’s motto is, “If you can smell it, it’s about done!”)

About Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, Her book, Perfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler, another travel-themed book, will be released in Fall 2023.  Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime

   My friend Phil Potempa writes these encyclopedia-sized cookbooks based upon growing up on a farm and his years—still counting—as a food and entertainment columnist, currently for the Chicago Tribune Media Co. Well, his latest, Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime Vol. 4, is no different. I didn’t weigh it but it’s hefty and thick with 576 pages. Chocked full of recipes, photos, and anecdotes, the book is a compilation of Phil’s food and entertainment columns that takes us from growing up on the family farm in La Pierre, Indiana to hanging out with celebrities and everything in between such as local baking contests, chef interviews, chili cook-offs, ethnic celebrations, and readers’ favorite recipes.

“There are a lot of ways to read these books,” Phil tells me, noting that some people tell him they go straight to the index and look up the celebrity names while others leaf through the book, stopping at recipes that look interesting and still others are intrigued by stories of Potempa’s farm relatives.  After all, who could resist recipes with such names as “Granny Wojdula’s Nine-Day Sweet Pickles,” “Jim Nabors’ Mom’s Split Green Pea Soup,” “Bob Hope’s Favorite Chicken Hash,” or “Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake,” which implies that Blondie must have had several recipes for cakes made with pink Champagne.  Now that’s really drilling down on an ingredient.

San Pierre, for anyone—and that’s most of us—is a small dot on the map consisting of less than 200 people according to Wikipedia. It’s where the Potempa still spends time with his family (he also has a place in Chicago) and is the center of Indiana’s mint growing industry and where the North Judson Mint Festival is held every year. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Services third nationally for spearmint production and fourth for peppermint production. Much of their mint ends up as oil and is sold to Wrigley, Colgate Palmolive, and Proctor & Gamble for use in their products. In other words, when you brush your teeth with a spearmint flavored toothpaste it might have come from San Pierre which is some 50 miles away.

   The two both shared a love of cooking and Diller helped Phil with his first From the Farm cookbook.

              Describing her as his first celebrity interview, Potempa says that over the years when she was performing in Northwest Indiana or the Chicago area she would invite he and his family to attend her shows and then visit her backstage afterwards.

              “She was really a friend, I’ve been to her home and it was so wonderful to see my cookbooks in her fire red kitchen,” says Potempa about one of his visits to her home in the tony Brentwood, California city near Los Angeles.

Strongbow Inn

              Another fav story was told to him by his good friend Russ Adams, a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, who worked at the Strongbow Inn, a Valparaiso Restaurant that was started by Adams’s grandparents on the site of their turkey farm and for more than 75 years was a favorite stopping point for dinner no matter what time of year. Adams recalled when Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda came into the kitchen to see what was going on. He’d ordered a turkey sandwich and told Russ to “load it up! And make it like you’re making it for your brother.”

              Russ also told him about the time his Grandma Bess was at the hostess stand sometime in the late 1950s and came face-to-face with a portly man waiting to be seated, who looked very much like Oscar winning actor Charles Laughton. When Bess mentioned how much he resembled the famous actor, he told her, in a very cold and stiff English accent: “Madam, THAT is because…I AM CHARLES LAUGHTON.”

              Interestingly, Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, frequented the Strongbow Inn whenever he was in Northwest Indiana visiting his key local fast-food franchises says Potempa. Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher of the popcorn powerhouse ate there every year when he’d return home. In all, the restaurant served more than 250,000 pounds of turkey a year but one of the most requested recipes from the place that Phil received was for their Blue Cheese Dressing.

              Phil wrote in one of his columns that he never expected to get the dressing recipe with its secret combination of ingredients because the Strongbow Inn restaurant used to bottle and sell their dressing in their lobby waiting area, displayed on a rack near a small freezer where a frozen version of their signature turkey pot-pies and gravy could also be purchased. But with its closing that changed and the recipe is below as are several others.

Phyllis Diller’s Chili

Serves six

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (chuck is good)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped (see note)
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 or 3 dashes tabasco sauce or to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 (15 oz) cans s & w kidney beans, undrained
  • Garnishing – if desired
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, breaking it up, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

While the beef is cooking, peel and chop onion. Set aside. Core and chop bell pepper. Set aside. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Set aside.

Once the beef is cooked through, add the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir in the seasonings and tomatoes. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the chili until it begins to thicken slightly, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the kidney beans with their juices. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or until heated through.

Adjust to taste.

Peggy’s Easy Beef and Noodles Supper

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 quarts water (divided use)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons mixed seasoning blend, like Mrs. Dash
  • 6 teaspoons beef bouillon paste (or equivalent using cubes)
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag of Amish egg noodles (grocery shelf variety, not frozen)

Heat oil in bottom of a large soup pot and lightly brown beef and onion. Add 1 quart of water and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots and celery, beef base and seasoning blend and add remaining 1 quart of water and simmer 1/2 hour. Finally add dry noodles and cook according to instructions, about 1/2 hour. More water can be added as needed during cooking time.

Makes 10 servings.

Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake

Makes 18 servings.

Cake:

  • 1 (16.25-ounce) package white cake mix
  • 1-1/4 cups pink champagne
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

Pink Champagne Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 3-3/4 to 4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pink champagne
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together dry cake mix and champagne in a large bowl; add oil, egg whites and food color and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Lightly grease and flour the bottom of a 13-inch by 9-inch shiny aluminum pan. Note: The baking temp has to be adjusted for glass, dark or nonstick pans or alter baking times and pan prep according to the directions on the cake mix package.

Pour cake batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25 to 29 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, cream butter with an electric mixer in a medium bowl and gradually add the rest of the frosting ingredients, beating at medium speed until the frosting is of a smooth consistency. Spread frosting evenly over cooled cake.

Decorate as desired, including possible garnish with pink and white sugar crystals.

Forbidden Apple Cake

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 sticks Imperial margarine, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups unpeeled apples, cored and diced (a firm, slightly tart baking apple is best)
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (can be soaked in 1/2 cup good rum for one week for a “sinful” addition)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting.

Note: Seal rum-soaked raisins in a glass container at room temperature for one week, ahead of time. If using the rum version, omit cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 10-inch bundt or tube pan with non-stick cooking spray. Beat oil with margarine. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add apples to flour mixture and stir a few times to coat. Add raisins and nuts, if using, to egg/oil mixture. Stir flour/apple mixture into egg/oil mixture until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 75 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes, invert onto cake plate. When completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar. Makes 10 slices.

Strongbow Inn Bleu Cheese and Garlic Dressing

Makes 5 cups

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • Cheesecloth and string
  • 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Prepare a piece of cheesecloth cut into a small square.

Combine salt, pepper, sugar, oregano and garlic, wrap in cheesecloth, fasten, and tie. Use a mallet or rolling pin to slightly pound the contents of the tied cheesecloth.

Place the cheesecloth bundle in a large quart-canning jar. Pour 1 cup of the cider vinegar over the spice bundle, seal jar and allow spices to steep overnight on kitchen counter.

Remove spice bundle, squeezing out excess liquid before discarding bundle.

Add three cups vegetable oil to vinegar mixture to fill jar and drop in the crumbled bleu cheese.

Store dressing in refrigerator and stir well before serving.

Philip Potempa can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org or mail your questions: From the Farm, PO Box 68, San Pierre, Ind. 46374.

This article originally appeared in the Herald Palladium.