Archive for the ‘Finger Lakes region’ Category

These past several weeks I’ve been focussing on the upcoming 2011 Trumansburg Farmers Market season [June – October, Wednesdays 4pm – 5pm].  Vendor applications have been sent out and received from “season vendors” for pavilion and tent spaces.  There will be a total of 37 spaces lined out in the Village Park, located at the corner of State routes 96 and 227. At this time there is room for “day vendors” who participate on a “on-call” basis when a season vendor is absent, or are finished for the season. Word on the street is that folks are looking eagerly looking forward to a market season full of fresh local produce, food products, and hand-made crafts. And “world supper food”. The local music line-up is scheduled for each of the 22 market days from 5pm – 7pm, with a few musicians joining us for the first time!

The 2010 Trumansburg Farmers Market season wrapped itself up nicely with warm weather and good attendance... thanks to the new community-built pavilions and gazebo, and the generosity of our local musicians.

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A favorite facet of work at the bed and breakfast is prepping and cooking breakfast for our guests. My brain swirls with various ingredient blends; imagines the taste combinations: sorts through the refrigerator, considers the spice cabinet, rejects or accepts numerous possibilities.  The personal challenge keeps things interesting and fortunately, my guests are game for culinary experiments.  I always come clean, “This is an experiment. If you don’t like it, I’ll make you something else.”  Thus far, I haven’t had to do that.  Often I try to come up with unusual ways of using vegetables, or buy unusual items to try out for fun.

For example, at Green Star Coop on Wednesday en route home from a BBGI meeting,  I discovered that Side Hill Acres, in addition to their crumbly goat cheese (easily sprinkles on top of whatever suits you), they now offer a goat cheese spread.  I bought it on a whim.  At The Piggery‘s new retail store in Ithaca, yesterday (Saturday), en route to Ithaca Farmers Market with my friend Jane Milliman, publisher of Upstate Gardeners Journal, I purchased a jar of pate and 1/2# of thinly sliced deli ham. I know what to do with their amazingly fresh, smoked ham (Eggs McLallen, Wafflini). So the question is, “Will guests eat pate for breakfast?”  I would. Hmm, I think to myself, how about a fruit and cheese plate with.. instead of a slice of ham… a dollop of Piggery pate slathered on an Ithaca Bakery roll or baguette? Write in and let me know what you think.  Anyway, what I really want to write about is this morning’s breakfast with the Three Sisters – inspired by the breakfast burrito served by Solaz at Ithaca Farmers Market and the Iroquois League whose lands encompassed the Finger Lakes and east to the Hudson River.

So at Ithaca Farmers Market, while hovering at the Solaz counter, after waiting in a long line (very popular!) to place an order, I watched staff prepare customers’ breakfast burritos; I asked what kind of cheese they used (grated Monterey Jack and cream cheese mixed and melted right into the scrambled egg pan). Perfect. Goat cheese spread instead of cream cheese. The experiment occurred this morning. The scrambled eggs came out thick and creamy. Tres hermanas?  Here’s one Central NY girl’s take on the Iroquois’ legendary Three Sisters: warmed corn (gluten-free) tortilla, garlicky black beans, and sauteed squash (zucchini)…along with Mexican-style spicing and the scrambled eggs, a dollop of guacamole, etc.  And a bottle of Cholula hot sauce on the table for individually dispensed heat.

Just pictured the small bag of chipotle peppers sitting in the kitchen cupboard….hmm.. what to do next?  Want the smokey flavor, but not so much heat…at breakfast.

[ Guest breakfast review: “Fantastic!” and “thumbs up!” ]

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Thursday was bright, sunny and relatively warm (it snowed early in the week), and we had been talking for weeks about going over to shop at Famous Brands. So, on Thursday with the new rack cards in the back seat, we headed down Rts. 227 and 79 to Watkins (no one calls it ‘Watkins Glen’ around here).

I had been needing a new pair of walking/work boots and Deirdre wanted to shop for pants. Famous Brands is a combination of a outdoor recreation, work and casual wear store right on Franklin Street in downtown Watkins. When we arrived we found that they had expanded the store enormously in the previous year. They had added an entire second floor to one of the three historical storefronts that the business occupies.

I shopped carefully for boots. Store personnel cycled by at intervals to see how I was coming along and eventually gave me some expert advice on how to properly fit a shoe. Deirdre bought two pairs of pants and our retail mission was accomplished in about 40 minutes.

It was still early afternoon, so instead of going directly home we bore left as we climbed the hill out of town and went up Rt. 414 instead of retracing our route on 79. Rt. 414 is the Seneca Lake Wine Trail East and it was time for us to drop off our newly printed 2009 rack cards at the wineries.

Our first stop was Silver Springs Winery LLC, a place we had never visited before. There were no other customers there on a Thursday in April and we found the owner practicing his guitar playing behind the tasting bar. John Zuccarino told us that his winery had been there for about 10 years. He grows his own grapes down the hill toward the lake and also out of the north fork of Long Island (he is originally from New Jersey).

The lower quarter of the east (west-facing) side of Seneca Lake is known locally as ‘the banana belt.’ It gets linger afternoon sun and its steep slopes are well drained. A few acres here and there along the banana belt are warm enough to sustain syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes, which is rare in the Finger Lakes, where the predominant red varietal is cabernet franc.

Zuccarino’s wines are called ‘Don Giovanni Wines.’ Most wineries name their wines after the winery, but at least one other winery in the Finger Lakes has a different name on the label than it has on the sign out front (King Ferry Winery makes Tréleaven Wines). Zuccarino has several merlots available for tasting, including a 2002 merlot, which was so nicely aged that it tasted like a French bordeaux, a 2003 merlot that we ended up buying a bottle of, and a “bold merlot,” which had spent more time in the oak cask than the other merlots.

It was unusual to find a 2002 bottle for sale in 2009 at a Finger Lakes winery. Most places sell much younger wine. Zuccarino seems to put aside bottles to see how they age. Dr. Frank’s winery over on Keuka Lake also presents older wine at the tasting bar. His chardonnay was unusual in that it was a ‘French style’ bottle, having been made entirely in steel and never stored in oak. This is done elsewhere in the region, but usually a winery will also make a barrel aged bottle.

Zuccarino approaches wine making with a biochemistry perspective and gave detailed (but rapid) descriptions of how he had blended different grapes to get just the flavor and color that he wanted in his wines. He refers to his wines informally as ‘organic.’ The claim is not on the bottle or in any of his literature, so he is probably referring to the fact that he does put sulfites or any additive (dyes, fruit flavors etc.) into his wine. The lack of sulfites is particularly noteworthy, as many people are allergic to them.

We left some rack cards at Silver Spring, bought some of their wine and took along some of their brochures and headed north to Atwater  Estate Winery. The ‘estate’ part of the title means that all the grapes in the wine are grown right there at the winery (unlike Silver Spring, which grows on Long Island, which makes Don Giovanni Wines ‘New York State wines.’

The Marks family owns Atwater, but none of them were there on this midweek early spring afternoon. The lone employee present told us that Katie Marks was in New York City taking a course in the history of wine. We once again had the tasting room to ourselves and enjoyed hanging round with the taster and essentially toasting the beauty of the Finger Lakes region for about half an hour (the tasting room look out over the lake proper).

Atwater is a favorite of ours, so there wasn’t an exploratory aspect to this part of the afternoon. However, they had just released a 2007 pinot noir, which proved to be superior. Many Finger Lakes pinot noirs are a bit thin or downright bad because the grape is on the edge of its range here. In some years the growing season simply isn’t long enough, dry enough or warm enough for pinot noir and the wines bear this out. Atwater new release, however, was robust, smooth and had nice berry up front.

Chateau Lafayette Reneau is right next door to Atwater. The tasting room was again empty but for a single employee. Our host told us that in these slow months he was able to spend more time teaching online. He teaches history and politics at the Community College of Vermont. It has been our experience that a lot of the winery employees have other jobs, some of them additional service economy jobs, but it isn’t unusual to find that you are standing across the bar from an artist or a teacher.

The high point for me at CLR was their cabernet franc, which was a solid Finger Lakes red with the combination of smoothness and pepper that makes this such an enjoyable wine to drink by itself or with almost any food. Deirdre liked the dry riesling, which is the notable white varietal for this region. Some of them are amazing complex with different things happening in the beginning, middle and end of a taste. The CLR riesling was not that complicated, but had a clean, fresh, lightly fruity taste.

Our last stop was Red Newt Cellars. I had been to a mixer at the winery two weeks before and so had tasted their wines then, but Deirdre hadn’t been able to come along. Once again the tasting room was empty and two employees were occupying themselves with paperwork when we arrived. Red Newt does not grow any of their own grapes, but instead buys them from growers in the region. The Finger Lakes wine industry began when some (but not all) of the local grape growers decided to start making wine.

We tried several of the varietals, but were most impressed by the winery’s blend, which is called Red Eft. Every year they mix together several varietals to produce this low-cost bottle. This year’s Eft is especially good because the owner and winemaker, Dave Whiting, decided not make any wine from a particular crop (I think it was the cabernet franc in 2007, but I’m not sure) and instead mixed all the grapes into the blend. So what wasn’t quite good enough to make a straight varietal bottle produced an outstanding blend.

It was then time to head home and get ourselves some dinner. We had left behind four piles of rack cards, but acquired six very nice bottle of wine.

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Trumansburg is at the northern edge of Tompkins County and the next county up, Seneca County, is full of active and inactive agricultural land, interspersed with woodlots and dotted with villages and hamlets. During the winter the county roads (most of them still unpaved) are excellent for trolling for open country birds like northern pipits and snow buntings. These are birds that generally don’t come to feeders and are only in this area during the winter. More dramatic are the rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls and snowy owls, all of which are less common than the pipits and buntings, but a bit more heart-stopping when you spot them.

Center Road snowy in flight

Center Road snowy in flight

A fellow bed and breakfast owner, Michele Manella of Hayward House up in Ovid, has become an avid birdwatcher since moving to the Finger Lakes from Pittsburgh. She is part of a network of birders who let each other know when unusual species have been spotted. Several weeks ago she let us know that a snowy owl and several short-eared owls had been hanging around the intersection of Center Road and County Road 129 in Ovid, and she encouraged us to go have a look. The best time was around dusk, which was happening around 7 p.m. in early March.

We tried to make up there one night a couple of weeks ago and arrived at about 7:20 p.m. when it was already too dark to identify anything out in the field. Snowy owls, because they are from the tree-less tundra, will often sit on the ground in the middle of a field for hours. It is often difficult to tell the apart from patches of snow or wind-blown plastic bags. The short-eared owls like to sit on the rolls of hay out in the fields, but they tend to like the lee side rather than sitting right on top, where it would easier to see them …

Then, earlier this week Michele gave us a call. Someone had spotted the snowy owls after no one had seen it for several days. The network of birdwatchers maintains a phone tree and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology posts a regularly updated list of local notable sightings. We picked up Michele at her place and drove up Rt. 96, and took a left onto Center Road and began scanning the fields on either side of the road. The first thing we spotted (Michele spotted) was a male northern harrier. These hawks fly in a distinct manner, teetering on narrow upswept wings, swooping low and then rearing up sporadically when they appear to have spotted something down below. The males have blue-gray backs and black wing tips. The female–whom we saw shortly thereafter–is larger and brown instead of blue-gray. Both have a distinctive white crescent at the base of their tails.

We encountered two dedicated birders who were doing owl surveys for Cayuga Birds (I think). It was a cold and windy evening, but very clear with good low light. Michele (again) found the snowy owl crouching out of the wind in a hedgerow. We could see only its head sticking up out of the high grass. Deirdre set off up a lane paralleling the hedgerow to see if she could flush the owl into the open. She got within about 50 feet of him when he popped up and flew about 30 yards out into the field and set down in full view. The males are whiter, while the females tend to be streaked with brown. This was definitely a male.

One of the owl surveyors predicted that he would sit in the middle of the field for a while and then, when it started to get dark, fly up into a tree at the end of the hedgerow. (In the end, that is exactly what he did.)

We turned our attention to the north side of the road where a bird was singing from one of the cylindrical hay bales. I thought it was a red winged blackbird because I’d seen them around for a few weeks now. But he turned toward us and the setting sun and his yellow breast lit up: a meadowlark. He was back up north a little early, but he was definitely back and singing with enthusiasm.

The harrier were still about, but we hadn’t seen the short-eared owls yet. Evidently they represent a sort of changing of the guard, with the harriers ending their hunting just about the time the short-eared owls start their evening shift. After about a half hour of waiting without seeing any short-eared owls we prepared to go. Of course, just as we were about to get in the car one sailed into view, followed shortly by another. They swooped in to have a look at the snowy owl (who by now was in the tree) and then disappeared over a hill, apparently to hunt over a recently plowed field. We’d seen dozen of gulls flying over it earlier in the evening. They were gone now and had left the field to the owls.

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The Finger Lakes are a popular tourism destination between May and October. From November to April it is quiet and we’d love to see a few more people visit. A lot of people seem to have the impression that we get a series of enormous snowstorms all winter, but that isn’t actually the case. That happens in the “snow belt,” which is a broad swath of New York beneath Great Lakes Erie and Ontario. But the southern edge of the belt reaches down to only the northern ends of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.

Ithaca and Trumansburg are at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. We get our share of snow, but not those three- and four-foot dumps that they get so regularly in the snow belt. And what I regularly tell warm weather visitors who express trepidation is “Hey, this is where salt comes from!” Indeed, much of the road salt for the northeast comes out of salt mines under Cayuga Lake and the Genesee Valley (the mine under Seneca Lake is apparently used largely for table salt). In other words, the roads around here are possibly less icy and safter than some of the ones that folks have to deal with in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and downstate New York.

And what is there to do in the winter around here? Well, pretty much everything that you can do in the summer. Go to the wineries (yes, most of them are open all year), eat at excellent restaurants, see top quality live theatre, visit the gorges (OK, some of them are closed, but Taughannock is open all winter), see live music (just not outside, as you might do in the summer) and visiting artist studios,  art galleries and bookstores.

There isn’t a lot of downhill skiing around here–Greek Peak is about 40 minutes to the east–but the cross-country skiing is widespread and varied. Trails at Hammond Hill State Forest southeast of Ithaca are heavily used by local people, so it unlikely that you would even have to make your own trails. The Finger Lakes National Forest trails are good for beginners because many of them run north and south along the height of land between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes and so change very little in elevation, while passing through open fields, woodland and isolated ponds and gorges.

If you like wine, really like wine, and would like to hang around and talk about it with the people who make it, then you are much better off visiting the wineries between November and April. You are likely to walk into the tasting room and find almost nobody else there, except the person behind the counter, who may in fact be the winemaker himself. Even if it isn’t the winemaker you encounter, the taster will have much more time to talk wine with you and, as they are usually savvy local folks, tell you where to go for a good meal and some reasonable accommodations.

In other words, if you visit the Finger Lakes, you will be hanging with the locals and learning a whole lot about the region that you can apply toward your subsequent warm weather visits. As the area gets more and more popular, inside information will serve the clever visitor by helping him avoid the crowds and see the “real Finger Lakes”.

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