along charlestown road

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Charlestown Road is one of those crazy, twisty, meandering, yet beautiful Chester County Roads. It used to be such a country road.  It still is even if it is a traffic nightmare cut through road at times now too.

I see it as another beautiful series of vistas potentially at risk.

Why at risk?   Simple, start with the intersection of Phoenixville Pike and Charlestown Road. It’s called “Pickering Crossing“. Another cram plan community of “carriage homes” or the current trendy word for townhouses.

DSC_5291While I will admit the design of these houses actually shows taste and some actual design, it’s 76 more houses.  3 and 4 bedrooms, and NOT a retirement community. It’s just another Stepford Village. You can’t even have a real garden in most of these communities.

So, that being said, time for a segue: Hey Great Valley School District are you paying attention YET to all of the development, or when the time comes will you behave like Lower Merion School District and just try to take someone’s land somewhere to expand?

Sorry, not sorry but given the pace of development in the Great Valley School District will it end up someday like Downingtown, which when I was in high school was just “Downingtown”, there was no Downingtown East and Downingtown West.

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And it’s not just the school districts which suffer from over-development.  We all are affected.  It affects infrastructure, municipal services, storm water management, traffic. It means less open space, fewer farms.

People, our food around here is not grown on the roof of Whole Foods, even if you can take a Yoga class there.

Development is an agriculture killer. Now granted, this country doesn’t respect farms and farmers the way they used to, and farming is not a business for the faint of heart.  It’s hard.  But we should support our local agriculture, not let it get developed away.

One of the beautiful things about Charlestown Road is there still is some farming left. It’s lovely.

DSC_5305BUT…..Another thing that worries me before I share the farm love is located at 124 Charlestown Road. This is the mysterious property known as Swiss Pines.

Swiss Pines is a 19 acre arboretum and Japanese garden . It USED to be open several days a week between spring and fall. BUT not so much since around 2013 (I think.)

Swiss Pines was established by Arnold Bartschi (born 1903- died 1996), born in Switzerland and by the mid-1930s, owner of the J. Edwards Shoe Company. In 1957, he purchased the 200 acres of the former Llewellyn estate, and during the next 30 years he developed the Swiss Pines site.

Swiss Pines became a nonprofit foundation in 1960- The Bartschi Foundation. The last IRS form 990 I can find is from 2016 –Bartschi Foundation 990 2016 – I do not even know if at this point there is still a non-profit. Guidestar and Charity Navigator seem conflicted in reporting and there are a few old IRS form 990s and that is about it. The last time the Bartschi Foundation or Swiss Pines was in the news was 2016 over a land dispute law suit.  Swiss Pines was mentioned briefly in May at a recent Charlestown Township HARB Meeting :

There was also discussion about the Great Valley Nature Center. Negotiations are underway to resolve issues in connection of the deed of the Bartschi Foundation that require this facility be used for educational and nature purposes. The condition of Swiss Pines was brought up. Since it is part of the Historical District, it is regulated by those ordinances but there was concern about the deterioration of the property. A suggestion was made that HARB could apply for a Keystone grant and obtain matching funds from the township to be used in maintenance of the Revolutionary Cemetery.

Once upon a time (check out this slide show from 2010 on Flickr) Swiss Pines had a Japanese tea house and garden, a stone garden, statuary, stone lanterns, and bridges set among amazing natural gardens. Plant collections include the Glendale Azalea Garden (150 varieties); the herb garden (100 species), the ground cover garden (28 varieties), and the pinetum (over 200 types of conifers).

Public interest has always been high for this property as a natural destination.  The Philadelphia Inquirer has written several times about the property, most recently in blog blip in 2010:

Living — Kiss the Earth
Swiss Pines
Updated: OCTOBER 20, 2010 — 10:32 AM EDT by Virginia A. Smith

Swiss Pines is a strange name for a place that calls itself a Japanese garden, but here you go – 19 planted acres (out of 200) along Charlestown Road in Malvern, just down the street from the Great Valley corporate wonderland.

It was built by the late Arnold Bartschi, who was of Swiss ancestry and owned five factories in Pennsylvania that made children’s orthopaedic shoes. When he bought the former Llewellyn estate in 1957, it came with an English-style garden, four Asian pieces that caught his fancy – one sculpted Chinese lion, 2 Korean dogs and a bench – and 40 Swiss stone pines.

So, according to Carl Shindle, who’s taken care of the garden since 1962, Bartschi named the property Swiss Pines, studied up on Japanese design (and at one time hired a Japanese designer), and created this unusual garden. 

Sadly, Carl Shindle died in June, 2016 I am told. Henriette Bumeder, the manager, still lives there.  I worry for her and the property also because of periodic reports of vandalism to the property over the years (reference this article from 2007, for example.)

Vandalism plagues Swiss Pines trustee
By Brian McCarthy
POSTED: 10/24/07, 12:01 AM EDT | UPDATED: ON 10/24/2007

Manager and trustee of Swiss Pines, Bumeder has owned her 190-acre property at 20 Tree Lane since 1985. She opens the Swiss Pines Japanese Garden to visitors on the weekend, and operates her property (with caretaker Carl Schindle, who has worked on the land for 42 years), as a wildlife preserve for the copious amounts of deer, geese and other animals inhabiting the area……a chain of vandalism, each incident more serious than the last, beginning in January 2006, when two dead Christmas trees were dumped on Bumeder’s driveway. In March of that year, her street sign was ripped off of its pole and soon afterwards her mailboxes were knocked over twice.

In August 2006, Bumeder was driving when she noticed she was being followed….

Swiss Pines is deteriorating.  There is a blog post about it on a blog called Scooter Kitten from 2010.

I found screen shots of two other Philadelphia Inquirer articles from 1966 and 1973, respectively (there is an article from 1985 that I also found screen shots for and actually tried to buy the article off of the Inquirer archives, but the archive site sucks and I hope I do not get charged for content never received):

img 2

img 3img

img (1) 1985img 2 1985

Related to Swiss Pines and also future unknown is the Great Valley Nature Center. Arnold Bartschi (as in founded Swiss Pines) gave the land and start-up funds to establish the nature center. That was in the 1970s.

The Great Valley Nature Center fell on hard times.  It is currently closed. They still have a phone, but their birds of prey have been relocated and no fun camps for kids this year.  Here is the update from January 2018 off a new website (old one is no more) and their blog:

update gvnc

If you can help the Great Valley Nature Center, you can contact them through the newer website.  I think they need an angel with very, very deep pockets. I do not know what happens when a conservancy goes belly up, and that is my impression of what happened (right or wrong, and if that is wrong, by all means correct me.)

I found this old video on Patch from 2012 so you all can see why the Great Valley Nature Center is so special:

Now the farm I love to watch along Charlestown Road is Charlestown Farm.  Located at 2565 Charlestown Road. You see them at the wonderful Phoenixville Farmers’ Markets and they have a CSA. This farm is owned by the same family that owns neighboring Broadwater Farm .

When I see working farms and open space, it makes me so happy.  It’s what makes Chester County so magical.  We need MORE of that.

Anyway, enjoy some of the photos I took of Charlestown Road recently:

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raisin sauce for that easter ham

Raisin sauce for ham wasn’t a family tradition. It was somebody else’s tradition that they shared with me years ago. Or more precisely, they said they would really like to have that with ham but didn’t know how to make it.

So I monkeyed around with it and came up with the recipe I’m about to share with you. Having done research over the past few years again on a raisin sauce for ham mine is different because I add onion, and I use the Wondra quick dissolving flour and not cornstarch. I also add both a dried mustard and a grainy mustard, allspice as well as cloves, a bouillon cube, and a little hot paprika.

What you end up with is a savory sweet sauce for ham. It complements the smoked salty nature of a ham rather well.

Here’s how I do it:

* 1 cup dark raisins
* 2 cups water (hot with a bouillon cube added)
* 3 Tablespoons Wondra flour
* 1/3 Cup brown sugar
* 1/4 Teaspoon dry Coleman’s mustard
* 3 Tablespoons grainy mustard like Grey Poupon Country Mustard
* 1/4 Teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/4 Teaspoon ground allspice
* 1/2 Teaspoon hot paprika
* 4 Tablespoons butter
* 1/2 Sweet onion diced
* 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar or maple champagne vinegar

Chop up the onion and toss it in the sauce pan with the butter. As you are cooking the onion down and it starts to get translucent, add the raisins.

Then add the water with the dissolved boullion cube, add the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved add the flour – and yes I pretty much stir continuously at this point. Next add the spices and the mustards (powdered mustard and the grainy mustard), and finally add the vinegar.

A lot of people when they’re making the sauce will serve it right at this point. I don’t. I turn off the stove and I put the lid on the saucepan and I let it sit for at least an hour. I reheat it gently when I am ready to serve my ham and all you do is put it in a gravy boat and let people spoon what they want over warm ham.

Oh and I changed up my ricotta pie this Easter. I toasted up pine nuts and chopped pistachios and added them to the ricotta mixture before baking!

Happy Easter!

baking day: banana bread and collecting cookbooks

I made pumpkin bread the last time around and this time I decided to make banana bread. My banana bread is a little different from some recipes but I think it’s delicious.

Start with preheating your oven to 350°.

Next, your ingredients:

3/4 of a cup of butter, almost melted

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Four eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon cardamom

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup dark raisins

Five large bananas mashed up

The first thing I do is in a medium bowl is mash the bananas. I have a hand potato masher that works nicely for this chore. I try to use very ripe bananas the flavor is better.

Next I grease and flour two pans – I think the dimensions are 9″ x 5″ but don’t hold me to that. I grease with butter and with almond meal (almond flour– I use it a lot in baking). If you don’t have almond meal in your pantry just use flour.

Put the pans to the side.

And a second bowl, mix together with 2 tablespoons of other flour or almond meal your raisins, chopped pecans, dried cranberries

Throw your butter in the microwave in a microwave safe dish for almost a minute. Add it to a large bowl with the butter and sugar. Cream until smooth add your vanilla and your eggs, mix again. Next add the mashed bananas and your cardamom and cinnamon.

After that is smooth and well mixed, add in your salt, baking soda, baking powder and give it a stir. Add in your flower one cup at a time. Once the batter is well mixed if you have been using a hand mixer switch to a regular old-fashioned wooden spoon and stir in the nuts and dried fruits.

Split your batter equally between your two pans and dust tops with granulated sugar. Next, place next to each other but not touching in your preheated oven.

The banana bread cooks for about an hour, and when a toothpick comes out relatively clean your bread should be done. Cool at least 20 minutes in the pans before removing from pans and cooling completely on baking racks before wrapping up. You can freeze a loaf or not. They last about a week. Or less depending on how hungry everyone in your house is!

Ovens are funny so sometimes it’s a little less time sometimes it’s a little more time. I don’t remember what it was that I baked and wrote the recipe down and posted, but the time I listed for me worked perfectly with my oven yet a reader wrote to me that with their oven it took a little more time.

Baking is not completely an exact science when it comes to ovens and cooking times. And there’s also trial and error. And it also depends on the home cook. I am more of one that uses recipes as a guide and I will wing it a lot. If it’s something I make often enough, I will try now to write the recipe down.

My problem is that a lot of the women of older generations in my family that taught me to cook from the time I was a small child didn’t actually use recipes. Maybe they had the basics on an index card, but more often than not it was straight out of their head and you learn how things were right by the feel of batters and doughs and what not. So that is kind of the way I learned. Some things had recipes and exact measurements, and some things just didn’t. Homemade pasta, for example, was one of the things that didn’t have anything written down. It was just passed from person to person how to do it.

My mother has a great collection of wonderful cookbooks, and what I learned from her includes having a great collection of wonderful cookbooks. It was my mother taught me to check out the regional cookbooks that various Junior League chapters and ladies aid societies and women’s church groups would put out.

For example, decades ago at this point (like around 1980), the Philadelphia Orchestra West Philadelphia Women’s Committee put out a wonderful cookbook called The Philadelphia Orchestra Cookbook. I still have it in my cookbook collection today and it has wonderful recipes including one from my mother! I don’t recall ever had anything from the Philadelphia Junior League, but I do have a cookbook called The Philadelphia Cookbook of Town and Country circa 1963 that was by Anna Wetherill Reed. This cookbook has many wonderful recipes including for oldschool cocktails like a Philadelphia Old Fashioned cocktail and a recipe for Fish House Punch attributed to State In Schuylkill.

As far as the regional cookbooks go I have a couple from Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, a few southern Junior League cookbooks (like Charleston, Virginia, and Shreveport Louisiana). Sadly, as far as my regional and fundraising type cookbooks go the one that was the largest disappointment is the one that was put out by the Devon Horse Show a few years ago called Appetizers at Devon. I never fell in love with any of the recipes. I guess maybe it just reflects the changing style of the women’s committees in general all over today versus days gone by. A lot of these women don’t get into their kitchens, they order out, they buy prepared foods, they have boxes of portioned out foods delivered like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and what not, they use caterers, they go to restaurants.

One of the best cookbooks and most fun that I have the counts as a regional cookbook is Greek Cooking in an American Kitchen. These are recipes compiled by the Saint Luke’s Greek Orthodox Church Women’s Auxiliary in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Those ladies started putting out a cookbook in 1973, and the addition I have is the fourth edition from 1997. If you can get your paws on a copy, and you like Greek food, this is an amazing cook book and the recipes are easy to follow.

I even have a cookbook from the Italian market in Philadelphia. I have course, also have a nice selection of cookbooks from the professionals like Ina Garten and the New York Times. I have also mentioned in prior posts that if you can get your hands on volumes one or two of The American Contry Inn and Bed And Breakfast Cookbooks put out years ago by the Maynards, they are wonderful as well.

A new cookbook I am going to suggest that everyone go to Amazon to get (and it’s going to be released soon because I just got my shipping notification) is by Delaware county native Elisa Costantini and her son Frank Constantini. It’s called Italian Moms: Something Old Something New 150 Recipes. I also have her book Italian Moms: Spreading Their Art to Every Table which was self published.

Enjoy your day!

hummus tahini

With the exception of a few short days between the flu and flu related viruses I have now been sick off and on but mostly on since the 28th of December. (On the news when they run through the list of people who are susceptible to flu, especially if they forget to get a flu shot, I’m right up there.

As a result I have become the master of sick food. It has not been a month where I have been overwhelmingly starving. And the foods I have been eating have been pretty basic. A lot of chicken soups, in particular. (I have to tell you having an Instant Pot to make bone broth, soups, and stews has been a god send.)

I am not a big giant sandwich eater for lunch most days so things like yogurt and hummus have also been up there on the list of things which have tasted good to me.

I love hummus tahini. My mother has been making it since we were little. When we were little it was a sure sign of company coming over because it was one of her “go to” hors d’oeuvres kind of things.

I have never really used a recipe to make my hummus. I just watched what my mother did for years and then I have created my own recipes as an adult.

I made it again today and I think it’s extra delicious this time, so I decided to commit the recipe to paper, or blog. (And yes I still have that draft of that unfinished cookbook on my computer desk top and this recipe will be added to it.)

Hummus Tahini Ingredients:

1 extra large can of Goya chickpeas – 1 lb. 13 oz. DRAINED

1 large sweet onion rough chopped

4 large cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 large red bell pepper rough chopped

Juice of two large lemons

A couple of dashes of Cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Approximately 1/3 cup Tahini paste (you can add more or you can add less – truthfully it’s a matter of personal taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Olive oil and sweet paprika to dress the hummus before refrigerating.

A food processor or a blender that works like one. (I have a Breville blender it seems to do everything except take out the trash.)

Now to put it together…

I put into the blender the red pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, cayenne. I then add a couple of dashes of salt and pepper to taste and blend well.

Then I add the pine nuts and blend well.

Then I add the chickpeas, and blend well again.

Then I add the tahini paste in three parts because it’s a pain to work with and blend some more.

I taste it and adjust the salt and pepper as necessary, and also may add a little more lemon juice or a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar if I don’t think the acid balance is right. The thing about hummus is there is a balance to the acids you add, and when people omit the acid it doesn’t taste as good.

I will also tell you that I know some people who blend the tahini paste and lemon juice first to break down the tahini and make it more pliable. I do that sometimes too, but also breaking the adding of adding tahini in three bits also makes it manageable.

When my hummus tahini is velvety smooth, I put it in its own container and I dress the top of it with a few swirls of olive oil and sweet paprika. I then refrigerate until cold.

Hummus is fabulous with pita bread of course, but also goes well with carrots and other vegetables. it also makes a great base to a vegetarian type sandwich if you are so inclined.

Truthfully hummus is one of my favorite things especially for lunch. And not just when I’m not feeling well. I will buy prepackaged hummus tahini but I still think nothing is better than making it yourself and it’s so simple and takes very little time.

Enjoy!

swedish meatballs….my way

I love old school recipes.  One from my childhood is Swedish meatballs.  Not because we had any Swedish heritage – it was just one of those dishes my mother would make for us.  Over the years I have tweaked a basic recipe to suit me.

The weather has finally turned crisp and fall-like so I thought tonight would be a good night to dust off the recipe and prepare Swedish meatballs.  My recipe is NOT made with heavy cream and I add mushrooms and a couple of other herbs/spices. But the flavors work and you get that old school Swedish meatball flavor…enhanced.  Some add caraway seeds to either the gravy or meatballs, I add celery seed to the gravy

I also do something that I doubt anyone else does – I will prepare the meatball mix ahead of time the day I am cooking and refrigerate until it is time to make the meatballs.  That allows the spices to meld and perfume the meat mixture better.

Panko bread crumbs are superior to regular bread crumbs in my opinion, but the most important thing to remember is to use PLAIN breadcrumbs. This is not the recipe for flavored breadcrumbs.

Some use mashed potatoes, I like wide egg noodles.

I hope you enjoy my recipe if you try it. Watch the salt you add because of the sodium in most broths.

Swedish Meatballs My Way

  • 1 pound meatloaf mix
  • 1 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup onion, finely chopped x 2 or 1 cup
  • ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon White Pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • Splash of buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 8 oz package baby bella mushrooms slices thin
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups beef broth or bison broth
  • 1 cup evaporated Vitamin D canned milk (also great for homemade macaroni and cheese) or half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium sized bowl combine ground beef, panko, parsley, allspice, nutmeg, onion, garlic powder, white pepper, cumin, paprika, mustard powder, dash of buttermilk, salt and egg. Mix until combined. Put in refrigerator and chill a couple of   I do this because meat mixture flavor deepens.
  2. Roll into  20 + small meatballs. In a large dutch oven heat olive oil and 2 Tablespoons butter. Add the meatballs and cook turning continuously until brown on each side and cooked throughout. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil.
  3. Quickly sauté ½ cup minced onion and baby bella mushrooms
  4. Add 4 Tablespoons butter and flour to skillet and whisk until it turns brown. Slowly stir in beef broth and milk. Add Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard and dill and bring to a simmer until sauce starts to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a small dash of nutmeg (I mean small!) and celery seed.
  5. Add the meatballs back to the skillet and simmer for another few minutes. Serve over egg noodles or as the Brits call it, a “good mash” or plain mashed potatoes. I prefer egg noodles.

heaven on earth is home

It looks like a painting. But it is real life.  Taken a short time ago over in Westtown.  I made my last trip probably to Pete’s Produce for the season.  (They have the most fabulous pumpkins this year, but I digress.)

Heaven on earth is where we call home here in Chester County.  Traveling through the scarred battle zone of raped land of the Sunoco Logistics Pipeline horror show to get to Pete’s really made an impression today.

We as residents need to do a better job advocating for Chester County herself.  Election Day will be here in a blink.  The power of your vote is one of the greatest ways to be heard.  Those who are NOT stewards of the land need to GO.

We need more land preservation and land conservation and less development.  We need to see what can be done to save what is left of our beautiful landscapes, including from the damn pipelines.

We have an agricultural and equine heritage that needs to be saved.  We have waterways and woods and wildlife and even the humble honey bee depending on us.

We can’t just talk about it and we certainly can’t depend upon the Chester County Planning Commission.  Pretty pie-graphs and surveys just take up space on a website.  What are they doing, really?  What are the Chester County Commissioners doing, really?  Planned photo ops are good for politics, what do they actually do for all of us? The all like to say they are helping plan our future in Chester county but I ask again exactly whose futures are the planning? Mine, yours, or theirs and those who make lots of political contributions?

I was down on the Main Line a few times over the past few weeks.  I realized once again how I truly now dislike where I used to call home.  And it is not just the great pretenders to what now passes as the “social” scene.  It’s the density, the roads, the overall frantic pace and congestion.  I realized how I literally exhale when I start to feel the open sky, fields, and forest of Chester County every time I am coming home.

But we are at such risk of losing that. We are at serious risk of losing Chester County.  From the history to the land, forests, fields, water (wells, streams, lakes, everything), to the old farm houses and barns to other historic structures — we have to act.

As my friend Mindy Rhodes has wisely said via M. Jankowski “If not you, then who?”  and John Lewis  “If not now, then when?”

Think about it.  Start with who you vote for.  And what you vote for.

chutney!

One of the best smells in a fall kitchen is when you are making chutney. Chutney is sweet, pickley, and savory and it just has wonderful aromas.

For me, chutney is one of those kitchen sink kind of prospects as far as recipes. In other words, what I have available in my kitchen dictates what kind of chutney I make.

Today I made Apple – Tomato – Plum chutney. I had a bunch of beautiful fresh tomatoes that someone had gifted us that we were not going to eat before they got too soft, so I blanched all six of them in hot water to make it easy to remove the skins and then I chopped them up and threw them in the pot with:

  • Five medium apples peeled, cored ,and chopped
  • Six plums, mostly peeled and chopped
  • Four green tomatoes, chopped
  • One large red onion, chopped
  • One large sweet onion chopped
  • One red bell pepper, chopped
  • One poblano pepper seeded, de-veined and minced
  • Four jalapeño/Serano peppers seeded, de-veined and minced
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar and 1/2 cup white wine vinegar (I did not have any malt vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • Mustard seed, quatre epices, cinnamon, pickling salt (1 1/2 teaspoons), fresh cracked pepper, cumin, dill weed, curry powder.
  • 8 teaspoons honey

I cook everything in my Maslin pot. You bring everything up to almost a boil and then you reduce to simmer, and the chutney cooks down for an hour and a half to two hours – I just sort of eyeball it and I know when it’s the right consistency.

I have a vintage cookbook that I love that I use as a guide. Alison Burt’s Preserves and Pickles from 1974. I bought it at a church book sale years ago, but you can easily find copies on eBay and Amazon that are very inexpensive.

When the chutney reached its desired consistency for me, I jarred in sterilizesterilized jars and did the full immersion hot water bath for canning.

Right now my chutney is all beautiful and jewel toned and cooling on wooden cutting boards on my counter. When they are completely cool, I will tighten the lids on the jars and add the labels.

You can also make chutney that you do not put up that you just jar and refrigerate and it’s good for a few months that way.

Fall canning and preserving is so much easier than you think.

Try it!