snowy sunday morning

We went to sleep to the almost silent patter of snow.  I say almost silent, because when sleet is mixed in there is the little whoosh sound.

I woke in the middle of the night and went to the window to watch the stillness below.  From the brightness of a snowy night, when everything has that unearthly sort of glow, I watched one of our foxes pad silently across the back garden.  It was old fox, whose face is a good part white now.  This fox looks like they are wearing a fur head warmer because there is a halo of fox red fur around their face, but their face now is whitened with age.

My husband laughs at me watching things in the still of the night in the back, but it’s like the woods come alive.  Deer tiptoeing across the rear of the woods, along the back neighbor’s fence line.  A trio of raccoons and even foxes eating the birdseed scattered on the ground for them.

A Midwinter Night’s Dream.

It’s lovely and almost lyrical as well as magical to watch. The sparkling new fallen snow and the woodland animals roaming in the night.  On some nights like this if the young raccoons are out, they tumble and wrestle, enjoying the freedom of playing.

Day breaks and a pinkish orange glow grows upward as light and dawn creep in.  Everything is still lush and quiet with the startling whiteness of the snow.  Then dawn is gone and skies are blue.  That is a whole other kind of beauty.

The luxury of open space means I look out to snow covered trees and branches and shrubs. Nature’s fine frosting.  I hear the woodpeckers squabbling in the tall red oak.  The mourning doves and cardinals flutter in first, followed by the other song birds.

Overhead, a hawk cries out.

This is morning in Chester County.  This is what we need to preserve before developers and greedy corporate giants like Sunoco displace all of this loveliness.  These are the moments individuals like the head of the Chester County Planning Commission does not get, because he hails from the land of infill development. Traffic noise and people squashed in like lemmings is his norm. He doesn’t live in Chester County, which I have always felt should be required. People like him do not get the simple joys of a snowy Chester County morning. Which, subsequently, is why we need more land and historic preservation, and less development.

It also makes me think of our Revolutionary War Soldiers.  For them, a Chester County Winter wasn’t so pleasant I think.  But you have to wonder, in the snow last night, did their ghosts traverse Crebilly in Westtown on silent maneuvers?

Or what about the old souls laid to rest at Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road? What kind of winters did they see?

What did William Lockwood think when he looked out of the windows of Loch Aerie on a snowy night?

Or the fine people of Chester County’s now many historic villages? What did they see? Sugartown? Goshenville? Marshalton? St. Peter’s? Malvern? Other villages? Can’t you just hear the early morning clop, clop, clop of horses drawing carts on the old streets of West Chester and Kennett Square?

When we look out our windows at the snow in the evening, or the middle of the night, or at dawn and daybreak, who else has looked before us and what did they think?

Enjoy the snow before it all melts.

save the date for a delightful day in kennett square

On a snowy afternoon this is an awesome thing to receive in the mail! Save the date for the 2018 Bayard Taylor Home and Garden Tour!

Saturday, June 2, 2018 won’t come soon enough!

This is probably the best home and garden tour I’ve ever taken. Different kinds of homes and gardens, all interesting. If you’re looking for inspiration in your own home garden this is the perfect opportunity to find inspiration. And I will note that a lot of these gardeners tend to their gardens themselves.

In the fall I love Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s Historic House Tour, and Chester County Hospital’s Chester County Day, but once spring is here? This is one of the things I can’t wait for!

This event raises money to fund the children’s programs and adult literacy programs as well.

Planning for this event starts in early fall when the committee selects a variety of homes and gardens in a particular area of southern Chester County.

The self- guided tour showcases unique homes representing a mix of styles from historic homes and estates to charming cottages to sleek modern residences. Gardens range from large, lush professionally maintained to pocket sized patches of brilliant flowers some with sculptural accents, from the simple, but endearing, to the elaborate and extravagant.

Every detail is attended to, leading to a beautiful, carefree day of explorations into homes and neighborhoods seldom seen by the public. Thanks to the generosity of homeowners, local merchants and artists and especially the visitors, over $600,000 has been raised since the tour’s inception. These funds have greatly enhanced and enriched the experiences and lives of Kennett Square area children.

If you have never made time for this tour, make 2018 your year to attend this event!

I will note for the record I purchase tickets for this event like any other attendee. I am not compensated in any way, shape, or form by the home and garden tour committee for suggesting this event to the general public. I suggest this event because it’s marvelous.

The photos I have posted are mine from one of their garden tours, and I asked permission before taking photos outside only.

Stay safe in the winter weather this evening and dream of spring! 😊

have you taken a “master’s” class yet?


I had not taken a cooking class in years before this morning. The last cooking class I took was in a beautiful private home in Bryn Mawr. But it was less hands on and more lecture. This cooking class today, an Italian Baking Class, was totally hands on and fun!
The Italian Baking Class is one of the series of baking classes offered by The Master’s Baker in West Chester, PA. The classes are moderately priced and worth every penny!

We arrived at 11 a.m. Parts of our groups were friends, and others like myself, had just signed up by ourselves. I am a decent home cook, but there are plenty of thing I want to learn how to make. Like focaccia. I am not a facile yeast bread person. So this was a great class for me to start with!
We were taken back to the kitchen and were set up in what is normally the large decorating room and split up into pairs. Then the fun began with Pastry Chef Patricia Polin.

The hours flew by as we made Focaccia, Parmesan Rosemary Grissini (like a breadstick), Dolci di Amalfi (almond lemon olive oil cake), and Biscotti.

We learned a lot about the baking process. We baked using a scale- measuring the ingredients by weight.

I loved everything I made except my Biscotti. They are not super attractive because I was impatient cutting them before the twice-baked stage.


It was a lovely group of ladies and I will definitely be taking another class when I find one I want. I highly recommend taking one of the Master’s Baker classes. I am told plans for the future include mommy and me (mother and child) classes, and more!

The Master’s Baker is a fabulous specialty bakery (wedding cakes, custom birthday cakes, and special orders only, no regular bakery cases and street traffic, etc). They are located at 319 West Gay Street, West Chester, PA 19380. We are customers of theirs, which is how I learned about the class I took today.

rainy day kitchen tips

First of all, could it be any more miserable outside today? Since I’m housebound and I had not oiled my wooden spoons and cutting boards in a while, I figured I would do that today as it does not take much time.

Yes, cutting boards and wooden spoons should be oiled.

I can’t take credit for this kitchen tip or kitchen trick, my husband was the one who pointed out the obvious here a few years ago. I noticed in a cupboard he had a bottle of food grade cutting board and wood block oil. I asked what it was for, and he told me. I had never known to do that as much as I cook.

This is totally simple advice and if you take the time to buy the food grade oil, which is mineral oil based, you will extend the life of your cutting boards and your wooden spoons and your butcher block if you have one. Oiling the cutting boards means they don’t warp and don’t dry out. Oh and you won’t get splinters!

I use the Howard brand of cutting board and butcher block oil. I also love their furniture wax and oil.

It is totally simple to oil the cutting boards and wooden spoons. I use paper towels. I put the oil on the paper towel and I gently rub in the direction of the grain.

I should back up. There is a step for the spoons in the cutting boards before I oil them. I read about it somewhere and quite simply it’s you make a paste out of salt and lemon juice to help extra clean your boards and spoons. Or you can just wash them with soap and water and let them dry – I never let them soak in water because they will warp and split. And that goes for both wooden spoons and cutting boards.

I always keep my cutting boards very clean, and I also read that some people use peroxide after they have had raw meat on a cutting board.

Whatever you clean your cutting boards with before you oil them, they must be perfectly dry before you oil them.

When you apply the oil you need to do so evenly. And you need to give it a few hours I think to soak in. If after a few hours anything seems sticky or greasy, buff it up a little bit with clean paper towel to soak up any excess oil. (Again, this cutting board and butcher block oil is food grade and mineral oil based.)

Anyway, it’s such a simple and easy thing to do, and it helps extend the life of your wooden kitchen things. If you use wooden salad bowls and salad servers, you also might want to oil them once in a while as well.

I also oil my kitchen cabinets. They are vintage at this point and original to the house so they need occasional love too. I try to oil my cabinets once a month, and as for the other oiling of cutting boards and wooden spoons it usually ends up being twice a year.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay dry today.

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!

foodie heaven and worth the wait: whole foods exton, pa

One of my Christmas presents was a lovely gift card to Whole Foods in Exton. Yes, the store we never thought would open. A giant construction project and a corporate buy out by Amazon later, and it finally opened on January 18th.

The Whole Foods in Exton is located at 175 N. Pottstown Pike in Exton. Is easily accessible from 100 and also from 30. The parking lot was a bit of a crush, but when we went today for the first time, a good spot opened up quickly.

I actually think this is the best Whole Foods I have been in. I used to avoid the Wynnewood store because the crowd was obnoxious and the parking lot worth your life. Even re-built in Wynnewood it feels cramped. I never liked the Devon Whole Foods because of the crowd and the parking lot. But Whole Foods Exton? It’s a whole new experience.

I also think Whole Foods Exton is going to kick Wegman’s behind and I will tell you why.

Wegman’s in Malvern is cavernous and dark. The aisle shelving is SO tall in spots you feel isolated in the aisles. I also do not find it well organized and the store since it opened doesn’t flow. You can’t necessarily find things easily, nor necessarily someone to help you when you need it.

I like Wegman’s all right, but I am thinking I am going to like Whole Foods in Exton better. If I managed a Wegman’s I would be “shopping” the Whole Foods in Exton.

When you walk into Whole Foods in Exton, it’s huge but light and airy. You see the mechanicals in the ceiling but the store has loads of natural and electric lighting and as opposed to the darker feeling of a Wegman’s or a Giant, it’s so much better lit.

Wegman’s is also spotlessly clean. And the staff is friendly, well-trained, knowledgeable, and also neatly dressed.

From produce, to the fish market in the store, to the butcher it’s clean and well laid out. First time in the store and I did not have a problem finding anything.

They have a wonderful array of very fresh pre-made food if that is your thing. For pre-packaged food which is NOT my thing, it’s quite appealing. Especially the array of salads and grains and roasted vegetables.

They have an amazing yogurt selection. And breads and bagels ? Yum. Cookies too. I tried a double chocolate chip and it was delicious.

I had way too much fun buying produce and fresh fish that did not smell fishy. One of their great deals today was a shrimp ring for $7.99. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and I loved the cocktail sauce.

Whole Foods in Exton also has a nice in store wine and beer store. Admirable wine selection which was very boutique-like. The beer selection my husband said was o.k. but could stand some improvement. But beer-wise we are spoiled in Chester County by The Beer Store in Lincoln Court Shopping Center on Route 30 in Malvern.The store was mobbed as it was a Saturday, so that was a little overwhelming. It was also at times amusing people watching as there were some folks who were just such serious food people.

There were also some of the Main Line flora and fauna who had ventured west and still shop while on their cell phones.

And of course, the cart zombies. They are the ones who wander and stop, oblivious of all around them. My husband said I was one, and to my fellow shoppers I apologize I was having so much fun checking everything out!We ran into a friend and her kids also checking the store out for the first time. Apparently, her husband was suffering from sticker shock elsewhere in the store.I will say that while things are not quite ACME or GIANT prices since Amazon purchased Whole Foods, the prices are vastly and definitely improved. It won’t necessarily be my every day grocery store all of the time, it is affordable enough to visit far more often than Wegman’s. Hopefully prices stay that way. If prices stay that way, Whole Foods will also eat into the business of Fresh Direct in this area.

Readers, I had a swell time. Can’t wait to go back! Next time I will check out their cafe/juice bar and Pike’s. It was totally worth the wait.

in the wee small hours

Conshohocken State Road just after Hollow Road in Penn Valley on the edge of Gladwyne. Now vines and an unkempt forest of sorts, there used to be old silos that once stood and a spring house.

Gloaming is evening twilight, the time just before dusk when the sky is pink and fading.  Morning twilight is that equally beautiful quiet time just before dawn.  Mind you I am not awake then on purpose, sometimes it is just when I wake.  The past few nights it has been the yipping and calling of the foxes plus that even more eerie sound raccoons make when they call to each other – it’s almost a warbling that has awakened me before dawn breaks. It is a time for quiet contemplation, these early moments before dawn, and sometimes I wake up thinking about things and pondering.

Such was the case this morning.

This morning, I was thinking of how to make people see how quickly development takes over farm land.  This morning as I lay there in the twilight while everyone in my home slept, I remembered a couple of examples.

When I was little before we moved from the city to the Main Line, and even when we first moved to the Main Line, the more rural bucolic roots of Penn Valley and even Gladwyne peeked through the modern suburb of it all.

When you turned off of Hollow Road (when you get off the Schuylkill Expressway if you go right, it is River Road, left is up Hollow Road to Conshohocken State Road) onto Conshohocken State Road, for years the remnants of a farm eerily stood in this valley off the side of the road.  Silos and a spring house.  I watched them deteriorate over time, until vines and trees and woods have now basically swallowed them up.

I am not sure whose farm it was.  Along Hagy’s Ford Road (where Welsh Valley Middle School is among other things) until the 1950s there was the Charles W. Latch family farm  and other farms.   According to the Penn Valley Civic Association, this farm once provided a lot of fresh produce for the area. It is so jam packed full of houses today, it’s frankly hard to believe.  But before all of the development, it was farm land, including Pennhurst Farm owned by Percival Roberts.   Pennhurst was over 500 acres.  Pennhurst had among other things a prized heard of Ayrshire cattle (another fact gleamed from the very interesting and well written Penn Valley Civic Association website. (So all of the prize Ayrshire cattle weren’t just on Ardrossan in Radnor, were they?)

The Penn Valley Civic Association continues (and they credit Lower Merion Historical Society with all of these marvelous historical facts):

Other farms included that of George Grow on Hagys Ford Road. Sold in 1921, it is still known as Crow’s Hill (the “G” having become a “C”). Another farm was the Grove of Red Partridges on Old Gulph Road near Bryn Mawr Avenue. The property later was part of the tract of 302 acres belonging to James and Michael Magee. John Frederick Bicking, who operated a paper mill along Mill Creek, owned ten acres where Summit Road ends at Fairview Road. The Bicking family cemetery, mentioned in Bicking’s will of 1809, still exists at this location. Ardeleage, the estate of Charles Chauncey at Righters Mill and Summit roads, was torn down in 1938, and fourteen homes were built on the property. 

 

(Read more of the history of Lower Merion here and farming in Lower Merion here.)

I also remember visiting a dairy farm in King of Prussia that was somewhat commercial when I was a kid where you could get literally farm-fresh ice cream. I don’t remember the name.

Yes, King of Prussia.  It is hard to remember that what today is just thought of by the every growing malls and a casino, was once prize farmland too. (Do you see where I am going now, Chester County?)

If you visit the Valley Forge website, you will find this great post with an even more interesting 1953 zoning map of Upper Merion: 

RETAIL REWIND

March 13, 2017 by Dan Weckerly – VFTCB Communications Manager

Because I grew up in the area, I have long-term memories of King of Prussia Mall….author-historian Michael Stefan Shaw…

since his 1992 transplant to the area, he has looked at the mall through a surprising lens, that of historian rather than shopper.

Shaw is in the midst of capturing the full story of King of Prussia Mall, tracing its development from when it was just a little prince.

And even further, before it was born….

“I wrote a book in 2013 on railroading in King of Prussia, and that got me looking into the backdrop of Upper Merion Township,” Shaw says. “That led me to the mall.”

His research showed interest in a large-scale retail presence long before the 1963 official opening of King of Prussia Mall.

“In writing the railroad book, I came across a 1955 zoning map of the township,” Shaw describes. “And because of the coming of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Schuylkill Expressway, there’s a spot on the map marked ‘shopping center.’ In 1955, it was listed there. That’s way before the 1962 soft opening or the 1963 grand opening.”…

The map shows a candy-cane coded plot of land amid fields that were mainly devoted to dairy farming.

So there were cows onsite long before a purple one selling ice cream.

King of Prussia Zoning Map

 

That was then.  This is now. I guess my point is Chester County, that the farmland continues to disappear under the pace of development. I have to ask, will people in 50 or 60 years be looking at where we all once lived and will they be trying to imagine farmland too?

Do we really want farm land and open space to become just memories?

Check out two videos on YouTube about Nor-View Farm now owned by Upper Merion Township:


(You can also visit the King of Prussia Historical Society for more information.)

We don’t live in a bubble.  Chester County isn’t the only part of Southeastern PA threatened by development.  But if we learn from the mistakes of other PA municipalities, maybe we can hope for a little bit of balance?

Farming is brutally hard work.  Ask any farmer.  This state and this country really do not support farmers enough in my opinion.  But without our farms and farmers, where are we? Growing micro-lettuces on a green roof?  Green roofs are not open space.

Open space once, it is gone, is gone forever.  Along with our history, the architecture, and the farms themselves. And the wildlife.  Check out the Wikipedia page on Penn Valley for example:

Before Welsh development, Penn Valley’s forest was home to bears, cougars, wolves, rattlesnakes, otters, beavers, weasels, turkeys, grouses, woodland bison, trout, and bald eagles. However, after forest destruction by the Welsh and eventual home building after World War 2 many of the rare animals left.[12]

Today, the area is filled with red foxes, white-footed mice, horned owls, red-tailed hawks, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, pheasants, crayfish, songbirds, butterflies, and white-tailed deer. The white-tailed deer pose an occasional problem in Penn Valley because they can halt traffic, destroy the forest underbrush, devour expensive ornamental flowers, and spread Lyme disease. When last counted, Penn Valley contained 44 deer per square mile, 34 more deer per square mile than the recommended average. 

Just food for thought.

Thanks for stopping by.