The Amazing Food at When Words Count Retreat

At first, I thought it was a scam. Around Christmas, my mother had sent me a sweepstakes link on Facebook, and on a whim, I entered it. A few weeks later, an email arrived, informing me that I had won. The prize was a 3-night stay at the country-inn-turned-writer's-retreat When Words Count Retreat in Rochester, Vermont. The stay would be my prize; I had to pay for the "gourmet meal service." If you're reading this, you know I don't mind paying for good food, so after I poked around the Internet looking for proof that this was a real thing, I called and booked my reservation. I figured it was a small price to pay for food when I'd have a long, quiet weekend to myself to work on my writing. 

To say I was right would be an understatement. I could write a whole post about what an incredibly positive, possibly life-changing experience this one weekend retreat was for me. I arrived as a blog writer with a few articles published in some local magazines. By the end of my second day in Vermont, I had written almost 3,000 words of what I'm hoping will be my first book. The environment was ideal. The setting was inspiring. The schedule was accommodating. The discussion was stimulating. I really do want to go on.

However, when I first started this blog, I was determined to keep it focused on food, and so I will. The food at WWCR is, in a word, sublime. First, let's define what comprises their "gourmet meal service," and I take this from their website:
  • A sit-down, two-course country-style breakfast
  • A buffet farm lunch (fresh salad, protein portion, cheese board, crackers, soup, etc.)
  • Cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres
  • Daily Coffee and tea service and
  • A four-course Gourmet dinner, prepared, each evening by our celebrated Chef
This costs $60 per day plus a 17% service charge which covers both gratuity and VT sales tax. I think I should say a mere $60 per day, because I found this to be an outstanding value for what I received, considering at most upscale restaurants where I live, I could easily spend that on a four-course dinner alone.

Here is one of my breakfasts, and yes, I mean both pictures constituted one breakfast: a bowl of creamy, tangy vanilla yogurt topped with crunchy granola and fresh berries, accompanied by scrambled eggs, thick country-style bacon, and strawberry-rhubarb-stuffed French toast.

For lunch the first day, this beautiful salad plate:

The next day's lunch, smoked salmon chowder and a flatbread topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula:

Are you drooling yet? Because recalling these meals is making my mouth water all over again.

Coffee and tea service was available all day, and we had a cocktail hour before dinner during which we were offered cheese and crackers, crudites, and the like. Needless to say, none of us went hungry that weekend. And I haven't even gotten to the dinner course.

So here's the teaser - my next post will focus on dinner alone, and will include at least one recipe. So check back soon! And writers? Check out When Words Count Retreat. You won't regret it.

Go Local Magazine - April 2017 Issue

Spring is here and it shows in this month's issue of Go Local Magazine. April's features include articles on local arborist Laura Mele, Chef Franny Krushinsky of Longmeadow, Stafford's newest business the Stafford Cidery, the "lamb ladies" of Pine Knob Farm in Somers, and a sneak peek inside Route 83's architectural wonder Aborn Castle

You can also read about disc golf at Crane Hill in Wilbraham and the good work being done by the Jeff Braun Memorial Foundation. Find out about local products, CSAs, how to make A Couple in the Kitchen's award-winning Quiche Caprese, and the great eats at Stir the Pot in East Windsor. 

There are suggestions for springtime hobbies good for the whole family, places to find local herbs and mulch, and a list of community theatre groups.

Find all this and more online here or by picking up your April issue at your favorite local business - it's free!!! 


Taste of Manchester Three Weeks Away!

The 8th Annual Taste of Manchester is only three weeks away. On Tuesday, May 9 from 5:30-9, participants will sample a variety of foods from Manchester's eateries in this popular pub-crawl style event. 

Click on the links below to read about some tried-and-true favorites that are returning to the TOM 2017 to share their favorite tastes with locals and visitors alike:

Tickets for the event tend to sell out, so go to the TOM WEBSITE where you can sign up as a volunteer, get more information and buy your tickets today.


Taste of Manchester 2017: Pagano's Italian Market

As part of the Taste of Manchester 2017 Marketing Committee, Amy has volunteered to write short features on the participating restaurants and share them via our blog here.This year's Taste of Manchester will be held on Tuesday, May 9th from 5:30 to 9 p.m. See the TOM webpageFacebook page, or Twitter @TastyTownCT (#TOMCT2017) for more information. 

Pagano's Italian Market

This year's Taste of Manchester is less than a month away, and our first featured participant is new to town, having celebrated their Grand Opening on April 7 of this year. That new business is Pagano's Italian Market, now open in the front of the Strano's Bakery building on Broad Street.

The espresso bar

Pastries, cookies, cannoli and more

Strano's Bakery is no stranger to Manchester. A commercial wholesale bakery famous for their grinder rolls, Strano's has been in business over 35 years. Bill Pagano has been friends with the owners of Strano's longer than that, so when the opportunity to take over the retail space at the front of the bakery building came about, Pagano jumped at the chance. His grandparents and parents were in the restaurant business in Italy, and he and his wife always hoped to have a small Italian place of their own. 

Specialty Italian food products for sale

Pagano's Italian Market is more than the name implies. Yes, they offer Italian specialty products for sale, including olive oils, pastas, and sauces, to name a few. But they also consider themselves an Italian deli, bakery and cafe, and they sell entrees, grinders, soups, salads and desserts. Everything is made fresh in-house including their famous meatballs and a variety of Italian cutlets (beef, chicken, eggplant). Their thick sheet pizzas, giant grinders and stuffed breads are perfect for parties. They also accept orders for catering. 
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The menu and daily specials board

The space is open and well-lit with plenty of tables to enjoy their delicious offerings on site. In one corner is an Italian espresso bar, in the other, a case filled with Italian meats and cheeses. In the middle there is a bakery case filled with a variety of Italian cookies and pastries. Crisp cannoli shells are filled to order with a light, fluffy cannoli cream, perfect to enjoy with your cappuccino or espresso.

Pastries and cannoli to eat-in or take home

Manchester's newest business offers something for everyone. From antipasto to zuppa, eat-in or take-out, Pagano's Italian Market has it all. They are located at 255 Broad Street, and are open Monday-Friday 10-7, Saturday 10-4, and closed on Sundays. Their menu and more information can be found on their Facebook page, and of course, they will be serving up goodies at this year's Taste of Manchester. Tickets are on sale now!


Go Local Magazine - March 2017 Issue

As winter melts into spring, Go Local Magazine's March issue urges its readers to come out of their self-imposed hibernation and discover some of the amazing people that make the CT/MA line a great place to live. This month’s magazine includes features on Go Local’s own fabulous photog Jackie Sidor, Murphy’s Pub in Agawam (perfect for a St. Patty’s Day outing), local dairy Hastings Family Farm in Suffield (written by Amy), Enfield Auto Restoration and more. Some great new products like juices and smoothies made by My Main Squeeze in East Longmeadow; Job's Hill Provision’s sauces, salsas, pickles and more from Ellington; and seven maple syrup sugarmakers boiling local sap this spring are highlighted throughout the issue. The featured recipe on the “Go Eat” page is A Couple in the Kitchen’s Maple Cheddar Dutch Baby, one of our newest recipes that would pair perfectly with some of that local maple syrup. You can read your copy online here or visit one of our local businesses to pick up your March issue - it's free!!! 


Quickie King Cake

Sometimes Mardi Gras sneaks up on you. You wouldn't think so, as it is a set day every year - the day before Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter, and the whole Mardi Gras season actually starts on Three Kings Day (January 6) so, again, you think you'd have time to plan. Well, Mardi Gras snuck up on us. We managed to (barely) get our crawfish order in on time to have them delivered on Fat Tuesday, but the king cakes were outrageously expensive, if not sold out entirely. 

Amy hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a plan, inspired by a can of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls in the fridge and the vague memory of making some sort of stuffed holiday wreath appetizer with them at someone's Pampered Chef party years ago.

This particular version is simple enough to be worthy of the Big Easy itself, where King Cake rules tables in office lunch rooms and teacher lounges for the first two months of the year. Someone starts by bringing in the first cake, and the person who finds a plastic baby in their slice gets the dubious honor luck of bringing in the next one. Needless to say, King Cake has ruined many a New Year's resolution. 

The colors of Mardi Gras have meaning, so remember that when you are decorating - purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. And don't forget to put a plastic mini baby doll (or dried kidney bean) somewhere inside for luck.

If Mardi Gras snuck up on you, too, you still have time to grab a few ingredients and make this quickie version before midnight rolls around. 

Happy Mardi Gras! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Quickie King Cake 

1 8-ounce container whipped cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cans refrigerated croissant/crescent roll dough
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 plastic mini baby doll or dried kidney bean
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
purple, green and gold colored sugar

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the cream cheese, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, and the cinnamon until well-combined. 

2. Unroll each piece of dough in a circle with the flat sides of the triangles on the outside of the circle and the pointed ends of the triangles in the center of the circle, slightly overlapping each other. 

3. Spoon the cream cheese mixture about half way out, then sprinkle with the chopped pecans, if using. Place the baby somewhere on there.

4. Flip each piece of dough over the cream cheese mixture and press on it the seam in the center so it doesn't leak out.

5. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, until golden brown and allow to cool completely.

6. Whisk together the sugar, milk and remaining teaspoon of vanilla to make the glaze. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing it to drip over the sides.

7. While the glaze is still wet, decorate with purple, green and gold sugar.


Maple Cheddar Dutch Baby, Baby!

It's a SNOW DAY, which in this two-teacher house means sleeping in and making something fancy for brunch. Today's fanciness is a Maple Cheddar Dutch Baby, a light, airy oven pancake with a savory flair. We have to give props to the food artisans in Vermont for this one, though. First, we love Grafton Village Maple Smoked Cheddar, which is made right outside of Brattleboro, and we sprinkled this on top as we put the batter into the oven. Not only did that offer a cheddary tang, but it crisped the top of the Dutch baby perfectly. A drizzle of maple syrup made by Amy's cousins at Maplehurst Farm in Greensboro, right when it came out of the oven, heightened the maple flavor. 

Maple Cheddar Dutch Baby
(serves 2-4)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup shredded Maple Smoked Cheddar cheese
sea salt

Preheat oven to 425F (this is very important!). Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients until they are combined. Melt the butter in a 12-inch, preferably cast iron skillet, over medium heat. Let the butter cook until it is brown (2-3 minutes) and swirl it so it coats the whole bottom of the skillet. Pour in the batter and sprinkle the whole thing with the cheese and a pinch of sea salt. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until puffed up and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve with real maple syrup. Or Amy will hunt you down and she can not be responsible for what happens after that. 


Go Local Magazine - February 2017 Issue

The latest issue of Go Local Magazine is in circulation around its free distribution spots and this month's theme is a celebration of love, just in time for Valentine's Day.  

There's quite a few foodie stories this month. The cover story celebrates the love and work of George and Fred Koulisis, the couple behind Stafford House of Pizza and Basil's Restaurant who have been married for 45 years and are still going strong. And speaking of restaurants, this month marks the debut of "Local Dish," a monthly feature on our favorite local eateries, such as this month's Crazy Jake's in Wilbraham. Amy wrote the article on the Ellington Winter Farmers Market, and A Couple in the Kitchen's recipe for Flourless Chocolate Walnut Torte (page 25) is the perfect dessert for your romantic V-Day dinner. But if you don't feel like baking, there's a list of "7 Heavenly Sweet Shops" that will do it for you.

Sharing the love this issue is a group trying to preserve the Farm at Hilltop in Suffield, developed by Indian Motorcycle co-founder George Hendee. "Local Tails" focuses on the K9 unit in Wilbraham, and who doesn't love those hard-working dogs and the officers who work with them? 

Of course, those are just a few of things you can read about in the February issue. There's a whole lot more, so go ahead and read it here now or get your copy at any one of these Go Local businesses and advertisers!

Happy Valentine's Day!


Sesame-Pistachio Napoleons

We were picked to enter the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge and we are excited to share our recipe entry with you. But first, a little bit about Simply Sesame - these are all-natural creamy sesame spreads that are perfect for spreading, dipping, spooning or frosting. They have the texture of peanut butter and a hint of pure cane sugar for a sweet balance to the rich, nutty sesame taste. 

Right now, there are three varieties, but the flavor we chose to play with is the one with pistachio morsels and a hint of cardamom. It reminded us a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine, and so we decided to do a play on baklava and made Sesame-Pistachio Napoleons.

With baked puff pastry as our base, we folded the sesame spread into some freshly whipped cream. After assembling our napoleons, we garnished them with additional chopped pistachios and some confectioners' sugar. Voila! Simple, elegant, and delicious!

Sesame-Pistachio Napoleons
Makes 6


1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package of frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup Simply Sesame Pistachio
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
6 whole pistachio nuts
confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold thawed pastry sheet. Cut into three strips, then cut each strip into 4 rectangles. Place the 12 rectangles on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Split each pastry into two layers, making 24 in all. Set aside 6 top pastry layers.

Whip cream in a large bowl until thick. Fold in the Simply Sesame Pistachio spread. Using a spatula, top 6 bottom pastry layers with cream. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and top with another pastry layer. Repeat this process twice, then top with the final pastry layer. You should have 6 Napoleons of 4 layers each. Garnish with a small dollop of whipped cream and a whole pistachio, then sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

You can find out more about Simply Sesame spreads on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, and you can order them through their website.


Go Local Magazine - January 2017 Issue

So we're two weeks late, but Happy New Year! This month's issue of Go Local Magazine is out and has a bunch of inspiring stories and new features to ring in 2017.

For one of this month's stories, Amy had the honor of interviewing some Ellington High School students who have trained to be EMRs and EMTs through the unique Ellington Rescue Post 512. For those whose resolutions include improving their bodies and spirits, there's a feature on SWEAT Power Yoga in East Longmeadow. More inspiration comes from a feature on DopaFit, fitness classes specifically tailored toward people with Parkinson's disease. And you can learn more about New England's iconic stone walls from Somers resident Charles Crary, owner of True North Stoneworks.

This month's "Go Eat" recipe for Sweet Potato Chipotle Bisque comes from our friend, local personal chef and caterer Lise Jaeger, who teaches cooking classes in various spots in CT. Fat-free and full of flavor, it's a nutritious choice for the new year.

There's even more to read about in the January Go Local, so read it here now or get your copy at any one of these Go Local businesses and advertisers!

Happy 2017!


Bloody B.L.T.

Farewell, 2016. You were not the best year, that is for sure, and we're not sorry to see you go. We welcome 2017 a week after the fact on a snowy Saturday meant for brunch and cocktails. In fact, a few weeks ago, we registered to take part in the Stirrings "Stir It Up Holiday Blogger Mixology Challenge" and after some experimentation, we think we've finalized our entry.

We hereby give you The Bloody B.L.T. - the cocktail version of the simple yet perfect bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. It's made with Stirrings Bloody Mary Mix and bacon-infused vodka but everyone knows the best part of a Bloody Mary is the garnish. This one has grilled romaine lettuce and a perfectly crisp rasher of bacon along with some chopped bacon bits on the rim. Indulgent, yes, but just what the New Year ordered. CHEERS!

Bloody B.L.T.
makes one cocktail


8 ounces Stirrings Simple Bloody Mary Cocktail Mix
2 ounces bacon-infused vodka
1 slice cooked bacon
1 leaf romaine lettuce, preferably grilled
1 wedge lemon or lime
bacon bits for the glass rim

Pour some bacon bits onto a small plate. Use the lemon or lime to moisten the rim of a glass, then press the rim of the glass into the bacon bits. Fill the glass with ice, then add the vodka and cocktail mix; stir to combine. Garnish with lettuce and bacon.

You can get more information on Stirrings cocktail Mixers on their social media including their Facebook page, Twitter @stirringsmixers, Instagram @stirrings and Pinterest page. Stirrings Cocktail Mixers are available locally at Total Wine and More, Stew Leonard's, and M&R Wine and Spirits. #STIRRINGSMIXOLOGYCONTEST