Keuka Lake wineries host Viva Italia!

(An post, 3/30/12)

The eight wineries of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail will hold their second event of the year, with the Italian-themed “Viva Italia!” on March 31 & April 1.

According to a Keuka Lake Wine Trail representative, “Event attendees will sample a delicious variety of dishes prepared with high-quality ingredients and wineries will make recipes available to enjoy at home. A preview of the event menus includes pasta e fagioli, gorgonzola tortellini, roasted red pepper polenta, zuppa di scarola, pistachio biscotti and lemon-almond cookies.”

Hunt Country Vineyards will feature a Tuscan-style penne pasta with their Classic Red.

Hunt Country Vineyards, for example, will be serving Tuscan-style Penne Pasta with their Classic Red, bread with a fig almond spread from The Gracious Gourmet, and almond cookies made by local baker Cheryl Zimmerman (Branchport, NY) featuring locally-made apricot jam from Los Gatos B&B (Penn Yan, NY)

Down the road at Heron Hill Winery, visitors will enjoy a dish featuring the Emilia-Romagna/Bologna from the northern Italy region in a Penne Bolgnese recipe created by Blue Heron Café Director Mike Oliver paired with Heron Hill’s Game Bird Red.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at any of the participating wineries for $30 for both days or $24 for Sunday only.  Each ticket holder will receive a souvenir wine glass.  Event hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

For additional information, contact the Keuka Lake Wine Trail at 1-800-440-4898 or  Or visit them online at


Finger Lakes wineries greet Spring with March events

Check out my latest article posted on  Finger Lakes wineries greet Spring with March events!  Tons of fun events around the Lakes in March! Enjoy Trail events on Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes plus lots of event on the wineries.    Check it out!

Relaxing at the Wine Salon

Each January my husband and I plan a trip up to the Finger Lakes – typically Seneca and/or Cayuga Lakes – to do some wine tasting and shopping.  The trip originally started out as an Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event, since it was a holiday for both of us.  This year, however, it was not a holiday for me, so we decided to go on Sunday.

It was Bargain Bash Week and Pasta & Wine Weekend along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, but it was still a relatively quiet day in most of the tasting rooms.  We started out at Silver Springs Winery, then headed on to J.R. Dill Winery, Atwater Vineyards, Red Newt Cellars, Kings Garden Vineyards, Wagner Vineyards, and Damiani Wine Cellars.  Our main mission for the day was to take advantage of the quiet tasting rooms and Bargain Bash specials, but I was also set on having lunch at the Red Newt Bistro and trying their Wine Salon, which I had heard so much about.

We did a quick tasting at Red Newt with a very pleasant and knowledgeable staff member (whom we kept staring at because he could’ve been my nephew’s twin; they even have the same name!) before heading in to the Bistro.

We ordered the Wine Salon menu option and our server, Emma, walked us through the choices of food for the Tasting Plate and wine selections.  It was a simple process: choose 3 entrees from a list on the blackboard, then choose three wines from a list of 20 Red Newt reds and whites.  The meal also came with a signature salon salad, crostini and concord chèvre.  If you’re not sure what to pair with what, don’t worry.  We relied on Emma for some suggestions and she did a great job.

For my three food items, I chose the Maple Smoked Trout, Flat Bread Pizza (with roasted garlic spread, artichokes, spinach and “Dilly Girl” Cheddar) and the Fresh Pasta (crab, chèvre, and carmelized shallot ravioli with roasted garlic cream sauce).  My wines were 2008 Pinot Gris – Curry Creek Vineyard, Red Eft, and 2010 Pinot Noir.

Kip, who loves to fish but isn’t a big fan of trout as a food, chose the Manchego, Flat Bread Pizza, and Fresh Pasta.  His wines were the 2007 Gewürztraminer – Curry Creek Vineyards, Red Eft and the 2010 Pinot Noir.

Combined with the Signature Salon Salad (hydroponic greens, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, white beans, and balsamic vinaigrette), the crostini and concord chèvre, it was a very filling meal in a very relaxed atmosphere.   And keeping with Red Newt’s focus on local, many of the items in our meal were sourced from local growers and producers: 

We talked, shared food and wine samples, and enjoyed the fantastic view of Seneca Lake.   It was the perfect meal for a great day on the lake.  I highly recommend stopping in and giving the Wine Salon at Red Newt Bistro a try.  Or, if you’d like a full meal, try their Winternet Cafe or dinner at the Bistro (serving again for the season beginning February 9th).

Celebrating Food, Wine and Deb Whiting

The late Chef Deb Whiting

On Tuesday night, my husband and I made our way up to Elmira to Bistro223, a new-to-us restaurant on Water Street touting “world flavors,” the area’s largest selection of Finger Lakes wine and lots of local beer .  The purpose of our trip:  to watch the FoodNetwork’s episode of “Chopped” featuring Deb Whiting, the visionary chef and co-owner of Red Newt Cellars who was killed in a June 30 car accident.   The episode had been filmed last November, and was just now airing for the first time.

We arrived at Bistro223 about an hour and half before the show and were greeted by fellow viewers already gathered including Brandon Seager, assistant winemaker at Red Newt Cellars.  We settled in to our seats around the bar, placed our order for Black Bean Hummus and Traditional Hummus, and delved in to conversations with the others….mostly about Deb, her husband Dave and their Red Newt…as we sipped Red Newt wines.

“She loved being in the kitchen,” said Seager of Deb.  “She would gladly come out and meet the patrons in the Bistro, but she loved being in the kitchen.”

Seager has worked at Red Newt alongside the Whitings since 2007.  After earning his degrees in viticulture and enology from nearby Cornell University, he met Dave Whiting and was soon making wines alongside the winery co-owner.

“Its really a perfect fit,” says Seager of his job at Red Newt.  “It’s a collaborative effort – we work together and we taste together.”

Red Newt Verjooz

About that time, Bistro223’s staffer Liz Treffeisen, delivered our hummus.  In addition to the two that we had ordered, she presented us with a third hummus dish prepared specially for the evening with Red Newt’s Verjooz, a verjuice made from green Vinifera grapes harvested at veraison or “onset of ripening.”  According to the Red Newt web site, verjuice has been “around since the middle ages” and is often used in sauces and dressings to “add a zippy yet complex element that complements wine, instead of detracting from it like a too acidic vinegar.”  In the case of our hummus, the Verjooz was used in place of lemon juice and it paired nicely with the Red Newt Circle Riesling that I was drinking.

Also at Bistro223 was Shane Searfoss, former Red Newt Bistro Manager who had also owned Charlie’s Café in Elmira for a time.

“Dave & Deb had their anniversary dinner at Charlie’s,” said Searfoss when asked how he had met the Whitings.  “And they asked if I would be interested in working with them at the Bistro.”

“Deb met some great people at the Bistro,” reminisced Searfoss. “She cooked for some very important people, too.  She cooked for Senate Farm Days.” (New York Farm Day is an annual event hosted in Washington, D.C., highlighting the producers of New York’s award-winning wines, farm-fresh products and seafood, as well as leading restaurateurs)

Liz Treffeisen, Brandon Seager & Shane Searfoss watch "Chopped" featuring the late Chef Deb Whiting

Then as the Chopped episode began, Treffeisen turned up the television volume and those gathered focused their attention on the screen.   Deb’s love of food, especially Finger Lakes food, was evident with every dish she prepared.   As the contestants cooked and competed on the television, in Bistro223 there were cheers for Deb, good-natured scoffs at the other contestants and applause for Deb as she said her farewell after being eliminated in the second round.  Although I never had the opportunity to meet Deb Whiting, it was hard to believe that this vibrant, beautiful woman with an infectious smile was no longer with us.

“I thought I would be crying my eyes out,” said Seager.  “But I’m so proud.  I’ve never been so proud of Debra.  She was very confident and she put food on the plate that she knew was good.  Every time she talked, she mentioned the Finger Lakes.  Did you notice how many times she mentioned the Finger Lakes?”

Searfoss agreed, “She was fantastic!  She did a hell of a job.  The Finger Lakes should be proud!”

And proud the Finger Lakes are to have had, for even a short time, a woman whose passion and commitment helped build a movement that will continue on long into the future.

The Deb Whiting Foundation has been created to “carry on Debra’s vision and commitment to wine, food, farms, families and community.”  Those interested in Deb’s work and that of the Foundation, can sign up for the Foundation’s mailing list at

Locavore, Locawino, Locapatron??

One of the programs that I work with through the Northern Tier Cultural Alliance, is theBuy Fresh Buy Local program – a national program designed to increase demand, consumption and production of local foods – thus providing healthier food for all and supporting local agriculture.

Although the movement is focused on foods, what we’ve seen over the past few years is the inclusion of beverages (predominantly wine & beer) and handmade items.  NTCA originally came to the program because of its connection between agriculture and farm-based crafts.  The basket makers, weavers, wheatweavers, quilters, and others who had developed their artwork from a farm-based craft and/or who were growing, raising and processing their own raw materials.  They were not only farmers, they were also artists.

As with other BFBL Chapters, it is the goal of the Northern Tier Chapter to make it easier for consumers to find, choose and appreciate great local foods….and to support the farmers and lands which produce them.  Sound familiar?  It could so easily be “making it easier for consumers to find, choose and appreciate great local crafts and art….and to support the artists and communities which produce them.”

Now throw in there the burgeoning wine and craft beer industry in northcentral PA.  We now have ten wineries within the four Endless Mountains counties, not to mention that the NY Finger Lakes Region is only about an hour away. Having grown up and now living on the NY/PA border, this is well within my definition of “local” and Seneca Lake continues to be part of my stomping grounds.

And the connections for the industries are win-win-win.  A local restaurant that serves local foods and wine with local artwork on the walls or for sale in a small gift shop; a winery that offers local cheeses and local artwork in its gift shops; a small pub that serves local beer & wine with food ingredients sourced from local farms and beer mugs made from a local potter; a festival that features local beer & wine along side regional artists and craftsmen.

What could be better?  I can’t think of much, both as an arts administrator and as a consumer.

Photo Captions:  Willow Basket by Patty Dillman; Wine Rack by Larry the Table Guy; Cheese from LeRaysville Cheese Factory; Pottery by Jeff Overman; Glass Grape Clusters by Mike Dietz; Wine from Grovedale Winery

Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake

Well, I finally had an opportunity to make a cheesecake again this weekend.  In these days of eating healthier and watching the sweets, it seem like my opportunities for baking goodies (including my favorites, cheesecake) are getting scarcer.  But, Cari’s birthday is this week and we hosted a small dinner for her on Monday night…her requested dessert: cheesecake.

I love trying new cheesecake recipes, so I sat down with my cookbooks on Saturday and started pouring through the pages. Parameters: not fruity, Cari loves coffee and chocolate, at least 3 packages of cream cheese (more is better).  Two recipes caught my eye – Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake (Taste of Home 2011) and Coffee Toffee Cheesecake (Taste of Home 2011).  Bad part about the first one – raspberries=some fruitiness; bad part about the second one – chocolate/coffee filling=too much chocolate (yes, I said “too much chocolate”).  Final solution = combine the two!

Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake

The final end product was delicious, and very rich!  Be sure to have some milk or coffee on hand to pair with the cheesecake.  There are several ways to make this cheesecake lighter too:  use Neufchatel Cheese instead of cream cheese for fewer calories, use a sugar substitute, and/or use light sour cream (I used two packages of Neufchatel Cheese and two packages of regular cream cheese).  Combined recipe is on the Recipes page – enjoy!

April Snow Showers & Easter Candy


As I sit and watch the snow fall, AGAIN, its hard to believe that Easter is just a couple of weeks away.  The stores are now filled with pastel yellow, blue and pink eggs, chicks, bunnies and bonnets.  The candy aisles offer huge chocolate bunnies, multiple color options of Peeps (even some with chocolate coated bottoms) and a thousand choices of jelly beans and malted “eggs” (my personal favorite).  I can refrain from the Christmas candy, Halloween candy and even Valentine’s Day chocolates.  But there’s something about Easter candy that I find simply irresistible.

Perhaps it’s the promise of spring and warmer weather; or maybe its because these were some of the first recipes I learned to make with my aunt, my mom and grandmothers.  Chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs were one of the very first things I tried my hand at in Home Ec 4-H Club at the ripe age of 8 years old.   I couldn’t wait to get home and make them for my family.

Then came the mint cream cheese molded candies that my great grandmother and great aunt used to make.  I have tried several times to make these beautifully molded, sugar-coated candies but have yet to achieve the beauty and perfection that either one of them seemed to accomplish with every little candy.  I have resorted to simple cookie-press shapes rather than putting my self through the frustration of digging candy dough out of the intricate molds.

After my son Keegan got a little older, making Easter candy became an annual event.  The marshmallow bunnies came out ok…and had lots of pieces to eat during assembly.   The candy-coated eggs filled with fruity cereal….not so good.  They never quite hardened (the cereal actually got soggier the longer they sat) and our tongues were blue for days.

And then there’s the Bunny Cake.  One of the family traditions I love the most, my grandmother has made a bunny-shaped cake for Easter Dinner for as long as I can remember.  Coated with a special white icing and coconut (with one ear always left without coconut for my uncle who didn’t like it), pink tinted icing in the ears, jelly beans as eyes, nose and trim around the cake, and licorice whiskers laid out on a bread board covered with foil.  Great-grandma’s mint cream cheese candies around the edge of the platter as decoration……most recently replaced by Gertrude Hawk Smidgens.  The responsibility of the  Bunny Cake has been passed on to me to make, and as fun and wonderful as it is, I’m still learning and perfecting.  The picture here is of one of my first attempts.  They’ve gotten better.

Now as I think about putting together Easter baskets, I know that I probably won’t make much of the candy this year, if any.  But that’s ok.  Others have carried on the candy-making traditions and handmade chocolates and eggs are still to be found in small shops right around the corner….


Bunny by Welch's Schoolhouse; Basket & vase by Mud & Fire Potters; chocolates by Chocolates by Leopold; Glass eggs by Ed Hammond.