251 Reasons to Explore Vermont

September 15, 2009  
Filed under Travel

By Spence Gregory

We all have our favorite places in Vermont. Mine is the top of Mount Mansfield, with its vast granite shoulders and vistas stretching as far as the eye can see. My wife’s is a place of memory, her family’s rustic camp in the hills of North Fayston when she was growing up.

We’ve been fortunate enough to spend a good portion of our lives in Vermont. I come from Chittenden County, Marge from Bennington. Separately or together, we’ve seen much of this beautiful state. But three years ago we embarked on a quest to see it all.

As it turns out, there are 251 cities and towns in Vermont, ranging in population from , Burlington to tiny Glastenbury with only a handful of residents and Lewis with none at all. Within those 251 cities and towns are countless villages and crossroads communities, each with its individual character, history and flavor.

What got us started on a more focused exploration was The 251 Club. Its goal is its name. Members seek to visit each of the 251 geographical units that make up the Green Mountain State. The objective is to not just drive through but spend enough time to capture the essence of each place. Club secretary William Rockford Jr. of Montpelier said there are around 3,600 current members, of whom 450 have completed the journey. While most live in Vermont, club members come from 36 states and as far away as Ireland and Australia. Eighty percent are retirees.
Vermont is laid out in a series of squares dating back to the mid-1700s, when New Hampshire’s provincial governor Benning Wentworth issued land grants for the undeveloped and disputed territory between New Hampshire and New York. You can see the present-day reminder of this on the welcome signs greeting you as you travel from town to town. Most say chartered or established or settled on such and such a date, the most common year appearing to be 1761. Bennington , named for its benefactor, is the earliest at 1749.

While there’s some variation in the shape and size of the towns, most are approximately six miles square. They’re laid out in a grid pattern with little regard for topographical features except for the uneven shores of Lake Champlain on the west and the Connecticut River on the east. Of course, Vermont is not a square sort of place with its mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes that existed long before Governor Wentworth drew his lines on a map. So the different towns take their character from what happens to fall within those arbitrary borders. And that’s what makes the 251 Club so much fun.

How you go about the quest depends on your particular interests. Bill Rockford tells of one couple who managed to canoe in all 251 communities. It took some ingenuity, because believe it or not there are a few towns in Vermont with no natural waterways. The paddlers solved the problem by locating farm ponds large enough to launch their canoe and keep the record intact.

My own enjoyment is photography. My goal is to come away from each town with at least three or four good photos that define unique features of the place. Since I’m creating a digital album, the first picture in each series is a roadside welcome sign or the name on a building that identifies the town.

My wife and I are also interested in Vermont historical sites and museums, so we try to include those in our travels. Many communities have historical societies that collect and display artifacts and memorabilia. Old cemeteries and town halls are not only visually interesting but can offer genealogical tidbits for those researching family roots.

Our home in Sudbury is on the northern border of Rutland County. We set out from there on our initial ventures, south to the towns around Rutland and Fair Haven, north toward Middlebury and Vergennes. Since we were fairly familiar with local landmarks and points of interest, the first few towns went quickly. But as our circle widened, we found more and more surprises.

One early spring day we discovered the tiny picture-postcard village of North Shrewsbury. The former general store, W. E. Pierce Groceries, was being restored by the Vermont Preservation Trust in the hope someone could be found to reopen it as a center of community life. We were transported back to the days before paved roads and easy travel changed the way we shopped and worked.

On another occasion we booked a bed and breakfast in Chester and explored parts of Windsor County. Chester is a jewel in its own right with its handsome stone houses along Route 103 and its Victorian railroad depot. To the east, Springfield offers reminders of its former glory as the center of Vermont’s machine tool industry, its once thriving factories lining the Black River. Just north of Chester and Springfield, we found the small triangular town of Baltimore which we never knew existed. We wandered its dirt roads looking for an identifiable landmark and finally encountered a tiny white-frame town office building. By contrast, the town of Weston a few miles away is one of Vermont’s premier tourist destinations and a photographer’s dream with its historic gristmill and the famed Weston Playhouse and Vermont Country Store flanking the village green.

The amazing thing about Vermont and the rewarding satisfaction of the 251 Club is that you will find similar surprises in every corner of the state, from the Northeast Kingdom to the Champlain Islands to the Mettawee Valley of Pawlet and Dorset. The fact is, we live in a beautiful, interesting state, and discovering its hidden treasures has never been so easy.

The 251 Club costs very little to join. Bill Rockford sends you a checklist of the cities and towns and a map showing where they are. You go at your own pace and when you’ve hit them all, you let Rockford know and your name appears in the next club newsletter. It’s as simple as that. If you’re so inclined, you can share your experiences with other questers at a pair of dinner meetings held each year in various parts of the state.

Spence Gregory is a former television news producer and Vermont retailer.

Things that go Bump in the Night

September 15, 2009  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

By Richard Daybell

As summer draws to an end, the nights get shorter, darker and more mysterious.  Autumn is foliage, of course, but it’s also a time of things passing strange, things that go bump in the Vermont night, things that make us afraid, very afraid. Why? Maybe it’s the symbolism of spring as a beginning, winter as the end, with autumn hastening us there. Maybe it’s all that darkness. Or maybe there’s just no time for spookiness during the summer. It’s not that dread exactly descends upon us. We seek it out, hoping to be scared, even paying to be scared.

Queen City Ghost Walk

Since 2002, the Queen City Ghostwalk has been treating Vermonters and guests to fascinating stories of Burlington’s haunted history. Tour creator and guide Thea Lewis leads participants on spine-tingling strolls through the darker side of the city, weaving stories of mystery, madness and evil. Haunters and the haunted alike are brought to life on this hour-long adventure into the unknown.

Tours are Friday and Saturday nights through Oct. 18, then nightly from Oct. 19 -31. They begin at 7 p.m. at the back steps of City Hall in downtown Burlington and last about an hour. Reservations are $13 per person. Plan to arrive ten to fifteen minutes early. The tours are not recommended for children under ten.

Hathaway Farm Corn Maze

Who ever thought corn could be scary?  Maybe it’s not – unless you find yourself standing in the middle of a cornfield, surrounded by cornstalks as high as an elephant’s eye, and with a little imagination, much more menacing. Down in Rutland, Hathaway Farm has a 12-acre cornfield with miles of pathways forming Vermont’s largest corn maze. Occasional bridges along the pathways allow you to escape the maze momentarily and possibly get your bearings. A grassy meadow somewhere in the maze allows you to sit down on an Adirondack chair to relax and enjoy the mountain views. On Saturday nights, Moonlight Madness gives you the opportunity to do the whole thing in the dark, enjoying a star filled night sky and wondering if that rustling sound behind you is another stargazer or something else.

The maze is open daily except Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 9 p.m. on Saturdays) through Halloween. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for children and seniors. It includes the maze, farm tours and, on weekends, hayrides.

Emmons Island Haunted Trail

Grand Isle is home to probably the only spooky attraction with admission by canned goods. Admission to the Emmons Island Haunted Trail is three cans of food (or $5) to benefit the local food shelf. The walk takes place on Oct. 18 from 7 to 10p.m. and features a cast of demons, devils and other ne’er-do-wells. A children’s walk is held earlier in the day at 3 p.m.  It does not feature live actors and no ticket is required, although donations are accepted.

The Haunted Forest

Attracting a yearly audience of over 7,000 people of all ages, the Haunted Forest is easily the most popular place to be frightened in the state. Now in its 29th year, it is Vermont’s largest outdoor theatrical event, one that consistently makes the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Top Ten Autumn Events.

Otherworldly guides lead guests through the dark forest in small groups, along paths illuminated by over a thousand carved Jack-O’-Lanterns. Throughout their passage, visitors encounter strange and fascinating characters in a variety of macabre tableaus, sometimes eerie, sometimes humorous. Elaborate costumes and special effects bring the forest alive (well, maybe alive isn’t exactly the right word). And every now and then, something unexpected leaps from the darkness to cause a few startled screams.

The Haunted Forest makes its home at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, with performances Oct. 22-25, and Oct. 29-31. Admission is $12.50 for adults, $8.50 for children. Reservations are made for a specific hour (7,8 or 9 p.m. and, on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 p.m.) although small groups begin the walk every few minutes throughout the hour. There are matinees for children under 8 on both Saturdays at 11 a.m, noon and 1 p.m.

Emily’s Bridge

What about the “real” haunting of Vermont – those places where ghosts and other creatures of the night are thought to dwell – the unexplained, the unimaginable?

One of the most compelling of these is in Stowe. It’s a bridge. A covered bridge, like so many in the state. But this one is Emily’s Bridge, and some people claim it’s very haunted. Many people refuse to walk across the bridge after dark. For 150 years, locals have told of horses and cars being mysteriously clawed, of hearing a woman’s voice, of seeing ghostly figures and strange lights. One account describes a chilling story of several people trapped in their car on the bridge one night sitting in terror as Emily’s ghost circled their car and shook it violently. The most common legend associated with the bridge is that Emily, waiting one night for a lover who never came, hung herself from the bridge 150 years ago. And she’s been angry ever since.

Emily’s Bridge and a host of haunted places – houses, graveyards, woods, and not one but at least seven buildings on the UVM campus – are catalogued in what might be the encyclopedia of Vermont terror, Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries by Joseph A. Citro. Whether you accept or pooh-pooh his cast of miscreants, monsters, murderers and the murdered, it’s great for curling up with on a stay-at-home night during the spooky season – with doors and windows locked, of course.

Horror Flicks

And for the nights you’d rather curl up with popcorn and a good scary movie, a short list of classic chillers: Frankenstein (1931) is the quintessential monster movie with a great Boris Karloff performance. Night of the Hunter (1955) features a menacing Robert Mitchum as a psychotic religious fanatic in pursuit of two children. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a still scary science fiction classic about alien “pods” replacing small-town residents with duplicates. Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock, the Bates Motel, and a shower – often imitated but never equaled. The Innocents (1961) is the film version of the haunting Henry James novel Turn of the Screw. And What Lies Beneath (2000) is not in the same league as the others, but it has a few good scares and it was filmed in Vermont.

Queen City Ghostwalk, 149 Church St. in Burlington.  802.351.1313 www.queencityghostwalk.com

Hathaway Farm, 741 Prospect Hill Road, just off Route 7 in Rutland. 802.775.2624 www.hathawayfarm.com

Emmons Island Haunted Trail, 1 Island Meadows Lane, just off Route 2 in Grand Isle.  www.ihtrail.com

Haunted Forest, Catamount Outdoor Family Center, Governor Chittenden Road in Williston www.thehauntedforest.org

Emily’s Bridge (also known as Gold Brook and Stowe Hollow), on Covered Bridge Road, just off Route 100 (by way of Gold Brook Road) in Stowe

AARP Appoints New Driver Safety Coordinator for Vermont

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Business

The nation’s first and largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older has new leader

David Peters of Lake Elmore has been named state coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety Program.  The program is the nation’s first and largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older and has helped millions of drivers remain safe on today’s roads. AARP has offered the course in the classroom for 25 years and it’s available in towns across Vermont.

Peters, a former dean of students at Genesee Community College and a retired captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, has been involved in the Driver Safety Program for more than six years.  He began as an instructor in the Central Vermont area and most recently served as assistant state coordinator and district coordinator.

Peters succeeds Ed Koenemann of Montpelier who has run the program for the past six years and will remain an instructor.  The program offers classes across the state throughout the year as well as an online course.

For more information on classes and to learn how to become a volunteer instructor, call Dave at 802-888-3394.

To learn more online, visit the AARP Web site at www.aarp.org/driversafety.

‘Blind’ Ambition Key to Gordon’s Window Decor’s Global Success

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Business

By Stephanie Choate

Gordon Clements is helping to put Vermont on the map – both across the nation and around the globe.

His company – Gordon’s Window Décor – has developed a following in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as across the U.S.
“It’s just really a great product,” Clements said. “I decided early on that window treatments could be not only attractive but also very efficient,”

The international customers found his company on the Internet, Clements said, and were especially interested in his energy-saving EcoSmart Insulated Shades. Sean O’Hara of Sentanta Building Products, located in Dublin, Ireland, is now a dealer for the company.

“He ordered some products and he really, really liked the product,” Clements said

“There wasn’t a comparable product available over there, so he decided he wanted to buy and distribute EcoSmart shades in Ireland.”

Clements started Gordon’s Window Decor in 1986, building it from a one-man operation in his basement to a four-office company employing over 25 professionals. Most of the products are made in the Essex Jct. factory and showroom.

Aside from a steady stream of residential customers, Gordon’s has made shades for over 200 colleges, from UVM to Harvard. The company also handles the shades for the Federal Deposit Insurance Company building in Washington, D.C.

Clements said one of the best parts of his job is the people he works with. Many of them have been with him for 20 years, he said, and when people join the team they tend to stay.

“When I drive to go to work I’m going to be with my friends for the day,” Clements said. “Working in such a positive place makes you feel really good.”

The staff often jokes that they should be on a reality show, since they are like a big family, he said.

Clements didn’t always plan to be a businessman, however.

He grew up in Peterborough, Ontario, a town he described as “a hockey hotbed,” and got a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. After working at Colgate-Palmolive for a few years, however, he realized he preferred spending time with the employees in the marketing division.
“I really enjoyed being on the people side of it, rather than working on heat transfer equations and stuff like that,” he said. “Getting out from behind the desk and thinking of ways to reach people.”

Clements got a master’s of business administration from McGill University in Montreal, then worked his way up the ladder at Hunter-Douglas, a major window treatment company. In 1981, he bought a window treatment company in Montreal.

While he and his wife, Dianne, loved the city, they were less enthusiastic about the school system, he said. The Clements’ moved to Essex in 1982 with their three daughters, Sara, 34, Shelley, 32, and Kelly, 29.

“We tried living in Montreal for a year, but then we decided we wanted to raise our family in Vermont,” Clements said.

Clements commuted to Montreal for several years, but when the hour and a half drive began to wear on him, he sold the company.
“We really, really wanted to stay in Vermont at that point in time, so I started Gordon’s Window Décor,” he said. “It was the only thing I knew.”

The Clements’ now live in Swanton, and Clements said he and his wife have been very happy in Vermont.

“I could go on forever,” Clements said of the reasons to love Vermont. “My love is to ski and to be on the lake, so I get to have both –  how good can life be?”

Next up is a very different job for the seasoned businessman.

The Clements’ are about to welcome their first grandchild. Their oldest daughter, Sara, is due next week. She just moved back home to have the baby – a boy to be named Elijah.

“It’s exciting,” Clements said. “She just got her doctorate as well, so there’s a lot to celebrate around here.”

Different Stages: Andrea Rogers’ Career

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Executive Director of the Flynn Center Contemplates Retirement

By Susan Green

Although Andrea Rogers is now “thinking of a timetable for retirement,” many people may be unable to fathom anyone else as executive director and chief executive officer of Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

She’s been involved with the Main Street building, constructed in 1931, since it was first imagined as a multi-purpose cultural venue 30 years ago. On her watch, the place has blossomed with a dynamic year-round schedule of live music, dance and dramaturgy.

At 69, Rogers also maintains a pivotal presence in the larger Vermont arts community and beyond. “Andrea’s been very active with the League of Historic American Theaters,” notes Flynn board member Brianne Chase of Shelburne. “When I began going to some of the national meetings with her, I realized how much she’s held in esteem around the country.”

From her rectangular office overlooking City Hall Park, Rogers enumerates the twists of fate that brought her to this point in life.
Although not the career path she envisioned while growing up in “the hardware capital of the world” (a.k.a. New Britain, Connecticut), the arts certainly were in her blood from an early age. “I played piano,” Rogers explains. “My younger brother plays banjo. We sailed a lot and we’d always sing sea chanteys.”

With her father, who managed a valve manufacturing company, she even periodically belted out “bawdy songs.”

At the Northfield (boarding) School in Massachusetts, Rogers participated in the choir. She later attended the University of Michigan, majoring in French, history and the history of art.

After graduation in 1962, Rogers held a series of positions, including assistant to the president, with the New York-based American Field Service. This non-profit volunteer service promotes learning opportunities on an international scale. With travel part of her job description, she visited Europe, Thailand and Chile.

But, in 1970 Rogers left the Big Apple and, through an aunt who lived in Williston, found work as director of prevention for the Vermont Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. “I started hotlines,” she says. “Like President Obama, I was a community organizer.”

As such, Rogers oversaw the agency’s representatives within in the mental health system. “Everyone called them Andy’s Dandies,” she says with a laugh.

Dandy, yes. Lifelong commitment, no. “I didn’t have that passion,” Rogers acknowledges, referring to the emotional drive that makes an occupation more of a calling.

So when an opening was announced in 1974 to run the University of Vermont Church Street Center at Burlington’s old Firehouse, Rogers took a leap of faith. “I had to imagine what it was going to be,” she says. “We began with 100 mini-courses and workshops. We offered art classes, exhibits, poetry readings, yoga, story-writing.”

Initially, this sort of non-traditional education was not available elsewhere, but then bookstores and libraries started to host readings and health centers had yoga instruction. “So it was a less unique role than before,” Rogers contends. “I felt as if it was time to go.”
Before quitting in 1980, she had already been busy with various initiatives. A survey had determined the city’s greatest need in terms of space. The answer: A middle-sized hall, for events that required a more intimate setting than the cavernous Memorial Auditorium. So Rogers joined forces with groups, including those interested in historic preservation, to explore purchasing the Flynn – at its inception, an art deco movie palace and vaudeville house — with a 1,400-seat capacity.

She was toying with the idea of a run for the state legislature, but ultimately agreed with husband Avery Hall – they had married in 1974 and Rogers helped raise three step-children – that it might not be such a good idea.

Instead, she began writing grant proposals for the Flynn project, an effort that was embraced by local groups such as Lyric Theatre. Although compensated for her efforts, Rogers never imagined “I’d end up being on the staff.”

Yet, she and her colleagues raised about $1 million that allowed the Flynn to open its doors in September 1981. Rogers served as the capital fund director for the first year. Phase II of the Flynn fundraising campaign targeted an upgrade of the dressing rooms and other backstage improvements.

In 1983, Rogers was designated executive director and has since become responsible for a $6 million-plus annual budget and a 32-person staff. She co-founded the annual Discover Jazz Festival, among other enduring programs, and created Flynn student matinees.

“In the late 1980s, our new mission statement called for artistic leadership and excellence, as well as community engagement,” says Rogers, whose own leadership style appears to inspire confidence.

“She’s a totally remarkable woman,” observes Chase, on the board for 20 years. “Andrea came to the Flynn when it was a fledgling organization. It grew and she grew. That was essential, in order to manage all of the complexities. She has a wonderful grasp of whatever she needs to know, from building materials to business principles to human resources to technology to box office procedures.”

Moreover, Rogers seems adept at drumming up support. “Andy’s a superlative fundraiser,” Chase suggests. “She knows everybody and she knows them because she loves people.”

About a dozen years ago, more necessary cash flowed her way. “We needed air-conditioning and had to get rid of $1 million in debt that had never been paid off in the 1980s,” Rogers says. “We had to raise another $3 million.”

As the 21st century approached, the Ford Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation handed out millennial challenge grants. The Flynn was selected as one of only 16 recipients nationwide for the Duke largess and among 30 for the Ford money – making it the sole entity in the U.S. to qualify for both.

This bonanza provided the resources to acquire a connected structure next door. The expansion encompasses a gallery, a dance studio, an area for educational activities and FlynnSpace, a 200-seat performance facility.

Now at the height of professional success, Rogers is looking to the future. “I want to spend more time with my 97-year-old mother in Wake Robin,” she says, referring to the Shelburne retirement complex. “And focus more on piano, garden, take courses.”

Travel beckons, but being unemployed would also permit Rogers to just relax at the Charlotte camp she shares with her husband, a retired engineer. Meanwhile, she continues to perform with the Oriana Singers of Vermont, which has benefited from her alto voice for almost three decades.

Paramount Announces Exciting New Season

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

The Paramount Theatre will offer an expanded and varied Tenth  Anniversary Season of presentations at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland.

Bruce Bouchard, Paramount’s Executive Director, said, “We are immensely proud and happy about what has transpired inside this building and around this community in the past 14 months… We have set perhaps the most ambitious, varied and diverse season to date for the Paramount. From Broadway Theatre to Classical Music, to emerging works from the NYC Musical Theatre arena, to a new comedy series to the Family Entertainment Series to Popular Music Series (and the upcoming film series) there is literally something for everyone.”

The first-ever Comedy Series includes former Saturday Nite Live vet Jim Breuer, Vermont storyteller/humorist, Rusty Dewees in The Loggers Holiday Show, and a special live adaptation of the prime time hit comedy, “Whose Line is it Anyway” featuring Ryan Stiles from Two and a Half Men.

The Family Series will include Jack Hanna with his wild menagerie, the Moscow Boys Choir Christmas, and the Pendragons – Illusionists who have logged more TV face time than any other “specialty” performers in the business.

“It has been a flurry of amazing activity to re-brand, re-conceive, re-organize and re-make this beautiful theatre, Bouchard said.

Tickets/Info: www.paramountlive.org or  803-775-0903. The theatre is located at 30 Center Street in Rutland.

A Kayaker’s Guide to Lake Champlain

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Travel

Exploring the New York, Vermont & Quebec Shores

by Catherine Frank & Margaret Holden

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s epochal journey of discovery in 1609, A Kayaker’s Guide to Lake Champlain offers 50 different watery paths of adventure divided into eight sections – the Champlain Islands, the Inland Sea, Missisquoi Bay, Broad Lake North, Malletts Bay, Broad Lake East, Broad Lake West, and South Bay – providing an intimate, cove by cove, island by island exploration of America’s other great lake.

The routes described are illustrated with maps and photographs and enlivened with essays on the Abenaki and other Native Americans, the pivotal naval battles of Plattsburgh and Valcour Island, lighthouses and shipwrecks, the French & Indian wars, the Revolution, the War of 1812, smugglers, the fascinating geology of this fossil-rich one-time arm of the sea, and up-to-date environmental issues like algae bloom, urban and farm runoff, milfoil, zebra mussels, fish hatcheries and endangered species. The result is a well-rounded overview of a remarkable natural resource.

Appendices include information on Lake Champlain environmental organizations, museums & historical places, wildlife areas, state parks, and launch sites. Includes 54 maps, 93 photographs, and 9 original drawings.

About the Authors:
Cathy Frank lives in South Burlington, Vermont and has a lake house in South Hero, and is a former, long-time instructor at the Community College of Vermont and currently is an independent computer consultant and Web site designer. She has been a member and chairperson of numerous nonprofit boards on the local and regional level. A long-time summer resident of the Champlain Islands, she is an avid biker, hiker, swimmer, and cross-country skier. She kayaks daily in the summer and has hiked the length of Vermont’s Long Trail.

Margy Holden lives in Shelburne, Vermont and has a lake house in Grand Isle. She has worked for nonprofit and for-profit corporations, and as an organizational development and career consultant. She has chaired and participates in a number of nonprofit boards. She writes occasional articles and coauthored the Women’s Job Search Handbook. Happiest when she is outdoors, Margy runs, hikes, bikes, paddles, and swims in the Champlain Islands.

For information or to order book Visitwww.blackdomepress.com or call 800-513-9013.

Preserving the Season with Do-it-Yourself Fall Décor

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Amanda Kuhnert

There’s more in our gardens and woodlands to gather and preserve this autumn than fruits and vegetables. Along with the tomatoes, zucchinis, and berries that you’ll be canning and freezing this fall, take time to preserve the inedible bounties of the season.

Enjoy Local Fresh Flowers

You don’t need an official cutting garden to appreciate the fragrant, colorful blossoms still on display throughout northern Vermont in early autumn. Take a stroll along a country road or a nearby walking trail to relish the sights and smells of nature’s garden — and bring a little bit of it home with you.

For a festive autumn flower arrangement, Heather Listenik, lead designer at The Village Green Florist in Essex, combines a handful of chrysanthemums (the bronze and gold varieties) with other fall favorites, such as sunflowers, yarrow, roses, and larkspur, with a little solidago for accenting. Add a rose or carnation to the mix, she says, for a warm, rich tone.

Creative Vases

When you’re picking up a pumpkin or two at your local farm stand for the front stoop, grab an extra one for a festive homemade vase.

How To: “First, scoop out the pumpkin pulp and seeds, and place a plastic plant liner on the bottom,” Listenik says. “Then, set a damp Oasis floral foam inside the liner. Use tree fern, leather leaf, lemon leaf, eucalyptus, or a handful of brightly colored leaves to camouflage the foam.” Just add flowers for an eye-catching display.

If you’re planning a formal dinner party or just prefer a more elegant look, Listenik has the perfect floral centerpiece for you.

How To: For this project, you’ll need a 12- x 6-inch clear glass cylinder vase, Listenik says. Fill the vase with 1 ½ inches of water. Then, add a thin layer (1/2 inch) of rocks, marbles, or plastic gems to the bottom of the vase.

“Now, create a small, hand-held bouquet — 6- x 5-inches wide — that will fit inside the vase,” Listenik says. “Tie it with your choice of wire or ribbon.” Cut all the stems to the same length, and place the bouquet within the cylinder. “This creates a focal point and is an alluring, pretty addition to any dinner table,” she says.

Dry Late Summer Flowers for Lasting Beauty

“Some flowers that are easy to dry from your cutting garden include peonies, cockscomb, strawflower, and silver king,” says Wayne Sprengeler, co-owner of Wildflower Designs, an upscale flower shop in Stowe. Take the time to properly preserve these garden beauties, and you’ll enjoy the delights of the growing season all year long.

How To: “Be sure to hang your flowers in a dry, dark place where there’s plenty of air circulation so they won’t mold and the flowers will hold their color better,” says Janice DeGoosh of The Pink Shutter, a European-style flower shop in Montpelier.

Sprengeler also suggests laying your cut flowers in a baking dish filled with play sand and topped with cheesecloth, and placing the dish by a dehumidifier in the basement. “Later, when your dried floral arrangement is complete, use a floral glaze like Pokon Silk and Dried Flower Cleaner to bring your creation ‘back to life” and keep it looking fresh and clean,” Sprengeler says.

Create an Autumn Welcome

Look no further than the side of the road or your backyard to collect enough grapevine to make your own fall wreath. “This is the one thing I love doing every year,” DeGoosh says. Once you’ve gathered your grapevine, use it right away while it’s still fresh and pliable.

How To: “Wrap it around like you’re wrapping a garden hose,” DeGoosh explains. Then, place the wreath in a dry place – on a porch or in a garage – to set over the course of a week or two. Virginia creeper, she says, also makes a nice base for a wreath or can be used, along with the grapevine, to adorn your front porch railings. When winter hits, DeGoosh suggests adding some greenery and lights to the vine for instant holiday décor.

“Once the wreath’s dry, I may let the leaves fall off and add dried flowers for color, or I might keep the leaves on,” she says. “I like the ‘fall’ look of the grapevine leaves. They hold their shape for a long time, and then when it’s time to crumble them off, you’re left with the vine.”
DeGoosh collects and dries hydrangeas, milkweed pods, roses, sunflowers, lavender, and peonies to adorn her fall creations. She also looks for roadside berries, like winterberry, to add color and texture to her wreaths. For more “oomph,” pick up some colorful accessories, like dried pomegranates or orange slices at your local floral shop.

Dress up your Mantel with a Touch of Fall

Although doorways and tabletops get the most attention when it comes to seasonal décor, mantels provide the perfect blank slate for your creative inclinations. “Creating a fireplace mantel arrangement is one of my favorite autumn projects,” says Sprengeler.

How To: Loosely arrange, or braid, grapevine and Asian honeysuckle to create a light and airy base, Sprengeler suggests.  “Next, add hydrangea and dried oak leaves for depth,” he says. For some added color, Sprengeler incorporates some of the season’s bolder varieties, such as sunflowers, larkspur, yarrow, and statice, into his mantel arrangement. “I also like to use some dried flowers that we sell at my shop, such as poppy pods, chili peppers, and mini pomegranates,” he says. “And don’t forget things like Indian corn and lotus pods.”

The forest is teeming with creative accents for your fall décor projects. “When you’re out on a nature walk, keep an eye out for birch bark, pine cones, tree moss, an abandoned bird’s nest, and hopefully, some pheasant feathers,” Sprengeler says. “Any botanicals that you find in the woods can be zapped in the microwave for a minute to kill any organisms.”

“And one last tip … Just before company arrives, selectively place a few fresh flowers and ornamental berries in the garland, as they will last the entire evening,” Sprengeler adds.

Multitasking Men: Men’s Fall Fashion Trends

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Blogs

By Sharon Mosley, CNS

What do we all try to do best these days? Even when it comes to what we wear? Multitask! Given the state of the economy, we’re all trying to do more with what we already have and what we invest in for our wardrobe. Fall 2009 menswear is a study in what’s smart, enduring and functional.

“This season’s offerings are very purposeful from workwear reinterpreted for function and style to blazers that do double duty as outerwear pieces,” says Tom Julian, a fashion industry expert and author of Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style (Chronicle Books, $19.95). “Navigating the trends and determining fashion’s intrinsic value isn’t difficult when you’re armed with some basic information,” he says.

So, what does Julian predict budget-minded men will freshen up their wardrobe with this fall? Here are his top menswear trends:
— The hybrid jacket. Part-blazer and part-outerwear, this garment is all about multitasking and multifunction. “The 2-in-1 factor makes this jacket the season’s go-to item for price and value,” says Julian.

Designers have placed distinct pockets to house MP3 players and phones, while convertible collars, throat latches and removable linings have been detailed for a handcrafted touch.

— The plaid patterns. What’s the visual for fall? Plaid patterns in updated and reinvented scales, proportions and color combinations. Look for hints of this trend inside collars and cuffs on shirts and inside jackets. “This classic is no longer the domain of the lumberjack or the country gentleman,” admits Julian. “Plaids now contemporize the wardrobe and can be dressed up by layering patterned plaid items with other plaids or dressed down by teaming plaids with denim.”

— Workwear. Recalling an American heritage, workwear gains new respect and appeal from young entrepreneurs and creative minds. “Clothes are now chronicling a modern day utility while resonating with pure and contemporary style in pieces like vests and jackets,” observes Julian.

High-end wools, leather and suede are the canvases for functional jackets that are detailed with everything from rivets, zippers and industrial stitching. The work shirt becomes an urban staple and is worn as a layering item with Henley shirts and rugged cords.

— The cardigan. The evolution of the cardigan continues, and this season’s menswear trends prominently feature the sweater as outerwear.

“Thicker yarns, interior linings and button closures allows these knits to be outdoor-friendly,” says Julian.

Collars that wrap, stand up or crossover are other important details on cardigan sweaters. Closures can be zip-front, toggle-front or asymmetric. Julian notes that the fisherman’s sweater was a runway favorite for many designers in Italy.

— Tailored clothing. Guys, it’s time to invest in the silhouette shift. There is a new slimmer statement from brands that appeal to younger customers. “Let’s not forget that there are many young men who have never purchased a suit as a result of the casual dressing era,” Julian points out. “Keep it tailored, but mix it up with a vest or half-zip sweater over a woven shirt and tie. Fine gauge knits and turtlenecks add a contemporary flair.”

Skewer Like a Pro

September 10, 2009  
Filed under Food

By Peter Rowe, CNS

Satay. Kebab. Shashlik. Yakatori.

It doesn’t matter what you call it or what culture it hails from. Glorious, non-laborious kebabs can bring a lot to Labor Day, the second-biggest cookout day of the year behind July 4.

Food on a stick is appealing, warm-weather fare for its ease of prep and extraordinary flavor that is only enhanced by outdoor grilling. It’s as primal as fire itself.

“I think every culture has a kebab of some sort,” said Su-Mei Yu, cookbook author and owner of Saffron Thai Grilled Chicken. “It is so primitive. It goes all the way back to nomads, who would find a piece of wood, cut it down so it was easy to put a piece of meat or whatever they found on it and cook without burning themselves.”

Besides keeping fingers from getting scorched, cooking on skewers has many practical advantages. Small chunks of food absorb marinades and spice rubs better than big pieces.

Even the cheapest cuts of meat can be turned into a wonderfully flavored repast, Yu said. And kebabs cook more quickly, too.
Kebabs are also easy to do ahead and easy to customize. Non-meat-eaters can keep their tofu, fruits and veggies pristine on separate skewers from the meat-laden sticks favored by carnivores.

Imagination is the key to kebabs, Yu said. She likes to buy Italian sausages from the supermarket, remove their casings, and add extra fennel and spices to the meat before forming into balls and cooking on skewers.

“Think of the nationality you’d like your meat to be, and use that as the base for your seasoning or marinade,” Yu said. “If you want something Indianish, use lots of cilantro. If you want something Vietnamese, add some fish sauce and sugar. If you want something Thai, use mint and white pepper and lemongrass or ginger.”

Yu also likes the idea of a deconstructed hamburger on a stick.

“If you don’t want a hamburger per se, you could skewer meatballs with a chunk of onion, tomatoes and pickles. You would have a hamburger without the bun. That would be fun.”

Here are some tips for skewering like a pro:
— To ensure even cooking when combining veggies and meat on the same skewer, precook hard vegetables such as potatoes or whole small onions and avoid soft veggies such as tomatoes or zucchini. Better still, for greater control, cook vegetables and meat on separate skewers for the times each needs.
— Wood or metal skewers, it makes no difference which you use when it comes to taste. However, if using wood or bamboo, soak the sticks for 30 minutes in water to help prevent them from igniting on the grill. Skewer food just before grilling to keep wood sticks from drying out.
— If you have particularly twirl-prone food (think shrimp or asparagus), use two skewers parallel to each other for each kebab.
— Thread meat fairly tightly together to help it stay moist during grilling, Yu suggests.
— For tender, quick-cooking meat, slice meat very thin into ribbons and lace onto skewers, Yu suggests. For chewier, medium-rare results, cut meat into chunks and marinade. “It will be more like eating a piece of steak,” she said.
— Cut foods to be cooked together in similar-sized pieces.
— Sturdy twigs of rosemary, strips of sugar cane or stalks of lemon grass can double as skewers for flavor and novelty.
— Make sure the fire is not blazing hot, Yu said. Grill kebabs over medium-low heat.
— Don’t leave kebabs unattended. They require turning and perhaps the occasional basting, and they cook quickly. If ignored for too long, kebabs may do a disappearing act into the charcoal.

THAI-STYLE CHICKEN SATAY

Marinade:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced galangal or ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 cup combined coconut cream and milk (the consistency of whole milk), see note

Satay:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
10 to 12 bamboo skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes, then dried
Makes 10 to 12 skewers

For the marinade: Put the coriander seeds in a small skillet and dry-roast over medium-high heat, sliding the skillet back and forth over the burner to prevent burning, until the seeds exude a pleasant aroma, about one minute. Remove from the heat, and transfer to a bowl to cool. Repeat with the cumin seeds. Grind in a spice grinder, and set aside.

Pound the salt and garlic in a mortar with a pestle into a paste. Add the galangal and pound into a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add the coriander and cumin seeds, cayenne and turmeric powder. Mix to combine. Add the coconut cream mixture and mix well. Set aside.

Or, if using a blender, add all the ingredients and puree. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.

Stored in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, the marinade will keep overnight in the refrigerator.

Slice the chicken diagonally across the grain into thin strips approximately 1/10 inch, or as thin as possible. Add the chicken to the marinade; mix well to coat. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Mound the charcoals in one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. Heat the grill.

While waiting for the grill to get hot, thread three to four pieces of the chicken onto each bamboo skewer into a tight bundle, covering 5 inches of the skewer. Reserve the remaining marinade.

Spray the chicken generously with vegetable oil. Lay the skewers with the chicken portion on the grill over medium-high heat, arranging them very close to one another. (The uncovered portion of the skewers should not be over the coals.) Grill, basting frequently with the marinade and turning frequently to prevent burning, until the surface is crispy and brown and the inside is firm and white, eight to 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter to serve.

Note: Coconut cream can be purchased in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets.

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