Jan 18, 2021

Cooking in Cancun

I haven’t written in a while because, guess why, there is not a lot of travel happening especially since so many counties will not allow Americans to visit.  When the weather was better I did travel within New York State. But, when I came to the realization that the United States was the least safe place covid-wise I decided to take a trip.  A little research led me to feel that Cancun was doing a great job in mitigating the spread of Covid so I booked a trip to Cancun staying at the InterContinental Presidente.  I was impressed.  Everyone was wearing masks, there was hand sanitizer in many, many places, when a guest left the hotel the room was cleaned and not occupied for another 72 hours, and articles like towels and silverware were sanitized and wrapped. 

I contacted Yum Cooking Workshop, (www.yumcancun.com, yumcancun@hotmail.com, 52  99 8460 7371, Calle tres palos # 10, Supermanzana 30, CancĂșn, MĂ©xico. C.P. 77509) to see about a cooking demonstration. The usual class starts with Mayan coffee, traditional bread called plaque, and learning about preHispanic and colonial cuisine including trying some local fruits.  Visitors then move to the tasting room where the sommelier explains the types of tequila and mescal and how to taste them. Participants prepare and enjoy a six-course authentic Mayan meal that is paired with Mexican wines.

The class was more than I was interested in and told him I was only interested in one traditional recipe. I quickly accepted chef, Andres Tejeida Vilches, offer to show me how to make a Mayan fish recipe.  He used a local sour orange, Naranja Agria, which was very juicy but said getting it may be difficult for many but said adding one-half cup of lime juice to

one cup of orange juice makes a perfect substitute. Achiote comes in paste and liquid form but Chef Andres said the paste provide a better flavor. Banana leaves are often brittle so Chef Andres suggest passing the leaves over the heat for a few seconds and it will become soft. If banana leaves are not easy to come by then aluminum foil can be used.  When I was in Sri Lanka banana leaves were used as plates.  Dollops of food were placed on different part of the leaf.  Made for easy cleanup and eco-friendly. Chef Andres demonstrated how to make Tikin’xic Fish.


½ (one-half) cup achiote paste

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1tsp dry oregano

1 cup orange juice

½ (one-half) cup lime juice

1 pd grouper or snapper filet

½ (one-half) cup fresh cilantro, diced

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1 bell pepper, Julianne

½ (one-half) red onion, sliced

2 banana leaves, remove spine creating two pieces

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper – to taste

In a blender add achiote paste, garlic, oregano, orange juice, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon of salt to create a marinade. Blend for at least 1.5 minutes so the paste is completely dissolved. Put fish in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the fish. Add the cilantro.  Let the fish sit for at least 1 hour. It will be red.  Place the fish on the banana leaves. On top of the fish place the sliced tomatoes, bell peppers and red onions, season with salt and pepper. Wrap the fish. Bake for 10 minutes 350° F. Serve with rice and fried plantain.  


Sep 27, 2020

The American Tragedy

There are some books we never forget and some that we read more than once. One of those books for me is “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. My first read of the book was in college as an assignment in an American literature class. The book, along with books like “Grapes of Wrath” is seen as the beginning of the modern American literature. I was intrigued because I knew the story was based on true events and that it took place in New York State. The climax of the book ended in my old stomping grounds, the Adirondacks. I later found out that my great aunt was working as a chambermaid at the same hotel where the main characters stayed – The Glenmore Hotel. The book shows the extent someone will go to realize the American Dream ignoring any sense of morality. The story is timeless.

When I was in Cortland recently I visited Cinch Art Space, a store with a plethora of beautiful artwork by over 50 local artists. There was everything from delicate fairies to handcrafted notepaper to fine woodwork. It is located, along with other businesses, in the old Cortland Corset Factory. I love repurposed old buildings then I learned at the building had a literary connection of sorts. When it was the Cortland Skirt Factory it was where the real-life Grace Brown and Chester Gillette worked. They became the basis of Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy” which has been named by “Time Magazine” as one the top 100 novels written in English since 1923. Interestingly, it was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazis in Germany in 1933 because it “deals with low love affairs.”

Dreiser changed some of the names and places when writing the book but basically the story is the same. Chester Gillette was born into a successful family but his father, after a religious conversion, renounced his wealth and became a roving missionary for the Salvation Army. Gillette, however, still hankered for the good life and when his uncle offered him a job at his factory in Cortland he accepted. He had the opportunity to work hard and advanced. Knowing that he should not consort with the help, Gillette ignored the advice and began seeing Grace Brown, a hard working girl from a farm family. They usually met at her place and not in public. Meanwhile, Gillette moved up the social rung and began dating the daughter of a prominent family. Grace Brown became pregnant and wanted to get married but that would have interfered in Gillette’s hope for marrying someone from the upper class.

Fearing that Grace would expose their relationship, on the ruse that they were going on a honeymoon, the two traveled to The Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks. He took her out in a canoe and probably hit her with the canoe paddle or his tennis racquet, the canoe overturned, she drowned. She left her belongings behind but Gillette took his suitcase and tennis racquet. He ditched the racquet on the way to Inlet, NY; he checked into the Arrowhead Hotel where he was arrested. His trial attracted international attention – the OJ trial of its time. He was executed in Auburn Prison.

Besides Dreiser’s book there have been several stage and screen adaptations including the 1951 award-winning movie, “A Place in the Sun” starring Elizabeth Taylor.

Sep 13, 2020

Interesting places to visit in Cortland County

I wasn’t sure if visiting the Dragonfyre Distillery would be

worthwhile.  I have been to many distilleries and they are all pretty much the same.  However, when we drove up a side road and saw a sign “Beware of low flying dragons” I was intrigued.  And then alongside of the road there was a Small bright blue door to the Hobbit and I knew it was going to be worth the drive.  Before entering I saw a fairy door and I knew I was going to meet and see someone interesting.  

One of the first thing I noticed was their “Most Holey Knight: Sir Lea Kaslot” and the fact that there were dragons and fairies everywhere. You might say there spirits everywhere. Oh, and yes, there is a copper distillery, two of them, hand made by the owner Vincent Pedini.  He learned the process from his father who learned from his father but he is the one that decided to market the spirits.  Everything is
blended from locally grown products and none of the spirits have been blended with
products from elsewhere. His wife, Donna, is the Artist in Residence.  Not to miss is the “necessary room” where Donna painted all surfaces including the ceiling and floor turning it into a magical forest inhabited by an interesting variety of denizens including dragons and fairies.  It was definitely worth the trip and on the way out I spotted a fairy in the forest waving “Good Bye” to us. 

Our last stop on the way home was in Homer.  We were told that the world’s largest pair of pants was in Homer Men & Boys store.  They are 8 feet tall. I wasn’t that impressed.  I don’t know what I expected but the store itself was impressive.  I have never seen such a large store with so much merchandise.  Every inch of the store is covered in huge piles of clothing, shoes, coat, and other apparel, Their motto, “If we don’t have it you don’t need it,” rings true.  They have been family run since 1951.  They also take on-line orders.

There was one more place we wanted to stop but on the way out of Homer I saw a beautiful octagon house and just had to take a

picture.  Octagon houses were popular for a short time in the mid-1800s.  It was thought to be cheaper to build, allowed for more living space, received more natural light and was easier to heat. It was also the time of spiritualism and religious movements in New York State.  Some people believed that an octagon house would prevent “spirits” from hiding in corners. 

Our last stop was at Tartan Acres located on a hilltop with great views.  I was surprised to learn the owner, Ken Clark, was from Mexico, NY where I had lived for 50 years. He and his wife purchased the property and remodeled the farm house planning to open a B&B but then Covid 19 hit so everything is on hold.  His wife, Brenda, saw alpacas at the state fair and her
love for them ended with raising them.  They have about 80, some of which were just born. We petted some and were amazed at how soft their fur is. They often host an open house and provide “Alpaca 101” classes for those interested in owning and raising alpacas.  The alpaca regarded us with an inquisitive expression.  It is easy to see how people become enamored with them.

Sep 5, 2020

Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak

I wanted to try another getaway while it is still summer. Obviously I can’t leave the country. Drat.  I searched for a place with both an

indoor and outdoor pool and came up with Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak.  The timber-framed building has a variety of rooms including some with a kitchen suitable for a family.  I didn’t need that but I do like a room with a balcony.  It was perfect.  The staff was cognizant of all the covid safety protocols so I felt comfortable.  

The property has several restaurants but only Trax by the ski lifts was open.  I watched the bikers practice for an upcoming race. They would go up on the ski lift and the bikes followed them hooked to the second lift.  Guess that gave the bikers a chance to get off and then get their bikes. The slalom track looked easy enough from where I was sitting but I’m sure it looked more daunting from the biker’s angle.  Several fell.  Greek Peak hosts Dual Slalom races during the summer.  It is just one of their many activities. 

I surprised to learn they were at 70% occupancy.  There were a lot of

families.  The indoor water park was closed but the indoor wave pool was open.  The indoor wave pool required tickets, $19 for three hours.  It seemed to be a favorite of the younger crowd.  The outdoor pool was also busy.  Actually, too busy for me.  I like to wallow in a pool and read.  Can’t do that with a bunch of people plus kids with inflatable toys in the pool. 

Hope Lake Park is just a short jaunt from the lodge.  They have a small beach, boat rentals, and other amenities.  It was not busy. 

There are still many things to do in the area.  I went to Lime Hollow Visitor Center.  The actual center is closed but the trails are open dawn to dusk.  There are maps online.  There are several trails ranging from easy to difficult.  Most are moderate and not terribly long.  I wanted to check out the Eric Kroot Art Trail. The Eric Kroot Art Trail has been set aside for nature inspired outdoor art exhibits created by young people and local artists. Makes walking more interesting. Very cool….  

I also visited the Homeville Museum. This is the perfect museum for

people who love anything and everything with wheels.   There is a large model train exhibit. In the extensive military exhibit there is a WW I war ambulance and a recreation of a trench.  Trench warfare was an integral part of the war. There is a gas mask hanging on the wall.  Gas masks were essential to protect from the poison gas that was weaponized. Mustard gas killed thousands.  The trenches stretched for many miles making it nearly impossible for one side to advance. During World War I, the western front in France was fought using trench warfare. There is a
1925 Brockway fire truck that four people drove 17,000 miles from Argentina to Cortland.  I wonder how they got through the Darien Gap that connects Columbia to Panama.  It is one of the most inhospitable places in the Americas.  For 100 miles there is no road, only foot paths, not to mention the heat, humidity, and critters.  It took them 15 months. In trade the Argentinian firemen receive a new fire truck.  It is a journey worth a book or movie. 

Aug 23, 2020

A Getaway in the Catskills

I never thought the day would come when most countries refused Americans entry into their country.  It has arrived.  I live to travel. It keeps my mind and body healthy.  I know there are many places in New York State to visit but, truly, I have explored the state extensively over the years.  

When I first started to look for destinations I checked out Rhode Island, Delaware, and other places and no sooner had I picked a resort and it was put on the no-travel list.  I wanted a place with an indoor and outdoor pool.  If it was on the beach all the better.  I finally decided on Geneva on the Lake in Ohio.  I had stayed there and explored the area several years ago.  The property is lovely and close enough to my daughter who lives in Ohio so she could visit.  I made a reservation and guess what?  Ohio went on the do-not travel list. I cancelled my reservations and booked a place in the Catskills.  

The Villa Vosilla is an interesting place.  It has been in the family for

several generations. I like that.  I think it started out as a motel and over the years it was expanded and upgraded.  The outdoor pool was great and it is where I spent most of my time. Most of the time we were the only people. I like to sit in the pool and read. The weather forecast for the area showed rain everyday but in reality it the weather was great it is that way in mountainous areas.  The indoor pool is one of the nicest I have ever seen.  The room is large with tables and chairs.  The high ceiling and size means there was no humidity and chlorine smell often
associated with indoor pools.  A stairway from the pool room led to a large game room.  The hotel’s Italian restaurant was very upscale.  It was closed Tuesday and Wednesday so we ventured into Tannersville for meals.  W
e quickly learned that many places are closed a couple days a week and the ones that are open close around 7 pm.  Even so there were several good places to eat. The golf course is across the road so the guys could go golfing.  

I recalled the quaint village of Tannersville from a trip several years

ago.  The small town tucked in the hills of the Catskills was no different from the other towns nearby until Elana Patterson, a local artist, with the help of the mayor, sponsors and local residents, instituted The Paint Project.  It involved painting the downtown building multicolored pastels including, in some cases, murals on some walls, and designs on shutters. The project made the little town a tourist attraction and has been featured in print and on NBC’s Today Show. A brilliant move – and very creative.

There is a lot to see in the area even though things are closed.  There are many hiking trails and waterfalls along with some of the curviest roads I have ever traveled. The Hunter Mountain Zip Line is open. Their longest zipline is 650’ long and 60’ above the forest floor. My zip line and repelling days are over! Skiers will know about the place because of Hunter Mountain Ski Resort.

For Piano Lovers

Most small towns have a hidden gem.  Hunter, a small town nestled in the Catskill Mountains, is no exception. Hunter is best known for Hunter Mountain Resort where they offer multi-seasonal activities from skiing to the sky ride.  But there is something in the village that is really unique. 

The Piano Performance Museum is home of a one-of-a-king collection of historic pianos and musical artifacts. Housed in part of bright blue building that is home to the Performance Center, the museum is home to the Steven E. Greenstein piano collection.

The collection includes early and modern keyboard

instrument including European historic pianos, as well as American pianos built in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection shows the development of the instrument from the small piano forte, built for use in private homes and salons, to the modern piano, built for large concert halls. The collection also includes tuning tools and repair kits, some 200 years old, leather-wrapped with a place for each tool; tuning forks, hammers—

everything that would allow a technician to bring a piano back to maximum performance standards.  The collection includes an 1851 Chickering, of the same style as the piano in the Lincoln White House. Piano Shawls: A display of beautiful, one-of-a-kind hand-embroidered silk throws that were popular adornments of pianos in people's homes in the 19th century. The museum is located in the Doctorow Center for the Arts that hosts a myriad of event throughout the year. 

I was fascinated by the collection of miniature pianos that was recently donated to the museum.  I think the owner must have had fun collecting them.  There are some the size of a thumb nail.  They range from the delicate glass pianos to whimsical ones.  Of course, there is one of Schroeder playing the piano with Lucy watching.  I appreciate the dedication of people who have a passion for one thing and then donate to someplace where many people can enjoy it. 

There is another gem in Newark, NY.  Located in a dedicated area of the Newark Library is the Hoffman Clock Museum. Ever notice how our lives are governed by time.  Gone are the days when it was either morning or night, or before the sun is high in the sky and after it is. Time keeping dates back 5000 years to the Babylonians and Egyptians.  Since then there have many devices to control our daily life.  When I was
teaching I was amused by the fact the class would end at 9:32 or some other very precise number. The museum details the history of timekeeping. This unique collection of timepieces has something for everyone and includes over 300 clocks, watches and tools. Exhibits introduce the visitor to the development of timekeeping technology and provide a wide variety of clock styles. There is an organ clock and time clocks. A special emphasis on the history of New York State clock makers makes this museum a truly exceptional place to visit.

These small collections allow me to learn a l
ot in a short time while being focused on one topic.  I sometimes wonder how a person becomes so entranced by an object that they collect obsessively. I visited the Pez Museum when I was in California.  It was fun and interesting but it made me wonder how the person got started.  I know if I collected it no one wants and it isn’t worth anything, to wit: silver, crystal, Toby Mugs, 

Aug 9, 2020

Making paprikash with dumplings

I think we all have a grandmother who made cooked some incredible recipes.  Now is a good time to try some of those old family favorites and/or learn how to make a new dish. My Hungarian grandmother made the best pie crusts.  The secret – lard, preferable home cured.  Many Hungarian recipes call for lard and, it turns out, there is a reason for that. The reason that there is extensive use of pork and lard originates from Turkish times. During the centuries of the Ottoman occupation (1541 to 1699) they took all the domestic animals except the pigs.  Their Islamic religion forbade the eating of pork. For the best flavor lard is still suggested. 
Needless to say lard is high in cholesterol so using plant based oils is recommended. 

One of my favorite recipes my grandmother made was Chicken Paprikash. When I was in Budapest, Hungary, I booked a cooking class with Chefparade. With Chef Geri Hajas instructing one other participant I learned how to make three recipes including Chicken Paprikash which is one of Hungary’s signature recipes. I was surprised – it tasted just like my grandmothers. 

Many Hungarian recipes call for paprika. Hungarians are the number one producers and consumers of paprika per capita. Hungarian paprika is made from peppers that are toasted and blended to create different varieties ranging from mild to fiery hot. 

Chicken Paprikash

3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp sweet paprika
2 whole chicken legs
1 tomato, diced
1 Hungarian sweet pepper, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream
¼ (one fourth) cup flour
Water as needed

Put oil in a pot. Add onions. Cook over moderate heat until onions are glossy. Remove from heat then stir in paprika. Add a little water and mix. Add pepper, tomato, salt and pepper. Add chicken to the pot and return to stove. Add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to moderate.  Check occasionally to make sure there is enough water to cover the chicken. Turn chicken legs over after 30 minutes. Cook for an hour or so until chicken is cooked. In a bowl whisk sour cream and flour until smooth. Slowly add a teaspoon of liquid to the mixture, stir. Repeat two more times. It will prevent curdling. Add mixture to chicken. Stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Serve with dumplings or noodles. 


2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2/3 (two-thirds) cup water
1 tbsp sunflower oil

Fill a large pot 2/3 (two-thirds) full. Bring to a boil. Add some salt. In a bowl mix flour, salt, and eggs. Add water until the mixture is a sticky, semi-liquid dough. Is should not be too runny.  Place the dumpling maker over the boiling water,. Place dough in the dumpling maker box. Slide across the boiling water. Repeat until all the dough is gone. Remove with a slotted spoon when all the dumplings come to the top of the boiling water. Drain. Put in a bowl. Add sunflower oil. Toss to coat dumplings so they don’t stick together.  Serve with chicken paprika.

Tip: It you don’t have a dumpling maker a simple solution is to use a cheese grater. Place over boiling water. Put some dough on the cheese grater. Press through the holes with a spatula.