Monday, September 29, 2008

Why I Love My Local Hardware Store

I love my local hardware store -- the employees are super friendly and despite the small size of the store, it always seems to have what I need. I went looking for a washing machine overflow pan, and they had one; I went looking for bicycle hooks, and I found them; I went looking for a new hookup for my dryer, and I found it; I went looking for something I didn't even know I needed, and I found it (more than once!).

Today I was looking specifically for canning jars bigger than jam jars (half-pint), and they are amazingly difficult to find in stores. I often see rings and lids, but jars are either hidden away or not carried in the stores I visit (in fact, even Wal-Mart is discontinuing pint & quart jars in their stores -- at least some of their stores, which I found out when I called). But when I called my local hardware store, they cheerfully told me that they carried pint, quart, and half-gallon sized canning jars -- wonderful! I drove over and picked up just a case of pint jars (less than $10), complete with lids, and a canning jar lifter. Now I just need to get out and pick more apples!

Stadler Hardware, 3 Stadler Street, Belchertown; 413.323.4521.

Local Foods Recipe: Root Veggies & Squashes

This is a super easy and healthy dish that can be totally made with local vegetables you can find at any farm stand or market and can be easily tweaked to your own tastes.

Select your favorite root vegetables and squashes for a colorful dish that goes well with meat, chicken, fish -- or without.

Peeled butternut squash
Other peeled squash (acorn, buttercup, etc)
Sweet Potatoes
Olive oil (or butter/margarine)
Salt & pepper

Oil and set aside a large casserole dish with olive oil.
Chunk vegetables and apple into a large mixing bowl. Toss (with oil or applesauce, if desired) to mix the vegetables. Pour into the casserole dish. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and bake at 350 for about 1 hour or until a fork slides easily through the vegetables.

Serve with brown rice, quinoa, cornbread, or other hearty grains for the perfect autumn meal.

For variation, add kielbasa or cooked sweet sausage to the mix.

Belchertown Fair

If you missed out on the Fair because of rain and the threatening skies, you'll be happy to know you can give it another shot next year (presumably), but you may be a bit unhappy to know all you missed -- the rides (including the scrambler, the zipper, the merry-go-round, the dragon wagon, and more), delicious hot fries, cotton candy (that crystalized in the rain and humidity), the baby contest, the live music, the horses (including the escape of the 4-H horse from his small stall), the cows and goats and bunnies, the giant pumpkin with bear claw marks in it, the booths for the library and the bands and the scouts and the sports teams, the pulling competitions, the fried dough, the arts and crafts building, the costumes, and just the many happy people strolling around and enjoying themselves -- and all that was just on Saturday morning!

It was a good time despite the rain -- and maybe even just a little bit because of it. I was happy to see the numbers of people who did turn out for the fair and the hoards of very happy children riding the rides, petting the animals, and eating sugar (of which I ate plenty, myself -- cotton candy is weird when it drips onto your hands -- very difficult to get off once it crystalizes in pink and blue all over your fingers). I hope the drier Saturday evening helped to bring out bigger crowds.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Rainy Fair Day

Today starts the official first day of the fair, and I would have to say that fair-goers lucked out last night with the it's steadily raining.
But it's still early -- perhaps we'll see a break in the clouds and precipitation as the day wears on.
Hope you enjoyed the fireworks, and hoping even more that things dry up for the weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes of Note

First of all, a quick reminder that the Belchertown Fair is this weekend, starting Friday -- there will be fireworks, a parade, rides, animals, booths, food -- and so much! I drove past the town center today and the rides were being assembled, the food vendors were out, colorful tents were already up, and so was a corral. The fair is a long-lasting tradition for the town, and I can't wait to go!

There's an important town meeting on October 2, 7pm, Town Hall Auditorium, regarding Question 1 (State Personal Income Tax) on the upcoming election. Information about the question can be found on page 6 in the Information for Voters put out by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Basically, the proposed law would eliminate state income tax -- and thereby greatly reduce the monies available to the state to support schools, libraries, police & fire stations, road repair, and other important services we receive, while increasing other taxes and fees. I encourage your participation in the meeting -- and a "NO" vote at the polls. I know it sounds advantageous to drop the income tax, but truthfully, we can't afford to -- we rely on the services provided. I know there's a lot of waste in government, but punishing communities by taking away essential services isn't the way to fix the problem. Get out to the town meeting -- find out what it's all about.

Mapping the Quabbin

Yesterday's excursion took me to the Quabbin Reservoir for a short hike. The Quabbin has an interesting history which includes the "discontinuation" of four towns that used to inhabit the valley: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott. You can read a bit about the Quabbin and the Winsor Dam by clicking on the "dcr" picture on the right.

I started off on an information seeking quest -- to find the visitor's center and glean some knowledge -- and maybe even find a map of hiking trails. (The Visitor's Center is off Rt 9 in Belchertown and ajoins the State Police.) The VC has historical books about the Quabbin, lists of animal sighted, statistics about rainfall, and information about the towns the were discontinued. For $2.10 I was able to pick up a hiking trail map of the south end of the Quabbin; there were a few other maps available as well.

Soon I left the building and was walking across the Winsor Dam, a beautiful length of grassy road, admiring the water, the blue sky, the trees, and the stony shores. I crossed the dam and headed up a road that led to the Winsor Memorial -- erected for Frank E Winsor who was the chief engineer of the dam.

The Quabbin was built in 1939 and is the largest body of water in Massachusetts, at 39.4 square miles of surface area. It holds 412 billion gallons when filled to capacity and serves as the water source for the metro-Boston area.

However, it's not just the numbers that are extraordinary about this location; the shear beauty alone is breathtaking. Though I didn't make it to the lookout tower, my short hike was pleasant and peaceful, and I'm looking forward to going back soon. The Quabbin is the perfect place to go for hiking, walking, cycling, or running, and it's a wonderful location for birdwatching and other nature-based pursuits -- in fact, a moose had been spotted on Quabbin property earlier that morning, and I had the pleasure (?) of nearly running into a flock of very large turkeys!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Books You Don't Need

Tucked away in an old mill building on the Sawmill River is the Montague Bookmill -- tagline "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." It's just a few miles north of Amherst (yes, it's in Montague), but off the main drag, and unless you're looking for it, you probably won't find it. It's somewhere around Rt 2, Rt 47, Rt 116, Rt 63.... As the website says, just wander the country roads and eventually you'll come across it -- if you don't miss it.

I first heard about the bookmill on a radio commercial, and was caught by its tagline (isn't that what taglines are supposed to do?). It was quite a treat to make a visit last weekend.

The Bookmill is a delightful used book store, with rooms filled with books on art, politics, religion, native americans, biographies, history, film,travel, botany, languages, and more. There's a whole fiction room and a full section for kids and teens, as well as a table with the newest arrivals and a local authors / publishing houses section. Wood floors, wood shelves, old windows looking out onto the river, and well-worn comfortable chairs and couches make it an inviting place to stay and read for a while.

The store has frequent special events, with book release parties, winter movies, author readings, workshops, and musical events. And don't miss the small typewriter display in the alcove by the top of the narrow stairs.

If you should get hungry while you're there browsing and reading, there's the Lady Killigrew Cafe nextdoor, serving up sandwiches and drinks and a few other options (like rice, eggs, udon noodles). My recommendation? The bread board w/apple & cheddar cheese -- with accompanying summer sausage and mustard. It's the perfect meal for the setting, served with 6 slices of sourdough bread, a sliced apple, sliced cheese, sliced grilled sausage, and a small pot of deli mustard -- delicious. (And they use local & organic products when available.) If you have food allergies, the staff is happy to work around them to get you something satisfying to fill you up. The dining area comes complete with multiple trivial pursuit games to give you something to do while you wait for your food -- or while you eat.

With a nice restaurant downstairs from the Bookmill, an antique shop, and an art studio, there's plenty to keep the destination-bound busy.

If you like books, if you like to just sit and read, if you're a used bookstore enthusiast, this is definitely one to check out -- just be sure to give yourself plenty of time -- you may not escape until closing time, when the nice lady at the desk finds you all curled up with a pile of books and informs you that it's almost time to close up shop.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Autumn Apples

Today as I was driving along Bay Road, the autumn air smelled of apples. The road is lined with apple orchards, broad leafy trees loaded with red fruit. It's a part of fall that I love and look forward to every year -- apple trees, apples, applesauce, apple crisp.

Some of those apple orchards belong to Atkins Farms -- and some of those are even pick-yourself apples. According to the signs (which I could only somewhat read, since I was driving), apple picking is from 10-5. I don't have details on days they make pick-your-own available, but at least I know for sure where one of the closest orchards is. I know there are many many more (like Hamilton Orchards, where I picked the raspberries), and I'm looking forward to discovering them and gathering apples from them, too.

I was remembering earlier this evening about a time in grade school, maybe 1st or 2nd grade, where we focused for a week (as I remember) on apples and apple products. We did apple reports, apple projects, had apple food each day, and created an apple recipe book. It was a wonderful week, and a great way to introduce the bounties of nature and all the possibilities that come from one simple piece of fruit.

Garlic & Arts Festival

Yesterday I took an opportunity presented by a glorious early autumn September Saturday and headed off to make a visit to the "Festival that Stinks!" aka The Garlic & Arts Festival in Orange, just up 202. This year was the festival's 10th year, and it looks to be going strong -- at least two parking fields were full and there were loads of people meandering around enjoying the sights and smells and sounds of the festival. The mission of the G&A Festival is to promote local culture, local artistry, and local agriculture -- especially garlic, which is a strong crop in the region and part of why the whole festival got started.

Booths offered beautiful hand-carved wooden bowls, local honey, pottery, pickles, old local and regional maps, framed art, wool and yarn and hand-crafted sweaters and blankets, toys, jewelry, local natural medicinals, massages, farm produce, and of course, braids and braids and braids and bulbs and bulbs and bulbs of garlic -- including demos on how to plant and grow it.

There was music and a bandstand and plenty to eat, as well -- breads and soups, meat on skewers, pad thai, burritos, strawberry shortcakes, and of course -- garlic ice cream (created by Bart's Homemade Ice Cream). Oh -- and a hula hoop field for anyone who wanted to try swinging one of those hoops around their waste (or neck or knees).

When I first heard about it, I couldn't believe there was a festival dedicated to garlic, but after an hour and a few visits to garlic-bearing booths, I began to get a better understanding. With its inexpensive admission prices and relaxed atmosphere, this festival is a great chance to spend a day outside in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley while sampling some of the region's local fare.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Other Resources

A few other local resources I've come across in my recent wanderings:

Donahue's Flowers: I haven't used them, but we did receive a lovely stand of potted chrysanthemums as a gift through them. 3 Stadler Street, Belchertown.

Stadler (Ace) Hardware Store: a classic hardware store filled with just about everything you'll need for that home project -- including dryer cords, washer tubs, bike hangers, gardening supplies, grills, nails, tools.... Plus, they are helpful and friendly people. 3 Stadler Street, Belchertown.

Healthy Alternatives: natural health store with vitamins, supplements, homeopathic remedies, teas, and more -- soon to be expanding. 3 Stadler Street, Belchertown.

Collective Copies: a copy shop, print shop, and variety store; Collective Copies will retrieve documents for printing (very useful when your printer is still in its box from moving); carries canning supplies, fair-trade coffees, local history books, recipe books, and more. 55 Main Street, Belchertown.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rural Cemetery

Often when I take my not-daily bicycle ride, I end up passing by Rural Cemetery, one of ten cemeteries in Belchertown. Those who know me may also know that I have a particular fondness for cemeteries. I find them peaceful, soothing -- and I enjoy spending time in them. They help me calm my mind and give me a reminder of who and what came before.

The Rural Cemetery was established in 1769, making a pretty old cemetery by my counts. I know there are older ones around (it's definitely not the oldest even in Belchertown), but still -- 240 years is a good long time ago. It's not a crowded piece of land, and most of its residents died in the late 1800s - early 1900s. Some of the gravestones have fallen over, some rest against other stones, and some have nearly disappeared into the earth. The ground is soft and cushioned with moss and pine needles, and trees border the back and sides.

I spent a little time walking around the Rural Cemetery, visiting the graves and looking at the stones and such. I found a gravestone for George Thaping, died April 16 1769 at 67 years old. (Image has been sharpened and contrasted. I apologize for the sliver of green ribbon obstructing the rest of the gravestone.) I'm assuming that if he wasn't the first to be buried there, he's definitely one of the earliest.

I also found these lovely little stones for Emma and Mary (I neglected to search out their last name and it's too difficult to read from my picture -- they were in a family group, sisters). I love the simple decoration of flowers and leaves at the top.It's a quiet, small cemetery. A nice place to sit and ponder the wonders of life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Moon

I don't know if you managed to see the moon this morning, but it was a glorious sight -- round and full and brightly lit up over the silhouettes of trees and against a spattering of clouds in the dark western sky.
Granted, it was about 4.30 am when I noticed it beaming soft light into my kitchen. I wanted to photograph it, but knew that my camera would not even begin to capture the perfectness of the image.
The sky does amazing things.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cindy's Drive-In

The other night was "ice cream night" (I fear there will be many such evenings), and celebrations were had at Cindy's Drive-In on Route 202 in Granby. Done up in classic drive-in style, including pink neon signs and classic-looking napkin holders, Cindy's serves up some of the biggest ice cream I've seen yet. Soft serve and hard, the cones are huge and the ice cream is delicious. They've also got hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, chili cheese fries, and other foodie items (which I haven't tried yet). Eat inside or out or take it away -- there are picnic tables and a few playground toys outside if you want to enjoy the summer weather, but tables and waitress service inside if you'd rather.

I've been there twice -- both in the evening -- once on a clear warm weeknight and once on a cool rainy weekend. There were crowds both night, ranging from toddlers to grandparents, families and singles. I regret not having had my camera, just to try to catch the happy vibes emanating from the kids getting their super-sized ice creams and the couples on dates and the white-haired lady there for ice cream, too.

But hurry and go -- Cindy's is only open through the end of September -- then the season ends and you'll have to wait until next year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hamilton Orchards

It's autumn and time for peaches and apples -- and apparently, raspberries. I've never considered raspberries fall food before, but I was definitely mistaken. Yesterday morning and friend and I went to Hamilton Orchards in New Salem to pick raspberries. And my, were there raspberries! Rows of red and golden raspberries, buzzing with happy bees and being nibbled by japanese beetles. It was good picking -- we each picked four quarts in about 1.5 hours; not too bad for raspberries -- and you can freeze them, make jam out of them, put them on cereal, make pie -- so many good things can be done with raspberries!

The orchards also had apples ready -- macs and cortlands -- which you can buy by the 1/2 peck or peck, or you can pick your own. (There are a number of pick-your-own orchards and farms around -- I'll try to get a good post about those, soon.) The macouns come later. The orchard store carried apple cider ($3.50 for a 1/2 gallon, if I remember correctly), pies, cookies, chocolates, honey, apple dumplings, corn, and a variety of other candies, pastries, and such things.

The farm is also home to some goats, sheep, dogs, pigs, and a donkey (who kept braying, making quite a racket) -- part of their little petting zoo. The dogs and goats were quite friendly -- that I can attest to. (I'm always taken by an adorable goat face.)

Hamilton Orchards is just up 202, north of Belchertown by about 20-25 minutes. The view on the drive is spectacular, showing off the Quabbin, which sits below the road, surrounded by trees.

Happy picking!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Local Earthly Beauties

It seems as if every day is so full of new things to report on that I have hardly taken the opportunity to talk about the beautiful things I see every day. I went on a walk this afternoon, and took a few pics to share (sorry the formatting doesn't necessarily match the pic with the description)~

Queen Anne's Lace that was so prolific towards the end of August...

Fields of goldenrod that blaze in yellow...

Hills of ferns, sheltered in wooded areas...

My favourite sun-dappled tree-lined road, just down from the Transfer Station...

And a number of interesting birds and bugs that fill the air with colour and sound (the ladybugs weren't all I saw -- I saw also a pair of brilliant blue jays, some rather large dragonflies, singing crickets, and more).

Some may consider them common things, but to me, each is a joy.

(Click on the pics for bigger views.)


As of 14 May 1990, Belchertown has a mandatory recycling program, operating out of its Solid Waste Transfer Station and Recycling Center on Hamilton Street. In order to use the Station, one must have a valid permit affixed to their car. Permits cost $90 for the year (March 1 - Feb 28) and are prorated in June ($67.50), September ($45), and December ($27.50). Current vehicle registration and proof of Belchertown residency (if not on the registration) are required.

After learning all I could about the program online, today I finally headed off to the Selectmen's Office to pay for a permit so I could take all the boxes that have been piled up in my living room after moving; shortly thereafter, I made my first visit to the dump/recycling center/solid waste transfer station. It was a pretty easy trip -- the bins are all labeled with their list of accepted recyclables, and since I was only getting rid of boxes and mixed papers today, I had only two bins to visit.

Garbage is also accepted there, though only in the requisite Belchertown Trash Bags -- the bags are sold at various stores in the town and their cost can come as a shock if you're not prepared for it. I know I was completely put off by the price until I realized that the bags are used only for garbage and not for recyclables -- their cost is a means to reduce waste and promote recycling. It does mean that garbage is expensive, though, at $1-1.50 a bag.

Want more information? Read the Transfer Station / Recycle Center Rules and Regulations.

My living room is now happily nearly box free.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Roadhouse Cafe

On the corner of Rt 9 and Bay Rd is a little cafe with picnic tables and a small (but usually full) parking lot -- it's the Roadhouse Cafe. Curiosity piqued from the first view, we finally made a visit on Labor Day to check it out (after I had picked up the menu from Stone Soup Farm and determined what kind of place it really was). The name of the place evokes pool tables, smokiness, and greasiness (at least if you have the background I have), and doesn't quite seem to reflect all the goodness you'll find inside -- or on the menu.

Reasonable-sized portions from fresh and local (when available) foods are organic and made from scratch, and have a variety of options for those with special diets. The place was bustling at mid-morning -- we waited for about 4 minutes before getting a table, which isn't long at all, and we probably could have been seated earlier if we'd wanted to sit outside. We spent that extra time admiring the hand-painted Roadhouse Cafe mugs that were for sale and the printed caps.

When a table cleared out and we were seated, we snagged a menu from the table and tried to make up our minds about our breakfast. And we thought we were done when I noticed a sign advertising gluten-free baked goods that could be added to the order -- biscuits, toast, bread. That made our decision just slightly longer. We finally ordered up a #5 with a plate-sized blueberry pancake, scrambled egg, and bacon (also comes with homefries); and a #6 with gluten-free toast, lox, and scrambled egg (also comes with homefries); plus, tea and juice and milk. The food wasn't fancy, but it was hearty and tasty, and we left the place decidedly satisfied.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Clapp Memorial Library

It took a couple of weeks from my first visit to the Clapp Memorial Library and a bunch of finagling with the mail system to finally get myself a library card -- something I consider of great importance to every community member (and not just because I'm a librarian).

I've been hearing wonderful things about the Belchertown Library for weeks now -- it seems that everyone who visits the library loves it. Rave reviews have been given to the Book Sale (Oct 13-18), where books sell for $1 or less (and according to the ad board, there are 50,000 items available for sale!), and to the staff, who are super friendly and very helpful.

There are a few issues at the library at the moment -- earlier this summer the ceiling caved in leaving massive amounts of work to be done to get things fixed up. The library is still running exclusively out of the Children's Room in the basement, but all reports claim that the work is nearing completion and the library should be up and running at full strength soon.

Also, the library is working on an expansion and renovation project. The state has approved $3.3 million in funds, but only if the library can come up with it's own share of the monies, as well. It needs to find $7.3 million more in contributions within the next 17 months in order to pay the $10.6 million price tag of the expansion plans. The plans look wonderful and an expanded renovated library would be a huge boon to the community. Contact the library for more info.

And briefly, my time at the library was well spent. The staff are indeed very nice and enthusiastic, and though the collection is minimal at the moment, books can be requested through the catalog and brought in from libraries across the state. I'm so excited to be a library member again (I've already requested 3 books)!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


"Summer's not over yet!" proclaimed the sign advertising a large farm cart of local sweet corn and pumpkins on the corner of Maple Street and Mill Valley Road in Hadley. I had had some not-delicious corn (advertised as sweet corn, but definitely not) the night before and was craving some sweet, so I pulled off the road and headed over to the cart piled high with corn. I plucked 4 ears off the "$5/dozen" and left my money and headed home. I peeled those ears of corn, flicked off a few worms, and steamed them up for dinner. And were they delicious -- sweet, melt-in-your-mouth kernels that completely hit the spot. I could have eaten a half dozen all by myself.

There seems to be no shortage of farm stands and farm stores selling corn in late August and early September. Just pick a road and drive down it long enough and you're sure to come to some little house or large barn advertising their corn. I think next year I may have to run a comparison experiment -- it doesn't get much better than fresh steamed corn on the cob in the late summer.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Stone Soup Farm

Just down the road on Jackson Street is Stone Soup Farm, one of the first farm stands I discovered and visited. I had my camera with me, so I was able to take a couple of shots -- outside and in.

While poking around inside, I ran into Annie, who runs the farm stand and works the fields. She had just returned from a run to the farmers market and chatted with me a bit about the farm and the stand and how the whole setup worked. Crops available in early September included potatoes (red & white, $1.50/lb), corn ($.50/ear), garlic, onions (white & purple, $1.50/lb), peppers (red, yellow, orange, green, purple), carrots, corn, herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, leeks, and peaches. They also carry some local natural honey and herbal products from Banyan Moon Botanicals, as well as glass pendants & earrings and garden sculptures. Also included on location is a pick-them-yourself flower garden and community gardens -- read all about it on their website. It's a very community-oriented farm encouraging family participation.

You can purchase fresh produce at the farm or join the CSA or visit their table at the Belchertown Farmers Market. And if you go to the farm itself, be sure to read the newspaper article posted up on the fridge.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Atkins Farms Country Market

One of the first places people directed me to once they found out I was coming to Belchertown was Atkins Farms Country Market on the corner of Rt 116 and Bay Road. Atkins is not just a farm -- it's a specialty foods store, a make-a-meal business, an apple orchard, a local produce provider, an ice cream shop, a gift shop, a florist, and more. Plus, they have plenty of family events like Cruise Night. A great favourite among locals, Atkins is accessible by bus and also has a large parking lot.

At this writing, I've made but 2 visits to the market, and it was completely different than I expected. Instead of a smallish farm stand or a slightly larger orchard store, this is an actual grocery of sorts, with everything from cereal and chips to imported chocolates. Since some items seem to be a bit costly when compared to other locations, I wouldn't recommend this as a one-stop shopping location if you're on a budget. But the bakery looks delightful (jack o'lantern cakes, fruit pies, cider donuts) and there's a salad bar and deli, as well, and plenty of local fruits & veggies, of course (with very reasonable prices). The ice cream (served outside and around the corner) was dished up with a friendly smile and totally beat out the ice cream I had in the metro-Boston area by size -- I got a medium cone, soft serve, and it was nearly a foot tall!

I'm sure I'll have more to write on this later, when apple season is in full swing and after a few more visits for ice cream and/or donuts and/or pie, so be on the lookout.

One more point to mention -- there are public restrooms available inside. They are clean and smell of fresh herbs & flowers (at least on the ladies' side).


As I embark on a brand new adventure in Western Massachusetts, I am discovering a wealth of wonders that I am inclined to share. From farm stands to restaurants, shops to museums, ponds to mountains, there are plenty of reasons why I am fast becoming a fan of Belchertown and the Pioneer Valley. I only regret that I can't share the sounds and scents of this beautiful location while I share some of the sights and experiences and places. Nevertheless, enjoy and comment!

Bordered by the Quabbin Reservoir and the Holyoke Mountain Range, within easy travel distance to Amherst & Hadley & Northampton & Springfield, and surrounded by colleges and farmland, Belchertown is ideally situated to provide country living with easy access to city resources.
Welcome to Belchertown.

Photographs and text copyrighted by Livin' In the Belch blog author, unless otherwise stated.