Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hardwick's Front Porch

Earlier in the month, my husband and I were looking for a weekend outing and came across a performance of Northern Lights at the Cultural Center at Eagle Hill.

First of all, if you like bluegrass, roots music, rock, and soul, Northern Lights is a regional band you don't want to miss -- it was the perfect remedy to mid-winter blues. Next time I see them, though, I'm going to need a dance floor -- their music is absolutely dance-worthy....

The Cultural Center at Eagle Hill was the find of the evening, however. The beautiful new building set into the Eagle Hill School Campus in Hardwick is a venue for the arts in Central Massachusetts. It has a lovely 460-seat theatre (where we saw the band), art exhibition space, function halls, classrooms, and more that we didn't get to see because of the weather (an outdoor patio & amphitheater, for example). It's clean and bright, with a coat room and wide hallways and decorated walls and big bathrooms (very important). Students from the school are involved with every part of the Center, from publicity to performances to budgeting and more -- they are also learning to run the box office.

When the performance we attended was being introduced, the director took a few minutes to talk about the school and the Center. He mentioned that he wanted the Center to be "Hardwick's front porch" -- a place where people could meet and gather to share food, entertainment, and conversation. And that's exactly what it was -- we didn't just have the opportunity to listen to fine music, but we enjoyed a cafe and good conversation with the people sitting around us in the theater (including two local library connections I was able to make!).

We are looking forward to returning to the Center for another performance, perhaps Solas or The Fantastiks, or maybe something a little further down the road. Prices are reasonable and quality is good.
For a nice evening out, pair a live performance at The Center with a tasty New England dinner at the Salem Cross Inn (West Brookfield). (In fact, there's a special package for dinner & a show for the upcoming musical The Fantastiks.)

The Birds and the Bears

The ice and snow have entirely melted from our deck, leaving piles of birdseed and husks all over the ground. The trees this morning, after a warm day yesterday (in the 50s!), are alive with birds. We've had visits this morning from the nuthatch, juncos, cardinal, chicadees, titmice, and mr & mrs woodpecker. There are brilliant blue jays in the trees, crows squawk overhead, and if you open the door, birdsongs fill the air. I'm supposed to be blogging, but I can't keep myself from watching the flutterings out the window as the birds play tag in the trees. And I wonder if I'll see the goldfinches and sparrows this morning, too.

A burst for other bird feeders: we were warned last week to take down our feeder in mid-March to keep the freshly awakened, hungry bears from snatch-and-grabs. It was even suggested that there might be a law in Belchertown regarding the removal of bird feeders, but I didn't find one. Nevertheless, it's good to keep in mind that the bears will soon be out and about, hungry for their seasonal breakfast, and a feeder of birdseed is like a little mini-fridge.

The weather is warming, the days are lengthening, the animals are frisking. Spring must be on its way!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bulk Flour

Since my home is a part-time gluten-free and lactose-free environment, and since I love to bake, I am frequently looking for stores that sell non-wheat/non-gluten flours in bulk (more than 2 lbs at a time). Most stores rarely have any decent selection; in fact, the store I would think would have the best selection (considering the number of bulk bins they have filled) actually doesn't.
In Ohio, my mother has a bulk food store in Amish country, and she often loads up on stuff for me before coming for a visit -- and sometimes she even mails it to me (of course, once when she did I got a call from the Post Office regarding a package leaking white powder...) -- it can actually be cheaper for her to purchase and mail it than for me to buy it myself, which is amazing, considering she ships around 5 pounds at a time -- or more.
I've been in the Pioneer Valley for about 6 months now, and this is all I've discovered:

Oat Flour: Maple Farm Foods (Hadley), $1.89/lb (recently went up)
Rice Flour: Maple Farm Foods, $1.89/lb (recently went up)
Brown Rice Flour: Whole Foods (Hadley), $1.99/lb (organic)
Corn Masa Flour: Maple Farm Foods, $3.49/4.4lb bag

You can find spelt flour at Whole Foods, but I don't know the price, since I can't use it. And you can purchase rye flour in nearly every well-stocked grocery in ~5lb bags.
Also, Ocean State Job Lot in Palmer often has Bob's Red Mill flours at prices a little bit cheaper than the regular stores (but there again, small bags).

Finding this kind of information online can be difficult, so if you, too, are a gluten-free baker and know of other places in the area where such flours might be bought in bulk (or where the grains might be ground into flour), please add a comment!
What I'm looking for:
Corn starch
Soy flour
(Tapioca flour)
(Bean flour)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maple Sugar Shacks

I was first tipped off to the season of maple sugaring from a friend of mine who grew up in the area. And then another friend mentioned seeing buckets on trees. And then I realized that I had been seeing buckets on trees, too! And lo, we're nearing the end of February -- the season of Maple -- when the sap starts to run and the sugar houses start getting busy.

I remember once my father tapping maple trees in Ohio when I was growing up. He boiled down the sap in a large pot on the stove and then got distracted doing something else and let it burn. That was a sad sad day in our house. But it takes an awful lot of sap to make a little bit of syrup, and I find the process quite interesting (in many ways, my father's daughter). So following the interest, I poked around a bit to find some local maple sugar shacks. I discovered only two in Belchertown; both of them seem to welcome visitors, should you feel inclined to make a field trip. Check out the following links for schedules, tours, and more information. I'm hoping to make a visit or two this season, and when I do, I'll be sure to post something up.

Desjardins Maple Syrup
Shattuck's Sugar House

Perhaps you're a hands-on person like my dad and you want to start your own sugaring system. There are any number of websites that will explain the process. If you want to get official, equipment can be found at Devon Lane (according to online sources of information) on Rt 202 in Belchertown.

There are plenty of other maple sugaring/syruping places local to Belchertown, too, if you want to get out of town for an excursion.
Here's a list from the Valley Viewpoint.
And here's Google's list for "near Belchertown."
My current pick from these two lists is Blue Heron Farm (check out the Fjord horses!).

Enjoy the season and see if you can't tap into something sweet!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to REALLY Celebrate

Looking for a way to REALLY celebrate Valentine's Day?
The picture gives you the perfect opportunity.

On Rt 9 North/West, just before the turnoff to Bay Rd.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Big Day

Valentine's Day breaks upon us tomorrow, chilly but sunny. If you're dashing about last minute, here are a few hints for local quick stops:

Donahue's Flowers -- 3 Stadler Street
Baskets of Flowers -- 60 Sargent Street
Stop 'n Shop -- 40 George Hannum Street
others in the area

Stop 'n Shop
others in the area


Atkins Farms
Baskets of Flowers --
others in the area

Carriage House Limited -- 115 N. Main Street

Other Stuff:
General Gifts
Books with recipes & ideas & etc (at the library)

Enjoy the day! (And feel free to tip in any other suggestions you may have.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

News at the Bottom

In case you never make it to the bottom of the blog, I wanted to make mention of local news headlines that show up there; I believe that for the most part they come from

One more thing I've been meaning to mention since early on in this blog is the great local newspaper we have in town. This may not seem particularly special, but after having lived in the shadows of a city and never being able to actually get local news of my own city, it's fairly exciting to have a paper whose focus is the community I live in. The Sentinal has been in publication since 1915 and is a free direct-mail weekly publication and covers everything from births and weddings to library events and town hall meetings to school sports and more. While every article may not be of interest, there's going to be at least one little thing each week that will catch the eye (like the albino deer sighting or the town fair or the housing listings). I read through it almost every week, and it helps me feel a bit more connected to my new community.

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