I've got a good pal, Miz B, who recently moved north with her family to a Connecticut town called Woodbury, where sidewalks and traffic lights are fewer (there are three) and forests are in greater abundance than their former neighborhood in Alexandria, Va. Instead of CVS, there's a locally owned pharmacy, as is the case with the video rental shop, where invoices are written by hand. Antique shops prevail, and I'm told that this place is autumn leaf-peeping heaven.
This is a place where you can hear yourself think and the insects sing, where chickens are for sale at the hardware store and farm stands with just-picked produce dot the road. On his way to work yesterday, husband JC was forced to bring the car to a stop for a traffic jam -- a family of 17 turkeys that needed to cross the road.
Meanwhile, B, her three lively children (ages 6, 3 and 1) and I pile into the VW bus and make our way to Dottie's Diner for breakfast, a local institution that's been around since 1934. We tuck into a turquoise booth and immediately the two older bambinos notice the tableside candy machine filled with mini Peppermint Patties for 25 cents.
The meal is an exercise in circus management, but we all manage to enjoy our food, including steel-cut oatmeal with raisins for B, an egg sandwich on a hard roll for yours truly, and eggs and buttermilk pancakes for the kinder. We can't resist ordering a few homemade doughnuts, one rolled in cinnamon sugar and the other dipped in chocolate, both with a properly fried shell and a tender interior crumb that tastes of nutmeg and buttermilk.
We leave without incident or an excessive amount of Cheerios on the table, and proceed to March Farms in nearby Bethlehem, a pick-your-own farm with a cute little farm store, where we pick up a few ears of local corn and a still-warm peach pie that had just come out of the oven across the road.
From there, we head to Flanders Nature Center, where the kids can talk to the menagerie of farm animals, including pig, goat, sheep, baby horsies and many rabbits. The afternoon activities are punctuated by a drop-by visit to the family doc who suspects that the expanding network of red bumps on the one-year-old is a case of chicken pox.
Later on, B and I leave the brood in the care of their father and head out for some girl time. Our few-hour respite starts with a visit to New Morning Natural & Organic, a combination holistic medicine mart, health food store and gourmet shop, with lots of produce from neighboring farms. It is the first time I see flour shelved in the refrigerated case, at least in a supermarket setting, attention to detail you'd never see in the big city.
At the local hardware store, we peruse the variety of seed packets for fall crops that has B excited to try in a raised bed that will house spinach, cabbage, broccoli and turnips. With all the extra space in the back yard, she's keen to try her hand at growing vegetables.
We end the afternoon on a festive note at Carole Peck's Good News CafÃ©, a restaurant serving "farm fresh modern cuisine." Peck, who's been cooking for more than 30 years, has made a home away from home for Woodbury residents, with brightly colored walls, a cozy cafÃ© area and an eclectic mix of artwork and Americana; one dining room, painted lime green, is decorated with Peck's collection of vintage radios, all of which reminded me of my childhood house on Penarth Road, where my mother painted the dining room pink, including the piano.
While snacking on pecan-crusted oysters with a jicama tomatillo salsa, we met the amiable Peck, who was busy getting ready for dinner, out in the front garden cutting wild flowers for the bar. On our way out, we noticed the coffee bar, where cakes and dipped chocolates were on display and it made us want to stay a wee bit longer.
As I wrap up my stay this morning, I hear the three kids in the kitchen slurping up their mother's peach pancakes, and that's my cue to sign off before I head home in a few hours for the land of pavement and traffic jams that involve no turkeys -- well, not the gobbling kind.
Here's hoping to get back to the country as soon as I can arrange it. Share your favorite country tales in the comments area below.
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