Friday, December 28, 2012

No tacos for Tilda

Remember the fateful scene in Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" when Tess slips an important letter under her lover Angel Clare's door, and it actually goes under the carpet, not to be found until it's too late?
The 21st-century equivalent just happened to me.
Earlier in the day I asked a friend to meet me for dinner at La Pena Mexicana, the great taco place in Kennett, at 6:20 p.m. I didn't hear from him, so I ate a boring salad here at home.
At 7:30 p.m. he phoned and said, with some irritation, "So where were you?"
"You never got back to me!" I protested, and immediately checked my e-mails.
Sure enough, he had, and if I had scrolled down sufficiently in the message I would have seen his RSVP, and I would have had a delicious meal. Like he did ("that burrito, it was like a bolster on a sofa").
That sound you hear is me wailing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I was changing in the locker room at the Kennett Y yesterday when a guy came striding in. I thought, oh, it's a college kid home on break who doesn't realize this is the ladies' locker room. So I went up to him and said, "Excuse me, sir? This is the ladies' room."
It wasn't a guy. It was a tall, slim woman with close-cropped hair, wearing a gray T-shirt, baggy shorts and high socks, with a tight elastic binder around her chest.
Thank goodness, she didn't seem to mind in the least being mistaken for a man. I apologized immediately, and I'm still mortified. Who knew I'd get a lesson in gender definition in the locker room at the Y?
(And more power to her for dressing whatever way she wants.) 

Hillendale send-off

Parents, siblings and apparently even pets rallied outside Hillendale Elementary School to show their love and appreciation for the school's students, faculty and staff at dismissal time on Dec. 21, the last day before winter break. Parent Danielle Chamberlain was kind enough to send me these photos. Go Huskies!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So This Is Christmas

Here's hoping everyone had as merry a Christmas as I did. For the second year in a row (does that constitute a tradition?) the whole family met for lunch on Christmas Eve day at the Greathouse at Loch Nairn Golf Club (wonderful food and service), and then on Christmas day we went to my brother's house for a marvelous feast (lobster tails, roast beef, just-picked Marlboro Mushrooms and Champagne) prepared by my sister-in-law and her mother. After dinner we played a cut-throat game of "Greedy Santa."
My parents' welcoming new neighborhood has a festive tradition of setting out luminaries along the entire length of the cul-de-sac, including around the center island. We put them out as directed along our stretch of the lane, and father and grandson went out to light them just as it started to get dark. Of course, the snow then promptly extinguished them.
A few nights before Christmas I went to a very nice neighborhood open house at Dick Hayne's Doe Run Farm here in West Marlborough. We sampled the delicious cheeses that are made there and got to peek into the underground stone caves where they are aged. Mr. Hayne's cheesemaking staff were there explaining the process of turning milk from his animals into the award-winning cheese, which is sold at the Country Butcher and Terrain. I don't know a lot about milking parlors, but the man next to me said it was the cleanest one he had ever seen. I had fun visiting with not only a lot of my neighbors but also a Jersey calf named Henry, and two energetic goat kids, who jumped up on visitors and walked up and down the back of a woolly black sheep.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Looking back

At the end of 2011, I had an easy time coming up with a list of the year's momentous events. I'm having a harder time for 2012. Here's what I have so far:
1. The bitterly divisive presidential election. It went far beyond the pale of civil discourse, even locally. There is absolutely no reason to call a candidate "an idiot," no matter how much you may dislike him or her. Yet otherwise nice people did, every single day. The vitriol was appalling. A funny and oh-so-true picture was going around online in December: "I've saved so much money on Christmas presents by discussing politics on Facebook."
Not that I'm always moderate in expressing my opinions. But a few weeks ago I lunched with a neighbor who holds many political positions that are polar opposites of my own. And guess what: we found plenty that we agreed on -- in politics and in life -- and we had a lovely time.
2. Snow was a no-show during the 2011-12 winter. Ironically, I replaced my sports car with an SUV because the former, although it was four-wheel-drive, had absolutely no ground clearance and was pretty much useless in anything over an inch of snow. I think we got more snow this Christmas Eve than we did the whole prior winter.
3. We lost some good people this year, way, WAY too early. I'm thinking of Sarah Thomas and Paul Rowland. I love seeing how Sarah's family and friends are remembering her with bonfires and kickball tourneys, not to mention how her spirit lives on through her organ donations. And we said goodbye to others who led lives fully lived, like Dr. Ramsay Buchanan, Bill Dreisbach, Bob Hennes, Jody Shoemaker, and Artie Yeatman. Miss them all.
4. Before a packed house, the West Marlborough supervisors joined almost every other local municipality in enacting a earned income tax. The township needs to raise more money because of decreased income from real-estate transfer taxes and increased legal fees due to various zoning spats, mostly in and around the village of Springdell.
5. It was great to see our world-class local horsemen and women competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London this summer. And back in Unionville we enjoyed the usual round of equestrian/social events: the Cheshire Races, various competitions at the beautiful Plantation Field and an injury-free Pennsylvania Hunt Cup held on a windy, freezing day that challenged even the hardiest spectators (i.e., me).
6. In the wake of Occupy Blow Horn in October 2011, Anne and John Moss erected a replacement "Blow Horn" sign in their front yard at Routes 82 and 841, just across from the old and now-erased/eroded sign. Three for the mill!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book sale Feb. 22 and 23

I'm already thinking about what books I'm going to donate to the annual Unionville High School used book sale, which this year will be held Friday, Feb. 22 (5-9 p.m.) and Saturday, Feb. 23 (9-2:30 p.m. or 3-5 p.m. bag sale).
The book drop-off date this year is Saturday, Jan. 26, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the high school, near the kitchen entrance. Starting Jan. 28, books can be dropped of at all the district buildings; marked boxes are provided at the schools' main entrances.
Here's what the sale organizers will accept: "Items which are in good condition, clean, dry, mold-free; books with covers; audio books, music, movies; DVDs, CD's, VHS, tapes with original labels; trade size paperbacks, paperbacks, hardbacks." But they WON'T take "items which are unhealthy to handle or dirty, moldy, smelly, burnt, chewed or wet; books missing covers; National Geographic magazines and maps; magazines; encyclopedias, encyclopedia year books, reference sets; Reader's Digest condensed books, EXCEPT large type edtions; law case, statute, and regulation books; catalogs; AAA Travel Guides except for the 5 most recent years; children's board games or puzzles; stationary items, notecards, calendars; and DVDs/CDs/VHS tapes that are missing their original labels."
There is lots more information at

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I'm not at all sure what this says about the economy, but today I got an email telling me that my credit-card payment was overdue by one day. Before flying into a rage, I checked my paperwork, and sure enough they were correct: I had gathered the receipts and reconciled the account but unfortunately had omitted the critical step of actually forking over the money.
I immediately paid online and noticed that because of my tardiness I had been charged a $10 late fee. I called the company and threw myself on their mercy, pointing out that I had never before missed a payment.
The customer service person could not have been happier to remove the fee from my account. She even praised me for my "lovely" credit history and said it was perfectly understandable to be late with my payment with all the hustle-bustle of the holidays.
I got the feeling they were thrilled that someone was actually paying.


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires township boards to "reorganize" on the first Monday of each year, which means the West Marlborough Township supervisors will be meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, not on Tuesday as they usually do. At these meetings the board goes through various ceremonial formalities like setting the meeting schedule for the coming year and deciding which banks should get the township's business. But we'll also find out who the chairman of the board will be for 2013, so stay tuned!


(Disclaimer: This is NOT an item about a moth devouring a friend of Tilda's. The Young Relative thought it was, based on the title, and ended up more than a little disappointed and irritated.)
A Kennett pal of mine who leads something of a Bohemian life owns exactly one business suit, and he rarely wears it. But before a recent funeral, he unearthed it to take it to the dry cleaners. He spied some white spots around the trouser pockets and tried to brush them off, only to discover that they were, in fact, holes: a moth had gotten into the wool during the suit's lengthy stay in the closet.
He said that if the holes had been only in the back of the trousers, the jacket would have covered them and he could have gotten away with it. But no such luck: the moth had done a thorough job.
He ended up wearing brown trousers and a tweed jacket and said that even so attired, he was more dressed up than most of the mourners.


It is so gusty this morning, I'm amazed that the hard-core bicyclists aren't being blown off the road. Wilmington Airport reported a wind speed of 52 knots and I received a text message from the weather forecasters urging me to "secure holiday decorations."
The tarp that is supposed to be covering my porch furniture is not doing so any longer, and I'm not even going to think about replacing it until the wind dies down a bit. A friend who lives in downtown Kennett said she found her porch furniture, still wrapped in its tarp, out in the yard against a tree.
A landowner up the road from me is storing his large boat outside for the season, and even the carefully applied white shrink-wrap that shrouds the hull is starting to peel off, and the shreds are flapping in the wind.
I'm told that even the increasingly fortified Schoolhouse Road Bunny was blown over. And this sign at the Londonderry/Penn Township border blew completely off its post and halfway across a field. 
An update: I wrote the earlier paragraphs before Christmas, but today (Dec. 27) is another windy day. The West Marlborough road crew spent its morning clearing four toppled-over trees that closed down West Road.

The heart of Unionville

The former tenants have vacated, and the new owner of the historic general-store building at the southeast corner of Route 82 and Wollaston Road (right across from Catherine's Restaurant) is starting to fix it up. The other day some workers were up on scaffolding fixing the stucco, and when I drove by today I saw a giant message near the the top of the east-side wall: "Love" with a heart below it. I couldn't tell if the workers added it or if they uncovered it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The two Karens

Well, now I've gone and done it. In last week's column I mentioned that my friend Karen does not need to buy a 2013 Chester County calendar because I've gotten one for her as a Christmas present.
Trouble is, I forgot I have TWO friends named Karen, and they can both become quite belligerent when crossed. They go to the same physical therapy place, and there may well be a scene next time they're both there.
Perhaps they could share, and one could take the January through June pages and the other the second half of the year?
No. Not likely. Who am I kidding?


Last night I had dinner with some friends at the Half-Moon in Kennett, and that would not ordinarily be Tilda fodder except for the fact that we ate upstairs on the roof-top deck, and that was the first time I'd been up there in the wintertime. In the summer it's great: you can see all over town and the refreshing breezes blow in through the windows. But I discovered that in the winter it's really fun, too: it's dimly lit and it's like you're in a private club. And yes, it's very nicely heated.
Apologies to the staff: my friends and I hadn't seen each other in ages and I'm afraid we were the last to leave.

Wings of a gull

I was getting gas at the Giant gas station the other day and happened to look across Scarlett Road to the former Acme shopping center, where a woman was videotaping the cluster of seagulls in the parking lot. It IS kind of amusing to see them hanging out in that lot as if they own it, and I often see them circling over the SECCRA landfill on Route 926 as well.
I'm not sure what the woman did with her video. I checked Youtube ("Kennett" and "gull") and there was nothing.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

At school

It would take a far better and more insightful writer than myself to evoke what it was like to attend the Young Relative's Winter Concert at his elementary school on Wednesday: the traditional songs and the new ones, the courage and talent of the kids who performed solos, the wide range of colorful clothing choices that the kids made, the musicians' proud smiles as the audience applauded.
And the flag in front of the school at half staff.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the cover

A click of the shutter to amazingly talented local photographer Jim Graham. His gorgeous photo of a sailboat off the coast of Nantucket graces the cover of the 2013 Nikon World calendar! (I didn't want to infringe on anybody's copyright by linking to it, but you can easily find it online.) You've probably seen Jim's editorial work and wedding photographs in local periodicals, and you can always count on him being in the thick of the action during foxhunts and steeplechases.

In the red

So I went to cash in my winning Powerball ticket the other day at the Giant supermarket. Yes! As I reported a few weeks back, one single solitary number (out of the three tickets that I bought) was a winner, earning me $4. The clerk at the lottery desk seemed confused when I said I wanted every single cent of it back and no, thank you, I did NOT want to use my winnings to buy more tickets.
I learned my lesson: The three tickets cost me $6. I got $4 back. That is no way to stay solvent. And please remind me of this the next time the jackpot tops, say, $500 million.

A great guy

How nice to see my old friend Bill Landmesser lunching at The Whip the other day! Bill is one of those invaluable behind-the-scenes volunteers who truly keep community groups humming -- including the Bayard Taylor Library, where he has done yeoman's duty on the Board of Trustees over the years.


I firmly believe the staff at the United Way of Southern Chester County sat down and said, "OK, folks. Time for some brainstorming. How can we get that Tilda Tally-ho woman to cover our fundraiser?"
Because here's what they are doing: they're hosting a Kennett Square Chocolate Lovers Festival on Saturday, Feb. 2, complete with a baking competition! Categories are cakes, cookies, candies, brownies and cupcakes, and entries are welcome from restaurants, bakeries, professionals, amateurs and students ages 12 and up. Talk about right up my alley: I love to bake, I love chocolate, and I'm told I have something of a competitive streak.
For entry forms and more information, go to Forms are due Jan. 25 and entries are to be submitted the morning of the event, which will be held at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square. Judging is from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; after that, the festival will be open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission will be $5 and will include six "tastings" of the goodies (50 cents for each additional tidbit).
Proceeds go to the local United Way, which funds local health and human service programs.


This may be the only time I'll ever say this, and you may think that I have taken leave of my normally cranky senses, but here goes: I thought the latest direct-mail ad for Verizon cable TV was kind of clever. It shows a burly sword-bearing gladiator and says, "We're making some big cuts around here." And there's actually a little jagged slice through the paper!
But no matter how creative the ad or how low the price, I still don't want to sign up for Showtime, Starz or any other cable package, thank you very much.

Attention grabber

The other day I was eastbound on the Route 30 bypass and one of those great big, dolled-up, chrome-laden pickup trucks zipped past me. I noticed on his back window a decal saying "" and idly wondered what that meant.
I found out. A little farther down the road, traffic was being diverted into one lane and Mr. Hornblaster was forced to take his place behind my Honda SUV. He apparently didn't like this. He expressed it by honking his heralded horn.
I will let the HornBlasters website describe what ensued: "Ever heard a train sound its horn from a mile away? How about from up close? specializes in selling extremely loud train horn setups for just about any use. We have lots of specialized kits already perfected for use on trucks, cars, SUVs, boats, or just about any kind of vehicle imaginable. Does your truck have a bad-boy look but fall short with a wimpy horn? We have your perfect solution."
I can assure you that this is nothing short of truth in advertising. If I were you, I would give any vehicle bearing this decal a very wide berth. There is a reason why this company freely acknowledges: "Love us or hate us, we strive to be the best at what we do."

Value added

The last time I went to the chiropractor, she had her adorable newborn son sleeping in the next room.
When I stopped in on Wednesday, the patient before me had come straight from puppy-training class and had brought along Andy, her precious Shetland Sheepdog, who was frolicking in the waiting room. (The little guy has mastered "sit" but not yet "lie down.")
As we were sitting on the floor cuddling with Andy, I mentioned to the chiropractor that not only does she give a great adjustment, but she also provides in-office entertainment. How exactly did she hope to add value to my next visit?
"Forget it," she said. "There's no way I can top this."

Only words

In my gym class today was a woman wearing a T-shirt saying "Fun Fearless Female." I asked her if she was, in fact, fun and fearless.
"That's what it says," she replied. "But don't believe everything you read."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A really good gift idea

Hey! Here's an idea for you procrastinators! Why not give a gift subscription to the Kennett Paper? Your friend will get news stories, school news, editorials, columnists like Lisa, Duane and Caryl, entertaining letters to the editor, sports, events calendars, ads, really good coupons ... and of course "Unionville in the News" each week (she said, immodestly). I'm a big fan of local journalism -- I've subscribed to the Kennett Paper since 1988 -- and there's no better time to support it than now.
It's really easy to order online. I just ordered a subscription for two friends of mine who claim they don't have time to read the paper -- but then are delighted whenever I save up my back copies and pass them along. Now I'll just be cutting out the middle-woman!
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Modern love

While strolling through Anson Nixon Park on Saturday we spotted a young couple walking along holding hands, as couples young and old have done for countless generations. In their free hands, though, they were holding their phones, ready to check for emails, texts and Facebook updates.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Says the reformed and rejuvenated Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of "A Christmas Carol": "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year. I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of steaming bishop."
A Christmas bowl of WHAT? wondered a curious friend of mine.
He discovered that Steaming Bishop (also known as "Smoking Bishop") is a festive punch made from port wine mulled with sugar, cinnamon, and a roasted, clove-studded orange or lemon (some recipes call for grapefruit).
My sister, an English professor, found this relevant passage from "Dr. Johnson was quite fond of it, as the following passage from Boswell's Life attests. One very late night in 1752 his friends roused him for a ramble and they walked to Covent Garden to help the fruit & veg merchants set up. They then repaired to one of the neighboring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called Bishop, which Johnson had always liked; while in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,
     Short, O short then be thy reign,
     And give us to the world again!"
Dust off that punchbowl and ladle!

Bites the dust

Looks as though the "Barnwood Curse" has struck again: Tacos Palenque, the Mexican place that opened there this past summer, has every appearance of being defunct. It seems that no establishment has flourished for long at the West Cypress Street restaurant -- a BBQ place was there for a while, and I believe another Mexican place -- since the Barnwood shut up shop maybe 10 years ago. I miss old Borelli's: how I loved their crabcakes, burgers, and pasta, not to mention their friendly staff!


Longwood Gardens' 2013 "Field Guide to Continuing Education" catalog arrived in the mail the other day and I'm having a great time browsing through it. What a variety of classes they offer, from the in-depth ornamental horticulture program to workshops, tours, and classes on garden photography, botanical illustration, floral design and even programs on pesto, "hanging string gardens," and beekeeping.
The catalog also lists the 2013 special exhibits. The orchid display starts on Jan. 19; what words could be more compelling than "enter our warm conservatory"?

Turning aside wrath

Yesterday evening I overheard a guy relating the story of a parking dispute he'd been involved in last Sunday at the Avondale Wawa. I didn't get all the details, but apparently a woman was blocking his vehicle in and emphatically refused to move. The guy said he was close to losing his cool when trying to reason with her.
"I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't just been to church," he said.
But turning the other cheek, he called the state police. They arrived immediately (they're just across the street), backed him up and ordered her to move.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Point A to Point B

Help me out with this one, readers. I was at Dick's Sporting Goods on Concord Pike and wanted to get to Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin. Is there a direct route? Mine certainly wasn't: I took Mt. Lebanon Road west to Rockland; then crossed Kennett Pike and took Route 82 across Hoopes Reservoir and along the Red Clay Creek until I got to Yorklyn, and hence past the Hindu Temple to Hockessin. Scenic, yes, and I saw some amazing northern Delaware real estate, but it took forever.
If you have found a better way, let me know:
And by the way, Wild Birds Unlimited is a terrific store! I bought lots of Christmas presents.

Fellow humans

When I moved to West Marlborough in 1990, I was amazed and delighted at how people acknowledge each other. It took me a little while to feel comfortable waving to oncoming motorists and riders and workers, even if they're strangers, but now it's second nature and you wonder what's wrong with somebody who stares straight ahead and doesn't acknowledge your existence.
The other morning I was out on my errands early and a couple of riders were on the paved road because it was so muddy. I slowed the car to a crawl, rolled down the window and wished them a good morning. The rider gave me a beautiful huge smile, raised his riding crop in salute and returned my greeting in his enchanting Irish accent.
It's a good way to start the day. 


A local freelance photographer named Cristin Rojas has created a 2013 calendar featuring her lovely photos of Chester County, and I know you'll recognize some of the scenes. 
"This is my first venture into selling my work in the marketplace and I am very excited about the prospects," she told me. The calendars are on sale at Carriage House Gifts in Willowdale (where I bought two copies), Paradocx Vineyards in Landenberg and Kennett Square, The Woodlands at Phillips on Route 82 south of Kennett Square, Tender Touch Gifts on Route 82 in Ercildoun, and Chester County Books and Music in West Goshen. (Tender Touch Gifts is also carrying blank greeting cards with photos from the calendar.)
In addition to her photos, the calendar also includes the usual civic and religious holidays, some equestrian events, and such offbeat celebrations as "Peculiar People Day" (Jan. 10) and "National Clean Out Your Fridge Day" (Nov. 14). 
And just sayin': if you are a friend of mine and your name is Karen, you do not need to buy one for yourself.

Opayo Frozen Yogurt

A "Unionville in the News" reader informed me that there's a new frozen yogurt shop in the Giant shopping center on Scarlett Road west of Kennett Square. Well! That was all I needed to hear. I stopped by "Opayo Greek Frozen Yogurt" yesterday afternoon after working up a hearty appetite doing Christmas shopping.
It's a self-service place: they give you a dish, and you fill it with the type and amount of yogurt you want (they have 18 flavors) and garnish it with whatever toppings (fruit, berries, candy, nuts, and so forth) and sauces (including hot fudge) you choose. Then they weigh your cup and you pay by weight.
I filled my dish with a mix of chocolate and vanilla yogurt and topped it with raspberries and mini-chocolate chips. $4.52. It was delicious. Highly recommended!
(And the name Opayo? The website explains that "OPA is a Greek expression of joy or happiness and YO is short for yogurt." So the "yo" isn't a nod to South Philadelphia argot, then.)

Leaving Unionville

It's a good thing my sister is a seasoned air traveler. After her wonderful visit here this past weekend, my parents dropped her off on Sunday at PHL for her late-afternoon flight back to MSP. She was supposed to take a lunchtime flight, but it was canceled because of the impending blizzard in the Midwest. Once she got to the airport, she learned that the replacement flight, too, was canceled, and the next flight out wasn't until Monday morning.
She phoned my parents' cell phones, trying to get them before they arrived back home, but wasn't successful (partly because my mother had accidentally left hers at home). She left messages asking for them to pick her up.
But then US Airways came to the rescue and found five seats for passengers without checked luggage, for which my sister qualified. She called my parents, relayed the good news and made it back home -- just in time to contend with the slippery drive south from Minneapolis.

What happened?

I'm compiling my annual end-of-the-year "Tilda's Top Ten" list, so if you have any favorite events from 2012 that you'd like to nominate, drop me an email at Thanks!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Social whirl

People ask me all the time how I manage to fit so much into my schedule -- work, socializing, family time, gym time, domestic tasks, township meetings -- and write about it too. Well, last week was nuts even for me: I think I was out seven nights in a row.  By Saturday I was so tired that I fell asleep on the sofa and snoozed right through my friend Karen's annual party. Sunday I was in bed by 8:30 p.m., catching up on the readings for the First and Second Sundays of Advent and looking forward to the tabula rasa week in front of me.
Hah! That didn't last. By Tuesday I was bored and was e-mailing around, looking for somebody who wanted to go out for sushi.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The Young Relative is striking a hard bargain. At dinner the other night he informed me that he is going to start charging $5 per "Tilda item" that he provides. Alternatively, he said that because he is a reasonable youth he will allow me to sublet him a piece of p. 3 each week ("The Young Relative's Corner"), for which he will charge only a retainer.
I can't imagine from whom he inherited this mercenary streak.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Now this is noteworthy: a Philadelphia newspaper actually did a feature story on Chester County without describing it as "sleepy"!
Adam Erace wrote a story called "Run for the Hills" for the Nov. 15 edition of the Philadelphia City Paper about the cheeses made at Richard Hayne's Doe Run Farm here in West Marlborough. He wrote that the farm "sits on softly rolling meadows of south Chester County. Those wild fairways inform the style and flavor of the fine cheeses [Kristian] Holbrook and his wife, Haesel Charlesworth, craft for sale at local markets and restaurants neighborhoody and star-spangled alike. ... Doe Run’s flagship, the Gouda-style Seven Sisters, is available all year, as is the Alpine-style St. Malachi, which Holbrook named for the quaint white church at the top of a hill visible from the creamery. But the dairy’s crown jewel is available only in spring and summer. Hummingbird is a bloomy rind American robiola, one of the most compelling artisan cheeses made in our fine state. Or anywhere, for that matter — it won first place at the American Cheese Society’s 2011 conference."


Hillary at the Brandywine Conservancy was kind enough to send me a copy of "Teasel & Twigs: 'Tis a Critter Christmas Tale." It's a children's book featuring the "Critters," the ornaments that grace the River Museum each Christmas. The writer, Paige DD Singer, is a Chadds Ford native (transplanted to Arizona) and the granddaughter of Libby Dean, one of the original Critter creators. The illustrations, by Robert Dionne of Chadds Ford, are adorable, and it's fun to spot the details of the museum's stairwells, the ceiling beams and even the wood-and-rope stanchions that keep visitors from getting to close to the paintings. He even included the Conservancy's "River Rat" mascot throughout!
Proceeds from sales of the book (available online or at the Museum's gift shop) support the Volunteers' Art Purchase Fund, "in honor and remembrance of Critter founders and artists, Libby Dean and Anne Scarlett."


Christmas-cookie bakers beware: not all packages of baking chocolate contain the same weight of chocolate. Both Hershey's Baking Bar and Baker's Baking Chocolate Squares contain eight squares of chocolate, but the Hershey's squares weigh a half-ounce each and the Baker's squares weigh a full ounce -- double the amount of chocolate! The packages look very much the same, but the Baker's one is thicker, kind of like a Droid compared to an iPhone.
As you probably know, I do a lot of baking, but I just learned about this difference a few days ago, and by direct pantry experience.
It's easy to say that consumers should just read the label, but that's tough to do in the jammed baking-supplies aisle when you have a list of errands to get through.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Burrowing into history

Off Route 162 near Embreeville there's a road called "Groundhog College Road." How did it get this colorful name? I asked East Marlborough historian Mary Larkin Dugan (one of my most loyal readers!), and she tracked down this narrative in an old resident's oral history interview: 

"Well, it was 1923 or 1924 they opened Unionville School, so that’s when it was abandoned. We had one in the edge of West Bradford about as far off the Newlin line as from here to the road. West Bradford and Newlin shared it before Unionville opened. West Bradford said, We’ll try it next year without it. And they closed it the following year because they didn’t have enough students for it. That was abandoned for a few years, and somebody came there to do some work one day, and the groundhogs were all crawling in and out of groundhog holes, and somebody said, Look, there’s Groundhog College! That’s where it got its name."

Danilo Maffei, a member of Kennett Borough Council, grew up on the road and said that's the same story he recalls.
And longtime Unionville school board president Guy Hayman, in his history of Unionville schools, wrote this: "Ground Hog College was owned by West Bradford District, but the water supply was in Newlin. A large number of pupils were residents of Newlin who dwelt within easy walking distance of the school. For a number of years, the two townships had operated the school alternately, rather than jointly."
Thank you, Mary, for your research!
I drove down the road on Saturday morning and saw horses, bicyclists, a jogger and some luxuriant stands of bamboo, but no groundhogs, educated or otherwise.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Byrsa Bistro

Joe Lordi treated me to a delicious lunch today at Byrsa Bistro, 102 E. State St., in downtown Kennett. We both ordered the chicken sandwich on a baguette ("Marinated Organic Chicken Breast, Sautéed Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Sharp Provolone Cheese") with a salad and roasted potatoes, and for dessert we split a mixed-berry crepe. Joe liked the crepe so much he said next time he will just order two of them and make that his entire lunch.
Our waiter, Matt, was very pleasant and competent and the place seemed to be doing a very good business. It was the first time either one of us had been to the "gourmet and western Mediterranean" restaurant, and we'll be back! You can see their menus online. And I know this will sound trivial, but their iced tea was just wonderful.
Joe, the retired director of the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library, took me out in return for helping him with his hot-off-the-press book, part 2 of a photographic history of Las Vegas, New Mexico, a town where he spends part of the year.


The conditional-use hearing on Russell B. Jones Jr.'s compost dumping that was supposed to be held before the West Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors on Dec. 4 has been postponed to 7 p.m. Jan. 17. Mr. Jones' attorney, Mary Ann Rossi, asked for the delay so she could try to work out unspecified issues with the Brandywine Conservancy.
Mr. Jones has agreed that no more compost deliveries will be made to his 90-acre site at the southeast corner of Hood Road and Mosquito Lane until the supervisors have held the hearing and made their decision. Although he has a plan for the dumping that has been approved by the Chester County Conservation District, township regulations define mushroom compost dumping as a "conditional use." This means the township supervisors can impose additional conditions on the activity.
Neighbors have told the supervisors they are concerned about the truck traffic, the early-morning noise, and the possible environmental impact of the compost.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cheshire Beauties

On Monday night I saw "Goodnight Ladies," Christianna Hannum's movie about her grandmother, Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, the longtime Master of Foxhounds of Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds. It is an utter delight. If you love foxhunting and/or Unionville, you will want to see it.
The 35-minute documentary opens with a wryly amused Mrs. Hannum reading her prematurely published obituary. Christy goes on to interview her about her life and family and foxhunting and accompanies her on a few bumpy outings over Cheshire's fine hunting country in her iconic beat-up Jeep. These provide some of the film's funniest scenes, as we see Mrs. Hannum inform huntsman Joe Cassidy where the fox is likely to be, and where his hounds should be going, and where he and the field should be headed next. Joe listens politely and patiently and then just rides off in the direction he wants to go.
Another hilarious scene is when a physician visits Mrs. Hannum, taking her medical history. Only when prompted does she mention that she was struck by lightning.
When was this? asks the startled doctor.
Oh, six months ago, she tells him. When he asks her if she sought medical attention, she tells him no; she was still alive, so what was the point?
In another scene shot one snowy morning, Mrs. Hannum answers the phone -- "Cheshire Stables" -- and tells the caller that no, the Hunt won't be going out that morning. She graciously thanks the caller for phoning, and then immediately after hanging up wonders how anyone could possibly think they'd be hunting that morning.
And yes, Christy also gets her grandmother to tell the story about her infamous roadside run-in with that hapless state trooper. There are also some marvelous old photos and archival footage from hunts past. (I'm still amazed that women hunted while riding sidesaddle!)

I could go on and on. It's a great film and it's available on DVD for purchase ($28) at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, or at the Brandywine River Museum's gift shop, or contact Christy at

State police input

It was a good thing that state trooper Lieutenant Rich D'Ambrosio happened to be at the Dec. 4 West Marlborough Township meeting to give his periodic report, because he was called upon to comment on two other topics while he was there.
1. First, he reported that although there have been only three criminal incidents in West Marlborough in the past 3 months (a burglary, a theft and a drug arrest during a traffic stop), southern Chester County as a whole is "getting hammered" by burglaries. He said thieves are stealing packages left on porches by delivery people and have even been known to steal Christmas tips left in mailboxes for mail carriers. (He suggested handing your envelope to the mail carrier directly or leaving it in the mailbox near the time of the usual mail delivery.)
Trooper D'Ambrosio advised township residents to continue to watch out for each other and stay alert for any suspicious cars or unusual activity.
2. An Apple Grove Road resident reported that a dog had been abandoned near her home (this unfortunately happens out here in the country) and asked what she should do. Trooper D'Ambrosio said state police can pick up stray animals and take them to the police barracks, but only if the township has a contract with the local SPCA -- which West Marlborough doesn't. Another resident suggested the township should contact the nearby La Mancha animal rescue on Route 82 in East Fallowfield to see if they would accept strays.
Supervisor Michael Ledyard said he didn't think it was necessary to get the township involved in the situation: "We don't want to get away from our roots of taking care of ourselves." 
Supervisor William Wylie said if the problem continues, the supervisors would look into taking action.
3. And finally, a Newark Road resident told the supervisors that some gang-related graffiti had been spray-painted on a road sign near her home. Hugh Lofting Jr. of the township's road crew told her he would take care of it, and the very next morning he posted a photo of the cleaned-up sign on Facebook's West Marlborough Township page. Trooper D'Ambrosio commented that despite the "tagging," gangs are not a serious problem in the county.

63 degrees in the shade

I know by the time people read this in the newspaper we will probably be plunged back into more seasonal temperatures, but today it's in the mid-60s! Haven't the past two days been just glorious? I was ready to go to the Y to walk around the track but then realized it was so warm that I could take my walk outside, just like it was a summer evening.
First I went back inside and donned my blaze-orange vest, and then I did my usual four-mile route, mostly on our township's gravel roads. I enjoyed the different perspective I got in December. The brush has died back and the trees have lost their leaves, revealing some cozy little hidey-holes for creatures at the base of trees. I paused to admire a beautiful little winding rivulet that normally can't be seen in the more verdant months, with ferns, rocks, moss and little pools. From time to time a bluebird or a cardinal would dip down to get a drink.

Tea Party

The Spade and Trowel Garden Club's Tea Party was delightful, as always. I am sure that my colleague Caryl will give you a full account of it in her "Downwind" column, but just let me add that the food -- tea sandwiches and little desserts -- was delicious and the house, on a quiet road overlooking the beautiful Unionville countryside, was palatial. And hats off (as it were) to the multi-talented garden club ladies for decorating the house, organizing the vendors, preparing the food AND selling out both seatings of the tea!
For me the very best part of the afternoon was catching up with some friends whom I don't get to see very often anymore.

Hail and farewell

A warm welcome to Melissa Wright's baby daughter, born Nov. 29! I have no doubt Melissa will be an awesome Mom. As volunteer-wrangler at the Plantation Field equestrian events, she has shown herself to be perpetually energetic, cheerful and unflappable. Not to mention persuasive: I remember one day I showed up just to watch dressage and the next thing I knew she had roped me into measuring the riders' whips and inspecting their spurs.
And an equally fond farewell to Dr. Ramsey Buchanan, who died at his West Marlborough farm on Nov. 20. Dr. Buchanan was a true old-school gentleman and a good neighbor, and he will be sorely missed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Too funny

I felt like having Mexican food for dinner tonight, so after a quick drink at the Kennett Square Inn my partner-in-crime and I headed to La Pena Mexicana on West Cypress Street at Washington Street in Kennett. I had a chicken burrito and my friend had a steak huarache. Fabulous as always!
But what added even more spice to the evening was the so-bad-it-was-fun dubbed-in-Spanish action movie that was showing on the restaurant's TV. All of us diners joined together in pointing out the glaring plot holes and ludicrous segues. First the hero, a blank-faced guy who carries a pointed stick like the kind park guards use to pick up litter, bursts into a lab where a scientist is just about inject some poor white mice with blue Miracle-Gro crystals. Then the scientist and the hero, who it turns out is blind even though we just saw him drive a plumbing van across the country, are in mid-air in a ski gondola, with a Molotov cocktail apparently left behind by a skier. Perhaps hearing the dialogue in English would have helped, but I doubt it.
I can guarantee you'll get a great meal and a friendly welcome at La Pena; the entertainment tonight was just a bonus!

House concert

The Joe Hillman Band, a local bluegrass/country group, is one of my new favorites. They played at a delightful "house concert" that I went to on Saturday evening and were terrific. The five-man acoustic group (mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo and fiddle) will be playing at the Four Dogs Tavern in Marshallton on Saturday, Dec. 15, and I immediately put it on my calendar.
I was chatting with one of the wives during the show and commented on how talented the band was. She said yes, they practice a lot, and even have their own sort of "Band Cave." She said she and her husband have an agreement: he gets to spend money on instruments and she gets to spend money on horses.
Fun party, by the way: people of all ages and lots of good food -- you don't want to get between me and homemade macaroni and cheese when I'm hungry.
At one point I was pouring myself a glass of cider when a woman arrived at the party.
"You look so familiar," I said, peering at her.
"Well, I should," she said dryly. Turns out she's the nurse practitioner at my doctor's office. I'm just not used to seeing her out of her office garb!

Charles Parks

On Saturday my sculptor friend Joel attended the memorial service for Charles Parks, who died in October at age 90. (One of Parks' most famous sculptures, "Boy With Hawk," sits outside the entrance to the Brandywine River Museum.) Joel, who cast and finished many of Parks' bronzes at his Cochranville foundry over a 33-year span, reported that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and other dignitaries were in attendance and there were "nice presentations, including 3 Parks ballet pieces." The ceremony was at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.

Christmas tour

Sunday, Dec. 9, is the annual "Candlelight Holiday Home Tour" in Kennett Square, sponsored by the borough's Historical Commission. Unfortunately, for the first time in a few years, I'm not going to be a tour guide: I hate to miss it, but my sister's going to be visiting us this weekend. Information about tickets ($20) is available online at
The Chadds Ford Historical Society held its annual Christmas tour in Marshallton this past Saturday, and the village looked just beautiful.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wreckless Eric

A big, fat raspberry to all my so-called friends who refused to accompany me to the Wreckless Eric concert at the Kennett Flash on Friday night: it was a great show. Maybe next time you'll listen to me!
Wreckless Eric was a star of the British New Wave movement of the late 1970s, when I was in college. Yes, at age 58 he's put on some weight and his hair has turned gray, but his voice is exactly the same as I remembered. Now, instead of performing with Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe, he shares the stage with his American wife, Amy Rigby. The two sang for 90 minutes without a break, doing songs from their new CD, a Ramones tribute, and oldies from way back when.
Wreckless told the audience when he and Amy were driving their "clapped-out van full of clapped-out equipment" to the show, he was taken aback when the GPS informed them that Kennett Square was about 40 minutes away from Philadelphia.
"I was like, now hang about, I thought it was Kennett Square, Philadelphia. Like Berkeley Square, London, you know?" he said.
And he wondered aloud what Kennett residents call themselves -- perhaps Kennettians? Or Squares? No one had an answer.
Amy said while driving down the Garden State Parkway they saw a truck labeled "Medical Waste."
Commented Eric: "Oh, I didn't know they were back on tour!"
No matter who the artist is, the Flash is a great place to see a show. It's small, the sound is good and the manager even came around afterward to thank us for coming.