Chow Bella

Nice to be missed

You know it's time to blog again when somebody drops a line to ask if the food world has stopped!

Thankfully, the answer is no. I was just out of town last week for a way overdue visit with my family back in Pennsylvania. It was sort of my early Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one, timed perfectly to catch the gorgeous fall scenery. They had a late autumn this year, and every day, I drove through mountains and hills colored in shades of bright yellow, red, orange, and copper. I don't miss the cold winters back there (they got four inches of snow the day after I left), but fall is something I always long for, especially the sweet smell of dried leaves.

It wasn't a huge culinary adventure restaurant-wise -- you can only eat so many cheesesteaks before the novelty wears off. But the real highlight was all the yummy home cooking that I try to approximate in my own kitchen, but can never quite match. The first night back, Grandma Laudig made an awesome dinner of chicken and waffles, which, I guess, are more of a Pennsylvania Dutch style, with roast chicken and gravy with waffles AND a side of mashed potatoes.

I also ate way too much of my mom's lasagna with sweet Italian sausage, mom's homemade clam chowder, artichoke pie, steaks on the grill (even though it was cold and rainy outside), and an early Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Every day came with a new dessert to eat, from pecan pie and banana cream pie to homemade fudge and Michigan Rocks, these great cookies filled with walnuts and dates.

Another highlight was our trip to Seneca Lake in New York -- a gang of us went up in my mom and stepdad's motorhome, which made for a great party on wheels. There are dozens of wineries all around the lake (which is so scenic), and we had fun stopping every half mile or so to do another tasting. The area does a lot of good Gewurztraminers and Rieslings, although there are plenty of red varietals too. Apparently some of the grape hybrids are new to the wine world, developed at Cornell University. Most places charge a buck or two for five or six pours.

Around five o'clock, when the wineries close, we headed back down to Watkins Glen, the town at the southern end of the lake. In the summertime, it's a big destination for car races -- when I was a kid, my dad took me there and we got to see Paul Newman drive his racecar. Anyway, we had dinner at the Crooked Rooster Brewpub, home to Rooster Fish Brewing. A dark nut brown ale, sweet potato fries, and a ginormous burger with a grilled portobello mushroom was enough to knock me out for the drive home.

When I wasn't busy eating (I think I gained five pounds in the last week!) I did a lot of antiquing -- central PA might be the boonies, but there is a ton of neat old stuff to be found. And one day, we took a four-hour drive out to western Pennsylvania, to see two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, Fallingwaterand Kentuck Knob.

Fallingwater was one of the absolute coolest things I've ever seen in my life. It's built right on the side of a mountain, cantilevered over a creek with a waterfall just below it. Somehow we lucked out and got a tour guide all to ourselves, so we were able to ask all kinds of questions and get plenty of time in each room of the house, which was built back in the '30s by the Kaufmann family (of the Kaufmann department store chain).

It still contains the original furnishings, also by Wright, and has so many amazing features, from a glass-enclosed stairwell that takes you down from the living room right to the creek, to clever built-in desks and shelves and cabinets, to a fireplace that incorporates a huge mountain boulder that runs from the inside to the outside of the building. There was amazing original artwork at every turn, including Picassos, Diego Riveras, and rare Japanese woodblock prints that Wright had given to the family.

Kentuck Knob was several miles away, on top of a forested hill with a scenic 50-mile view just steps away from the house. This was a supersized Usonian house, with a hexagonal kitchen at the core, and funky rooms shooting off of it. There was hardly a 90-degree angle in the place. While Fallingwater is basically a museum now, entrusted to the Western PA Conservancy, Kentuck Knob is still a private residence, now owned by a British lord. He lives in a big farmhouse at the bottom of the hill, but still uses the Wright house for entertaining. On our tour of the place, we were impressed by his incredible collection of Wright furniture from various properties and time periods, plus some neat pieces by Claes Oldenburg, Frank Geary, and Andy Warhol.

We thought, "It's good to be Lord Palumbo," and imagined him zooming through the hills in a Jaguar.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig