A Sweet Family Activity: NY Maple Weekends are Here!

It’s just about time for my favorite family activity. As we anticipate our annual tradition of visiting a local maple farm, I can’t help but recall a favorite childhood memory.

I remember adding maple sugar to fresh snow to make a sweet treat (don’t worry, scientists say eating small amounts of snow usually isn’t harmful). Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” was a childhood favorite of mine and I copied this trick that Laura’s grandmother taught her. My daughter recently read the story and it will be great to re-enact the experience with her–especially given our upcoming trip to a “sugar house.”

With New York’s Maple Weekends starting soon, upstate New Yorkers can visit a maple farm and start their own family traditions.

Packard Valley Farms

Shevah (r) and her daughter making memories at a local maple farm.

Every spring, New York State Maple Producers Association coordinates events at the “sugar houses” at about 160 farms and museums. This year it will be March 23-24 and 30-31, 2019. Find a place near you!

Most places have hands-on demonstrations of how syrup is made, fresh syrup tastings, and experts on hand to answer questions. Many also have pancake breakfasts complete with—you guessed it— local syrup.

My family loves these maple weekends. This fun family activity signals the beginning of spring, even if there’s still snow on the ground. The highlight for my daughter is sampling fresh syrup, maple butter, and, of course, maple candy.

Making maple syrup

I also love seeing how syrup is made and how natural the process is. While upgrades have been made over time, the basic process has remained the same for centuries. Native Americans in the northeastern United States and Canada were known to make syrup, and today New York is a top syrup producer.

Really, anyone can do it. The process involves very simple, classic steps:

Phase One: Find a sugar, black or red maple tree, drill a hole for a tap, add a bucket under the tap and let gravity work its magic.

Phase Two: Boil! It takes about ten gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Farms have huge vats for this process. And don’t forget to filter the syrup once boiled to remove sediment.

Phase Three: Pour into a sterile bottle and cap. Keep unopened containers in a cool place for up to two years. Once opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Phase Four: Enjoy!

You may notice syrup comes in different colors. Some have rich hues of brown or amber or gold. There’s a reason for this! A syrup’s color and flavor correlates to when the syrup was made; sap from later in the season is often darker in color and typically has a stronger flavor.

More than Pancakes

Maple syrup isn’t just for breakfast.

You can bake with it, using syrup in place of the sugar.

If you’re replacing sugar with maple syrup, you’ll want to use about ¾ cup of syrup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by about three tablespoons.

Maple syrup can also be added to ice cream, BBQ sauce, fudge and kettle corn. Some of my favorite food magazines, such as Epicurious  and Food and Wine , are full of inspiration.

Visit the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Pinterest page for other tasty recipes for baking with maple syrup. (Don’t forget to view the recipes at the end of this story!)

“Just remember, maple syrup is basically sugar so enjoy it in moderation,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A local tradition

If you’re a Maple Weekend newbie, here are some of my favorite places to consider:

  • Cumming Nature Center in Ontario County. Part of the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), the tour focuses on the science of syrup making. This is a big place, so leave time to explore the extensive trails after breakfast.
  • Genesee Country Village and Museum in Monroe County. I’m a sucker for period costumes. You can experience syrup making in the 19th century. During maple sugar weekends, the museum is an especially attractive family activity with free admission for kids 18 and under.
  • Packard Valley Farms in Wayne County. This has been a favorite family activity for the past few years. There is a petting zoo and a hay ride up the road to a restaurant serving breakfast all day!
  • Schoff’s Sugar Shack in Ontario County. This family business uses modern techniques for making syrup. Instead of a tap and bucket, they use tubing to carry the sap into a pipeline.

Other farms to consider include:

Enjoying a Family Activity at Packard Valley Farms

Enjoying a fun family activity at Packard Valley Farms.

Try these (syrup-y) recipes

Print Recipe
Smoky Maple Marinade
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Whisk all the ingredients together.
  2. Use the mix to coat your favorite protein. For chicken, pork or beef, marinate one to four hours. For tofu or seafood, marinate for up to one hour.
Print Recipe
Maple Hash
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in butter or olive oil. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan.
  2. Stir in the sweet potato and onion, scraping up the meaty bits off the bottom of the pan. A splash of water, apple cider or apple juice on the bottom of the hot pan will help this process and add a nice flavor.
  3. Saute the sweet potato and onion until soft, about 10 minutes. (Speed trick - you can soften your sweet potatoes by throwing them into boiling water on the stove or in a microwave safe dish until fork tender).
  4. Once your sweet potatoes are fork tender, stir in the diced apple. Stir this around until the apples get soft, about four to five minutes.
  5. Once your veggies are fork tender, stir the sausage back in. Add the cinnamon, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together about three to five minutes or until everything looks happily married.
  6. Enjoy! It’s delicious on its own or with a fried or poached egg on top.

Hidden Gems: Sonnenberg Gardens

(Photos courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens)

My aunt and uncle recently visited from out of state, and I was deputized family tour director. We decided to make a day trip to Canandaigua which included the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park.

Videos and photos give you a sense of the sprawling 50-acre estate. In person, you can see why the Thompson family kept the name Sonnenberg, meaning “sunny hill” in German. I recommend 2 to 3 hours to visit.

The author enjoying Sonnenberg Gardens on her recent visit.

Volunteers are Key

In 2006, the State of New York declared Sonnenberg a state park. However, the state does not fund daily operations. Therefore, the park relies on admission, donations, and 320+ volunteers who pitch in by driving visitors around, answering questions, and even tending rose bushes.

The knowledgeable, friendly folks we met added charm to the visit. The volunteer who drove us around the estate gave us lots of local stories and interesting information.

The Highlights

The Italian Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

You can wander around on foot and listen to an audio tour available through your cell phone that provides an overview including:

History of the Estate: Sonnenberg was the summer estate of Frederick Thompson, a New York City banker, and Mary Clark Thompson, an area native and daughter of a New York governor. They both came from wealth and privilege, a fact that is certainly on display in their home. Yet they also gave back to the community by funding universities, museums, and scientific research.

Japanese Garden: Mary visited Kyoto, Japan in 1903. This inspired her to hire Japanese craftsmen to build her a garden complete with a Buddha statue and tea house.

The Japanese Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

Rose Garden:  In the original garden, only red, pink, and white roses grew. The garden was reconstructed in 1973 to resemble the original. Today, 2,500 rose bushes are in bloom.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Deer Park: Mary imported European fallow deer and created a special area for them to graze on the south lawn. We saw one up close while we were there!

Roman Bath: Although in ruin today, in 1914 water was pumped from Canandaigua Lake and was warmed for this heated pool.

Mansion: The 40-room Queen Anne style home has large windows and breezy porches. 19th-century furniture, clothes, and accessories give you a flavor of what the mansion may have looked like. You can wander around by yourself, poking through the rooms.

Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Statues: There are a number of statues throughout the park, including one of the Roman goddess Diana (she had her own temple on the grounds but the statue was relocated to another garden due to decay) and a statue of Pan in the rock garden.

The Details

  • Location: 151 Charlotte Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424
  • Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week May 1 through October 31.
  • Extended Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with the exception of the 2nd floor of the mansion and some areas in the Rock Garden. A tram service may be available from the parking lot to the mansion and back.
  • Dog-friendly? The park does not allow pets, except service animals.
  • Admission: $14 for adults (discounts available), $2 for children ages 12 and under

For more info: Visit the Sonnenberg Gardens Website or call (585) 394-4922.

Don’t Miss

Check the online calendar for lots of events throughout the year like an orchid show in the spring, moonlight concerts in the summer, haunted walks in the fall, and holiday decorations in the winter.

Hidden Gems: Upstate N.Y. Spray Parks

Baby, it’s hot outside. This summer, we’ve had so many heat waves that kids can barely play outdoors before they get hot and want to retreat to the AC. But how can they release the energy they build up indoors?  Head to a spray park!

As a Corning native, I remember countless heat wave days of packing up our sunscreen and snacks and heading to “The Fountain” in Centennial Park. If you grew up in the Corning/Elmira area, you probably have similar memories. The Fountain was a huge hotspot for kids in my small town.

The Fountain was basically a huge spout in the middle of a park that kids would play in during the summer. I can still remember the feeling of water pounding on my back and the squishy rubber under my feet. The Fountain provided a relatively clean, free, and fun way to cool off during the summer.

“The Fountain” in Corning, NY

Little did I know that Corning was a little ahead of its time.  Spray parks, also known as splash pads, are popping up all over the country. A spray park is basically an area with a non-slip surface, and various nozzles and features that provide refreshing water in exciting ways.

Spray parks are a great place to take your kids. If my brother and I could spend hours under one water fountain, your kids are sure to avoid boredom in the captivating intricacy of modern spray parks. Here are some you can find in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Binghamton.

Rochester

There are so many spray parks in Rochester; you can almost certainly get to one easily from wherever you live. From Chili to Webster to the city of Rochester, there’s one in almost every pocket of Monroe County.  Most are free, and a couple even have fun themes your kids are sure to love, such as firetruck and pirate themes.

For an interactive map and exact locations of the spray parks check out this link from Rochester Kids Out and About.

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Buffalo

If you’re in the Buffalo region and suffering in this heat wave, you’re in luck. There are accessible spray parks all over the Buffalo region. There are 10 in the city of Buffalo alone, and even more all over Western New York.

For info about all other splash pad locations in WNY, click this link from Fun for Kids Buffalo.

Syracuse, utica and Binghamton

Picking where to go to get your spray on is less complicated in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton. In Syracuse, a popular destination is Camillus Park. The splash pad is pretty new, and is open until Labor Day. The great thing about this park is that if you do get bored of the spray park, there are so many other things to keep you busy at Camillus Park, like a playground and hiking trails.

If you are a Binghamton local looking for a place for the kids to cool off, look no further than Columbus Park.  The spray pad was installed in 2014 and is sure to be a refreshing place to visit.

There’s also the splash pad at  Donovan Memorial Park in Chadwicks, which is outside of Utica.

So the next time your kids are roasting and you still want time outside, pack up some sunscreen and snacks and head to a spray park!

Hidden Gems: Salem Art Works

If you are in the Albany-Lake George area and have a taste for outdoor sculpture, then Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., is well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Salem is a small village located southeast of Lake George on the New York-Vermont border. Founded in 1762, Salem features beautiful 18th and 19th-century architecture. A great place to have dinner is the Salem Tavern, where a Salem Art Works staff member plays records (yes, vinyl) in the bar on Tuesday nights. Running through the area are the Battenkill River and White Creek, which are graced with three classic wooden covered bridges.

Salem Art Works occupies the grounds of a 119-acre farm on the edge of the village. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art center and sculpture park. Large sculptures occupy the grounds and can be enjoyed while strolling the trails of the park. Expect to walk about three miles altogether if you want to cover all of the trails. The park also features some beautiful views of the Green Mountains.

So What’s My Connection?

Just in case anyone who knows me is wondering why this unrepentant suburban redneck has a connection to the arts, let me explain. My high school buddy, Nick Micros, is a recognized sculptor now living in Switzerland. Early this year, Nick told me that he would be moving his collection of six large sculptures from New York City to the Salem Art Works.

Six large sculptures created by Nick Micros.

Having outgrown his studio in New York City, Nick learned that Salem Art Works hosts exhibits of many artists known for their larger works. He welcomed an invitation to show his collection in a rural setting with plenty of space. His pieces had never been shown together in one place at the same time. Nick’s collection will be on display at Salem Art Works for three years.

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe pose in front of one of the sculptures at Salem Art Works.

I told him to count me in as a helper. Given that Nick needed my help, and I only see him every few years, this was a great opportunity to lend a hand and spend time with one of my closest friends. It took us three whole days to set up Nick’s collection, some of which needed to be cut into sections for transportation to Salem. Because the outer layers of these works are made of plaster and cloth, we were able to put them back together.

Just Like Old Times

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe.

Working on the project with Nick was just like old times. Nick and I played football, lifted weights and worked summer jobs together through high school on Long Island. As different as we are (technical geek vs. the artist), our connection is still as strong as it was when we were young. With Nick now living in Europe, we treasured the time together. It was especially gratifying to help Nick with a project that would have been a stretch for Nick to complete on his own.

Opposing Figurative and Abstract Imagery

Sculptor Nick Micros with one of his works.

Nick’s sculptures are a mixture of opposing figurative and abstract imagery. They include multiple large and small objects and represent people, events and times in Nick’s life while paying tribute to modern art masters. Knowing Nick and having grown up together, I found the sculptures to be very familiar. When you see them, expect to be struck by their size and overall form. As you move closer, you will be drawn into intricate details that will keep you lingering with each piece for quite some time.

Hugh McCabe admiring a sculpture at Salem Art Works.

Visiting Salem Art Works is well worth your time. With its mission of supporting emerging and established artists, there is a vibe and energy that is palpable. You’ll have an opportunity to view an amazing variety of artwork in a unique and beautiful setting. It will be worth your departure from the beaten path.

Hope you enjoy the visit!

The Details

Address:  19 Cary Lane, Salem, New York 12865

Phone: (518) 854-7674

Admission: Free. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Park Hours:  Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year

Winter Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (October – May)

Summer Office Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (June-October)

Guided Tours: Available daily during office hours (please call ahead). Self-guided tours are also available, but you can simply enjoy wandering through the grounds during daylight hours.

Hidden Gems: Sterling Renaissance Festival

No summer is complete for my family without a trip to 16th century Warwick, England; or the closest we can get at the Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival

Highlights

Step into the woods at the event, and everywhere you look there is magic.  Both performers and guests really get into character, so be prepared to yell “Huzzah!” and “God Save the Queen!” when cheers grow up from the crowd.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival

The many shows are not to be missed! You can download a full schedule ahead of time. There is music, comedy, theater, storytelling and even a “bawdy” performance at the mud pit. No special effects are used there, just mud and lots of it!

There is also a live joust where you can cheer on your favorite knight. My kids loved riding the horses after the event. The swordplay made an impact, too — my son recently told me, in all seriousness, that he wants to be a swordsman when he grows up.

Another must-see for my family is Don Juan and Miguel. They are a comedic act that my husband still loves after seeing them for 20 years.

The author with her son at the festival.

Festival games are not for the faint of heart. My kids like tossing knives, shooting arrows, and visiting the dungeon museum! There are also people-powered rides powered by the stronger members of the staff.

The author’s daughter, shooting a bow and arrow.

If you appreciate fine artisans and their crafts, there is a lot to look at in the royal marketplace. You can see glass sculptures being made, browse through costumes, and purchase a wide variety of products from knick-knacks to jewelry and fine art.

And of course, you will need food and drink to sustain you for the day. My husband will eat a turkey leg, while my vegetarian daughter prefers the falafel. Luckily there are lots of options for everyone.

Prefer Pirates or Bagpipes?

Check out the themed weekends that are available. We appreciate the discounts on family weekend, bit if you prefer pirates, bagpipes, or a romantic weekend you might visit later in the summer.

The Details

Location: 15385 Farden Road, Sterling, NY
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays, July 7th – August 19th, 2018, 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Accessibility: The main paths are wheelchair accessible and handicapped accessible. Parking and restrooms are available.
Admission: $25.95 for adults (12 and up), $15.95 for children. Additional charges for games, rides and food.

For more info: www.sterlingfestival.com or 1-800-879-4446

Hidden Gems: Unique Coffee Shops in Syracuse, NY

Ask any coffee drinker, and they’ll tell you: coffee has worthwhile benefits beyond the pleasant aroma and morning pick-me-up. Indulging in a local coffee shop’s special brew may be just what you need. Luckily, Central New York has several fair trade, sustainable, coffee shops to satisfy your caffeine needs. Each coffee shop has its own unique vibe for customers. Check out why these spots are more than your average java fix.

Recess Coffee

Drink Coffee, Shoot Lightning!

This slice of rustic, caffeinated heaven is located right on Westcott Street near the Syracuse University campus. At first, you might not notice it because it looks just like the surrounding houses. Owners Adam Williams and Jesse Daino source all their fair trade beans directly from farms that have a mission of sustainability and ethical practices.

Owners Adam Williams and Jesse Daino

“Our goal has always been to create an environment that is accepting of anyone who wants to come in,” said Williams.

Recess Coffee’s signature blend, “The Westcott,” is a medium roast coffee with African and Indonesian blends, infused with chocolate and cherry flavors. Williams says customers prefer it without cream or sugar because it’s just that good!

Feeling a little more adventurous? Then try “The Crazy.” This signature drink is a chocolate peanut butter mocha blend. Brewed with real peanut butter and espresso, this drink seems to drive customers “crazy” with delight.

“Customers can always count on us to give them guidance,” said Williams. “It’s fulfilling to help find something that works for them.”

 

Recess offers “Cupping Classes” once a month. The head roaster teaches the participants how to drink coffee, how to choose the right blend and how to identify certain flavors in Recess’s blends.

“We think it’s awesome there are this many local coffee shops in Syracuse. We’re just happy to be one of them.”

Café Kubal Coffee Roaster

Coffee for the Soul

Originally located in Eastwood, New York, Café Kubal has been another coffee lovers’ staple in Central New York. It now has six locations, including cafes in downtown Syracuse, by the Syracuse University campus and inside Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Owner Matt Godard said he’s committed to making sustainable and great-tasting coffee. For Godard, it’s more than just the coffee. It’s about the people.

Owner Matt Godard

“Coffee started to impress me as an important aspect of any vibrant community because it defines a segment of time—allowing people to connect and share ideas,” said Godard.

You won’t find one button push latte makers here, Godard said. Café Kubal puts a lot of effort and training into their baristas to perfect the art of making your coffee just how you like it.

Kubal’s signature menu item is “The Eastwood.” Named after its first location, the drink is poured with a heart within a heart—representing Eastwood as a village within the city. This drink has a higher strength coffee flavor instead of milk flavor.

   

This roastery imports coffee beans from around the globe, e.g., Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Brazil. Café Kubal even has a unique, naturally processed coffee from Ethiopia – Aricha that’s known for its distinctive blueberry flavor profile and a bright, floral aroma.

Salt City Coffee

Coffee…Where Stories Are Told

In this old colonial-style house on the westside of Syracuse, you’ll find baristas not only know how you like your coffee, but how your family is doing. Aaron Metthe and his wife, Maria, have been serving fresh, fair trade and earth-friendly coffee to this previously untapped neighborhood since March 2017.

Aaron Metthe and his wife, Maria, with their children.

“We get to know our customers on a personal level, and that’s why people come back every day,” said Metthe. “Connections being made here are deeper than coffee.”

Your pumpkin spice latte wouldn’t be the same without Salt City’s homemade pumpkin spice syrup. All Salt City Coffee flavoring syrups are homemade and seasonal, including lavender and maple sage flavors.

Its most popular coffee is from Guatemala. This smooth medium roast has hints of bittersweet chocolate. Another favorite is the coffee shop’s Sumatra coffee. A robust dark roast, Metthe describes it as “a coffee lovers kick in the mouth.”

What makes this spot unique is free delivery service with a purchase of online selections. Delivery areas include Syracuse, East Syracuse, North Syracuse, Camillus, Liverpool and Onondaga Hill.

“What gets me up in the morning is the hard work of my team and knowing that customers accept us as part of the neighborhood,” said Metthe.

Where’s your favorite spot? Tell us why it’s your go-to place for your coffee fix.

Hidden Gems: Wall Therapy in Rochester

I recently went on a slow bicycle ride through the streets of Rochester, stopping at notable city spots, such as the Genesee Brew House and the Rochester Public Market.

But what I really loved were the “hidden gems,” or numerous murals located throughout the city.

Each location left me wanting to visit the next as I admired how the wall art helped resuscitate a dilapidated building or added beauty and color to a normally blank space.

But turns out there was a greater meaning behind the murals.

 

The healing power of murals

The murals are part of Wall/Therapy, the brainchild of Dr. Ian Wilson, a radiologist in Rochester. Wall/Therapy began in 2011 to help address the collective need for inspiration and to heal “the city with new life and energy.”  Believing in the healing power of pictures, street artists from around the world helped create these public art murals.

 

More than just murals

Wall/Therapy seeks to heal through art. But it also helps bring awareness to another project of Wilsons’s, IMPACT! (IMProving Access to Care by Teleradiology). IMPACT! sets up diagnostic imaging sites in developing countries. The volunteer radiologists use cloud computing to help diagnose and recommend treatment for people in these countries. Artists also travel to these communities to paint walls with inspirational murals.

 

Where to find murals in Rochester

There are more than 100 Wall/Therapy murals throughout the City of Rochester.  If you are up for another adventure, there are other murals to explore, including those from M.A.R.C. (Mural Arts of Rochester Crew). M.A.R.C. is a mural arts project where city youth are hired by the City of Rochester and trained in areas such as community art development.

Here are some photos I took of the murals at the the Rochester Public Market:

Check out the locations below and find your favorite piece of wall art. It may help you see the Rochester area in a brighter light.

Wall/Therapy locations

M.A.R.C.

 

Hidden Gem: Whole in the Wall Restaurant

Binghamton locals refer to the Whole in the Wall restaurant as the best kept secret on the Southside of Binghamton.  But the word is out and I was thrilled to see the place full of people when I recently visited the restaurant with my mother for lunch.

What is Whole in the Wall?

The Whole in the Wall restaurant is a farm-to-table, all-natural and organic restaurant that is located on South Washington Street in Binghamton. The restaurant is close to downtown Binghamton but far enough away to provide adequate parking.

The restaurant has a cool, funky ambience when you enter. Additionally, local art work on the walls gives it a more creative, personal feel. The seating is intimate and not too formal, which allowed us to sit back and relax while we looked over the menu.

Garlic Ball – A Must Have!

We started off our meal with their famous garlic ball. It is pure yumminess!! The garlic ball is a huge fresh wheat roll, warm from the oven and is smothered in garlic butter.  It is totally worth the breath mint!!

The very yummy garlic ball.

More Must Haves

Since it was a bit of a cooler, rainy day, we both opted for the homemade cream of mushroom soup. The soup is another signature item on the menu and it surely did not disappoint.  You can tell that the soup is homemade, really fresh and just seasoned enough to not be overpowering.  I love mushrooms and they definitely did not skimp on the mushrooms in the soup.

At this point, our bellies were getting full. But as my mother reminded me, “we had to eat our veggies,” so we both ordered the house salad. The salads were just the right size and filled with tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.  Everything was very fresh and we both cleaned our plates!

Don’t Miss

On our way to the counter to pay our bill, we grabbed a container of their homemade sun dried tomato pesto to take home. The Whole in the Wall chefs make their own homemade pesto in several varieties. It is sold nationwide

If you’re in the Binghamton, N.Y. area, and you grab a bite to eat at the Whole in the Wall, you and your belly won’t be disappointed!

The Details

 Whole In The Wall
43 S Washington St, Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 722-5138
WholeInTheWall.com

Hidden Gem: The Westminster Staircase

Referred to by some as the “Stairway to Heaven,” the Westminster Staircase in Syracuse holds special meaning for those of us who use it.

Starting on Euclid Avenue and leading to a small circular park at the dead end of Westminster Avenue, the stairs are a startlingly serene departure from the hustle and bustle of the University Neighborhood.

From the crest of the hill, you can catch some of the best views of Syracuse depending on the time of year. The stairs and park have been the scene of countless heart-to-hearts among friends, breakups, and even wedding ceremonies. But the stairs remain relatively unknown to the larger Syracuse community.

Is It Really “Hidden?”

To the untrained eye, yes! With the tree cover, you might mistake the base of the staircase for the steps to one of the neighboring Euclid Avenue homes built into the hillside. More observant passersby and those “in-the-know” will see the entrance to one of Syracuse’s more whimsical urban features.

What’s So Great About A Staircase?

Walking up the stairs recently, I could hear the sound of summer cicadas all around me (terrifying for some, calming for me). The noise of traffic was blocked by thick trees and I was surrounded by the lovely smell of earth and greenery. Even though I went on a 90-degree day, my walk up the stairs felt cool and relaxing in comparison to the sidewalk below.

At top of the stairs is Westminster Park, a modest patch of grass surrounded by a loop of road. Mature trees shade part of the park, and there is a solitary bench for weary stair-climbers. Above scrubby trees and bushes covering the sides of the hill, you can see the Carrier Dome and other iconic buildings on the Syracuse University campus. Milkweed growing among the brush is a sign the park may be a good place for watching for butterflies, and I saw a cardinal perched in one of the tree branches.

One More Thing

The staircase is used by many as an outdoor workout course. On my recent climb, I saw several people using the staircase to get in their steps for the day. Even just walking up the stairs will get you winded, so running up them is a great challenge!

The Details


Access the stairs from the south side of Euclid Avenue, between Maryland and Lancaster avenues. Or, enter from the dead end of Westminster Ave.

Please use caution as many of the bricks and cobbles have been worn away by the elements and there are many uneven surfaces. Only those with sure footing should use these stairs.

Hidden Gems: LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Have you ever stopped at a fresh produce stand and found the perfect healthy recipe to feed your very picky kid(s)?  While by chance I did!   Just 25 minutes east of Rochester, off Route 104, the LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo is an enchanting hut that offers a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices.

Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites

My sons and I discovered the gazebo last year when we were in need of corn.  We stopped by the stand and were greeted by the friendly farm staff and quickly discovered what many locals already knew: This is a great place to get local fresh fruits and hardy vegetables.

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The produce is grown at LaMora Farms, a 90-acre farm in Ontario, Wayne County.  The Gazebo also offers recipes.

My oldest son, 7, found a recipe card for Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites (see recipe below) and insisted that we buy the biggest zucchini I had ever seen.  (Did I mention the prices are extremely affordable?  My local grocery store offers zucchini at half the size for double the price!)

Not only did we easily make the zucchini pizza that night, but my son has continued to request the meal on a weekly basis.   (Eating every last slice!)  Check out their website for weekly recipes using your favorite fruits and vegetables: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html .

The perfect family apple

Zucchini is one of our family favorites.  We discovered another favorite last year when we tasted the farm-grown Honeycrisp apples. This is the only type of apple that met both the sweet and tart tastes of my entire family.

In full disclosure, my youngest son and his kindergarten class also enjoyed sampling them, as the LaMora’s kindly shared some of their harvest as an opportunity for the children to learn about healthy eating.

Check out the LaMora’s decadent apple dessert recipes at: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html

A family in the community

The owners, Lindsay and Earl LaMora, focus on sharing easy and healthy farm fresh food.  Lindsay is always looking for healthy ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into snacks and meals.    Daughter Ava, 10, the namesake of the beloved zucchini recipe, and her son Chase, 5, also help mom and dad on the farm.

This year, the first-generation farmers opened the doors to their farm for U-Pick opportunities, starting with strawberries, apples and pumpkins.  (Check out their website, www.LaMoraFarms.com, for the schedule.)    They are also sharing their lives as farmers in their blog, Out on a Limb (http://blog.lamorafarms.com/growwithus/).  And that beloved gazebo?  This year there will be two gazebos to accommodate more fruits and vegetables.

In addition to selling produce at the garden gazebos, the farm can also be found at the CNY Regional Market (Row D) on Saturdays and the Ginegaw Farmers Market on Tuesdays.  In addition, they sell to The Good Food Collective, Upstate Collective and several other food collectives and retail/wholesale outlets.

Best time to visit

While the late spring and summer are great times to visit the garden gazebo, my favorite time to visit is the fall.  The gazebo is always lovingly decorated. But the fall is when the true pumpkin lover, Lindsay, shows off her craft skills. She hand decorates many pumpkins that are available for purchase.

 

The Details

LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Website: http://www.lamorafarms.com