31 May 2011

( sweet sweeps of strawberries, a festival too )

sweet sweeps of strawberries, a festival too
by jennifer hetrick
rounding the corner is a fruit-happy introduction to summer with the jollyview jam strawberry festival at 1560 memorial highway in oley saturday, june 4 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
this is the fourth strawberry festival sponsored by prout’s jollyview farm, a family operation based around a natural, organic approach to producing food for locals on its stretching acres.
“not a lot of people knew we had strawberries,” jillian prout says in explaining how the festival stirred into existence on the expanse of this berks county agricultural landscape.
wanting to get the word out about the strawberries for sale, a festival seemed fitting, especially because prout is a big advocate of educating the consumer about the better quality of freshly picked food meeting the family plate.

her husband ben claimed he’d never crawl down low to pick a strawberry again, since he spent his childhood summers plucking the iconic red fruit on his grandfather’s land. but marrying jillian meant ben would have to abandon that hard-pressed claim. prout says that in-season, she eats strawberries for breakfast and adores savoring their bursting flavor which is often absent from store-bought produce, traveling far from the more corporate farms where food is raised for chain grocery stores.

the festival involves a $5 parking fee, with a portion of the money made going to the oley food bank. in the past, the food bank has supported about 40 families, prout says. but with the strained economy still taking its toll at the local level, the last she heard, the food bank was supporting 70 families in the oley valley.
two bands, the manatawny creek ramblers and vuja de, will spin up some musical delights at the festival, while free pony rides—normally a charged for and expensive, short-lived offering—will be available for the little ones.
studio b’s artmobile and clayote’s pottery-making are likely to also be a part of the mix during the festival.
hayrides, face painting, and strawberry shortcake will complement the fun of the day as well.
prout says last year, around 31 days of producing strawberries marked the early summer weeks. this involved around 5,000 quarts in sum, as a conservative estimate, prout says.
but with a profession almost fully dependent on the whimsical and sometimes unkind ways of seasonal temperatures and precipitation, the availability of strawberries is as they say, up in the air. with this in mind, prout is hoping the seed-speckled red ones will be ready in plentiful numbers for the festival goers.

“i really like the party aspect of it,” prout says, as she basically plans the event all on her own.
the educational angle allows prout to take those who attend through her fields of produce, demonstrating how the most nutrients and flavor are tucked into field-raised food best when they are freshly  grabbed, ripe; fruits and veggies have the most abundant nutritional value when they are ripe on the plant. the minute they're picked, they slowly begin losing nutrients.
prout enjoys teaching her customers the best smarts with healthy eating one intelligence at a time, and the festival each summer is a great opportunity for children to visit a farm setting while they and their parents learn more about food and its origins and better benefits for the body.
to test out some strawberry-picking and the likes of a kid-friendly outing, visit prout’s jollyview farm during its festival or farm stand hours.
also search for prout’s jollyview farm on facebook. 

news, not blues donates an anthology of contemporary poems to the boyertown community library.

news, not blues recently donated its fifth book of poetry this year to the boyertown community library—against forgetting: twentieth-century poetry of witness, an anthology gathered by carolyn forché.

this donation was a suggestion by the berks county poet laureate craig czury, as the next will also be of his best picks.

( pottstown relay for life: 14 years in the making )

pottstown relay for life: 14 years in the making       
by jennifer hetrick

it’s hard to believe that one of the single most successful community fundraisers  for the american cancer society in the state, country, and world is in its fourteenth year and perched right in our own backyard.

but it’s really not that hard to believe, after all, considering how mountains can be moved when people join together, their passion and care evident, and all at the local level—and all in working toward eradicating cancer with the relay for life of pottstown.
in 2010, the relay raised an astounding $729,661 across the efforts of its many volunteers and participants.
since its inaugural event in 1998, the relay for life of pottstown has raised more than $7.3 million, which of course says a lot about the thousands of cancer-connected hearts in the surrounding communities.
the relay for life of pottstown was also the first to introduce bark for life as a way to bring the fast-footed ways of fur kids into the worthy cause.
this year’s relay for life is slated for saturday and sunday, june 4 & 5, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., at pottsgrove high school’s track.
kathy palladino, a participant of the relay and then survivor of breast cancer since 2006, is the captain of the family fusion team, a member of the survivor committee, and the grand marshal for this round. she describes the annual event as one increasingly successful because of its family feel.
“we support each other,” palladino says about everyone involved with the relay, painting out the fundraiser as a huge network of supporters acting and growing as a family each year, with hearts linked through invisible lines because of cancer affecting so many people’s lives.
palladino walks in memory of her parents and has had several aunts and uncles, along with her sister, touched by the painful whims of cancer.
today, she strongly advocates early detection, as her own cancer was contained in a milk duct, which meant her situation ended up less fatal than some. she is extremely grateful for this and digital mammograms now saving more women’s lives.
beyond 120 teams are signed up to fundraise at this year’s relay. the first relay had less than 20 teams, exemplifying how incredibly the relay has bloomed since those early days.
“it’s phenomenal,” palladino elaborates. “and a lot of youth teams have become involved.”
palladino says more young people participating seems to be tied to the fact that cancer is striking at earlier ages in life, and kids want to support their friends.
several years ago, a plant-tucked reflection garden became a part of the relay at the far corner of the track, with separate luminaria away from those trailing their way around the football field.

“we find our bags, sit, and hug,” palladino reveals about the reflection garden being one of the most special parts of the event—a place where everyone can take turns plopping down to slow a bit in their minds, and doing as the garden’s name directly implies, reflect on life, trials, challenges, and loved ones lost yet cherished always, along with those we’re lucky enough to still have at our sides.
“the more awareness, the better our chances of finding a cure,” palladino says, adding that hearing about more cases of remission is what she finds most rewarding about her part in the relay along with so many other dedicated volunteers, survivors, and supporters.
google “the relay for life of pottstown” to find out more, check out its new blog of personal stories, and search for it on facebook.

minutes & money: quality kept.

nearly a year ago, i swept the fledgling concept of news, not blues into the locale. after a while, i elected to take on sponsorships to aid with printing costs, as my wallet only stretched so far. to those who have donated toward those costs namelessly, and to those who gladly contributed with sponsorships, i am infinitely grateful because it shows how people in our area really do care about giving attention to the wonderful parts of our community that deserve exposure and bring positive elements to all of our lives. 

but with pressed minutes in my schedule between a good slew of jobs, and the same situation in my delightful new food writer’s lifestyle (marian wolbers is a gem and is getting a break this volume !), i’ve finally decided to shrink publishing down from twice per month to just once per month. this will also help me to better build up sponsorship funds, to keep the publication afloat. we are still thrilled to be the rare ones bringing you this lil’ old resource and want to do whatever we can to ensure that news, not blues stays a part of the area’s word-swept landscape. if you have any sly ideas for future features, or if you would like to contribute toward printing costs, please feel free to e-mail us at newsnotblues@gmail.com.

thank you for your continued support, encouragement, and eye-time here.

jennifer hetrick
founder & editor of news, not blues

news, not blues volume twenty-two is up for some grabbing.

news, not blues volume twenty-two is out ! 

grab it up, already !

19 May 2011

all-day delish (sans calories)

all-day delish (sans calories)
by marian wolbers

caribbean coconut, clary sage & vanilla, 
chocolate cherry, sweet pea…
or what about the cucumber & melon ?
the vetivert & grapefruit ?
fresh ginger lime silk ?
white raspberry truffle ?


hard choices on this menu: all together, 165 selections, in fact, simultaneously stimulating nostrils and salivary glands, and juicing the mind. the senses unite and converge to select the most tantalizing offering du jour, according to mood, according to desire.

and skin—oh, happy epithelial cells thirsting to be slaked !—the skin wins. that‘s because it‘s a feast for the body (sorry—you can‘t actually eat this stuff !) at amber hills herbs & gifts, which rests in the middle of pennsylvania cornfields and pastureland, amid the flavor of newly mown grass in every breeze this nearly-summer day. tammy abraham, owner and body-care-products chef extraordinaire, smiles broadly at her array of natural soaps, body butters, misters, and lotions.

standing before the soap shelves, she urges: "go ahead ! smell them !" reveling in the beauty of each softly scented soap, reliving every ingredient as she explores each item, she slips a 5-ounce bar of 'chamomile & neroli' soap out of its pretty cardboard box. placed in a bath at night, she says, "this really relaxes."

the next box abraham pulls off the display is decorated delicately, with the words 'cherry blossom' adorning its label. "nice and fresh ! it‘s prissy," she smiles. she takes one more whiff, then adds: "what a fairy would wear—fresh and sweet !"
"the 'raspberry & lemonade' soap has lemon butter in it," abraham explains. "makes me want to drink some !"

as for 'chocolate cherry,' "that‘s just fun!" (of course, it‘s real chocolate.)

savoring one soap after another, discussing each in culinary details, much as a master chef would discuss balance and tone and texture from appetizer to luscious dessert, abraham patiently, happily guides her uninitiated, soon-to-become-devotees of natural soaps, into the sensuous world of old-fashioned, handmade, food-and-herb-filled suds.

( all soap-happy photos by marian wolbers

speaking of suds, she illuminates what the big soapmakers don‘t really want consumers to realize. "when you stop to think about it, sudsy doesn‘t mean cleaner. sudsy means drier ! the more bubbles you have, the drier your skin gets." the big soapmakers, she asserts, strip natural oils in their manufacturing process—forcing us to then buy toners and moisturizers (which is where they re-insert the glycerin).

supermarket soaps were, in fact, the reason abraham began making body-care products in the first place. she was itchy—all the time. "i tried all the commercial soaps. and i got tired of itching." with such sensitive skin, prone to allergic responses, she knew cooking up her own soaps would prove to be a magical solution.

so all her products are made with ingredients like goat‘s milk, and fragrance oils, calendula oil ("good for healing burns"), cranberry butter, and even blueberry seeds (as exfoliants). carrot-seed-oil is the secret to her 'mature woman' soap, smoothing out fine lines and tightening up pores.

for oily skin, there's 'lemon verbena,' which has a deliberate drying effect, and a character that‘s "bright and ―very happy !"

for the kitchen there's a coffee soap, to neutralize all scents. 'gardener‘s soap' is created with orange peel for a gritty feel on one side, plus rosemary, an antibacterial.

the scents of all these products are tender, subtle, never overwhelming, even in the body butters, lotions, and fine mists, reflecting the exquisite sensitivity of their maker. her olfactory powers appear to be an inherited gift: "my father was part american indian," explains abraham. "he used to say he could smell the snow coming…and there was hardly a day he wasn‘t right."

identifying the scent of her cranberry fig milk and honey lotion as "not fruity but home-y," abraham suddenly looks up, a revelation complete: "it smells like grandma‘s kitchen. candy apples ! she used to make candy apples."


imagine—smelling like candy apples ! all. day. long. (who needs food ?)

find these delights at 105 fisher mill road, oley, pa 19547, usually tuesday through saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. call ahead at 610.689.0025. also search for amber hills herbs & gifts on facebook.

p.s. oh, and two cups of catnip (to tuck your cat in).

amber hills also sells the wickedest gift ever for puss ‘n boots—a 'kitty blanket' which is basically a mini-quilt chockfull of premium-grade, long-lasting catnip from the high mountains of canada. absolutely affordable at $6 each, these are cute beyond repair: they‘re sewn with print fabrics that kitties would choose themselves, if they cared about such things. which they don‘t.

just remember what one customer said: "i had to put the darn thing in the refrigerator overnight in order to get some sleep !"

16 May 2011

news, not blues volume twenty-one is outtt.

news, not  blues volume twenty-one is out !

grab it up !

06 May 2011

news, not blues donated rita dove's latest book to the boyertown community library.

news, not blues recently donated its fourth book of poetry this year to the boyertown community library—sonata mulattica by rita dove.

dove served as the u.s. poet laureate from 1993 to 1995. sonata mulattica is her latest book of poems and explores the life of renowned african-polish violinist george bridgetower who lived during the 1700 and 1800s. learn more about dove and read her past poetry at www.poets.org

( ode to the almighty oley pie & over-sized cookie )

( ode to the almighty oley pie & over-sized cookie )
by marian wolbers

pies are more art than cookies. cookies are just clever. – felicia fisher, owner, black buggy baking company, oley, pennylsvania.

felicia fisher bakes.
in the countryside of oley, pennsylvania, right here, right now, even as soft breezes waft across the valley, and late-spring rainshowers sprinkle rich earth that will become wheat and corn in the months ahead, fisher is up before dawn: she’s tossing around silky-fresh flour and mellow, milky-fresh butter, and moistening the mix till it’s ‘chust’ perfectly ready to start becoming a pie. actually, make that 40 to 50 pies.
it’s pie and cookie season once again at fisher’s farm fresh produce, where a green acres gal from long island, a lawyer-turned-baker and mom-of-three named fisher, happily and lovingly churns out handmade baked goods under the moniker of black buggy baking company.
never mind her sordid past helping wealthy people ‘stick it’ to other wealthy people; bbbc appears to be salvation not only for the baker but for all her devoted customers who are known to queue up next to the boyertown farmers’ market stand or the west reading farmers’ market where, on weekends, husband kirk fisher garnishes his own just-picked produce with supersized cookies, fruit pies, zucchini, banana, or pumpkin breads (depending on the  season), and any sort of goodie that strikes his wife’s culinary fancy.

…and fisher’s fancy is always in season. along with two addictive standards, vanilla sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies, the baker is now creating a margarita cookie. “i just started thinking about margaritas one day,” she mused, as though baking possessed a mystical element that inspires. she’s now consumed with putting together the perfect combination of lime, caramel and sea salt. in a cookie shape, that is.
bbbc’s shoofly pie is always cooling somewhere on a rack in the 1800s summer kitchen at the fisher farmstead. fisher’s website quotes one fan whose sugary praise pronounces her ‘the goddess of shoofly pie !’
there are many other pies, though, including blueberry, apple, pecan, raisin walnut, peach, apple, cherry, pumpkin, and more, with crumbly tops or flaky latticework.
the secret ingredients in black buggy’s yummy success are pretty simple, said the owner. first and foremost, she loves what she’s doing. people claim her baked goods make them just plain happy. “it’s comfort food. it’s traditional. every pie has been hand-rolled.” as she labors, often starting at 3 in the morning, she enters ‘the zone,’ a sweet place to be.

( all photographs by marian wolbers )     

bbbc is constantly tinkering with recipes, too; many come from time-tested texts, like the farm wives of america cookbook.
the kids have happy jobs, too: they taste-test.
lastly, bbbc loves all that’s fresh and local (if frocal was a word, fisher would use it). mennonite neighbors supply aromatic herbs for her famous lemon rosemary cookies, while the baking flour all comes from fm brown’s, in fleetwood. fisher loves the fact that not only is the flour priced right, but “it’s milled only a day or two prior to my baking, so it’s my husband’s and my neighbors’ wheat that goes into my creations.”
even her chocolate chip supplier is from pennsylvania. and now her rhubarb—for rhubarb and strawberry-rhubarb pies !—is within grabbing distance, planted by a devoted husband whose family goes back 8 generations in these parts. the definition of love, said fisher, “is the fact that he grew this rhubarb for me.”
bbbc goods are found locally six months out of every year.
visit this inspiringly palate-savvy pie and cookie-swept scene online by searching for bbbc on facebook and at www.blackbuggybakingcompany.com.

04 May 2011

( boyertown community library’s director spills a page about this treasure of a resource )

( boyertown community library’s director spills 
a page about this treasure of a resource )
by jennifer hetrick
the year 1989 marked something integral in boyertown—it is when a community library brushed into the zip code.
two years ago, mark sullivan took over as the boyertown community library’s director after earning his master’s degree in library science in 2004 and working for several years in lehigh county’s library system.
a reflection of the community is what sullivan considers the library in how its staff tries to shape it in the community, including of course an angle of usefulness as its main element.

“each of the berks county libraries is independent, but we work together,” sullivan explained.
“anyone outside of the county has to become a member of their home library first,” sullivan said, “and then, they are allowed to become a member of ours.”
“we try to reflect the needs of the community, which is one of the reasons we became a passport processing facility,” sullivan said about one of the library’s unique attributes when so few places today offer passport services.
free use of computers is another well-utilized characteristic of the library with its computer room in the middle of the building, even in 2011, of all years.
"i think it’d probably be surprising to many people—how many others out there don’t have ready access to the internet," sullivan said. "in a time when most job applications have to be done online, the library offering computer usage is becoming more and more valuable."
the library has more than 70,000 visits per year, with that number certainly including repeat patrons. its system boasts of around 9,100 active members, meaning those who have used their library cards within the past three years.
berks county also offers a loan system where users at any library can request books from others, and they are shipped to a patron’s home library within just days, at no charge.
it costs the library about $250,000 each year to pay for staff, new materials, and general operating expenses. with budget cuts from the state recently taking a toll on local libraries, sullivan hosted a first major fundraiser in 2010 with the goal of gathering $10,000 to put toward the budget.
in the end, $14,000 had been raised, and sullivan said he couldn't believe at first that the number was definitely accurate.

"the people who use the library the most have opened up their wallets," sullivan said, noting that patrons who regularly use the library are incredibly dedicated to supporting it. "there really were not that many large donations— most were $25 or $50 each."
besides offering reading time to pre-schoolers and school-aged children, along with parenting classes and much more, the boyertown community library has one of the most successful summer reading programs in the county.
sullivan collects donated prizes from businesses along the main street in town to use as giveaways for those participating in the summer reading program. this summer’s theme for readers is one world, many stories for a multicultural delve into appreciating the lives, experiences, and perspectives of those perched across the globe.
a unique new asset at the library is a guys read club, which is for boys between the ages of five and nine, and dads are welcome to join.
“it is part of our mission to encourage children to read and make them lifelong readers and learners,” sullivan said about kids and the importance of honing a reverence for books early in life, adding that the reading programs are always full. “the way you do that is to make the library an inviting place that they’ll continue to come back to, taking on a life of its own.”
search for the library on facebook and twitter. 

also visit them online at www.berks.lib.pa.us/boyertowncl.

( mooing & more for the good of a firehouse )

mooing & more for the good of a firehouse
by jennifer hetrick
what better way to spend a saturday in the finally warm weather of spring than waiting for a cow to do its business in the hope that you might win money, if the final plop lands squarely in your favor ?
this is something volunteers from ruscombmanor township fire company are setting into motion may 7 from 12 to 7 p.m. in efforts to fundraise for the nonprofit emergency services agency along pricetown road in fleetwood, berks county.

around 10 to 15 volunteers from the ruscombmanor fire department are working together on this cow-inspired fundraiser, a first of its kind at the firehouse.
vice president and assistant fire chief eric fox explained that a semi-newer member of the fire company, alan shinkus, moved here from the coal region where his former fire department held a greatly-praised and enjoyed cow chip bingo fundraiser in the past. with this prospect in mind, the chuckles bubbling from all directions for those listening to talks of the event, the fundraiser seemed well worth trying in little old berks county.
cow chip bingo, otherwise sometimes called cow pie bingo, is an outdoor game where a field has squared off blocks measured out, and people buy a ticket for one open slot. a well-fed cow is brought out onto the field, and wherever its eventual poop plops, the person who had that block wins the game. if the final winning marker lands across one or more block edges, the one with three inches in diameter wins the top prize.
blocks are two-feet square, with the field’s span in the game measuring to 40-feet-by-100-feet.
in the event that a cow can’t make bathroom rounds on the field, a backup cow will be ready for grazing the grass.
the two cows offering their services are from earl hafer & sons farm in douglassville, while a temporary fence to keep the cows in line is being donated by amity fence in muhlenberg.
the first prize is $1,000 while the second is $750 and the third is $250.
tickets for each block are $10 a piece, with some still for sale. blocks in this case are called deeds. those buying tickets will be known as landowners. in addition to a small block per deed, tickets also include one burger or hot dog and a drink.
landowners don’t need to be present to win the big money involved, but a special door prize winner will be announced at 5.00 p.m., and in that case, the winner does need to be present.
but aside from the main event at the fundraiser, live music is expected to be a part of the day along with pottery time at a small charge for kids, through clayote, a gallery and studio in boyertown. more food and bevvies will also be up for grabs.
volunteers with the fire company began selling deeds in the cold of winter, with more than half sold.
besides watching the cows, eating a bit, doing clay, and listening to sly tunes, some games will also be a part of the mix at this fundraiser.
fox said he and his fellow fire company volunteers are excited to test out the proverbial waters of a new, unexpected kind of fundraiser this spring. while volunteer fire companies generally always need to fundraise in their communities to keep their budgets going well, this is especially all the more crucial for them in a time when they are required to comply with a slow to happen radio system mandated upgrade at the county level, with most new equipment costing departments easily into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
and with this event, fox said he is happy to be able to bring such a festive and unlikely new element to the local landscape for a day in worthy support of the fire company where they average around 200 to 250 calls of service per year to area communities.
to find out more, visit www.ruscombmanorfire.com and search for them on facebook