Thursday, October 4, 2018


Stateliest in the realm

By Kevin Conroy
The long driveway feels like primal forest lined with flowers, then it comes into view, all stone and windows, turreted and mossy-roofed. Before you stands the French Manor. 
One is struck with a sense of the majestic. Under a massive arch the door heaves open to reveal a handsome lobby. “Bienvenue!” smiles co-owner Bridget Logan Weber. “Welcome to the French Manor.”
For decades, the French Manor has been a yardstick by which other restaurants have been measured. “The restaurant is so important,” explains owner Genevieve Logan Reese. “It supports the overall business and makes us a destination.” And while this chateau does frame the youthful elegance of Chef Adam LaFave’s dishes, to view the Manor as solely a restaurant would be a disservice.
The French Manor has for many years been a Four Diamond awarded country inn. Built in 1937 by entrepreneur Joseph Hirshhorn to curate a massive art collection, this stone-for-stone replication of a French chateau was purchased by the Logan family in 1990. The Logans enhance the estate on a consistent basis and, in 2009, complemented the inn to include Le Spa Fôret. “The spa is a getaway for adults,” says Bridget.
Poised to arrange a relaxed, pampered, and restorative experience, Le Spa Fôret is an investment in one’s self. An elegant salt water pool greets guests as they enter; the cedar sauna stands to one side, complete with eucalyptus water.
Guests, inn guests and day guests alike, begin at the well-appointed reception area. Essential oils in a number of blends are available for treatments. Bright changing rooms and wooden lockers await; a cozy fireside is the perfect accompaniment for a warm bamboo massage. At dusk, tai chi is offered on the lawn.
In the Spa Suites, massive four poster beds host percale sheets; leather sofas expect to be relaxed in. Out on the private balconies the views are spectacular in every season, often the perfect spot for the Inn’s gourmet breakfasts. Traditional fare as well as house specialties are available at breakfast time. Exceptional is the Healthy Riser, poached eggs served with mesclun salad tossed in extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. So is the Breakfast Parfait of fresh berries layered with yogurt and homemade vanilla almond granola.
“We bring the spa experience to all our guests,” says Bridget.
In the Manor house, Turret Suite hosts a lovely French swag bed and sweeping, thirty-mile view. It is a spot filled with romance.
Evening dining experiences are fascinating. Under the soaring ceiling of the great room, damask covered tables sparkle with fine china and silver, while out on the veranda things are a bit less formal. “Even close to home the veranda feels like miles from everywhere,” says Bridget. Either is an apt setting for Chef LaFave’s creativity.
“Knowing I have made people happy,” says Chef LaFave, “is the most important part of my job.” Chef’s Mer et Terre, pairing grilled venison with butter-poached lobster, shows true genius in his deconstructed béarnaise sauce of Malbec reduction, caramelized shallots, tarragon oil, and cured egg yolk. All Chef LaFave’s dishes are thoughtfully presented and display a master level of creativity.
The major demand facing this business may not be what one would expect. “My greatest reward is our staff,” says Genevieve. “But making the perfect match of employee’s talents to their responsibilities can be challenging.” As a result, the service is not pretentious, but courteous and helpful in every aspect of the French Manor experience.  
Whether dining, lodging, or taking advantage of spa treatments, the French Manor may be the stateliest venue for life’s enjoyments.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Morning on the Lackawaxen

This rail and river excursion made for the perfect outing

A blue heron flushed from the river bank, its wings beating over the water as we slowed our kayaks and watched in silence as it moved downstream.
Five of us kayaked the Lackawaxen that day, taking part in the Rail and River Excursion from Honesdale to Hawley, a good ten mile stretch of water. It gave a sense of peace and excitement to paddle downstream as our guide Dan Corrigan pointed out native medicinal plants and ancient stone walls still standing from the D&H canal. The air breathed cool and refreshing; now and then the water quickened and the boats sped along. Bald eagles lit from treetops. A kingfisher -- A green heron -- A red-tail hawk.
Corrigan, owner of adventure sports outfitter NorthEast Wilderness Experience, in Honesdale, PA, knows the Lackawaxen River: the wildlife, history, plants. He also knows where caution is the rule, and is always vigilant on the water. Dan stands to help with a friendly push at launch or a pull at landing, or to give a hand in and out of a boat.
We pulled up for a couple of stops, one for lunch that was included with the trip and felt just right. Another stop took us to Lock 31, a historic point on what had once been the D&H Canal, which predated the city of Scranton, and was used to transport coal to America’s budding industrial regions.
This river and rail outing was developed as a joint venture between Dan Corrigan and railroad operator Tom Myles. Myles began his career in 1963 with the Pennsylvania Railroad and now operates the Stourbridge Line, a historic twenty-five mile rail route overlooking the Lackawaxen River Valley. Corrigan and Myles are also working together with the State of Pennsylvania on a “Rails and Trails” hike and bike byway abreast all twenty-five miles of the Stourbridge Line.  
Near the end of our river trip fish started rising, some next to the kayaks, and small rapids made for a bit of wet fun. Traveling all morning felt effortless; it consisted mostly of steering downstream.
We pulled out of the river at the Settlers Inn in Hawley, PA, then took a short jaunt to the Stourbridge Line rail platform still sporting cast 19th century benches. The whistle reached us long before the train came into view… right on time! Myles’ beautifully restored 1946 engine, one of the earliest diesel locomotives built, pulled up to the siding and we embarked the passenger car filled with chatting riders.
The train was a restful and interesting contrast to paddling, with lots of conversation. Views of the river came from one side of the car, beautiful northern Pocono woods and cliffs from the other side. As the train pulled into Honesdale we got an intriguing and uncommon look at the town.
The rail and River Excursion turned out to be a morning perfectly spent, one we were woebegone to have end.

Following the Pumpkin Trail

Pumpkins from here to there

An old farm truck bumps along the dirt road alongside a field, edged with sunflowers, where gleaners pick tomatoes for the local food pantry. We make a turn into the woods and come out at a corn field, then drive up a hill to the pumpkin patch. 
Doug Race, third generation of the four-generation Race Farm in Blairstown, NJ, tells about pumpkins planted on high ground to protect from flooding rains, how a best patch, like this one, is set in virgin soil not yet infected with phytophthora, a disease that attacks vine plants.
The first row we walk matures jack-o-lantern pumpkins, their thick skins and deep ribs baking in the sun, turning the bright orange prized by pumpkin carvers. A few rows over, tan-colored cheese pumpkins ripen their heavy, dense fruit of fine textured meat that’s right for baking and cooking.
These pumpkins are destined for the Monroe Farmers Market in Stroudsburg, PA.

Pumpkins add color to the Saturday morning Monroe Farmers Market now that the season has come on. People mill around the produce stands choosing pumpkins depending on their intended uses… Halloween pumpkins are in for October, cooking pumpkins, found all winter, are made into everything from pie to pasta. Rene Mathez, of the Mathez Farm nestled beside the Paulins Kill in Columbia, NJ, suggests some shared qualifiers between all pumpkins: a pumpkin should always have a good handle, and there shouldn’t be any soft spots, marks, or green.  
Maria Menegus of Menegus Farm, from Belvidere, NJ, talks about the versatility of pumpkins, mentioning jack-o-lanterns, sure, but warted and white pumpkins for decorating as well. She uses cooking pumpkins for more than pie and bread, suggesting them as vessels for soup and stew.

Using a squat, tan-colored pumpkin from the farmers market, Chef Nicola Mersini, owner of Momento Restaurant in Stroudsburg, PA, prepares a traditional pumpkin ragout from Tolino, Italy.
Before getting started we split a bottle of mineral water at the granite bar of Momento, where Chef Nicola tells of learning French-infused Italian cooking in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Bordering Switzerland and France at the base of the Alps, Piedmont possesses a sophisticated culinary tradition, one so apparent in Chef Nicola’s work and philosophy.
We begin the dish in the herb garden, where Chef picks fresh sage. Minutes later, at the range, a copper sauté pan heats on the fire. Chef peels and cuts the pumpkin, exposing its brilliant orange flesh, and after putting butter and oil into the pan, adds sliced garlic and slivers the sage; the pumpkin and herb go in next. Pumpkin loves garlic! he exclaims. The pumpkin slowly browns as he makes clear there is a conversation going on between the ingredients. The flavors change shape, some come to the forefront, some recede.
He adds consommé and simmers, in the meantime boiling goat cheese ravioli infused with lemon. The ravioli is tossed into the pan with sweet butter, and the dish comes together simmering under a lid. Once plated, Chef Nicola grates dry Sicilian Ricotta on top and drizzles a little olive oil to finish.
The pumpkin is firm, tender and meaty. The powerful flavors of sage and garlic are tamed to background notes, while the sauce works with the goat cheese ravioli to make this a well-bred dish, just the thing for fall and winter.

Pumpkin has arrived on the menu at the Settlers Inn in Hawley, PA, but the team of Dunsmore and Genzlinger have something other in mind. They carve pumpkins for the Story Telling Dinner at Settlers.
Grant Genzlinger puts pumpkins together as vignettes: pumpkin wine tasters around a table, while David Dunsmore uses pumpkins as an artist’s canvas. Dunsmore prizes mature, thick skinned, deep ribbed jack-o-lantern pumpkins for their superior color.
Dunsmore’s techniques are clever: he may carve the trunk and branches of a tree inside a pumpkin, manipulating the thickness of the flesh to create varying degrees of light, then pierce the outside skin to create highlights that, illuminated from within, display intriguing nuance.
Genzlinger is secretive about where his pumpkins come from. Two months before work begins, Genzlinger visits growers to point out which pumpkins will make the cut, and the final pumpkin head-count is a little over one hundred.
Everyone is invited to participate in carving at the Settlers Inn, and though many hands participate in carving every year, Genzlinger points out that once illuminated and the lights are down, “All pumpkins look good from a distance.”

Pumpkin Ragout
For Each Serving:
1½ C Pumpkin, peeled, seeded, cut into 1” cubes
Salt, Fresh Ground Pepper, Sugar, all to taste
2 Tb Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tb Unsalted Butter
½ Clove Garlic, sliced
2 or 3 large Sage Leaves, sliced
1 C Consommé or Chicken Stock
6 Fresh-Pasta Goat Cheese Ravioli
2 Tb Unsalted Butter
Dry (salted) Sicilian Ricotta
2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Toss the Pumpkin with a sprinkle of salt and pepper; set aside.
Slice garlic and sage; set aside.
Heat a non-reactive pan over moderate heat, add 2 Tb olive oil and 1 Tb butter. Add garlic and cook a few moments, then add pumpkin and sage, sprinkle with sugar, and lightly brown the pumpkin, 6 to 7 minutes. Add consommé and simmer 10 minutes.
Boil the ravioli 1½ minutes, drain and add to the pumpkin along with 2 Tb butter, cover and simmer 2 minutes.
The sauce should be lightly thickened. Plate the pumpkin and ravioli, grate cheese over top, and drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil.