THREE TOP FALL FESTIVALS LURE FOOD LOVERS TO WESTERN CONNECTICUT

The aroma of steaming chowder, the tantalizing scent of garlic, and the chance to sample the best specialties of Iceland await autumn visitors to Western Connecticut, home to three of the season’s top food festivals.

Chowdafest, New England’s largest cooking competition, will be held at Norwalk’s Calf Pasture Beach on October 12, a new location spacious enough to accommodate the growing fan base, while another popular event, the tenth annual Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival takes place October 11-12, 2014 at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds. The following Saturday, October 18, the fifth annual Iceland Affair and Fire and Ice Music Festival once again will bring fans to Winchester, CT. for a rare treat, one of only two such festivals in the United States.

YOU ARE THE JUDGE AT CHOWDAFEST

At this SOUPerbowl of festivals to benefit the Connecticut Food Bank, attendees are the judges as more than two dozen of the regions best restaurants compete in four categories: classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders, “creative” chowders that might be anything from sweet potato to Cajun shrimp, and bisque soups such as Butternut Squash and Golden Corn. Everyone receives a spoon, pencil and ballot and can sample unlimited chowder and soups, grading entries on a scale from 7 to 10. Winners are announced at the end of the event.

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For tasting variety, samples are offered at the Cheese and Cracker Corner, at ChowdaMex featuring salsas and chips and at a beverage center stocked with beer and wine. The ChowdaKIDS area will provide samples of ice cream and milk as well as free chef hats, coloring books and stickers provided by Stop & Shop, the event sponsor.

Admission is $10 in advance for adults, $15 at the door on October 11. Ages 6 to 12 pay $5, children under 6 are free. Hours are 12 noon to 4 p.m. Proceeds from this food festival to fight hunger have provided over 100,000 meals for the CT Food Bank. For information, see www.chowdafest.org

GARLIC IN ITS GLORY

Foodies flock each year to the Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival where they enjoy cooking demonstrations, informative food talks, lessons in growing garlic, plus free samplings of garlic dips, spreads, cheeses and oils from specialty food vendors. Visitors can buy farm-fresh garlic as well as other bounty from the fall harvest. All of that is the warm-up for some serious eating that includes treats like homemade roasted garlic sausage with peppers and onions, garlic marinated steak sandwiches, garlic roast pork sandwiches, deep fried garlic, and even garlic ice cream.

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Live bands add to the festive feel, fine artisans are on hand offering hand made crafts and young visitors will find rides and games to keep them entertained.

The Garlic Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday October 11 and 12
at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds, Route 61 just north of town. Adult admission is $7, under age 12, just $1. Find more details at www.garlicfestct.com

TAKE A TRIP TO ICELAND

One woman’s love affair with Iceland was the spark that began this unusual festival. Gerri Griswold, a former chef and current broadcaster, visited the “land of fire and ice” and fell in love.
She has made over a dozen trips to Iceland since 2002 and in 2009, decided to introduce more Americans to their northern neighbor in what she thought would be a one-time event in her home town. Instead, the Iceland Affair keeps growing. At this year’s fifth edition at Winchester Center’s Grange Hall visitors will hear experts talk about Iceland’s arts and amazing nature, see prize photography of the land’s lavish geysers and waterfalls, and will be able to sample authentic Icelandic foods such as goat sausage, smoked and dried fish, sensational chocolates and licorice, the special local yogurt known as skyr, pure Icelandic water, and what Griswold calls the best hot dogs in the world.

On the Winchester Center Green the public will meet Iceland’s biologically pure animals including Icelandic horses, sheep, sheep dogs, and chickens. The event will be held on October 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All the day’s activities are free.

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At night, the original small concert in a barn has morphed into the Fire & Ice Festival, to be held this year at Infinity Hall in Norfolk at 8 p.m. Those attending will hear a host of top entertainers rarely seen in this country, and, perhaps discover the next Bjork, Iceland’s best known performer in the U.S.. For details on the festival and information on concert tickets, see http://icelandaffair.com or phone 860-307-6144.

For more information about lodging and other activities in the area and a free copy of UNWIND, a full-color, 152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine in Fairfield County and the Litchfield Hills of Western Connecticut, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or visit their web site at www.visitwesternct.com

THE BEST FOLIAGE TOWN IN NEW ENGLAND? YANKEE MAGAZINE PICKS KENT, CONNECTICUT

Kent, Connecticut has many claims to fame—two state parks, a 250-foot waterfall, rural beauty combined with sophisticated shops, galleries and museums.  But this fall there is new reason to boast.  Yankee Magazine has named this charming village in the Litchfield Hills of Western Connecticut the peak spot for leaf-peeping in all of New England.

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In one day in Kent, says Yankee, you can drive through rolling hills beside a twisting river, stop for thick hot chocolate and an pastry, hike the Appalachian trail, picnic with a panini by a waterfall, shop for Buddhas or modern art and bite into a crisp native Cortland apple, perhaps in the shade of a historic covered bridge.

This praise is no surprise to those who know Kent and its unique blend of attractions.  A newly published free color brochure with map will help newcomers find their way around.

Foliage watchers who like their leaves close-up on a hiking trail should head for Macedonia Brook State Park, where 2300 acres offer extensive leafy trails.  For views, the Blue Trail is hard to beat with its fantastic vistas of the Catskill and Taconic mountains.

In Kent Falls State Park you can admire the falls from the bottom or hike a quarter-mile up the hill and feel the mist on your face as the water cascades down 250 feet on its way to join the Housatonic River.

The Appalachian Trail runs through this area, and hikers who want scenery without stress will enjoy the Housatonic “river walk,” a peaceful stretch beside the river that is the longest essentially flat section along the entire trail.

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For more worldly diversions, take a walk along Route 7, Kent’s Main Street, lined for miles with irresistible stops.  Five antiques shops beckon, including Pauline’s Place and Koblenz & Co., known for their antique jewelry.  Among the many shops and galleries, Heron American Craft Gallery shows the best work of American craftsmen, Foreign Cargo offers unusual clothing, jewelry and art from Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands and the Kent Art Association is just one of five fine art galleries in town.

Take out the camera for Bulls’ Bridge, one of three remaining covered bridges in Connecticut dating from the 19th century.  George Washington crossed the Housatonic River near the site of the present bridge in 1781.

Just north of town is the Sloane-Stanley Museum.  Eric Sloane (1905-1985) was a prolific artist, author and illustrator and an avid collector of Americana. The museum includes the artist’s studio, examples of his art and his extensive collection of early American handmade tools, beautiful objects of wood that are virtual works of art.  On the property are the remains of the Kent Iron Furnace and a diorama explaining the once-booming local iron industry.  Next-door is the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association Museum, a unique display of steam and gas tractors, a working narrow gauge railroad, an industrial hall with working steam engines and mining exhibit building.

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When hunger pangs strike in Kent, the Panini Café is the place for a tasty picnic sandwich, and for a treat the Kent coffee and Chocolate Company offers the “best hot chocolate in Connecticut.”  For dinner, the Fife & Drum is a long time favorite for continental dinners with nightly music, Bull’s Bridge Inn has a choice of fine dining or pub fare, and Doc’s Trattoria serves excellent Italian fare and has a pleasant patio for fine fall days.

For a copy of the new free guide and map of Kent and a free copy of UNWIND, a 163-page color guide to lodging and dining and other regional attractions in all of the Litchfield Hills contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.litchfieldhills.com.

Bruce Museum’s 31st Annual Outdoor Arts Festival Saturday and Sunday, October 6 and 7, 10 am to 5 pm

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The Bruce Museum’s 31st Annual Outdoor Arts Festival takes place rain or shine on the grounds of the Museum on Columbus Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 6 and 7, from 10 am to 5 pm. The Festival is a juried event featuring more than 85 artists selected from across the country. Paintings, photography, drawings, prints, sculptures, and mixed media pieces are all available for purchase. The Festival also includes live music on both days as well as many fun, educational family activities, and a variety of food choices.

On Saturday, live performances include the dance-inducing rhythms and sultry harmonies of the Connecticut-based band The Juicy Grapes from noon to 4 p.m. and, at 2 p.m., an oil pastel demonstration by Carol Boucher on the front steps of the Museum.

On Sunday, world-class instructors from Dance With Me Stamford, part of the chain of ballroom dance studios that are home to ABC’s Dancing with the Stars professionals Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Tony Dovolani, will teach a dance class and give a dazzling ballroom performance in the Lecture Gallery from noon to 2:00 p.m., and Carol Boucher will repeat her oil pastel demonstration at 2 p.m.

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Exhibitors compete for cash prizes in six categories: oils and acrylic on canvas; watercolor and acrylic on paper and under glass; graphics and drawings; mixed media; sculpture; and photography. In addition to individual category prizes, there are two major awards given: “Museum’s Choice Award” and the top prize of “Best in Show.” One of the Bruce’s most popular events, the event annually draws thousands of visitors.

The Bruce Museum is open during Festival hours and will feature new exhibitions highlighting the sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, recent gifts to its collection, and desert habitats.

Festival admission is $8 and includes general admission to the Bruce Museum. Admission is free to members and children under 5. The Bruce Museum is located at One Museum Drive in Greenwich, Connecticut. The Museum will be open for the Festival from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. The Museum galleries will also be open for the Monday Columbus Day holiday. Festival parking is available in the Island Beach parking lot at Arch Street and Steamboat Road. The Museum is accessible to individuals with disabilities. For additional information, call the Bruce Museum at (203) 869-0376 or visit the website at http://www.brucemuseum.org.

Amazing Mazes Beckon Autumn Visitors to Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills and Fairfield County

The mazes are amazing. Imagine acres of tall corn cut into twisting paths in whimsical shapes from crossword puzzles to bumblebees. Finding your way amidst these mazes of maize is a fun-filled adventure for all ages at four beautiful family farms in western Connecticut. Located in Litchfield and Fairfield Counties, the farms also offer hayrides, animals for petting, and apples and pumpkins ripe for picking to make for a perfect fall weekend outing.

Ellsworth Hill Farm in Sharon may take the prize for originality this season with a crossword puzzle maze covering four acres. Pick-your-own apples is another favorite activity at this berry farm and orchard. On hayrides at Ellsworth Hill “Farmer Mike” shows off the glowing foliage-covered hills of northwestern Connecticut and tells about the fruit varieties he grows on the farm.

One of the most elaborate maze designs is the bumblebee at Plaskos Farm in Trumbull. Plaskos is known for the imaginative designs cut each year through four acres of ten-foot-high corn. Crazy Cows, Spider Webs, and Lady Liberty are among the past creations. The twisty mazes provide some 15 miles of trails, but frequent escape hatches mean everyone can choose their own distance. Once again, hayrides are a scenic way to the fields.

Littlest guests will find a new treat this year at March Farm in Bethlehem, where a new Sunflower Maze designed for children is ready for action along with the traditional five-acre corn maze. This year’s main maze theme is designed to teach the value of composting. Along with the chance to pick your own apples, treats at this family-friendly farm include hayrides, and an animal farm where pygmy goats, lambs and llamas can be visited. An expanded Hayloft Playscape invites youngsters to enjoy a mini-hay loft, school and farmhouse, slides, a climbing wall and a tractor-themed sand play area.

Families also enjoy the six-acre corn maze in a unique triangle shape and the four-acre pumpkin patch awaiting visitors to Castle Hill Farm in Newtown. As an added treat, hayrides at Castle Hill bring visitors through a stream to the corn and pumpkin fields. Farm animals for petting and pony rides provide more treats for youngsters.

All of the mazes are open weekends through October, some into November. For exact hours and admission fees, check with each farm listed below or contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, http://www.visitwesternct.com.

Information:
Castle Hill Farm 40 Sugar Lane, Newtown, 203-426-5487, http://www.castlehillfarm.biz
Ellsworth Hill Farm, 461 Cornwall Bridge Road (Route 4), Sharon, http://www.ellsworthfarm.com
March Farm, 160 Munger Lane, Bethlehem, 203-266-7721, http://www.marchfarms.com
Plaskos Farm, 670 Daniels Farm Road, Trumbull, 203-268-2716, http://www.plaskosfarm.com

Hills, Fall Foliage, and Family Fun in Litchfield Hills Connecticut