The Meat House in Walpole, Mass., to Add Sit-Down Dining Area

The Meat House, a national butcher shop chain specializing in meats and gourmet grocery items, will bring a sit-down dining area to its Walpole, Mass., location in the next few weeks.

I spoke last night with Jeff, the general manager at the Walpole Meat House, who told me that the dining area will feature chairs and tables, a couch, wide screen televisions and free WiFi. Customers will be able to order from the deli sandwich menu at the counter. Additionally, an extensive salad bar will also be part of the new cafe. A partition will separate the cafe from the butcher shop, thus helping create more ambiance and definition to this elongated storefront.

The Meat House is a local success story, opening its first store in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2003 and eventually expanding to 30 stores in nine states (and with more on the way). The Walpole Meat House is located at 655 Main St., and is open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tel. (508) 668-2250.

Plitvice Lakes: Croatia's Finest

Somewhere halfway between the capital city Zagreb and Zadar on the coast, and in the mountainous region of Licko-Seniska county, lies Croatia's largest national park and the oldest national park in Southeast Europe. This lush valley of 16 turquoise interconnected lakes, laced together by a series of waterfalls, separated by natural dams of travertine, set in a deep woodland and miles of pleasant wooden-plank walks that follow the rumbling water is what makes this lake outrageously phenomenal. A place truly incredible and worth a million words... one of nature's finest – The Plitvice Lakes.

Discovered In 1949, Plitvice composed of 19.5 hectares of woods, lakes and waterfalls became the first national park of the Republic of Croatia. In 2000, the national park was expanded by a further 102 km². The Plitvice lakes are enclosed by the Mala Kapela mountain in the west while the eastern side are enclosed by the Plješevica mountain, which also represents the border to Bosnia and Hercegovina. The two largest lakes of the park Prošćansko jezero and Kozjak cover about 80 percent of the overall water body area. These lakes by the way, are also the deepest with a depth of 37 and 47 meters respectively. The 16 lakes that can be seen from the surface are clustered into the 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) and the four Lower Lakes (Donja jezera). Further, the lakes are renowned for their distinctive color ranging from azure to green, gray or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.

30 years later, Plitvice Lakes National Park was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in recognition of its “outstanding natural beauty” thus declared it with all rights as the World's natural inheritance. What sets Plitvice lakes apart from the other known lakes is the fact that they do not represent separated, stationary waters. “The lakes altogether have always been seen as one composed system of lakes.” And as a World Heritage Site, Plitvice maintains a pristine environment that is nearly primeval in its beauty. This is the reason why swimming in the lakes is strictly prohibited.

So when in Plitvice, you have three options for exploring the site - you can either walk through the park and look for wildlife as you hike, or take an electric boat to take you from one side of the lake to the other or ride on a shuttle bus (panoramic train) to take you to a particular route to the park. Whichever way you want it, they all offer different views and a different experience while in Plitvice. Best of all, Plitvice Lakes National Park is open all-year round.

Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield, Mass., is More Than an Apple Picking Orchard

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Apple picking season is over at Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield, Mass., but you can still "pick your own" fun activity at this fourth generation Central Massachusetts family-run business.

A great variety of apples is still available in the main indoor store. We bought a peck for $10 last week, and they are all gone -- the taste of the Cortland, Macs and Red Delicious we bought were absolutely fresh with that "just picked" taste! You can "mix and match" apples from the bins.

The snack area offers one of the most amazing apple dumplings, with the option to add some deliciously dense and creamy vanilla ice cream as well as Vermont-like cheddar cheese. Do not fret about adding the cheese to the dumpling, it is a surprisingly good combination.

Apple dumpling (photo by Eric)
What makes Brookfield Orchards a "must visit" destination beyond apple picking season, however, is the country store. One would not expect a country store that goes beyond an afterthought or "window dressing" an at apple picking destination, but Brookfield Orchards offers an authentic country store. We love browsing the antiques, collectibles, crafts, toys, books, cheeses, cider, maple syrups, jams, honey, etc. The country store starts out looking like a big garage and then turns into a quaint, charming, moderately-sized shop.

Finally, the fresh air and views of the apple orchards and rolling hills make Brookfield Orchards a visual delight. It's a scene that makes people linger, not wanting to leave this peaceful, idyllic paradise. So, yes, there is life beyond apple picking at an apple orchard in the New England fall!

Brookfield Orchards
12 Lincoln Rd.
North Brookfield MA
Tel. 508- 867-6858

American Planning Association Chooses College Hill in Providence, R.I., in its "America's Best Neighborhoods"

A pleasing scene at Prospect Terrace Park, College Hill,
Providence, R.I. (photo by Eric)
Congratulations to the College Hill neighborhood of Providence, R.I., for making USA Today's "America's Best Neighborhoods", as designated by the American Planning Association (APA).

The APA chose "10 neighborhoods, streets and public spaces" in our nation that met its high standards of community excellence criteria, and they clearly thought very highly of College Hill. In the article, you'll see marvelous photos of historic Angell and Benefit Sts.

No argument here on College Hill receiving this accolade!  To me, College Hill resonates as the jewel of Providence -- an already great city, overall. The brownstone architectural elegance, stately Colonial and Victorian homes, beautiful Prospect Terrace Park, the presence of  Ivy League Brown University, as well as the Rhode Island School of Design, make for a fabulous neighborhood. And what a fantastic place to stroll to a village-like area of shops and restaurants along Thayer Street, North and South Main Streets, Waterman and Angell Streets.  In a way, you don't even feel like you're in the city; rather, it's like a bustling small college town.

Although I could think of several other neighborhoods in New England that are every bit as nice as College Hill, the American Planning Association made a nice choice here!

A "Nacho" Above the Rest at the Ninety Nine Restaurant in Billerica, Mass.

The Ninety Nine Restaurants chain set a Guinness Book of World Records achievement for building the world's largest nachos with a weight of 3,999 lbs. (notice the "99" in the total weight?) at its Billerica, Mass., restaurant. What a great idea to kick off Boys and Girls Club Fundraising month by raising $2,000 with this event.

The Boston Channel reports that four teams of five people created the larger than life nachos plate with 1,105 lbs. of nachos, 825 lbs. of Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses (melted using oversized torch guns!), 439 lbs. of cheese sauce, 451 lbs. of salsa, 459 lbs. of chili, 199 lbs. of jalapeño peppers, 90 lbs. of diced red onion, 421 lbs. of sour cream, and 8 lbs. of chopped cilantro.

Holy molecular gastronomy! Kudos to the Ninety Nine Restaurants Executive Chef George Tagareli and staff for creating this plate that benefits the Boys and Girls Club in their fundraising efforts.

Idyllic Grafton, Vt., Rebounding Nicely from Hurricane Irene Floods

Grafton, Vt., is perhaps the most idyllic Vermont community, in my mind. There's so little here, but, ultimately, this community has everything you could ever want as a Vermont traveler looking for a true getaway -- a classic old inn (the Grafton Inn), a few shops to enjoy (including the phenomenal Grafton Village Cheese), a covered bridge, tree-lined streets to stroll and beautiful southern Vermont mountain views. Unlike some of the fabricated, superficial Vermont towns (you know, restored to look more like an outdoor museum than a real town), Grafton is the real deal.  It was so sad for us to hear how the community was greatly damaged by a flood, due to August's Hurricane Irene. Most of the downtown district escaped harm, as the outskirts received the brunt of the violent storm's damaging effects. However, Grafton has made a rapid recovery -- fantastic news for the residents as well as travelers looking for that fall foliage magic in the area. Amazing the community has rebounded so quickly, given the stories we were hearing not too long along from the local and national news.

I recently received an email from Julia Lyon, of People Making Good (a PR firm out of Burlington, Vt.) describing Grafton's comeback:

After experiencing devastating flooding resulting from hurricane Irene, Grafton Village Cheese and the town of Grafton, VT have recovered at an astonishing speed and are in the midst of a spectacular fall foliage season. Grafton Village Cheese has been the maker of world-class artisanal cheddar for over a century, and the creamery is proud to be back to hand-making their traditional cheddars as well as aging their new varieties in the cheese cave.

And here is some additional info Julia sent us on Grafton Village Cheese:

With plenty of time until Vermont’s foliage season begins, Grafton Village Cheese of Grafton, VT has fully recovered from the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene that recently affected the area. The cheese creamery and village of Grafton were able to pull together quickly to rectify any and all damages. Grafton Village Cheese’s retail stores in Brattleboro and Grafton are both open for business. The scheduled milk deliveries are now back in place allowing for both locations to be handmaking cheese, including usage of the cave aging facility at the Grafton location. 

The main points of access, Route 35, Route 30 and Route 121 in and out of Grafton, VT are open.

This is just great, great news! We hope you can check out Grafton, Vt. It's a true New England gem of a community, and we're so happy to hear that our New England neighbors up there are doing so much better!

The Amazing Loch Lomond

Many of us live in cities with all the crowds, stress, noise and dirt in the environment. Most probably we have not often come across nature, searched for it or even be one with it. But there is this marvelous place in central Scotland that will surely blow you away; a dream place for those wanting to escape from a boring and almost monotonous pace of city life.

With exuding natural beauty of a 24-mile-long freshwater lake interspersed with picturesque islands, diverse landscapes and medieval castles, all these existing components makes up the lovable loch that we call, the Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is a freshwater Scottish “loch” lying on the Highland Boundary Fault, the boundary between the lowlands and highlands of Central Scotland. Measuring 27 and a half square miles, it is the largest single inland waterway in Great Britain (by surface area), the second largest lake in Scotland and most probably the most famous lake after Loch Ness. It is now part of the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, Scotland's first national park and most spectacular visitor destination. The loch has 30 or more other islands, some so small that they disappear when the water levels are high, and others large enough to be (sparsely) inhabited. One of the loch's islands, Inchmurrin is the largest island in the British Isles, while Inchconnachan island is home to a colony of wallaby (marsupial), its young is known as “joey” just like many other marsupials.

The very name Loch Lomond depicts nothing but nature in perfection. The main tourist focus is on the western shore, around Balloch. This is the place to head for boat trips and home of the Maid of the Loch, an authentic paddle steamer and utterly unique venue for events and functions. Further, development is attracting large numbers of visitor like the this magnificent addition to the area, the Mull Railway, which will link Balloch and Loch Lomond Shores. Also on the western side are the villages of Arden, Tarbet and most northerly, Adlui. Arden boasts Scotland's most beautiful Youth Hostel. The most picturesque of the loch's villages is Luss on the west bank. Its streets are laid out in a linear pattern and were originally part of the planned estate village built by the Colquhouns. Recently restored, they present a pretty sight.

The loch is one of the country's premier boating and water sports venues. It is open to every kind of watercraft including kayaks, canoes, wind-surfers, jet skis, speedboats and cruisers. Having said all these, Loch Lomond presents the perfect retreat for the young, the old, the busy people who deserve to enjoy or get a life!