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Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market Annapolis, Maryland

Amish donutsLately I’ve split my time between Massachusetts and Maryland houses. Packing up one and preparing the other for arrival. Amidst the chaos which is packing and preparing, I’ve spent a little time exploring my new home.

One of my favorite discoveries is the Amish culture of Maryland. Being from Pennsylvania, I’m familiar with the life of the Amish. I’ve spent time in Lancaster, Bird-in-Hand and other Amish communities, appreciating their handiwork and especially enjoying their cuisine.

So when I discovered that my new town is very close to the Amish community, I was gleeful. For the past twenty years or so, I’ve lived in areas where farm stands are few and far between, local eggs have been almost impossible to find and fresh farm butter? Absolutely nonexistent.

That’s a thing of the past as I’m now an easy drive from dozens of farm stands and local food producers. It’s a foodie’s dream come true. One of my favorite finds was the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers’ Market in Annapolis.

The market is located in a strip mall and looks unimpressive from the outside. But once you step in the doors, your senses are assaulted in the most welcome of ways. The scent of freshly fried chicken mingled with the sweet smell of fresh fried donuts will render you powerless against the calories that are sure to come.

amish girl donutsIf donuts are your thing, and how could they not be, then you’ll be in fried dough nirvana. Right in front of your eyes the donuts are freshly prepared. Bacon chocolate, Fruity Pebble topped, toasted coconut….. you name it, they make it. I was especially thrilled to find hot glazed apple fritters, my all time favorite.

Amish BakerMaybe you’re more of a sticky bun person. If so, then once again you will be beside yourself with joy as you watch the baker hand roll, cut and glaze more varieties than you even thought possible made right before you.

Amish BakerSeriously, cinnamon rolls for miles. I could watch the ladies make these for hours if I had the time. Make no doubt about it, I’ll be a regular spectator soon enough.

And if all of that isn’t enough to entice you to indulge, there are shelves stacked tall with freshly baked cakes, breads, cookies, muffins and other baked goods that I didn’t even know existed until this past weekend. If you are hankering for a sweet, I guarantee this is the place for you.

amish sticky buns

Amish Market ButcherJust to the right of the bakery you will find a large meat case full of the loveliest cuts of meat. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is where I’ll buy my meats because not only are the prices competitive with the local grocery stores, the cuts of meat are of a higher quality. Just one look at the steaks sealed the deal in my mind.

Amish DeliAnd then there’s the deli. Locally cured bacon, freshly made scrapple and long ropes of farm sausage. Oh, and take a look at those ham hocks. Can you say bean or split pea soup? I predict next winter will be the year of the soup for my family.

amish fried chickenAnd for the nights I don’t feel like cooking? Believe it or not, that happens on occasion. On those nights I’ll be picking up boxes of fresh fried chicken or smoky baby back ribs along with homemade potato and pasta salads from the deli. If I’m going to eat fast food, this is the way it’s going to happen.

amish cheesesAre you hungry yet? But wait! There’s more! Hidden in the way back of the market is one of the very best cheese counters I’ve ever seen. I used to think Whole Foods had the very best selection for cheeses. No longer. The Amish Market for the win. Not only do they have a vast selection of cheeses, the prices were the lowest I’ve seen. Hello epic cheese boards!

amish quail eggsNext to the cheese case is a cooler filled with organic milk, local eggs, fresh churned butter and dozens of tubs of flavored cream cheeses. A dairy lover’s dream come true.

You can also find a vast selection of bulk spices, candies, dried fruits and nuts, savory salty snacks, fresh fruit and even flowers. The only thing they don’t sell are stretchy pants which might not be a bad idea to offer right when you walk through the doors.

If you’d like to visit the market, be sure to remember that they are only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Check out their website for hours and be sure to bring your appetite. With all of the ready to eat foods waiting for you, you’re sure to satisfy any sweet or savory craving you might have.

Packing Up the Toy Box

PinocchioMy house is in a state of shambles. Boxes line the hallways and bags destined for Goodwill are filling the garage. We are in full blown moving mode and it isn’t pretty.

While the divorce itself was painful, the sifting through shared memories with my ex has been equally hard to handle. The division of Christmas ornaments alone nearly gutted me. Going through that box with my former husband was excruciating. So many precious handmade ornaments made by our children. Dividing them by the “one for you and one for me” method seemed almost disrespectful to those memories.

But we did it. Maturely even. And at some points it was downright gracious.

While we worked together to split up the sentimental stuff, the job of packing up the kids’ toys was my own because all that stuff is coming with me. So late last week I spent one day going through the girls’ room, packing up their toys and discarding what they no longer played with.

If I thought going through the ornaments was hard, the toys were infinitely harder to sort through because they told tales of happier times.

And when you have four kids, the toys commingle and become a sort of archaeological dig of their childhood years. As I sifted through the buckets and boxes, I took a walk down memory lane that required a case of Kleenex.

Pirates and CowboysAidan was two years old when we bought our first home. I distinctly remember that first Christmas in our new house. We put every penny into the down payment which left us cash strapped that first year.

A few weeks before that first Christmas, a local kids’ consignment shop advertised for seasonal help. I figured that would be the perfect way to raise some money for the holidays. While I was working at the shop, they held their annual holiday toy sale which allowed the employees to get first dibs on the merchandise.

So I took my earnings and bought all sorts of wonderful gently used toys to give to my sweet boy in our first Plymouth home. I remember brining home a Thomas the Tank Engine train set, a brand new talking Barney, an entire play kitchen with food included and the pirates you see above and the assorted Fisher Price and Little Tykes figures below…

fisher priceI arranged these new to us gifts under the Christmas tree with such a heavy heart. Even though these toys were in mint condition, there were no boxes. No shiny packages to open. And I felt guilty giving my beloved son toys that another child had played with and discarded. In my heart he deserved the very best. Shiny and new. But the reality was that we were broke and barely getting by. It would have to do.

As he toddled down the stairs that Christmas morning, his tight curls bobbing with each excited step, I held my breath with anticipation on how he would react. Would he even notice that these were someone else’s toys before they landed under his tree?

Of course not. He was beyond thrilled with his gifts, marveling over each and every one. And that night he slept with Thomas the Tank clutched in his chubby little fist, something he would do for many more nights to come.

That morning I learned some valuable lessons. Lessons that would carry forward with three more children. Used does not mean discarded and devalued. And toddlers have no idea what’s used or what’s new anyway. Oh, and that guilt is self inflicted and deserves no space in your brain.

modern fisher priceAdd twenty years to the equation, subtract one purple dinosaur, add a whole bunch of pink and that’s where we are today. While the toys have changed, the emotional attachment to these things remain.

It’s funny how the toys have changed so drastically over the years. The Fisher Price figures of today make Aidan’s look Stone Age. Don’t you think?

Oh how the girls loved this bus and its riders. They would play for hours on end, rolling it across the floor from room to room, picking up passengers along the way. Such sweet memories.

SmurfsAnd these Smurfs, they hold a special place in our hearts as well. The social media team at corporate McDonald’s mailed them to my girls when I was in the hospital after I was hit by the distracted driver. The package came while I was in surgery. I had just said goodbye to my children, not knowing if I would see them again. A small gesture that gave my girls a distraction when they most needed it.

Scary DollsThen there were other toys that were easy to put into the Goodwill bags. These dolls make me wonder why my girls didn’t sleep with me more often. Spooky times a thousand. I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a room with them, that’s for certain.

I sorted through the toys while the girls were in school, knowing darn well that they’d cry foul over every single toy I put in the donate bag. But to be fair, I only donated stuff that was truly outgrown and with no sentimental value. Rest assured, I’m still bringing a tremendous amount of toys with me to Maryland.

kellogg's wobblersOh, and one more toy to share with you from a ways back. Up above is a picture of my Kellogg’s Wobbler collection. This is more sentimental to me than to my children. It was available in 2005 and at the time I was knee deep in the couponing and refunding culture. I remember getting the boxes of cereal for free and sending the box tops in for this collection of Disney Wobblers.

I was completely immersed in the couponing community back then and this promotion was a big hit within that community because apparently couponers and Disneyana go hand in hand. I was so excited when this came. I think I played with it more than the children.

Boxing up all of the toys has been both a happy and sad kind of thing. Childhood playthings with adult heartstrings attached. Strings that are frayed and taut right now.

What gives me comfort is that my grandchildren will enjoy these toys someday. And while these toys won’t be new, they’ll be cherished because I’ll share joyful stories about how they were loved years long ago. Stories told by a grandma who’s learned a few things on the journey.

An older wiser Melanie who sees value in used things.