Mercer County Italian American Festival

By Laurie Pellichero 

The leaves will soon be falling, the air is crisp…it’s time for fall festivals!

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events:

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Photo Credit: Asbury Park Distilling Co.

Craft Distilleries are Booming in New Jersey 

By Laurie Pellichero

From Jersey City to Cape May, craft distilleries have been quickly popping up and producing local spirits throughout the state. While craft beers and breweries have grown quite ubiquitous in New Jersey, it’s been in just the past few years that these small batch distilleries, which now number 16 and counting, have been able to produce and promote their wares.

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Photo Credit: Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association

Friday, August 11

9 to 10 a.m.: Free, Baby Boot Camp stroller-based fitness program on Palmer Square Green (weather permitting). For more information and to register, visit www.babybootcamp.com.

5 to 8 p.m.: Sunset Sips and Sounds at Terhune Winery, 330 Cold Soil Road, Princeton. more

By Sarah Emily Gilbert 

In the early 1800s, the southern banks of the Navesink River bustled with steamboats, sailboats, and commercial fishermen transporting shellfish and local crops to New York City. In 1908, the area was incorporated into the town of Red Bank, whose name is attributed to the clay found along its coast. Come 2017, you’ll still find sailors and fisherman along these red banks, but you’ll also find young professionals on their way to stand-up paddle yoga. Indeed, some of Red Bank’s 12,200 residents start their day floating on the Navesink River with Flow Paddle Yoga.  more

By Doug Wallack

Three months after its opening in downtown Hopewell, Basilico Trattoria is going strong. In an area rich with Italian restaurants of all stripes, co-owners Kari LaSpisa and Joe Trani have aimed to carve out a niche for themselves as purveyors of authentic Neapolitan cuisine. “The concept we have here is fresh food, made to order, by an Italian chef,” Ms. LaSpisa explains, “not several people in the kitchen — like a line cook set-up — it’s one chef cooking your food for you, to order.”  more

Friday, June 23

10 a.m. to noon: The Friends of the Princeton Public Library Preview Sale (regular sale begins at noon and continues through Saturday, June 24 at 5:30 p.m.).

12 to 8:30 p.m.: The annual Friends of Princeton Public Library Book Sale. The sale features special collections and rare books as well as books in all genres and for all ages. Princeton Public Library.

12:30 p.m.: Meeting, Gotham Networking at Eno Terra in Kingston. The cost to attend is $38 per person. For more information, visit www.gothamnetworking.com.

7 to 10 p.m.: The Trinity Counseling Service Junior Board presents The Summer Soiree, A Taste of Hope at D&R Greenway in Princeton. Tastings of food, wine, and brews. For tickets, visit www.tcssummersoiree.orgmore

By Doug Wallack 

On Saturday, June 10, the Chatham Borough Department of Community Services will hold the annual Fishawack Festival in downtown Chatham. Inaugurated in 1971, the festival — which takes its name from the Lenni-Lenape term for the Passaic River — is a day-long celebration of the region’s culture and history. The festivities will include local art exhibits, live music and dance performances, a car and truck show, a petting zoo, a climbing wall, an exhibition on Lenni-Lenape history, and more. more

 

Friday, May 12

6:30 to 8 p.m.: Damsel Duo, an indie-neo-folk group featuring Beth Meyers and Monica Mugan, presents a Mother’s Day concert with acoustic-based duo Helen and Molly. Molly Trueman of Helen and Molly is Mugan’s daughter; Hinds Plaza.

Saturday, May 13

9 a.m. to 1 p.m.: St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center hosts its annual Bike Safety Rodeo and Safe Kids Day. Children ages 3-12 and their families are invited to learn about safety and prevention when participating in sports and other recreational activities. Children will receive free bike helmets, have their bikes inspected, and ride a safety course. RSVP by emailing bikerodeo@slrc.orgmore

A Night in Old Havana 

Photography by Erica Cardenas

On Saturday, May 6, McCarter Theatre Center welcomed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to “A Night in Old Havana” Gala 2017. The evening began with a cocktail reception and dinner on McCarter’s back lawn, which was tented and decorated with 1940’s-era old Havana flare. The musical performance was held at McCarter’s Matthews Theater. The electric after-party included more food, entertainment, and dance. All proceeds benefit McCarter’s Artistic, Education, and Engagement Programs. more

Pops of Color and Whirls of Music

Photography by Erica Cardenas

Communiversity 2017 took place on Sunday, April 30. The streets of downtown Princeton swelled with visitors who enjoyed non-stop entertainment, food, and vendors from 1 to 6 p.m. Various stages were erected around town and performances ranged from alternative rock concerts to flamenco. Witherspoon Media Group was there, handing out the latest editions of Town Topics Newspaper, Princeton Magazine, and Urban Agenda Magazine. Witherspoon Media Group photographer Erica Cardenas made sure to capture all of the action.  more

The Arts Council of Princeton’s Communiversity ArtsFest draws over 40,000 art lovers and fun seekers to downtown Princeton, making it Central New Jersey’s largest and longest running cultural event. (Photo Credit: Emily Reeves, Town Topics Newspaper)

Friday, April 28 

11 a.m.: Free, Tiger Tales for children ages 3-5 at Cotsen Children’s Library (repeats weekly).

Noon: Princeton University Men’s Baseball vs. Cornell at Clarke Field.

4:30 p.m.: Princeton University’s Fund for Irish Studies welcomes writer Kevin Barry for a reading from his novel Beatlebone at the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street. Free. more

Photo Credit: @mistralprinceton

Hop over to a stress-free Easter brunch or dinner at these central Jersey eateries

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

For some reason, everything tastes better when someone else cooks it. This Easter, free yourself from the honey-baked ham and head to one of these local eateries for fresh and creative menu offerings. more

by Doug Wallack 

photography by Andrew Wilkinson

I am led upstairs to the waiting area outside the tea room. It’s a Saturday morning and there is a lesson already underway inside. Sunlight streams into the space, illuminating its warm wooden hues. It is February, and the outside world is freshly blanketed in snow, but here a diminutive space heater keeps the chill at bay. One of my hosts, Glenn Swann, instructs me to wash my hands in ritual purification while we wait.  more

Photo Credit: @dylanscandybar

Shop the latest Easter treats from Dylan’s Candy Bar. 

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By Anne Levin

If you attended a charity auction to benefit McCarter Theatre, Trinity Counseling Service, Princeton Charter School, or any number of other organizations in town last spring, you probably encountered Sebastian Clarke. He’s the lanky, personable guy who runs the show, rattling off the numbers and “filler words” to coax bidders higher and higher—but always with a light touch. more

Photo Credit: @mouthfoods

Gifts with Spirit from Mouth.com

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Photo Credit: @smittenkitchen

Ice Cream Cook Books, Taco Cook Books, Smoothie Cook Books Galore!

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Photo Credit: Justin McLeod

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

December was a boozy month for the town of Hopewell, New Jersey. It marked the grand opening of two new breweries: Troon Brewing on the property of Double Brook Farm (130 Hopewell Rocky Hill Road) and The Referend Bier Blendery located on 1595 Reed Road. You might think this could lead to a “Battle of the Brews,” but in reality, it’s a welcomed coincidence according to James Priest, owner and founder of The Referend.

“Whenever you’re at either place, everyone is talking about the other one too,” he explains. “It’s great; we’re doing two considerably different beer styles, and people are really excited about both. On Untappd [an app where users can check-in to breweries and share their experiences], we’re the two highest rated breweries in New Jersey right now, so we’re trying to keep that going.”

The Referend isn’t just different from Troon, but the vast majority of breweries in the United States. This is due impart to the fact that the startup isn’t actually a brewery but a “bier blendery.” Priest explains that he doesn’t have a brewhouse of his own, which is where the “brewing” technically occurs. Instead, he travels to other breweries where he creates a specifically engineered wort, which is basically unfermented beer; pumps the boiling wort into a mobile coolship, or an open-top vessel in which wort cools; and brings the still non-alcoholic wort back to the blendery to spontaneously ferment in oak barrels.

The intricate art of spontaneous fermentation is the traditional brewing process for the most idiosyncratic type of beer you’ll taste: lambic. A Belgian specialty that dates back to the Roman Empire, lambic-style beers are relatively rare stateside. A handful of independent American breweries produce spontaneously fermented beer, but The Referend is the only brewery in the country that never adds cultured yeast to their beer. In short, Priest is likely “blending” up the most authentic lambic beer in the nation.

Unlike most beers that are fermented in sterile tanks with carefully selected strains of yeast engineered in a laboratory, Priest’s are left in his coolships overnight where wild yeasts and microbes in the air can enter the brew. The average brewer tries to prevent natural microbes from taking residence in their beer to avoid unpredictable flavors. Priest, on the other hand, embraces the “wildness” that is integral to lambics.

“It is not at all hard to ferment beer spontaneously,” says Priest. “What is difficult is completely ceding control to nature, which these beers require of you immediately. In turn, nature rewards you for trusting in its own process, on its own timeline. It seems to be a more philosophical brewing method than most.”

Mother Nature is indeed on her own timeline when it comes to the fermentation process. Once Priest transfers the wort to aged oak barrels to spontaneously ferment, they take anywhere between four months and four years to mature.

“I let the beer tell us when its ready to be enjoyed,” says the ever-patient Priest. “It’s consistently slower than one would hope, but I’m committed to its autonomy.”

There are some lambic-style beers that ease the waiting process. Priest explains that Jung, which is German for young, is served intentionally prematurely at months old to highlight the early developing complexities in the beer’s adolescence.

The aging process of lambic beer is similar to that of wine – and in some ways, so is the taste. Although all the beer produced at The Referend falls under the category of sour beer, Priest likens the taste to a dry wine, champagne, or cider. Others describe the flavor as earthy, hay-like, or leathery. There’s no debating that lambics have an impactful taste, even Priest had to ease-into the old-world beer.

“One of the earliest ones I remember having is Cantillon Gueuze, which is sort of held up as a benchmark for the lambic-style,” says Priest. “I found it slightly off-putting and couldn’t quite pick some of the associations, but I wanted to kind of delve into what else was going on there. Even when I found it, I had the desire to acquire the taste. In a matter of beers, I was legitimately enjoying them not just as an exploration.”

“Some lambics are very approachable for everyone and aren’t that much of an acquired taste,” he continues. “Other lambics certainly can be if you start getting any of the strong, funkier aromas and flavors. In that case, it can take a few times and it did for me.”

With the increasing popularity of sour beers, there’s perhaps no better time for Priest to introduce his brews to the public. The Referend’s grand opening brought tons of thirsty Hopewellians to the previous site of Pennington Athletic Club (now Pennington Ewing Athletic Center) to taste the unconventional beer. The local support is reciprocating by Priest. A Chicago-native, he’s gone full-Jersey at The Referend. His “blends” have featured “Jersey Fresh” peaches, nectarines, grapes, hops, spelt, and grain. “There’s so much in the area,” says Priest, “that it’s thankfully very easy to seek out farmers for whatever we’re looking for and drag it down to The Referend.”

You have to go to the source to try one of Priest’s lambics. The Referend’s beer isn’t sold for off-site consumption, and due to the delicate nature of certain lambics, kegging isn’t advisable. Priest has completed one round of bottling, but they most likely won’t be ready for consumption until springtime. In true lambic style, it takes many months for the beer to carbonate or re-ferment in the bottle. Luckily, you don’t have to wait long to taste some of Priest’s other creations. The Referend’s Tasting Room is open from 2 to 8 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month, making the next tasting January 21, followed by February 4. If you plan on stopping by, you mine as well make it a beer tour. The Blendery is merely two miles away from River Horse Brewing Company in Ewing and eight miles from Troon Brewing in Pennington. Now that’s the way to start the weekend. Cheers!