Ithaca Chili Cook-off

Luke took a few days off work around Valentine’s Day and we were due to get out of the house and out of town. It’s hard in these winter it takes a worth while event to make it happen. Most festivals in this area are put off until better weather for fear of a lousy turn-out.

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But we found one that is well attended despite the cold and snow: The Ithaca Chili cook-off.  A chili competition held for the past 16 year in the Ithaca commons. This event hosts a local radio station, some brave and probably cold live performers, karaoke, a hot chile/pepper eating contest and a mustache contest. Chili tasters (tickets 1 tasting ticket for $1) vote for best presentation, best non-chili food item, best vegi chili, and best meat chili at the ticket booth locations.

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We arrived around 1:30pm and by then the festival was in full swing. We bought $15 dollars worth then set off to taste some treats. Each restaurant, or company had their own booth with at least one if not more steaming pots of their unique warm chili available for tasting. Each booth was labeled with their flavor/chili name and a large colored symbol: V (vegi), M (meat), or for S (Seafood).

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Despite the puddles of melting snow and the snow falling, the blocked-off festival streets were crowded. People dressed in snow jackets, down coats, gloves, rain or snow boots,  beanies and ear muffs all talking and waiting in long lines to sample chili options. We started our tasting with a pulled pork chili with pretzel spoon and a spicy pickle.

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Then we looked at the booths and their lines down the street and realized we needed a better strategy.  The great thing about going as a couple is we could stand in two different lines at once then share our samples.  So we split up then met in a semi-dry place with our treats. I got a locally grown homemade beef chili while Luke picked up a basic ground beef chili with some unusal toppings: mini m n’ ms! We were shocked at how good the chili and chocolate combo really tasted!! We stopped by Felicia’s Atomic Lounge‘s booth to get chili chocolate mini cupcakes and Luke discovered a new microbrewery and hop farm: Hopshire.

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We tried many other varieties including: a green chili with avocado and tortillas, a beef habanero chili, a southwest chicken chili, a gumbo chili, and a scorpion chili. All were good and flavorful in their own way. As we wandered around we also saw that there were several groups carrying baskets providing those in line with huge chunks of homemade cornbread for a ticket each.

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After  an hour and a half of wandering around we were full and happily so. We decided at that point to head into the main Ithaca Commons center to warm up with a cup of mexican hot chocolate.

Overall this festival was totally worth braving the snow and cold for! With plenty of great chilies and other food options it is obvious why everyone was willing to bundle up to brave the weather.

What would we do different next time?: learn for the locals and bring our own mugs/bowls and spoons for samples (better for the environment and potentially bigger samples), wear a beanie/ear muffs, and come in higher boots to stay out of the snow puddles.

How about you? Any fun festivals/events to help beat the winter blues?

Drink It In: 2300 revisited

For those of you who are newer to my blog my first “real” post of A. Greene’s Adventures was last year at this time about a local event at the Corning Glass Museum called 2300 (see 2300 degrees ).

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2300 degrees is a free event sponsored by the Corning Glass museum every third Thursday night from November to May. Each month the museum chooses one night to close the galleries and transform this tourist attraction into a site for a night on the town.

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Corning Glass Co.  launched 2013’s 2300 degrees with a “Finger Lakes Finest” themed event which meant free wine tasting.  The Finger Lakes Region, as our area of upstate New York is called, is home to many local wineries and wine trails nestled in the hills surrounding the local lakes.

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To start off 2014 the museum hosted a similar 2300 night called “Drink It In” which like last year featured free wine tasting. This year there were three less local lake wineries than last year and a little change-up in the variety of the wineries present. But this did not change the enthusiasm and crowd drawn to this event. There were still 26 wineries present offering their seasonal best reds to whites,  drys to sweets, and everything in between. And a local artist Jeff Mack made amazing goblets in the Hot Glass Show.

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This year we met up with two other couples and took our time wandering. Now that we are familiar with the museum and some of the local wineries we felt there was no rush in trying them all. We caught up with good friends after the holiday-craze, enjoyed snacks, and tried a few wineries. Near the end of the night we enjoyed the big band sound of: Big Mean Sound Machine from Ithaca in the Auditorium.

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One feature of these 2300 events I did not mention last year is the glass museum sale. Although I am not one for modern art or large expensive (and also breakable) glass pieces, the museum does offer great sales deals on this once a month event night. Those items not already on sale are all 23% off and that includes the non- or less- breakable items like toys, ornaments, jewelry, books, lamps, glassware, chess sets etc.

January’s 2300 launch was just as fun and entertaining and the previous years. Maybe this year we will make and effort to attend another month’s 2300 events.

Smoke on the Water

This past Saturday afternoon we chose to check out yet another local event. We drove up past where Luke works to Hammondsport for Smoke on the Water, a local BBQ competition benefitting the fire department. I have mentioned Hammondsport on one other occasion (see stars hollow, fireworks, and minions) but if you didn’t get a chance to read-up on it, Hammondsport is a quaint town full of bed and breakfasts at the base of Keuka lake and the Keuka wine trail.

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Now I know it seems like this summer I have talked a lot about BBQ (if you want more reading see Kayaking and BBQ, or Racefever and local BBQ). But I have discovered it is a favored food of Lukes (and why wouldn’t it be for a meat-loving male) as well as it seems to be one of the big “things” for summer around here.

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If you recall, this is not our first summer BBQ competition. Back in July we drove up to Rochester and attended their BBQ and Blues Fest (see two festivals and korean BBq). But were sadly disappointed that although the BBQ places represented were well known there were only four of them. Also in order to even taste the food you had to buy a ticket to get in, and a plate of their expensive food. Not what we were expecting.

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Smoke on the Water was almost the exact opposite.  Walking past the baseball field to the fire department’s lawn we looked around, the place was packed! There were more than 14 BBQ competitors , many had set up their 5th wheels behind their booth for the weekend. There was everything from Mom and Pop recipes to professionals trying to get in on a cash prizes.

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We found out when we arrived at the beginning of each hour from 1-4pm a new category of meat would be available for sampling: chicken, ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. And only 6 bucks for unlimited samples!  At the end of the hour they collected the public’s voting cards.

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We realized then if we had come at 1pm we would have gotten plenty of tasty meat samplings all afternoon. People were rounding booth after booth with little sample cups in hand. A band played while groups socialized and drank. In case the voting public got hungry in between samples, the fire department was selling french fries, a local restaurant was selling clams and lobster, and there was beer and wine sampling available. Or if someone had a sweet tooth after the salty meat they could head to a booth for floats or ice cream.

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There were also plenty of activities including  a 50/50 raffle and silent auction, a cake wheel (instead of walk), and several kids activities.

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Since we’d come so late in the competition we decided it wouldn’t be worth the money to sample (there was only one category left). So instead we went to one booth selling meals and for 13 bucks got the Garbage Plate to-go.

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When we got home and un-packed our garbage plate we realized it was a giant plate perfect for sharing between the both of us. There were at least 6 pieces of brisket, a good portion of pulled pork, at least 3 ribs, 3 large butter garlic potatoes, and a good helping of other sides: coleslaw, a pickle, baked beans, and pasta salad. It was all amazing and delicious.

My portion

My portion

Luke's half eaten portion

Luke’s half eaten portion

We now know that this is an event worth coming to and the earlier the better.

Have you discovered any local events worth returning to year after year?

Taste of Ellicottville

After a week back home re-seettling into our normal routine, we realized we had an long standing plan to go with a co-worker of Luke’s and his wife to a tasting festival Saturday in Ellicottville.

We had high hopes for this tasting event, enough to make it worth getting up early on our day to sleep-in. After an hour drive during which we fueled up on to-go cups of coffee, we met Jon and Cathy and carpooled with them for another hour before reaching Ellicottville.

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We arrived around noon and stood in line to buy 20 dollars worth of tickets. Ellicottville is  located between two large ski resorts and boasts several well known festivals year round. With it’s own brewery and winery and unique stores it is obvious it is used to tourism year round.

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After getting our tickets we took a look at our menu map indicating where each local restaurant had set up their booth, what was being offered, and how many tickets each tasting would be. The variety and options were amazing. There is no way that even if Luke and I got different things to eat the we could have sampled everything.

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We decided to start with Centerplate mahi mahi fish taco with a mango salsa and habenero cream sauce.  It had a great sweet, tangy start with a kick. We realized quickly that at each booth there was plenty of time to  socialize, we would need to got accustomed to waiting in lines today.

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Next we crossed the down town block to Balloons where we sampled some of their buffalo and sweet thai chicken wings.  In heighn sight I think we got too many of the tangy vinegar wings (6 for 4 tickets) the name of the game here is to take tiny portions so you can sample more before getting full.

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After a hearty snack (the portion of my normal lunch) we headed to the Ellicottville Brewing Co. Stepping onto their crowded back patio we found some benches around the fire pit lit to keep the bugs away in spite of the warm weather. Luke ordered a sampler and Jon and Cathy enjoyed some light brews.

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Then we moved on in search or more delicious treats. Heading up the main street we got bacon jalepeno slices from Katy’s Cafe  that definitely had the expected warm after-burn. Crossing the street we then got in line for Dinas who had both a dessert and food table. Luke and I decided to share a sample of their spinach ravioli. Their red sauce was fresh, simple, and very authentic Italian.  (Let’s just say Luke and I both had planned to scrape the remaining sauce from it’s container.)

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We walked a little further down the street and came across Watson’s Chocolates. For 3 tickets I bought a chocolate covered salted carmel pack of two dark chocolate and two milk so Luke and I got one of each. They were chewy, creamy, and just the right combo of sweet and salty.

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By now I was getting beyond full and I could tell so was everyone else. So we decided to walk around and explore what other restaurants we hadn’t tasted from. We spotted a kebab and curry place, a place selling mexican and smoothies, another selling shepherds pie and Guinness mac ‘n cheese . They all sounded wonderful but we were full and decided to save our last few dollars for some take-away dinner.

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But we weren’t quite ready to leave. After picking up a few more tickets for dinner food, we decided to check out a few of the stores including a three story narrow storefront devoted only to selling socks. We then crossed the street and did a wine tasting at the Winery of Ellicottville.

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After this we decided we were done exploring and ready to pick up our dinner from Riley’s : two servings of large portioned ribs and blueberry cheesecake.

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Overall for about 30 dollars, Luke and I got lunch, dinner and dessert for both meals. Any of these foods would have costed much more in the restaurant, even if ordered a la carte. As we headed back to the car, we decided this was one festival we would be more than willing to explore again next year.

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Jon had mentioned the Cuba Cheese Shoppe on the trip to Ellicottville earlier in the day to which Luke (the cheese lover) perked up. So on the way back we took a country route that led us through Cuba.

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Once inside we started of course at the sampling table which included local sharp chedders, amish swiss, and surprisingly Tillamook cheese (a cheese factory located on the Oregon coast Luke and I went to on our honeymoon -told you Luke was a cheese guy).

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We wandered their store full of sauces, candies, dried fruits and nuts, and of course plenty of cheese wedges, slices, curds, and spreads. Luke and I picked up a few goods and we were once again on the road.

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By 5pm we were back from our all-day outing.  An hour or two later Luke was ready and excited for our dinner. We split the juicy ribs and made a spinach salad topped off with some sharp cheddar cheese  balsamic vinaigrette. We ended it all with our blueberry cheesecake.

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What did you do last weekend?

Racefever and local BBQ

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Last Thursday Luke and I decided instead of hitting the treadmill at the Y we would go on a walk downtown  to check out Racefever. We weren’t completely sure what Racefever was exactly celebrating.   But we know we live very close to Wakins Glen, a city on the waterfront of Seneca lake that is know for it’s racetrack. As we  walked downtown we found the source for celebration: a poster in a local storefront advertised NASCAR races being held at The Glen August 8-11.  Friday was the NASCAR Nationwide Series Qualifying and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice, Saturday was the Qualifying and Zippo 200 then Sunday was the main event: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 355.

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Luke and I are not huge race-fans but in the spirit of celebrating our local community events we joined the locals crowding on the closed off Bridge St.

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Starting down the street you could hear live rock music from a stage next to a rock climbing wall.  Several NASCAR cars were on display drivers sitting at booths next to them signing posters and selling t-shirts.

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Alongside these racecars were vendors selling license plates, t-shirts and memorbillia from this year’s NASCAR races, as well as hot wheels and other car themed goods. At the old fashion gas station and car wash by the bridge a small classic car show was also on display. IMG_1105IMG_1111

All the usual food trucks were boasting fried everything, hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausages. Making a Racefever debut was the new BBQ joint Luke and I have been meaning to check out: Slammin’ Jammin’ Southern Smoked BBQ.

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Luke and I stopped at their BBQ booth and got a sample of their meat and sauces.  Luke was satisfied with the sauce so we decided to walk a block or two over to their main storefront to get dinner.

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The front windows advertise a Friday Catfish dinner, Brisket, and Ribs. We walk into the small store front and try to pick out what we want for dinner. They have all the standard sides: baked beans, coleslaw, mac n’ cheese, potato salad, pasta salad, fried, sweet potato fries and more. I ended up ordering a chop dinner ( beef brisket) with a side of coleslaw and baked beans. Luke got ribs with mac n’ cheese and potato salad.

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As we waited for our food we took the chance to look around. This small restaurant boasts a simple country, casual,  but clean environment the indicates they are proud of their food and their new establishment. Newspaper articles announcing the opening of their BBQ joint are framed on both main walls. Next to the pick up window they keep piles of local business cards and a small gum-ball jar.

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When our food arrived we were happily surprised the sides are portioned to indicate they are sides-not compensations for a lack of meat.  And trust me the meat portions were generous and tender. The meat  fell right off the rib bones and the spicy BBQ sauce was tangy and had a perfect kick. And I don’t want to  down play the sides: they were great on their own and definitely not a side note when prepared in the kitchen.

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When we realized I had been given texas toast  Luke offered to walk to the front and asked for a corn muffin, fully prepared to pay for it. Instead he was given two warm ones right from the oven free of charge.  As we left feeling full and very happy with money well spent we said thank you to our host, who obviously is one of the owners. She asked us if it was our first time and after we said yes she voiced her disappointment that we hadn’t tried her peach cobbler.

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We love to support local family-run restaurants especially when it is obvious they are passionate and proud about their food and its quality. So if you are a Corning local or just passing through and craving a great BBQ joint: please support a local business and go  or order-in from Slammin’ Jammin’ Southern Smoked BBQ joint on Pultney St.

Have you check out any local events or restaurants recently?

Strawberry Festival: an up and down outing

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This past Saturday, Luke and I decided to go for a drive to a little town called Owego NY for their 33rd Annual Strawberry Festival. We took a scenic northern route to get there driving through small towns and farmland. Once we arrived downtown we struggled to find any form of parking and decided finally to support the local boy scouts for $5 parking. Eager to stretch our legs and explore, we got out and began walking the blocked off streets of downtown Owego.

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Looking around we saw the typical festival food everything dipped, fried, and covered in powdered sugar or syrup possible. There were also BBQ, Gyro, Philly Cheesesteak, Italian sausage, and hamburger and french fry trucks parked all along the sidewalks. Among the many vendors we saw local artists paintings and pottery, antiques, tupperware, tie dyed outfits for all ages, face painting,  sunglasses stands, jewelry, toys all similar to the many flee markets I’m used to in SoCal.

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Turning a corner, we ran into one of the Saturday events: fireman’s hose race. Two teams at a time compete to  set up the hose line,  filling it with water, and  be the first team to knock down the sign at the end of the raceway with their steady stream of water. We watched one race and at the end in celebration the winning team turned the hose to the sky spraying the crowd with water.

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Since this was a strawberry festival, there were plenty of  strawberry flavored novelties: lemonade, icees, strawberry flavored kettle corn, smoothies, shortcake and more. Luke and I decided to pick up a strawberry daiquiri from Elk’s Lodge to share as we walked around.

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Following a path around one of the three music stages we found the waterfront to the Susquehanna river. Walking along the path following the river, we watched  cars crossing over the river on the bridge leading into old town.  Passing a children’s play area including bounce houses, we found a local jam and butter stand and bought some strawberry rhubarb butter.

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Walking further down the street we found the wine tasting tent. We only bought one ticket: $5 for 10 tastes to share since there were only a few vendors. Disappointed by most of the wineries, Luke headed to the brewery.  Eager to try their beers Luke sampled them all. The result was good and bad new. Bad news for the brewery he wasn’t impressed by. Good news? He thought his first homemade brew was actually better than what he tasted and has more faith in his ability to make some great homemade beer!!

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After a little more walking around, we decided to stop to eat. Craving mexican we decided to stop into their local mexican restaurant with seating over looking the river. Luke ordered a build your own burrito and I did the same but in a bowl form. Hungry we were happy when our food arrived. Sadly that happiness did not last long. Barely into my meal I found the chicken in my burrito bowl to be tasteless. Luke found his meat to be similarly bland. We left disappointed realizing we have still yet to have found a decent Mexican restaurant any better than Taco Bell here on the East Coast.

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As we left the festival we found another local vendor for honey. Luke has been wanting to get local honey for awhile, hoping it will help us adjust to the pollen and allergens in the area. Knowing that I use quite a bit of honey   and wanting to support a local business we got the 2lb. container and a few honey sticks for the road.

The goodies from our outing

The goodies from our outing

The Strawberry Festival had it’s ups and downs. Another down moment was that we saw only one actual strawberry stand out of the hundreds of vendors, selling small containers of strawberries for 4.50 each!!!! Still it was a worth while to explore a thriving small downtown area only an hour from home. Plus we found a new river to explore and hopefully kayak on.

How was your weekend?

Glass Fest!!

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Glass Fest, a four day festival in the Gaffer District, is downtown Corning’s biggest annual festival. It kicked off Thursday with the last  2300 degrees event of the season during which the Corning Glass museum is open to the public for a free concert and glass art demonstrations. Friday night started Rock the Park, a weekend series of free outdoor concerts at the Riverfront Centennial Park. Meanwhile, much like Cabin Fever the stores on Market street were open from 5pm-8pm for wine and beer tasting.

The big events hit Saturday starting with the Glass Fest 8K run in the morning. This was followed by day long art exhibits, live glassmaking demonstrations in Centerway square, and promotions in all the stores on Market street.

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Our adventure with Glassfest started Saturday afternoon. We bundled up for an unusually windy Memorial Day weekend. Walking down the center of Market street, we scoped out some of the vendors and sales in the antique stores: vintage colorful glass and pyrex, free face painting, puppet shows, and of course every possible unhealthy treat from deep fried goods to chocolate dipped cheesecake on a stick. After sampling some local mustards, cheese, jam, and salsas we went to the Rockwell Museum of Western Art which was free to the public for the festival.

The Rockwell Museum of Western Art was started by local business owners Bob and Hertha Rockwell who collected Western art and artifacts and donated them for the museum now established in  Corning’s refurbished old City Hall.

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I was happy to be greeted by cactus in the museum’s foyer. Walking to the front desk, we told them we were locals and were handed silver deputy stickers to wear. It was suggested to start on the third floor. Each room of the top floor was brightly colored, displaying art depicting buffalo, native americans, cowboys, and the great frontier in statues, costumes, photos, collages, and of course paintings. The most prominent of paintings greeting us at the entrance was a great scenic view of Mt. Whitney.

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Working our way to the second floor, we found the exhibition display of photographs collected by National Geographic. These photos ranged from views of national parks, to rodeos, to reservation pow wows and everything in between. I enjoyed pointing out places I have been including Yellowstone, Carlsbad Caverns, and Yosemite.

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After the museum tour, we walked the rest of the vendors noticing local photographers, jewelry, and pottery makers, and of course more food vendors and children’s activities. In addition to the street vendors and glass demonstrations, in Centerway square Friday-Sunday a glass making competition was held called Flame Off. During Flame Off local glass artist could enter to compete for prizes and showcase their work to the public.

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When it came close to dinner time we decided to return to Sorges ,our local Italian restaurant, to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of our engagement. (see Memorial Day Flashback)

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After dinner we bundled up and headed to the Riverfront Centennial Park for a Rock the Park concert by DSB, a famous Journey tribute band. The park was crowded and people had set up chairs wrapping up in jackets and blankets in spite of the cold. Glow in the dark necklaces were passed through the crowd as children played and friends caught up drinking coffee and eating the last snacks of the day from the food vendors. Luke and I stood in the back singing along the songs we knew and tapping to the ones we didn’t. After a great finish on “Don’t Stop Believin'” (of course they left it to last) the fireworks show started shooting from the bank of the Chemung River.

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Although we didn’t attend any other events, Sunday the fun continued with street vendors, glass blowing demonstration, children’s activities in the park, and Flame Off. Monday afternoon Market street was closed again for the annual Memorial Day parade.

Talk about one eventful holiday weekend for Corning!!

What did you do for the long weekend?