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Susquehanna Life

Episode 3: Summer 2020 - Making Waves

Show Notes

Erica Shames, founder and publisher of Susquehanna Life Magazine, initially had doubts about releasing the Summer 2020 issue. She recognized the disruption the Coronavirus lockdown caused for advertisers and for businesses that sold the magazine. Then she began to hear from readers and subscribers who expressed how important the magazine has been for them. In this episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud podcast Erica explains to her co-host Peterson Toscano, "We have a role to play here," and that is to uplift and to provide a positive way to look at the region and at life. We also give readers information to make their lives more enjoyable.

In the Summer 2020 edition of the magazine, Jennifer Pencek writes about a group of women who are breaking ground by getting into the water. In our show, Jennifer chats with Peterson Toscano about the growing fly fishing phenomenon drawing women in the region to the sport. The is in large part due to the work of the Women, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  

The committee is the result of partnerships with the state Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, and local organizations with the shared goal to connect diverse populations to fly fishing and waterway conservation efforts. They offer a special training program: Intro to Fly Fishing for Women.  As a result of working on this story, Jennifer sees a wonderful connection between people who enjoy outdoor activities and their efforts to conserve the wild spaces they love. 

Fly fishing enthusiast, Jamie SanFillipo, trains guides people in the sport through her own business, The American Fly Fishing Company. She explains the many benefits and joys of fly fishing, as she outlines the basics a beginner will need to get started. She answers questions about the cost of the sport, safety when fishing alone, and even where you can borrow free equipment. Both Jennifer Pencek and Jamie SanFilippo outline factors that have kept women and girls from taking up outdoor sports like fishing. They also tell us what we can do to foster gender diversity and equity in the great outdoors. 

Kendra Aucker, President and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania chats with Peterson Toscano about the Covid-19 pandemic and what we can do to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and fellow community members. She stresses the importance of wearing masks as part of the overall plan. Like everyone else, her life has been turned upside down by the lockdown, and she shares some of her own strategies for when she hasn’t been able to go out and see family and friends. She also tells us about her favorite Corona comfort foods. 

Food lovers will learn about two opportunities to sample authentic dishes. You will hear about Kavkaz Restaurant, a truck stop off I-80 in Logantown, PA close to Jersey Shore. They specialize in preparing food from the Caucasus region including Georgian, Armenian, and Russian cuisine. What do they offer?  Homemade Khachapuri bread, which you can get with melted cheese and an egg in the center. They have stews and soup, including the most hearty borscht you may ever encounter. Meatballs with homemade mash potatoes is a favorite with the many people who left positive reviews on Yelp. They also serve Greek salad and various potato and vegetable dishes.

In Sunbury, PA, writer Glen Retief, associate professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University, celebrates a local delicacy and tells us all about the annual Sunbury Sandwich Stroll organized by Sunbury Revitalization Inc. In addition to explaining how the sandwich stroll works, and how it has been received, Glen also reveals the peculiar incident that led up to the popular event.

Almost four years ago our host, Peterson Toscano, a resident out on an early morning walk, saw that someone plastered Sunbury's Market Street with racist and anti-immigrate posters. The posters warned that Sunbury residents were being replaced by outsiders. Peterson spent the next few days walking around town wondering what Sunbury residents value and that we can boost and share with others. Turns out the sandwich, in one form or another, is king in Sunbury with nearly 20 shops within walking distance. Peterson's reflections led to the wildly successful sandwich stroll. The third annual Sandwich Stroll is scheduled for June 27. Check the Sunbury Revitalization Facebook page for the latest information.    

From the Toscano family recipe files Peterson shares Mom's Homemade Raw Tomato Sauce. Hear about an absolutely delicious dish that is incredibly easy to make. 

You will hear all this and more in the latest episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud.


Peterson Toscano (00:00):

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud is brought to you by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership.

Peterson Toscano (00:08):

Welcome to Susquehanna Life Out Loud, the companion podcast to Susquehanna Life Magazine. I’m  Peterson Toscano. And in this episode, we are talking about the summer 2020 issue.

Jennifer Pencek (00:20):

You have so many people who are just passionate about this work and in particular, with the sources who I use, many of them had the greatest childhood memories.

Peterson Toscano (00:32):

That's writer, Jennifer Pencek. She will join us later in the program to tell us about a group of women who are breaking ground by getting into the water. She wrote an article that explores the growing fly fishing phenomenon with women in the region. 

We also hear from Kendra Auker president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She chats with me about the COVID-19 pandemic and what we can do to protect ourselves. She will also share some of her own strategies for when she can't go out and see family and friends. 

Food lovers will hear about two opportunities to sample authentic dishes. I'll tell you about a specialty cuisine from Eastern Europe that popped up in the Valley and, much closer to home in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, writer Glenn Retief reveals a local delicacy. Also I have a rustic Italian summer recipe to share with you. I pulled it from the Toscano family recipe files. But first let's check in with Erica Shames, founder and publisher of Susquehanna Life magazine.

Peterson Toscano (01:35):

Initially she had serious doubts about releasing the summer 2020 issue. Hey Erica, how are you?

Erica Shames (01:41):

I am doing quite well, I guess, under the circumstances, although, uh, on a different day, I might not answer the same. It's on a day to day basis.

Peterson Toscano (01:53):

I think that's true for pretty much everybody right about now. And, uh, there's an issue coming out, but I, I, I think you were telling me that you were uncertain about this issue, or you had some thoughts about this issue.

Erica Shames (02:08):

I did because it was an interesting trajectory of events. Looking back, the spring issue was published March 11th and at that point, things were not bad yet. As the days went by, things were getting worse. Things were taking a difficult turn and I had to really stop and think about whether I could come out with a summer issue. Businesses started closing. So I sat with this idea. I didn't want to appear indifferent or insensitive to the plight that is being faced by our advertisers. Because in fact, I I'm facing the same fears. Some of the questions floating around my mind, should we move forward? Can we move forward? Will we, as a business, be able to survive. And then something really interesting happened. In the midst of this dilemma, almost as if it were on cue, I started to get phone calls from some of our subscribers.

Erica Shames (03:14):

It was time to renew their subscription and they had gotten a notice in the mail. So they were calling to renew, but they were also calling because they wanted to tell me how much Susquehanna Life means to them and how much they look forward to receiving every issue and, and how they use the information in every issue. And from new subscribers, I was hearing the same thing. But I think the most compelling thing that I heard was I got a few emails and some letters from readers who were responding to my column, my From Where I Sit column that was in the spring issue. And this is really kind of strange, but also kind of compelling. And that is, in what now seems to be almost prophetic, I had advised readers in the spring issue to adopt a new way of looking at their lives and their world, in fact.

Erica Shames (04:11):

And I said live each day as if it were your last, because this was an attitude I had adopted as a way to cope with winter. I advised readers to imagine how precious everything in their lives would seem if we perceived that we were experiencing it, whatever it was, for the last time. And I didn't want to send this as a morbid message. I was sending it as a, just a wake-up call. I wanted this, I guess, way of perceiving the world to allow us to fully appreciate everything that happens to us, whether it's good, whether it's bad or whether it's just mundane. And this advice resonated with readers as a way to cope with COVID-19. We have a role to play here. Susquehanna Life magazine plays an important role in our readers’ lives. And that is one of uplifting. It's one of providing a positive way to look at things, information that they can use to make their lives better.

Peterson Toscano (05:26):

Yeah. So tell us about summer 2020 issue. What is in it? What should people be looking out for and what are you excited about?

Erica Shames (05:34):

Yeah, I think picking up the same theme. I mean, it's not anything new that we talk about ideas for what we can all do outside. I'm always cheerleading the idea that going outdoors is not only good for your physical health, obviously it's good for your mental health. Right now, we all need that kind of boost. Once again, this summer issue is outdoors-oriented. We have an article on exploring the Susquehanna in some kind of river craft, whether it's a canoe, a kayak, a rowboat; we have three scenic water trail day trips. These are from the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.

Peterson Toscano (06:14):

Well, I'm just really excited about, about this issue. I crack open the magazine and I just learn of people, places, things, activities I never knew existed. It’s such a valuable resource for this region.

Erica Shames (06:28):

Thank you. I'm glad you, I'm glad you think so.

Peterson Toscano (06:34):

Erica will join us again later in the show, when we chat about gardening and what to do with all those juicy tomatoes. 

Those of us in the Susquehanna Valley have easy access to nature and to many outdoor activities. Writer Jennifer Pencek lives and works in Centre County. During the coronavirus pandemic being in the region, she feels more grateful than ever.

Jennifer Pencek (07:04):

Because I have a friend who lives in New York City, and that's just a completely different ball game than what I'm experiencing here. So I'm very thankful for smaller rural areas, for sure.

Peterson Toscano (07:15):

As a part-time freelance writer, Jennifer gets to explore the region and write about the people who live here. Her full time work though is at Penn State's Gender Equity Center.

Jennifer Pencek (07:25):

I do a lot of our educational efforts inside and outside the classroom on topics like sexual assault and relationship violence, stalking, and those types of issues. And then I also organize a lot of evening events and guest speakers and do a lot of education that way. But then I'm also a freelance writer.

Peterson Toscano (07:44):

Jennifer is always on the lookout for a good story, especially if she can combine her two passions, equity for women and the outdoor riches of the Susquehanna Valley in the summer 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. She landed on one of these stories. It was while visiting her in-laws in Northeast Pennsylvania that the idea jumped out at her.

Jennifer Pencek (08:06):

And I came across just a little mention in one of their local publications about the women and diversity initiative. And that really piqued my interest because, especially given the work that I do now at the university, a lot of times it will focus around gender equity issues. I thought, wow, that would be so interesting to kind of explore how are we looking at outdoor adventures like fishing and conservation? How are we looking at that through the lens of gender equity? And then I never heard of the initiative before. So I actually reached out to the editor of Susquehanna Life, and just sent an idea saying, I really think readers would be really interested in this.

Peterson Toscano (08:44):

In the Outdoor Pursuits section of the summer 2020 issue, Jennifer writes about women and fly fishing. She spoke with the people behind the Women, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Then she connected with women anglers. She was curious about what led them to the sport.

Jennifer Pencek (09:00):

What attracted them both as kids and as they've gotten older with outdoor recreation, sports like fishing, and what do they think is the importance in attracting a lot of diversity to these areas? When we think about fishing and conservation efforts and outdoors, we still tend to think about it as being more of a male dominated area. But there's a lot of women and other individuals who are also working incredibly hard trying to preserve our waterways. It was really interesting for me to kind of learn more about who were the players in this, and what role do we all play in our conservation work? 

You have so many people who are just passionate about this work. And in particular with the sources who I used, many of them had the greatest childhood memories. And some also talked about just even growing up, not necessarily being encouraged to do those things because they were little girls. It stressed the importance in how we have conversations with our own kids and with other people, and making sure we're not gendering those talks. And that if people in general have an interest in the outdoors or conservation, or hey, let's go for a walk, that you're encouraging that not discouraging that.

Peterson Toscano (10:14):

Anyone who has tried a new sport as sophisticated as fly fishing knows, you just can't do it. We learn from others—family, friends, coaches, and trainers. The Women, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, offered a special training program, Intro to Fly Fishing for Women.

Jennifer Pencek (10:35):

They started with one session, with maybe like 25 spots. And that filled up so quickly that they had to offer, I think, at least two or three or more sessions really, really quickly. And each spot would just get, get filled up. There's great opportunity for growth with attracting women and other individuals to these areas. And that when there are programs offered, they fill up so quickly. And that really shows that there's such a strong demand.

Peterson Toscano (11:02):

In a moment, I chat with Jamie SanFilippo, an avid fly Fisher. She also sees this increased interest for fishing among women and girls. In researching her article, Jennifer discovered a co-benefit that comes with fly fishing. People who do it develop a more direct relationship with the natural world. For instance, you pack your gear and you head out for a day of fishing…

Jennifer Pencek (11:26):

…but then imagine what would happen if the area that you go fishing in, something is wrong with the water. Maybe there's pollution, maybe there's a lot of sediment buildup. The connections between the activities that you enjoy doing and the environment—do you have polluted waterways? How does that impact habitat in that area? If habitat is impacted well, then you're not going to be able to go fishing, you know, and get those, those results. 

Peterson Toscano (11:54):

Women, men and youth who spend time in nature develop a special bond with it. 

This connection stirs up our instinct to look after and protect a place we love. Often, outdoor sports leads directly to conservation work.

Jennifer Pencek (12:10):

Because we're all involved in this, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that our areas are healthy for not just humans, but for the animals, for anything that's around those kinds of waterways. You know, we're all looped in together. We can put in some effort and make sure that everything from our waterways to our trails, to our watersheds are where they're supposed to be. How can that build up habitat? How can that improve the environment? And then you'll get more positive results when you're going out, not just to fish, but even just to enjoy nature around you.

Peterson Toscano (12:46):

But what if you don't fish and you don't think you'll ever pick up the sport? What part can you play?

Jennifer Pencek (12:52):

Hey, you can even purchase a fishing license and never fish a day in your life. But the money raised from the fishing licenses actually helps fund environmental effort.

Peterson Toscano (13:02):

Jennifer's descriptive writing lures the reader into another world. I wasn't surprised to learn then that working on the story had its own impact on Jennifer.

Jennifer Pencek (13:11):

Definitely as we enter these summer months, and seeing what happens with more, you know, social isolation and whatnot. I definitely want to find more ways to get outdoors more. For me, it just reinforced the importance in all of us taking care of what we've been given environmentally. And also just finding pockets of opportunity to do more because I think we can all do more.

Peterson Toscano (13:33):

Coming up, I chat with a fly fishing trainer. I told her, I'm curious to know more about what she does, but I'm not the fishing type. What a mistake. Her fly fishing instincts took over. Here how she deftly handles all of my many excuses. 

Then Kendra Auker, president and CEO of Evangelical Community hospital, will check in about the COVID-19 virus. She also reveals her go-to corona comfort foods, and her personal strategies to stay level headed at this strange time. Stay tuned.

Peterson Toscano (14:10):

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud is brought to you by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership. The LDP supports downtown businesses and the commercial district. They're responsible for beloved Lewisburg events, like the Heart of Lewisburg Ice Festival, Fall Festival, Late Night Shopping in December and many others. Find out more at their website, That's

Jamie SanFilippo (14:43):

Fly fishing is active fishing. You are moving a lot and you are actually trying to find the fish. You are hunting the fish, instead of the fish coming to you. It's a little bit different. I have found that most people who start fly fishing, typically don't go back to spin fishing.

Peterson Toscano (15:05):

That's Jamie SanFilippo.

Jamie SanFilippo (15:07):

I am the director of community outreach for the YMCA of Centre County. And I am also a fly fishing guide.

Peterson Toscano (15:16):

In her Susquehanna Life article about women and fly fishing. Jennifer Pencek features Jamie. Jamie and I spoke about the ins and outs of fly fishing. And she's the right person to ask. Jamie has been fishing most of her life.

Jamie SanFilippo (15:31):

I grew up spin fishing in the Susquehanna River, local ponds and creeks. I started fly fishing right out of college. I never looked back. This journey has been incredible for me. I'm definitely excited to see where it takes me from here.

Peterson Toscano (15:50):

It was a little over a year ago she started training people to fly fish.

Jamie SanFilippo (15:55):

I do a lot of guiding here locally in Centre County, Pennsylvania. We have a lot of different streams. I guide children. I guide veterans. I guide men and women. I have a very good mixture of clientele. So I'm very lucky.

Peterson Toscano (16:10):

Jamie outlined for me the many reasons why someone should consider fly fishing as a sport.

Jamie SanFilippo (16:16):

Studies have shown that fly fishing is very, very therapeutic. And that's definitely the case for me. It is very relaxing. And you do have to have a lot of patience when fly fishing. And especially when you're learning how to fly fish. But like I said, it's very, it's very relaxing, very peaceful. Some people they do like to get out on their own and fly fish on their own. Some people actually like to fly fish in groups and with friends. I like to do a mixture of the two. I've met some really, really incredible people and some really great friends. We do a lot of fly fishing together and a lot of traveling together and it's a lot of fun.

Peterson Toscano (16:57):

Still, Jamie acknowledges women have had limited access to fishing.

Jamie SanFilippo (17:01):

It was very taboo for women to fish. And you know, when it comes to fishing and hunting and anything outdoors, those traditions, and that knowledge is typically passed down through the male lineage: grandfather to father, father, to son, and so forth. A lot of women just never had the opportunity to go fishing because, because they were girls.

Peterson Toscano (17:25):

In addition to her work at the YMCA and as a fly fishing trainer, Jamie is the owner of the American Fly Fishing Company in Centre County. From there, she outfits people with everything they need to begin fly fishing. Jamie makes it clear that anyone can start fly fishing if they want. But what if they're really busy people, like me, and we don't have a lot of time during the months for a training session.

Jamie SanFilippo (17:51):

I actually partner with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. We offer Women's Intro to Fly Fishing classes all year round, and they are completely free. We hold those throughout the entire county, here in Centre County, also throughout the state.

Peterson Toscano (18:08):

Okay. But what about safety? There are lots of reasons why people don't like to go into the woods alone.

Jamie SanFilippo (18:14):

We get this question a lot during our classes from women who want to go in the woods and who want to fly fish, but they're afraid to do it alone. I certainly understand their concern. So we recommend finding friends. There's actually a Facebook group here in Pennsylvania. It's called the Pennsylvania Women Anglers. Women from all over the state, actually go on there. And, um, they find friends and they find fishing buddies who are also women. So, so they're not alone. And so they feel safer.

Peterson Toscano (18:45):

Ah, but what about the cost? Fly fishing looks like it can be really expensive.

Jamie SanFilippo (18:50):

Fly fishing can be expensive. It does not have to be. So when I first started fly fishing, I bought an entire outfit. You know, rod, reel, line, entire setup for under $200. And at the time I didn't even own a pair of waders or wading boots. I put on a real high pair of knee, high boots, some luck boots. And, and I would go down to, um, the local stream and fish from the banks. And I learned, you know, I learned a lot that way and that is how I started. And that's how most people do start. It doesn't have to be expensive. And I understand that is a barrier to entry into this sport. But I encourage people to just be really resourceful. And you know, there are really cheap rod outfits out there. Um, you can even borrow one from a friend or you can, um, join local women's groups. And a lot of the times they will have equipment that you can borrow.

Peterson Toscano (19:49):

Okay. But what if I don't know anyone who is a fly fisher?

Jamie SanFilippo (19:53):

The YMCA of Centre County. We actually partner with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. We are a fishing tackle loaner site. And we actually provide spin fishing equipment for free to anyone in the community that wants it. Hopefully this year we are going to start having fly fishing equipment as well.

Peterson Toscano (20:14):

Okay. That is amazing. It's like taking a book out of the library. How cool is that? For women interested in fly fishing themselves, or perhaps you have a friend or a relative who might like the sport? What advice does Jamie have to offer?

Jamie SanFIlippo (20:28):

Contact a local fly fishing guide, There are female fly fishing guides. We are few and far in between, but we are out there. Guides typically provide you with everything that you could possibly need to be on the water for your first time. Check out the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the classes that they offer. I am president of our local Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. We have a very active women anglers group, and this group has equipment that women can borrow if they do not have any of their own. And they meet actually at least once a month.

Peterson Toscano (21:04):

And check out Jamie's website, That's And definitely check out Jennifer Pencek’s article in the Outdoor Pursuits section of the summer 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. 

Outdoor activities like fishing have become especially important during this time of the coronavirus lockdown. Now Pennsylvania counties are moving from red to yellow, and to green phases. We suddenly have more options. Even with the near constant news about the coronavirus, though, many of us are still hungry for more information, especially local information. So I reached out to Evangelical Community Hospital and they put me in touch with Kendra Aucker, their president and CEO. Like so many conversations happening these days, we chatted through a call on zoom.

Peterson Toscano (22:04):

How are you doing? And how are you taking care of yourself during this very strange time? 

Kendra Aucker:

Well, thank you for asking. I'm doing fine. I spend a lot of time working right now. So when I'm not working, I tend to try to find some things to binge-watch on television. I've certainly greatly enjoyed the weather and I've been spending time outside. I enjoy riding my bike. I have a gas-fired fire pit, and I enjoy sitting outside in the evenings around my fire pit. And I also have a Peloton spin bike. So that has been a salvation to me. I have been Zooming with my children on a regular basis. So between working, that's kind of how I wind down. I read, binge-watch something or spend some time outside or exercise.

Peterson Toscano (22:51):

Oh, it sounds like you're got a nice balance there. And do you have a special corona comfort food?

Kendra Aucker (22:56):

Oh my, I have to be careful, uh, in general. I like chocolate. So I have to watch a little bit, especially here in the office. They keep the chocolate stash pretty high here. And when I'm home, it's more, I'm probably a person that likes crunchy salty things. So I have to watch pretzels and things like that, but not too bad.

Peterson Toscano (23:18):

What is it that you think people need to know for sure about this time and keeping themselves and their loved ones safe?

Kendra Aucker (23:27):

Sure. I, I mean, I think it's an extremely hard time and this is a long game. It's not going to be over quickly. And so initially people listened and did the physical distance thing, you know, followed the hand hygiene and the, you know, keeping surfaces cleaned and masking. And over time, I think we all get weary of it, but it has worked. And particularly in this region where we're already rural and we already, fortunately, don't all live on top of one another. I think we've seen great success from physical distancing. The challenge comes now and that we're tired of it. And you can't see it. We have not been devastated by the virus. Certainly in the seat that I sit in, the people who have had it are extremely sick and it's very hard to watch. It's very hard for the staff to watch people as they're as sick as they are with this virus.

But overall we've been fortunate to not have been really hammered, so to speak, by the number of patients we have. But we could very quickly head that direction, you know, as you move into the fall season again, or even right now. I was disturbed this weekend when I saw places opening up and how many people just didn't even try to physically distance and kind of maintain masking and that type of thing across the country. So that's the stuff that concerns me is that I believe it works. I think we've seen it work. And from a healthcare resource perspective, if we can keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, like we have to date, I would be most happy. So I get a little upset when I see people talk about it. People say that this is made up. People say that we should not have to follow these rules anymore. You're infringing on my rights.

I respect differences of opinion, but in the world that I live in, in which I see this as a public health crisis, not a political issue, it would be very important to me for people to wear a mask when they go out, follow the rules that are set up. When we go to green, it doesn't mean green back to normal, the way it was pre-COVID. It means green, things are opening up, but you still need to follow the protocols that are established. So I think it's just, it's just common sense, but it's very hard. I'm a very impatient person. I miss seeing my children who live out of the area. I miss, you know, some of those kinds of freedoms, the things like vacations that I had to cancel and look forward to. And if we can just recognize that it is a brief moment in time and we can get through it. And the better we follow the guidelines that were given to us, the quicker we'll get back to, um, on a more normal state, which is what we all long for.

Peterson Toscano (26:18):

People say, you know, they hear all sorts of different things. And so that's their excuse for not following any of them. And some people even say like, I can't wear a mask because I have a medical condition. Where should people get their information from first off? And if someone believes they have a medical condition, is there a mask that they could wear? Who should they talk to about getting a proper mask?

Kendra Aucker (26:41):

I think you should always look at the CDC site for your facts about what's happening. And then I think you should talk to your physician. Talk to your primary care physician, or if you see a specialist for a certain kind of condition, talk to them. I mean, none of us like to wear a mask. My best friend was talking to me about how she feels like she hyperventilates whenever she wears a mask. It's that barrier, you know? And in her mind she can't breathe. And we sort of chuckle about it. But I understand it. It is an odd thing to get used to. But you need to do it. And if you can't do it, you should talk to your healthcare professional about what you can do as an alternative, or send somebody else out to get you the things that you need.

That's how firmly I believe in masking. The thing that people don't realize is it's like, if you choose not to get a flu vaccine, because you're personally not worried about getting the flu, it's about passing it on to someone else. And it's the same with COVID. You may have it, not know you have it, be asymptomatic and be shedding the virus and passing it on to someone else. And that's why you wear a mask. It's not all about you. It's also about others and your respect for others and what they're trying to protect themselves from. I certainly have respect for people who have differences of opinion, but this is one where if you follow the science of this, which I follow the science, you need to wear a mask.

Peterson Toscano (28:08):

Well, thank you. And thank you for everything you're doing to keep us safe and healthy here in the Valley. I definitely appreciate that. And what your entire team has been doing.

Kendra Aucker (28:17):

Thank you very much. I appreciate the conversation and your kind words.

Peterson Toscano (28:26):

Coming up, we talk about food. Food you can grow, food you can prepare and two very different regional cuisines you can enjoy in the Susquehanna Valley. One of these I discovered in a strange way, while walking around Sunbury, Pennsylvania.

Peterson Toscano (28:54):

Food, it's been a real comfort for many of us living through this pandemic. Now, as we have move into the warmer months, people are also finding peace and joy in their gardens. Erica Shames, publisher of Susquehanna Life magazine, tells me she already had a jump on the growing season.

Erica Shames (29:13):

You know, over the winter, I started growing things, specifically tomatoes, cucumbers, and arugula, in my sunroom. This did a couple of things for me. Obviously I didn't get the fruits of my labor yet, or certainly not over the winter. My tomatoes are just starting to turn green. The idea of having a way to be more in control of your destiny, to feel more in control of your life. You know that may sound like a strange corollary, but I feel, I feel like it would translate well to an article in Susquehanna Life—giving people reasons and ideas and ways to grow their own food, making it, making people realize that it's not difficult and it's very achievable. But also that feeling that it's almost a therapeutic thing to put some seeds into the ground and have some life grow from them. It also will provide us with some really good food to eat and make us feel like we are more in control of our destiny.

Peterson Toscano (30:19):

And since you're growing tomatoes, uh, you'll get to try my recipe.

Erica Shames (30:25):

I can't wait. Peterson has a wonderful recipe that he loaned us for the summer issue, which adorably is called Mom's Raw Tomato Sauce.

Peterson Toscano (30:37):

Yeah. So now you can see I'm really motivated by food. That's what really gets me going. 

Erica Shames:

I'm right there with you.

Peterson Toscano (30:46):

I can't wait for Erica to try the recipe for herself. Mom's Raw Tomato Sauce. It's super easy to make. 

Okay. You take fresh, large local juicy tomatoes. Slice them, almost paper-thin. Place one layer of these slices on the bottom of a casserole dish as a base, then sprinkle the following on top: fresh garlic, crushed and chopped; fresh basil leaves torn into smaller pieces; salt, and pepper. How much of these toppings? Well, as much as you can take. Then place another layer of tomato slices over the toppings, and then add more toppings. Then another layer and toppings until you almost fill the casserole dish. Leave about three inches, though, at the top for the next step: you will want to drench these layers with extra virgin olive oil. Don't be shy. It's good for you. I use at least a cup of oil, usually more. Then cover the casserole dish and leave it on the counter out of direct sunlight for one to three hours.

During that period, the flavors will get nicely blended. When the sauce is ready, make pasta. For this sauce, I prefer angel hair pasta, a very thin spaghetti. Cook your pasta, but please don't overcook it. And in a large pasta bowl mix the raw tomato sauce with your pasta. Have your favorite freshly grated cheese on hand, dash to the table and dig in. If you should happen to have leftovers, we rarely do, you can fry these up the next day in a frying pan till some of the pasta is kind of crusty. It's unbelievably sublime. If you make this dish, let me know. Send your thoughts, maybe even a photo, to

Peterson Toscano (32:47):

Some foods immediately remind us of home. When people move to a different part of the USA, they often long for a local food that's hard to find. In the fall, I traveled down to North Carolina for work. Before I went down there, though, my host learned that I lived in Sunbury. She said, “Really? I grew up in Williamsport.” Small world. She asked, “Have you ever heard of Middleswarth Potato Chips?” Uh, yeah. In fact, I keep saying, I need to do a story on Middleswarth just so I can get a tour of their factory. She then asked, “Could you do me a favor and bring me a small bag of Middleswarth Barbecue Chips? I surprised her with a giant Weekender Bag. She was so happy. She also said she wasn't going to share them with anyone. And I believe her. 

Our region is rich in local foods. Having moved to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, from Hartford, Connecticut, over 10 years ago, I didn't realize that the most important local foods Sunbury had to offer was right under my nose. That wasn't till a very early morning walk in town. 

Peterson Toscano (33:57):

During that walk, I witnessed something terrible, disturbing, but it led to something wonderful. Writer Glenn Retief tells the story in the summer 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine

Glen Retief (34:16):

Paris has macrons—cloud light sweet confections made from egg whites and baker's sugar. New York has chewy delicious bagels brought there by Polish Jews who, in the 13th century, began boiling the bread they sold to Christians to diffuse antisemitic accusations about Jews being carriers of contagions. And Sunbury, Pennsylvania? What food tradition encapsulates the spirit of this gritty and faded, but beautiful mill town at the confluence of the great Susquehanna’s West and North branches. This question was at the front of the mind of actor, playwright and Bible scholar Peterson Toscano on the morning of September 12th, 2017. That morning Toscano had strolled down Market Street in Sunbury, when he noticed signs stapled to poles and trees. These posters, which he later learned had been printed out from an Alt-right website, contained messages like, white people will not be replaced, and demands that Asian and African-Americans should go back to their continents.

The signs were not, of course, just hateful. They were also nonsensical, though. The only end original inhabitants of Sunbury are the Susquehannock, who lived in wooden long houses will bear and wolf skins, and grew corn, beans and squash in the fertile floodplains. Compared to them, everyone is a newcomer, an interloper. But Toscano didn't want to react to the posters in what had by then become a familiar pattern of goading by white supremacists, followed by protests by progressives. He wanted to address the fear that seemed to underlie the posters, of a culture feeling displaced. That was how he found himself, just over a week later, in the offices of the Sunbury Revitalization, Inc., SRI, talking about sandwiches. 

Sunbury, population 9,500, has more than 20 downtown sub shops. All of them at the time of writing, still serving up sandwiches in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic.

As a point of comparison, the town doesn't have a single bookstore, bike shop or sushi counter. Subs, though, are serious business here. Forget the Eagles versus the Steelers, Democrats against Republicans. In Sunbury, your heroes are as likely as not to be, well, heroes. Say Marlin's Turkey, foot-long piled with iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato. Or Sunbury Subs meatball Cosmo, with thick tomato gravy and sprinkled Parmesan cheese. 

So then voila, the annual Sunbury Sandwich Stroll, adopted that September by SRI, as a positive celebration of the city's heritage to help take the focus off fear, narrowness and bigotry. The idea was simple. Let visitors buy 10 tickets for $10 and then let them exchange each ticket for mini sandwich at one of 15 or more businesses, all within walking distance of the town's main thoroughfare. At first local businesses invited to join in were somewhat skeptical. It just seemed a bit strange to them, Toscano remembers today. A whole event dedicated, purely to sandwiches? But in the end, they saw a chance to bring downtown to life again.

On a sweltering Saturday in June 2018, many dozens of people descended on this historic city center. SRI quickly sold out of its hundred tickets. A lighthearted camaraderie filled the streets. When people got too full to eat, they gave away their tickets to local teenagers hanging out under the Maple trees in Cameron Park. The consensus among town leaders was that the event had been wildly successful. 

In 2020, of course, the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic hangs over any events scheduled for the summer. But for now the Sunbury Sandwich Stroll remains scheduled for June 27th. SRI is hopeful that this summer will allow the city to once more celebrate its favorite working class, lunchtime snack—a morsel that arguably mirrors the structure of our state.

There's an old joke, after all, that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is shaped like a sandwich. At the top, you have a slice of urban Pittsburgh. At the bottom, a crust of sophisticated Philadelphia. And in the middle? They call it Pennsyltucky, as if the middle of the state where all about bluegrass music, hunting and moonshine. But as those of us who live here now, it's often the filler that makes the hoagie. And our own region, as readers of Susquehanna Life will be aware, is full of tasty and surprising delights.

Peterson Toscano (38:56):

Writer Glenn Retief received the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for his book, The Jack Bank, a memoir of a South African childhood. Glenn teaches Creative Nonfiction at Susquehanna University. 

Now the last message about the Sandwich Stroll I received from the Sunbury Revitalization Inc. says, quote, We are watching information that unfolds from the governor's office to see what events are allowed to be held, and when. We're in a holding pattern right now. End quote. For the most up-to-date information about the Sandwich Stroll, visit 

Before we end our show, there is another regional cuisine you will want to hear about. No, it's not originally from the Susquehanna Valley, but it has found a home at a truck stop off Route I-80, not far from Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.

Peterson Toscano (39:51):

After several readers mentioned the restaurant to Susquehanna Life publisher, Erica Shames, she asked me if I had ever heard of Kavkaz restaurant. It’s at exit 192, off I-80. Oh yeah, indeed. In fact I've been there twice and I really can't wait to return. Now from the outside, it looks like your typical American greasy spoon. In fact, they do serve all the American classics—burgers and fries, eggs and bacon. But what you really want to get at Kavkaz restaurant is the Georgian, Armenian, Greek and other Eastern European and Mediterranean dishes. Both times I've been there, most of the clientele were truck drivers who emigrated from Eastern Europe. If you look on Yelp, you're going to see tons of glowing reviews about the place. The owners write, When you dine with us, we want you to feel the richness and hospitality of the Caucasus region and find the feeling of home in our spicy, hearty, juicy cuisine.

So what do they offer? Brash homemade ketchup, Khachapuri bread, which you can get with melted cheese and an egg in the center. They have stews and soups, including the most hardy borscht I ever encountered. Meatballs with homemade mashed potatoes is a favorite. They have Greek salad, multiple potato and vegetable dishes. So much. Portions are massive and the food is super-tasty. The restaurant is Kavkaz. You spell that K a V K a Z. That's K a V K a Z. Just get off Exit 192, towards Jersey Shore, on Route I-80. It may not look like much on the outside, but inside it is comfort food paradise. 

In the summer 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine, you will find our restaurant guide to other excellent places to eat in the region. During this time of coronavirus, though, be sure to call a restaurant in advance. Their hours may have changed and you may need to make a reservation, as seating might be limited. During these warmer months, more and more restaurants are offering outdoor seating options.

Peterson Toscano (42:02):

Thank you for listening to Susquehanna Life Out Loud. Our podcast is available on Spotify, Google play, Stitcher radio and Apple iTunes. Since we are a new podcast, giving us a rating and a review on Apple podcast will increase our visibility. 

If you like what you heard today, please share the podcast with your friends. Word of mouth. It is the best way. 

Many thanks to Kendra Aucker, from Evangelical Community Hospital, writers Jennifer Pencek and Glen Retief, and Jamie SanFilippo, from American Fly Fishing Company. 

Feel free to visit us online at SusquehannaLife dot com. There you will find a comprehensive list of the many businesses that sell our magazine, or if you want us to come directly to you, look at our subscription options. Just visit SusquehannaLife dot com. 

Send comments, suggestions and questions about the podcast to You can also give us your recommendations for restaurants and tell us about your favorite comfort foods.

That email address again is You can follow us on Facebook and you can see many beautiful photographs on our Instagram account. Just look for Susquehanna Life. We offer full show notes with links to our guests and the many resources we mentioned in today's show. We also have a full transcript of the show, just visit At the top of the page, you will see a link to Susquehanna Life Out Loud. That website is 

Susquehanna Life Out Loud is written and produced by me, Peterson Toscano. Erica Shames is the cohost and executive producer. 

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud was brought to you by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership. The LDP thanks everyone who's been supporting downtown Lewisburg. They want you to know that many Lewisburg stores are open to shoppers, almost all offer curbside pickup and delivery. This includes the many fantastic Lewisburg restaurants. To learn more, go to their website, That's And for the most up-to-date information on Lewisburg events, activitiesand businesses visit their Facebook page. Just look for Downtown Lewisburg. That Facebook page is Downtown Lewisburg.

Peterson Toscano (44:29):

Thank you for listening to our show. I hope you have a safe, peaceful and food filled summer 2020. Keep washing your hands. Oh, and don't forget to moisturize.

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