The annual Cabin Fever Festival to benefit the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center and hosted by Olde Mistick Village was a stroke of genius by the original organizers. As its name implies, it comes at just the right time, deep into winter — the doldrums — when we’ve had enough of the cold, dark mornings and cold, dark afternoons, and we’re looking to get out in the fresh air and move around a bit. Without a shovel in our hands.
But more than an excuse to get out — and give merchants a midwinter shot — the heart of the event is really about raising money for the Neighborhood Center’s food pantry. While browsing the shops in the village, those who attend are urged to take part in the Charity Chowder Cookoff, in which local restaurants vie for bragging rights. Tickets are sold for 3-ounce tastings and participants can vote for the People’s Choice Award winner. The event raised just over $13,000 last year and has raised more money each successive year through its 10-year history.
For the past few years, I’ve been asked to be part of a very informal panel of media judges, and I’ll be there again today, tasting 24 various forms of creamy creativity.
If memory serves me correctly, we’ve tried crocodile chowder and buffalo chowder in the past along with the more routine corn and shrimp chowders that add variety to the various clam chowder concoctions. We’re asked to judge three categories: most creative chowder, heartiest, and best use of regional ingredients.
This year, I’ll be joined by two former colleagues during my time at The Day — that other community news operation just west of here — Elissa Bass and Rick Koster. Elissa moved on to that AOL experiment in local news, Patch, and is now working as a social media wizard for a few local organizations. Rick is still at The Day, where he has managed to retain the coolest beat in community journalism — writing about the local music scene and whatever else seems to interest him. He makes the rest of us envious. Rick is taking over for Ann Nyberg, one of the news anchors at WTNH-TV in New Haven, who joined the panel for a few years. There’s always good banter among us as we slurp our way through the entries. Some we scoop right to the bottom; others are abandoned after a spoonful.
Years ago, an editor’s participation in such an event would be shunned. How could our objectivity about the organization remain intact while we agree to participate in a supportive event?
We’ve matured as an industry since that time. We can be people first and reporters second now; it’s OK. And I’m happy about that. Because I can’t imagine turning down a request to help with the center’s operations based on a need to stay impartial. Rest assured, however, if we catch a staffer pilfering a jar of peanut butter we’ll get right on it. Mostly, however, I suspect we’ll be writing about all the good the center brings to families all around us. From parents in need of bread and milk to senior citizens in need of companionship, there are few organizations that do as much good as the Neighborhood Center. So I hope you’ll join me today in slurping some chowder, contributing to a great cause, and breathing in the first hint of spring air.
David Tranchida is editor of The Sun.