Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Friendly Visitors!

One of my oldest and dearest friends lives three hours away -  thankfully, she and I made a deal with each other years ago to make plans to do something fun every couple of months.  We did not want to let the years slip by until one day in our dotage we realize too late that we should have seen each other more often over the years.  It is easy to do, especially as we all grow older and busier.

Ms. K and I have been friends since college and even roomed together for a bit when we both lived in the city.  She is still there (lucky girl!) and I am now up living in the wilds of VT.  Another friend had invited me to cover his band for my blog (that post will be out later this week!), and I knew Ms. K would be up for a concert, dinner, and catch-up time.

Ms. K arrived on a Saturday afternoon and after a quick chit-chat, we headed outside to run around in the yard (newly freed from snow!) to play with Didi and The Mister.

After spending a good bit of time watching Deeds run after her coveted soccer ball, we got dolled up and headed 'into town' for dinner and some great live music. First on the agenda: dinner at Elixir in White River Junction.  I love Elixir. Any place up here where one isn't surrounded by wood paneling and ceilings decorated with antlers or outdoor gear is okay in my book. For the record, I like those places too, but our area is over-run with them for tourist purposes, and finding a place that has even a hint of cosmopolitan flair takes some work.  And oftentimes, some driving. Elixir is well worth it.

After perusing the menu, we quickly ordered cocktails and some nibbly bits to share.

There were truffled fries with a yummy roasted shallot aioli and then baked figs, bacon, and blue cheese delivered alongside lovely little toasts.  And because one can't have too many carbs, (right???), there were also chewy bits of bread to be dipped into an herbed olive oil.  Once we had our fill of those, we moved on to the main course.  For Ms. K it was the risotto cakes with shrimp, pancetta, and peas; and for me, the crunchy and delicious peanut chicken served alongside perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes and savoy cabbage.

I apologize that some of my pics are upside down or odd-looking...blogger and my photo-formatting platform are not playing well together today.  Sigh.  That said, the food was awesome and the service lovely.

Anyway.  Once Ms. K and I had our fill we walked around the corner to Tupulo Music Hall to see my friend Ed's band play (more on that later this week!). It was a great concert and made for a great end to a fun day.

After a fun evening out 'on the town' up here, we headed back to the house, watched some SNL, and then got some sleep.  Thankfully, I knew we would be up late and I would have to rustle up an easy but still delicious brekkie for us all the next morning.  I had just the meal.

If you want to wow the pants off of friends or family for brunch, I highly recommend this winner.  And, not only is it super-healthy, it is delish.  Although I didn't go there this time 'round, a well-cooked serving of bacon or sausage would be the perfect accompaniment.  You'll need some eggs, onion, green peppers, freshly chopped parsley, some juicy limes, and some peeled-and-chopped butternut squash (sweet potatoes would also work well).

First, throw your squash into a big pan along with a splash of good olive oil (and salt and pepper).  I also like to add some freshly chopped rosemary but it isn't necessary.  Whilst that is slowly cooking over medium heat, chop up your peppers and onions.  Once your bits of squash begin to soften and take on some color, throw the lid on your pan and let them soften up a bit more.

Once they are a tiny bit softer (but not too soft!), take the lid off add some freshly grated lime zest and lime juice to taste.   Move your squash off to the side.

Next, throw in your onion and pepper. Let them cook a bit...again, you want them to wilt a bit but not so much that you have a pan full of mush.  I know, I am very precise.  :O)  Once they begin to soften, mix everything together.

Next, pull your pan off the heat and create some little divets or 'holes' for each of your eggs.  And then pour each of your little eggy-weggs into a divet.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pop into a 425 degree (F) oven for 10 minutes or so. You want the whites firm but the yolks just the tiniest bit runny...or, to your taste.  Top with some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Didi, this meal is not for you.  

As a visit to my side did not pay off, Deeds went off to nap next to Ms. K while we watched some good but seriously cheesy TV.

And then, we had some surprise visitors traipsing across the lawn.  A mamma moose and her baby made a surprise visit to The 1839 House!   I know everyone outside of VT thinks we see them all the time, but we do not.  They are very private animals and do not want to be seen.  Driving hither and yon, (i.e., to work and back), I see deer, wild turkeys, guinea fowl, foxes, the occasional bear, and wolves...moose not so much. They are elusive and a personal visit makes one feel privileged. Since moving to VT 8 years ago, this is only my third moose sighting in our fair state.


I can't think of a better way to wrap up a great weekend with one of my dearest friends!

Meghan xo

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sugar Shack Time!

As half my blog's name is 'Sugar Shacks', I felt it was about time to introduce you to a few local sugar shacks...well, sugar houses really.  But first, some history.  As most know, the maple tree and the maple syrup business are synonymous with the state of Vermont which is quite interesting as prior to colonization and the introduction of industry (and with it, deforestation), the birch and beech trees were what (mostly) populated the hills and mountains of my adopted state, not the maple. The maple was here, but it was certainly not the predominant feature in a 1700s landscape. A century later, things had changed. Only after noticing the visual blight which came as a negative side effect of logging and massive clearing, early conservationists began repopulating our hills and mountains with trees...but with maple trees, not the birch and beech.  I wonder if they knew what a massive (and positive) long-term impact this would have on the economy of Vermont.

When you drive through the countryside here, you can't go too far without passing a house or farm that has a large sign saying "VT Maple Syrup for Sale."  We have several on our road alone - that said, our 'road' is approximately 20 miles of a country route.  As you can see in my avatar, we have an old fashioned sugar shack on our property.

 Here's a better shot of our actual sugar shack, not functional as it has been stripped of all its parts.

I have dreams of putting in a pool next to it and reinventing our little shack as a pool house... The Mister is horrified at this idea...I think it is brilliant.  Anyway, I digress.

And, as sugaring season makes its appearrance, you also see aluminum buckets attached to trees everywhere. Like these two, right here. 

You also see trees roped with blue tubing.  I will admit that when I first moved here, I had no idea what the blue tubing was....my flat-lander brain assumed it was some old-school way of mapping one's property.  I know...I can hear you laughing.  :)  I now know that the tubing carries the sap hither and yon, through one's property to its destination which is often something larger than the buckets (which are only used to capture small amounts), and which will then be boiled down to delicious, delectable maple syrup.

Maple sugaring is a cottage industry that is done "mom-and-pop style" by individuals all over the state, as well as on a bigger scale by larger farms.  And, because the maple sugar season is so short and is so dependant on a perfect transition from winter to spring, and at just the right time, any fluctuation can cause prices to rise dramatically....I think the current going rate for VT maple syrup is $50 US dollars/gallon...I kid you not.  That is why, my friends, it is often referred to as liquid gold.

In any event, a weekend a few weeks back is celebrated across the state as the official start to the maple season and sugar houses across the state - big and small - have open houses and welcome visitors to see how the sweet magic is made.

Despite it being Spring, this year's kick-off was a bit more wintery than maple producers had wanted.  When The Mister and I left the house it was snowing and only 20 degrees (F)....kind of cold for this time of year.  But it would not deter us!  Off we went, over the hills and streams...on un-plowed roads (I'll save my commentary on that for another post).

The first sugar house we visited was Silloway Maple in Randolph and you can find information on their history, as well as details on all their yummy maple products by clicking here.  They are a larger producer and are even solar-powered!  It was super-busy when we arrived and there was a bit of excitement in the air about the start of maple season...it could also be that with maple season comes warmer weather which we here in the northeast desperately want!

Paul, seen here, was kind enough to explain all the ins-and-out of their process to us. 

Silloway has switched to a reverse-osmosis machine for producing syrup which makes the process a lot more efficient.  For example, making syrup without the reverse osmosis machine would mean you'd need 86 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.  I know...kind of mind-blowing, isn't it??? With this new technology, a producer can reduce this ratio to approximately 57 gallons of sap to a gallon of syrup (I do hope I remembered this correctly!).

After tapping thousands of trees throughout their property, they gather it all up using recycled milk tanks (love that VT spirit of environmentally friendly industry!), and bring it back to the sugar house.

Next, the sap begins moving through the reverse osmosis machine.  It was on the one hand a very simple process but also very technical as the soon-to-be syrup moves its way through various filters...these maple producers have to keep a close eye on the process from start to finish. 

After a great tour of their process, it was time for the tasty part of maple sugaring season - donuts, cider, and sugar-on-snow!  And yes, that is actually snow!  If you haven't tried maple syrup on snow, I highly recommend you add it to your wintertime bucket list.  The best parts are the little chewy bits where the syrup has become semi-frozen...yummm....


We then picked up a few bottles (for ourselves and for friends) and went on our way to the next stop: Sugarbush Farms in Woodstock which is a smaller (but no less awesome) operation.  As you now know the process, I will just give you a visual tour of Sugarbush.  On our way we were very happy to be able to cross the Taftsville bridge which has been rebuilt after having been wrecked during Hurricane Irene. 

That my friends, is maple sugar weekend in Vermont.  I hope if you are ever in the northeast and thinking of paying a visit this time of year to our fair state, I hope that you check out one of the many sugaring houses scattered throughout VT!

Meghan xo