Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maple Open House Weekend

Last weekend was Maple Open House Weekend in Vermont, meaning all the local sugar houses welcomes guests, hosted pancakes breakfasts and sugar-on-snow tasting parties, and basically celebrated maple season. You gotta love living in Vermont.

So anyway, I simply had to go check one out. I wouldn’t have felt like my time spent in Vermont was complete without visiting at least one sugarhouse. Last Sunday, Wyatt (my dog) and I drove out to Dakin Farms. Now, Danielle says that Dakin doesn’t count, but you know what? They were the only ones to host a pancake breakfast on Sunday, while all the others were Saturday (and since I work Saturday mornings, that wasn’t an option). So, Dakin counts in my book. Besides, they were actively boiling while I was there, and isn’t that the whole point, anyway?

Wyatt hung out in the car while I ventured in. The line was super-long and snaked around the room with all the machinery in the middle. It was billowing smoke and water was dripping from the ceiling, which really just added to the whole experience. For ten bucks, I got an OJ, two huge pancakes, bacon, and fruit salad, plus, because Dakin wants to support local dairy farmers, they had huge vats of milk that were free to all visitors (quaint and quirky at the same time). Each table had jugs of fresh 2011 crop syrup to pour on to your heart’s content. Because I was there alone, I was kind of nervous about finding a place to sit, especially because it was so busy. But a group of old ladies welcomed me to their table and we all talked about Rachael Ray recipes that involved maple syrup. All in all, not a bad way to spend the morning.

Besides an operational sugarhouse, Dakin also has a store that I browsed through (you may be familiar with their catalogues; they are especially known for their holiday hams). I walked away with a piece of maple sugar candy – I mean, who could resist? – plus a jug of syrup, a maple-based cookbook, and a package of sweet Italian sausage. What’s not to like?

After I left the sugarhouse, Wyatt and I just went for a leisurely Sunday morning drive down to Middlebury and back, a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and Frank Sinatra’s crooning serving as accompaniments. Life is good.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The (new and improved?) Bluebird Tavern

Last night Danielle and I went out to the Bluebird Tavern. This wasn’t just our usual weekly get together, though – this was a special occasion? Why was it so special, you may ask? I passed my thesis defense yesterday!!!! (A little overkill on the exclamation marks, I know, but I just can’t help myself, I am so excited). You may not really care about my thesis and whether I graduate on time or not, but let me tell you, it matters a lot to me and I am telling anyone who will listen. Okay, it is out of my system now.
So, dinner. I don’t think I have mentioned before that the chef at the Bluebird changed a few months ago – it was kind of a shock, because the menu was so popular and Aaron Josinksy was nominated for a James Beard while working there, plus he had a recipe featured in a Tasting Table email – his leaving the Bluebird was big gossip in the local Burlington foodie world. He went on to do a temporary stint at the Top Notch Resort and Spa; I don’t know how he was received there. Michael Clauss replaced Josinsky. I hadn’t dined at the Bluebird since the turnover, and I have to admit I was concerned. My previous few experiences there were so good, it was going to be hard to live up to them
All and all, the two chefs came out about even in my book – I kept score. The cheese board was prettier than ever, and just as delicious (the kumquat preserve and raw honey were both really nice accompaniments, too) – so that was a point in the favor of Clauss. However, I did not enjoy his new way of preparing the mussels – an almost curry-like, spicy, creamy sauce. I much preferred Josinsky’s more traditional garlic and wine-based broth to be sopped up with Red Hen Baking Co. grilled bread, so point for him. The French fries were pretty much the same – yummy – so even scores there. And thank God Clauss didn’t mess with the ketchup. Since I have already spent time singing its praises, today I’ll simply say – it is awesome. So sweet. So tangy. Great texture. Right, I’m done. So, another even score there. The wine selection was just as good as ever, as was the specialty drinks menu (Danielle had “Sugar on Snow” – a ball of crush ice floating in bourbon, served with a little pitcher of pure maple syrup to pour over. Only in Vermont). Finally, since this was a celebration and all, I felt the need to order dessert – a walnut pie topped with maple ice cream. It was good, of course – very, very sweet – but not outstanding, as has usually been the case with dessert at the Bluebird (good but not super memorable)…with the exception of that olive oil cake I had a while back. Remember that? Soooo good. Wow, it’s a good thing its almost lunch time as I write this.
I am disappointed to admit that the service was seriously lacking last night, which is very unusual for the Bluebird. It took a very long time before our waitress came over to even take our drink orders, and then our meals took quite awhile as well. Usually, the atmosphere and excellent service are part of what makes the Bluebird Tavern standout, but last night that wasn’t really the case. Despite that pitfall, it was still a great evening. Delectable food, a good friend, and the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders – what more could a girl ask for?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Check it out!

I have developed a recipe! Furthermore, I have successfully tested the recipe earlier this evening and it was delicious – so, to summarize, I have successfully developed a delicious recipe! This made a beautiful dinner, comforting but able to be spiffed up for company too – and it is sooo simple. I’m calling it Early Spring Pasta because it features asparagus. Did you know that western Massachusetts, around the area where my grandparents live, is known for its asparagus? Kind of a weird thing to be known for, but hey, everyone deserves their five minutes of fame. I made enough for two servings (one tonight and leftovers for tomorrow) but it easily be double or tripled. Also, I used Dreamfields pasta because it’s a bit healthier without that grainy whole wheat texture, but anything will work. Anyway, here is goes:

Early Spring Pasta

Serves 2

Cook time: 15 minutes, tops

Enough spaghetti to make 2 cups, about a third of the package

1 bunch fresh asparagus

1T olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg

Fresh basil, cut in ribbons, for garnish

Parmesan cheese for finishing, optional

Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water. While pasta cooks, trim asparagus – you only want the tender tips. Add the asparagus to the pasta during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Reserve about a ¼ cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain and return to hot pot. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Do this quickly because you want to keep everything as hot as possible. Quickly add the egg, stirring, so that the hot pasta cooks the egg – you need to be swift, otherwise the egg with cook in big globs instead of creating a velvety sauce. If it is too thick, gradually add the reserved cooking water until you reach the desired consistency. Top with basil and cheese, if desired. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

So there it is! Kind of a riff on pasta primavera, carbonara, and asparagus with hollandaise. Let me know what you think!