Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New England Tour 2011: Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

I wish I could remember where I first came across mention of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. I do remember thinking "wow, that looks really neat." Last summer it just was not an option -- we were moving, buying a car, having a baby -- but I put it down on my list of things to try to do this year.

And we did! We went! And it was great. Even better, we got to spend the weekend with D*'s awesome sister and her husband, who moved to Burlington last year. I have driven past the city any number of times, but never spent any time there before. It looks like a really great place, and the scenery is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

We drove up on Saturday--the last day of the recent heat wave, and when we got in the temperatures were in the 90s. We unloaded our things and hit the nearest beach. I had no idea there were beaches there, so we weren't prepared, but who needs bathing suits? 

Then back home for dinner and a late bedtime for some very tired children.

Some time in the night a thunderstorm passed through and the temperature finally dropped, leaving Sunday clear and crisp and all around the most beautiful weather possible. After the baby's morning nap, we headed over to Shelburne Farms.

The place. Is. Huge. It goes on and on and on. Beautiful lake views!

Ridiculously large buildings!


Solar panels!

And, of course, the festival!

I didn't even try to take any pictures of the interior, which was a complete zoo -- a very tasty zoo, a zoo packed with people enjoying themselves to the hilt, but a zoo nevertheless. The two older children were well and truly freaked out by the crowd, and ended up staying outside with their aunt and uncle while D* and I braved the stalls (Mimi in her baby carrier grabbed shirts and loose hair). It was somewhat overwhelming even for us, and after a while we snagged some edibles and joined everyone else for lunch on the grass.

Sans utensils as we were, it was a most primitive repast: hunks ripped off a baguette (from O Bread) with chunks of a soft white cheese (which I think was the Jack from Neighborly, but I might be getting them mixed up). On a beautiful summer day, there is absolutely nothing better than pure, simple foods!

After fortifying ourselves, we dove back into the fray, this time for proper shopping. On reflection, I think was a good approach: an initial tasting swing, and then a second to focus on picking up the ones I liked the best. If you ever get a chance to go to this event, be prepared to spend money! And bring a cooler, which I managed to forget even after I put it on my list of things to pack. After some agonizing, I ended up with four kinds of cheese (mostly cheddars, which I hoped would travel well), some shortbread cookies, chocolate, apple butter, and a second baguette. I didn't really taste any of the wines, but D* sampled a few and proclaimed them all to be on the sweet side.

After that, we took a ride on a tractor-drawn wagon up to the Farm Barn so the kids could see the animals, of which they have many -- sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, chickens.

We had another snack. (I was worried that they wouldn't have any milk available for JJ but hello... dairy farm? Duh!) L helped to milk a goat, and took part in the chicken roundup, when they put the birds into the barn for the evening. It may have been the cutest thing I have ever seen, a dozen children very seriously surrounding chickens and clapping their hands to herd them.

She also found an egg! We took a gander at the cheesemaking operation, which is pretty straightforward really, and relaxed in the grass before catching the last cart ride back to the festival and our cars.

In the morning it was time to head back to Boston with our swag. I would not at all mind making this into a tradition!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

30 Foods Meme - Day 1

I have never done one of these meme things, but this one sounds like fun, and the first one elicits a very easy response. I will take a shot at playing along.
What is the best recipe that a parent taught you to make?
There are different ways one could take that. My mother is not one of nature's cooks (my father is not in this picture at all). She kept us fed on a tight budget, and my childhood palate was perfectly all right with macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and things based on Cream of X soup. Vegetables were frozen, garlic was powdered, and going out to eat meant Perkins. Her own parents ate much the same way. It's the way a lot of Americans eat. It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I started to realize what a world of food there was (perhaps ironically, due to a cookbook she got me when D* and I first moved in together); I reached college without ever having eaten Chinese food, without having had real butter, and I still remember picking up a bunch of fresh asparagus for the first time.

So when it comes to recipes that a parent taught me to make, well, there's a pretty slim selection. If anything, it's actually gone in the other direction; my mom has recently started learning to cook because she's become vegetarian, and occasionally wants to cook for others, which means something other than frozen cheese pizzas. Some of these dishes have reached my grandparents' table, which has acquired more dietary restrictions as they age.

I have acquired a couple of recipes from my in-laws, but nothing that really fits the bill here. Which leaves me with only one thing, something we made straight through my childhood, in all of the apartments and houses we lived in, through good times and (lots of) bad. I made it for my college roommates. I still make it in exactly the same way.

The Toll House cookie. I know that small fortunes have been invested in a search for the perfect cookie, and entire books have been written on the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that money has all been wasted. There is no better chocolate chip cookie. I make them big, and underbake them slightly so they're chewy all through, and there is nothing out there that will ever take their place. I know the recipe by heart.

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 c butter, softened*
3/4 c sugar
3/4 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 package chocolate chips**

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
3. Cream the butter with the two sugars.
4. Add the eggs and beat until well incorporated.
5. Mix in the vanilla.
6. Mix in the dry ingredients slowly, just until incorporated.
7. Mix in the chips.
8. Drop onto a cookie sheet in large spoonfuls. Bake anywhere from 9-12 minutes, depending on how big they are and how you like the edges done.
9. Allow to cook on the sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

* I use salted butter, but stick to something like Land O Lakes, which has relatively mild salt content. For regular table use I prefer Kate's of Maine and Kerrygold, but those are too salty for cookies.

** I don't hold with walnuts in chocolate chip cookies, but if you do, go right ahead.

So there you have it, my very first meme.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Swiss Chard, Leek, and Gruyere Quiche (via Nutmeg Nanny)

My recent addiction to Tastespotting is paying dividends in the form of a burgeoning bookmark file, and a whole other place to look when I am Out of Ideas. This particular recipe was the result of a huge bunch of farmer's market chard taking up almost my entire vegetable drawer, and no particular idea how to use it. Thank goodness for search boxes, which led me to this blog post and a blog I'd never seen before. The Internet just goes on forever.

Generally speaking, I don't do quiche. I like to cook, but I am lazy, and quiche involves that whole crust thing. When I wrote down my week's menu plan, I put this down as a frittata instead. Then I thought, It's a Sunday afternoon. You have time. You've been scrambling for weeks, it's time to slow down. When are you going to have another chance to do this? So I got together the ingredients for the dough.

At which point our three-year-old ambled over and said, "Wet," in that particularly forlorn tone he uses on these occasions. In this case, wet meant a diaper blowout of proportions that required immediate laundry and bathing. So this almost became a frittata after all, but I got it together, made the dough (with 6yo's assistance), etc., etc. Grumbling to myself the while.

And it was absolutely worth it. I am a quiche convert. This may become a weekend "thing" now. I am going to reprint the recipe here because I made so many changes, mainly due to my not having a deep-dish tart pan, and partly due to the aforementioned laziness.

Swiss Chard, Leek, and Gruyere Quiche

2 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 recipe Flaky Tart Dough (it's Martha, you can't go wrong; cutting the recipe in half worked fine)
5 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 heaping cups torn Swiss chard leaves
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese
1 leek, sliced thinly

1. Make and chill the tart dough. After chilling, on a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a 16-inch round. With a dry pastry brush, sweep off any excess flour; fit dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom, gently pressing it into the sides. Using a sharp knife, trim the dough evenly with the edge of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap; chill tart shell until firm, about 20 minutes.

2. Preheat Oven to 375 degrees

3. Line the tart dough with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dried beans, or whatever). Transfer to oven and bake until light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove weights and parchment paper and continue baking until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

4. Whisk 1 egg and 2 1/2 Tbsp flour until smooth. Add the remaining eggs and continue mixing until well blended.
Add milk, salt, pepper, and thyme; mix until well combined.

5. Sauté leeks in olive oil until soft. Add the chard and cook until just wilted. Allow to cool, then add to the egg mixture. Pour it all into your cooled tart shell. (You may want to put the tart on a baking pan in case of leaks.)

6. Bake until filling is slightly firm and crust is a deep golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes.

7. Transfer quiche to a wire rack to cool until set, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The two of us polished off almost the entire thing for dinner, with a side of soup; it would serve four for lunch or with a more substantial set of side dishes (or daintier appetites!).

Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli (Williams Sonoma Comfort Food)

Crab twice in one weekend? Don't mind if I do! This recipe had been intended as our Father's Day showpiece, but then D* came down with something, so we had it a week later. It was no worse for the wait.

New England, of course, is known for lobster, but I maintain that whoever first plucked one from the briny deep, looked into those eyestalks and said, "Hey! Dinner!" must have been really hungry. I can take or leave them in shelled form, and shell-on prefer to keep my distance. Crab, on the other hand, I would happily eat every week (if I could afford it), and if a menu has crab cakes on it, you can safely bet the house that you know what my order will be.

Once a year or so I take a stab at making them myself; the results have been tasty, but lacking in visual appeal as they invariably fall apart. This has been my best attempt to date, and I suspect it's because they don't mess around trying to be "light." A teaspoon of oil and a nonstick pan just won't cut it in the adhesive department

They were a trifle too wet, but next time I will know to drain my crab better. 

Lemon Aioli
1 c mayonnaise
Finely grated zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Crab Cakes
1 lb lump crabmeat
3/4 c panko or other breadcrumbs, divided
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 c canola oil for frying
lemon wedges for serving

1. To make the aioli, mix together the mayonnaise, zest, juice, and garilc. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup of the aioli; cover and refrigerate the remaining 3/4 c until serving. 

2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Pick over the crab meat for shells and cartilage (there's always one tiny little piece). In a bowl, mix together 1/4 c of the panko, 1/4 c aioli, egg, mustard, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce, and parsley. Add the crabmeat and mix gently to combine. 

3. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions and shape into thick cakes. Spread the remaining 3/4 c panko in a shallow dish. Coat the cakes evenly with the panko. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. 

4. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the cakes and cook until the undersides are golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain briefly. 

5. Serve the cakes at once with lemon wedges and the remaining aioli on the side.

4 servings

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New England Tour 2011 Plus! Malone, NY

No one ever knows where Malone is. I sure didn't when I met D* . Most people think that by "upstate New York" I mean something around the state's midline, when what I actually mean is a place where, from a suitable height, you can wave hello to Canada.

Why go to Malone? High school reunions are strangely compelling things. I haven't been to one of my own, and probably wouldn't--the people I am most curious about are the ones who have dropped off the planet since graduation, not the ones I see on Facebook. But D* is different than I am, and since his parents moved away from the town this might be the only reason we have to visit it. So we piled into the car (again) on a Friday morning and drove north.

We stopped for lunch in White River Junction, choosing to spend our cash at the Polka Dot, a diner of ancient mien, well matching its personnel. It did have a wifi hot-spot, though! Across the street, no doubt in eternal conflict, was a much newer place full of young people with laptops called Tuckerbox.

Unfortunately, Polka Dot was not some lost foodie haven; my grilled cheese was orange cheese on square supermarket bread, and that was about the size of the place. On the virtue side, it was cheap and almost empty, so we weren't in anyone's way with the kids and all of our stuff. L didn't like that her fries were crinkle-cut. She ended up eating a granola bar.

We got to the ferry around three and found it waiting. This was the part the kids had been waiting for, and it does make for a very nice break in the trip, a chance to stretch legs and get some air.

We drove through a landscape common to small towns all over the region; acres of corn, cow pastures, auto shops, tractor dealers, antique stores containing a dozen unwanted attics, the occasional dentist or other professional catering to a shrinking population.

Some of the farms are renting out their land as windmill sites, and they make a striking and strange addition to the landscape, colossal structures breaking the gentle roll of trees and hillsides.

We got to our hotel (Super 8. Can't recommend it.) and headed out again almost at once in search of dinner. There's a place called Mo's at the Holiday Inn Express just up the road, and we settled there rather than subject ourselves to Pizza Hut. Pizza might have been a better option, as D*'s ravioli were still partially frozen (even after he complained about it). My pasta primavera included at least half a pound of pasta and was drenched in cream sauce. L had chicken fingers and french fries, which would merit a sigh from most parents, except that we have been praying she would venture to eat this ubiquitous children's item menu for several years now, instead of refusing to eat anything at all when we travel. JJ had graham crackers.

Then we had ice cream, went back to the hotel, watched Bolt on the TV, and went to bed. Overexcited and tired kids plus a ludicrously loud A/C unit made sleep long in arriving; the dog in the room next door and the baby made it interrupted.

Saturday morning we were all up early if not necessarily bright. It was a packed morning. Breakfast with some other reunion people, a trip out to Burke to see another old friend, a visit to High Falls.

Then lunch out at the Rec Park with D*'s sister and brother-in-law. There we took a much-needed time-out. The older kids played on the playground and in the water; a paddle-boat ride was taken; the baby played quietly in the grass, which seemed to take the place of nap time fairly well. No running around required for a few hours.

Then it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for the reunion dinner. I can't say much about the reunion itself; it wasn't mine, so I was necessarily at loose ends throughout. I found a couple of people to talk to, but that was eventually shut down by the DJ (who seemed to think that playing hair metal would strike the right note--yes, it was from the right years, but you can't dance to it). D* had a good time, and that was the point. His sister and her husband watched the kids, and they all had a trauma-free evening.

In the morning we got back together for breakfast. D* went to church, the kids watched videos, and I kept the baby from playing with power cords in the hotel room. In the afternoon we drove out to the Almonzo Wilder Farm to pick up some postcards for a friend of mine.

Then we went back to the Rec Park for an hour, and then over to a BBQ held by the family of some friends of D*'s. Their place is right on Lake Titus, so there was more water play and even a boat trip for L. Eventually the kids were worn out enough that we headed back to the hotel.

The trip back on the 4th was trouble-free, aside from the a/c in the van being out. There was only one flare of temper (JJ threw a toy over the side of the ferry on our return trip, upsetting his older sister on behalf of his younger one). We stopped for lunch in Montpelior, at a little place not far from 89 that has been different every time we go through the state, but which generally provides a decent lunch (and this time, gelato! yum). Then we stopped again at a rest stop a little farther down the highway. It was a perfect afternoon, and we didn't really want to leave, but if you have to spend a day driving with the windows down, you can do worse than a summer day in Vermont. The state is ridiculously beautiful, and I89 is in excellent shape. There wasn't much traffic, just a few other homebound southern New Englanders.

We thought briefly about trying to see the fireworks, but everyone was tired, and the kids were in no shape for another late night. Some other year for that!