A Spring Secret

  • New Hampshire and the North Pole

    Labor Day is here, and Matt returns to school (reluctantly) this coming week. As always, there are projects left unfinished and the best of intentions unrealized as we come into September. Summer starts out with a laundry list of “I will” and “I’d like to” and all the sudden we are headed into fall, not ready to leave behind the lazy days of summer. The other thing that adds to my sad goodbye are the weeks of rain that interrupted the very best months of the year. An inexcusable amount of rain fell, fifteen inches, which would be enough to leave us debilitated if it were winter beneath 15 feet of snow.

    This was our second weekend at the Manfre’s lake house in NH. We were here last weekend with the Manfre and Barlin clans, hence the lack of blog entry for last week. This time we were here alone except for the hordes of Long Islanders who make this their home-away-from-home, driving all things motorized and generally acting like they’re back on the Island. We managed to relax anyway. The previous weekend, Matt and I completed an epic canoe journey from nearly one end of the lake to the other somewhat accidentally. We were paying less attention than we thought to where we were going and managed to cruise way past the house into a parallel universe…or so it felt. There were lots of lily pads that I definitely didn’t notice on the way out and we both agreed it was strange that they had appeared since lily pads are pretty stationary. Then we noticed houses that we didn’t see and decided to turn back. A few minutes later, we noticed the marina, which is also pretty stationary and is located way past their house. We managed to paddle an extra half hour one way---against the current! Finally, we got back, starving, only to discover that everyone had been out on the dock when we paddled by. They were yelling out helpful comments like, “Hey, Lois and Clark!” and just thought we were enjoying our strenuous 4 hour paddle. We did not make the same mistake this time, taking a leisurely paddle into a small cove and then spending time on the dock reading. No stress.

    Last weekend I stopped Alyson’s Orchard in NH and picked up a ton of peaches. The next evening, I continued my foray into all things canned with another round of canning. This time I was determined to experiment with a no-pectin jam. The first batch I made with Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which I’ve decided is too hard. It starts to jell instantly and the powder doesn’t completely dissolve unless you are using honey. The second method was old-school cook until it jells, which also wasn’t a complete success. I cooked it for at least 25 minutes, monitoring with a candy thermometer, and it never reached the temp it was supposed to, so I pulled it. It was extremely tasty since I added nutmeg and cinnamon to that batch and cooked it so long that it really concentrated the fruit, but it wasn’t firm at all. It’s more of a fruit spread, but completely delicious anyway. Each experiment is a useful one, and probably by November, I’ll be an expert….except there won’t be anything left to preserve.

    I think an explanation of these pictures is necessary. Apparently, New England is so cold that it is akin to the North Pole---so much so, that Santa claims to live here in multiple locations. The photo on the top is from last year’s vacation in the Adirondacks. Santa’s Workshop was a major tourist attraction for little kids, complete with amusement park rides. It seemed rather bizarre at the time, until we came upon this North Pole in Putney, VT two weekends ago. It goes without saying that the moment had to be recorded. Enjoy, and if you have kids, plan to visit at least one location, if not both, to really keep them guessing (or the many more which I’m certain exist elsewhere).

     

  • Strange Fruit and such

    A weekend to myself while Matt is down in the city at a Jets pre-season game…..

    There was no rain at all on Saturday, and today is looking somewhat promising also. The Mass MOCA was having a performance by an Australian group called Strange Fruit. They performed to music on 15 foot high flexible poles! It was beautiful, and looked like they were flying. (Mom, maybe an alternative to your hot air balloon?) The two women had long skirts that covered the mechanisms of the poles, and they were seamlessly attached to the contraptions. As we were leaving, a woman said to her 6-year old daughter, “There wasn’t enough substance to that. I don’t know what they were trying to say.” It perplexed me, because when it comes down to it, it’s hard to tell what any art is really saying. And the performance was so full of life and joy, that I couldn’t believe she didn’t take any of that feeling away from it. Some people never get it.

    I am also working in my studio this weekend. Since I’ve started my job at Santé, I haven’t seem to found the time to work like I was before. It comes down to having a few hours in the evenings, and then the weekends, but weekends are also for spending time with my hubby, gardening, doing house stuff, etc., etc. For those of you who don’t know, two of my pieces are pictured in Lark Book’s 500 Handmade Books. It was so surreal to flip through the pages and see work from talented artists that I’ve heard of, and there all of the sudden, are my pieces. It’s bizarre…and satisfying.

    I’ve unfortunately let my garden go a bit. There are no more neat rows of green and healthy tomatoes overtaking the basil. The tomatoes did not appreciate the three weeks of rain that we’ve had, and they are looking sad. No leaves, and hard woody stems with tomatoes just turning a pale salmon or sickly pink. I am worried that there are no more ‘maters left to ripen…..and they were looking so good! I just can’t imagine being a farmer and having to deal with weather uncertainties as a way of life.

    I am starting a new page on the blog about things I like. Since I get to taste so many things as part of my job, I thought I would share some of those thoughts. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into Wine Spectator. I definitely don’t have the time to taste hundreds of wines every week! Maybe 6 – 15 on a good week. And there are enough wine review sites out there that you don’t need me to do that. But if you do need suggestions, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Check back on the new page—I’m not sure when it will be full of fun products!

  • .....and rain

    It’s always harder going back to work after a three-day weekend. And to think, before this job, every weekend was a three-day weekend! There were enough hours of sun (or at least, not rain) on Friday to go blueberry picking finally. I got a solid six pounds, mainly for the freezer so we can have local blueberry pancakes all winter. I wish I could say that they were from our plants, but they weren’t this year. AppleBerry Farm is half an hour north, and yes, they have blueberries and apples! The berries were so huge and plentiful that you hardly had to leave one bush to pick a basketful. I also got extra cucumbers to make slightly sweet dill pickles, which were a success (according to me, not Matt—they were a little too zesty for his taste). I’ll have to start hoarding corn soon. Matt calls me the “crazy corn lady” since I generally buy a dozen a few days in a row and cut the extra half dozen off the cob to freeze for the winter. He may make fun of me now, but when we have fresh local corn at Thanksgiving, he’s more appreciative of my efforts. Once it stops raining, I’ll cut herbs and bring them inside to dry. That’s about where my preservation efforts stop. As much as I would like to, I don’t have a pantry with neat rows of beautifully canned vegetables from the garden. It’s too much work---I prefer to focus on a few things, and anxiously await the others through the winter and spring.

    Saturday was the only day in the past couple of weeks where there was no rain. We went on a hike with one of Matt’s friends. I planned to work in my studio, but when I saw it was sunny and I was enviously staring out the window, I knew I had to go along. Four hours and six miles later, I was happily eating a hamburger and fries at Water Street Grill, having deserved every morsel of it. I was glad to have gone along, especially after seeing a bald eagle swoop by us while we were admiring the view.

    If Matt and I ever open a restaurant, he will have to make his chicken wings at least once a week. He has devised a method involving a dry rub, wing sauce, and the grill that has zero butter. If you don’t eat the skin, they’re almost healthy….and entirely delicious! I think my fresh mint ice cream would be on the summer menu, with chocolate chip cookies and hot fudge. The perfect August dinner…along with some corn and pickles.

  • More parents...and rain

    This weekend closed a busy week for me. Beginning with Matt’s parents, who were here last Friday for the races (Saratoga), and then ending today with my parents leaving after being up here for the weekend, it was parent- and action-packed. In the middle of the week, Matt and I went to Boston for “work”---I had to attend an olive oil tasting dinner at the Boston InterContinental Hotel. Since we stayed (gratis) in an enormous suite that was bigger than my first apartment, and were wined and dined, it wasn’t too tough of a trip. I also learned a bit about tea through Cynthia Gold (no relation) who is the tea sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. She mixed us up some amazing tea cocktails, beginning with a tea-infused white port, moving into tea-tinis and other delightful mixed drinks, iced tea, and finally a cup of 15-year old pu-erh. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of Formaggio Kitchen the next day. They have a couple of “caves” or climate-controlled cool, damp rooms where they age huge wheels of cheese from all over the world. We wound up getting way too much cheese, as I was giddy with the selection and felt like I must stock up until the next time we come to Boston. Three pounds of cheese, salami, and olives later, we were headed back to sleepy Pownal. It was really inspiring to see how passionate and knowledgeable people can be about their work, and how excited to educate others about what they love. Anyway, it’s back to the real world for now. I’m swimming in work, but hopefully there’s another break for me soon.

  • Rain and more rain

    I definitely intended to post sometime this week. However, this is how it shaped up:

    Sunday – a trip to the Hathaway's drive-in to watch Dark Knight

    Matt wanted to get a good spot, so we got there early; in fact, we were the third car there, which is unheard for us. It rained and there was no where close to a full crowd. Good movie, though—worth seeing.

    Monday – It rained. Didn’t feel like doing much of anything when I got home from work.

    Tuesday – It rained. I picked more red currants anyway, and spent the evening doing Jam Session #2. Made only four jars of red currant and three of blueberry.

    Wednesday – It rained. Made cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday. Spent an hour tasting rice crackers for work.

    Thursday – Tried to clean up for Matt’s parents, who we were meeting on Friday in Saratoga.

    Friday, Saturday, Sunday – Visited with Matt’s parents and aunt. Fri. was in Saratoga at the racetrack, Sat. in Manchester shopping, and Sun. was lunch at our place. It rained again—torrentially, with accompanying thunder and lightning. In between, I spent some time gardening (time to pull the garlic and replant lettuce) and time reading Gourmet and thinking about food, which I do regularly anyway.

     

    This weekend it is my parent’s turn to hang out with us and do appropriate Vermont things, like buy maple syrup. 

    By the way, if you've been dying to check out my website, it's finally back up and running--and I promise to update soon!

  • Jelly Belly

    So, I tried to redeem myself in the canning department this weekend. My first effort consisted of collecting wild Concord grapes from along the dirt roads where we live. Matt and I walked around with a shopping bag and scissors, which we hid from any passing cars, and we picked 2 bags full. I didn’t want to bother with taking all the tiny seeds out, so I decided to pull off most of the stems, but to boil them down whole and strain it afterward. I also decided, being the mad scientist chef that I am, that I knew enough to change up the recipe a bit to be less sweet by cutting down on the sugar considerably. Oh, I also didn’t have canning jars, just a few clean but recycled jars from friends. The story ended with lots of sticky purple liquid all over the counters, sink, and big saucepots, and two jars of grape syrup. Yes, that’s right, pectin doesn’t work as well without the right amount of sugar. This time, I had help in the form of a coworker who is also very interested in food, a book, Internet recipes, real canning jars (sanitized in the dishwasher), 6 pounds of red currants, and real world advice from my Mom. We were set up for success this time. The red currant jelly set beautifully and was like a glistening red stained glass window. We also did a blueberry jam, with some alterations to the recipe. This didn’t work as well since we cut down the amount of sugar (we thought the red currant was a bit too sweet) and skimped on the amount of pectin. I also think we should have briefly cooked the mixture after the liquid pectin, even though the recipe didn’t say to. If there are any canning experts out there, let me know where we went wrong. The blueberry jam tasted great, even if it wasn’t as firm as it could’ve been. And it was a highly satisfying project, with our 12 little jars all decorated and lined up on the counter at the end of the day.<a

  • A hot sleepy kitty

  • First gelato of the season

    There may be an absence of pictures in the next few days---I’m waiting for Windows to arrive so I can download PhotoShop onto my new computer. Yes, that’s right….I’ve been typing all these fabulous entries on my MacBook that was an early birthday present to myself. It’s so cute, all white with rounded corners, and sweet little icons—as my brother says, “I just want to give it a hug before I go to bed.” It really is that cute.

    We’ve been enjoying the warm summer weather. I broke out the ice cream maker for the first run of the season last weekend. I’ve been dreaming of ice cream sandwiches with all kinds of combinations between cookies and cream. My first 2008 gelato was fresh basil. I could tell Matt had some trepidation about my choice. I could see him thinking, but there’s so many normal flavors out there, why’d you have to start with basil. It took him a couple of spoonfuls until he was convinced. My ultimate sundae with this flavor would be olive oil tortas from Spain (crisp sugary cookies with just a hint of anise) and a thick balsamic reduction. A dessert Caprese….Last night I made chocolate lavender gelato, which was good. Of course, Matt thought it was too floral at first, but was again converted with a second helping. I have a pretty decent herb garden, so the flavor possibilities are endless…..although maybe I will just do a plain ol’ vanilla bean and of course, homemade hot fudge.

    Matt and I were invited over to our friends’ place last night for margaritas and nachos. She apologized by saying, “I don’t feel like making dinner.” To me, it was better than dinner. I’m a big fan of having people for non-dinner courses, like dessert and drinks, or football and snacks, or movies and popcorn. It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and rustic country garden. We were sitting in an old chicken coop that was converted into a three-sided lean-to, with a tiny bubbling fountain right beyond the concrete floor, and your choice of views; mountains and the field, the garden, and the yard back towards the house. Before the nachos, we picked red currants, bags and bags of them. Apparently, they fruit every year and go to waste, so I couldn’t let that happen. That’s going to be my Saturday project, making red currant jam.

    I wish summer went on for six months instead of three.

  • Finally summer

    Yesterday was a steamy summer Saturday, a lazy-feeling day that makes you want to brew up a giant pot of iced tea and sip languidly in the hammock. On those sort of days, I envision the big front porches that lots of houses in New Orleans have, white with wicker furniture, huge ceiling fans, and cool pots of greenery. People don’t have those sort of porches in New England for a good reason---it’s only that hot one or two days a year. Matt did spend some time in the hammock, trying to coax Kidalou up with him. He’ll sit with you if you get in first and he can sit on your chest, but on his own, he hooks into the ropes with sharp talons since he can see the ground beneath. I guess it must be very confusing for a cat.

    I ate my first Sungold tomato from the garden on Friday….so sweet and good! I wish the plant would hurry up and make more! I’ve been picking a small bowl of raspberries nearly every day. It’s only enough for my cereal in the morning—I dream about having enough to make jam and pie, and some left over to freeze for the fall. We’re also starting to get blueberries now, firm and juicy and untouched by the birds (thanks to plastic netting).

    I realize that I didn’t say much about my birthday, and there are some things worth noting. Like an excellent dinner at Mezze down in Williamstown---Peekytoe crab salad with pea shoots, roast chicken with pea risotto, and a beautiful glass of  Spanish Monastrell (yum—one of my current favorites), and then homemade dessert at home. Yes, my wonderful husband made my childhood birthday cake, a spice cake with caramel frosting. He even called my mom to get the right recipe! We gorged ourselves for the next two nights, and then I took it to work, where it was an empty plate by the end of the day. One advantage to working in an office---people eat anything that is sitting around.

    Last night we went to Cambridge, NY to see a friend’s band, the Buckhill Ramblers. It was in a crunchy little bakery/café, and they made a good Sicilian pizza. We heard rumors about late-fourth fireworks, and sure enough, just down the street there was a small-town carnival, and people were set up to watch the display. My theory is that you can never have too many fireworks, so we patiently settled in to watch a decent show---very close and very low, which made for an exciting time. The fireworks were totally unexpected and made for a good end to the night. 

  • Latest projects

    [wp_caption id="attachment_22" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="My current artistic endeavors"] 

    My current artistic endeavors[/wp_caption]

    Beautiful greens from the garden

    Beautiful greens from the garden

    Here's an idea of a couple of projects I am working on----the garden and occasional art. I did a linoleum cut and printed it the other night for some endpapers. Yes, there are books in my future. Hopefully very soon.

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A Spring Secret

Even in Vermont, daffodils are blooming, herbs are rising from their winter slumber, and roads are (finally) being graded. Sometimes I could do without the winter, but then I wonder if the spring would be as sweet. If I lived somewhere that had pleasant weather for most of the year, would I be as excited about spring’s glorious arrival?

My husband and I have created a tradition that is all about spring–we ride the mighty Hoosic River in our trusty canoe. This is our third year doing the run, and it’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. While “mighty” Hoosic is a bit of an exaggeration, the river runs fast at this time of year from the snow melt running down the mountains and early spring’s inclination to dump massive amounts of rain.

The first year we did it we waited until May to ride. This trip was a languid three-hour tour, with ample time to eat a picnic lunch, tiny sections of quick water, and numerous squeezes through narrow, rock-filled streams of water, involving us getting out and walking in the icy water and rendering our brand-new-used canoe heavily scarred. Last year, we took advantage of a freakishly warm 70 degree day in early April to really ride the river, quickly, in half the time it took the previous year. Having never attempted such a raging river in anything other than a raft, complete with experienced guide, it was an exhilarating (and scary) experience. So you don’t think that we were totally out of our minds (as several passer-bys did while we were launching the canoe), my husband is a champion Boy Scout merit-badged canoer, and he does the steering…and we were both securely strapped into life jackets just in case.

This year, the verdict was that it was fast, but less so than last year. The weather was amazing: clear blue blue skies and sparkling full sun. We spotted lots of waterfowl, including a couple of red-headed ducks that I had never seen and couldn’t identify (and I’m from MD’s Eastern Shore–we know our waterfowl!). We were the only canoers out there on that beautiful Saturday. We’re considering telling friends about it to plan a river party next year, but on the other hand, it’s the perfect spring secret.