Thanksgiving in Vermont #2

Thanksgiving in Vermont #2

As I mentioned in my previous post, Anthony, Pup, and I live in an apartment (or room) that is under 500 square feet. It’s basically 1 1/2 times the size of my office at work with an attached bathroom. I usually describe it as cozy, and I have to admit I am quite in love with it. However, I knew that this year’s Thanksgiving dinner was going to be a bit of a challenge considering my kitchen has two stove burners, a toaster over, and a microwave (which I refuse to use). Yes, we don’t have an actual oven.

However, dinner went way easier than expected, and I am think this year may have even been more delicious than last year. In addition, this year’s meal was 98% made in Vermont. Now that I think of it, we didn’t go with a local wine, so that may drop it down to 95%. The only other two items that were not made in Vermont were the celery (maybe I should have used celery root!) and the crescent rolls. Everything else, down to the flour I used to make my pie crust, was “MIV”.

So what could have possibly been on my menu with no oven and both Anthony and I being vegetarians? Well I will tell you:

Blue Hubbard Pie

-Our “main dish” was locally made squash ravioli. Last year we made our own ravioli but since I was taking on a bit more than I thought I could chew this year with no oven, I opted for some of my favorite Vermont pasta makers who come out of Putney, Vermont – Putney Pasta. I tied it to the meal by putting the homemade gravy over them instead of tomato sauce.

-Squash Pie – I prepared this the night before. I have done from scratch pumpkin pies in the past with great results. There really is a taste difference in using real pumpkin vs canned pumpkin. This year, though, Anth had an extra baby blue hubbard squash (from his job at Deep Root Cooperative) that he was interested in me using. Even though this winter squash is usually used as a dinner item, I thought it would fit well as a substitute for pumpkin. And it did! I made this the night before and it took just over 50 minutes in the toaster oven to cook. I made a simple whole wheat crust to accompany it. The pie ended up tasting identical to a from scratch pumpkin pie with a thicker, creamier consistency. I will add more spice next year.

-Sage stuffing – We love stuffing. This year we noticed one of the farmers at the Montpelier Thanksgiving Farmers’ Market had fresh sage. I thought that might fit in our dinner well this year and boy did it ever. I prepared the stuffing first since I knew it would need the most time in the toaster oven. I sauteed mushrooms, shallots, celery, the fresh sage, and garlic. I added vegetable broth to this before pouring it over some of our favorite local bread – Bohemian Breads. I actually just put this in foil and threw it in the toaster oven for about 40-50 minutes.

-Sage gravy – Gravy is not a staple that I enjoyed at Thanksgiving in the past. I always ate my mashed potatoes plain. Whenever I was researching recipes with  sage, though, gravy kept popping up. The internet eventually convinced me it would be a good fit. I basically made it out of garlic, shallot, sage, vegetable broth and flour. The sage really popped and the gravy was a great addition to the meal since it was able to tie all of the components together.

-Brussel sprout and kale medley – We love brussel sprouts and kale during this time of year and needed some color to our meal. I steamed the brussels before added them to some local baby dino kale and doing a simple saute with garlic and spices.

-We picked up some little butter gold potatoes at the farmers’ market that made for delicious mashed potatoes. I added Italian spices and a hint of butter.

-Cranberry sauce – This was a new addition to Thanksgiving also. Neither Anthony or I have ever enjoyed cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, but we were interested in giving Vermont Cranberry Company cranberries a try. I dissolved brown sugar in a water, grapefruit juice, and red wine mixture before adding the cranberries until they popped. I then put them in the freezer until we were ready to eat. We actually LOVED the addition of these to our meal especially when paired with the stuffing and pie.

All of Our Fixins’

I began cooking at noon and we were eating before 2 pm. It all went incredibly smoothly even though I could only “bake” one thing in the toaster oven at a time and have two things going at a time on the stove. Anthony and I were both incredibly stuffed by the end of the night. It’s been four Thanksgivings with no meet. I cannot say that I actually miss the turkey at all!

I am incredibly thankful for being able to sit here, in this moment, and need nothing more than I already have.

Vermont Livin’ November 21, 2012

Anth, Pup, and I

I’ve noticed I haven’t put a post up yet about my everyday life. I didn’t create this blog to necessarily talk about myself, but I still want to make sure I document what’s going on every once in a while.

Just to bring you up to speed, Anthony and I moved up to Vermont in April of 2011, so about a year and seven months ago. We had been living in southern New England for a bout two years, first in the Hartford, CT area and then in Western Massachusetts. We liked those areas, but had been enthralled with Vermont for a while so when Anthony found success in pursuing a sales manager position at a farmer’s cooperative, I began my own search. We had offer letters within days of each other and before we knew it we were heading north. It was exciting to know we were heading exactly where we wanted to be along with jobs that we actually wanted to be doing.

Me Above Copenhagen, Denmark

If you fast forward to November 2012, you can find us in Elmore, a town that had 849 residents in 2000. We live in a 500 square foot space in the woods. I carpool to work every day which is about a 45 minute drive through two other towns which are slightly bigger than Elmore.

My daily routine begins at a hospital in was is considered the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I usually get into work at 6:30 am which means I am out the door by 5:30. The stars at that hour are absolutely breath taking and so is the cold in the winter. After work I head into Hardwick. Hardwick is three times the size of Elmore with a population of 3,100 and has just about everything you need. In other words, I can go to the gym, buy my groceries at the coop, and rent nightly DVD’s all on one little Main Street. What more could I need?

Pup and I in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

Before I lived in Vermont, I didn’t shop at a coop. My groceries came from major chains where I was lucky to find fruits and vegetables from the same coast. If I was really lucky, I lived near a Whole Foods that sold semi-local produce. All corners of Vermont have cooperatives, however, which are member owned stores that sell as much local food as possible. Which means that most of the store is local since Vermont creates a lot more than just vegetables. Just a couple of examples of local Vermont products: ice cream, peanut butter, pasta, pretzels, bread, honey, yogurt, any type of meat product you could think of, salsa, a lot of cheeses, a lot of maple, and a lot of wines, ciders, and beer. You get the jist of it!

Anyways, Anthony and I are currently gearing up for our sixth trip to Europe together. We will be heading home for the Christmas holiday at the end of December before embarking on our 2 week journey between France and Norway with pit stops in Chicago and Dublin. I say pit stops because they are more than layovers this time around as we will be spending an entire day in downtown Chicago and a day and a half in Dublin.

Until then, I have begun writing. I’m not exactly sure why I began writing other than that I enjoy doing it when it pertains to places, people, and things that I love. So, in addition to this blog, I have begun writing for a drinking magazine and a Vermont tourism magazine. I had an article published last month and will have 2-3 articles published next month. Also, I began spending my Friday nights mentoring an 8 year old boy. We spend most of our time outside playing at the park with stints of making cookies and doing crafts. We’ve had a lot of fun so far. I’ve also been spending time learning Norwegian. I’ve made a lot of progress doing self study, but I don’t know how much I will know before I go to Norway. I am confident I will know enough to be able to read signs and menus. Conversation is most likely out of the question as they speak very fast. Lastly, I am still on track for getting my Master’s degree in Health Informatics by this time next year. I am about a year into and take two courses every semester through the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online program.

So, my weekdays are spent working, enjoying the above past times as I please, hitting the gym when I can, and cooking up dinner for Anth. We usually end our days with a movie and food on the couch now that the days are ending so early in terms of sunlight. On the weekends, we still get up and travel all over New England. So, that’s where the rest of this blog comes into play!

Pup and I During a 5k in front of Vermont’s Capitol, Montpelier

New England Photo of the Day: Lake Champlain Sunset

Sunset at Lake Champlain from the Burlington Waterfront

Vermont is the only landlocked state in New England. Oh boo hoo! Right? I mean, it is kind of hard to complain about this when we have the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain still offers ferry rides, lighthouses, and islands to explore.

Vermont Night Sky

We are a mile from our driveway when I stop the car. As the cloud of dirt settles around my car, I turn the headlights off followed by a swift turn of the keys. In an instant, we are enveloped by complete darkness.

I lean against the car, neck straining as I stare straight up. I must not get too enthralled with what is going on above, just in case someone pulls up behind us on their way home. I always pick out the Big Dipper first. Each of the stars seem magnified out here in this blanket of black, and at this time of year, the Big Dipper is spread out, looking larger than usual. Next, I find the white glow of the Milky Way. It slices the night sky into two. If I state into it long enough, I am guaranteed to spy a shooting star. Then, I can leave at the first sign of truck lights pulling up behind me a happy girl.

Fort Crown Point, New York

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View from Crown Point Fort

A couple of weekends ago we decided to stay local. We wanted to save up a little cash flow by staying in for the weekend and maybe grabbing a movie or something. We ended up driving through Western Vermont until we crossed the new Lake Champlain bridge and explored Fort Crown Point on the New York side of Lake Champlain. I guess we just can’t sit still. We may not have stayed local, but exploring the ruins of one of America’s oldest forts was actually completely free. For just a moment, as I looked out over Lake Champlain and the rolling green hills from crumbling, 18th century fort ruins, I was reminded of ruins along the craggly, deep green coast of Ireland.

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This fort was originally built by the French in the 1730’s out of limestone. Although frequently targeted by the British during the French and Indian War, the French held on to it until 1759 when they destroyed it. Then, in 1759, the British began construction of Crown Point for as a staging area. In 1775, though, the Green Mountain Boys took over at the beginning of the American Revolution. This actually played an important part in helping drive the British out of Boston Harbor. Later, the Fort was abandoned to the British and then for good it 1780.

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The ruins are basically an open air museum. You can walk along the coast of Lake Champlain, weaving in and out of the old limestone walls as you wish. After we were finished, we walked down to the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse which memorializes Samuel Champlain’s 1609 voyage on Lake Champlain. You can see the lighthouse from the bridge, but it is much more commanding up close.

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New England Photo of the Day: Franconia Notch State Park, NH

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Franconia Notch State Park is located in the North West part of New Hampshire in the vast, yet pure white mountains. The park is made up of countless mountain hikes that run along the clearest of creeks, rivers, springs, and waterfalls. What is most unique about the area, though, are the boulders, rocks, and riverbanks that were formed by melting glaciers, over 25,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. The solid granite bedrock was smoothed down by years of erosion.

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The Basin (shown above) is a popular stop within Franconia and is an example of the glacial erosion along the great Pemigewasset River. Standing in front of the gigantic pothole, I get overwhelmed by thoughts of jumping in and splashing around. Interestingly enough, Henry David Thoreau, the American Naturalist, stood in the same spot in 1839. He described the pothole as, “perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”

Franconia Notch is large and spread out with multiple places to park all along exits that jut off interstate 93. You could spend a 15 minute stop at the basin to days of camping because of the easy accessibility the park offers.

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Quick Trips: Gloucester & the Cape Ann Coastline

The Fisherman’s Memorial Statue, 1925.

Gloucester is a small, coastal town that I immediately felt a connection with the first time I visited. It is one of our favorite “quick trips” within New England, and we make sure we stop there every time we are in the Boston area. Located about a 40 minute drive north of Boston, Gloucester has both sandy, pristine beaches and rocky, wavy beaches. In and around Gloucester, you can also explore six different lighthouses and hang out at one of my favorite brew pubs.

Although part of the fun of visiting coastal Massachusetts is finding different beaches on your own, one of my favorite beaches is Wingaersheek Beach. I only recommend it in the off season, however, as it gets extremely crowded and can cost a pretty penny for parking. My favorite time to visit is in the off season, when it is freely open to everyone, and most of the visitors are locals and dogs. It can be too cold for swimming at this time, but you have the whole beach to play on, including exploring every little nook and cranny. You can’t beat the views from this beach, also, including one of Gloucester’s many lighthouses.

All over town you are likely to see the town’s logo, a captain steering a boat.

My favorite lighthouses to visit are the  Twin Lighthouses located on Thacher Island. They are also referred to as Cape Ann Light Station which is where Cape Ann Brewing (mentioned below) gets its name and logo from. Not only are these two lighthouses among some of America’s oldest (erected in 1789), but they point true North when a ship sites on both towers.

Cape Ann Brewing is the local brewpub right in town. They actually grow some of their hops on Thacher Island where the Twin Lighthouses reside. They offer a relaxing atmosphere complete with shuffle board and a deck right on the water. They also always have at least 6 beers on tap. If they happen to have their Tea Party beer on tap, make sure to check it out. It incorporates all of the teas from the Boston Tea Party that were destroyed. I’ll also personally recommend both the fish sandwich and fish tacos, but only after a game of shuffle board and a beer.

Wingaersheek Beach with a lighthouse in the distance.

Lastly, Gloucester is well known for its lobster and fishing history. If you are only able to visit Gloucester once, make sure to do you research the area so that you can experience both the history of the town and the seafood. I’d recommend this site to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. If you are lucky enough to live in New England (like me!), Gloucester is the perfect reoccurring quick trip.

New England Real Ale Exhibition – Somerville, MA

NERAX Cask Ale Festival

Not everyone has heard of cask beer or real ale. For those of you who have not, real ale is different from your everyday beer because it completes its secondary fermentation in the same container from which it’s served. So, in the case of cask beer, the top fermented beer completes its secondary fermentation in the cask and then is manually pumped out of that cask without the use of any type of gas. What you get is a less carbonated beer, with more flavor and even more texture. Surprising to many, cask beer is served at a cellar temperature of 55 degrees.

One of the many reasons I enjoy living in New England is because of the diverse options that exist when it comes to beer. Each state has its own thing going when it comes to beer and, as a beer lover in New England, you can never go bored. This weekend, the New England Real Ale Exhibition held their  16th cask festival. So, on Saturday morning, Anth, Pup, and I made our way down to Somerville, MA to check out what a 100 cask beers on tap in one room looks, smells, and tastes like.

The cask conditioned ales waiting to be tapped

Somerville is located right outside of Boston and is about four hours from our home in Elmore, Vermont. Four hours is an easy weekend drive for us, so we left Saturday morning, meeting for lunch with our friend at the Yard House, before heading to the festival’s night session. What struck me most about this festival in particular was how organized and relaxed it was. Many beer festivals can be quite chaotic, with large lines and loud music. The NERAX cask festival was much more about enjoying cask beer with other cask-minded individuals. I was also impressed with how they chose their tap list. They had two categories of beer: beer from the U.S. and beer from the U.K.. However, the beer from the U.S. was all from New England! Yes, all 50 U.S. beers hailed from the six most Northeastern States.

My favorite cask conditioned drink was actually not a beer at all, but a fermented cider. It was called the Take Two Dry Cidah and hailed from Portland, Maine. The cider actually takes reactivated cider yeast, and instead of adding carbonation to feed the yeast, they add raw Maine wildflower honey and then cask condition it. The company behind this madness is the Urban Farm Fermentory. They are doing a lot of cool stuff in and out of the cider world including fermented vegetables.

The NERAX Cask Ale Festival lived up to its expectations and offered something different in the New England beer scene. I think we will definitely be heading back for future sessions. On our way home Sunday, we made a detour in Gloucestor, MA, one of my favorite coastal New England towns, to visit the beach and local brewery. It was the perfect ending to the weekend, but that’s an entirely different post!

Graupeling in Vermont

Vermonters call it graupel. It is falling outside my window at work, bouncing like miniature ping pong balls as it hits the asphalt. It looks like a mix between snow and hail, and accumulates quickly as it falls more like rain than flurries. It is only November 5, so I stare out at it in awe, quietly excited about the quick change in seasons.

Then, just like that, the graupel has stopped, the sun is shining, and the asphalt’s warmth consumes the tiny ice pellets.