Thursday, December 4, 2014

Essential Ingredients

Now that the dust has settled in my kitchen after the Thanksgiving frenzy, and the leftovers have dwindled to a pot of soup in the fridge, it’s time to think about December cooking and baking. I’ve written about some holiday favorites before, but lately I’ve been thinking about essential ingredients—what goes into those favorites, what I cannot do without. They break down naturally into the five sensations our tongue’s taste receptors respond to: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. For those not familiar with umami, a more recent addition, it’s the Japanese word for “savory deliciousness” and is associated with foods high in glutamate, such as fish, meat, specific vegetables, and fermented and aged foods. Although difficult to define, it’s glaringly obvious when umami is missing. I found it challenging to come up with a list of just ten essentials, but have narrowed it down by limiting it to ingredients I never eat on their own.

Sea salt, preferably coarse: Salt of the earth, grain of salt, worth one’s salt—there’s a reason so many common expressions involve salt and that “salary” is derived from the word. It’s a necessary mineral in the human body, not just an ingredient, and offers sensual satisfaction as well. Unfortunately it’s often applied with an indiscriminate hand, but a judicious amount of salt enhances the flavor of just about anything, and can even be transformative. Think of the difference between plain potatoes and potatoes with a sprinkling of salt…no comparison. 




Thursday, November 6, 2014

What I'm Thankful For

Every year at Thanksgiving we begin the meal by going around the table and saying what we’re all thankful for. We’ve been doing this since our girls were little and were first starting to talk (a popular contribution at that age was “Pie!”). Our guests are always invited to join in, and they always do, bringing their personalities and varying levels of comfort to this family tradition. What I’m thankful for each year hasn’t really changed over time, although in an effort to not allow the food on our plates to grow cold, I usually compress it into a sentence or two. But here on my blog, I have ample room to elaborate. So elaborate I shall, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday. Here goes.

I’m thankful for my family. That’s always first. For Chris—and nearly 25 years of marriage to my best friend. Who, notwithstanding some challenges along the way, loves and accepts me—weaknesses, flaws, and all. He’s still my dreamboat, and life is rarely dull. 




Monday, September 22, 2014

Inconstant Gardener (or Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Gardening)

First official day of fall today, although we had our first hard frost a few nights ago, always a more definitive marker for the end of summer than a date on the calendar. It’s felt like fall for a few weeks now, though, with Isabel back at college and Faye absorbed in her busy high school life. Chris is back to teaching, and I’m trying to buckle down to a more productive work schedule myself. At the same time, September weather is usually the best of the year, with clear skies, crisp air, and a gentle sun. It drifts through the skylight above my desk, pulling me away from my computer and outside for a hike, bike, kayak or, so I can reassure myself I’m still being productive, to the garden.





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Island Time

When most people think of Vermont, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Green Mountains, thanks to their popular ski slopes and hiking trails. But an equally notable natural resource, and a highlight of the state for me, is Lake Champlain. Friends from out of state are often surprised to hear that it’s the sixth largest freshwater lake in the country, after the five Great Lakes. Spanning 120 miles along Vermont’s western side, it’s flanked by New York’s Adirondack Mountains and also offers spectacular views of the Greens.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Southern Exposure

I’ve been on the road again, this time to the Southeast, specifically Virginia and North Carolina. We packed up the car and drove down, crossing the Mason-Dixon Line near the town in Maryland where I spent most of my childhood. Growing up, I didn’t think of myself as a Southerner. Maryland, despite being below the Line, was technically a border state during the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam, which resulted in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, was just down the road, but at the same time one of my high school acquaintances was a direct descendent of Robert E. Lee. And the street I grew up on has a former slave auction block, now partially obscured by some shrubbery, on one of its corners.




Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big Boy

I just graduated—from a small, charcoal kettle grill, that is, to a 6-footer, gas/charcoal combo grill that I’m affectionately calling The Big Boy. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, with cast iron grates and a warming center in both sections, and a side burner that I haven’t even tried out yet.




Thursday, May 22, 2014

Route 100 (Partial) Food Tour

Food tours are all the rage these days, but much as I love food I have yet to sign up for one. I prefer to explore an area on my own and discover its food personality based on my own and my companions’ tastes. In Vermont, legendary Route 100, described as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, lends itself well to a self-guided food tour. Extending the length of the state from Canada to Massachusetts, this scenic route skirts the Green Mountain National Forest and runs parallel to the 273 mile Long Trail, a precursor to and inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. Known as the Skiers’ Highway, this two-lane byway connects many of Vermont’s major ski resorts as it meanders across farmland and alongside rivers, past covered bridges




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bizarro McDonald's

Very few American cities can claim to not have a McDonald’s within their limits, but Burlington, Vermont, is one of them. A while back a Golden Arches did exist downtown, but in an unusual turn of events, it quietly closed its doors. After an inspired renovation, The Farmhouse Tap & Grill opened up four years ago in its place to fanfare that hasn’t stopped since.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Mmmmmorocco

In celebration of my fiftieth birthday, Chris and I recently went on a long-awaited trip to Morocco. Morocco is a country that’s intrigued me ever since I read the novel The Sheltering Sky, one of my Top Ten, over twenty years ago. I had never been to Africa before, nor to an Islamic country, and it proved to be no less fascinating and enchanting and bewildering than I had anticipated.




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sweethearts

I’ve been busy working on an exciting project (more on this soon!), so this post is going to be shorter than normal. But of course it’s important to take the time to pause and celebrate Valentine’s Day. 


 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

24 Hours in BTV

What does it mean when the car’s Check Engine light comes on? One of our cars is an aging Subaru, so this is a commonly asked question in our house. Even the skilled mechanics at our garage seem uncertain about the cause. “It could be about 300 different things,” they tell me as they hook up their diagnostics. After running the car through their scanner, sometimes they still can’t identify the cause. If nothing shows up as a problem, they simply turn off the light. Maybe it will stay off for a while, but there’s also a chance that it’ll come back on before I pull into our driveway.