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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

Farms and Agriculture

September 3, 2013

The Inn at Weathersfield Launches a Cooking School

Are cooking schools the wave of the future, or at least the future of food tourism? Marilee and Richard Spanjian, owners of the Inn at Weathersfield, think they might be. As the couple prepared to make a career change a few years ago, they scoured the country for a cooking school to purchase — until they realized that the hands-on, atmospheric space they sought didn’t exist. Instead, the Tennessee residents purchased the Inn at Weathersfield last winter, then renovated the loft over its barn to create their own school, the Hidden Kitchen. It opened at the end of July.

Each class centers around a food from a local Vermont farm, which Inn chef Jason Tostrup uses to guide students in creating dishes. During one of the earliest classes, “Vermont Veal Revival,” Lisa Kaiman from Jersey Girls Farm dropped in to chat as students transformed the meat she had raised into a veal tartar topped with a farm egg, and veal cutlets with andouille sausage and cheese.

“More and more people are becoming cognizant of where their food comes from, and are taking control of what they’re eating. They want to take the time to invest in creating a meal for themselves and they don’t necessarily know how to do it,” says Marilee Spanjian of the classes.

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Alice Eats: Hyde Away Inn and Restaurant

IMG_61851428 Millbrook Road/Route 17, Fayston, 496-2322

The Mad River Valley has more than its fair share of dining destinations. Venues such as the Mad Taco, the Common Man, the Sweet Spot, Bridge Street Butchery and even Maynard's Snack Bar have all earned places in my rotation — driving the better part of an hour be damned.

With a fusty reputation, the Hyde Away Inn and Restaurant was never on that list. Until now.

Earlier this summer, Bruce Hyde Jr., a graduate of Cornell University's hotel school, came on board and remade the comfort food served at the restaurant and tavern to showcase local ingredients. Really local — most of the food comes from within a mile or two.

The crowd was mostly of the blue-haired variety when we arrived in the dark dining room on Saturday evening. I overheard several recalling the room's previous tenant, Zach's Tavern, part of the Snuggery Inn, which closed in 1987. Its logo graces the background of the current menu.

The antique-filled room recalls an even earlier time. With its petite table lamps and padded leather chairs, it reminded me of visiting my great-grandmother's house.

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August 29, 2013

Meet the Cuke-O-Melon

Earlier this week, I was speeding through the aisles just before Healthy Living Market closed for the night, when I spied these:

As a great appreciator of cute food, I found this a must-purchase. I had my first bite in the car on the way home. With a slightly thicker skin than your average gherkin, the berry-sized "Cuke-O-Melon" really did offer a suggestion of eating a tiny watermelon. But the flavor was that of a cucumber with a hint of sour bite.

IMG_6180So what the heck are Cuke-O-Melons? I called Tangleroot Farm's Adam Reed to find out. His vegetable farm is in Gansevoort, N.Y., not far from the Healthy Living market in Saratoga Springs.

It turns out, the little melons aren't bonsais, but a species of their own called Melothria scabra. They're more commonly known as Mexican sour gherkins, cucamelons and, most adorable of all, "mouse melons."

Reed says he found out about them this past spring through a friend who was planning to plant them. "There was very little research that went into them," he says.

He says that many customers claim they've been popping the mini-cukes "like M&Ms." I've done some of that, but have also halved them and thrown them in with cherry tomatoes and chopped local mini-peaches in a salad.

And, lucky for me, Reed says he just harvested three more cases to send to Vermont today.

August 23, 2013

Locavore Korean Cuisine Comes to Cabot

Frieddumplings_2013You know that a restaurant is intensely anticipated when it gains more than 100 followers in its first 24 hours on Facebook. But not every restaurant is the brainchild of Elena Gustavson, the program director at the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick.

Gustavson's social-media presence may be blowing up, but she doesn't plan to open DownStreet Eats at 3075 Main Street in Cabot until mid-September.

Gustavson's locavore pedigree is enough to get many diners excited, but the chef-owner admits that she hasn't yet reached out to many of her farmer friends in the Cabot and Marshfield area to source the new restaurant — though she plans to.

Locally focused restaurants are a dime a dozen in Vermont these days. But Korean food is not.

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August 16, 2013

Grazing At the Norwich Farmers Market

Picture 3Photo from Norwich Farmers Market

In the constellation of 70 or so farmers markets in Vermont, a few stand out as regional anchors: Burlington, or course, as well as Capital City in Montpelier and Brattleboro in southern Vermont. In the Upper Valley, the big daddy is the Norwich Farmers Market, which has occupied a field on Route 5 every summer Saturday since 1977.

Norwich is such a staple — and has so many craft vendors — that it can be easy to overlook it in favor of smaller, more ecletic and fringe markets, especially if you're always in search of new experiences (like me). Yet when I paid a visit last Saturday, it was clear why Norwich holds the alpha position among its peers. It's well-designed, well-stocked and large enough for you to find everything you might need for a week of eating. It's also a testament to the robustness of the Upper Valley food scene, at least when it comes to purveyors.

Each one of the wooden booths here look like they might blow over during the next storm, but they've actually been standing for years. These were the highlights for me last week:

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August 7, 2013

Local Farmers Converge at UVM to Celebrate "Growing Fields" Photo Exhibit

Summer in and around UVM's Bailey/Howe Library can feel pretty sleepy, except perhaps on Thursday afternoons, when students from the school's Farmer Training Program gather near the entrance to sell kale, peppers, tomatoes and other goodies they've grown. Now, images of those farmers — as well as their historical counterparts — are on display in the library's lobby this summer, and a few local farmers will gather in the lobby on Thursday to celebrate the work.

"Growing Fields" draws together vivid images of UVM's farmers-in-training — as well as the food they grow— with vintage photos of the Vermont hayers, pickers and ploughs of yore. The exhibit runs until August 22, but on Thursday, three women farmers — Amanda Andrews of Burlington's Tamarack Hollow Farm, Nancy Hayden of Jeffersonville's the Farm Between, and UVM farmer-in-training program director Laura Williams — will talk about what drew them to the field during an afternoon reception.

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July 29, 2013

Vermont Fresh Network Announces Restaurants Receiving Gold Barn Honor

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.27.51 PMFor years, diners in the know have looked for a Vermont Fresh Network sign or window sticker to assure them that a restaurant is making a commitment to serving Vermont-grown food.

But VFN executive director Meghan Sheradin realized there were some restaurants that were really raising the bar.

"All Vermont Fresh Network chefs have to know their farmers and serve products from Vermont, but there are some chefs whose commitment to Vermont-grown products is exceptional," she says.

Now, the VFN is introducing a designation to recognize the best of the best.

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July 19, 2013

Grazing: Raspberries Everywhere — And How Not To Bake A Raspberry Tart

Now that the rains have rolled away, we're left with blinding heat and a surfeit of berries. Well, not strawberries, which suffered through our wet spring and whose season is over anyway. Raspberry and blueberry bushes are drooping with fruit (a picking list is below) — including at Poverty Lane Orchards, which is just down the street from me and where I picked some earlier this week. In a sunny field given over entirely to raspberries, there was fruit in every state of being — hard and coral colored, bright red and sweet, and some berries so dark and ripe that they were melting on the bush. I watched a toddler sit down in he grass and eat his family's entire harvest when they weren't looking. It was a raspberry idyll.

With a pile of berries on my counter, I resolved to bake — never a good idea for me — and tried to decide between a simple French-style tart or the more cake-like English model. I looked in cookbooks, at websites and blogs, and even called a cousin. Since I hate following recipes to the letter — and hence, am an awful baker — I combined the finer points of all of those recipes in my head for (what I thought would be) the perfect raspberry-peach-almond tart. 

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May 10, 2013

Grazing: Sautéed Nettles With Butter and Garlic

I live in a 1790s farmhouse that's been converted into condos, and my neighbors and I are surrounded by the verdant remnants of a working farm. Around this time of year, the disturbed patches in our fields and around the barn burst into a riot of weeds, with stinging nettles among the first to rear their deep-green leaves.

Nettles_groundFor years, I cursed and spat as I accidentally brushed my legs against these invisibly prickly shrubs or absentmindedly tried to pull one out with my bare hands. During a party a few years ago, the host handed me a bowl of wilted, spindly greens. "Nettles. Try them," he said. Dubious, I picked one up with my fingers and studied it before taking a nibble. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil, these enemies of countless gardening sessions had been transformed into something velvety and almost luscious, their sting magically gone. 

The fields looked different after that. If you've never hunted nettles before (actually, they're not hard to find), these clusters of deep-green leaves have serrated edges and veiny tops, and grow from calf-high shrubs. They're best when they're young and tender, still less than an inch long. You can either don garden gloves to pick them or (as I eventually learned) pluck them directly from above; something about that angle prevents their leaves from gittin' ya with their stinging hairs.

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April 19, 2013

Grazing: During a Crazy Week, Finding Comfort in Cream

When news of the Boston Marathon bombing began trickling in on Monday afternoon, we were in the throes of production at 7D, unable to really tune into the details. Some people seemed silently rattled and distracted, but it was a distraction we had to push aside while we finished up edits and layout and proofing.

When I began to really tune in a few hours later — ingesting images of smoke and blown-off limbs and blood staining the street — it was haunting and horrible yet hard to tear away. Yeah, bombings happen all over the world, practically every single day, but when random violence strikes a place you know well — such as Boylston Street — the line between normalcy and chaos seems paper thin. 

Like a ton of people, I became a news junkie this week, reading stories about the victims and following the addictive Subreddit devoted to finding the bombers. And on this gorgeous, windy day in Vermont, our neighbors a few hours south woke up to stories of even more violence and an eerie lockdown. 

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