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May 2009

May 26, 2009

Best Bites: The Alchemist Pub & Brewery

23 South Main Street, Waterbury 244-4120

Spring 2009 124 Why would someone who doesn’t drink beer drive 45 minutes only to wait another hour... just to eat at a brewery? The food is that damn good. On May 12, The Alchemist Pub & Brewery reopened after kitchen renovations earlier this month and I went to check it out.

I have never had the same entree twice at the Alchemist, partly because the specials are often irresistible. A plate of sauerbraten I had this summer still haunts my dreams. The thick slices of sweet and sour falling-apart-tender brisket served over mighty chunks of sourdough were enough to feed four, but I finished that and the accompanying red cabbage all on my own with no regrets — except that it was gone.

The Soft Jumbo Pretzel is the essential starter. It's just like one out of a New York cart, only without the inescapable smell of ass. The homemade mustard is deceptively honey sweet, with a sinus-clearing horseradish afterburn. The Wing Dings were massive, crispy and covered in garam masala powder. The pungent and chunky blue cheese dip paired surprisingly well with the Indian flavors of the chicken.

Spring 2009 128 No German-inflected pub menu is complete without a take on choucroute garni and the Mixed Sauerkraut Plate doesn't disappoint. A huge, juicy bratwurst and subtly spicy knockwurst — spiced with a pleasant note of nutmeg — share space over a perfectly acidic nest of bacon-bedecked kraut and a side of pierogis.

Even meals on the lighter side satisfy. My Misty Knoll chicken fillet came in mint pesto-marinated slabs over lemon vinaigrette-bathed baby greens. Two fist-sized cheddar biscuits shared space with the otherwise springtime-tasting meal. Why didn’t I try dessert? I plead the biscuits.

Fran in France: Champlain the Spy

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She sent this report yesterday, from St. Malo, the "city of pirates." Click here for her earlier posts.

Sunday, May 23

IMG_1629 I want to add a bit more about Champlain's life before he ventured to North America and set about a life’s passion to create settlement in New France.

Champlain sailed with his uncle on a ship from St. Malo that was escorting the Spanish fleet back to Spain. And there he got on a Spanish ship headed for the Caribbean, surreptitiously collecting information to report back to the king. He presumably did this bit of spying on Spanish procedures and port details quite well and gained the favor of the king.

Some have even speculated that since Champlain was able to gain the audience of the king so easily throughout Henri IV's reign, that Champlain may have been one of Henri's many alleged illegitimate children. Our trip historian, Andre Senecal, thinks that’s hogwash, but it does raise an eyebrow. Historians Senecal and David Hackett Fischer — author of the biography "Champlain's Dream," — also note that he expressed his disgust of the poor treatment of the native population by the Spanish, possibly formulating his quite different approach to natives in the St Lawrence Valley.

May 25, 2009

Rolling in the Rain

In years past, I’ve chosen to spectate the Vermont City Marathon from the safety of my bike saddle. I would ride along side of runners we knew and shout things at them like “Looking good!” and “You’ve got puke on your running shorts!” I’m pretty sure they really appreciated my support. This past Sunday, I decided I would follow the marathon atop my bicycle again, only this time I would try to serve as a bike marshal.

The marshals follow the first and last runners and the first and last wheelchair athletes. They needed someone to follow the last wheelchair racer, so I offered to help. I caught up with the last wheeled participant halfway up the Beltline. He was in a standard push chair, not a racing wheelchair like all the other wheeled participants. His name was Danny Perry and he’s a VCM regular.

I couldn’t believe he was pushing his way up the lonely, sodden hill in a regular wheelchair. Granted, that’s what he does every day, but he probably doesn’t push himself up the Beltline or Battery Street all that often if he can help it. Obviously, heading up the Beltline, Danny was getting passed by every single runner. And just about every single person who ran by him said something like “Good job, man!,” “Yeah, buddy! Push it!,” “You’re awesome, dude! Keep it up!” Some of them even felt the need to touch him while he was pushing. Danny didn’t acknowledge any of them. I wondered what he was thinking. Maybe he was thinking “Don’t touch me, you schmaltzy cornballs.” Maybe he was thinking “All your treacly cheers are screwing up my cadence.” Or maybe he wasn’t thinking anything at all. Perhaps he was zenned out and too focused on making it to the next mile that he wasn’t listening to the platitudes and praise.

The fact that Danny could get up those huge hills didn’t surprise me since he’s likely been a chair user for some time. But what was sort of astounding to me was that he wasn’t wearing gloves or any sort of sporty tech gear. He was just wearing worn out sneakers, cargo shorts and a cotton T-shirt like he accidentally ended up in the race on his way to the grocery store. And the fact that he wasn’t using a race chair was pretty unbelievable. All of his fellow wheeled competitors had handcycles with gears and brakes. Danny had no gears and no brakes.

Continue reading "Rolling in the Rain" »

May 24, 2009

Fran in France: Sam Learns to Sail, Wind Turbines and the City of Pirates

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week on a "Quadricentennial Journey" hosted by Burlington City Arts. Here's her latest report from across the pond. I'm told that her videos will be available soon...

Saturday, May 23

Champlain-glass Today was a travel day. We are heading to the coast of Brittany, in the Northwest France to visit many places, including two important ports from which Samuel de Champlain sailed to the New World. So what have we discovered about this guy? He wrote much about the New World, but very little about himself, so there have been many varied assumptions about him over time.

We know he learned the sailing trade from his father, who was a sea captain. He grew up during a nasty religious civil war in a worldly, bustling, diverse port city.  In Brouage, he heard of far off lands and very possibly dreamed of a place that was not troubled by the horrors he experienced during the bloody struggle between the Protestants and Catholics. (The photo shows a stained glass window in a Brouage church, a gift from Quebec).

As a young man, Champlain admired his king, Henri IV, who fought hard to bring peace to France, including the forging of the famous Treaty of Nantes, which, for the first time, allowed the people of France to worship as Protestant or as a Catholic. We drove past Nantes on our journey north today.

Brittany was a the region that was one of the last holdouts of the Spanish occupation that supported the Catholic cause. As part of the Treaty, Henri IV ousted the Spaniards and this is when Champlain pops up in accounts and in history as a young maritime supply clerk. He works his connections get a position aboard his uncle’s ship and his maritime career takes off. The connections he made at this time in the military and in service of the king last him a lifetime. More on that tomorrow…

We were treated to a few surprises today. One was the number of wind turbines early on in the drive cranking away in this pristine countryside. They spawn a number of conversations from their elegant look to their minimal output of power. We also pass the Rance River that houses the largest electricity plant in France, powered by significant tides which have always played a major role in this region. Open spaces and well preserved farmhouses and clustered, quaint villages are also noted by fellow Vermonters. France is a major agricultural country, supplying much of Europe with grains, produce  and of course wine and cheeses.

Tesha1 Speaking of produce, our greatest surprise today was a stop at Marc vanderHeyden’s sister Treesje Stolkman's 1809 farmhouse in Sarzeau, Brittany, which she shares with her husband Fried. It’s a family reunion and also a time to fete fellow traveler, Nicole Carignan, CFO of Symquest, who turns 40 tomorrow. We had over a dozen types of hors d’oeuvres, including coquilles, oysters, shrimp and other shellfish —  all in their native state — artichoke, ham rolls, caviar, deviled eggs, salmon, curried apple on endive, champagne…  And then we had lunch (!), another remarkable spread with asparagus soup, a beautifully presented whole salmon and numerous delightful vegetable dishes, including a Belgian specialty, from Marc and Treesje's childhood home, a seafood stuffed tomato. Mascarpone with blue fruit compote and coffee finished us off.

After naps on the bus, we woke to the “City of Pirates,” St. Malo, another walled city that was almost entirely destroyed in WW2. The old city and the ramparts have been remarkably rebuilt. I’ll investigate further to see if I can recognise signs of the reconstruction on my way to supper at a creperie on the ramparts where I hear the sunsets are spectacular.  

Bon soir.

May 22, 2009

Fran in France: Brouage

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial.

IMG_9377 She sent this report earlier today. Her fellow traveler, John Canning (CEO of Physician's Computer Company in Winooski), sent this photo of Brouage.

Friday, May 22

Jet lag and interfacing with international technology don’t mix well, so that piece of my communication has been a challenge. But some rest, a croissant and café au lait put the day off to a perfectly decent start.

A fabulous market down the street called to some of us. Pig ears, rabbits ready to roast, dozens of varieties of sausage, cheese, wine, fish so fresh it didn’t smell, colorful displays of fresh produce, the song of the fruit seller greeted us. It was hard to move on to a stunning cathedral — and for some, a small exhibition on Samuel de Champlain.

And then we were back on the bus and off to Brouage, the birthplace of Champlain. The small, walled city was a thriving salt producer during Champlain’s lifetime. He grew up in a diverse town of sailors and merchants from around the world. He also witnessed the horrors of the religious wars in France, leading him to want a New France of peace and tolerance among people. 

For Brouage, the  heyday was brief, from 1555 to the 1660’s, barely a hundred years, as it got silted in with shifting oceans and the shipwreckage of the wars. It was cut off from the ocean, but still surrounded by marsh. In it s isolation, it became favored as a prison, until more recent times. It is now an historic site and tourist destination. We heard that it s even popular as a place for second homes for those who want to spent time in a very small, quaint village. Fingernail-sized crabs in the mussels may have been the highlight for some, but the ruins and town were a fine way to spend an afternoon….

Newest Intern

This is Jessica DiNapoli, Champlain College student and Seven Days' newest intern. There will be one more intern joining Mike, Will, and I in June, making us a team of four, a "quad' effect as it has been referred to around the Seven Days office, which helps celebrate this summer's Lake Champlain Quadricentennial theme. 

My work experience thus far has been on both farms and in bars, so immersing myself in the newspaper world is most exciting and a breath of fresh air (but speaking of beer and horses, check out these two contests: Foal Raffle and Otter Creek). 

I have just returned from a semester in Ireland and after scampering throughout Europe, I am eager for a summer at Seven Days — my adventures began yesterday with an early morning 18-mile bike ride with writer Kevin J. Kelley followed by a local poetry reading. Keep reading to learn more!

[Ed. note: the bike ride and poetry reading are our version of hazing. Welcome, Jessica.]

"Bonjour" from Fran in France

Isle La Motte It's been 400 years since Samuel de Champlain sailed from France to the "New World," and on Wednesday, a group of Vermonters embarked on a trip that retraces his route. The delegation — including Burlington City Arts director Doreen Kraft, Marcelle Leahy, wife of Senator Patrick, and former St. Mike's prez Marc vanderHeyden and his wife Dana — will visit Champlain's birthplace, Bourage, the port city of Honfleur, and, of course, Paris.

Burlington City Arts organized the tour as a fundraiser in honor of the Quadricentennial. The group be sightseeing, and doing the tourist thing, but they're also charged with presenting a plaque honoring Champlain to officials in Paris.

This photo shows the lot of them in front of the Champlain statue at Isle La Motte before they left. Journalist Fran Stoddard is embedded with the group — that's her, fourth from left. She'll be sending updates on their progress as they rediscover the Old World.

I've received a couple emails from Fran since she left. Not surprisingly, she's encountering some technical difficulties. But I'm hoping that she's able to upload videos with the Flip camera we sent with her.

While we wait for video, here are her notes about the journey so far...

Continue reading ""Bonjour" from Fran in France" »

May 21, 2009

Disc Golf in Burlington — Like Gitmo or Gay Marriage?

This week, the Burlington Parks & Recreation Commission unanimously voted down a proposal to build an 18-hole disc golf course at Leddy Park in the city's New North End.

As with any hotly debated topic, it takes more than a single vote to keep a good controversy down.

As readers of "Fair Game" know, this has been a controversial issue in Burlington and one I've poked fun at, given the intense opposition and emotional outbursts at public hearings — largely outbursts by opponents. Same-sex marriage had an easier, and less emotional, go-round as public policy than disc golf has. Only in Vermont.

In fact, given the debate in yesterday's U.S. Senate, I could see Guantanamo Bay being closed down before a disc golf course is ever sited in Burlington. And with good reason: Disc golf is certainly a security threat. Especially if you're a tree or woodland creature, or someone strolling peaceably through the woods, according to opponents.

But I digress. There really are serious issues at play here.

Continue reading "Disc Golf in Burlington — Like Gitmo or Gay Marriage?" »

Look, But Don't Skin

Snake A group of PETA activists — including one nearly-naked woman covered in snakeskin body paint — descended on Burlington today to protest exotic animal skinning.

Camouflaged against a jungle background that read "Exotic Skins Belong in the Jungle — Not on Your Feet" this "naked PETA beauty" hoped to embody the snakes and other species often subjected to live skinnings or beatings.

PETA reports that snakes, in particular, have had their heads nailed to trees and skinned while still alive.

Jena Hunt, PETA campaign coordinator of international grassroots campaigns, told local media — me, a woman from the Free Press's BSCENE, and a cameraman from WPTZ — that anyone with a companion animal should be able to empathize with these vulnerable animals.

"We're asking Burlington residents to take a bite out of cruelty by giving snakeskin and other exotic leather the boot," says Hunt, originally from San Francisco.

Hunt favors these "sexy," or "naked" protests because she says they open up effective dialogue with the public.

Of course not everyone sees eye-to-eye with PETA, like the local motorcyclist who drove by the demonstration on Main Street yelling "PETA sucks," a comment which Hunt acknowledged with a simple smile.

Burlington Guide at Design Sponge

Some readers might have made the acquaintance of Paige Russell when she lived in Burlington--for about 5 years--and worked at The Lamp Shop on Pine Street. She's back in her hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia and apparently yearns to return here--which, her former boss Liz Segal hopes, might be possible with something called an "exceptional person" visa. Who knew?

Anyway, Paige turns up this week as a guest blogger on Design Sponge writing a fondly reminiscent guide to Burlington, which is filled with snapshot profiles, with photos, of her favorite spots. Most of them are either on the Church Street Marketplace or along the Pine Street Corridor, including Pine Street Art Works, Four Corners of the Earth Deli and, of course, The Lamp Shop. Design Sponge is the creation of Brooklyn-based designer-writer Grace Bonney. Along with her guest bloggers she offers all kinds of tips about design, primarily stuff for the home. My favorite feature: annotated 'before and after'  photos of decorating projects that transform thrift-shop rejects into cool, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture.

A ceramic artist with a degree in product design from Pratt, Paige has her own blog and website, too. But check out the Burlington bit on Design Sponge--part one of two--and add your own comments on the Queen City!

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