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July 2010

July 30, 2010

One of Two Progressives Resigns from Burlington City Council

Marrisa And then there was one. Progressive City Councilor Marrisa Caldwell has resigned her Burlington City Council seat effective this weekend, citing "personal reasons."

Her resignation leaves Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3) as the sole Progressive on the city's 14-member council. Democrats hold seven seats, the Republicans three, and there are two independents.

This marks the fewest Progressives on the council since 1982, one year after Bernie Sanders was first elected mayor.

Because her resignation occurs so far in advance of the March elections, the city will hold a special election to replace her on the council.

If the Democrats manage to win Caldwell's seat, they would have an outright majority on the council — a first since the mid-1980s.

When pressed, Caldwell wouldn't provide any more details about her resignation. "Personal reasons are personal reasons," she informed Seven Days via email.

Continue reading "One of Two Progressives Resigns from Burlington City Council" »

July 29, 2010

Welch Serves on Special Panel Overseeing Rangel Ethics Charges

Medicare press conference 10-22 Vermont's Rep. Peter Welch will play a key role in an unfolding ethics scandal in the House of Representatives, as he has been named to a special adjudicatory panel weighing evidence of wrongdoing against former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY).

A set of 13 allegations against Rangel were made public today by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the Ethics Committee.

A special investigative panel of the Ethics Committee alleges Rangel committed a wide range of abuses, including failure to report rental income on a Dominican Republic villa, misuse of his congressional stationery for fund raising for an education center, and his use of three rent-controlled New York apartments.

Continue reading "Welch Serves on Special Panel Overseeing Rangel Ethics Charges" »

Sorry I Missed You ... Signed, [Candidate]

Photo (15) * Updated *

As August 24 gets closer, no one is likely to be immune from receiving campaign literature in the mail — or dropped on your doorstep, or hung from your doorknob.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin's campaign made a recent swing through Burlington's Old North End, leaving behind a trail of glossy brochures and hand-signed notes saying, "Sorry I missed you. Hope I can count on your support". Or some variation.

If you look closely at the pictures sent in by a savvy Seven Days reader, you'll notice "Peter" has a few different handwriting styles. Not surprisingly, volunteers and campaign staff sign his John Hancock to the love notes.

Shumlin's not alone, either. All Most of the campaigns do it — so the next time you find a little piece of campaign lit on your doorknob with a "personal" note, it's unlikely the candidate signed it.

I know, shocker, right? Let me tell you about the Tooth Fairy...

Continue reading "Sorry I Missed You ... Signed, [Candidate]" »

Combo Platter: CSB, Vermont BBQ, Sugarsnap Expands

Alice Levitt

Gluten-Free Grub

The trend of food businesses asking for community funding is on the rise. It's part of the claim to fame of The Bobcat Café in Bristol and Claire's Restaurant & Bar in Hardwick. Julianne Jones looked to a website called to raise $12,000 so she can open The Vergennes Laundry, a brick-oven bakery and coffee shop. Another, more specialized purveyor of baked goods is trying the same approach.

On June 30, Abby Knapp and Matt Tucker, owners of From the Ground Up, began selling gluten-free bread and pastries at the Old North End Farmers' Market. Two years ago, the couple cut wheat from their diets due to non-celiac gluten intolerance. Tucker had worked in kitchens and Knapp enjoyed baking at home, but neither had ever considered a career in the food industry. Nonetheless, they saw a hole in the market for gluten-free baked goods and make-at-home mixes.

Currently, From the Ground Up is about halfway to its $1,500 goal on, with thirteen days to go. The home-based bakery has another plan for keeping customers in pancake mix and frozen pizza dough: A CSB, or community supported bakery. The share officially begins on September 6, when members will pick up pre-paid cookies, muffins and popovers, among other offerings.

According to Tucker, From the Ground Up is also working with local farms on growing gluten-free grains. The bakery currently uses rice, millet, buckwheat and sorghum in its treats. Tucker hopes that growers such as Butterworks Farm will sell his business whole grains, which he and Knapp will process themselves in their trusty mill to ensure that the result is entirely gluten-free.

Ravenous for Results

There were no dramatic victories for the home teams at this weekend's Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue in Windsor. Top honors largely went home to Massachusetts, although a few local teams cleaned up in individual categories.

Chicken could have been the Vermont state animal on Saturday — three teams with Chittenden County connections made the top five in that category. Colchester's Green Mountain Smokeshack came in second. Eric Gray, of Burlington's Sweet Breathe BBQ, made the unconventional choice of serving chicken wings (instead of the thighs usually used in competition), lightly coated in raspberry-habañero sauce. It paid off: his rookie team came in fourth, and scored the prize for Rookie of the Year. Though Belted Cow chef-owner John Delpha's team, I Que, didn't take the competition, it earned an impressive title: "New England BBQ Society Team of the Year." I've got to agree, the smoked cha siu pork with fried rice they were selling at the fest was the standout dish among the 41 vendors innumerable options.

Snapping It Up

Earlier this month, Sugarsnap owners Abbey Duke and Rob Smart opened a new location in South Burlington's Technology Park, also home to the offices of Ben & Jerry’s, Fletcher Allen and Symquest Group, among others. Not only do the nearby workers benefit, the flagship Riverside Avenue location of the localvore takeout spot does, too.

According to Kimberley Hannaman Taylor, Sugarsnap's senior culinary team member, as well as manager and head baker at the Riverside Avenue store, much of the business' prep is now farmed out to the "gleaming, fancy new kitchen" in Technology Park. "All our savory items are being made there, in addition to all our catering" she says.

Hannaman Taylor will continue to do the baking at Riverside Avenue, where she says she's doing booming business in miniature cookies that she's been "babying into perfection." Look for them in flavors including lemon poppy and dark chocolate hazelnut. The baker is also working on a line of gluten-free baked goods and desserts sweetened without sugar.

With so much space in the South Burlington kitchen, both Sugarsnap locations will soon carry a range of five or six basic salads that are always available. The rest of the menu at both locations will continue to change depending on the available produce.

With the bulk of the dishes being prepared at Technology Park, Hannaman Taylor says that in Burlington, she's got time to play around with produce from Sugarsnap's own three-acre farm at the Burlington Intervale. She's created a dill pickle, which she calls "wildly popular." Hannaman Taylor adds that her team is also at work on a line of sauces and expanded dinner options. "Now we have the freedom to experiment so much more," she says.

July 28, 2010

Vermont Brewers Festival Video

I don't drink, so I really didn't expect to have much fun at the Vermont Brewers Festival. Boy, was I wrong. I had a great night, talking to people and eating local food. In fact, Bite Club TV videographer Elizabeth Rossano and I had so much fun, we made two videos of the event.

This one...

...and another vid of some of the funniest outtakes we weren't able to include in the first. Enjoy!

July 27, 2010

Alice Eats: The Weekend

Sorry, there's no hot new restaurant so exclusive that it only serves on Saturday and Sunday. The past few days have simply been so food-filled, I thought it would be fun to share how one food writer's life goes when the living is easy and the produce is high.

Caviar My weekend started with an invitation to the latest in NECI's series of Slow Food benefit dinners. Executive Chef Tom Bivins thought it would be funny to see a meat-obsessed gal like me at the vegan dinner prepared by his students. It began with a "raw bar" featuring several samples of pickled perfection: garlic scapes, carrots and even finely sliced watermelon. And there was toast spread with herb pesto and topped with mint "caviar."

Five students were responsible for conceptualizing one course each. Highlights included a robustly spiced tomatillo soup with vegan sour cream, and a peach-and-raspberry melba on a tea cracker with almond-milk-based sweet tea ice cream.

The next day, I more than made up for my meat-free evening at the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue. My first stop was at I Que's booth, where John Delpha — chef at The Belted Cow Bistro — and his team were selling heavy paper containers of sweet, meaty ribs, plus cha siu pork over sesame-redolent fried rice. I Que's main competition for the honor of being the highest ranking barbecue team in the northeast is Massachusetts-based I Smell Smoke.

I can honestly say, without bias, that I did not. I had a bite of I Smell Smoke's pulled pork sandwich and threw it away: It was mushy, smoke-free and under seasoned. I was a fan of their 'Poon dog, however. The beer brat dipped in beer batter and fried had every bit of flavor the pork was lacking.

A Burlington-based team ran away with the New England Barbecue Society's prize for Rookie of the Year. Eric Gray of Sweet Breathe BBQ admits that he forgot the ingredients for his glaze, but still managed to place fourth overall in the chicken category. I didn't get to try his wings, but his tender ribs were brushed with a unique maple-and-ginger sauce. Overall, the BBQ fest was not what it's cracked up to be. In 95-degree heat, my head was pounding too much to put down all the pork I wanted to.

Pizza That evening, some friends and I stopped at Patchwork Farm in East Hardwick for a pizza party. Though the farm is not open to the public, the Emers family sells its creative loaves, bagels, bialys and foccacia all over the Northeast Kingdom. Baker Charlie Emers is considering opening a shop in downtown Hardwick, and I hope he does. The meal started with tart homemade lemonade and a farm-fresh salad, featuring some of the sweetest tomatoes I've ever tasted. Charlie then presented pie after pie from his wood-burning oven. My favorites were the tomato-basil, and one covered in zucchini and lots of fresh mozzarella. I brought home a luscious blue-cheese-and-walnut loaf for later.

The next day, after seeing South Pacific at the Hyde Park Opera House, I wandered across the street for high tea. That's right: On Thursday and Sunday afternoons, an inn called The Governor's House serves a delicious house blend of black tea with all the trimmings. Since I dropped in without notice, I missed the impressive line-up of tea cakes, but was still treated to an ample sampling of ladylike delights. There were delicious curried chicken and cucumber sandwiches, with crusts cut off, naturally. The proprietor also took time to make two different types of scones: a melt-in-the-mouth cranberry and chocolate version, and plain, buttery and flaky ones best blobbed with jam and clotted cream.

Belly Yesterday, I hit my first Vermont Fresh Network dinner of the year at Ariel's in Brookfield. The hour-long drive was easily worth it. The meal began with a cube of pork belly sitting on a slice of pickled watermelon. A straight line of crackling was laid diagonally across the meat like a piece of modern architecture, and it all sat in a delicate pool of mint vinaigrette. Other courses included a deconstructed pork posole — which perfectly captured the flavors of the Mexican stew — and a crowd-pleasing chicken confit over grits and garlic jus. The crisp, salty skin would have been a worthy meal on its own. My weekend of gluttony ended with a trio of berry desserts: sweet sorbet with wild raspberries and blackberries, blackberry clafoutis and ideally balanced blueberry crisp.

Here's the best part of my foodie weekend: Except for the visit to Patchwork Farm, I didn't do anything you can't. There's still plenty of summer fun to be had. My advice is to try a Fresh Network dinner, hit a festival and dine with friends whenever you can!

'Splaining the BTV Sidewalk Stencils

IMG_5001Sometimes pictograms can be hard to understand. What, with all those symbols and images making things hard to figure out and all. Luckily, I'm here to help decipher some for you. Well, really just one. This one: 

This is an image that details a gender-neutral amputee standing next to a cocktail table with some stairs behind it. This neuter person, who has preternaturally long legs, is inside a crosshairs of sort. This is a warning. It suggests that if you are a lower-arm amputee with inexplicably tall limbs standing at a bar in front of some stairs, then you might risk assassination.

Continue reading "'Splaining the BTV Sidewalk Stencils" »

July 26, 2010

Interview with a Wine Guy: Summer Wines

When the weather soars above 90 — and Vermonters curse their neighbors with air conditioning — standing waist deep in Lake Champlain holding a cold drink sounds like the thing to do.  During the last heat wave, this urge determined the focus of my next wine-guy inquisition: summer quaffs.

I went to Dedalus Wine Shop to speak with co-owner Jason Zuliani, who became passionate about wine while working at the New England Culinary Institute. After Zuliani took a brief hiatus, NECI recruited him to be their wine director.

But Zuliani was leading a dual life: wine guy by day, technology guru by night. He also co-owned telecommunications firm Eagle Network Solutions (ENS). When that business took off, Zuliani left NECI,  but convinced his ENS partner, Tim Banks, that they needed to open a wine shop.

Both Banks and Zuliani enjoy hunting down and selling obscure bottles and wines that evoke some unique characteristic of a place or culture. I wanted to find a wine that represented summer, obscure or otherwise.

Seven Days: If you had to choose one wine to represent the summer, what would you choose?

Jason Zuliani: If I had to choose one? That’s a serious handicap for a guy like me. I would probably get into Italian whites. I would look at a Lugana or a Grillo. Those wines are really crisp, minerally, refreshing and vibrant...without a lot of distraction. A big blast of one on a hot day is great.

Continue reading "Interview with a Wine Guy: Summer Wines" »

Get Your War On

Patrick.Douglas.Rounds.EmbassyBrief Gov. Jim Douglas is back in Vermont after a four-day trip visiting soldiers in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Douglas traveled with three other governors: Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), Jay Nixon (D-MO), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Deval Patrick (D-MA). (Patrick (l) and Rounds (r) flank Douglas in the photo to the right.)

The trip was sponsored by the Department of Defense, which offers such trips to governors on regular basis. This was Douglas' second trip to the war zones. He traveled to Iraq in March 2006.

Douglas' trip comes just weeks after Vermont Army National Guard Spc. Ryan J. Grady was killed by a roadside bomb just outside of the Bagram Air Base. Grady was the 36th soldier with a connection to Vermont who has been killed since the United States invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003.

During the trip, Douglas said he had a chance to speak directly to Vermont guardsman and members of the active duty military.

"They don't believe the American media are accurately reflecting the progress being made here," said Douglas during an early Saturday morning conference call with Vermont reporters. Douglas has remained a staunch supporter of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, despite a vocal, public opposition in Vermont to these occupations.

Continue reading "Get Your War On" »

July 23, 2010

River Run in Plainfield Closes; Tasca To Open

Rrlogo Few Vermont eateries attain the fame of Plainfield's River Run, which Mississippi-born chef Jimmy Kennedy opened with his then wife, Maya, in 1991. Over the next 18 years, the barbecue joint — which brought fare such as catfish, hush puppies and fried dill pickles to central Vermont — racked up the accolades.

In USA Today, it was singled out as one of the nation's "top ten catfish restaurants," and the Smithsonian lauded the "memorable, homemade food that is fast disappearing from our own family fare." In Food & Wine, regular customer David Mamet called River Run "the best place on earth." 

That may be why River Run regular Bryan Pfeiffer was a little distraught when he and his Thursday breakfast buddies found newspaper covering the windows. "There's something about a table set with coffee, eggs and home fries that creates fertile ground for cantankerous morning conversation," he says. "I wanted to grow old eating breakfast at River Run." 

He'll have to find a new place to get old. Last year, when Ignacio Ruiz bought the River Run, he had a two-prong plan: Kennedy would keep making his signature dishes in the a.m., while Ruiz would prepare the cuisine of his native country, Spain, in the evening. 

For seven months, that's what they did. Kennedy made pancakes and cheesy grits, freeing him up for other pursuits such as competitive fishing and keeping long-time customers like Pfeiffer happy. Ruiz introduced dishes such as paella, garlic shrimp, meatballs in wine sauce and seafood stew in the p.m.

"My intention was not to get rid of breakfast," says Ruiz, "But I think it's a formula that's not working any more." Why? The early morning hours were costing the restaurant more than they brought in. "Where we stand right now, dinner has kept River Run alive economically," he states. Ruiz also believes that the restaurant's split personality was confusing to customers.

He claims even old-timers have learned to like his Iberian cuisine. "There are definitely Plainfield townies who have been coming since it opened [in 1991] and are very receptive," Ruiz suggests. Although Spanish food might seem exotic to some, he says it's "very homey; it's the food I grew up eating."      

Last weekend, on a whim, he decided to eliminate breakfast, change the eatery's name to Tasca, and serve Spanish fare at lunch and dinner seven days a week, plus Sunday brunch. "It was a total impulse, a very Spanish impulse," he says with a chuckle. 

He says he spoke briefly with Kennedy, with whom he has a "very good relationship." "He seems to be on board," Ruiz suggests. "It's a little bittersweet for him because it's his baby, but ultimately, I think he just wants it to succeed." Kennedy couldn't be reached for comment because he was out of town, fishing. The spot will reopen mid-week, after a handful of renovations, as Tasca.

Pfeiffer, a former journalist who is now a professional birder, says he's unfamiliar with "tapas" and isn't much of a dinner person. He says he wishes Ruiz well, and that he's happy to have the cozy Maple Valley Café nearby so he can keep having eggs and home fries with his friends. "I'm big on breakfast," he notes. "I think that's why this hits me more than other folks. It's the culture of breakfast, the angle of food and community, that we're losing."

Anthony Spector, who raises grass-fed beef as owner of Spruce Mountain Farm, has a cheerier take on the transition. "The Spanish menu is delicious," he says. Like many central Vermonters, he'd never tasted Ruiz's style of food until recently: "It's not what I expected, I expected it to be like Tex-Mex, but it's not. There's really interesting seafood. After years of greasy Southern barbecue, it's nice to have fresh fish."

Spector recalls Mamet saying that River Run was where "poets and farmers eat together," but contends that can happen at a tapas place, too. He admits that after nearly two decades, the restaurant famed for its catfish and conversation had become part of the "fabric of the community," but says that eventually, Tasca will evoke reactions just as warm. His final summation: "I like the changes very much."  


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