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High on the Hill Lived a Lali Goatherd September 30, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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These days, when I turn off Route 153 onto Lali’s long driveway, I see that her house and land look exactly like the drawing that graces her blog title (My Green Vermont). It’s almost as if I can see the landscape change to art and back again, like a special effect in a movie. (I wonder what my Subaru and I look like when this happens?)

I was at her place Saturday to meet Bisou, the new Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy, and to gawk at the very pregnant Blossom, a Nigerian dwarf goat. Blossom’s twins were born about as early on Monday as a goat can be born, and it took me til today—Wednesday!—to visit.

They are indeed the smallest goats I have ever seen (photo/birth description available here and  here). Lali plopped the younger right into my arms, a nuzzly, affectionate little thing the size of small cat. The elder wasn’t interested in having anything to do with me. I did not take it personally.

Blossom was busy with being a mom. Alsiki, Blossom’s nulliparous sister, seemed especially in need of affection, which I was happy to give. Virginia Slim, the milker, perhaps being distracted by all the company, was not being mean to Alsiki. Alsiki and Virginia Slim were both interested in chewing on parts of my jacket. It was a lovely visit.

Baby goats: Is there anything softer or cuter? I think not.

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That Time I Was Politely But Firmly Asked to Leave Their Speyside Grounds September 28, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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(The story continues.)

A dozen summers ago, my sister and I took a trip to Scotland. We were there about 2½ weeks, usually spending three nights per location. Alison had arranged for us to stay on working farms most of the time. Scottish farm holidays.

Of course, even in that amount of time, we couldn’t hit all the hot spots. We had to give up the Outer Hebrides altogether in order to visit the Shetlands. We went back and forth trying to choose between them, but something kept calling us north. The Shetlands turned out to be a major highlight of our trip. The day we hiked to Scotland’s northernmost tip, spent hours with puffins (who had not, after all, “moved on”), and returned to our car, where a late-afternoon tea packed lovingly by our hostess awaited us . . . well, that day was one of the best days of my life.

But our three nights in the Highlands—by scheduling default, really—were not well timed. Scotch wasn’t the priority for us on that trip, and we hadn’t thought through the fact that weekend arrival would turn distillery tours into quiet affairs, what with workers off having weekends themselves. By 10 a.m., after a brief tour, we were sipping Oban—toasting our parents’ 39th wedding anniversary—in a nearly empty room, and I was plotting a trip to The Macallan.

At the time, there were no public tours at The Macallan. One had to make an appointment. On a weekday.

Years before, when we lived in DC, a coworker of Tim’s, aware of Tim’s passion for fly fishing, offered him tickets to a snooty event sponsored by a well-known fly-fishing retailer, an event that featured a couple of famous anglers, a lot of smoked salmon, and a Macallan tasting. It was a wonderful evening, but we were clearly the least-moneyed people in the room. I shudder now to think about what I might have worn, as even my good stuff couldn’t have been good enough. I sat between Tim and a lovely gentleman who ran “a little art gallery downtown.” His name was Phillips.

Tim eventually went to work for that fly-fishing retailer, and the company still had a bit of a relationship with The Macallan at the time that I was in Scotland. I really like their scotch. I wanted to see that pretty mansion on the box. Maybe, I said to Alison, we could just drive onto the grounds, walk around a little, drive away.

But when we got there, there was tour bus parked outside the pretty mansion.

In we went.

The room was crowded with German tourists. We were immediately offered some scotch, which we accepted. We walked around the room a bit, taking the place in, checking out the selection of spirits available for purchase.

But some German ratted us out.

A staff member approached us. It had been reported that we were not part of the group. We had to leave.

I mentioned my husband’s business connection. She didn’t care.

I mentioned that I had really, really wanted to buy my husband a bottle of their scotch as a souvenir. She briefly relented.

Although it was a blend (unthinkable!), I bought a limited-edition bottle commemorating the 35th anniversary of the magazine Private Eye. The lure was that this blend included one cask (number 1580) from 1961, the year the magazine was launched and the year my husband was born. (Doing a Google search now, I’m finding that one of those 5,000 bottles sold at a 2006 auction for £240. I did not pay that. Plus, we opened ours.)

She let me pay, and then she kicked us out.

Which gives me bragging rights to having been kicked out of a distillery in Scotland.

So there.

A Series of Things: The 1811 House Snifter September 23, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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I poured the last of The Macallan 12-year-old scotch into my treasured brandy snifter last night.

Some years ago, I became part of the Aplodontia Society, a secret society brought together by mutual interests in scotch and fly fishing. I would tell you more, but I would have to kill you.

We would most often meet (secretly, of course) at the 1811 House. The room was perfection: a bar, a fireplace, some tables. The place specialized in single malt scotches, although one could get a draft of Newcastle Brown to warm up, if one so desired.

Eventually the owners retired and sold the inn to the big resort hotel across the street. The 1811 House was promptly closed to the public. That was a dark, dark day.

One brilliant and thoughtful member of the Aplodontia Society was inspired to stop by as the place was being dismantled to see if she could, for her husband’s birthday, buy some of the glassware. They sold some to her. She presented the glasses to him at his birthday dinner, and she gave one to each member of the society.

The heavy crystal brandy snifters sport a thistle pattern. I love them, and not even so much for what they are—which is beautiful—but for what they represent: warm evenings with good friends in a room that felt like home.

The snifter makes me think about and appreciate my friends (and aplodontia). The Macallan makes me think about that time I was politely but firmly asked to leave their Speyside grounds.

But that’s another story.

We Like What We Like September 21, 2009

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Saturday morning, about 11:30, I walked down to the general store to pick up some lunch. I walk in the door, and Will and Eric, between the two of them, say to me right off, “Two turkey and cheddar on Rupert Rising bread?”

Yup. With lettuce and mustard.

Thing is, Tim and I don’t go there that often. Not nearly enough, in fact. These guys pay attention.

While Eric was making the sandwiches, another guy walks in and heads to the cooler. Will says to Eric, “Is there any St. Pauli Girl in there? Mike’s here.”

“Probably not. But there’s some in the basement.” By that time, Mike had already headed downstairs for it himself, clearly familiar with its likely whereabouts.

It’s a small town.

Turning Toward Panna Cotta September 16, 2009

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Last week, when I got to Portland, I opened the launch issue of maine., which was supplied in the hotel room. In it I found a photo of two of my favorite chefs, a married couple. One is chef at Evangeline; the other is chef at Bresca. I love both places rather desperately. But when people ask me to name my “favorite” restaurant in Portland (nearly an impossibility), I waver between Bresca and Back Bay Grill.

The maine. article noted that the two chefs would be embarking on a new adventure. “Starting in October, the chefs will take the seats and tables out of Bresca, reset the dining room, and, for 12 diners paying $120 each, prepare a 12-course themed dinner.” They would be calling this venture 12 Seats.

That’s what it said.

I was mostly devastated at the thought of losing Bresca, the place where I without fail order the honeycomb-and-pecorino appetizer (bresca being the Catalan word for honeycomb [yes, Lali?]), the shaved brussels sprouts salad (with walnuts and pecorino and parm), and my favorite dessert in the entire world, bar none: the buttermilk panna cotta.

It’s not that I don’t love the idea of 12 Seats. I do love it. Truth be told, I’ve only gone to Evangeline on prix fixe night so that the chef can serve me whatever he wants. He, like his wife, is a culinary god. I’m convinced.

But at $240/couple at 12 Seats, well, it won’t happen very often for me, I’m afraid. (I’m dreaming of once.)

Tim and I only had a couple of nights this trip, and we had already made reservations at Back Bay Grill. It had been many months since we’d eaten there, and we’d just been to Bresca in July. I don’t know that we’ve ever splurged and gone to both Back Bay Grill and Bresca on the same trip, but suddenly, it was looking like this was our last chance to get to Bresca.

So, the evening after a stupendous (as always) meal at Back Bay, complete with a lovely visit with Adrian the sommelier, we found ourselves walking by Bresca just to see if we could get in.

We just could. If we sat down now. Because although Bresca was about to become 12 Seats, the restaurant in its entirety seats fewer than 20.

Early on, we asked the waitress about the impending change. And that’s when we were told that 12 Seats was in fact a Sunday-night-only thing. “A lot of people have been confused about that,” she declared.

This information would have been a nice addition to the article. I was a bit miffed at the omission.

I then had to subdue my guilt about eating there that night. I certainly would have gone lower end if I hadn’t thought I was off to the Last Supper. Luckily, I managed to wash most of that guilt down with a nice fiano di avellino.

And every yummy bite ultimately led, of course, to the ordering of my favorite dessert in the entire world (truly—this is not hyperbole): Bresca’s buttermilk panna cotta. A perfect panna cotta swimming in a passion fruit broth, topped with fresh fruit and a scoop of white-pepper sorbet on the side. Its beauty has brought to tears to my eyes. In fact, if that panna cotta were to be served by itself, without those heavenly additions, it alone would be enough to make me believe in purity and goodness. It is physical evidence of those things.

Imagine my surprise when I was electronically flipping through the New York Times this morning and discovered an article about Portland restaurants and, as part of the accompanying slide show, a photo of my beloved:

buttermilk panna cotta

Oh, happiness.

Thinking of this happiness makes me think of Louise—not just because she lives in Portland, but because she’s been reminding me to be happy. On Monday, she posted (on Facebook) a photo of her red-fresh haul of yard-picked raspberries with the caption “Do not postpone joy.” That same afternoon, Dana posted “News flash! Procrastinating is so much more fun than working!” Add to these philosophical jabs the recent news that a dearly loved member of the community had died quite suddenly, then imagine me looking out my office window that afternoon. The sun was still shining. I reconsidered an invitation, shut down the computer, and went to the river. Sioux and I sat in the shallows in lawn chairs, our faces to the sun, our feet in the water. We just talked, soaking in the end of summer.

Do not postpone joy. That’s a tough thing to live. I mean, if I lost my job because I was out not-postponing-joy all the time, joy could come to a rather screeching halt. It’s complicated.

But I know it’s too easy to let the balance slip away from joy’s favor.

Good friends. Good food. Fruit in season. Playing outside, in the streams or the streets.

It sounds simple enough.

Who would like to meet me for panna cotta to discuss this further?

Green Mountain Envy September 13, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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(an e-mail in response to Vermont Public Radio’s e-newsletter)

Dear Michelle:

Often when I receive the VPR prEview, I am working at my desk, editing medical or angling copy, and I find myself envious of whatever outdoor adventure you’ve been on of late. But I’ve never been so envious as I was when I read your September 9 introduction, in which you announce your competitive debut in the Green Mountain Derby Dames’ home opener bout under the name Susan Slamberg.

I didn’t even know roller derby had made it to Vermont.

For several years, thanks to being able to pack up my office and accompany my husband on regular business trips to Portland, Maine, and thanks to his working there with the now-retired Goldie Headlocks, I have, whenever possible, whenever the skating gods put me in town at the right time, been attending the Port Authorities’ bouts and, more recently, the Calamity Janes’.

As someone traumatized by gym class and team sports in the ’70s (but who has been a workout addict for 25 years), I can report that attendance at my first bout marked the first time that I ever watched a sport and felt a visceral “I wish I was out there.” If only I were 15 years younger and living near leagues…

Last summer I read the good-enough-I-guess book Derby Girl in preparation for what I expect to be the much-better movie, Whip It, which I hope does not take too long after its release to get to a Vermont screen near-enough to me.

This morning I can’t find a score for last night’s bout. I hope it was a great time, no matter the outcome. I’m a couple of hours away from the Champlain Valley Expo (I’m a couple of hours away, it seems, from everything), but who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll make it to the stands.

Good luck.

Indigo Bunting (aka Bella Coast)

The Bike in the Lot September 8, 2009

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One day last week, when I went to the gym, I checked in, then hit the locker room. On my way from the locker room to the Workout Sanctuary, the woman at the front desk stopped me and asked, “Is that your Harley?”

I looked out the window to see a lone motorcycle in the parking lot. It was midafternoon, and there was a lull in general activity within the gym’s walls.

No, I admitted. I had driven my practical all-wheel-drive Subaru, aka the Vermont State Car, which was parked just to the right of her view out the window. Sigh.

Then I continued on my merry workout way.

I didn’t ask why she asked. Maybe she’s a bike lover. Maybe I was just about the only person there, and the Harley was the only vehicle she could see. Maybe it had been parked there awhile, and she was wondering if someone—a nonmember someone—was using the gym lot for personal use.

But the fact that she felt enough possibility in it to ask me . . . well, that was kind of cool.

Cheese/Dorch September 6, 2009

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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We’re off on a brief Portland stint soon and have been invited to Louise’s to hang out on her dorch (Is it a deck? Is it a porch?). I consider any invitation to the dorch a great honor.

And she’s making us dinner. So we had to think of something good to take along. Wine, bien sûr. But what else? Almost any (food) thing one takes to Portland feels like carrying coals to Newcastle.

Then Tim thought of the cheese.

Though we live in the somewhat down-at-the-heels section of Parts West, once you leave town limits, you’re back in gorgeous country. Gorgeous country that includes an artisan cheesemaker down the road.

So, as we were driving to a spot where we would soon be taking a glorious September-afternoon hike, we made a stop at the cheesemaker’s. One can buy her cheese around town and at farmer’s markets, but we heard that she’d recently opened a stand at the farm on weekends.

There was no one there, but much of Vermont still operates on an honor system: We go to the refrigerator, choose our cheese (samples available), leave the money. I love that this still exists.

We chose a raw goat tomme, aged 4–6 months; a raw goat grana, aged 10–12 months; and a raw cow washed rind, aged 2–4 months. Two of these cheeses, apparently, have already won awards.

We have also seen these cheeses on the menu of Portland restaurants, including Bar Lola, Fore Street, and Local 188, places dear to our hearts.

Our little cheese-plate sampler, likely less than a pound of cheese, cost about $20. It’s not inexpensive, but no cheese is. Louise (once a resident of France) and Tim have shared more than one cheese plate in their day. It will be the perfect addition.

And it’s made right here in Parts West. How great is that?

All Hail the Salsa Queen September 1, 2009

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Yesterday afternoon, as I dutifully edited medical copy, I heard the familiar-enough thud in the mudroom signifying that the UPS guy had opened the door and dropped a package inside. It was about 3:00 p.m.

“It’s here!” I thought, and dutifully stopped editing to run downstairs like an excited puppy.

And here it was:

IMG_3699a

A package from one St. Bridgett from St. Louis filled with promises of peach salsa. For about a second, I thought about waiting for Tim (to whom said package was also addressed) to get home so we could open it together. During that second, I went for the scissors and started ripping into the tape. I pulled out the first well-packed jar and took this shot for documentary purposes. If you look closely, you can see the jar’s lid through the bubble wrap:

IMG_3701a

I pulled out the two jars and thought, Yum:

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I then returned to my computer, reported the salsa’s successful arrival to Bridgett, went back to work, and eagerly awaited Tim’s homecoming. We just happened to have some of those tortilla chips shaped like little bowls. It’s unusual for me to have chips in the house because, well, I’d just eat them. But I purchased these for some happy hour sometime back. What proved unnecessary then turned into yesterday’s blessing. The little chips were the perfect vehicle for efficiently moving this salsa into my mouth. Here’s Tim with a fully stuffed chip:

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The salsa is spiced with cumin, which we both love. The heat builds rapidly. Usually, I don’t like my salsa too hot, but this salsa is compelling, and it’s not too hot. However, I did at the end of my binge run for a spoonful of yogurt to neutralize my piehole. That did the trick—but only for a minute or two. As the yogurt effect diminished, I could feel the still-vital pulse of residual heat.

Thank you, St. B from St. L, for this glorious culinary treat.

And have I mentioned lately just how much I love my blog friends?