Thursday, March 29, 2012

Après Yoga

I was talking with my high school friend Toni recently during our annual birthday call (our birthdays are three days apart), and she mentioned her daily hour and a half commute to her office in Washington, DC. She’s a successful businesswoman and is thankful to have weathered the economic downturn better than many, but leaving the house at 6:30 am and getting home after 8 pm day after day is wearing on her. It got me thinking about my commute, which is down the stairs to my home office. While I sometimes miss the camaraderie of a workplace, mostly I feel enormously grateful to work from home. One of the many benefits is being able to walk a few blocks to the Old Bristol High School to attend a morning yoga class on a weekly basis, and then swing by the Bristol Bakery and Café on my way home.

Janet Chill’s Tuesday morning class is an eclectic group. We’re usually about a dozen people, one-third of whom are men. Some attend every week; others more sporadically. The New Year always brings in a surge of new faces, but within a month most of them drop off, leaving our core group intact. I have to confess that I don’t know everyone’s name, but for an hour and fifteen minutes we’re all experiencing this very powerful thing together, led by our inspiring instructor Janet. While there are many talented yoga instructors in the area, something about Janet’s class always brings me back for more.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spice It Up

Normally the week after Saint Patrick’s Day here in Vermont is cold and gray with an average high of around forty degrees. If we’re lucky, we aren’t pummeled by a series of storms slicking the sidewalks with freezing rain and coating our windshields with sleet. This year, however, the whole week has felt more like June, with temperatures up in the 70s. Birds are singing, tulips and daffodils are shooting up, and the air feels like silk on the skin.

Last Sunday, instead of catching up on indoor chores like I normally would in March, I headed outside to get a jump on garden cleanup. I’m negligent about fall cleanup chores, so come spring my gardens are looking pretty scraggly. Somehow it’s a lot more appealing to emerge in the spring to tidy things up than it is in late fall, when the air has a bite and the stove beckons me to put on a soup  for an all-day simmer. The herb garden, which during summer months invigorates with varying shades of green and a heady blend of eau d’herbes, is today a tangle of brown oregano branches and shriveled sage leaves.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sugarin' Season

Mild daytime temperatures and cool nights mean one thing in Vermont this time of year: Sugarin’ Season. Last weekend I went over to visit our friends David and Louse Brynn, who are some of the first people we met when we moved to Bristol twenty years ago. Louise is a 7th generation Bristolite whose ancestors seem to have had a hand in all aspects of local business and general running-of-the-town since their arrival. The Brynns live in a house that they built themselves (something I still find inconceivable and awe-inspiring) on 33 acres of family land that Louise has graced with stone art: rambling stone walls lead up a path to a tree house (which features hardwood floors and I can attest sleeps a family of four, and which they also built themselves); stone balancing sculptures rise up from an overgrown meadow and dot the lawn sloping down to their garden, bordered with espaliered pear trees. If it sounds idyllic, it is.

Photo by Devon Brynn

The land is also abundant with sugar maples which, for the past twenty-two years, David and Louise have tapped to make maple syrup. At one point, briefly, they used rubber tubing to increase their production and sold some of their syrup commercially, but they prefer to do it the old fashioned way: collecting the sap in sixty metal buckets attached to the trees and carrying it down to their sugarhouse (also built by them) to pour into their wood-fired  “rack,” the apparatus that transforms the sap into syrup.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love Buns and Pickled Shitakes

You can see the steamed windows from a block away, the glass foggy with oven warmth on this cold, late winter morning.

It’s a rare day when my two teenage daughters aren’t busy with friends, homework, dance (Isabel) or soccer (Faye). But they have the week off from school, so I’m able to pull them away from other demands and distractions to join me for lunch. My husband Chris had tucked a gift card in my Christmas stocking, knowing my enthusiasm for Vergennes Laundry, a stylish French bakery/café, in the former space of a dreary, little Laundromat. I’m finally getting a chance to cash in his gift, treating my girls to a delectable lunch, and myself to some uninterrupted time with them.

Lessons in Cheesemaking, Part 2

From the warmth of the cheese vat to the coolness of the cave, the process of making cheese involves multiple steps. After helping out with the transformation from liquid milk into solid cheese, I next would be introduced to the mysteries of the cave at Crawford Family Farm.
Donning rubber clogs and hairnet, I followed Julie over to the entrance. Before I stepped into the cave, which is simply a small room adjacent to the cheesemaking facility, she handed me a thick sweatshirt.
            “Here, you’ll need this,” she said. “It gets pretty dirty in there.”
            Dirty? I thought we were just going to be turning cheeses like we had the previous time, when the pale yellow wheels were new and smooth and clean. What I didn’t realize was that most of the cheeses, having been in the cave for longer than a few days now, were covered with a thick mold that needed to be wiped off.

Julie handed me a cheesecloth (they really are used in making cheese, despite their myriad other mundane uses) and picked up one of the wheels to demonstrate. It was gray and furry, growing what resembled mouse hair. She wiped the top off, revealing a mosaic of brown, beige, and gray, and then the sides and bottom. She wiped the spot where the cheese had been resting on the shelf too, before placing it back, this time top down. I picked up a wheel and did the same, coughing as the mold dispersed into the air. “You might feel it in your chest tomorrow,” she warned. “The intern who used to work here would wear a face mask.”

Photo by Linda Hampton Smith

Lessons in Cheesemaking, Part 1

A confession: I’m crazy about cheese. I’m one of those people who pack a smelly cheese in my lunch and don’t hesitate to open it on a train or in a small office. I eat it nearly every day, sometimes for breakfast. Fortunately, I also eat a lot of vegetables (roughage) and enjoy my share of red wine (resveratrol) to counteract the possible negative effects.

Since I’m so passionate about cheese, and am also a naturally curious person, a few years ago I volunteered at an artisan cheesemaker’s farm, Crawford Family Farm in Whiting, to learn how cheese is made. The Crawfords produce Vermont Ayr, a semi-hard Alpine tomme style cheese with a natural rind, which happens to be one of my favorite local cheeses. I wrote about that experience here in an article for Culture, a magazine devoted to, you guessed it, cheese. In addition to being fascinating, the experience got me thinking about cheese on a deeper level.
Before my forays into cheesemaking, I had never used the length of my arms to stir anything before, anything edible at least. The process felt both primitive and completely new. 

Photo by Linda Hampton Smith