get ’em while it’s cold

She doesn’t ship during warm weather months — for good reason as chocolate melts and you wouldn’t want to waste something as special as these treasures!  Gâté Commes Des Filles the chocolate company by Alexandra Whisnant in Sommerville, Massachusetts may just be the best chocolates this side of the Atlantic.

Paris trained, Laudurée and Chez Panisse (CA) bread, Alexandra hand makes chocolates using only the freshest ingredients — often out of her mother’s garden — and highest quality chocolate that need to be consumed within days before the freshness fades. The date stamped boxes make perfect gifts but be sure to get some for yourself to make the $28 overnight shipping worthwhile.

Available in 4pc/$22, 9pc/$43 and 16 pc/$75 boxes. (shipping extra)

And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Boston area, stop by her new shop in the very hipster Bow Market. There you can not only get boxed chocolates but a giant cone of chocolate mousse or a chocolate frappe topped with fresh whipped cream!

I’m sensing a road trip!

all images courtesy Gâté Commes Des Filles

 

holiday gift guide — vermont edition 2019

Last Christmas, everybody on my list got a bottle of pure Vermont maple syrup. But Vermont has lot’s of locally made goods worthy of gift-giving. Here are my top picks for the 2019 holiday season.

Clockwise from upper left:  Simon Pearce Burlington Moss Glen serving bowl. 10.5 inches. $125   |   17″ Solid Oak French Paddle by Vermont Farm Table  $115      Hand made French Ticking Half Apron by Red House Vermont  $98     A Vermont twist on the classic s’more  — Shelburne Farms S’mores gift basket contains their 2-year waxed cheddar, local liquid honey and locally produced salted maple crackers. No fire required.   $33      Stacked Shape Butter Dish with antique wooden handle, hand made by Sugar House Ceramic Company   $58   |    Waxed Canvas Weekender Bag in true black. Also available in red, brown, green and grey by Red house Vermont  $268     Jam made with all local fruits and honey (instead of cane sugar) in the cutest little 2 oz jars so you can try lots of flavors.  $6.99 each at V. Smiley Preserves

 

favorite places northern vermont

I haven’t been in Vermont all that long or done all that much but I have managed to find several gems to make up a favorites list in and around the Burlington area:

Philo Ridge Farm Market & Kitchen
2766 Mt. Philo Road, Charlotte

Home to the best breakfast sandwich in town this charming cafe & market (part of a real working farm) is my most favorite place to go hang out by the fire in the winter or overlooking beautiful Charlotte farm country in the summer. Serving breakfast & lunch, dinner during summer, the baked goods and especially biscuits, are wonderful. The accompanying little high end market stocks produce and meats from the farm along side locally produced pantry staples and gifts.

Shelburne Farms
1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne

People flock to Shelburne Farms during the summer for its educational farm program and of course to stay at the inn — a sprawling mansion that was once a Vanderbuilt summer house and the original homestead on the property. I say, skip the farm and take advantage of the several miles of walking trails that snake through the spectacular grounds between the road and lake Champlain. As a town resident, I get free admission during the summer (otherwise $8.00 a head to enter) but from November to May, the programs cease, the Inn closes and you have free reign to the property. Or visit the farm store open all year round to purchase some Shelburne Farms Cheddar Cheese — I’m partial to their beer cheese, a partnership with local favorite, Fiddlehead Brewery. One more note — skip the outrageously expensive and just mediocre restaurant at the inn. If you want to see the view and the inside of the house, grab a drink at the makeshift bar inside and sip away outside on the veranda. (open only in summer, no entry fee necessary)

Vergennes Laundry
247 Main Street, Vergennes

A charming little restaurant in the cutest little one horse town. Open for brunch on weekends and dinner Wed-Sat, the food is fresh, local and yummy!  Known for their baked goods and coffee served French style in bowls, i am partial to their weekly omelette special for $10.

LuLu
185 Main Street, Vergennes

For somewhere so cold, there is no shortage of ice cream in Vermont. No complaints here! LuLu creates scrumptious, unusual flavors in both hard and soft forms, from local farm-raised ingredients. Well worth the drive out to Vergennes for a creamy treat. Also available in pints at the Philo Ridge Farm Market.

Tomgirl
266 Pine Street, Burlington

This place is crazy expensive BUT the best place to get fresh pressed juices, smoothies, soups, salads and yes, those gluten free banana nut muffins. Everything is super fresh, healthy and the juices are all sold in glass jars. No plastics. No sugar. No packages. Just good, healthy fare. It may or may not become a habit so beware!

European Touch Spa
928 Falls Road, Shelburne

Simply the best facialist I have ever been to. Krystina, the owner of this one-woman body spa tucked into a back room of a multi-vendor house turned beauty enclave, is Eastern European born and trained. Her prices are amazingly affordable and she really knows her stuff. This is the place for hard core skin care not the fluffy, relaxation type facial. Just put yourself in Krystina’s hands, and she’ll tell you exactly what you need. Watch out though, she gives a mean (interpret: hard) foot massage.

Dedalus
388 Pine Street, Burlington

A surprisingly sophisticated wine bar and provisions shop for a town like Burlington. The restaurant decor is timber barn Vermont meets Ikea for a homey feel. And they really do know their stuff. Great for a group or intimate evening for two.

Miss Weinerz Donuts
Around Town

Like donuts you have never had before .  .  . doughy and yeasty, they’re heavy vs. fluffy, oozing of local flavors and come in both glazed and filled varieties. You can find them at only a handful of shops around town just three days a week. You can order in advance on her website or take your chances there will be any left at your local City Market. Get there early!

Honey Road
156 Church Street, Burlington

By far my favorite restaurant in Burlington and a go to for any occasion, any night of the week. Greek influenced small plates — meaning it’s not cheap because when are small plates anything but expensive!?!  The difference here is you will walk away full and satisfied. Take the advice of your server on how much to order. And whatever you do, don’t miss the chicken wings. I’m not a wings girl but these are amazingly sweet, sticky, unusually flavored and addicting. Haven’t had a bad thing yet so you are safe with anything on the menu. Book in advance if you can or be prepared to wait.

look who’s back

In case anyone was wondering, I’ve spent the past year living on a lake in a small Vermont hamlet. When I tell that to most folk, their jaw drops. “Aren’t you a city girl?” Maybe. But to wake up to the spectacular view of rolling green hills dropping off over a vast lake, surrounded by mountains in the distance. Let’s just say, it’s been special. For the few months of the year it was green, anyway. Today the ground is snow covered. It’s c-c-c-cold outside. And I’m reconsidering this journey. But that’s for another day .  .  .

In the meantime, I’m hoping to get back to posting about my travels and more on a semi-regular basis. What do you say, we start with a little day trip to the Northeast Kingdom here in Vermont:

It’s about a two hour drive to the NEK from the general Burlington area. Through the Stowe resort town and beyond into seemingly nowheresville. Miles of winding roads and endless trees — take the drive in the Fall and you won’t be disappointed!  Know where you are going and there are treasures to be found .  .  .

STOP 1:  The Museum of Everyday Life, 3482 Drypond Road, Glover, VT

IMG_0060This place is a one of a kind marvel. A self-service celebration of the mundane things you and I might, otherwise, not give a second thought to — everything from lowly dust, to safety pins, to scissors — the main exhibition during my visit.

Turn on the lights, view, read and listen your way through a selection of items from the permanent collection and highlights from past exhibitions into a series of spaces dedicated to a single subject. Objects, activities, artworks and uniquely curated experiences await. Above all, don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. One curious girl in my crew saw a record player behind what we thought was a curtain of netting to keep onlookers away from objects on display. Only her willingness to crawl under this fragile barrier revealed it was actually a musical curtain of bells powered by said spinning turntable. Magical!

Give yourself a good hour here. There’s a gift shop in the corner with an honor box for cash payment. And don’t forget to turn the lights out as you leave.

 

STOP 2:  Bread & Puppet Theater Barn, 753 Heights Road, Glover, VT

This carefully organized warehouse of giant papier mâché puppets, is far more impressive than the theater they are made for. The Bread & Puppet theater is a traveling troop of performers putting on political & historical puppet shows around the country. I personally found one of the cult-like shows extremely difficult to sit through but was truly mesmerized by this barn housing 55 years of puppets, so carefully arranged on the walls and ceilings that they beg you to create your own stories to match their grandeur.

The Bread & Puppet “Family” also supports themselves through the sale of printed posters, cards and books based on the founder’s original works. Affordable, colorful and powerful artworks that make nice souvenirs if your into that sort of thing. And don’t miss the bus full of crafty treasures for sale parked along the road across the street. It’s hippy-ville Vermont at it’s finest.

Note: Stops 1 & 2 are just down the road from one another and it’s no coincidence — they share minds & resources.

STOP 3: Parker Pie Company, 161 Country Road West Glover, VT

Pie as in pizza pie with a selection of local craft beers on tap for lunch. The local watering hole/general store/gallery. But you are going to have to stop and ask directions because it doesn’t show up on any GPS — if you can even get one working up here — and is far off the main drag. Worth the detour, however, and chances are it will be packed to the gills.

 

STOP 4: Red Sky Trading, 2984 Glover Street, Glover VT

An honor system little barn of a shop with kitchy knick-knacks, local cheeses (pick up some award-winning Jasper Hill cheese — while nearby, they don’t offer tours or have a shop of their own) and home-baked sweets. If it’s a nice day, pull up an Adirondack chair and enjoy a bit of dessert while taking in the scenery. If sweets aren’t your thing, make this stop 3 so you don’t have to back-track after lunch.

Stop 5: Hill Farmstead Brewery, 403 Hill Road, Greensboro Bend, VT

Voted the best brewery in the world five years running, it is a worthy stop to pick up a growler, a bottle or a few cans as it’s not available to purchase in stores — only on tap in select Vermont establishments and here onsite. There are limits to the amount you can buy, especially for limited releases. But the beer is GOOD, you can hang out on the grounds and during the summer, there are often food trucks and music on the property as well.

Note:  The brewery is closed Sun-Tues so plan your travels accordingly. This is not one to be missed. Prepare to queue.

Loaded up with local cheese, beer, artwork and kingdom culture, you are ready to head out of the NEK and back to civilization.

spend fall in vermont

Vermont FoliageIt’s nearly time for the leaves to start turning and the cool weather to set in. The best place I can think to experience, really experience fall is in Vermont. The stunning colors, the fresh air, the food. Yes, the food!  Famed cookbook author Deborah Krasner runs culinary workshops out of her 18th century converted barn near Putney, Vermont. It’s the most wonderful week you will ever have if you like cooking, eating, visiting farmers markets, iconic small towns, artisans, apple orchards and taking in the fall foliage with a small group of soon to be friends.

Your week begins as you get to know your fellow guests (no more than 7) and Deborah around a large table and a stunning roast chicken dinner.  Then each day after a self serve breakfast, the cooking begins. Two meals are prepared each day by you with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients with an Italian flare. You’ll be making pasta, tossing pizzas, stirring risottos, whipping up desserts and enjoying every last bite, sipping wine and eating off local Vermont pottery. You’ll take home a 40 page booklet featuring the weeks recipes (the most used cookbook in my kitchen) and memories for a lifetime.

In addition to cooking you’ll explore the area. One full day is spent visiting local farms, picking up supplies at the local farmers market, tasting apples at a local orchard, sipping hot chocolate at a restaurant owned by local resident Ken Burns (the documentarian) and getting the opportunity to buy your own pottery and glassware from local artisans among other things. VERMONT PICSOh and don’t forget the stunning scenery. What could be more breathtaking than the fall colors taking shape before your eyes in and around the mountains of the Northeast. Ooh, I want to go right now!

Accommodations, meals and local transport are all included. Workshops run 6 days for $2800. And a little birdie told me there is currently space available for early October, a rarity for the Fall season. Book in today!

jefferson interlude

You know that age old question, if you could invite 3 people, alive or dead, to dinner who would they be? Two of my three are always shifting but one remains constant: Thomas Jefferson. Yes that Thomas Jefferson — the 3rd President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, self taught architect, prolific inventor, voracious reader, all around genius, and ice cream lover.

He lived just about 2.5 hours from Washington, DC (a four day trip in his day). And finally 2 years into my residency here, I took a little road trip to peek into the life of Mr. Jefferson. And to my surprise, I found a great little town in Charlottesville, Virginia:

See & Do:

2MonticelloMonticello – The home of Thomas Jefferson and Unesco World Heritage site. The biggest tourist attraction in the area and that is no understatement. Tours start every 5 minutes whereby large groups of people are carefully ushered through the many public rooms of the first floor of this large house. Pay extra as I did for a behind the scenes tour and you get to see additional rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors including the Dome Room — DomeRoomundoubtedly the best room in the house with beautiful light and commanding views yet it was used as an attic space of all things. Guests and even Jefferson himself whose quarters were on the first floor, never ventured up the steep and narrow stairways to the private spaces that by comparison to below were cramped and spare.

The brilliance in the design came in the lowest level cellar rooms, from whence the staff of slaves kept things running smoothly with kitchen and stables reached by underground walkways safe from the elements yet away from the main structure, providing terraces above perfect for entertaining and viewing of the grounds. Tours of these areas are self guided and have low tech interactive features.

All tickets also include guided garden and slavery tours of the immediate grounds. And you can walk between the visitors center and home with a stop at the Jefferson cemetary in between. The visitors center houses a introductory film, cafe and one of the nicer gift shops I have seen. Prebook an early morning tour to avoid long lines and assure access to convenient parking.

                                                                Helpful hint:                                                           The house sits on a razed mountain top so take the shuttle bus there and make the easy walk back downhill. I passed many upward bound visitors huffing and puffing on my way down. And the path is loose gravel so wear close toed shoes if you’re going to walk.

UVARotundaUniversity of Virginia — Steeped in history, the UVA campus is amazing especially for this girl who went to college in the city and never had that true campus experience. By the end of my few hours wandering around, touring the Rotunda, viewing Edgar Allen Poe’s room, lounging on the lawn taking in the sights and sounds of academia, i was kicking myself for not going to grad school here when I had the chance. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

I recommend visiting during the school year and taking a student guided tour but Rotunda tours go all year long (every hour on the hour from the lower level) and there are many buildings and exhibits to see all around the campus. Edgar Allen Poe’s room is #13 along the West Range (past the gardens on the far side of The Lawn rooms) and is open for viewing through a permanent glass door.

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 4.45.54 PMBarboursville Winery – Virginia is a thriving wine region with tastings and tours galore — Dave Matthews wine, anyone? But why not mix a little wine and a little Jefferson?  At the Barboursville Winery you can do just that. On the grounds, you’ll find ruins of a Jefferson designed home built for Governor James Barbour in 1814 and devastated by fire in 1884. Tour the ruins then taste the award winning wine named for the octagonal room (one of Jefferson’s favorite motifs) at their center. It’s a beautiful drive out to Barboursville along back roads and wine provides the perfect souvenir of your trip to Charlottesville. A $5 tasting Glass allows sampling of all Barboursville wines in the visitor’s center. Octogan Wine sells for $49.99/bottle, 2008  vintage now available

elderKluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, 400 Worrell Drive — a few miles off campus in a stately Georgian home on beautiful grounds is of all things, a UVA owned museum housing the largest collection of Aboriginal art outside of Australia. And even though the permanent collection was being reorganized and unavailable for viewing, my experience here was one of those awe-inspiring, highly educational, goose bump inciting kind of dealios. Might even say, life changing.Rennie

Not only does this museum house the works of both modern and traditional Aboriginal artists collected in the late 20th century by the men whose names grace the collection, but they offer the most amazing artist in residence program providing exhibit opportunities for today’s Aboriginal artists who bring together traditional motifs with modern techniques, telling the stories that can only be told from their unique perspecitve.

The curation here is spot on. A modern point of view with sensitivity to keep the history of a people alive and well — a history that a goes back thousands of years but only became an art movement in our lifetime. It’s a most unique proposition. One I look forward to learning more about, my interest now peaked by this marvelous museum.

Shop:

Farmers Market – every Saturday morning in a parking lot off South Street is a small but lovely farmers market.  Local farmers, bakers and craftspeople, musicians playing, a variety of prepared foods from omelets to dumplings fill the 3 rows of stalls. The selection of vendors is well balanced and the market was bustling.crownsberries

I don’t know what the story was behind these felt crowns but they were super cute. The fresh eggs disappeared faster than I could swoop some up and so instead I bought berries galore and embarked on a strawberry ice cream making frenzy upon my return home.

EloiseEloise, 505 W. Main Street — along main street between downtown and the university lie all kinds of inviting restaurants and shops. This little beauty caught my eye but I never expected what I found inside. Designer wares, casual in style and very high in price. (Sometimes I forget how monied a university town can be.) But sitting on the front table were a series of chunky rings made of horn that I have come to learn are from Haiti — sourced by a local team dedicated to supporting artisan efforts in a place still ravaged from the earthquake. Eloise is the sole distributor of their jewelry and leather goods in the Charlottesville area. Well worth any price if you ask me and beautiful to boot.

eat and drink:

ArchsFroYoArch’s Frozen Yogurt, 104. N. 14th Street – your typcal self serve frozen yogurt shop with a plethora of flavors and the most amazing ooey gooey chocolate brownie topping ever. Over indulgence galore. I feel that freshman 10 coming on!

bodosBodo’s Bagels, 1609 University Avenue – this institution in Charlottesville has the closest thing to New York bagels I have ever had outside the city. True boiled water bagels of the perfect chewy consistency. More of a sandwich shop than just a bagel stop, I indulged in another Jewish delicacy, chopped liver and Swiss on a poppy seed bagel with yellow mustard. Perfection for under $5. Another thing I forget about college towns, good food comes cheap.

AceAce Biscuit and Barbeque, 711 Henry Avenue – OK this place is a true find. Tucked away in a warehouse business district bordering a small residential neighborhood, it’s the size of a postage stamp with one communal table and a few counter seats that serves up bbq I hear is to die for. But i was there for Bfast — homemade biscuits of the dense wholemeal variety topped with anything you want from house made sausage, to egg, to fried green tomato & cheese — or all of the above if you’re me. The woman next to me said this is like McDonalds only really really good. Really really really good if you ask me. A little off the beaten path but go find this place.

Eppie’s, 412 E. Main Street — another institution located right smack dab in the middle of the downtown pedestrian mall the likes of which graces many college towns. Homestyle classics that, again, don’t gouge the wallet. The Santa Monica Salad of spinach, fresh corn, grape tomatoes, goat cheese and sweet dates was an ample meal served with pumpkin bread for under $8. Can’t beat that!

Mudhouse Coffee, 213 E Main Street – this may not be the fasted coffee house in town but they just may be the busiest which says something. Brewing their own roasted beans, I stopped in on my way to the farmers market to pick up a hot chocolate on an unseasonably chilly morning. Another thing I love about college towns, local grads establishing local businesses are always supported.

Stay:

Rooms in Charlottesville don’t come cheap. Even the more mundane chain hotels are pricey. So go for the charm of an inn and have the full small town experience.

South Street InnI chose the 200 South Street Inn located right downtown, the perfect location if you ask me. Two blocks from the pedestrian mall, walking distance to the University, right across from the farmers market and a block from GlassHaus, the hippest restaurant in town. The only drawback to staying downtown — freight trains pass through at all hours of the day and night. While this inn may shimmy and shake with the passing trains, it aims to distract you with lovely breakfasts, fresh baked cookies all day, wine and cheese from 5-7 PM and a wrap around porch to enjoy it all on. It’s typically Victorian with a patina of wear but lovely just the same.