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Pancakes & VT maple syrup

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One of the things I love about living in New England is getting local maple syrup.  Right now we've got a jug of Grade B (my personal fave) from Butternut Mountain Farm in Morristown, VT.  We picked it up at Whole Foods, but what I really love is heading up to VT and buying it directly from the farm.  (If you're keen, the VT Maple Festival is April 25 - 27.)

blueberry pancakes.JPGGreat maple syrup deserves great pancakes -- and I've found the best pancake recipe in (where else?) the Best Recipe cookbook.  It's so amazing, you'll never even consider making pancakes from a mix again.

2 cups buttermilk (seriously, this is worth a trip to the store)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (we use 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine.
  2. Whisk the egg and melted butter into the milk until combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl; pour in the milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not overmix.
  3. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat the skillet bottom evenly. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto 3 spots on the skillet.  Cook the pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.  Using a thin, wide spatula, flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown on the second side, 1 1/2 - 2 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.  Repeat with the remaining batter, using the remaining vegetable oil only if necessary.

We've found that a combo of maple syrup + fruit is the ideal pancake topping.  Since fresh berries aren't in season yet, we pop a bag of frozen fruit (like cherries, raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries) out of the freezer when we start mixing and dip them in a bowl of warm water.  By the time the first pancakes are browning, the fruit has lost its frost.

Putney Pasta

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Directions for the easiest local dinner ever:

Step 1) Pull a package of Putney Pasta's butternut squash and maple syrup ravioli (made in Putney, VT, of course) from your freezer.  Cook and drain per the package directions.

Step 2) Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a pan and throw in some sage.  When the butter turns light brown and the sage gets crisp, toss it with the pasta and top with your favorite local cheese.  (Ok, I cheated and used some imported Parmigiano Reggiano that I had laying around.)

Voila!

Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont is fast becoming one of our favorite cheese makers.  We had some of their Bayley Hazen Blue (a raw milk cheese) and Constant Bliss (a soft cow cheese that tastes more like goat cheese) back in January.

Just the other week, we bought some their Bartlett Blue over at at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. Andy (one of the two brothers that owns Jasper Hill) told me: "Bartlett Blue is a cheese we make seasonally. We make it only in the summer months when the cows are out on pasture. We only make it once a week so it is quite limited in availability."

bartlett blue.jpgAdmittedly, I did have a mild panic attack over eating a summer cheese during February.  Fortunately, after about four seconds I realized that Formaggio just stores seasonal cheeses like this in its cheese cellar until the cheese and I are ready to be joined together.

I'm having a bit of trouble remembering exactly what the  Bayley Hazen Blue tasted like and how it differs from the Bartlett Blue -- perhaps I'll have to line up a side by side tasting sometime soon -- but I can say with confidence that we greatly enjoyed both! 

North Stone goat cheese

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Today we stopped by Formaggio Kitchen and picked up some North Stone goat's milk cheese from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, VT.  It was wonderfully creamy with a wicked moldy rind that added a nice earthiness.

north stone goat cheese.jpgTwig Farm cheese maker Michael Lee and marketer Emily Sunderman say about their goats:
"When not in the milking parlor, our goats spend their days and nights out on pasture or browsing on our rocky ledges. We love and respect our goats and treat them as valued employees."

Blue Moon sorbet

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I think that any sorbet crafter should be judged on their ability to harness the lemon -- and Blue Moon's Lemon Zest sorbet is one of the best I've had.  As its name suggests, there's actual lemon zest throughout and it's fabulously tart.  Other flavors like Blackberry Lime, Pear Ginger, and Grapefruit Campari were so tempting, but we in addition to the LZ we picked up some Peach Melba. 

blue moon sorbet.jpgHailing from Quechee, Vermont, Blue Moon sorbets have "no added flavoring or coloring -- the intense flavor and vivid color comes from the fruit itself."

We found ours at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, but the Blue Moon website lists lots of places were you can get it throughout New England.


Haven and I were at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge today and saw some eggs from Wicken Fen farm in Topsham, Vermont.  They had packages of tiny quail eggs (which I'd only seen on TV and in restaurants), huge goose eggs (which I don't think I'd ever seen before anywhere), and beautifully colored chicken eggs (which I couldn't resist).

colored eggs.jpgIt was only when the woman rung them up at the register that I realized they were $8.95 for a half dozen!  Holy chicken shit!!  Are you kidding me?!  I justified the purchase as "blog research" and tried to remind myself that the price of conventional eggs doesn't factor in the true costs to our health or the environment, but my mind immediately started reeling with questions: What percentage of my $8.95 was going to get back to Fran Hurlburt at Wicken Fen and how much would be pocketed by Formaggio?  How much of the markup -- insane or not -- was justified by the fact that I wouldn't even know about Wicken Fen if it weren't for the Formaggio's foraging efforts?  And what the heck IS the true cost of a half dozen clean eggs anyway?

Ok, on to the eggs themselves.  Hooray!  I fried them sunny side up with just a dash of salt and pepper. I also cooked some Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon (not necessarily local -- Niman partners with 600 family farms across the US -- but at least raised naturally) and toasted some organic 7 grain bread from Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, MA  (delivered by Boston Organics).

bacon and eggs.jpgWere they worth the cost?  It could have been all in my head, but I have to say they were pretty good.  Haven and I both detected something subtly "healthy" about them.  To me, the yolks almost tasted like the hay the eggs were delivered in.  But for $8.95 I was expecting these eggs to absolutely knock my socks off.  I guess I'm still getting used to the economies of eating clean and local, but for now I'm going to have to limit my Wicked Fen purchases to very special occasions.

Apparently the Formaggio folks found Wicken Fen at some (unnamed) Vermont farmer's market.  You lucky Vermonters, you.

On our recent trip to Whole Foods on River Road in Cambridge, we stopped by the cheese counter and asked, "What's local?"

We bought two cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. The first was a Bayley Hazen Blue raw milk cheese, which was mild, earthy, and on the dry side (it broke into several pieces when I laid on the cutting board) but still soft and creamy. Jasper Hill's Web site describes the texture as "dense chocolaty paste that melts on the tongue." The second was Constant Bliss, a soft cow cheese that the cheese monger suggested after I confessed my love for ripe, creamy goat cheese. I think she actually thought it was a goat cheese, and I have to say the tangy flavor could have fooled me too.

We also got some Ascutney Mountain cheese from Cobb Hill Cheese in Hartland, Vermont. This cheese was similar in flavor to gruyere, but with an airier texture.  Yum!

All three were wonderful and as a trio they complemented each other nicely.  But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Bayley Hazen Blue.  It was just so different from the blues I typically see at the market.

vermont cheese.jpgMateo, Andy, Victoria, and Angela Kehler (two brothers and their wives) are Jasper Hill's owners. They say that their cows are "quite spoiled." "Our cows go out on a fresh piece of pasture after every milking during the spring summer and fall and are fed a ration of dry hay through the winter, when they stay in avoiding harsh winter wind and snow and listen to a great selection of jazz and classical music." I love it!

Cob Hill Cheese is part of Cobb Hill Cohousing, "an intentional community" on 270 acres dedicated to "socially and ecologically responsible" living and working.

Crescent Ridge Dairy

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I'm not a huge chocolate milk fan, but Haven picked up some Crescent Ridge chocolate milk recently at the Whole Foods on Prospect in Cambridge -- and he loved it.

A blast from the past, Crescent Ridge does home delivery throughout the Boston metro area.  (When I was growing up in Des Moines in the 1970's, we used to get our milk delivered.  I didn't think any company still did this.)  They also bottle their milk in glass bottles, which are returnable, recyclable, or reusable. We're using ours as a vase.

crescent ridge milk bottle.jpgThe company's Web site says, "all Crescent Ridge milk is from cows not treated with the rBST growth hormone." Its homepage also has pictures of cows munching on grass out in a field -- but I wanted to make sure this wasn't just propaganda, so I emailed Crescent Ridge to ask about the cows' diet and access to pasture.

Marketing Manager Brad took the time to respond: "The cows are treated very well.  All of our whole milk comes from the Howrigan Farm up in Northern Vermont and is a very awarded farm.  The have 500 head of Holstein that are fed corn grown on their property.  The cows are also out in the Pasteur to feed on grass through the day.  None of the cows are treated with growth hormones to increase the milking.  Our Skim milk comes from various different farms in the Vermont area from a Coop called St. Albans.  Crescent Ridge Dairy pays a premium to receive milk that comes from cows that are not treated with growth hormones.  St Albans has many inspections to the farms that are part of the coop to make sure the quality is of the highest."  Thanks, Brad!


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