Tag Archives: vermont

Comfort Food.

In the wake of a mass shooting in Tucson, sad stories and images have pervaded our airwaves for the past week. The smiling child who just wanted to meet her congresswoman. The neighbor who just wanted to help. The elderly man who died shielding his wife from bullets. The judge with the friendly smile. The promising young congressional staffer, freshly engaged. And, of course, news of Rep. Gabby Giffords herself, a brilliant and vivacious woman now struggling just to open her eyes or wiggle a finger.

Between that and the bone-biting cold and snow that’s hit every state but Florida, I think we could all use a little comfort food.

On days like this, I turn to old friends: Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Mashed potatoes with plenty of cream. Macaroni and cheese. Or just a generous helping of hot cocoa in my favorite blue pottery mug, fat enough to wrap both hands around and feel the warmth seep into my skin.

Then again, not all comfort foods are hot: One of the most soothing snacks in my memory is a plate of cold, crisp apple slices and cheddar cheese. Paired with a mug of hot cocoa, this was my mom’s signature dish to welcome me back from “ski school” on Sunday afternoons in winter.

I had a love-hate relationship with skiing as a kid. I hated the harried process of getting bundled up, buckled into my boots and bustled off to the mountain right after church, along with all the other kids. I hated not being the best in my class, like I was in regular school. I hated how my fingers went numb inside my mittens and my butt felt frozen to the chairlift. I hated how my breath fogged up my goggles and formed a crust of ice crystals along the top edge of my neckwarmer.

There were moments I loved, though. Tucking my body in to speed down a particularly steep section of one trail without fear, because I knew it would slope back up again just as steeply around the next bend. Skidding to a stop on the side of a trail in just the right way to send up a dramatic spray of snow. Completing a child-sized slalom course called “The Cookie Monster Race” and getting a chocolate-chip cookie shoved in my mouth as I skiied across the finish line.

I stopped taking lessons after grade school, but kept skiing, realizing that it was much more fun when I got to choose my own time frame and companions. Often it was just me and my dad, since my mom didn’t ski. (She tried in the Alps years ago, motivated by a handsome European, but after an unfortunate lesson in physics—wait, crouching down doesn’t equal slowing down on skis?—she decided it wasn’t the sport for her.)

Chairlift up Madonna Mountain at Smuggler's Notch (Jeffersonville, VT). Courtesy of Flickr user found_drama

Chairlift rides were interesting. Being trapped together, detached from all distractions, for a 10-15 minute stretch is a strange thing for two people who aren’t inherently chatty. But it turned out to be a good thing for Dad and I. We poked around topics we’d never explored before, like politics and current events, and when things felt awkward I asked him a question about his favorite topic, nature. (Why does the snow feel gravelly instead of fluffy today? What kind of cloud is that? Are those rabbit tracks down there?) Looking back, I think those captive conversations laid the groundwork for our adult relationship. (Although groundwork seems the wrong term, obviously.)

When we got home, Mom would insist that I go take a hot bath immediately, and since the part of my teenage brain that automatically argued with everything she said seemed to have frozen along with the rest of my body, I’d usually take her advice. I’d perch my snacks on the edge of the tub and slide under the froth of bubble bath, keeping my hands dry to read a book and nibble apples and cheese. It was a small tub, and the water cooled off quickly, and pretty soon my brother would be loudly wondering if I was ever going to get out of the bathroom. But it was more soothing than any spa I’ve ever been to.

What are your comfort foods?

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Filed under Comfort food, Home cooking

I left my heart in 05444.

My husband and I spent the past week in Vermont, celebrating Christmas with my family. Flying back, as I watched the snow-covered Green Mountains and thin ribbons of traffic-free roads shrink away, I thought: I must be nuts.

The place where I grew up is so small that you’ve probably never heard of it—and if you have, well, we probably already know each other. Cambridge, a village of about 500 people, is marked by a few dozen houses on either side of Route 15. There are two churches (one of which was pastored by my father throughout my childhood), a post office, a drugstore, a community health center, and a pizzeria I’ve somehow never been to. There’s a general store with a couple of gas pumps and a basic selection of groceries, across the street from the skeletal remains of its competitor (hmm, maybe zoning laws wouldn’t be such a bad thing).

One of my favorite things in Cambridge is this view of Mount Mansfield, visible from a hill just beyond the village center, in what’s called Pleasant Valley. My mom gets to see it almost every day while walking their dog, Skye.

Mount Mansfield, and Skye the border collie.

Of course, the flipside of bucolic bliss is that you have to drive at least half an hour to find a major grocery store, and almost an hour to find a shopping mall—or a job, in the case of many people who work in Burlington, the closest city. But my parents are so used to it by now that they barely blink at the notion of driving to and from the airport several times in a row, as they had to when we got bumped (twice! hooray for free flight vouchers!) from our flight back to D.C. because the airlines were playing catch-up after a blizzard snarled everyone’s schedules. Even Skye is happy to ride around in the car all afternoon.

My parents' old barn, framed by icicles.

If you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods for some reason, stop at the Boyden Valley Winery, on the outskirts of the village. Their multi-generation family farm saved itself from the fate of other struggling Vermont dairy farms a few years ago when it started milking more than cows (i.e. grapes; trees; tourists). They’ve built an impressively diverse business making and selling wine, grass-fed beef, maple syrup and ice cream, and in summer their hay barn is in hot demand as a rental space for wedding receptions.

Across the road from the Boydens, there’s a newish coffee shop called Brown & Jenkins that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet, in what used to be a snowmobile salesroom. And if you like maple treats (including creemees, the local term for soft-serve ice cream), keep going a couple miles on Route 15 toward Jeffersonville, where you’ll find the Vermont Maple Outlet.

Since journalism jobs are hard to come by back home (or anywhere, these days), I’ll stick with the city life for now. But I hope the new year brings me back often to this place where I spent so many earlier years.

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Filed under A Note From the Editor