My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.

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In Praise of Maple 3

Posted on March 27, 2011 by crankycheryl

We would go to the Dakin Farm pancake breakfast every year.  Before we were married, before we had kids, while pregnant, with babes in arms, we went.  Being a city-dwelling transplant to Vermont, I loved to get that close to the making of the year’s maple syrup.  I love how Dakin has tables splayed all over the store and you just sit next to the folks who live up the road, or the mayor, or the group who just came over after church.

 

I love how the family members and staff are there year after year.  How someone from the Cuttings family seems to be within a few feet of the big evaporator at all times.  I love walking in and seeing that the girls are bigger, that the nice guy who pours those huge perfect pancakes on the griddle is there again, ready to ladle molten butter all over whatever’s on your plate.

And I like how things have changed too, but not too much.  Now they offer fresh fruit.  And have an official price for vegetarians since they’re skipping all that piggy goodness.  I like that they have this new line of well-priced pizzas and chili and are branching out while still churning out the syrup and bacon that put them on the proverbial food map.

This year we sat in our usual place in the back shipping room.  Friends crowded in and so I stood and perched and got to survey the filled tables.  To our left was a grown daughter with her mom and dad, mom in a wheelchair and needing to be fed, clearly in the grip of dementia and being loved so tenderly by her husband and daughter who offered up syrupy bites.  The big group of Asian tourists with a new baby in the midst, looking around and smiling at it all.  Groups of students from our local colleges, piling on the all-you-can-eat fare.  A single dad looking like he’s barely keeping things together, but there they are, syrup dripping down their snowsuits and all.   Z. walked up and looked around with me and said, “Wow.”  Everyone comes to pancake breakfast.  “Poor lady in a wheelchair,” he said.  “It’s all right,” I told him, “she can still come to Dakin because she has people who love her.”

I think it’s Dakin where the boys learned the social graces of free samples, and was where they maybe learned that even though their parents divorced, life might not be too bad if everyone can sit together a table covered with a red and white plastic checked tablecloth and pass the syrup and talk about the day.

And I love this annual meandering day that takes us back up Route 7 to stop at Shelburne Farms, where the lambs seem to be popping out of ewes every time someone turns around.  The air is bitter cold still, but we’re here with the farm babies and we know that spring really can’t be too far.  Can it?

And the day was made better by not getting spit on by Freckles the guard llama as I did last year.  Plus I had the bonus of being able to tell the story to everyone who was gathered around, and feel very farm-savvy by telling them to GET BACK when his ears lay against his head.

We talked and we played and the kids chased chickens and climbed big melting, dirty piles of snow.   And we pondered the weird contradiction of adoring these new little animals who may be on our plates later this year, and felt good knowing we could be back in the same place, with the same conversation, next year.

Staging your own maple celebration?  Here are a few favorite recipes from previous posts:

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Summer Love from Here & There 3

Posted on August 31, 2010 by crankycheryl

I spend so much time loving the food of Vermont that I sometimes forget to pass on other good things that cross my path.  Please let me rectify that in a round-up of recent goodies from here and there.

Boloco
We got to take part in the “Pairing is Sharing” event that Burlington’s Magic Hat beer and the Boston-based Boloco burrito chain offered to introduce a new burrito and benefit the on-line mentoring program icouldbe.org.  I especially loved the Buffalo Burrito, and liked Magic Hat’s fall Odd Notion, a spicy, orange-y Belgian ale.   The Leftover Queen got much better pictures than mine, if you want to take a peek.

with The Leftover Queen & CrankyGreg

pmg's Nicole & her lovely friend

Palm Plates
As a member of the Foodie Blogroll Community, we got our hands on some Palm Plates put out by Marx Foods.  I’m pretty averse to disposable things, but liked the sound of these made-from-palm-leaf dishes.  Less manufacture, less waste, and kind of crunchy-cute looking.  We put them to the test for a variety of uses.

Breakfast:

And dinner:

We washed them & dried them and took them camping:

As a costume:

We’ve now used them so far beyond their one-use intentioned purpose that it seems ridiculous to mention that there are a few cracks in them.  When I finally am forced to call them done, I’ll throw them in the compost pile and declare victory.  I’m glad there are products like these out there to choose from when disposable stuff is necessary.  Which it usually isn’t.

What’s Cooking

I started following this cooking-natural-foods-with-kids blog on Facebook, and ended up winning a cute little prize that deserves mention on its own, beyond the great content Michelle and her family are producing.  She sent a “matchbook garden” my way.  Adorable, and totally appealed to my love of the faux and the miniature.

I’m just waiting to find a friend who’s quitting smoking and I’m totally going to give this to them, since I don’t feel up to explaining the shades of difference between playing with pretend matches and playing with actual flammable substances to E. & Z.

Penzey’s

If you’ve ever asked me where you should get your spices, chances are good that I’ve directed you here.  I love this folksy company for their earnest love of food nearly as much as I appreciate the variety and quality of their herbs and spices.  That’s why I was really worried when the fall catalog came with the words “Arizona Dreaming” emblazoned across the front.  I just didn’t want to know if these folks supported the anti-immigrant stuff that’s going on in Arizona.  With great trepidation I opened the catalog and read this letter from Bill Penzey.

(image courtesy penzeys.com)

I nearly cried.  It’s all that’s good about food, and the ties it creates and the cultures it celebrates.  I ordered some of the spice mix, though I surely didn’t need another chili powder blend.  But we love it, and I love Penzey’s even more. When it’s time to restock your spice shelf, give these good folks a try.

And now, back to our usual Vermont goodness and cranky ways.

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Bouillabaisse Bash at the Intervale 5

Posted on June 14, 2010 by crankycheryl

This is Rebecca.  She works at the Free Press, and is the fabulous sales rep who we work with at the Scuffer.  Which was where we ran into each other when she asked me what I thought of bouillabaisse.  I like bouillabaisse a lot.

Did I want to come along to the Bouillabaisse Bash that Bluebird Tavern, Dedalus Wine Shop and winwin events were putting on that Sunday and that the Free Press was sponsoring?  I was available, oh yes indeed.

The event’s plan was a simple one: celebrate the season the way it’s done in Provence – with fabulous rosé wines and bouillabaisse.  There would be live music, it would be in the barn at the Intervale Center, and that was that.

So on Sunday, I put on a fabulous new summer dress, settled the wild boys down with crankyGreg, and headed to the Intervale.  Going down the hill, I screeched into Gardener’s Supply to pick up something to deal with the voracious army of slugs and snails that are walloping my garden.  F’ers Naughty gastropods.

From there it was over to the barn, where the lovely Anna and Lara were staffing the registration wagon.  People, if you see these faces greeting you at an event, you’re in the right place.

Then it was inside to hit up Jason from Dedalus for one of the four rosés he was pouring.  I started with the Ermitage he’s holding in this picture, and had a favorite in a rosé of Pinot Noir that I finished with.

People were wandering in and through the barn to the lawn behind it.  Here are Suzanne Podhaiser from Seven Days talking with a Emily Betz of Bistro Sauce and a friend.

Before too long, it was time to eat.  A buffet line was set up around the Bluebird event tent, where the bouillabaisse was simmering.

First we grabbed a plate from the stack and got a tong-ful of salad.

Then around the corner to olives …

and gougeres

and bread slices to spread with saffron aioli (or was it rouille?).

Then this nice guy handed over a bowl of soup.  (There’s Sue from Bluebird behind him and to the right.)

Then we sloshed our way inside to eat up.  The first bite was heavenly, a breath of saffron and fennel and ocean.  The soup was full of fish and shellfish:  mussels, scallops, clams, whelks, periwinkles, crab, cod, pollock and something and something.  But things got positively rapturous when we put the aioli-topped bread in the broth that was left in the bowl and let it soak up the flavors.   Traditionally, the seafood and broth are eaten separately like this, and it was easy to see why.  Absolutely rich and light and briny and aromatic.  Wonderful.

We had a second bowl, plotted making off with the unguarded aioli sitting on the table, and then August First’s Phil and Jodi danced.

Another lap around turned up the table where the folks from the Freeps were hanging out.

And then it was time for me to get home, where – fabulous dress or no fabulous dress – it was time to get on with the slug-killing.

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Dumplings in March: Takeout Throwdown #1 6

Posted on March 19, 2010 by crankycheryl

At last, we got a group of dumpling-lovers together for our next sampling of the world’s perfect food.  “Why,” you may ask yourself, “does Cheryl try so hard to make this come together?”  It’s simple.  I want to know where the best dumplings in Burlington are.  And if I don’t have friends help me try them all, how can I know?

So here we finally were.  I’m compelled to start by asking a question.  Why didn’t I give Mark a real wine glass?  This is how distracted I get when dumplings are around.

Plus I did not get a picture of the best dumplings we tried at this first concerted sampling of Burlington’s take-out dumplings, but more on that later.

A group of friends came by with samplings from:

  • Pho Hong (though they don’t have real dumplings, they were on the way for Kecia, who brought a sort of wonton-style pho soup, which we enjoyed but couldn’t judge the same way)
  • City Market‘s dim sum selection of pork and vegetarian potstickers, and shrimp siu mai
  • China Garden‘s wontons in spicy sesame sauce
  • Silver Palace‘s shrimp dumplings, which don’t seem to be on their online menu, and vegetarian potstickers
  • Pacific Rim‘s shrimp siu mai, and potstickers.

For good measure, our 8 year-old guest asked that her mom bring Ling-Ling frozen chicken dumplings too.  Though we weren’t planning to sample things from the retail side, it was helpful to have for comparison.

After our visit to Joyce’s, our standards are raised.  Once you’ve gotten a taste for home-made wrappers and fillings with flavor and texture, it’s hard to take mediocrity the same way.  We’ll see how the guests rate their experiences, but I’m sorry that my initial report is that the ones from City Market  (reheated by pan frying/steaming with just a bit of water and oil on the stovetop) fell into the mediocre category.  The vegetarian ones were nearly flavorless, and the meat ones were only slightly better.  I might have enjoyed the shrimp siu mai more, except in comparison to what guests brought.

City Market's Dim Sum Selection x 3

Pacific Rim’s dumplings had a lovely presentation, and were pretty good.  Not super, but good, decent flavor.

Pacific Rim's Shrimp Siu Mai

Pacific Rim's Potstickers

China Express’s spicy wontons looked beautiful, were spicy enough to get your attention, and had filling with good flavor.

Spicy Wontons from China Express

In take-out, you have to account for some loss of texture, and accept that flavors will meld a little more than they would if the food had been eaten fresh.  Crisp vegetables will wilt and fried food can get soggy.  But this did not harm the shrimp dumplings from Silver Palace, which had a filling with nice texture (i.e., actual pieces of shrimp rather than a mushy puree) and a gentle and sweet flavor.  I’ve never before had dumplings in that standard Chinese restaurant white sauce, and doubt that it’s terribly authentic, but it was a nice match for both the delicate wrapper and the fillings.  Really good.  I don’t know how to ask for them at the restaurant since I don’t see them on the menu (leave a comment if you know though, okay?).

And I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of them.  I was too busy poking my guests with chopsticks so I could just eat them up.  And speaking of guests:

Kate & Tracy, plus Tracy's ewok wearing the sweater she knit (I think it's going on Etsy).

Paula taking dumpling notes.

And a gratuitous scan of the room while Greg & Chris were geeking out over computers, art and power equipment (plus check out that adorable Kecia at the end):

And then we had ice cream and oranges and we watched Eddie Izzard on YouTube and everyone went home.


Once guests submit their reviews, I’ll tabulate and let you know what the group says is the best one.  Next month, maybe A Single Pebble for dim sum?  Stay tuned.

Restaurants: China Express, City Market, Pacific Rim, Silver Palace,
Date Visited: March 19
Dumplings Tried: Shrimp Siu Mai, Potstickers, Spicy Sesame Wontons
Dumpling Quest 2010 Official Grades: TBA

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James Beard House Preview Dinner 3

Posted on February 02, 2010 by crankycheryl

[March 24 update: Here’s the link to the album from the event itself.   Is it wrong to feel smug when I see a “What Item Do You Wish You Could Try?” poll having been to the preview?]

So I lucked out and heard about the all-star team of Vermont chefs rehearsing the meal they were fine-tuning for their upcoming trip to Manhattan’s James Beard House just before it sold out.   It was a heady line-up:

A little giddy with my score, I called my mother, who certainly deserves to get an occasional call from me that doesn’t end up with her baby-sitting her wild grandsons.  We made plans to go, and before I knew it the day had arrived.

So we got dressed (even in a dress, even eyeshadow, even lipstick):

And off to Richmond we went.  We got there just ahead of the crowd, and caught sight of the prep going on in the kitchen, all looking both energetic and calm.

I had been tweeting with Chef Mark Timms, who had nicely told me to pop in to the kitchen to say hi.  Since it seemed safe, I ducked my head and did, and caught a picture of the first course he was preparing:

I scooted out to the reception, where these soon appeared – Chef Timms’ take on the Caesar salad, with the rolled wafer with a dab of shredded romaine, anchovy foam, parmesan ice cream, and parmesan cheese tucked into the bottom.  Though I heard one person refer to it as “ice cream from the fish shack,” I was taken by the whimsy, the presentation, and the juxtaposition of the strong and soft flavors, and thought it was both fun and interesting.

Though I didn’t have the light to get a good picture of it (don’t worry: a Free Press photographer was there and I hear they’ll be publishing photos in a week or so, when I’ll link to them here), another hors d’ouevres stand0ut was crostini with Red Hen bread, Jasper Hill blue (Bayley Hazen, I assume), thick-cut bacon, and a drizzle of honey.  There was also a lovely little take on the BLT:

And this amuse bouche, with beef tartare (or was it carpaccio), topped with a fried cornichon:

Then we sat down for the meal, right after the batteries in my camera (allegedly freshly charged) completely died.

I probably shouldn’t even post the pictures, which are so terrible.  Maybe you could join me in pretending they’re relics from a 1960’s newspaper society section.  Or if you could just back up from your computer 5 or 6 feet and squint, I think you’d see that they’re pretty reasonable.

Anyway, this was Chef Steve Atkins of the Kitchen Table Bistro‘s Heirloom Squash Soup with Roasted Sun Chokes, Misty Knoll Chicken, and Spiced Cream. I’ll admit that I had stifled a yawn when I saw a winter squash soup on the menu, but I found it revelatory, subtle, just lovely.  The squash was sweet and deep and delicate, the chicken a perfectly light and tender addition, and the sliced sun chokes added just the right touch of tooth to the dish.

And Flounder, Rutabaga Puree & House Cured Guanciale by Chef Rogan of Verde (Chef, if you’re reading this, we didn’t spot the turnip greens mentioned on the menu).  The guanciale was delicious, and the rutabaga puree was delicate and sweet.  I would have gladly eaten a plate of the two of those.

Though I’m not a crazy lobster buff, I was excited about the next course: Maine Lobster with Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, Winter Squash, and Cider Brown Butter by Chef Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood.  And it was sumptuous, with each ingredient perfectly shown and in the barest bit of the sweet brown butter broth.  When we had finished the course, I had to sit quietly for a few minutes to think about what I had just eaten.  Oh my.

Next up was Cavendish Quail with Pork Belly, Greens, & Cider Glaze by Chef Sean Buchanan of Solstice.  Mmmm … pork belly.

And then Deconstructed Beef Wellington that Chef Mark Timms of Topnotch was presenting with Pickled Tongue, Oxtail, a Demi Cube, and Virtual Egg. I couldn’t imagine what the virtual egg would be, and wondered if they had forgotten to do some kind of substitution because the dish clearly had a wedge of hard-boiled egg on it.  But Chef Mark is a wizard of molecular gastronomy, and the egg turned out to be a white made of various cheeses, and the yolk a frozen tomato foam.  Really nice, though maybe more “trompe l’oeil egg” than virtual.  Beneath the egg garnish were layered duck liver pate (the chef told us he couldn’t get the beef heart he had wanted to use for this part), thin savory crisps, pickled tongue, oxtail, and a cube of demi glace on top.

Even for meat-eaters, there could be an ick-factor with this offal that we don’t normally eat.  But as I explained to my boys when I was telling them about the meal today, the more we eat all the parts of the animals who die for our consumption, the fewer animals get killed.  Is it really grosser to eat all the parts that we safely can rather than throw out everything that we can’t turn into chops or stew?  Of course not.

I know Chef Mark will be tweaking this one, and I’m looking forward to learning what the final version will be like.

And then we ended with the Kitchen Table Bistro‘s Chef Lara Atkins’ Open Faced Coffee Chocolate Sundae, Candied Almonds, Vanilla Anglaise.  We didn’t know if we’d be able to eat one more bite after all the rest, but yes we did rally, and ate every bit of this.  Though it might have been nice to end with a simple citrus sorbet to follow all those flavors, Chef Lara put the bracing coffee flavor in front of this, and it really did shine.

It was a fun and convivial evening.  The Kitchen Table staff were terrific hosts, and the fact that Team Vermont donated the proceeds from the event to the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger made it all even better.

Vermont’s an awfully fun place to be in the food community, with a prestigious (maybe proto-prestigious) event like this is open to the public, and priced accessibly, and with the chefs coming out to meet the diners and even seek feedback.  If there’s one thing I would change, I would have liked to have seen local ingredients highlighted on the actual printed menu.  It would have been fun to have any farmers or cheesemakers introduced if their items were featured, especially since we Vermont localvore types so appreciate that farm-consumer connection.

Stay tuned as the team prepares for their trip to Manhattan on March 22.  Oh, to be the onsite blogger … and with a camera that works.

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Dumplings at Joyce’s: The Quest Begins 5

Posted on January 20, 2010 by crankycheryl

When I was a kid, I wanted to eat. I’m sure my parents will correct me if I’m wrong, but what I remember is sitting still in restaurants because I was scared that I’d miss good food. When I was 6, we went to Mexico to a fabulous and kind of famous place called Andersen’s, where I sat in my own chair and ate squid in its own ink. Did I run around slamming into glass windows and terrifying waitstaff?   Why no. I did not.  I did not hang cameras from straws, or start whining about dessert as soon as I had ordered dinner, and I’m pretty sure I was able to use flatware without jousting.

All of this is by way of explaining why I thought it might be okay to bring my boys along for our first adventure in Dumpling Quest 2010, which took place at Joyce’s Noodle House in Essex, Vermont.  I was forced to conclude that this was untrue, based on the faces of the adults in our group of 11, and the raised eyebrows of the restaurant staff.   I must mention that Cynthea also brought her son, and he was a perfect little angel who ate his broccoli and crab rangoon and drew with crayons, and even was self-contained enough that his mom was able to take these beautiful pictures.

Luckily, we were in our own room, and it was a slow Tuesday, so all relay races, chopstick drumming, and screechy whining took place in a fairly contained space.  It didn’t hurt that we had a super-nice waiter (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get his name).   Kind, tolerant of my boys, knew the menu up and down, wasn’t fazed by our anarchistic tendencies in ordering, and completely professional.  Give that guy a  raise, Joyce!

The menu is huge, but we were there for dumplings.  We agreed that folks would get what they wanted, but that we would share a few orders of whatever dumplings we could.  I had printed up copies of a dumpling judging matrix, and we ordered and ordered away.

We tried pan-fried and steamed versions of pork dumplings.  (Don’t these boats make you want to sail away to the land of carb-y goodness?)   To me, this, the pan-fried pork dumpling is the cornerstone of the dumpling world.  Joyce’s were wonderful, with a filling of finely chopped (not ground) meat, and delicate but perceptible vegetables and flavor.

We also had vegetarian ones that looked like those above, but with green wrappers.  The filling in these was a mild chopped fresh vegetable mix, spinach and bamboo shoots, and I’m not sure what else.  Z. ate four of them.

And Szechuan Jiao-Zhi, which seemed to be boiled versions of the pork ones in the picture above, but in a spicy sesame and vinegar sauce:

There were entrees and side dishes too: eggplant and tofu and noodles and roast pork.  I couldn’t help trying it all, though I was trying to stay focused on the job.  This was no easy task, what with the piles of dumplings in front of me, and with my children crawling underneath the table from one end to the other, and Z. using his special chopsticks to move the bubbles in his bubble tea from one cup to another.  Or E. making incredibly sad eyes as we waited for the food to arrive while he was staaaarrrrrvvvvving.

Then Joyce herself came out to say hello, and asked what we had ordered.  She and I talked about dough and wrappers (they make their own, a fairly uncommon commitment), and she asked why we hadn’t ordered the steamed buns.

She went back to the kitchen to order some for us, and brought them out herself, then removed the lid and showed us how to score the top of the bun and pour just a little vinegar into the top.

When we tried them, though we were stuffed, we knew why she insisted that we do.  The thick but still delicate wrapper was wonderful.  The filling was both rich and well-balanced, though my taste buds were by then too overwhelmed to pick out all the flavors – pork, maybe leek?   The splash of vinegar done just that way was a new and wonderful way to treat the morsels.  These were definitely the meal’s high point, and I wished I had started with them.  They’re lovely enough to warrant their own close-up.

But then, after the 8th or 9th absolutely last warning to my boys, we ordered fried bananas for dessert, while I forced boys into seats, where they fiddled with fortune cookies.  The bananas came with ice cream, the boys calmed down, and we all dug in, agreeing that since they had an outer and an inner layer and were fried, that they too would qualify as dumplings.

It was a great meal.  With bubble teas and entrees and everything, it ended up costing about $35 a person (we counted the three tykes as one whole person for math purposes).  Several in our group had heard mixed reviews about Joyce’s before, but after such warm hospitality and delicious food, I suspect we’ll all be back.

Restaurant: Joyce’s
Date Visited: January 19
Dumplings Tried: Steamed & Pan-Fried Pork, Steamed & Pan-Fried Vegetable, Szechuan Spicy Jiao-Zhi, Steamed Little Buns, Steamed Vegetable Buns
Dumpling Quest 2010 Official Grade: A-

Vermont friends, where should we go next?  A Single Pebble, Zen Gardens?

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Brain Hurts, Mouth is Happy: Day 5 of Localvore Challenge 5

Posted on September 23, 2009 by crankycheryl

[originally posted at EatLocalVT.com]

Well, “brain hurts” seems crazy on a day that includes this apple galette from August First (local flour from a Quebec miller and Canadian farmers, local Pippin apples).

But you know, it’s true.  And while eating this most excellent pastry was a ridiculously wonderful experience for the senses, there were worries like this:

“There are almonds in here.  They make it delicious.  I’m not supposed to be eating almonds this week.  What kind of phony faker am I?  Ooh, that was a good bite.  Oh hell.  I’m no good for this.  But the apples and flour are local and Jodi and Phil sure are doing what they can to support local farmers and businesses.  Mmmm.  I really love almonds.  How did my galette disappear already?”

There’s so much good food in Vermont, and such an incredible community of people who produce it.  Who can help wanting to be part of the localvore movement?  But I’m finding that trying to adhere to a strict dogma about it is just making me crabby.

I don’t want to be crabby.  I want to cook great food for the people I love, and I want as much of it as possible to come from people around me.  I want my food choices to reflect my caring for people near and far, and for this beautiful place we live.

Yesterday I had this wonderful moment.  I was out in the garden picking tomatoes to have on our pasta, walking past the giant yellow marigolds still going crazy out there.  Every flower seemed to have an ecstatic bumblebee in it, wiggling and searching for nectar and just dancing there in the late afternoon sun.   I want to be that, I thought, that pure and that present, right here and now, up to my elbows in all the bounty that Vermont can provide.  Not quibbling with myself over an almond or two when there’s so much to dig in to.

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Bee's Knees: Restaurant Review 0

Posted on August 13, 2009 by crankycheryl

I can’t imagine going near Morrisville without a stop at the Bee’s Knees.  And having just had a Twitter conversation with the lovely Leftover Queen about its charms, I’m reminded that I never posted these pictures from our recent visit.

I’m also using this post as the first official CrankyCakes Restaurant Review. I’ve been polling food-loving parent friends about what matters to them when they go out to eat.  I’ll be reviewing by going twice – once with E.  & Z. and once with just adults.

I was first introduced to the Bee’s Knees by friends who live in Craftsbury, who were big fans of the food.  Though they found the very eclectic, kind of mussed decor a little off-putting, I found it was easy to feel comfortable – and a place that it was clear many local people did just that.  Customers felt right at home moving furniture around to accommodate their group, or helping themselves to a book, or perching with a laptop.

On my first visit, I tried their Big Salad, because that’s what everyone else had ordered and I didn’t want to appear so piggish as to order one of the bodacious sandwiches or specials that really tempted me.  I started out a little dubious about the chevre-carrots-glazed-walnuts combo, but ended up liking it.  It’s a bit of a hippie affair – lots of wholesome ingredients thrown together – that’s elevated by the high end cheese and nuts.  Nothing at all to complain about, but not the dish that brings me back there.

I was so happy that I felt downright naughty ordering the Cowboy BLT on my second trip.  Featuring chipotle mayo, local humanely-raised bacon, and Cabot pepper-jack cheese, it was crispy, creamy, fresh, and spicily comforting.  (Can spicy food be comfort food?)  I remember nothing of the conversation, or who I was with, or what we might have been meeting about at that visit, I’m sorry to say.  But I do remember my regretful last bite of that wrap.

All right, so the recent visit wasn't all that recent.

Since then, I’ve been several times, often ordering off the specials board.  What I like about bringing my boys there is that we can put together a happy combination of baked goods, fruit, and milk for my pickier guy, while getting good and more interesting food for his brother and for me.

And that’s what we did on our last visit.

Tomato-Fennel-Chick Pea Soup, with Batman spelunking under the bowl.

Caramelized Onion, Oyster Mushroom & Thyme Quiche

I have no excuse for leaving without a Chocolate-Sriracha muffin.

I have no excuse for leaving without a Chocolate-Sriracha muffin.

So, how does it measure on the official Cranky Scale?

  • Fast service? Not always.
  • Welcoming attitude? Definitely.  Not only did they not roll their eyes at us, they actually beamed at my kids.
  • Interesting choices for kids’ meals? Yes!  And willing to make substitutions for picky eaters.
  • Presence of toys, books, drawing implements, or other appropriate diversions? Lots of em.  It was hard to get my kids to leave, but fortunately there’s a little vest-pocket sort of park next door and I bribed them by telling them I’d bring them to the elf house in it.  I’m going to be at a loss when I lose weapons like this from the parenting arsenal.
  • Parent-friendly food. Most definitely.

2.  Meals with Grown-Ups:

  • Food quality? Really good.  I’ve not yet encountered any slimy lettuce or sub-par anything.
  • Value. Good.  More expensive than a chain restaurant, but really good value for the price.
  • Good service. Casual but caring.
  • Atmosphere. Funky, a bit disheveled, but now with a more formal dining area behind the main room.

Should you go with kids? Absolutely.  With adults? Yes.  And with any out of town guests who want to get out and eat local foods and experience some of Vermont’s funky charm.  And don’t forget to tell them that CrankyCakes sent you.

[By the way, I’d love a comment from you if you’ve been at night.  How does it work to eat there when all that live music is happening?]

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Lunch at Sadie Katz 3

Posted on June 13, 2009 by crankycheryl

I adore Sadie Katz.  Even if their food stunk on ice, even if it weren’t the first Jewish deli to open in Burlington since I moved here, I would love it because they’re so darn nice.  It reminds me of my family’s place, of how hard staff worked to say hello to people as soon as they walk in the door, to say thank you, to make people feel good.

I’ve been taking my kindergartener there on the days he gets out early, and we had a last-day-of-school celebratory lunch there this week.  This is him with his cheeseburger:

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Here’s my veggie burger with mushrooms and onions:

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This is our fabulous waitress Laurie, who brought us crayons and a milkshake with a lid on the cup.

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And this is what we made with the vegetables that were destined for the compost anyway, after singing “Aidan Drum,” which seems to be about a man made from vegetables and is one of the things the crazy kids are learning these days.

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And now, here comes summer.

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I Miss Five Spice 18

Posted on December 17, 2008 by crankycheryl

My mother calls the other night and after we talk about whatever else it was, she kind of whispers, “The Five Spice building is gone.”  She explains that the fire had just done too much damage and the building was beyond repair.

It seems impossible.  It takes nothing to imagine myself in the middle of those busy nights tending bar, beside the sounds of the chefs’ spoons and spatulas in the woks, the hot smoke from the spices in the oil, the blender churning up frozen margaritas, and my fellow servers clomping up and down the stairs.

I remember standing behind the bar on winter nights, watching the snow swirl under the streetlights, then pile up against the basement windows.  And those hot summer nights, the AC cranking and ineffective, and jazz blaring and all of us kaleidoscoping, limboing, dancing around the tiny space.  Laughing, swearing, smoking cigarettes in the alley.

And all the regulars who would sidle up to the bar for microbrews or red wine and plates of dumplings and stirfries.  The babies who grew to teenagers and adults before our eyes.  The folks who used the Wilson and the Waystation down the street who knew they wouldn’t be turned away if they needed a cup of coffee or a bathroom or a quick bite to eat.

What about the Quebecois couple who came in with his jaw wired shut, asking whether we could put a steak in the blender for him?  When I speechlessly cocked my head, thinking, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a giant straw, yelling through clenched teeth, “Liquefy!  Liquefy!”  How Tricia and I fell down laughing behind the bar after they went to their table.

And how when people would stay too long we would send up Charlie the prep cook, who could pass gas at will?

All the singers and dancers and actors who would come through.  How when Baryshnikov performed every chair filled with people trying to act casual and surreptitious.  As if they hadn’t come to gawk when it was announced on stage that he’d be heading there after he was offstage?

And of course the food.  The spicy and tart and sweet Kung Pao Chicken, creamy Evil Jungle Prince, fried pork and garlic dumplings at dim sum.  Peanut sauce on everything.  Remember the incredibly hot, so-simple Burmese Mountain Ruby stirfries?  The endless drinks of ginger lemonade and margaritas and cold beer and maple scotch liqueur.  How we’d scrape the serving plates when we had served the last piece of cake, eating up those last bits of chocolatey-rummy-coffee-ish Diplomatico, Ginger Tangerine Cheesecake.

I remember Five Spice when it was my father and the phone and the two of us making black bean noodles and dumplings in our kitchen in northern NJ.  And no time later it was us in a restaurant that people would tell us they had heard of from friends in Texas, or California, or on a mountain in Tibet.

And now, just a moment later, it’s gone.

The former home of Five Spice Cafe at 175 Church St.

The former home of Five Spice Cafe at 175 Church St.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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