A visit to the sugarhouse

In suburban Chicago, from whence I hail, the “Sugar Shack” is a place off the highway, right over the Wisconsin border, where groups of women go to see buff men in g-strings dance for dollar bills. Bachelorette parties. Sorority reunions. That sort of thing.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon moving to Vermont, to hear my co-workers say things like “we’re taking the kids out to the sugarshack this weekend.” Um, really?

I caught on quick enough, but it took me this long (six years) to actually get to a sugarhouse (the preferred term, I’ve since learned). What was I waiting for? ! I had the privilege last weekend of visiting Turkey Hill Farm in Randolph Center, where Margaret and Stuart Osha collect the sap in steel buckets attached directly to the maple trees, and gather it from the fifty-acre forest with a team of horses.

Talk about the quiet life. In the forest, “you can actually hear the sap dripping into the buckets,” Margaret notes.

The day I visited, a dozen friends and neighbors stopped into the sugarhouse to watch the sap boil, staying to chat and waiting for the thermometer to read 219 degrees. If it takes a while? More time to catch up. The fire crackles in the old Grimm evaporator and reminds the visitor that the old way worked just fine, thank you very much.

The Oshas welcome visitors to their sugarhouse this Maple Open House weekend, and for a series of cooking classes this spring and summer in their Farmers Kitchen. Learn how to make crème fraîche from raw milk and why lard is the best fat you’re not eating. And get inspired about the future of small-scale sustainable farming and eating.

More in today’s Times-Argus.

Punk Rock Brunch – Kismet goes crazy, Sunday

What’s a restaurant owner to do when she wants to take her entire staff on an out-of-town retreat? Close shop? No way! Crystal Maderia decided to swap with Scott Kerner, co-owner of the Three Penny Taproom. While Crystal and the crew are in Montreal, Scott and pals are cheffing it up. The boys’ menu promises good eats like patatas bravas (“just think of braveheart”), house-made chorizo con juevos, tortilla espanola (“kind of resembles an omelet but better”) and “local piggy hash and two very sunny eggs.”

Apparently they are also serving tequilla (“we recommend with all meals”). The entire menu is here. See you there, Sunday morning the 7th, from 9-2.

Lingering over Leisurely Meals

Teachers, as a rule, don’t get much time to eat. Breakfast is often toast grabbed on the way out the door or instant oatmeal eaten during first period. Lunch isn’t much better, squeezed as it is between class prep and a necessary trip to the copy machine.

So school break is like a reset button, with time enough to slow down and savor. We were treated to some real gems this past week…

Brett Champlain at the Three Penny Taproom did it again, this time with “leeky duck,” succulent dark meat served over braised leeks and steamed blue potatoes. The savory pan sauce that swam on the plate was good enough to drink like cereal milk; I was poised to do so, but was then convinced to sop it up with toasty Red Hen bread. And because the alarm wasn’t going to go off too early…we took our time.

To emphasize the point that I was enjoying breakfast, and not taking attendance, Crystal Maderia at Kismet made her special barbeque bacon omelette. Yes, you read that right. The sweet barbeque taste was tempered with creamy goat cheese, the crispy bacon with fresh sprouts. No one does roasted roots like Crystal: bright flecks of Maine sea salt cling to golden potatoes and sweet carrots.

As though to prove that fabulous, flavorful food can be created anywhere someone cares enough to do so, Robert and Annie invited us over for a divine chicken marbella. Pungent olives and capers swim with sweet prunes in a sauce of white wine and brown sugar and make the chicken fork-tender. This deceptively simple dish packs some complex flavors, especially with the addition of generous amounts of fresh cilantro. Did I mention the rosemary-lemon bread, the oven-browned crust flecked with sea salt? Robert makes it all by hand, three times a week, in an oven he fires with wood. There are some seriously great bakers in our hills, friends.

Back to school this week…with a revived dedication to lunching at lunch: saving tiny tasks for another time, and savoring the flavors of the food that nourishes and renews.