Happy Easter 2014

I really like Easter, and today was a perfect one.

It's been a great weekend all around really. On Saturday, I was hoping to drag the family to see baby lambs at either Merck Forest & Farm Center or Billings Farm, but I didn't realize one of us had a conflict at 4pm. We couldn't possibly make an hour-plus drive each way and also prep for Easter brunch, clean the house, and buy groceries for the week, all by 4 o'clock. So we decided to go to a petting farm in our town... but when we got there we learned they didn't open until Memorial Day. So we went to a real farm nearby. It turned out to be WAY better than any of the above would have been.

We went to Wild Carrot Farm on Upper Dummerston Road, one of just a handful of working farms in the town of Brattleboro, Vermont. They are known for their working Suffolk Punch horses (who are gorgeous!) and they also have a local CSA and, we found, are super-friendly to random drop-in visitors. Some charming children dirt-biking around the yard paused to give us a tour, and then we met one of the farmers who took over and told us all about the livestock that live there.

We got to see the baby lambs we were hoping for.

There were also 7 extremely cute goat kids. This mama was nursing two-at-a-time, as were two other goat mothers. We were charmed.

We have a farm video at home that includes a manure spreader scene, so we spent some time checking this one out.

A corner of homespun yarn in the farm store. So adorably rustic! We bought a half gallon of raw cow milk to chip in--it is delicious! Please check out Wild Carrot Farm (hay rides too).

I rearranged my Easter brunch menu to make time for a long run on Sunday morning instead of prep work. Basically I replaced my usual baked mini crabcakes with some delicious cold smoked trout and crackers. This switch helped me pull off a fairly satisying 12-miler.

All before 8am! That 8:12 pace is just my attempt at a final kick, NOT my usual long run pace...

I got home around 8, popped the rising sourdough in the oven, and assembled the Easter table. (I figured out that my usual sourdough recipe can be refrigerated after the last knead. My lovely mother-in-law affirmed this, calling it a "cold rise." I set the alarm for 4am to take it out of the fridge so it could finish rising, then at 5:45 I formed it into two baguettes before my run. It really worked.)

Here's what I planned for Easter brunch. The relative simplicity of this menu worked well.
  • fresh-baked sourdough bread
  • salted butter, left out for at least a day to soften for spreading
  • ham, glazed the night before with Fire in the Mountains "Sweet Pepper Jelly" made by Catamount Specialties of Vermont (thanks Mom for ham glazing tips!)
  • Mustard, an extremely tangy French dijon that was a Christmas gift and is almost gone
  • Smoked Trout, Ducktrap brand from Maine
  • Crackers
  • Coffee
  • Sour Cream Coffee Cake (mentioned in this Easter 2009 post)
  • Orange juice, lots
  • Prosecco
  • A billion hard-boiled eggs

I assembled a little plan-o-gram on Friday evening to help me remember everything.

Here's the actual table... Pretty similar!?

I tacked a bunny mobile above the table...


Happy Easter to you, or whatever spring-welcoming rite you choose to practice!

It just seems like a happy, hopeful time of year.

Signs of Spring

Today is the first really nice day in 2014. Hooray! All the snow has melted, it's 68 degrees out, and for a few moments while gardening I actually felt a little too hot. At this time of year, gardening means raking, chainsawing, and clipping things.

The new bulbs we planted last fall are blooming--I love this soft cream-colored crocus!

I raked the leaves and detritus out of my herb garden, then forked everything that wasn't a perennial. The chives are already coming back, and the lavender (bushy thing at mid-left) is looking very well.

Our nice neighbor came over with his chainsaw and cut up the Christmas tree. It looks so small when it's all in pieces! It will be burned later by our resident pyromaniac, along with a bunch of shrubbery bits he's been collecting.

Once the snow is gone, it's OK to cut down the mugwort from last year to give her room to grow anew. (She helps protect our home spiritually all year round, even when dormant. Ask me for details.) This is BEFORE.

Here is the AFTER shot. I cut down the stalks and also thinned out the roots on both sides. It seemed like the right thing to do.

What are signs of spring where you are? It is so exciting!

Mack's Place, friendly eatery in Grafton, VT

I was going to write, "if you ever find yourself in Grafton, Vermont, stop at Mack's Place," but you can't just find yourself in Grafton, Vermont. It takes some effort to get there. But if you ever make the effort, do stop at Mack's Place! It is a super friendly deli/cafe right next to the Grafton Inn, which is to say it is one of the buildings at the intersection that is downtown Grafton.

A view of Grafton.

We went to Grafton for a raptor presentation put on by the Nature Museum at Grafton. It was pretty cool. A bird educator/handler came from the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum. He talked about the historical significance of birds of prey, and brought out 4 birds to show the child-heavy crowd. There was a small kestrel or falcon, a gorgeous red tail hawk, a bald eagle, and a small owl.

Afterward, we wandered across the parking lot to Mack's Place Eatery. Actually, half of our family got antsy during the bird presentation and had to leave early, and the other half missed the first half so left the presentation as well, and then we finally found each other again at Mack's Place. I was really happy to hear that a breakfast sandwich had already been ordered for me!

The breakfast sandwiches are lovely, made on a sweet Portuguese bun and quite cheesy. (I was fascinated by my mug. They have a bunch of mugs hanging on the wall by the coffee urns for people to use.)

The younger family members got blueberry muffins. This one got shredded prior to eating for some reason. Other fare include specialty sandwiches and a Ploughman's Platter.

The cozy atmosphere includes a little "wood stove" nook (it's electric). There are photos of pets and weddings and the Governor posing with staff on the wall.

A large fork decorates the side yard. The other half of the building is the Grafton Cheese Shoppe for your wine & cheese needs.

While we were in Mack's Place it started to snow, a cheerful fluffy snow of the exact type that you'd want to see on Christmas Day. Of course, it's Spring now.... but this is Vermont.

I Hab a Code

I was JUST thinking how nice it is that I haven't gotten sick this season, and then I came down with a wee cold. Apparently one can only eat the leftovers of a runny-nosed & coughing preschooler for so long before contracting disease oneself. So far, my cold has been fairly contained, making me sneeze and blow my nose a lot but not traveling to my chest or sinuses. (TOUCH WOOD) I am trying some of my milder cold remedies to get me through the days.

One sick-time favorite is the Olbas Natural Inhaler. I love these for clearing out that itchy sneezy feeling in my nose (does not work if you're fully congested though, you have to be able to breathe). It is minty fresh and bracing! The inhaler contains menthol and oils of Peppermint, Cajeput, and Eucalyptol (whatever that is). Refreshing!

Whenever I wake up with a sore throat, I hit it with Honey Gardens Propolis Spray. This was recommended by an acupuncturist and I truly believe it helps my sore throat (slowly and surely). It costs about $10 an ounce but is worth it. Made in Vermont!

Tea! I like Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat (they now have a Lemon Echinacea version for immune support too) and also their Gypsy Cold Care.

(Update on my lily-pad-shaped silicone lid... it actually doesn't stay on containers the way I'd hoped. But it's great for covering a cup of steeping tea.)

Other springy news:

Our front yard has been thawing, and there are some peeks of grass. Even better for children... there are peeks of MUD. (Seen here with this morning's ice)

We are so far removed from paleo living now that I've started making sourdough bread on Sundays again. It is excellent. Make sure you have lots of soft butter nearby when these guys come out of the oven.

I am obsessed with ramen right now. After posting about it in January I can't stop making it, sometimes late at night as a snack. I also can't stop adding Sichuan Chili Oil. I think I am addicted. I actually had a dream that I was eating ramen without Sichuan Chili Oil and I was so ashamed. To top it off, the New York Times published a ramen article on March 4! I am so au courant. What what.

Late-night ramen after a night of clubbing in the big city at home in Southern Vermont

Sichuan Chili Oil

Here's a Bon Appetit recipe I made: Sichuan Chili Oil. It is deeelicious. I always ask for chili oil when I'm out for dim sum. This tastes a little different, but lovely to have at my disposal.

I got this little box of Sichuan Peppercorns last winter on my trip to Santa Fe. It's the one exotic thing I could think of to seek at Whole Foods. They had it. It's been a little banged around in the cupboard over the months.

The recipe calls for a ton of Sichuan peppercorns and even more hot pepper flakes. Since I only had a tiny bag of the peppercorns (which are apparently not pepper/capsicum at all, it's a misnomer), I guessed the ratio of pepper flakes... a few scoops from the bulk bin.

The other part of the recipe is an infused oil, simmered for hours with spices, ginger, and garlic.

The two dry ingredients mixed together, ready for a hot oil bath. There's also some salt and soy sauce involved at this point.

The infused oil is added. Mine didn't foam up, which the recipe suggested was a good sign. Bah!

Leftover spices.

The chili oil is good! I store the oil in a dedicated mason jar in the fridge, and I love mixing it with some Shoyu for dipping or drizzling. It does have a very distinctive flavor, so I use it only in items I really want to taste like Sichuan peppercorns. These include ramen and Trader Joe's Gyoza.

Pork Gyoza Potstickers from Trader Joe's. Only 6 minutes from frozen to plate!
Homemade condiments are exciting, don't you think? Do you like chili oil? It's one of those things I never imagined could be made at home. Like shoes.

Cold-weather running: New equipment!

Last month I did one of my Sunday long runs on a treadmill, and it was long. Really long. It took me over 100 minutes. I know this because the treadmill shut down after 99 minutes (I don't think it can handle the extra digit), and I still wasn't done yet. (I ran 10 miles total.)

Treadmill access is wonderful when there is no other option, as was the case that day. But since that experience I am VERY motivated to do Sunday runs outside whenever I can. To help make this more likely, I bought a pair of Yaktrax to go right over my shoes and help me get traction despite snow and ice.

So the next Sunday rolls around, and it's gorgeous--sunny, crisp, and 13 degrees. It's the perfect day to try a winter long run outside.

Here are my winter "extras." Neck gaiter (white thing), face mask (black thing), running gloves (blue thing), floppy hat (purple thing) and Yaktrax. Yeah, this picture is kind of upside down.

The Yaktrax Pro model has a "performance strap" that goes over the foot and keeps the thing on for sure. It's a pretty tight fit anyway, but the hook-and-loop strap means no worries about throwing a shoe, so to speak.

The coils on the bottom are neat. They have enough give and flex so they squish down with each step. I could barely feel them. The diamond design seems perfect for maximum traction at just the right points, and I did feel quite confident on snow and ice (as their web site promises). I ran 9 miles total without a hitch.

The conditions that day seemed perfect for an inaugural run. The sidewalk was about 80% snow and ice, so lots of chances to seek the best traction. I'm not sure how well the Yaktrax generally work on plain pavement (it is not recommended in the box insert). If it were closer to 40% ice patches, I would probably forgo the Yaktrax.

While I'm on the topic, here are a few other things I've picked up while researching winter running:
  • Helpful tip for layering: Think of 60˚F as the baseline for one layer. For every 20˚ below that, add a layer. Today at 13˚ I wore 3 layers on top--wicking thermal long underwear, a technical T, and a jacket. On the bottom I wore running capris, super-warm socks pulled up to meet the capris, and full-length running pants over both (2 layers).
  • I like to wear a neck gaiter, such as Turtle Fur (made in Vermont!). It's less fiddly than a scarf and can be pulled up over mouth & nose if needed.
  • I wear a face mask below 20˚... otherwise I seem to get asthma. I also wear a floppy knit hat that pulls right down over my ears and hair. The result--only my eyes and the bridge of my nose are showing during a super-cold run.
Do you have special cold weather rituals or gear? If you live in warm weather, please enjoy it extra for me today!

Wordless Wednesday: Cleaning Surfaces









So satisfying!