Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Weekend in Vermont: Quechee, Chester, & Perkinsville

On our way back from Montreal last week, we took a little detour through Vermont to check out the Cheese Trail and relax at a B&B.  I thought I'd share some highlights from our short trip.

Our B&B, Inn Victoria, is in the little town of Chester.  Southern Vermont is so pastoral and picturesque, with beautiful mills, perfectly dilapidated and rustic structures, and gorgeous covered bridges.

On our way down to Chester, we stopped in Quechee (near Woodstock) to have dinner at the Simon Pearce Restaurant.

The restaurant (and store and workshop) are located in a mill that is adjacent to a historic covered bridge and the stunning Quechee Gorge.  The night we were there, local kids were having a blast jumping off the rocks under the bridge into the gorge -- it totally freaked me out, but no one seems to have gotten hurt.

The restaurant's terrace overlooks the falls.  The rush of the water provided a melodic soundtrack at dinner.

And while we were waiting for a table, we checked out the glassblowing workshop, where a few artisans were crafting some of Simon Pearce's delicate (and expensive) glassware.

The food was scrumptious; I had a panko-crusted fish with crispy onions.  The entrees were probably slightly overpriced, but you can't beat the experience and the view.  Sadly, Hurricane Irene did a number on the mill; the gorge apparently flooded, and the mill is temporarily closed while they assess the damage.  I hope they are able to make speedy repairs; it's really a beautiful building and site.

Our B&B, Inn Victoria, is the second highest-rated B&B in Vermont.  The Inn takes its Victorian seriously -- lots of tchotchkes, a glorious selection of mismatched china (which I love!), florals everywhere.  You probably know that's not exactly my aesthetic, but it's got tremendous character and is really comfortable and well-appointed.  Also the inn-keepers are so welcoming and hospitable that it's no wonder the Inn has such glorious Tripadvisor ratings.  I particularly loved their afternoon tea; they even dress up in Victorian garb!

Of course, even an extravagant afternoon tea wouldn't keep me away from a delicious dinner experience.  We managed to score a last-minute reservation to Restaurant Verterra at the Inn at Weathersfield.  The chef at Verterra is at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, and we were treated to a menu of Vermont delights, beginning with a corn chowder with a corned beef hash.

The main course was a soy-glazed sirloin, from cattle raised on a local farm.

The dessert was a carrot cake with cream cheese ice-cream (!), pickled rhubarb, and peach chutney.

Of course, since we were in Vermont, we couldn't pass up the cheese plate, which featured a tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm, and two cheeses from Consider Bardwell Farm, including Consider Bardwell's Dorset, a pungent, soft cow's milk cheese that is probably the best cheese I have ever had.  (Consider Bardwell's cheese shows up regularly at Per Se and French Laundry, so you know it has to be good.)

The Times this morning reported that many areas of Southern Vermont, including Chester, sustained quite a bit of damage from the hurricane.  Thankfully, the Inn Victoria did not report any damage.  My heart goes out to the other residents of the area . . . .


Sunday, August 28, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays: Hurricane Edition

SYWYCDS is back!  Sorry for the short hiatus.  If you're on the East Coast and are staying in on account of the hurricane, here's a bit of awesomeness to keep you entertained.

I think this girl is 12 or 13 years old.  Isn't it ridiculous how mature her dancing is, and how much control she has?


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Bubbe Jennie's Taiglach

My husband's 91-year-old grandmother, our Bubbe Jennie, is an extraordinary baker.  On the farm (in a small Jewish farming community of Edenbridge, Saskatchewan) where she raised her two boys, she would bake almost everyday out of necessity.  Once they moved to more urban environs -- first Sasketoon, then Montreal -- she would still bake for her husband, who looked forward to her desserts after every dinner, and her kids and grandkids, who raved about her chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon buns.  Amongst all of her excellent recipes, though, the one that sends the whole family into fits of nostalgia- and hunger-fueled ecstasy is her taiglach.

Taiglach (or teiglach) is a Jewish dessert that consists of small dough balls (mandlen or teigel) held together by a honey syrup.  Rolled with shredded coconut, the mandlen form a gooey, chewy concoction that is something between a candy and a cookie bar.  Taiglach is in some ways similar to the Cantonese dessert sachima, Indian gulab jamun, or American rice krispie treats.  It's a popular dessert for Purim and Rosh Hashanah, but (as we managed to convince Bubbe) it's just as good for a random Thursday when your grandson and granddaughter-in-law come to visit.

Perhaps because it's so time-consuming, taiglach recipes are hard to find these days.  It was thus particularly meaningful and important that Bubbe Jennie taught us her recipe last week.

To make taiglach, you begin by taking your bubbe shopping.  If she's like our bubbe, she already knows the location and price of every item in the store.  If you are making this recipe sans bubbe, then you'll have to procure the following items for yourself:

For the dough balls:

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons Mazola oil (plus 1/4 cup or so for the baking sheets)
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • enough flour to make a soft dough (about 3 cups)
For the honey syrup:
  • 1 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • a pinch of cinnamon (if desired)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon oil
For the final product:
  • shredded coconut

Begin by making the soft dough.  Beat four eggs.  Mix in four tablespoons oil, 4 teaspoons sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Mix -- either by hand or in a mixer -- the egg mixture with the flour until you get a soft dough.  To ensure that the mixture doesn't get too tough, start first with one and a half cup of flour.  Then add the remaining flour, a half cup at a time, until you achieve the right consistency.

Once the dough is manageable, you can turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it gently, integrating more flour as needed to get the dough into a soft, but not sticky, consistency.

You'll know the dough is ready when it can hold its shape.  To test the dough, you can cut a small strip of it, roll it into a tubular shape, and see if it retains its shape.  If not, add a little bit more flour.

Now you're ready to make the dough into mandlen.  Cut the dough into small strips.  Roll each strip into a small tube, then cut the strip into little pieces, about 1/2 in. by 1/2 in. in size.  Try to make the mandlen regular in size if possible.  (Check out Bubbe Jennie's knife skills, by the way.  She's got the shakiest hands, but she still managed to cut all the mandlen.)

Put about 1/4 cup of oil into a rimmed baking sheet.  The oil should reach about 1/8 in. up the side of the baking sheet.  Put the mandlen on the sheet.

Bake the mandlen for 5-8 mins. in a 350 degree oven.  The oil will get foamy, and the mandlen will brown.  You should check on the mandlen often, making sure to flip (or stir) half-way through baking.  You can remove the mandlen when both sides are lightly browned.

Set the mandlen aside to cool.

Then make the honey syrup.  Put 1 1/3 cups of honey, 2 tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon into a large pot and bring to a boil.  The mixture should become syrupy.  You'll know it's ready when a drop of the mixture in cold water forms a soft ball.  At this point, remove the mixture from heat, and add in a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of oil.

In the meantime, lay a piece of parchment or waxed paper on a flat surface.  Sprinkle a layer of the shredded coconut onto the parchment.  Place the mandlen into the syrup, mixing well until all of the mandlen are coated with the honey mixture.  Next, pour the syrup-covered mandlen onto the coconut, spreading it out to about an inch in thickness.

Sprinkle a bit more shredded coconut onto the emerging taiglach.  Then allow the mixture to cool.Once the taiglach is cooled, slice it into small diamond shapes using a wet knife.  (We ended up having to make two batches because we didn't boil the syrup long enough on the first batch, and the mandlen wouldn't hold together.  I assure you though that if you are more patient than we were, the mandlen will in fact hold together and make very pretty diamonds.)

You can store the taiglach in a sealed container for a few days, though it's doubtful you'll have much left over.  This stuff is like crack, if crack were caramelly and insanely delicious.

Many thanks to Bubbe for sharing with us this recipe.  We kept this 91-year-old woman on her feet for hours in the kitchen while we documented every step of this long process.  Not only did she entertain us the whole time with stories from the farm, she was also good-natured and patient with our fumbles; in fact, when we fudged up the first batch, she just laughed and said, "it wouldn't be as fun if it turned out perfect!"


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Montreal Jewish Food Tour

This past week we took a little jaunt up to Montreal to see my husband's bubbe and extended family.  We hung out, made taiglach with bubbe (watch for a HUGE post on that later this week), but mostly we ate, and ate, and ate.  

Our first stop in Montreal -- always -- is the Snowdon Deli, off of Blvd. Decarie.  Their smoked meat sandwich is my husband's favorite food in the universe: tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of spiced smoked meat between two mustard-schmeared pieces of rye.  Smoked meat, if you've never had it, is similar to corned beef.  It has a different spice rub from corned beef, however, and is cured, smoked, steamed, then hand-cut to order.  We both got our smoked meat "medium" (slightly fatty).  Mine is old-fashioned (slightly more spiced), and my husband's is regular.  And of course we both got fries.  Snowdon's fries with vinegar are amazing.  Add a black cherry soda, and you've got a perfect meal.

Our next stop was Moishe's Steakhouse, which is a Montreal institution.  My husband's family has been going there for 40+ years (back when Moishe was still around), and it's still their go-to place for special occasions.  Of course, this being a steakhouse, I had the most amazing filet mignon there -- probably the best steak I've ever had.  But the real highlight at Moishe's is the sides, like their cole slaw, boiled verenikas, and fried onions.  I also tried sweetbreads for the first time . . . and they were delicious, so long as I didn't think too much about what they are.

Of course, no one can leave Montreal without tasting a Montreal bagel.  Unlike a New York bagel, the Montreal bagel is smaller, less puffy, crunchier, and sweeter.  And unlike a New York bagel, the Montreal bagel usually comes in just two varieties: white seed (sesame) and black seed (poppy).  Our favorite place for these bagels is REAL Bagel, on Cote St. Luc, where the bagels emerge fresh from the wood oven.

A little cream cheese, lox, fresh tomatoes from the garden . . . the perfect breakfast with bubbe.

Been to Montreal lately?  What are your favorite Montreal eats?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Diary of a Secret Househusband: Homemade Lox

I know that from the contents of this blog, it must seem like I'm the cook of the household.  And I suppose that this is true: I do the day-to-day cooking.  But the CHEF of the household is my husband. He's the darling who spent days mastering the art of truffle-making to make me artisan chocolates for Valentine's Day, the loon who invited a billion of his friends over for a make-your-own pasta party (there was pasta hanging out to dry over his entire apartment), and the guy who, this weekend, made lox.

For quite a long time, he's been complaining about the poor quality of the lox and smoked salmon we've been getting lately.  Finally, he got fed up and decided to make his own.  Technically, he made gravlax, as the salmon is merely cured, not smoked.  All it took was some good quality salmon from Whole Foods (still cheaper than good lox); a sugar, salt, and water brine; and a little patience (the salmon has to cure for about 2 days).

Let me just admit that I am not a huge fan of lox.  It's my least Jewish characteristic.  (Though I don't like pickles either, so I'm totally goying myself out here.)  But even I thought this lox was really good: fresh, delicate, not at all fishy.  Don't tell him, but I was kind of impressed.

If you're intrigued about the process of curing your own gravlax, my husband used the recipe available here.  Have you ever made your own lox?  Are you a lox and sesame bagel fan?  Or a super goyish chocolate chip bagel with butter fan like me?


Sunday, August 14, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance: Melanie Wins! Edition

This is a very, very good week in dance land.  My absolute favorite, Melanie, won SYTYCD!

In celebration, I am posting a video of her amazing solo from two weeks ago, which I think showcases her impressive musicality, control, and flexibility.  That tour jete entournant into the triple pirouette totally blows my mind.

I wasn't thrilled with the pieces they showed on the final competition night.  Was it just me, or did the dancers seem totally exhausted and off their game?  It seems cruel to make them each do four dances + learn the routines for the finale as well.  But I did love Tessandra Chavez's piece.  Marko is brilliant in it, and the overall piece is gorgeous, even if Lauren is a bit over-the-top and histrionic (imagine how great the piece would have been with Alison!?).

I'm so sad this season is over.  I can't wait until the next one begins (with a hopefully injury-free Alex Wong as an All-star?).  Will you be seeing the tour?


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy Weekend!

After the torrential downpours of last weekend, it's finally sunny and beautiful here in Boston.  Here are a few shots from my walk around the Commons today.  

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Behind the Lens: Jamaica Plain Portrait Shoot, Part II

This weekend, I also dragged the very lovely G from Cambridge to my neighborhood for my Jamaica Pond shoot.

Unlike me, who wouldn't voluntarily go hiking any place except for the mall, G is an up-for-anything nature girl.  She just got back from a two-day kayaking trip down the Mississippi River to benefit the Friends of the Mississippi.

Since she's a bona fide tree-hugger (she went to Forestry School after all), it seemed only natural -- no pun intended -- to shoot her frolicking amongst our urban forest.

But this nature girl is capable of some spectacular ANTM-style modeling as well.  Check out that full-on Tyra pose she's rocking standing on the rowboat (appropriately named Queen "B") below.

Our photo session took place on a dark and cloudy day, so I didn't quite catch the "magic hour" light I'd been hoping for.  But I love how the photos turned out, and I'm excited to keep learning how to work with light, posing, and composition.

Thanks for coming along with me on this educational journey!


Behind the Lens: Jamaica Plain Portrait Shoot, Part I

As you know, I've been trying to build up my inchoate photography portfolio.  Even though I'm a total amateur with my camera, a few very generous and patient friends have volunteered to let me experiment on them take their portraits.

This past weekend, my friends A and G joined me for a frolic around our beautiful Jamaica Plain neighborhood.  Here are some of my favorites of A from this super fun shoot.

We started off on my street, which is so verdant and lovely this time of the year.

I particularly loved shooting A in the wild tangle of lavender in front of the Taylor House, a charming bed and breakfast.  Isn't she gorgeous?

We then traipsed over to Jamaica Pond, where we found my favorite photo prop ever -- a rowboat named "Cookie Ship."  A is an amazing baker, so it was total kismet that we happened upon this boat.

A beautiful summer day . . . my favorite neighborhood . . . a super photogenic subject . . . what more can a photographer want?


Monday, August 1, 2011

Behind the Lens: Cambridge Portrait Session

Long-time readers of this blog might remember my friend Alisa, who is a brilliant professor as well as one of the most stylish Bostonians according to the Boston Globe.  (Stuff Magazine also recently recognized her fabulous style.)  Last weekend, I managed to convince her to do a portrait shoot with me, and I'm so excited to show you the results!

I wanted to capture Alisa in her natural surroundings, so we braved the 90-degree heat and took a stroll around her charming Cambridge neighborhood.

We started out in her own backyard.  Here she's rocking an Anthropologie maxi dress with an African-inspired print.  How gorgeous is she with the sunlight softly streaming down on her?

I love a good ramshackled house and half-fallen wall.

Alisa's neighborhood consists of adorable, quirky wood-framed buildings with lots of character.  Like her, the area has great soul.

The local park was filled with kids playing in the water fountains -- it was a balmy day after all.  But somehow my model managed to look cool and sophisticated.  I kind of hate her.

I love this series of photos I took of Alisa on the swings.  

It captures her personality so perfectly!

But she's not just fun and good looks.  She's a professor, after all!  And she brings a book with her everywhere, even on a fashion shoot.

After frolicking around her neighborhood, we took a short trip over to Memorial Drive, where she stopped traffic with her fiercest Pam Grier pose.  (Seriously, random tourists stopped to have their photos taken with her!  I guess they must have thought she was a celebrity.)

Guys, this hot property is available.  Gals, be on the lookout for her fashion and style blog, which will debut soon.

And if you know anyone in Boston who is in need of fresh, fun, fabulous headshots or portraits, please send them my way!

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