Maple Weekend

Almost forgot I had a blog! It’s been way too long. I was…hibernating? Stuck in the snow slash my clinical rotation slash didn’t have any fun food adventures to really write about? Excuses aside, I’m back.

I couldn’t spend a year in NH and not visit a sugar house at least once, so I managed to check that one off my bucket list today. Turns out, such a field trip is rather tricky to coordinate. Tapping trees and boiling sap is very weather dependent, as I’ve now learned, so I had to follow weather.com closely for the last couple days leading up to this weekend. And even so, I still had to call various nearby sugar houses multiple times (including the morning of) to confirm they were boiling today. Lots of homework involved! Also, I’m pretty sure the phone numbers listed on the NH Maple Producers website were people’s personal cell phone numbers…the few who answered didn’t seem like they were used to getting 9am touristy phone calls like mine. However, props to Charles from Old Pound Road Sugar House who, after I called at 9am inquiring about their operations, later texted me to let me know what time the sap was going to run out #customerservice. This is how I know I was definitely calling people’s cell phone numbers…awk.

The New Hampshire Maple Producers Association (yes, it’s a thing) hosts Maple Sugaring Month from March 14- April 5. Due to various past busy weekends, today (April 4) was the first weekend that worked for most of our schedules. The plan was to visit 2-3 depending on how long we took at each sugar house. Unfortunately, despite all the planning, we really only had a thorough visit at one sugar house. But better than nothing I suppose!DSC_0027

We visited Clark’s Sugar House in Langdon, NH, which was about a 35 minute drive from Keene through some windey, pot-hole covered, GPS/cell-service dropped roads. It’s pretty hard to miss a sugar house as you drive by; if they’re currently boiling, the plumes of steam waft up into the air and can be seen from some distance.

Hard to tell where the steam stops and the clouds begin.

Hard to tell where the steam stops and the clouds begin.

Once we walked into the sugar house, we were immediately greeted with fresh maple syrup samples. There is little to no resemblance between the real stuff and Aunt Jemima/other processed syrups we’re so accustomed to. I didn’t grow up eating much syrup, but this tasted nothing like the syrup I have had–this was light and sweet, but not sickeningly so.

Maple syrup shots. Cheers!

Maple syrup shots. Cheers!

The trees had already been tapped so unfortunately we missed that whole part of the process.

These are just some of the many lines that bring the tapped syrup to the house to be boiled.

These are just some of the many lines that bring the tapped syrup to the sugar house to be boiled.

But they were boiling the sap, so we embraced the maple-scented steam/facial and watched the workers load wood into the wood-fire burning machine.

Seriously, a maple-facial.

Seriously, a maple-facial.

 

Old-school wood-burning

Old-school wood-burning

Learning some of the tricks of the trade

Learning some of the tricks of the trade. This device helps them figure out the sugar percentage. The more sugar, the more the stick floats.

The viscosity shows that it needs to keep boiling to thicken.

The viscosity shows that it needs to keep boiling to thicken.

In addition to the machinery, it was fascinating just looking around the smallish room, which served as a sort of makeshift maple syrup museum for the Clark family. Memorabilia and old, retired tools were scattered around the walls and ceiling, leaving little to no wall space bare. It was really neat to see all the old taps and buckets used.

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They also had lined up all the different syrup batches they’ve made so far this year; the variations in color/grade were made so apparent with this visual.

Just the weather can change the color/grade of the syrup.

Just the weather can change the color/grade of the syrup.

They were of course selling their own syrup, as well as candies made with their maple syrup.

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In addition to making and selling maple syrup, the Clark family also has a bison farm! We continued up the muddy road a bit further and came across them, just chilling by the fence. No bison burgers today, but I believe some other Maple Weekend they may have been offering burgers to visitors. Oh well.

Jen and Abby making friends.

Jen and Abby making friends.

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From there, the GPS took us to our next stop, Grassy Brook Maple, but, despite my having called just this morning to confirm they were going to be boiling today, we arrived there and the machine was off. Womp womp. But the owner was nice enough to give us 10 minutes of his time to explain his machine/process with us.

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We didn’t get a super comprehensive tour, so I referred to this Kitchn article about VT maple syrup (about a sugar house in Brattleboro, also about a half hour away from Keene!) for some background info.

Field trip

Field trip

“Californify It:” Eating our way through LA

This year for spring break I decided to do something different. One of my best friends has been studying ‘abroad’ in LA this semester for BU’s film/tv program, and, given that I have never been before, I figured this was a good opportunity to experience a new (and warm!) place while reuniting. It turned into a super fun group trip which entailed a detailed Google doc (thanks to my OCD) to meticulously plan the 3 days, jam in as much touristy activities and eating as possible, and forever be made fun of by my friends.

Though we were only there for three days, we managed to try a lot of really good food. I shamelessly had my phone out and ready to take photos to capture each and every place and most dishes. I’ll go in chronological order:

1) In-n-Out:
Well, our hotel happened to be LITERALLY right next door, so we couldn’t NOT get In-n-Out for our first meal at midnight when we arrived. It was an obligation. The place was jam packed at that hour and we even had to wait a little while (so much for their name). In any case, I’m not much of a burger person (sue me) so I don’t have too much to say…I got a regular cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake. Probably would’ve enjoyed it more had it not been 3am in my head at the time. I was also slightly confused because apparently In-n-Out has this sort of ‘secret menu’ that only regulars/non-tourists/BuzzFeed readers know about. News to me!

The hungry crew after our 6-hr flight NOMMING.

The hungry crew after our 6-hr flight NOMMING.

Cheeseburger and shake.

Cheeseburger and shake.

Reunited at last <3

Reunited at last ❤

2) Gladstones
On day one, we woke up early and drove to Surfrider beach (Malibu area) to soak up some sun and, at least for me, stick my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The beach was gorgeous, but as much as we wanted to stay out in the sun for hours on end, we were soon hungry. Since we had been told by two separate individuals to go to Gladstones, we figured we should probably try it. It’s located right off the oh-so-scenic Pacific Coast Highway as we headed back toward Santa Monica. We gave our name to the hostess and had to wait for about 15 minutes in the lounge area until our table was ready. The waiting went by quickly though, as we were entertained by the sandbox built into the lounge area. Dan tried to make friends while we occupied ourselves by assigning other little kids as mini versions of ourselves (i.e. the little girl with the hat was me, the little girl with the ice cream all over her face was Nikki, etc).
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So about the food…everything on the menu looked amazing and I would’ve easily eaten anything on it. It was a tough decision bu I finally decided on the fish tacos (sounded very Cali to me at the time). Dan tried ceviche for the first time (so proud), Hannah got a flatbread pizza (goat cheese yes please), Nikki got some sort of wrap that she ‘Californified’ (which pretty much means just adding avocado to said dish), and Chris got a cajun grilled salmon sandwich. Although pitchers weren’t on the menu, we inquired anyway and managed to swing a pitcher of blackberry/raspberry margarita (good decision). The amazing meal was made even better by the perfect weather and view of the beach.

Right on the beach.

Right on the beach.

Cheers to spring break #hydration

Cheers to spring break #hydration

Mango salmon tacos with guac, mango salsa, and limes. #socal

Mango salmon tacos with guac, mango salsa, and limes. #socal

3) The Grove:
The next day, after an incredible tour of Warner Bros., we went to The Grove, a must-see item on the Google doc. I didn’t know what exactly ‘The Grove’ consisted of, despite how much I’d heard of it, so I was really open to anything. Turns out, it’s this incredibly beautiful outdoor shopping area and, attached to it, there is an amazing semi-covered farmer’s market area with virtually every type of cuisine you could possibly want.

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

We did one walk-through just to get a lay of the land, and then we had to make the very difficult decision (#firstworldproblems) of where to settle down and actually buy lunch. Chris and I settled on a cute little French place and Dan, Nikki, and Hannah decided on Mexican (#carnitas, Dan?).

Croissant with brie, apples, and proscuitto and side salad with mustard viniagrette

Croissant with brie, apples, and proscuitto and side salad with mustard viniagrette

Quesadilla

Quesadilla

Chris and his massive crepe

Chris and his massive crepe

While I was waiting for the three Mexican diners to get their food (I was polite and didn’t want to start without them, though I may have nibbled on some of the croissant because how could I not?), I walked over to a little fresh produce stand and FINALLY came upon the avocados I’d been searching for. I purchased 2 perfectly ripe avocados (though I was hoping they would be cheaper considering we were in California…oh well #worthit). I couldn’t wait and immediately cut into one so I could add it to the sandwich I bought for lunch. And that is what we are calling ‘californifying’ it.

$1.99/avocado and worth every penny

$1.99/avocado and worth every penny

Me being me.

Me being me.

I brought the other avocado home and had it for breakfast (duh) because our Days Inn ‘continental breakfast’ was just not cutting it. Mashed avocado is SUCH a great alternative to cream cheese/butter/jam on toast. Breakfast of champions.

When in California...

When in California…

On the way out of the Grove, we had to get ice cream (because when it’s warm out, it’s pretty much an obligation). So we stopped at Bennett’s which had a wide variety of flavors to suit all of our cravings. I couldn’t resist ordering a Cabernet Sauvignon sorbet (because I’m such a huge fan of JP Licks’ Maneschewitz sorbet which only is offered twice per year in Boston). It was delicious and refreshing (and classy?).

So many choices!

So many choices!

Cute old fashioned register

Cute old fashioned register

NOM

NOM

4) Carney’s:
We met up with a friend from BU who graduated last year (shoutout to Saba) and who is now out in Cali writing for the LA Times (here’s to hoping for employment come graduation…). After much discussion, we finally decided to meet up at Carney’s, a very unique restaurant because it is actually in an old train! Very cool. The menu included primarily burgers, so I got a turkey burger and sweet potato fries (my favorite) which I pretty much watched the cooks make the entire time because they cook right in front of the waiting customers.

yummm

yummm

A real train!

A real train!

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5) Griddle Cafe
I’m not sure where to begin. Our friend Jeremy made it very clear during the planning process that this restaurant was a must. So we decided to go for brunch after hiking Runyon Canyon (so the calories would cancel out?). The photos really don’t it justice, so just take my word for it. The pancakes are the size of medium-large pizzas and they are typically served three at a time. While we waited for our table, we saw how massive the portions were and knew better than to order a stack of three pizza-pancakes. Instead, we opted for the single pancakes, which, it turns out, are still too large to eat in one sitting.

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In addition to pancakes, the cafe serves egg dishes, french toast, and non-brunch items. The 6 of us managed to order quite an array of dishes as the photos clearly show. There was no way we could finish–or even close to finish–all the food that came to our table.

The fruit makes the meal healthy, right? Eh....

The fruit makes the meal healthy, right? Eh….

Another egg dish

Baked potato omelet

Jeremy and his Chocolate Chip Cookie Crusted French Toast. This shouldn't be legal.

Jeremy and his Chocolate Chip Cookie Crusted French Toast. This shouldn’t be legal.

Chris for some reason adding syrup to his Nutella stuffed French toast. Because it wasn't sweet enough as is...?

Chris for some reason adding syrup to his Nutella stuffed French toast. Because it wasn’t sweet enough as is…?

For the first time ever, I witnessed Dan NOT finish the food he ordered. Pictured: 'Black Magic' pancake (oreo filled) and the 'A Time to Love' pancake filled with streusel, butterscotch chips, caramel).

For the first time ever, I witnessed Dan NOT finish the food he ordered. Pictured: ‘Black Magic’ pancake (oreo filled) and the ‘A Time to Love’ pancake filled with streusel, butterscotch chips, caramel).

My red velvet pancake topped with streusel and cream cheese frosting. It tasted just like a cupcake but in pancake form. And beautiful presentation!

My red velvet pancake topped with streusel and cream cheese frosting. It tasted just like a cupcake but in pancake form. And beautiful presentation!

Nikki and Hannah's split third dish: 'Banana-nana' pancake with brown sugar baked bananas mixed into the batter.

Nikki and Hannah’s split third dish: ‘Banana-nana’ pancake with brown sugar baked bananas mixed into the batter.

Needless to say, we needed to be rolled out of the cafe. Moving was a struggle to say the least.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

The waiters may or may not have come outside to check to make sure we were okay...

The waiters may or may not have come outside to check to make sure we were okay…

6) Diddy Riese Cookies:
Jeremy insisted we visit this cookie shop located by UCLA. Considering how great his Griddle Cafe recommendation was, we figured trusting his recommendation was a good call. So after visiting UCLA and admiring the beautiful campus (too late to transfer? JK…), we stopped by the little shop to each get a handful of cookies. That being said, I still felt so full from brunch that I got the cookies to-go. The place only takes cash which is annoying, but, at $0.35/each, the cookies are SO incredibly cheap I really shouldn’t complain. I admit I have high cookie standards (the gold standard remains Paradise Bakery) so they were not the absolute best cookies ever, but they were definitely worth the visit. They were all completely full of chocolate chips/M&Ms/etc which was great.

If there's a line, it has to be good.

If there’s a line, it has to be good.

COOKIES

COOKIES

Unlike me to just buy two...but I somehow did. One dark chocolate and one regular chocolate chip.

Unlike me to just buy two…but I somehow did. One dark chocolate and one regular chocolate chip.

Believe it or not, we actually did other things in LA besides eating, I swear. But it holds true that the best way to explore a new place is through its food.

Banana/Reese’s/Nutella Swirl bread

I saw this recipe on another wonderful food blog and immediately knew I just had to try it. I love a good banana bread–moist (sorry, Nikki, had to say it), with a hint of cinnamon, made even better if there are tiny chunks of mashed bananas in it just so you know it’s homemade.

But I had never come across a version quite like this. Separately, bananas, Reese’s, and Nutella are amazing on their own–but just imagine the possibilities when the three harmonize in a 350 degree oven for the longest fifty minutes of your life, anticipation building as the smell of peanut butter and banana permeate your entire apartment. Bananas and peanut butter are a classic combination. I probably had that for lunch every other day in lower and middle school. I can’t think of a better, more creative, or more delicious way of bringing back this medley of flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup Reese’s mini cups (NOT the bite-sized Reese’s, the smaller MINI ones. Or use 3/4 cup chopped regular sized Reese’s Cups)
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 heaping tablespoons Nutella

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Butter or spray loaf pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together bananas, peanut butter, oil, egg and sugars.IMG_8330
  • Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Batter will be very thick. Don’t overmix. Fold in Reese’s Mini cups and chocolate chips.IMG_8334
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. Drop 3 tablespoons of Nutella on top of bread.IMG_8336
  • Swirl with a knife.IMG_8338
  • Bake for about 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  • Let cool in loaf pan for 10 minutes, then loosen the edges of the pan with a knife and remove from loaf pan, transferring bread to a cooling rack.IMG_8341
  • Makes one loafIMG_8342

I’ve taken my fair share of science classes at this point and have a lot of lab reports under my belt. In a lab report’s conclusion section, it is typical to mention things you would’ve done differently or factors that may have gone wrong and could be improved upon in future experiments. So I’m going to do that here because, as I’m always told on Food Network, baking is, after all, a science:

  • I doubled the recipe, so there’s some chance of error with ratios shifting a bit
  • I’m using a teeny-tiny BU apartment oven and was too lazy to check the thermometer so I’m not quite sure if the temperature was exactly at 350 degrees
  • I first checked on the bread after 40 minutes because the top had already significantly started to brown. However, the inside was clearly still raw. I covered the pans in aluminum foil before putting them back in the oven, in hopes that the tops wouldn’t brown too much more before the inside was fully cooked.
  • When I swirled in the dollops of Nutella, it didn’t get it swirled too deep into the thick loaf and the Nutella was all still relatively close to the surface (which is probably why it browned so quickly). Next time, I would try to make sure the Nutella got swirled throughout the entire loaf so it was distributed evenly.
  • I was too excited to make this recipe and didn’t wait for the bananas to brown enough. Next time, I would either buy slightly overripe bananas or wait until they had browned more, just to ensure the maximum sweetness possible.

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I am aware that I deemed this to be a food blog with a healthy focus and yet my first posted recipe is clearly not. I promise to not make a habit of this, but I do admit that baked goods are my weakness. Here are some ways to potentially make a healthier version of this recipe (note, I haven’t actually tried the below suggestions with this recipe…just brainstorming…):

  • Try using Splenda or half Splenda/half sugar
  • Only use half the peanut butter
  • Replace half the Reese’s with walnuts instead
  • Avoid putting the Nutella in the bread itself; instead, measure out a teaspoon or so once you’ve cut a slice of bread
  • Use half the amount of chocolate chips
  • Pour the batter in a small muffin pan instead of a loaf pan for better portion control
The best part about baking with Nutella? Getting to eat what's left stuck to the spoon.

The best part about baking with Nutella? Getting to eat what’s left stuck to the spoon.

 

HAPPY COOKING!!