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

The Boston Tea Party

21st birthdays are notorious for drinking alcohol. But by 22, the legal drinking age excitement has worn off (somewhat…), so for Nikki’s birthday this past week, we opted for a different beverage–tea.

I had never been to high tea before, though my mind was full of stereotypes such as finger sandwiches, fancy china, and biscuits. I was excited to see these stereotypes either fulfilled or negated. We had talked about going to tea at the Taj hotel during senior week, but those plans fell through when we found out their afternoon tea is only offered on weekends. Nikki, however, found out that the Langham Boston Hotel has afternoon tea on weekdays from 2-7 (the Langham in London has been serving afternoon tea since 1865), and since her birthday fell on a Tuesday, what better way to celebrate than a long, leisurely meal spent with our pinkies up in a city known for its Tea Party (#history)?

Afternoon tea at the Langham is served in Tiffin, a restaurant/lounge/bar/cafe area that’s off to the left of the main hotel lobby. Complete with super soft white chairs and white pillows, we got comfortable quickly (Passover-style reclining, duh) and then perused the menu, which consists of two prix fixe options. I ordered the ‘Tiffin’ option, which is slightly cheaper, and Nikki ordered the ‘Reserve’ option, which was slightly more expensive (simply due to a small glass of rosé wine and a proscuitto plate). We obviously ordered the two different options on purpose, intending to split every single item (no matter how small it already was) in order to try everything they offered. We also ate each dish at the same time and in the same order (should the curried chicken sandwich go first? Or last? It was a tough call.).

Tea and wine. Life is good.

Tea and wine. Life is good.

After Nikki’s proscuitto di parma appetizer with stone fruit, cracked pepper, and honey, we were served our first plate, a variety of adorable finger sandwiches. My favorite was a tie between the classic cucumber sandwich with chive farmer’s cheese and French white bread and the house smoked salmon, crème fraîche and dill finger sandwich on brioche. Nikki’s favorite was the Maine lobster salad on brioche (fitting because, as an alternative birthday plan, we had discussed driving to the Cape for the day).

Tea sandwiches:  House smoked salmon, crème fraîche and dill on brioche; egg and scallion salad on granary; coronation chicken en vol-au-vent;  English cucumber with chive farmer’s cheese and French white bread

4 of 8 tea sandwiches (pre-splitting them):
House smoked salmon, crème fraîche and dill on brioche; egg and scallion salad on granary; coronation chicken en vol-au-vent; English cucumber with chive farmer’s cheese and French white bread

The sandwich portion of the meal was then followed by a scone basket. My meal came with two traditional cream scones, while Nikki’s came with two cherry scones. Again, we exchanged one for one in order to try both. We were also given Devonshire clotted cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd. I didn’t have a strong preference of one over the other, as I think they were made with the same batter and just one simply had cherries added to it. The scones were the most filling portion of the meal. I didn’t really expect to be full from high tea, as I expected portions to be miniscule–and, for the most part, they were. But the scones were actually normal-sized so filling up on bread mid-meal was a slight issue.

Holding up to the stereotype. I don't hate it.

Holding up to the stereotype. I don’t hate it.

This, however, didn’t stop us, of course. As we still had dessert to look forward to. My meal came with a marmalade tartlet, chocolate madeline, raspberry napoleon, lemon panna cotta, and blackberry parfait. Nikki’s included chocolate, caramel and Gloucester sea salt tartlet, toasted coconut buttercream cupcakes, strawberry hazelnut linzer, and vanilla crème brûlée with apricot compote. Of the desserts, the winner was definitely the chocolate tartlet (which, luckily, we had saved for last). However, aesthetically, the winner was the blackberry parfait that–I kid you not–was served with edible gold leaf #classy.

Marmalade tartlet, chocolate madeline, raspberry napoleon, lemon panna cotta and blackberry parfait. GOLD LEAF. ON A BLACKBERRY.

Marmalade tartlet, chocolate madeline, raspberry napoleon, lemon panna cotta and blackberry parfait. GOLD LEAF. ON A BLACKBERRY.

The most disappointing portion of the meal was the little extra birthday plate served (that I not-so-sneakily requested from our waiter while Nikki went to the bathroom). Presentation was great, but the three dessert bites were all mediocre-tasting at best. The plate consisted of a raspberry macaroon (didn’t hold a candle to Laduree, but I’ve been spoiled), and then two other desserts I don’t even remember now (which thus shows how unimpressive they must’ve been). But we weren’t charged for this dessert plate, so can’t really complain I guess!

Blowing out the candle.

Blowing out the candle.

And, most importantly (?), the tea! We made the mistake of ordering the same kind on round 1 (not because we didn’t like it, but because it would’ve been smarter to order two different teas to try two different flavors). Nonetheless, we both enjoyed our refreshing white peach teas. Once we had finished our first pot, we ordered another, this time getting different ones.

Tea tools.

Tea tools.

Nikki ordered the tropical green tea, and I ordered the English flower blend, which was pleasant and mild, like a more floral chamomile tea. All this fluid contributed to our feeling super full…but we just kept going. The tea came in beautiful white individual tea pots with a pink floral pattern that happened to oddly match the dress I wore. The first pot had already been steeped in the back before it was brought out to us, and the second pot we ordered came with a small hourglass timer which told us when it was ready to drink.

Casually matching the china. #pinkiesup

Casually matching the china. #pinkiesup

Overall, it was a fun, entertaining experience. The quiet, un-rushed (such a rarity these days) atmosphere was relaxing and conducive to conversation, and there was something fun about being the youngest diners (by far) in the room. It was definitely a splurge activity–both time-wise and money-wise, but perfect for birthday celebrations. There’s something so much more fun about getting to try lots of different things as opposed to just one main dish; it reminds me of Spanish tapas, except quieter, more refined, and instead of lots of different dishes on lots of different little plates, you get lots of little dishes on just one plate (coincidentally, her birthday dinner plan involved tapas…so clearly Europeans have the right idea). Interestingly, when you only have a bite or two of a dish, it makes you eat slower and more focused–being more aware of what you’re eating and enjoying those two bites while they last, before moving onto the next mini-dish.

Cheers to 22! And hopefully many more classy birthday celebrations in years to come 🙂

Because, even on her day off, Nikki just can't stay away from fancy hotels apparently ;)

Because, even on her day off, Nikki just can’t stay away from fancy hotels apparently 😉

 

 

Cheers to 2014

Still in shock that 2014 is here…the year that I graduate from college seemed so far away just a few years ago. The expression ‘time flies’ exists for a reason. It really does.

BU Matriculation Ceremony, fall 2010. Might as well have been  yesterday.

BU Matriculation Ceremony, fall 2010. Might as well have been yesterday.

Anyway, one of my many New Years resolutions (I have a list of over 20 in a ‘note’ on my iPhone) is to update my blog more regularly. So we’ll see how that goes…

In honor of the New Year, I would like to share what I ‘cooked’ for the occasion: champagne jello.

I first had this marvelous concoction years and years ago at a family friends’ New Years party (though I was probably around 8 years old and likely had a nonalcoholic version). I don’t remember anything else from the party aside from how cool I was eating bubbly jello out of a classy champagne glass.

So here I am, however many years later, and I decided I should try to recreate this delicious memory–this time with the real stuff (I am 22 now, after all). I looked online and found a recipe in all of about 2 seconds, courtesy of Taste at Home. So here it is!

Ingredients (serves 8, though this depends on glass size)

  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups cold white grape juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups Champagne or club soda (my dad, who did the grocery shopping, splurged on the $9 bottle…)
  • 8 fresh strawberries, hulled

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Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup cold grape juice; let stand for 1 minute. Heat over low heat, stirring until gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir in sugar. Remove from the heat; stir in remaining grape juice. Cool to room temperature.IMG_3008
  2. Transfer gelatin mixture to a large bowl. Slowly stir in champagne. Pour half of the mixture into eight champagne or parfait glasses (I used 5 wine glasses because I’m on vacation at a condo and that’s all we have here). Add one strawberry to each glass (pick the prettiest ones). Chill glasses and remaining gelatin mixture bowl until almost set, about 1 hour (because I used wine glasses instead of champagne glasses, it took longer to set–more like 3ish hours).

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3. Place the reserved gelatin mixture from the bowl in a blender; cover and process until foamy. Pour into glasses. Chill for 3 hours or until set.

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Pre-blending

Post-blending

Post-blending

Pouring blended, foamy mixture on the now-set champagne mixture

Pouring blended, foamy mixture on the now-set champagne mixture

Back in the fridge for a few more hours

Back in the fridge for a few more hours

Also, fun fact, this wonderful website posts nutritional values. Even better! Nutritional Facts: 1/2 cup equals 96 calories, trace fat (trace saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 9 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 1 g protein.

The only downside is that, upon eating later, it didn’t end up bubbly. Not sure if that’s because I used wine glasses instead of champagne glasses so it took longer to set, letting more bubbles escape before setting. But that’s just my hypothesis. Who knows…

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You will never think of jello shots the same way again. Way prettier and way classier and way yummier.

How AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL does this look? Here’s to 2014–CHEERS!

Cheers!

Cheers!

Chocolate Wasted

Well, fourth year’s the charm. Yes, that’s right, FOUR YEARS of dessert showcases. Actually, to clarify, Nikki has attended for the last four years; I had a retreat for my job last year that unfortunately coincided with the weekend of the showcase. So this was technically my third year in attendance. Still bitter I couldn’t be at two places at once.

Let me backtrack to how this tradition began. It was freshman year. Nikki received a Groupon email about the 2010 New England Dessert Showcase that was to take place at the Westin Copley Hotel in Back Bay. It sounded too good to be true. But it was freshman year and we really didn’t have anything else to do over the weekend besides homework (amiright Nikki?!) (we were both much less involved at the time…).

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Ironically enough, the Showcase coincided with Yom Kippur that year. So not only did we not fast that day, we pretty much did the polar opposite and completely gorged ourselves shamelessly with seemingly endless upscale, sugary treats.

Our first Dessert Showcase

Our first Dessert Showcase

Best Jews ever.

So that was the start of this wonderful tradition. Needless to say, this experience obviously made the “Freshman Successes” list (Yes, it is true, I do have a Word doc titled ‘Freshman Mistakes’ saved on my laptop, which also happens to have an accompanying list of ‘Freshman Successes.’ I’m thinking of passing it down to freshmen once I graduate in May.  Or publishing it. We’ll see.)

Sophomore year is a funny story. This second year, the Dessert Showcase did not coincide with a Jewish holiday that involved fasting. Thank god. Not sure why Nikki or myself did not think to check the location of the event (sophomore year mistakes?!); we just assumed it was at the same hotel in the same ballroom as the previous year. So that was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was when we took a cab for about 45 seconds around the corner to the Back Bay Sheraton (if you’re familiar with the area at all, you should know the two hotels are literally around the corner from each other). I had a dumb phone at the time so we were relying on Nikki’s beloved Blackberry (RIP) to direct us and it just was not working. Getting frustrated, we impulsively got in a cab figuring the driver would know how to get from the Westin to the Sheraton.

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he tried to just tell us how to walk there but we were too confused and dazed to function on our own. So the cab took us around the corner and we presumably paid probably $2.00 for the ride (of which $1.50 was probably just an initial rate). Pathetic. In any case, we made it to the desserts AND THAT’S WHAT COUNTS.

Yes we have the same photo taken every year.

Yes we have the same photo taken every year.

Nom

Nom

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

I’m going to skip year three because I was not there. I was instead in NH on a CSC Program Manager retreat eating crappy camp food (but s’mores totally made up for it).

This past weekend, Nikki and I went to the 2013 New England Dessert Showcase. And at least we learned from our mistakes. This time, we checked the address ahead of time—which was a good thing because it was at the Seaport Westin this year, much further away. Also, instead of taking the T for 45 minutes and having to transfer once to the red line and a second time to a bus, we cabbed it. But not only did we cab it, we tried Uber for the first time which was quite an experience.  If you’ve never tried Uber, I would recommend it—the cars are much nicer and we had a lovely, chatty driver who told us all about his diabetes on the way there.

Keepin' it classy taking Uber

Keepin’ it classy taking Uber

Unlike past years, this year’s event did not seem to have some sort of record-breaking dessert (freshman year there was a record-breaking Boston cream pie, sophomore year I recall a record-breaking cannoli). But similarly to the other years, we completely stuffed ourselves until we had to sit down and digest. And Instagram.

Some sort of attempt to break the record of largest Boston cream pie baked.

Freshman year–some sort of attempt to break the record of largest Boston cream pie baked.

Some sort of attempt to break a largest cannoli record

Sophomore year–some sort of attempt to break a largest cannoli record

The best foodie friend.

Senior year with the best foodie friend.

There are baking demos each year by the local chefs. Dessert and a show! If only my favorite Food Network stars had made an appearance…

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We agreed the best dessert was the molten lava cake from Chart House, warm and gooey on the inside, topped with crunchy toffee bits and a drizzle of chocolate fudge. In a close second place: delicious, rich mini chocolate mousse cakes from Finale.

Lava cakes from Chart House. Nikki is pleased.

Lava cakes from Chart House. Nikki is pleased.

Mini mousse cakes from Finale. NOM.

Mini mousse cakes from Finale. NOM.

Still remains unclear why every year there has always been these sheet cakes out front, obviously untouched because who wants sheet cake when there's a ballroom full of fancier desserts?! #America

Still remains unclear why every year there has always been these sheet cakes out front, obviously untouched because who wants sheet cake when there’s a ballroom full of fancier desserts?! #America

For the record, I am completely aware that, as a nutrition major, this is not the healthiest of activities in which I could be partaking. But life is all about balance, and, once a year, I’ve come to accept this. In addition, I ran the BAA Half Marathon the following day–so let’s just consider this time as necessary carboloading shall we?

Nikki—just because we graduate this year doesn’t mean we have to stop attending these events. In the words of Miley, “we can’t stop, and we won’t stop.”

Here’s to many more years of fun foodie traditions!

Not much has changed over the years...

Not much has changed over the years…

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!!