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

Outside the Box

There are so many benefits to living in a city. Public transportation (ehhh…), shops, internship/job opportunities, and FESTIVALS.

I know this seems random, but seriously–one of the perks of city living is simply the amount of random festivals that take place. Free Shakespeare performances in The Common? Sure, why not? Free Selena Gomez concert at Government Center? Well okay then.

There are so many that I feel like most of the time I don’t even know about them. Or I find out after the fact on Boston.com. But lucky for me, there was one this weekend that I thankfully did not miss out on. Earlier in the week, my friend Nikki sent me a link to this event called “Outside the Box” that would be taking place over the weekend–perfect timing especially considering my sister was in town visiting. It consisted of 9 days of free music and performing arts.

Live music while we dined.

Live music while we dined.

One portion of the event (catch the food pun?), though, was specifically targeted toward the foodies out there. Stationed in Government Center plaza, the Fork Lift Food Festival (“a festival within a festival”) consisted of live music, cooking demos by local and celebrity chefs, and dozens of tents with gourmet single-portion tastings.

Celeb chef Todd English casually setting up his demo 10 ft away from us.

Celeb chef Todd English casually setting up his demo 10 ft away.

It worked like a fair: you purchase a number of tickets and different items at different tents cost you varying quantities of tickets. We decided to be strategic in our plan. Because food is serious business to us (amiright Nikki/Corinne?!). We first walked around to see what each chef was offering, taking copious mental notes for our upcoming go-round.

Once we’d walked around in a full circle, it was time to buy our tickets. It was $1 per ticket which kept things simple. We decided $15 each would hopefully be enough to allow us to try everything we really wanted to, and we could always go back and buy more later if we so chose. And then we were off on our second round, this time actually ordering the small plates that had looked so good a half hour before.

Nikki and Corinne toughing out the heat for the sake of good eats.

Nikki and Corinne being troopers through the insane heat, all for the sake of some good eats. My kind of people.

The portions were mostly sample size, costing between 1-4 tickets. I really appreciated how local and seasonal the dishes seemed–many including lobster and other New England-y things. Also, considering it was well in the 90s outside, I was grateful for the lighter dishes especially.

Needless to say, between the three of us, we tried a lot of awesome food. Though portions were tiny, because the food was clearly high quality, we all felt the $15 was well worth it. Also a plus, for some reason it wasn’t crowded (probably due to the heat) so there were no waits whatsoever. I’m just upset I missed out on seeing some of the famous chefs’ cooking demos and book signings. But one could only stand that heat for so long…

Now to the fun part, the food…

1. Legal Seafood: New England clam chowder

Nikki proving that it is, in fact, never too hot for clam chowdah when you live in Boston.

Nikki proving that it is, in fact, never too hot for clam chowdah when you live in Boston.

2. Carly Cakes: Lemon raspberry mini cupcake

Corinne's excellent dessert choice.

Corinne’s excellent dessert choice.

3. Salvatore’s: Arancini caprese strollers

Arancini are simply fried risotto balls. Cheesy, salty, warm, and with a perfectly fried and crispy coating. Props to Corinne for finding the best ‘bang for your buck’ item offered–this portion was significantly larger than all the others.

Arancini. Corinne's a happy camper.

Arancini. Corinne’s a happy camper.

4. Barrio Cantina: Spicy chicken tacos

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5. Batch ice cream truck: salted caramel & cinnamon ice cream

The perfect way to try to cool down.IMG_9053

6. Tresca: Heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho

Gazpacho, one of my favorite summertime dishes, was the perfect light, refreshing, cool dish to sample. The addition of watermelon was a unique touch. Also, as a bonus, they gave anyone who came over for a taste a gift bag containing a $20 gift card. Sooo who wants to dine with me in the North End…?

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7. Bokx109: Pear and mascarpone sacchetti

Although the portion was tiny (an amuse bouche, if you will), this pasta dish was very well done. The baby fork may have been a highlight, as well. Sacchetti is simply a tortellini-like pasta meant for stuffing. Mascarpone is a type of spreadable Italian cheese. You may recognize it as the cheese typically used in making tiramisu.

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8. Artisan Bistro: Lobster sausage with johnnycake, brown butter, and corn

Never before had I had lobster in the form of sausage! Luckily, the chef hadn’t ground it and there were still decently sized chunks of lobster (ground seafood seems a bit strange to me) held together by some mixture of binding agents. It paired beautifully with the savory pancake and made for the perfectly balanced amuse bouche.

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9. Kowloon: saugus wings

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I’m not much of a wings person but Nikki seemed pleased. Also, decent portion size was appreciated.

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10. Society on High Les Zygomates Sorriso: Lobster martini with avocado puree and plantain chips & fig tart

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11. Chart House: Crab crake with remoulade & avocado, crab, and mango stack

Corinne went against our rule and ordered crab outside of Maryland, but it was actually very decent (despite the fact that it’s in pancake form, not cake form).

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Food festivals FTW.