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

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Grape Harvesting and Wine Sampling

This past weekend, myself and a bunch of the other dietetic interns went to Walpole Mountain View Winery in Walpole, NH to help harvest grapes. Random, I know. It all started about 3-4 weeks ago, when I was running along Court Street and saw a small sign for the winery at a traffic circle. I took a picture of the sign so I could look it up later once I got home. After perusing the website a bit, I found that not only did they have a tasting room, but they also have harvesting dates that community members can sign up for. Luckily, Nikki was coming to visit me the following weekend (YAY), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out this place and try some wine. Unfortunately, we decided to follow a GPS to get there, which brought us to a dirt road/driveway and up to someone’s private property where we then proceeded to turn around (while avoiding running over their barking dog) and get directions from a woman who lived there (who came out of her house with her baby). Meanwhile, the GPS was still insisting the winery was there, on this woman’s private property…it was not. Very reminiscent of The Office episode when Michael drives his car into a pond because he insists on following the technology (watch here for a laugh). IMG_9149 Anyway, eventually, after driving many more miles (some in the wrong direction), suffering from poor cell signal, failing GPS, and dropped calls to the winery, we finally made it. Nikki and I were given lists of the wines available to try and got to check off whichever 6 we wanted, while cross referencing from a detailed description of each. We decided to try a variety of dry versus sweet, red versus white and rose, etc. We also decided to get some Cabot cheese and crackers (butterfly crackers, of course) to have with our wine. For the very reasonable $5, we also got to take home a wine glass as a souvenir (stemmed or unstemmed).

Tough choices

Tough choices

While they were pouring our samples, we watched a 5 minute video in another room about the winemaking process and this winery specifically.

Proof that learning can be fun

Proof that learning can be fun

We then continued into the tasting room, beautifully decorated and with plenty of glass windows so visitors can drink while looking out at the scenic NH mountain view.

View from the tasting room

View from the tasting room

We sampled our wines one by one, swirling them around in our new wine glasses and eating bites of cheese and crackers in between.

Reminds me of those sorority paddles girls always decorate. But this is better. Because it has wine in it.

Reminds me of those sorority paddles girls always decorate. But this is better. Because it has wine in it.

Nikki was the expert, as she reminisced about taking a 9am wine-tasting class abroad in Sydney two years ago. I, on the other hand, knew nothing about how to properly taste wine.

The pro

The pro. But she just wants to eat the Cabot cheese let’s be real.

We didn’t end up loving any of the wines enough to want to buy a whole bottle to take home, but sampling was fun and for $5, it was a very affordable and enjoyable afternoon activity. Note: we ate the entire block of Cabot cheese and sleeve of butterfly crackers #noshame.

Cheers! Yay for visiting friends! <3

Cheers! Yay for visiting friends! ❤

In addition to offering taste tests of their wine, I also found, while perusing the winery’s website, that they have harvesting days on weekends throughout October and are always in need of community members to volunteer and help harvest grapes. After this initial visit with Nikki 3 weeks ago, I reached out to the other dietetic interns, figuring others besides myself would probably be interested in learning about grapes and winemaking (it contains antioxidants, right?!).

Nikki and grapes

Nikki and grapes

As expected, the majority of the girls (I can say that because, per usual, there’s a lack of males in this dietetic internship program. And by lack of, I mean zero) were interested. I got everyone’s availability and coordinated with Virginia (the winery owner) a date that worked best for everyone. So last Saturday 8 of us woke up (way too early for a weekend but oh well) and drove 30 minutes to the winery (once again, despite giving clear instructions to others who were driving, I still messed up the directions myself and got semi-lost in a no-cell area). When we got there, Virginia had set up a breakfast area for all of us to fuel up before we headed out to start picking the grapes. While drinking some coffee, we were handed tasting sheets (the same ones I got when I had come with Nikki a few weeks prior) to check off the 6 wines we would later want to try. We were given the description sheets so everyone could read what flavors they have, what they pair well with, their alcohol and residual sugar content, etc. Once we’d made those hard decisions (this time I stuck to just the white wines–my favorites), we then went around the room and did some introductions (there were about 20 people helping overall), and then we were given a bucket to sit on, a pad for the bucket, gloves, some sort of grape picking tool, and an old coffee container that was used to collect the ‘ugly grapes’ aka the ones that weren’t quite ripe yet, may have had mold, had dried up, etc.

Dietetic interns turned volunteer day laborers

Dietetic interns turned volunteer day laborers

There was also a reporter from the New Hampshire Chronicle doing a story on the winery, so if and when the video is released, (assuming I sound like a literate human being and it’s not embarrassing) I’ll have to find it and post it (my moment of fame!).

Half grapes, half raisins!

Half grapes, half raisins!

Lucky for us, grape harvesting isn’t actually very physically demanding. Most of the time we were able to sit on our buckets and pick the grapes, occasionally standing to get the harder-to-reach bunches (#shortpeopleproblems). The tool she gave us to use (wish I could remember the name) easily cut right through the vines. IMG_9140 Thankfully, it’s late enough in the season now that there aren’t many bees, so I didn’t have to constantly be worried about them attacking us. On the downside, though, it turned out to be a much chillier morning than we had anticipated. According to the meteorologists (why do we ever trust them?!), it was going to be relatively warm and sunny. Yet the clouds remained and the temperature didn’t seem to increase over 45ish until probably noon when finally the sun started to peek out of the clouds. However, along with that came some strong wind, made even stronger because we were on a mountain. Despite the weather, it was a pretty enjoyable morning. While picking, you have lots of time to chat with the people sitting next to or opposite you, and because you are constantly moving around (play leap-frog, if you will), you get to talk to a lot of different people which made it even more fun and made the time pass by pretty quickly actually. It was also great to catch up with the different interns after we’d all had our first week at our different rotations.

So many grapes

So many grapes

By about 12:45, we had harvested 3 very long rows of grapes and it was time to head back inside to get lunch. They had prepared several soups for us (just what we needed, since we’d been so unprepared for the cooler weather), along with fresh bread, cheese, cookies, and salad. And, of course, we got our wine samples. We sat at a round bench outside (because it was finally sunny) and attempted to eat and drink while the wind tried to knock over our new wine glasses (rude!).

Samples and tasting sheet

Samples and tasting sheet

Cheers! We earned those little samples (and no we didn't bother using our new wine glasses this time)

Cheers! We earned those little samples (and no we didn’t bother using our new wine glasses this time)

Before leaving the winery, we also had the opportunity to stomp some grapes with our bare feet–definitely a bucket list item checked off. IMG_9175 We first had to hose our feet down, then stepped into one warm water bucket (may have contained something else but I don’t remember), then stepped into the grape bucket which was very cold and slimy but so much fun. We ended up fitting 5 of us in it at once (quality bonding right there). Then you step in another warm water bucket on your way out of the grapes before heading back to the hose to rinse off. It was a really fun way to end the morning.

Awww.

Awww.

So now that I’ve been to the Walpole Mountain View Winery twice within the last month, it’s time to try some others! While there, I picked up a brochure of all the NH wineries, so stay tuned… #livefreeordie

Too bad this didn't count as our 'community elective hours'...

Too bad this didn’t count as our ‘community elective hours’…

Brattleboro Farmers’ Market

Well my first flog post since moving to NH is actually going to be about VT…whoops.

Now that I’ve moved to Keene for a year for my dietetic internship, I’m going to try to take advantage of all this area has to offer. Keene has a farmers’ market that I have yet to visit, but our program directors highly recommended the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings only a half hour away.

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So it was decided. I would go with two other girls in the program (yay! new foodie friends!) early Saturday morning to A) get there before the rush and B) beat the rain. The drive was super easy, no complaints there. We parked and then headed into the rectangular ring of colorful booths, tables, and tents that had been set up.

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One of our program directors had even emailed us a detailed list of vendors she likes/knows personally, so that helped guide us around a bit, and it gave us something to talk about with certain vendors which is always a more enjoyable experience.

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Unique to this farmers’ market, I was surprised by the number of booths selling Asian cuisine…? Seemed kind of random/unexpected. There were several booths set up selling thai food, and even one selling dim sum. I did not order anything but both Becca and Jackie got scallion pancakes which they liked.

Scallion pancake

Scallion pancake

Dim sum, what are you doing here?

Dim sum, what are you doing here?

I stuck to my sweet tooth and visited the lady selling delicious smelling pastries at the Wild Flower Bakery table. I ordered a walnut brownie, dark chocolate souffle/muffin thing, and some blueberry tart dessert (that I somehow didn’t take a picture of). But just take my word for it, they were delicious and looked as great as they tasted.

Instead, here's a picture of gorgeous edible flowers I didn't purchase but wanted to.

Instead, here’s a picture of gorgeous edible flowers I didn’t purchase but wanted to.

Classic VT

Classic VT

From there, I decided I actually had to buy some healthy produce to make up for all the baked goods I had just purchased. After making two loops around to see all the different vendors’ offerings, I decided to get several long rhubarb stalks, fresh rosemary, and raspberries from one vendor, heirloom cherry tomatoes from another, and beets and kale from a third. Needless to say, it was a good call bringing my large grocery bag with me.

Heaven for a bunch of dietetics students

Heaven for a bunch of dietetics students

There were also vendors selling flowers, jewelry, soaps, and other random goodies that reminded me of SOWA but more ‘rustic’ if you will.

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My plan:

Beets–> roasted beet, goat cheese, walnut, golden raisin salad

Kale–> kale chips: Doesn’t really require a recipe, but I did refer to this Food Network one for oven temp etc. just to be safe!

Heirloom cherry tomatoes–> caprese salad: fresh mozzerella, basil, tomatoes, EVOO, balsamic reduction, salt/pepper

Fresh rosemary–> rosemary lemonade

Rhubarb–>Strawberry, rhubarb, peach pie

Raspberries–>plain

 

 

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