Monthly Archives: November 2015

Breaking with Tradition on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition and in some ways this can be quite comforting. You may know exactly what you’re going to cook for dinner; or who will be sitting at the table. You might know which serving platters you’ll use, or which wine to bring if you’re not cooking. Yet, in other ways, tradition can be constricting. Dare you break up with your beloved cranberry stuffing recipe that’s served you so well these last ten years?

For us, it was equal parts honoring tradition as it was in breaking with it. We honored it with all-star recipes, and broke with it by having our turkey dinner on the day after Thanksgiving due to work schedules. And O, what a meal!

Keeping it local, we bought a fresh bird from Misty Knoll Farms  through our local co-op. Weighing just shy of 12 lbs, our turkey lived a good life pastured outside before meeting its dinner-bound demise. When it comes to cooking, I follow Alton Brown’s method, circa 2008, religiously. While the method has, without fail, set off every smoke alarm in the house every year that we’ve done it, I find the end result well worth the trouble.

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We also made our beloved sweet potato soufflé, which Travis contends is a dessert, but my family has always proffered as a side dish, and roasted carrots and parsnips tossed with a honey balsamic dressing. At some point in the day I started on gravy, too, because that’s just what you do with those creepy giblets and neck. But alas! What were we to pour the gravy on? So that’s how mashed potatoes found their way on our plates, too.

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Our compost bowl, always keeping tabs on our cookery.

In the spirit of home-cookery, this week Travis sent me a fantastic article in the Atlantic that I hope you check out if you have a few minutes.  It’s all about the myth of easy cooking and how the food magazine and media industry has built itself up on unattainable principles and outcomes, a byproduct of chefs adapting recipes from restaurants for home cooks and then calling them “easy.” The article gave me great perspective as I cooked my way through Thanksgiving preparations this week in that it’s never as easy as it looks, and it gave me permission to be more forgiving of myself as a cook.

For example, I have a love-hate relationship with pie dough. I can’t intuit when it needs another dribble of ice water, and I always make a mess rolling it out. This week, with my newfound perspective, I took the opportunity to give myself a big gold star each step of the way regardless of how it actually looked. So what if I rolled it into a shape that looks like something I drew in kindergarten? No one is going to see it under 10,000 calories of pie filling anyways!

My favorite insight so far though was watching a Thanksgiving-themed cooking show whilst wearing my new-life-perspective-on-cooking lenses. The meal this guy cooked up in half an hour looked fantastic — dressing made with bread from scratch, butternut squash gratin, smoked duck. How can you go wrong? But in watching the show, it dawned on me that watching a world where you can halve, peel, de-seed and chop up two whole butternut squashes in less than 5 seconds is like going to Disneyland. Just because you’re watching it with your own two eyes doesn’t mean it’s real! I don’t know about you, but it would probably take me the entire length of the TV segment to tackle two butternut squashes without losing any fingers.

So not only did we sit down to a wonderful meal (and a weekend’s worth of leftovers) but it was also an opportunity to reflect on the cooking itself and to appreciate how much time and effort it really does take to make a meal completely from scratch. And to remember that the joy is not just in the fifteen minutes it takes to wolf everything down, but the journey that it took to get there. thanksgiving dinner

Cheers!

 

The Fiasco of Car Registration in Vermont

Moving to a new state is complicated. Moving to a new state where you don’t know anything about how the state works is the fudge sauce and cherry on top of complicated.

I tried desperately to find a blog explaining the car registration process in normal-person terms before moving to Vermont, but no luck!  So I waded though it by trial and error.

As an insurance defense attorney, I am unabashedly persnickety about the banals of car insurance. In this particular instance, I knew that if the insurance company didn’t know I had moved, they could deny coverage if I got into an accident here. So after I moved in September, I did right by my insurance company and updated my mailing address. Click, click, click and it was done. Easy enough.

Then it was time for us to get driver’s licenses and register the cars. This took me three trips; the first time because we went with the intention of registering Travis’ car but were encouraged to come back with extra documents to avoid paying taxes; the second time to come back to pay taxes on Travis’ car because they couldn’t be avoided; and the third time to register my own car. Each time, I took the car being registered to the DMV because the employees will do the required VIN inspection right there in the parking lot.

Once the cars were registered, they have to be inspected within 14 days. And once I got the new tags, I needed to immediately mail back my Maryland plates to the MVA and cancel the Maryland registration. So the tags were sent, and the inspections were done.

All is well, right?

Wrong.

Two weeks ago, my Dad got a nastygram from the MVA regarding insurance non-compliance and an accompanying $150 fine. Thank god he was the co-owner of my car or I would never have known at all! The letter was only sent to him at our old address. Scary.

It turns out, when I updated my mailing address with my insurance company, the powers that be turned this innocent administrative update into an insurance cancellation with the Maryland MVA. For both of our cars. In other words, I was really looking at a $300 fine for the two week gap between when I updated my insurance and when the plates were received by the MVA. Yikes!

Fortunately, my insurance company, my Dad, and Travis, all helped me cobble together the documents that I needed to prove to the MVA that our cars had been continuously insured throughout the period in question. On Friday, I checked in and learned that my case was closed.

PHEW!

Just when you think you have all of your bases covered, life loves to throw a curveball.

Appreciating Presence on a Walk in the Woods

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather these past few days, and last week I took the opportunity to go for a hike in the nearby Groton State Forest.  It’s actually a constellation of multiple state parks and different lakes and ponds, and spans more than 26,000 acres, making it the second largest contiguous land holding of the State of Vermont. It’s really beautiful. For this off-season hike, I chose Kettle Pond State Park.

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Boat launch at Kettle Pond

Geared up and ready to go, as I set off on the trail, I couldn’t help but notice how much noise was still with me. My footsteps were noisy; my bag was noisy; my mind was noisy. I wondered to myself, “how can I be out in this pristine landscape and still feel like there is a TV on in the background?” My car was the only one in the parking lot, so I couldn’t point the finger at anyone but me.

I plowed on in this manner for another quarter mile or so until I finally stopped and paused for a moment. Only then, in my stillness, could I hear the quiet.

And what does quiet sound like,  you might ask?

It’s like taking all of your thoughts and sending them skyward in a celestial lantern.  Or like hitting the pause button on your feet and muting the sounds of your body in motion. It’s realizing that if something happened to you, it could be quite a while before help arrives, and it’s the space between the sounds of footsteps and the melodies of songbirds.

IMG_6225For me, I can sustain that level of presence for about 30 seconds before I see something that I want to photograph. I still have a lot of practice to do when it comes to being present. But on my walk that day, in my stillness and presence, I was rewarded with a scene featuring a brilliantly colored woodpecker inspecting a nearby tree.

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Sooty Hygrophorous – A beacon of late fall

I realized that I would not have heard him if I had kept marching on, given that I sounded like Big Foot traipsing through the forest, nor would I have enjoyed his woodland debut if I had spent that time fumbling in my bag to get my camera and hustling for a photograph. Instead, I embraced the serenity of the moment.

The Lessen Learned from a Walk in the Woods

The lessen learned is that being present is really quite challenging, and until you are completely enveloped in quiet, you’ll never appreciate how much noise you carry around in your head, either.  When you slow down, you have time and opportunity to notice more, and you can dedicate your energy to being present.

IMG_6239Take this rock for instance. Cruising by, you might catch it in your peripheral vision and write it off as another mossy stone. But when you slow down, you’ll see that it’s not just a single layer of green on that stone, but a whole community of mosses and lichens, each with their own unique shades and textures that make up a velvety fabric across the rock’s surface.

There’s a fascinating study by Harvard-affiliated researchers that found that participants who took an average of 27 minutes a day to practice meditation and mindfulness exercises showed discernible changes in their brain structure after an 8-week period. Magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) studies showed an increased grey matter in the hippocampus (which manages self-awareness, compassion, and introspection) and decreased grey matter density in the amygdala (which manages anxiety and stress).

The key here is practice. It takes time and effort to develop the brain matter that we need to be still and present. It takes effort to mitigate the lingering effects of stress and anxiety.   Fortunately, it’s never too late to get started!

Kettle Pond Forest

Game on in Vermont

Vermonters are serious about their game. We’re in the midst of turkey season and bow season for deer just ended. Next weekend heralds the 16-day rifle season for deer. According to Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Service, more bucks are killed per square mile in Vermont than anywhere else in New England.

What I find most interesting about the hunting culture here is the reverence its given. Most folks that I’ve met have been hunting since they were little kids. Ask anyone who hunts, and they’ll get a little more quiet, a little more serious, and tell you how much they love being out in the woods this time of year.

In Howard County, on any given day we would see anywhere from ten to twenty deer mowing down our lawn and eating the ornamentals. However,  since moving here, we’ve seen just one white-tail on our 17-ish acres of woods. Yep, you read that right. One. Even with our apple orchards laden with overripe fruit, I have yet to catch a single Bambi in the yard. I find this incredible.

Vermonters taste for game goes beyond the hunting season though — and this is where it gets really interesting.

Vermont is one of the few states that has a “pavement to plate” policy. Roadkill that’s deemed salvageable is picked up by the game warden and delivered to a local resident who has indicated an interest in receiving and processing the carcass. The independent paper, Seven Days, recently did a nice write-up about the role of local wardens in this less-than-glamorous operation.  As it goes, once you’re on the warden’s list, you’re bound to end up with a deer, bear or moose carcass on your doorstep at some point down the road (no pun intended).

In celebration of this roadkill cuisine and the hunting traditions of the state, the Hotel Vermont in Burlington is throwing a dinner this weekend, aptly themed “Wild About Vermont” which will feature a wide variety of… you guessed it… roadkill!

I’m sure they’ll sear off the skidmarks before serving anything….

I digress. The anticipated roadkill / wild  game menu sounds fantastic: moose ragout with wild mushrooms, black bear sausage with crabapple jus, grilled venison, and slow-roasted turkey with elderberry gravy. I’m sure it will be a dinner well worth the $75 meal ticket.

As it goes, our own little town is hosting an annual hunter’s breakfast next week and you can bet dollars to donuts that I’ll be there if I can! Scrambled eggs isn’t the same as moose ragout, but I’ll be happy to show my support nonetheless.