Category Archives: Vermont

Burlington, Vermont, the Creative, Resourceful, Lumbersexual Capital of America

I’ve been married to a lumbersexual all these years and didn’t know it until we were walking around downtown Burlington, Vermont, and I lost count of the bearded, bespectacled, flannel-wearing fellas—some bearing ink, some not—crisscrossing our path. Mike was thrilled to know a look he’s been rocking for over two decades has finally become hip. He was home-brewing and coffee-snobbing and being particular about how the bacon was smoked and preferring higher-end flannel and a well-trimmed beard long before whippersnappers made it trendy.

And me? I’m donning my Iceland wool, my hand-knitted scarves, my black boots and feeling at home, too, even though there isn’t a name for whatever it is I am or am doing. I’m just walking around as the proud wife of a lumbersexual.

It’s nice to look around and see your tribe. Since moving to the New Jersey suburbs over 11 years ago, my husband and I have felt like fishes out of water. We live less than 10 miles from midtown Manhattan but it might as well be Antarctica or rural China. New Jersey has a reputation for over-development, bad driving, bad attitudes, killer pizza, and being home to Pharmaceutical Row. All of it is true. At the diner near our old apartment, we ate breakfast with the mob, old guys with Italian-American accents and pinky rings kissing each other on the cheek and talking about contracts. Back in the day, we used to see casting calls for extras in “The Sopranos” . To top it off, Manhattan’s competitive, helicopter versus free-range parenting styles have seeped into our community. No wonder Mike and I are viewed as the neighborhood hipsters; that’s not hard to do in our stuffy ‘burb.

Why rant about New Jersey? Because it explains what lures us to Vermont and why we keep schlepping up here, snow (which is what it is doing now), rain or shine.

A high population density of lumbersexuals aside, what draws us to Vermont is the state’s independent-thinking and commitment to local entrepreneurship. I know that might sound like marketing-speak, but dangnammit, it’s genuine marketing-speak. Where else can someone sew wool pillows, sell them for over a $150 a pop, and become so in-demand that your studio is by appointment only? Where else does someone take old cheese graters or rusty farm equipment from Virginia and make funky light fixtures? Where else are sap buckets reimagined into planters? Everything is reclaimed and repurposed, and it’s not a fringe movement, it’s mainstream business here.

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(Sap buckets as planters in the lobby of Hotel Vermont, which features Woolly Mama Fiber Arts pillows throughout the hotel as well as the work of many other local Vermont artisans.)

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(Photo courtesy of Woolly Mama Fiber Arts)

And that’s just the stuff the Vermonters want you to buy. Switching gears to what they want you to eat, the grassroots philosophy continues. Agribusiness is big business, and although there are fewer than a thousand dairy farms in this state of 626,562 people, its output of artisanal cheeses is exemplary. Every cheese here comes with a story. Everything you eat here is farm-to-fork. Every menu seems to have a listing of local farms so that you can find out where your cow grazed before it was either squeezed or slaughtered. Even our Mexican takeout tonight from El Cortjo featured farm-to-table tacos where you get a listing of who made your cheese, your chicken, your vegetables, your cilantro! Is outsourcing illegal in Vermont or does it come with some steep penalties, either financial or shunning by neighbors? One wonders.

Lamps
(Conant Metal & Light will take any scrap of anything and turn it into something illuminating and beautiful.)

To go back to New Jersey means greasy calzones, cream cheese for bagels made from who knows where, or, my favorite, “farm fresh” eggs that look and taste like grocery store eggs because the chickens are fed the same cheap bulk feed instead of being able to run loose and scoop up backyard worms or eat table scraps like our chickens did back in Taos, New Mexico (I’ve got a thing about chickens I’ll go into another time). Though running loose in New Jersey, no matter what species you are, comes with its own risks, so maybe Jersey chickens prefer the coop.

We feel at home here in Vermont (and we were married here) even though our home is about 250 miles south. We don’t abandon it all to raise chickens and sew wool pillows—as nice as that sounds—because although we’re both dreamers, Mike has a sweet corporate gig that honestly, in this economy, you hold on to until someone from HR says otherwise. So we stay. Because it’s good for the long-term. It’s good for our kid. We’ll cash out and join the lumbersexual masses eventually. We know where to find them.

Vermont: A Study in Red and White

Zigzagging over Vermont this week brought to mind this very meditative William Carlos Williams’ poem titled “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which was first published in 1923:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

In February, actually—I’m guessing throughout much of the winter—the Green Mountain state is a study in red and white, red barns dotting snow-covered fields so white and smooth and completely unblemished they look lakes reflecting the sky. A few times we would look at a field and ask aloud “Is that a pond or a field?” because there were places where the two appeared identical and we couldn’t tell what lay beneath all that alabaster snow. There are several weeks, actually a few months more to go before white chickens and red wheelbarrows will be back outside, but the poem repeated in my mind like a song as we drove scenic Route 100, a north-south road that twists through the center of the state’s forests and farms.

Barn 1

Barn 2

Everyone drives a Subaru Outback in Vermont, but the red barn is the state’s true workhorse, the one that has weathered not just the 20th century, but the latter half of the 19th century as well. No one can convert a Subaru Outback into retail space or houses of worship, but Vermonters have converted old red barns into artists’ studios, ski shops, flower shops, restaurants, welcome centers, event space (with for rent signs out front), and one peach-painted barn served as the town synagogue. I stopped to look at a red barn decorated with weather-beaten Buddhist prayer flags. Some red barns simply stored hay, housed cows and served as a place to keep tractors until grass grew again. I learned about this beautiful, five-story barn that’s part of the Farmhouse Inn in Woodstock, Vermont. Built in 1915, this barn protects about 40 dairy cows from harsh winter weather. I wanted to go inside, but we were just passing through on our way to meet a friend for lunch in Brattleboro.

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I drove by some gorgeous red barns that I wanted to stop and photograph, but there were no where safe places to pull over. Plowing had created four-foot high snow banks alongside the road, so I reluctantly passed up some gorgeous, iconic red barns, some still with Christmas decor clinging to giant front doors. At our lunch in Brattleboro, our friend told us about his brother’s annual fall festival barn party and I invited myself simply to go spend an October weekend partying in someone’s barn—because partying inside a historic barn probably feels a lot different than sipping cocktails on some midtown skyscraper rooftop. I grew up surrounded by barns and sometimes miss them living in suburban New York City. Red barns exude endurance and hospitality. There’s something very reassuring in seeing these barns stand strong against windy white winters; someone has taken great care of the land that nourishes the animals and people residing there, that inside the barn it is warm and safe and welcoming, that the snow will always melt and that spring will always return.

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Laying Low in Stowe

Nope. This isn’t the Bahamas, which is where we were planning to go until over the weekend when our area was placed under a high-wind advisory. One plane out of Newark had to turn back due to severe turbulence the same day we were scheduled to fly south. Meanwhile, the forecast for our island was cloudy to partly sunny with thunderstorms rolling through and temperatures barely reaching 70 degrees. That didn’t bode well for beach time.

I don’t fly well, and the unpredictability of winter weather sends my flying phobia into the stratosphere. So I surprised my husband and kid by announcing a change of plans. And here we are. In Stowe. Where it was eighteen below during breakfast this morning. Where it is so cold that the horses across the street are unwilling to leave the barn and pull us around for a sleigh ride (I don’t blame them). Where it’s too cold to roast s’mores over a fire pit because your fingers might go numb from sudden frostbite. Where even the locals, who historically never shy away from inclement weather, appear impressed.

Stowe

Like Iceland, Vermont specializes in creating warm, inviting interior spaces that make you forget the fury unfolding outside. So we’re cocooning Vermont-style these next few days, which involves lots of wool sweaters and socks, crackling fires, stacks of steaming flapjacks, interesting things to read and hot toddies. Tomorrow is the balmy day of the week: a high of 24 degrees! We plan to ski and watch evening fireworks at the mountain. Thursday’s high will be 12 degrees; Friday’s will be 6.

Winter can be harsh, and this winter in the northeastern United States has been particularly cold and windy and unforgiving. But winter is also beautiful in its eerie, stubborn way. The earth needs to rest. And this is how it’s done, with blankets of white snow that stretch toward icy blue horizons.

Hotels: Rethink the American Breakfast

Am I the only traveling American who doesn’t want to start her day with a plate of eggs, bacon and gluten bombs? While venturing around the Adirondacks and Vermont these last few weekends, I couldn’t help but notice all the pot-bellied families around me at hotel restaurants and diners eating their high-cholesterol breakfasts. I don’t mean to sound snobby, but America, we’re big. Too big. And I think it’s unfortunate that you have to find a vegan cafe or a five-star hotel to get a breakfast on the road that’s anything besides eggs, bacon and gluten bombs. I don’t expect the world to accommodate gluten-free eating, but isn’t variety the spice of life? Couldn’t the Crowne Plaza in Lake Placid–a pretty nice place with a kickin’ view of Mirror Lake–offer more at its breakfast buffet besides what you can find at a roadside diner? Mirror Lake Inn had the usual American breakfast fare, but there was also a plate of smoked salmon every morning, a feature reminiscent of my mornings at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Just one, preferably gluten-free, outside-of-the-box dish in the morning, America. Just one. That’s all I ask.

AmericanBreakfast
(What you are served most mornings at most American hotels)

Hotels are run by companies, and companies cater to the lowest common denominator because the lowest common denominator makes them a lot of money. Nothin’ wrong with that. We’re a capitalist society. But what about eggs, bacon, gluten bombs AND a plate of smoked salmon or other fish? Or some gluten-free rice cakes, for I am not the only gluten-free traveler out there? Or what about some freshly sliced avocado, full of monounsaturated fats, which actually help lower cholesterol? You know how many people eat fish and rice for breakfast? Millions. Yes, they probably don’t outnumber those traveling along Interstate 40 or munching on egg McMuffins at Newark airport, but they’re out there, craving something different, something better for breakfast, just like me.

You might argue, “Hey, the Adirondacks isn’t where you go for fish and rice. That’s mountain country where flapjack stacks touch the clouds,” and I would reckon you are absolutely correct. The flapjack is a likely descendant of cornmeal cakes, which were the popular pioneer breakfast back when corn was not the bastardized, pesticide-resistant plant that’s now found in everything from fruit juice to salad dressing. I’m not saying eradicate flapjack stacks. And I’ll admit here on the Internet I occasionally eat a piece of bacon. And I’m not saying eradicate grains. America is the land of corn and wheat. But on either side of those massive fields of corn and wheat lie two oceans, so dangnammit, can’t hotels and establishments serving travelers think beyond the middle? The only gluten-free option shouldn’t be that abandoned bowl of browning bananas and mushy apples.

And you might also argue, “Hey, eggs and meat and dairy are on most people’s plates most mornings all around the world,” and you’d be correct, there, too. Check out how folks start their day. The human race has plenty of disagreements, but when it comes to breakfast, there’s vast common ground: we all seem to need a little caffeine kick every morning, and we like our breads and spreads alongside all kinds of things that come from farms. Those are some global breakfast staples.

When I’m in England, I enjoy the traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms, and that ubiquitous slice of tomato. Yum. Though I can’t eat that every day. Like the American breakfast, it is too heavy.

In France, I’m now having a tougher time because the French breakfast is coffee and croissants (and usually a cigarette), and gluten-free hasn’t taken off in p√Ętisserie country. Yet.

In Iceland, I had fabulous breakfasts of smoked salmon, skyr and shots of cod liver oil.

Eating breakfast in Mexico was a treat because I lived off corn tortillas, rice, beans, guacamole and eggs–all gluten free.

Japan offered “Western” breakfasts alongside their traditional breakfasts, and I gotta say, little servings of fish, rice and miso soup ain’t a bad way to start a day. I haven’t been to India yet, but I think the country’s lentil cakes served with rice, chutney and sambar would suit me just fine.

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(Breakfast in Paris)

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(Ending our trip to Iceland with a morning shot of cod liver oil)

Hotels mirror the culture, and one of the biggest elements of culture is food. Every time a Best Western or Holiday Inn or an InterContinental unveils another plate of eggs, bacon and toast to a guest, it says something about America. To me, it says we lack self-discipline and can’t think creatively. The United States is a melting pot, where Hispanics and Asians are two of the fastest-growing ethnic groups. Why can’t our breakfasts reflect that? Why can’t our hotels be better examples of who we are and what we eat? I challenge Starwood and InterContinental and all the other hotels chains out there as well as the independently-owned bed-and-breakfasts from the tip of Maine to the Hawaiian islands to get imaginative with breakfast. Ok, it doesn’t have to be low-fat, low-carb healthy. Like I said, I’m guilty of occasionally enjoying a slice of bacon. But can’t hotels and what they put on our breakfast plates reflect the diversity America loves to brag about? Can’t we be more than the same-old, same-old? Can we not be the Denny’s Grand Slam?

Yes, I Like the East Coast, Especially Now

For someone who is from the Northeastern United States, I frequently write about the American West Coast. Just last week, I wrote about Halloween costume shopping and funky drinks in Los Angeles, a city that is starting to become a second home. I feel more bicoastal, which is far more fun than feeling bipolar. For those who don’t know, I lived in Seattle for three years during the late 1990s dot-com rollercoaster ride, which was awesome and helped pull me out of debt. Next time there’s a dot-com rollercoaster, get on. We moved back east in the year 2000, around the time of the dot-com bubble and, since then, fly back west almost every year for something. In December, we fly to Phoenix.

Yet, when it comes to the month of October, southern California or the American Southwest can’t compete with the Northeast. Every fall, the Northeast becomes a cornucopia of color. Early October to Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year here, and despite all my kvetching about New York City traffic and attitude, I still push my way on to Central Park West to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live among the throngs of people. I don’t need to be there; I want to be there. I still squee during the parade (last year I saw Whoopie Goldberg!) despite having gone several times (I don’t go if it rains…I’m not a hero).

Thanksgiving here is just the after-party to nearly two months of autumnal celebration. During the next seven weeks, there’s plenty to explore in the Northeast. Drive through the Adirondacks. Go to Vermont because everything in Vermont is fantastic, food, landscape, people, all of it. Hike around the Catskills. Have a romantic fall weekend in the Berkshires. Bike around Lake Champlain. Sip cider at a fall festival in New Hampshire (the Keene, NH, Pumpkin Festival made Fodor’s top fall festival lists!). Pick apples. Press apples. Bake apples. Eat apples. We’ve got apples. Lug a pumpkin from a farm in upstate New York. Learn about witches in Salem, Massachusetts. Enjoy the coast of Maine to yourself now that all the August vacationers are gone. Hell, spend the whole month of October in the Northeast. It’s worth it.

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There are twenty-nine days left in October and I’m going to revel in every one of them. Already, in our little ‘burb, Halloween decorations are out, and red and orange leaves line the curb. Next weekend, we’ll follow Ichabod Crane’s steps through Westchester County for the Blaze, a truly remarkable demonstration of what you can do–and should be doing–with any squash or gourds lying about the house. Forget carving a simple crooked smile into a pumpkin this year. Get inspired! Aim higher! Just be careful using sharp objects and stay out of the emergency room. This is our second visit to the Blaze. Last year’s trip was amazing, especially given that Hurricane Sandy interrupted the exhibit and volunteers had to rush five thousand pumpkins to safety. But don’t let last year’s storm deter you. The 2013 outlook for fall in the Northeast is a calm one, so come visit. Warm cider and fresh-baked pie waits.

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