Sunday, January 8, 2006

Dream Shopping along the Connecticut River

Walpole is in Cheshire County on the Vermont-New Hampshire border but it seems miles from here. It is a large and lovely New England town, redolent with millionaires and other luminaries (Ken Burns, the documentarian, lives there) and naturally, over time, along come the "cute little shops", often a curse to a lovely New England town.

But Walpole's are different: they fit in, with locals and tourists alike. L.A. Burdick's for instance doesn't need any more publicity but what a destination! You can sit among the luxe surroundings on Main Street in the center of town and sip on a white or dark hot chocolate (we had ours with pain de chocolat, equally yummy) or pad things up with a gourmet brunch. Next door you can buy their cocoa mix (comprised of shaved chocolate) or any number of chocolate items made right there. [NOTE: Burdick's website, at right, lists links to other Walpole destinations and their other New England cafes/stores.]

Several doors down is Tole's Variety, the most amazing gourmet market I have ever seen in roughly 12x30 feet of space: we opened the door to luscious produce, cartons of fresh berries, beautiful leeks, even kumquats (I was on the hunt as Shaw's no longer carries them). Such fresh beautiful abundance you would think it was the height of summer! Further along near the cash register is a large cheese case, the size of most ice cream freezers: here you can find every world cheese imaginable, or so it seems, from New England artisans to Spain's finest to Walpole's own Boggy Hollow farmcheese. At the end of the market is the most beautiful meat counter I have ever seen. Displayed in between are shelves of hard to find items as well as the more practical: lots of salts, olive oils, vinegars, a perfect gourmet pantry. The store was bustling and we want to go back (Edie, Rosemary, my daughter and I took a day trip up that way on December 21st) when we won't be away all day first.

Around the corner is a store called Ruggles & Hunt: the perfect gift shop with high end and lower priced items all combined into one pleasing place to browse. My daughter was able to find things for her friends and I was able to find some items for my hard-to-buy-for husband. The store has toys, gifts and the most beautiful clothes and shoes. It, too, was bustling.

Further along our route we stopped at the King Arthur Flour Company Store in Norwich, Vermont and then crossed the Connecticut River again to Hanover where we went to the Co-op up there. Another beautiful store--the kind we are clamoring for down here in the Monadnock Region where many of us are convinced that such a co-op or a Trader Joe's would do a bang-up business! Anything but Stop & Shop, please...but Peterborough has Roy's and I am grateful for that surprisingly ample but small market where most items are even less than the larger supermarket in town.

It just goes to show you that true Foodies will drive just about anywhere on the planet for a good meal, a hot chocolate to die for, or a good box of kumquats. We want to plan another Walpole day soon, although I imagine this time we'll end up stopping at Stan's Discount Center in Westmoreland on the way home. Who can refuse 4 containers of perfectly good organic ricotta for $2.50? It's that kind of place: a bit grungy, well-traveled, and full of unexpected bargains. The produce can be iffy but where else will you find 20 kinds of canned red peppers or balsamic vinegar amongst damaged boxes of Cocoa Puffs or stashes of organic soup?

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Wierd Blogging Comments

Now I know they must have a software program that looks for Keywords in blogs, but really, getting a "Gee, I really like your Blog! I can relate to everything you are saying! So, check me out at DAN'S CARPET WORLD, ok? Keep blogging!" makes my blood curl. Now the burden is on me to go through each blog posting and selectively delete these advertorials--bloggertorials? Whatever they are I'm hoping someone has invented a software to prevent them.

Blogs are being used to advertise. I just "blog because I am". It is a great place to write and the fact that a few people actually read it and comment on occasion--genuinely comment!--makes my day!

So I promise I will sort through the 18 Comments left with a blog and will hope I find the diamond in the rough: the words from one who takes the time to be here--a true reader.

Thank you!

Friday, January 6, 2006

New Year ~ New Gear


I haven't been writing much, in general, and this pattern must end. Next week I will start mini-blogging as a warm up to my writing mornings for the pantry book. The photos are complete, the outline fixed, the research done...the bulk of the writing remains. Now that the holidays are over, health concerns in my family have been alleviated, etc. I have no more excuses not to hunker down and finish what I've started. Oh yes, and there is a foot of snow on the ground and no gardens to worry about!

Christmas came and went--it was lovely but I was quite sick with strep and thus didn't have a chance to really reflect or pause or anything that might be blog-worthy (if so I might write a few snippets in the weeks ahead). It was a quiet, peaceful and lovely occasion with immediate family and that was enough. On January 1st we threw an Open House in honor of my husband's 50th (he had turned 50 a few days earlier)--it was so much fun that we want to have an annual open house to celebrate the year ahead and see good friends (but next time I'll do most of the catering--this year it was wonderful to have someone else do it because I had been so ill the week before).

But on Epiphany, January 6, the Twelfth and last day of Christmas, my friends Edie and Rosemary and I got together, exchanged gifts, and had some of R's incredible stollen, so incredible that it would convert even the snarliest of the Stollen & Fruitcake Defamation League. It was more moist than dry and laden with the most lovely fruits soaked in rum to which she added smoodges (for lack of a better word!) of almond paste. None of that yucky candied peel! If she were to ever market this bread, I would be first in line and likely a financial backer (did you hear that Rosemary?). It was so yummy that if you added butter, even a skim of it, it would have ruined the flavors or at least blurred them beyond distinction. Rosemary is an incredible baker--and used to be a professional. She lives in a darling late-Victorian house, complete with original pantries and a vintage-style kitchen (her kitchen will be featured in an upcoming OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS article and her pantries will be in my book). And now I have visions of a program for her on FoodNetwork, filmed in her charming kitchen: "Baking with Rosemary" or something sweet. She could be the Midwest's answer (by way of New England) to Paula Deen! And that Rachel Ray needs some competition. Rosemary grew up in Michigan with a mother and grandmother who baked--pies, cakes, breads, cookies--often for the whole week in one day. She also collects old vintage cookbooks and kitchen things and loves pantries--in these regards we may very well have been twins separated at birth!

We had fun with our gifts--each appropriate in their own way and carefully chosen--and then we each wrote out our goals, dreams, hopes, aspirations for the year ahead (on lovely Florentine stationery that Rosemary had laid out for us). We read them aloud to each other and then sealed them with wax and a stamp. Rosemary carefully tucked them away in a drawer for next year when we vowed to get together again to revisit what we had written and to write again what we imagine and want for ourselves. It was a marvelous ritual and I found it somehow energizing. I might mention a few of mine as the year goes along and then again, I might not. Sharing with two good friends who I am so fortunate to know is expression enough!