The Engineer and I just spent the weekend with eight friends in a beautiful country house in Vermont. It belongs to the parents of the friend I’ll call the Actor. The house is in a somewhat remote location, in a beautiful and quiet town. The Actor had given us interesting directions, part of which read, “After crossing the border, continue driving straight until you get... anywhere. Once there, turn left.” But believe it or not, we made it.
We spent most of the weekend cooking, playing games (scrabble, pool, ping-pong, video games and a plethora of board games), using the Jacuzzi (but not the sauna), watching movies, reading and enjoying the huge lawn and pond. The Engineer even made friends with a frog.
It was truly a fantastic weekend. That view from the dining room is hard to beat, and the setting was just fantastic.
I’ll mention right now that two of my friends are actually the best amateur chefs I know (without counting my mother, of course). There’s J. (I mentioned her before, she gave us some fancy olive oil) and there’s Jason, the Toronto lawyer. I thought of calling him the Lawyer-Chef, but he gave me permission to use his first name, so Jason it is. J. had made delicious banana-chocolate chip muffins, fresh blueberry muffins, and two loaves of friendship bread (one cinnamon and one chocolate). Jason brought homemade sablés, marshmallows (for S’mores with J.’s homemade graham crackers), and a chocolate cake that he referred to as a glorified brownie (it was meant to be under-baked, though there was so much butter in it that the first bite felt like pure frosting). His carry-on suitcase consisted purely of food and cooking utensils!
I brought chocolate chip cookies made using my pizookie recipe.
We also stopped at Hannaford’s on the way there to stock up on groceries to feed 10 people for three days.
On the first night, we had dinner at a restaurant called The Belfry. It was absolutely delicious, and inexpensive too. The menu has some great selections (for starters, I recommend the onion rings and the “Dem” potato skins). Don’t forget to check out the day’s specials on the chalkboard in the entrance, which has a selection almost as big as the menu. I had the grilled pork chop with apple cider and maple glaze, which was excellent. The Engineer had penne with a rosé sauce and Italian sausage, also delicious.
The first morning we spent at the house, we had J.’s muffins and breads for breakfast, along with fruit and yogurt. For lunch, I made a chickpea and carrot salad, and everyone nibbled on chips, vegetables, dips, cold cuts, cheeses and such.
For dinner, the Engineer made six pizzas (I’ve mentioned before that he is working his way through Baking Illustrated one recipe at a time, and he is currently in the pizza section). I was the sous chef for him, and we made two white pizzas (with three types of cheese; one pizza had olives, the other didn’t), two margherita pizzas and two pepperoni pizzas. We were churning them out at such a nice pace that it was like we had done this before (well, we had made pizzas, but not that many for a single dinner!).
In parallel, Jason was making spaghetti sauce with ground beef and vegetables, and he then made his own pasta from scratch, with R. (J.’s husband) helping. It was all delicious, even though it was a bit much! We finished eating out on the patio as night fell, and we got to see some bats.
The second morning, we saw a doe near the pond, but she fled quickly once she spotted those of us who were awake.
J. then made pancakes for brunch, one batch of which was lactose-free. (She had thought of me first, and it then turned out that Jason’s girlfriend, E., who we were meeting for the first time, is also lactose-intolerant. We all felt that she was very brave to agree to this weekend: stuck with eight strangers, some of whom happen to be Jason’s closest friends and who have known each other for the past 20-odd years, for three straight days! But everything went well, and we all thought she was wonderful.)
There were a few hot-dogs and sandwiches for lunch. Dinner was another J. and Jason production, with R. helping and me doing a little seasoning and mixing: a 15-lb turkey seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon and onion, along with two pans full of roasted vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onion and garlic, along with salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary). R. and J. had made those vegetables at their New Year’s party this year, and it could very well have been the first documented time that I had a second helping of vegetables. I found out recently that even though I’m still not fond of canned or pickled beets, fresh beets are much better. This time, the vegetables were just as good as I remembered, and the turkey was great too.
Just after our meal, a wild turkey with a bunch of poults came running out of the woods – I guess it figured that they were safe, now that we had eaten! The evening ended with some heated debates during a game of Scattergories.
Brunch the next day was two onion quiches that J. made (one lactose-free), along with leftovers.
We eventually made our way back home, with another pit stop at Hannaford’s to buy things that are either hard to find or unavailable in Montreal. The Engineer and I bought quality chocolate (bittersweet and semisweet), some vanilla Tofutti, French Fried Onions and a frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizza (five cheeses and tomato, one of my favourites; I wish they had a Canadian franchise!). Also, I just fell in love with Tofutti. I’ll write some more about it once I locate an outlet in Montreal and try more of their products.