Friday, May 4, 2018

Sugar Shack Milk Shake


  It's this time of year, when the daffodils have finally opened their buds to say, "Hello!" and yellow forsythia blooms explode in every neighborhood street, that I think I about the unseasonably warm April vacation we spent in Vermont a few years ago.  The last of the snow gave way to mud and warmth of the sun made us feel like perhaps spring was on it's way after a long, long winter.  (Don't they always seem really long?) We toured around the Burlington area, took in the sights and sampled many treats along the way.  One cloudy morning we stopped at Boyden Family Vineyard where Rob and I tasted their wines and the kids sampled various grades of syrup in the same fashion.  We went home with the dessert wine made from grapes that had been left to freeze on the vine to bring out their sugars and a jug of their grade A maple syrup.  I know you all know me as a wine drinker but that by far, was not the highlight of our trip.
  On  a very sunny Easter Sunday, the kids catapulted mud off the top of the three story science museum (ECHO). Their laughter rang out in the clear blue sky as we took in the view of Lake Champlain.  We bought a green frog magnet from the gift shop to add to our bulging collection of souvenir magnets which now barely fit on the refrigerator at home. That afternoon, I devoured likely the best burger I have ever eaten smothered in house made aioli and washed it down with an ice cold ginger beer after a long walk through the city of Burlington.  Hands down one of the best days of that week.  A stellar day but still, not the highlight of our trip.
  I think it was the day before we packed the car to head home that we decided to check out Cabot Creamery as well as do the Ben & Jerry's factory tour which was not too far away.  The kids talked me into starting at Ben & Jerry's which was not my original plan but I succumbed just to get them to stop fighting.  It has already been a week full of long car trips to get to all the fun.  And early morning ice cream?  What the heck!  We were on vacation.  No rules.  After checking out the ice cream grave yard, taking another billion photos and eating ice cream flavors I cannot remember, we headed off to Cabot Creamery for more Vermont dairy. 
  Cabot was interesting and educational.  The kids were engaged enough due to their ice cream comas and I couldn't wait to get to the end to sample cheese.  I ended up eating just about every flavor Cabot produces from Seriously Sharp Cheddar to Tomato Basil Cheddar.  I was delighted to discover Cheddar Cheese Shake for the best and most cheesy popcorn ever.  I gorged on all the cheese cubes, excusing the calorie count and considering it my lunch.  Finally, I made myself leave the cheese buffet.  The kids and Rob were looking seriously bored by then. As we made our way to the door, the kind older lady with the cute gray bob haircut who led our tour, stopped us and asked what we were up to next.  We admitted, that since we had already been to Ben & Jerry's, we honestly did not know.
"Have you been to a sugar shack?"  she asked raising her eyebrows.
"Um, no."  I said, taking the bait.
"Well there is a very nice one just around the corner.  Here, let me draw you a map."
  Up for any adventure, we headed out of the winding dirt road that led up to the Creamery and followed her directions.  As we pulled up to a small brown cabin with a red and blue open flag welcoming the public, another family who had been coincidentally on our same itinerary pulled in next to us.  Although we never said a word to them, we all looked at each other and laughed.
  The cabin housed the sugar shack gift shop and displayed all things maple syrup: maple candy shaped in the form of maple leaves, every size of maple syrup jug imaginable, maple scented candles and soap and so many other items that one could never imagine that maple could possibly work in them.  Maple body lotion and shampoo? Yup, those items were on the shelf, too.  Nestled in the corner, off to the side, there was a small counter, behind it, a large sign with a list of ice cream treats.  All of them featuring maple syrup.  I couldn't believe it when the kids insisted they wanted an ice cream.  Seriously? It was lunchtime, though.  And I had inhaled a ridiculous amount of cheese, so who was I to to say, "No." ?  I left the kids with Rob to handle the ice cream for lunch purchase as I needed to either lay down in the car to help my cheese digest or walk around the sugar shack grounds to keep myself from passing out from my dairy overdose.  By the time I made it back around to the picnic table underneath the towering pine in front of the shack, the kids were happily licking dripping cones and Rob was drinking something from a covered cup with a straw.  Considering I was pretty thirsty from the sunshine and cheese, I insisted he give me a sip.  Thinking that this beverage was likely water or perhaps a diet soda, I took a hard tug and to my surprise I tasted something sweet, creamy and icy cold.  This was clearly a milkshake.  But not like any milkshake I had ever tasted.  You know, the usual, chocolate, vanilla or one of my favorites, black and white milk shake?  No, this was vanilla and smoky maple.  It reminded me of an after beach treat and a Saturday morning pancake breakfast all wrapped up into one.  The best of both worlds: salty, sunburned skin and soft, flannel pajamas, sunny days and cartoons on the couch.  Memories of childhood in a paper cup with a lid and a straw.  I didn't want to give it back. 
  Rob and I fought over the rest of his milk shake.  I couldn't get enough but at the same time I was so full from all that cheese that I also could barely drink another sip.  But that didn't stop me from sucking down just one more, then giving him the cup and swearing as I finished only to ask for another sip about a minute later.  When we finally got back into the car, I had to recline my seat to make room for my bulging stomach.  I moaned and groaned for pretty much the rest of the day and refused dinner later that night. But it was all worth it.  Tasting heaven in a frappe cup was definitely the best part of my vacation.

Sugar Shack Milk Shake
(serves one)

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry's or Haagan Dazs)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup milk

  Place all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.  Drink with a straw on a sunny spring day while the daffodils are blooming.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Homemade Limoncello

martini made with limoncello, blueberry vodka and lemon juice garnished with frozen blueberries

 I made this recipe once before in the summertime when the humidity was so high that the bottle began to sweat as soon as I pulled it out of the freezer.  Which makes any drink look enticing and mouth watering when you are parched from the summer heat. 
  Our friends who had come over for dinner after a long day chasing toddlers on the beach complained the next day of their headaches perhaps having overindulged in this magical elixir poured ice cold into my mother's fancy liquor glasses.  As a child, I always admired the cut out metal holders and the curved fluted glass and wondered why they weren't put to use.  I figured they were too fancy.  But Val never liked the taste of liquor.  And my father only ever drinks beer so there they sat, lonely in the back of the glass china cabinet for years until I was old enough and lucky to acquire them.  Well, we certainly christened those glasses that hot summer night! There were numerous toasts to this and that but I don't recall any of them, myself.
  It was my sister, Karyn who jogged my memory of making limoncello.  She was in search of a pure recipe, without any additional additives.  The woman has a finicky stomach but isn't about to give up her nightly cocktail.  She is a creative home mixologist and comes up with delicious and knock your socks off combinations which have been featured on this blog before.  Her latest involves Blueberry Schmirnoff Vodka and limoncello shaken over ice and garnished with frozen blueberries.  So simple and elegant, it demands just the right lemon flavor.  I dug through my old files to find a scrap of paper with my horrible chicken scratch handwriting noting difficult to decipher directions and a few measurements.  I had taken the recipe notes from one of Giada's shows on the Food Network, before they were a power house presence online and one could easily download and print their recipes.  This was long before you could pause your T.V. to grab a pen and paper, so as I continued to listen to the show, I must have scrambled for the nearest available tools.  Here are my original notes, complete with embellishment by my then three year old. You can see for yourself that I was lucky to be able to figure out what it all meant.

  I'm glad I was compelled to search for the recipe as I ended up making a batch to give Karyn as a birthday gift.  What more could you want than a big bottle of homemade booze?  She put it to good use immediately.  We enjoyed it in her fancy blueberry and lemon cocktail and I'm sure she enjoyed it over ice as well as just swigging it out of the jug, as is her nature.

(makes one large jug)

10 lemons
750 ml. vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

  Wash the lemons. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the lemons being careful to not have too much of the white pith attached.  Add the zest to a large pitcher or jug.  (Use the rest of the lemons for another recipe.)  Pour the vodka over the lemon pith in the jug and cover.  Allow to steep for four days.
  On the fifth day, combine water and sugar in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer just long enough for the sugar to melt.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Add the sugar and water combination (simple syrup) to the vodka and lemon pith.  Cover and allow to sit overnight.
  On the sixth day, strain the lemon pith out by setting a fine mesh sieve on a large bowl or another large pitcher.  Pour the lemon/vodka mix into the sieve and bowl.  Discard the lemon pith.  Pour Limoncello into a resealable jug or small bottles.  Can be placed in freezer to keep chilled.

Bruised Blueberry Martini
(makes 2)

3 ounces blueberry vodka
1 ounce limoncello
juice from 1/2 lemon
handful of frozen blueberries

  Fill two martini glasses with ice and water to chill.  Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice.  Add the blueberry vodka, limoncello and lemon juice.  Let sit for a minute to melt the ice a bit.  (A little water in the drink, makes a good cocktail.) Shake vigorously.  Dump out the ice water in the martini glasses, then strain cocktail into martini glasses.  Drop 2-3 frozen blueberries into each cocktail.  Allow for blueberries to begin to melt and create "legs" in the drink.  Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Throw Back from The Falmouth Bulletin December 2011: Lessons from Val's Kitchen, "Mrs Fake"

This post is a throw back from The Falmouth Bulletin published in December, 2011 under the column, "Lessons from Val's Kitchen".  My grandmother certainly loved to have fun!

Mrs. Fake
  If you have read any of my stories, you probably already know that everything Val makes is strictly from scratch. On top of that, it’s always fresh. She actually gets up at 4:00am on Thanksgiving Day to bake the pies. That’s how important it is to her. I’m not lying. There are no short cuts, just techniques and recipes that detail the right way of doing things. You may be surprised to know that her mother, Edie, does not subscribe to this folly.
  I often say that Val, my mother, was doing what Martha Stewart made popular like making homemade jam from freshly picked strawberries she grew in her own garden, long before Martha was a household name. I’ve just come to realize that my grandmother, Edie is also ahead of her time. She was using mostly store bought ingredients and combining them to make it her own way before Sandra Lee came onto the scene with her “Semi-Homemade” approach. This is Edie’s classic technique.  She even earned the nickname, “Mrs. Fake” lovingly bestowed upon her by my smart-aleck aunt, Janet. Edie knows how to take advantage of modern conveniences so that she can get on with the business of having a good time.
  Edie has done a lot of entertaining throughout the years. I have always loved hearing about the parties she had and the names of the guests who attended the night before. The phrase, “Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres” is still magic to me especially when she says it in her sing-song voice. The hors d’oeuvres she served were very exotic: Vienna sausages, Swedish meatballs and fancy pink and orange cheese served in a crock. There were signature cocktails, too: vodka and Fresca, vodka and 7-Up and vodka and Cranberry. One time, I was lucky enough to be invited to help take coats at one of her fancier parties. My friend Jenny and I were 16 and we dressed in our finest to greet guests and lay their heavy fur coats on my grandmother’s bed. Then we escaped to the kitchen to sample some of the food and stole up to our room to giggle the night away. I’m not sure how late the festivities went on but I know we were asleep before the party goers began to leave.
  There were family holiday dinners as well, one where Edie attempted to cook a large turkey in her new microwave. Unfortunately, that method did not catch on. But other useful tips and ingredients are still in play in households across the country today. Cool Whip comes to mind. Many people love the stuff. I have only had the pleasure at Edie’s house. As you can imagine, Val demands freshly whipped cream when adorning her homemade pies and cakes. I’ve recently come across two of Edie’s recipes that require little effort for seemingly homemade type results. Both of them employ the magical frozen stuff. One is a strawberry pie using three ingredients and absolutely no cooking. Two containers of Dannon strawberry yogurt, Cool Whip and a premade graham cracker crust is all that is needed to fool your friends. But my favorite one is actually pretty impressive. This dessert can be found in “A Collection of Powell Recipes” typed and photocopied by my mother’s cousin, Susan Hackley, June 1988. It was also featured in “Simply the Best Course”, the Woods Hole Golf Club centennial cook book. If you don’t have the good fortune to own either one of these tomes, the recipe is reprinted below. Please be sure to heed the warning that Edie wrote at the end of the directions:  “Very Rich!”  Sandra Lee, eat your heart out!

Edie’s Ladyfinger Cake
(Serves 12)
1 cup heavy cream or 2 cups Cool Whip
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
12 oz. Nestle’s chocolate bits
4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs, separated
3-4 dozen ladyfinger cookies
½ oz. dark chocolate for shaving

  Add 1 tablespoon sugar to 1 cup cream and whip until soft peaks form. Place in refrigerator. If using Cool Whip, omit this step.
 Melt the chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat and transfer to mixing bowl. Add the cold water, 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla and combine with electric mixer. Beat in egg yolks while chocolate mixture is still warm; continue to beat on low speed for 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the egg whites and one tablespoon sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in ½ of the whipped cream or ½ of the Cool Whip. Combine egg white/whipped cream mixture with chocolate mixture.
  Line the bottom and sides of a 9” spring form pan with enough plastic wrap to hang over the sides.   Place a layer of ladyfingers along bottom and sides of pan. Pour a layer of the chocolate mixture over ladyfingers; add a layer of ladyfingers, then chocolate mixture until there are three layers, up to the top edge of the pan. Cover cake with plastic wrap and freeze cake for 24 hours. Thirty minutes before serving, remove cake from spring form pan by inverting it onto a serving plate, then releasing the pan.  Cover the top and sides of cake with remaining whipped cream or Cool Whip. Decorate with chocolate shavings and serve. 

This holiday season, Andrea Norris can be found under a mound of freshly baked cookies. For more recipes and fun, go to