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
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.