SPOTLIGHT: 22nd Annual Women’s Film Festival

Celebrated during Women’s History Month, the Women’s Film Festival is devoted to films by and about women. Over the course of five jam-packed days, (Friday, March 8 to Sunday March 10 and Saturday, March 16 to Sunday, March 17) the festival will screen 26 films this year: five feature films, 14 documentaries, and seven shorts from around the world. One of the films, Inocenti, has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Documentary. A vibrant coming-of-age documentary, it tells the story of a young artist’s fierce determination to never surrender to the bleakness of her surroundings. A special Opening Gala takes place Friday, March 8 at 7p with live music, champagne, hors d’oeuvres, and a screening of an audience favorite from last year, Girls in the Band. Tickets for the gala are $20 and can be purchased at womensfreedomcenter.net. This year’s film tickets will be $7.50 at the door, $6.00 for students and seniors and $30 for a 5-movie pass. All films will be shown at the New England Youth Theatre in Brattleboro. Filmgoers should arrive 15 minutes before the show time. Popcorn and drinks will be...

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LOCAL FLAVOR: Adding value: Can you improve on the simple goodness of maple syrup? Entrepreneurs and farmers in Southern Vermont are using the sweet stuff in ways that might surprise you.

Maple syrup. It’s never been just for pancakes. The Algonquins wouldn’t have been surprised at the current entrepreneurial nature of the “sugaring” industry. It’s well-known that Native Americans were tapping northern maples for centuries before the first settlers came, and the legend has it that the delicious sweet sap was discovered when a woman — naturally, it was a woman — used some of it to boil up the evening venison. So put down marinade as its first use. But hold on to your hats. Besides the traditional syrup, maple cream, and ice cream (Yea! Creamies!), there are maple lollypops, maple cotton candy, maple jellies, granulated maple sugars, maple cookies, maple pickles, maple vinegar, maple mustards, maple barbecue sauces, maple-coated nuts, and maple kettlecorn. Also, a dip made from half maple cream and half cream cheese. (How do you stop eating it?) Now, in a new twist, maple has recently entered the wine-and-spirits field. There’s a place in New York selling a chocolate maple porter beer-making kit and another making organic maple bitters. Three kinds of maple vodka are coming out of a company in Quechee. And now maple bourbon, maple rye, and maple liqueur are coming out of our very own Brattleboro. Christian Stromberg’s Saxtons River Distillery has been making Sapling, a rich, golden, sweet, small-batch maple liqueur, since 2007. In 2011, it won the gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Located in the longhouse by the West River on Route 30 (where Tom & Sally’s Chocolates used to be), Stromberg started his distilling career in Cambridgeport, near Saxtons River — hence the name of his company. Stromberg was an automotive engineer before he became a distiller — something about the technical nature of distilling makes it attractive to engineers, he said — and he based his liqueur on his family’s traditional Lithuanian recipes. But where Lithuanian cordials had a honey base, he substituted maple. “I didn’t see anything happening with maple in the spirit world, so I modified the family recipe,” Stromberg said. “The Lithuanian cordials are heavily spiced, though, and I didn’t do that. Maple is subtle and could easily be overpowered.” When Stromberg went into business, in 2007, the country was in an economic decline. Yet his company has always been in the black, Stromberg said, even if only a little. “You know what they say,” he said. “When times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people drink.” Now he is introducing two new spirits, maple rye and maple bourbon. Both are made by sweetening and then re-aging — in oak casks — bourbon and rye that he buys from...

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About the cover

The watercolor “In the Embrace of the Osier” (13 x 14) “reflects my bottomless affection for birds,” says cover artist Susan Bull Riley (www.susanbullriley.com) of Montpelier. The piece is for sale at the Luxton-Jones Gallery in Shelburne, which offers Riley’s work in watercolor and oil. Riley’s work can also be found at the Visions of Vermont gallery in Jeffersonville. Her next exhibit as the featured artist will take place in March at the Artist in Residence gallery in Enosburg Falls, with a reception on Sunday, March 3 at 1p. This summer, she will exhibit her work at the Adamant Music School (www.adamant.org) in...

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SPOTLIGHT: “Vermont and Beyond 2013” Annual Art Exhibit

Become transported by some of New England’s most talented artists through Vermont’s scenic landscapes, and beyond Vermont to the far reaches of Europe at this free exhibit of watercolors, oils, pastels, and pen-and-ink renderings. With individual styles range from realism to impression, most exhibitors are full-time artists and signature members of the Vermont Watercolor Society and other New England–based and national art organizations. Many teach in their studios and local art centers. A raffle of demonstration paintings benefits Just Neighbors, a local charity. Refreshments and live folk music by Potluck add a festive touch to the...

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WINE OBSERVED: Weighing the options: Planning a wedding or celebration? Here’s how you can find a wine that will please a number of different palates and complement a wide variety of foods

Here is something to think about as you plan your wedding (or other gathering, for that matter): What wine will you serve at your reception? If you are having the reception at an inn or managed property, you might be limited to buying your wine directly through them or paying a per-bottle corkage fee for what you supply yourself. Even if you are paying a $20 per bottle corkage fee, you can often do better supplying your own wine. You’ll have something that you like and, if there are leftovers, something to help remind you of your shared celebration. Here are some guidelines for choosing wine for your special day. They will allow you to select “common denominator” wines: those that will accommodate a broad range of palates and complement a variety of foods. Weight Weight refers to fullness in the mouth and the richness of the wine, and is generally a function of the amount of alcohol. Since sugar is converted to alcohol through fermentation, the higher the sugar content of the grapes, the higher the percentage of alcohol in the resultant wine. Higher alcohol levels are expressed in both taste (sweeter) and texture (fuller or weightier). Some people are used to the very full wines of ripe regions like California and Australia. Often these folks drink only red wine because they do not like the seeming “lightness” of white wines, which frequently are lower alcohol. Weight also affects food pairing. If you select something massive for your red wine (14.5–15%) alcohol, it is likely to overwhelm at least some of the food — unless you are only serving nearly raw red meats! To acknowledge the efforts of the caterer, you will probably need to tone down the alcohol level. And given that some people will drink multiple glasses, you might want to choose wine that falls in the 13.5–14% range. Fruit Wine flavors range from very earthy to very fruity. To some extent, this is a function of ripeness. If the fruit is mature when it is picked, it is sweeter, with fruitier flavors. Most people enjoy a healthy dollop of fruit, from citrus, apple, pear, or melon in white wines to cherry, strawberries, dark berries, or plum in red wines. Malolactic Fermentation Grapes contain acid, and depending on these may produce wines that are tart or even sour. One way to prevent undesirable off-flavors is to allow the wine to undergo malolactic fermentation. In this process, the naturally occurring malic acids — similar to those in green apples — are converted to lactic acids, like those found in milk. The difference affects both texture and flavor....

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Spotlight: The Fifth Annual Culinary Awards and Oscar Party

Join The HotChocolate Society at its 2012 Oscar Party and help raise money to keep movies in Manchester. An industry-wide shift to all digital distribution threatens to close Manchester’s only cinema unless it raises $175,000 by March 15. The society (which “create[s] great times for people that appreciate chocolate and good stories,” according to its Facebook page) will contribute 30 percent from ticket sales to this year’s Oscar Party to the “Digitize Village Picture Shows!” Kickstarter campaign. The event includes a pre-show reception featuring Vermont artisan breads and cheeses and live entertainment, the broadcast of the 85th Academy Awards, a complimentary champagne cocktail for those over 21, dinner, and dessert, with green-screen photography and one photo print. The Culinary Awards challenges chefs to explore the art of cooking with cacao, cocoa, or chocolate. Guests can vote for Best Savory and Sweet Bite. There’s also a “red carpet” optional fashion competition and Oscar pool that will award prizes to the top three winners. Earlier in the day, chocolate lovers can attend a chocolate tasting event with Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate! (Gotham Books, 2007), and creator of TheChocolateLife.com. Tickets may be purchased online or at Village Picture Shows and Zippy Chicks in Manchester or at Crazy Russian Girls Bakery in Bennington. The event is produced by Eons...

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SIDEBAR: Syrup for 10,000: One Vermonter takes his family trade into the 21st century

Peter Cooper-Ellis, who owns and operates Hidden Springs Maple online and retail in Putney, and his family have been making maple syrup for more than 50 years, selling under the Cooper-Ellis Sugar Makers label during the 1950s and ’60s. Yet Cooper-Ellis, who holds an engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, lives in San Francisco, where he works at a software company in Palo Alto. He commutes east about once a month to help with the business and to visit with his three grown sons and the rest of the family. Cooper-Ellis and his brother Fraser started CE Maple in 1997, which uses current sap-collecting technology to boil about 10,000 gallons of syrup per year from the sap of 25,000 trees growing in a variety of nearby sugarbushes. Hidden Springs (the name comes from a nearby road), wholly owned by Cooper-Ellis and started in 2009, markets syrup — primarily, the CE Maple syrup, but also product from producers all over the state. He said he hopes to produce his own syrup for Hidden Springs. Hidden Springs, according to Cooper-Ellis, sells primarily online to 10,000 online customers through the company’s website, hiddenspringmaple.com, and on Amazon.com. “Various people had tried to sell maple syrup online,” but without much success, he explained, citing hard-to-reach customers. Further, Cooper-Ellis said, the problem with the maple industry relates to the multiple layers of middlemen and distributors. “The Web has really matured as a shopping destination in the last five years,” Cooper-Ellis said. “I wanted to see if the farm-to-Internet-to-customer model could work so that a farmer could set up a website, advertise on Google, and sell syrup. Which is what I’ve done.” Cooper-Ellis said he and his brother are very close, even though Fraser has nothing to do, by choice, with Hidden Springs. “He’s a conservative guy, more interested in the farm aspect,” he said. “But I never could have developed Hidden Springs without his help and support.” Cooper-Ellis spoke by telephone from the huge Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco — the first time Hidden Springs has gone to a major food show — where he has seen firsthand the niche that the business has in the wider marketplace. Hidden Springs is a “real Vermont farm,” he said. “The larger packers don’t really have small family farms” producing for them.” A little more than a year ago, Hidden Springs opened a retail store, attached to the picturesque family house at 162 Westminster Road, Putney, where syrup from various producers is sold, as well as a lot of other maple-related products, like candy. And gift baskets, art, beverages, and...

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Brattleboro Bling: A southern Vermont town becomes a retail destination for all sorts of jewelry — an art form of universal appeal — from handcrafted original designs to antiques
Feb13

Brattleboro Bling: A southern Vermont town becomes a retail destination for all sorts of jewelry — an art form of universal appeal — from handcrafted original designs to antiques

Brattleboro Bling A southern Vermont town becomes a retail destination for all sorts of jewelry — an art form of universal appeal — from handcrafted original designs to antiques By Joyce Marcel Last August, when goldsmith and platinumsmith David Walter opened his elegant retail showroom on Main Street, a concept that had been flying under the radar for a significant amount of time became unavoidable: Brattleboro has become a jewelry hub. Diamonds may be the town’s best friend, but the quality — and variety — of jewelry in Brattleboro is remarkable. There are diamonds galore, of course, both in contemporary styles and sparkling out of antique estate jewelry. There are precious stones and pearls imported from all over the world and turned into jewelry by experienced Brattleboro jewelers. Then there are unique, handcrafted pieces — works of art — made by local artists. “There’s a buzz on Brattleboro,” said Suzanne Corsano, co-owner of Gallery in the Woods. “There should be, shouldn’t there? People come in here and say, ‘What’s going on here? What’s this place about?’ I hear a lot of, ‘I’m going to move here.’ And some of the people who live here now are some of those people. And they’re always shopping.” Customers might live locally, but many drive in from New York and from all over New England. And they don’t fit one easy profile. Read full piece...

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Spotlight: Circus Terrificus

The Women’s Community Club of Grafton is assembling a show of circus acts to thrill the young and old in the style of the famed Cirque du Soleil. Featured will be three Vermonters whose talents were honed at this famous Canadian circus: Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, who toured for four years as duo trapezists in Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbano show, and Bill Forchion, acrobat, character actor, and Cirque veteran (and Serenity’s husband). The event promises fun for all ages, with popcorn and treats and circus items for sale. A children’s show will be presented at 2 p.m. with a general public show at 7:30 p.m. VIP tickets for the evening performance includes a pre-show reception and a meeting with the performers after the show. All profits will go to the Women’s Community Club of Grafton Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to qualified students every year to further their higher education. The club has been awarding scholarships since the 1950s....

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It’s a tough job, but somebody had to do it: What does aging maple syrup in a bourbon barrel do to flavor that’s already Grade A? Quite a bit, actually.

Our publisher had emailed me a photo of a bottle of Baker Farm Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup. “Already on it,” I said. She was reassured until she saw the text of the story, which showed that we most certainly were not on it. Turns out, I had thought the image that she sent me was illustrating the product of Saxtons River Distillery, which produces maple liqueur. The photo of a big flask-o-booze sitting in my email? It’s a flask, all right — a flask of maple syrup. Sugar farmers Dennis and Deborah Baker of East Dummerston are putting a new spin on maple syrup — at least new by our standards — by aging it in charred white oak seven-to-eight-year-old bourbon casks from Kentucky’s bluegrass region. Packaging gimmick? Or a novel twist on a venerable Southern Vermont tradition? Intrigued, we decided to do some investigative journalism ourselves, largely because we had let too much time elapse with the misunderstanding. Our high-school intern did the legwork on the story — literally — by walking to the Brattleboro Food Co-op to get some local ice cream. He soon returned with Walpole Creamery’s Sweet Cream, made just across the river in Walpole, N.H. (walpolecreamery.com). We divvied up the pint for our focus group — a publisher, an editor, a copy editor, a graphic designer, and an intern — and I solemnly drizzled the syrup onto our respective servings. It made an impression. “Wow, that is amazing,” one taster said. “It’s pretty amazing,” said another. If that’s not consensus, I don’t know what is. Baker’s product was unmistakably maple syrup, but the oak barrels brought out (or, more likely, added) some distinct and interesting complexities to it. “It definitely tastes kind of alcoholic, slightly fermented,” said our intern dreamily, wise beyond his years, or at least beyond his legal capacity to have any frame of reference for the comparison. The Bakers’ product was unmistakably maple syrup, but the oak barrels brought out (or, more likely, added) some distinct and interesting complexities to it. We detected a complex flavor profile: smoke, vanilla, honey, caramel. I tasted pistachio. “I can’t quite place that flavor,” I said. The ice cream long gone, I poured another sample straight onto my spoon. Several times. All, of course, in the name of research. * * * Just in the nick of time, Dennis Baker returned from vacation and told one of our reporters a little bit about it. The bourbon barrel-aged inspiration was not precisely original with their son, John, 33, of Burlington, according to his father. Several other producers “up north” have been making the bourbon-enhanced...

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WEDDINGS: Wedding profile: Michaela and Zach

Wedding profile: Michaela and Zach Theme. Earthy elegance. We wanted a wedding that reflected who we are and also the natural beauty of Southern Vermont. Our wedding was very DIY. We made all of the decorations by hand, including pinwheels and birchbark candle holders. We also printed all of our invitations with a handmade letterpress. Zach designed the invitation and drew the sketch of the knot. My mom baked gluten-free carrot cakes, and one of my best friends decorated the cake to look like birch bark. We tried to tie in all of the elements in our ceremony, which is how I came up with the idea for the pinwheels…they provide a way for us to appreciate wind. Apparently all of the pinwheels started to spin like crazy at our ceremony when we had our first kiss. Why Southern Vermont? We wanted to be married in Marlboro because we both graduated from Marlboro College and feel strong ties to the area. We were married at our professors’ house in Marlboro in a beautiful and intimate ceremony. We chose the White House Inn in Wilmington for our reception, both because of its proximity to Marlboro, and because of how impressed we were with the accommodations and staff. Something borrowed? My Mom’s pearl earrings. Something new? My shoes: sparkly gold Toms shoes from the company’s wedding collection. Something blue? A garter that Zach actually ended up wearing. We decided to mix up the tradition a little bit. Reception. We had Samirah Evans come and play for us with her Handsome Devils. It was amazing, and they provided us with a wonderful dance party. Our flowers were done by Carie Kowalski, a wonderful florist from Marlboro whose work reflected my style of earthy and...

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SPOTLIGHT: Two Exhibitions Devoted to Arts and Disabilities

Organized by VSA Vermont, a statewide non-profit organization devoted to arts and disabilities, and curated by Greensboro artist Paul Gruhler, “Engage” is a juried exhibition showcasing art created by 35 Vermont artists with various disabilities. “More Like You Than Not” is organized by Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin as a complement to Engage. This exhibition takes a look at some of the varied contexts in which artists with disabilities have worked in Vermont and the surrounding region during the last 200 years. The art in “More Like You Than Not” — a quote from Vermont artist and autism activist Larry Bissonnette — reminds us that we all share a universal humanity. Indeed, we are all more alike than...

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