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....

Read More

WEDDINGS: Sidebar/Three tips for selecting your wedding cake

Sharon Myers of Sharon Myers Fine Catering in Brattleboro (who made the cakes in the two photos in this story) suggests the following tips: • Cupcakes seem to be the rage right now. They give you an opportunity to offer two or three varieties to your guests. • If chocolate is your favorite and your groom/partner loves lemon, you can ask for different tiers to be different flavors. Or do two cakes for a real splash. • If you are going with a fruit filling, be seasonal and decorate the outside with the same fruit. Instead of paying for expensive sugar flowers and fondant, go with fresh blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries. It will look fresh and seasonal, especially with local...

Read More

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...

Read More

SIDEBAR: Long a draw: Revitalizing the arts in Bennington County

Long a draw Revitalizing the arts in Bennington County Bennington and Dorset in Southern Vermont have long been a draw for artists who found inspiration in Vermont rural beauty and simple country lifestyle. As early as the 1870s, creative individuals and their families began to drive north during the summer months when travel was easiest. Answering the call for local cultural fare, by the end of the 1920s, the Dorset Players and the Dorset Painters had had their first shows and exhibits. Today, both groups still exist, though they have morphed into the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, and the Dorset Theater Festival in Dorset. Since 1992, Bennington has been home to the Vermont Arts Exchange at the Sage Street Mill, a reclaimed and refurbished mill building that manufactured clothing accessories, as well as buttons, furniture and mirrors. Founding Artistic Director Matthew Perry, working from his own studio to start, wanted a place where artists could find affordable living and working space, a place to exhibit their finished works, and a place in which the community, especially the special needs community, could come to learn by offering artist-taught workshops. He also wanted the community to take a different view of the empty mills that dot the landscape of Vermont. “The arts served as a catalyst to convert a derelict property into a working community asset,” Perry said. That same year, the Bennington Center for the Arts was opened by two philanthropists, Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small. The space included a theater and two gallery spaces. During their travels, the couple had collected art and artifacts that included paintings and bronzes of and by Native Americans, kachinas, pots and jewelry, as well as rugs, which are part of the Center’s permanent collection. Today, seven galleries exhibit American wildlife art, works by Eric Sloane, and images of New England, as well as a permanent wind sculpture display visible from the...

Read More

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...

Read More

Farmers’ Markets

Farmers Markets Bennington: Walloomsac Winter Farmers’ Market, Feb. 16, March 15, April 19, 10a-1p, at First Baptist Church, walloomsac.org, 802-688-7210. Brattleboro: Brattleboro Winter Farmers’ Market, Saturdays through March, 10a-3p, at the River Garden, downtown Brattleboro, postoilsolutions.org, 802-869-2141. Dorset: Dorset Winter Farmers’ Market, Sundays through Feb. 19, 10a-2p, at J.K. Adams Kitchen Store on Rte 30, dorsetfarmersmarket.com, 802-876-7080. Ludlow: Ludlow Farmers’ Market, every Saturday through April 2, at Masonic Lodge, 9a-1p, ludlowfarmersmarket.org, 802-734-3829. Montpelier: Capital City Farmers’ Market, first and third Saturdays through April, 10a-2p, Vermont College of Fine Arts gym, montpelierfarmersmarket.com, 802-223-2958. Norwich: Norwich Farmers’ Market, Feb 9, March 8, April 12, 10a-1p, at Tracy Hall on Main St, Norwich, norwichfarmersmarket.org, 802-384-7447. Rutland: Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market, Saturdays through May, 10a-2p, at Old Strand Theater in downtown Rutland, vtfarmersmarket.org,...

Read More

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...

Read More

Life as a poem put to paper: Guilford’s Verandah Porche releases new poetry collection

Life as a poem put to paper Verandah Porche and her literary friends moved to an abandoned farm in Guilford in 1968 to create what would become a legendary commune. And she wanted her life to be a poem. Porche, 67, has just published a new collection of poems, Sudden Eden, an autobiography in verse. As she has lived a rich life filled with family, friends, farming, lovers and farewells — good birthing, good food, good conversation, good lovemaking, good pies and good politics — the reading is rich as well. The title Sudden Eden has many layers of meaning to Porche. One refers to her coming to Vermont to create a kind of peaceable kingdom for herself. She is the daughter of first-generation Jewish Americans, which leads her to another meaning of the title. “I write poems all the time,” Porche said. “If I’m driving, I can write sideways. I started writing songs at a certain point because it was so dangerous to write and drive. Songs you can sing and repeat and they stay in your mind...

Read More

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...

Read More

What does it mean to be an artist in Vermont?:

What does it mean to be an artist in Vermont? For the four winners of the Vermont Arts Council’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts — all from Windham County — art is connected to place. Four artists — all from Windham County — received the 2012 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, a prize issued annually by the Vermont Arts Council. All were honored on Dec. 10 at a gala ceremony at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro. We caught up with three of the four winners in mid-January. Karen Hesse Hesse, of Brattleboro, has written more than 20 novels, primarily for young readers. Her latest novel, Safekeeping , was published in October. What are you working on this week? I’ve been using either photographs or words as springboards and writing poetry that arcs away from the original inspiration to find its own trajectory, and yet connects back to the original inspiration in order to create a shape that is deeper, wider, richer. I’m also mentoring young writers and new writers, reading their fledgling manuscripts. How has Vermont influenced your life, work, and creative expression? Growing up in Baltimore, I absorbed a totally different ethic, one where the self triumphed over the general need of the population. That ethic never felt like a good fit for me. In Vermont, the inclination toward the common good has provided the fertile soil in which I have grown as a person and as an artist. What do you suggest to people contemplating making a creative living in Southern Vermont? Be prepared to struggle. The path will not be easy. But you will be surrounded by others who are also in a creative mindset, and you will find inspiration and support from them. I’m not saying that everyone is selfless here, nor are they selflessly inclined selfless all the time, but it seems to me the pervading spirit is one of nurture rather than toxicity. This cannot be said of all communities rich with artists. I’m certain there is jealousy, but it is not the prevailing spirit. What can you do here that you can’t do anywhere else on earth? I can help a friend after a flood when my past has been lost to it, and then stop helping because the grief is too great to return to the devastation and be understood and accepted for both of those behaviors. Archer Mayor A Newfane resident, Mayor is the author of the 23-book, Vermont-based Joe Gunther detective series. Mayor also works as a death investigator for the state medical examiner’s office, as a sheriff’s department deputy, and as a firefighter/EMT. What...

Read More

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...

Read More

‘My best production experience, and my best educational experience’: For Jay Craven, a new model of filmmaking turns his latest offering, premiering in April, into a hands-on opportunity for 34 students

Jay Craven’s new model of filmmaking On-time, under budget, and revolutionary. Though he’s still putting the finishing touches on his latest independent film, “Northern Borders,“ director Jay Craven can already say those three things about it. Due for release on schedule, with early to mid-April screenings planned in Brattleboro, and elsewhere, “Northern Borders” is based on a novel by Northeast Kingdom author Howard Frank Mosher and stars Academy Award nominees Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold. It was budgeted to cost $500,000, and Craven estimates it’ll come in a little bit below that. Now for the revolutionary part. In order to bring the film in at $500,000, far below the $2 million his other independent feature films have cost, Craven created a unique collaboration between his non-profit arts organization Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College, which turned the production of the film into college coursework involving 34 students from a dozen colleges including Marlboro, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Boston University, Smith College, George Washington, Connecticut College, Wheaton, Vassar, Cornell, Champlain College and the University of Connecticut. Working under the tutelage of 19 film industry professionals, those students filled key roles in all areas of the production of the film, gaining valuable experience and handling tasks the film industry seldom entrusts to raw beginners. On the eve of the six weeks of filming in March and April 2012, at sites in Marlboro, Guilford, Chester and nearby in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Craven didn’t know if this new model would work. “It was an experiment. We really had no idea how it would turn out,” said Craven, in a January interview taking a break from final editing work on the film. “I had faith that the students would rise to the occasion.” His faith was justified. While he admits that “Northern Borders” will feel “a little more hand-made” than his other films like “Disappearances,” “The Year That Trenbled,” “Where the Rivers Flow North” and “A Stranger in the Kingdom,” he‘s comfortable with this new way of working. “If I take it all into account, it was totally worth it,” he said. “It was really my best production experience and my best educational experience. I’ve been really thrilled to be a part of it.” What the college students lacked in experience, they made up for in other ways. “They brought a freshness of perspective. They brought a commitment to something larger than themselves. … They infused the entire spirit of the project and became central to it.” By the end of the filming, Craven turned over 18 smaller scenes to be directed by the students. Since filming ended, about half the students have secured...

Read More