Recently I ate some remarkable smoked Cheddar cheese, some terrific maple syrup, some zesty grilled scallops and several mouthfuls of snow.
I feasted on these items during a journey to the North Country, also known as Vermont and Massachusetts. I was on vacation, but nonetheless continued to eat.
I probably put away more food when I was off work than when I was on. That's because instead of sitting in an office staring at books with titles like "When You Just Can't Eat the Way You Used To," I spent a lot of time sitting in my sister-in-law's kitchen outside Boston eyeing homemade waffles.
The cheese came from Vermont, another stop. Vermont rivals Wisconsin for the title of the nation's most cow-friendly state. Instead of noting the vintage of the wine, a Vermonter seems to be more likely to remark on the origin of the milk, with the highest accolade being, "This here is from a Vermont cow."
Vermont is also where I got the maple syrup, at a roadside cheese-and-maple-syrup emporium a few miles south of Shelburne on U.S. Route 7. I knew this was a typical tourist purchase. And I knew that back home in Maryland I could get maple syrup made from Garrett County trees. But I couldn't stop myself from buying the out-of-state stuff. Purchasing cooked tree sap in distant states is a habit of mine.
I swallowed the mouthfuls of snow virtually every time I went cross-country skiing. I had never skied before. I can't say that after two days of sloshing through the trails of Bolton Valley, Vt., I mastered the art. But I did perfect one stopping technique, namely falling forward.
What tasted best to me after these skiing ventures was a local beer, Long Trail Ale. I preferred it to the other local brew, Otter Creek. As a matter of fact I became so fond of Long Trail Ale that I began to envision giant green bottles of the ale waiting for me at the end of each snow-covered slope. A beer at the end of the tunnel.
I found the grilled scallops back in Massachusetts during the one restaurant-going opportunity I had on my week-long vacation.
I went to the Blue Room, a new Caribbean restaurant in Cambridge run by Stan Frankenthaler and Chris Schlesinger. Since Schlesinger is co-author of one of my favorite barbecue books, "The Thrill of the Grill," I wanted to give his new place a try.
The restaurant had valet parking, and that concerned me. Any place that takes your car away from you usually has food that is fashionable rather than substantial. But when I saw the stack of wood in front of the restaurant, I knew I was in for some good eating. I will eat most anything, even skate, that had been cooked over a wood fire.
Grilled skate was on the menu, but the restaurant was out of it by the time I got there.
I settled for grilled scallops, and dried fried squid and shrimp. They were quite good, carrying both the flavor of the moist shellfish and the zing of grill smoke. I vowed to try grilling scallops in my back yard.
"The scene" at the restaurant, however, was a long way from supper at my house. The young man who escorted us to our table carried a portable phone with him and took calls as he worked the floor.
The kitchen was open so spectators could sit nearby and watch the chefs work. I watched for a little while. Most of the orders coming into the kitchen were for customers who wanted special treatment.
The most common word for the waiters and waitresses as they gave the chefs their orders appeared to be "No." Grilled tuna with no salt. Tuna with no sauce, no salt, or sauce on the side. It reminded me of a deli talk: "BLT, hold the mayo."
Being on vacation, I engaged in another of my favorite pastimes, eavesdropping. A fellow sitting near me got in a long discussion with the woman he was dining with on how "getting a facial" had changed his outlook on life.
It is better, he said, than therapy.
Maybe so. After several surprise "facials" on the ski trail, I am not as enthusiastic about the treatment as the guy in the restaurant.
And while Vermont snow has a crisp, clean, flavor with a hint of a piney aftertaste, I would nonetheless recommend avoiding the "snow facial" experience. But if you must eat snow, I suggest carrying a small container of maple syrup with you. Mix about 4 parts snow to 1 part syrup, and you've got a bowl of ice cream.