Friday, September 12, 2008

Vermont Feast: Day 3

My last full day in Brattleboro was simple. Shawna had planned a feast for the evening. Before the feast, we went on a hike up Hogback Mountain, once used for skiing, and now only for "snowmachining" (thanks, wannaveep). The trail was often overgrown, and a couple of garter snakes slithered across, frightening Shawna, until we reached the top, on which loomed a large old firetower, occupied by other hikers when we arrived. I went up, and Wyn and Shawna decided to stay below since they'd seen the view and knew the ricketyness of the tower. Wyn said I'd be able to see a hundred miles, and I would see Melville's Mount Greylock to the south and the White Mountains to the north. The occupants left as soon as I reached the top (sniff armpits--not too bad given the climb) but they talked to Wyn and Shawna while I enjoyed the view. It was wonderful and windy and the only problem was the scratched up glass windows that I had to hold open to see all the green folds of New England.

Afterwards we cut over to the road, where there was a cheesy (literally) giftshop. I spotted a chanterelle just off the trail under a tree as we approached-- small, but at its pickable peak--and so I was able to talk fungus and let Wyn and Shawna smell the delightful apricot aromas of the fresh cantharellus cibarius and then walk around the store guarding the little gold treasure in my palm. We snacked on salami and cheese and crackers and watched all the RVers who stopped to load up on maple syrup and Vermont cheddar and corny tee shirts and other chachkies. We walked back down Hogback and, just before the road, I spotted two large, perfect chanterelles under a tree and I added those to the collection, and Shawna added them to the dinner menu.

We made it back to their house in the early afternoon and Shawna immediately commenced cooking, and Wyn set the grill up for the steaks and opened the lovely Lemelson. The menu speaks for itself and for the kind of evening we savored, so here it is:

Hors d' oeuvres

Heirloom tomato bruschetta

Gravlax on cucumber
with capers & crème fraiche

Parmesan cups with herbed farmers cheese

Main Course

Grilled steak
with red wine reduction & Chanterelles

Potatos au gratin with bleu cheese

Fillet beans
with marcona almonds

Mixed green salad
with carrots & blue cheese


Lemelson Thea’s Vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir 2005
Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006
Foxen Vogelzang Vineyard Cabernet 2005
Siro Pacenti Rosso di Montalcino 2005

Shawna's an amazing cook. We ate and drank too much and too well again, and talked over this divine feast all night and the stars again and I didn't want to leave this lovely place but I didn't want to kill Wyn and Shawna with their own superb hospitality. I can't thank them enough for being such wonderful hosts and friends. Come down so I can cook ya'll up something southern, and, of course, my wine cellar's always open for you, Wyn and Shawna.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vermont, Day 2: er, mmm, It's a, all about the Ol'. . . . Mamet's, his play, um, Oleana

It was a late morning kind of previous evening, but I awakened early enough to sneak out and do some more serious mushroom foraging and to get a sense of the landscape up the hill, and found a trail up behind the house that let me explore it more. The trail led past a rocky area toward the next farm. Further up, according to Wyn, was a stone marker memorializing a triple murder/suicide that had taken place on what had been a larger farm about a hundred years ago: farmhand hot for the farmer's wife and things got out of hand, an old story. Trees, slope, rocks, a small stream. I found a few past-perfect chanterelles, some nice bicolor boletes, and one stunning Caesar's mushroom (amanita caesari) that I was tempted to try, but I don't eat amanitas, since a mistake can be fatal.

Back at the house, Wyn had the eggs out and toast in the oven coffee and we set into planning the day around Shawna's evening performance, a staged reading of Mamet's Oleana for a community theater across the river in New Hampshire. Shawna would spend the day at kick boxing, then getting ready, while Wyn would show me more of the area and run an errand or two. He showed me Saul Bellow's house, near his, and the sky opened up into muscular rain and we stopped and chatted for awhile with Wyn's friend, a Marlboro graduate who did interesting work in Physics and Photography and chi, while stopping to pick up some organic garlic. We then stocked up on provisions--by provisions I mean wine and by wine I mean from the lovely Wyndham Wines run by people who know wine very well, people who gave up academic tenure to pursue this dream, and by dream I mean I'm damned jealous. We spent maybe 90 minutes in the store, too long, since Wyn and I were going to have dinner at Alici's and we had to make the play at 8:00. Shawna doesn't eat before she performs, so we were to meet her after. Wyn and I shared some exquisite carpaccio and a half bottle of cab and I ordered a very rare filet mignon burger, which for 10 dollars was a bargain. It was served with truffle-0il fries and garnished with blue cheese, spinach, and tomato, and it was second in my experience only to the legendary burger served at My Father's Office in Santa Monica. Wyn ordered the duck confit pizzeta, which tasted very good (could have been just a bit more confit), and the server sped things along nicely so we could enjoy the food despite our limited time there.

We walked into the theater just before the beginning of the play. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I'd never seen a staged reading. I knew the play, though, having taught it once, and I found it difficult for freshman who struggled with Mamet's verbal ticks and the moral difficulties presented by both characters. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Shawna and the male lead were both stellar, and the setting, a professor's office, was perfect for making the play book just another part of the usual professor's office detritus. The play is a study in power--age, gender, and institutional power relationships--and no one comes off sympathetically. The male lead, a lawyer with much professional acting experience, crumbled magnificently, while Shawna played her character with wonderful nervous subtlety despite the tremendous vocabulary shift that occurs between act I and act II. I remember this shift seeming heavy handed when I read it, but not here. Shawn, however, deftly presented the character's discomfort with the vocabulary as she spoke it. When it was over, we headed to the Pub after all the post play congratulations and then back to the house for a little more wine and conversation, stared up and up at the beautiful stars, the milky way evanescing above the trees.