Category Archives: Food

Eggplants: Cooking and Connecting with the Old World

Food is culture. I am a first-generation Romanian-American, but I don’t know much about Romanian food. My father fled the country in the height of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, and once he moved to the United States, he was dedicated to being an American.

He won’t speak Romanian around my brother or me often, and when we eat together, we usually go out for noodles. Sometimes he will talk fondly of his grandparents’ farm, how they would grow plums and eggplants and he would help care for the animals. He still goes back there at least once a year to see the family that lives there now.

My cooking has never been very culturally inspired, only driven by local availability, price and my deep love for fresh vegetables. I know how to prepare zucchini, and I have developed some second-natured intuition for the tenderness of oven-roasted root vegetables.

For years I’ve been committed to the leafy greens and squashes of farmers’ markets. I have spent many afternoons perfecting my vegetable hash, a recipe-less medley of seasonal produce, dusted generously with salt and pepper and cooked in stages, so that the potatoes are golden-brown and the kale isn’t crispy or the garlic burned.

Once, in an attempt to be more creative in the kitchen, I bought the prettiest vegetable I had ever seen at the farmer’s market. It was an eggplant: oblong and shiny, a deep magenta with delicate white stripes. I had eaten plenty of eggplants before, but I had never cooked them myself.

I excitedly brought the eggplant home, treating it more like a new houseplant than a food, and placed it on my kitchen counter. Overconfident and more accustomed to  cooking straight-forward potatoes, I chopped the eggplant into chunks and threw it into a pan of hot oil.

The skin quickly turned grayish, and the once-spongy white flesh absorbed all of the oil within seconds. I had no intuition for the vegetable. It wouldn’t sizzle. It wasn’t firming or softening. I seasoned it, waited and then reluctantly forked the pieces onto my plate. Whatever I had done was not right. I had naively mistaken it for any simple fry-until-golden-brown kind of vegetable.

Brigitte Riordan, B-Side.

I soon became fascinated with the art of cooking eggplant. It started with a phone call to my mom. She joked I was living my Romanian grandmother’s dream — Mica loved eggplants, she told me. My great-grandparents grew them on their farm outside of Bucharest, and Mica used to make a luscious Salată de Vinete, a traditional Romanian eggplant spread.

I had only met Mica once, when she came to the United States to see how my brother and I had grown and could only say “hello” and “I love you.” When she died a couple years later, the farm was left to my father, a self-proclaimed city boy. He grew up in a town outside of Bucharest infrequently visiting his grandparents’ farm, and never spent enough time in the kitchen to know the magic behind his mother’s eggplant dishes.

Having about as much knowledge of my cultural heritage as I did the proper preparation of the eggplant, my affinity for the vegetable only grew. Online, I found countless recipes, histories and iconographies.

I read every nostalgic narrative that accompanied traditional recipes, with stories of growing up eating eggplants cooked in Romania, Turkey, Egypt and India. Despite all of my research, when it was just me with a cutting board and a four-burner in my tiny kitchen, I was intimidated.

For the next eggplant I bought, I wouldn’t begin with any attempt at my grandmother’s Salată de Vinete. I would try and cook it in a pan, like I had before, but this time I was aiming for the velvety richness I had read about. I stood at my kitchen counter, and slowly sliced through the dark purple skin and cut the flesh into thin, spongy white ovals.

Each piece had to be salted, soaked in a colander, rinsed and then left to dry on paper towels. I heated up the oil in the pan, carefully placed the slices one-by-one, and waited. Every recipe said eggplants take time. My mother told me that once, when my grandmother came to visit, the oven became so hot from her eggplants roasting for such a long time that the window above the stove shattered.

Some recipes online described the transition from firm and spongy to soft and luscious as “the collapse.” I waited for the collapse. I added a little bit of salt and pepper. I flipped them. I started to see them soften. I didn’t break any windows.

I sat with my plate; the slices of eggplant were cooked through. Though my dish wasn’t all that interesting, the vegetable itself was. I felt connected to my father, to Mica, to my great-grandparents. One day, I’ll try and make the Salată de Vinete. One day, I’ll go to Romania with my father, I’ll see the farm and eat the eggplants of my ancestors. For now, I’ll sit alone in my kitchen with an eggplant, sliced thinly and cooked to collapse, salted and peppered and with every intention to cook another one tomorrow.  

A Lifetime of Donuts


I vividly remember the first time I dreamed of visiting the Koffee Kup factory. It was winter of 2015, I was a sophomore and lived in Sichel Hall, a part of the distant Back Five on Trinity Campus.

Sometime around midnight, I was on the lawn in front of Sichel with my roommate and his girlfriend, and we were enjoying the crisp winter air (as well as certain substances that lead to a yearning for baked goods).

At some point in our dazed conversation, I froze and swore that I clearly smelled the wondrous odor of donuts. I expected them to burst into laughter and joke about how I’d had enough, but they both agreed.

At that point, my roommate’s girlfriend Caitlin—a year older than me and a Vermont native—informed me that the heavenly aroma was likely coming from the Koffee Kup donut factory less than a mile away.

I spent the rest of the night speculating about what the factory might be like, wondering if it had a commercial bakery at which I could buy their donuts in the freshest state possible, or if it was still open at 1 a.m. Caitlin didn’t have any answers for my inquiries, so I went to bed that night longing for answers (and donuts).

Since that wondrous night two years ago I’ve enjoyed countless Koffee Kup donuts, but never had the motivation to go check out the factory first hand, until recently. Whether it was caused subliminally by an especially good batch of donuts, or just something in the air, a few weeks ago my fascination with this baking institution was reawakened. So, after a short email back-and-forth with the head of HR, Hannah Fanton, we scheduled a time to make my dreams come true by touring the mysterious factory.

The whole day leading up to the tour of the factory, my excitement was viceral. I had already bragged about this opportunity to my roommates for several days and eaten a lighter-than-usual lunch in anticipation of any free samples. Somehow, the tour lived up to my sky-high expectations.

First and foremost, while gearing up into factory-approved safety gear, I was flattered by Fanton—now acting as a tour guide—insisting I needed a facial hair net to protect the donuts from my “beard” (in truth, no longer or more impressive than that of a newly-shaved chihuahua). After gearing up, we entered the factory floor, as the familiarly tantalizing aroma of fattening dough pierced my face net.

Besides having fun and smelling sweet odors, I learned a lot on the tour. I learned what a 30 foot tall constantly-spinning donut-drying rack looks like. I saw that dough moves throughout the factory not by hand or by cart, but by small conveyor belts about 10 feet in the air, right above my head. I saw that the donuts are fried by taking a short trip into an oil-filled lazy river-type contraption, with a water-wheel-style donut-flipping device halfway through the ride.

After years of failed relationships, I finally learned what true heartbreak looked like when I saw a number of powdered donuts on the floor that had fallen off the conveyor belt. Perhaps sensing my looming sadness at seeing so many beautiful donut lives cut short, my tour guide gave me a free bag of crullers right off the factory line: likely the freshest donuts I have ever eaten.

After my transformative tour, I got to have a quick debrief with my tour guide to answer the myriad of lingering questions I still had. I found out that my personal favorite donut, the maple glaze, was originally a limited-edition seasonal product, but was so successful it turned permanent. I learned that the cruller, an often overlooked staple of the Koffee Kup line, was the first donut they made. I learned that the Koffee Kup brand started over 75 years ago by one man who would bake donuts at night then deliver them by bicycle the next morning.

When I told Fanton about my smell-induced motivation to tour the factory, she nodded her head understandingly. “We have employees here who grew up smelling the donuts and breads,” she replied. And if that sentiment wasn’t heart-warming enough, sharing those free crullers with my roommates that night certainly was.

In the end, I felt somewhat of a full-circle moment as my two-year-long curiosity with Koffee Kup came to a close. I recalled that my fascination with donuts spanned back far beyond even my own memory, according to a story my parents loved to tell me growing up. I was only a few years old, sitting in my high chair at the table with my two lovely parents who were enjoying some donuts.

While discussing how they planned to keep their children sugar-free for at least a few years, they briefly left the room to grab something. Upon returning, they found me on the table, covered in powdered sugar next to a now-empty donut box. Their initial parental instinct of panic soon gave way to laughter, as they realized their son’s love of donuts could not be tamed by the restraining seat belts in your average high chair.

I like to think of all these experiences as analogous, separated only by time. Whether it be the top of the dining room table during my binge-eating moment as a baby, or an industrial-scale donut factory following my night-altering experience of smells, one thing has stayed the same: my love of donuts has brought me to places I once thought were unreachable. And for that, I thank my lovely parents, their decision to buy a box of donuts that day and Hannah Fanton at Koffee Kup for making my dreams become a reality.

Slurred Words and Spatzle: Oktoberfest Vermont 2017

On a quest for locals to bear the last days of Burlington’s Indian summer, the solution was clear: bubbling brews, festive hats and games easy enough for those under the influence to win prizes.

Oktoberfest Vermont held its third annual festival this past weekend from Sept. 21 to 23. Forty local, regional and world-renowned brewers and seven food vendors gathered at Waterfront Park to bring Burlingtonians a taste of German festivities.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

Friday night of the festival began with a pink and orange-hued sunset over Lake Champlain, washed by the sound of the traditionally-costumed German band The Inseldudlers. The band kept the night lively playing all sorts of music from traditional German tunes to “Sweet Caroline” until the taps closed at 10 p.m.

Each attendee received a small glass for vendors to fill as well as 15 green tickets, each equivalent to one beer from a vendor of their choice. A plethora of options surrounded the borders of the festival, from Magic Hat Brewing Co. to Sierra Nevada – even hard cider options such as Citizen Cider for those facing a gluten intolerance or who just prefer a little sweetness in their beverage.

Upon arrival, 15 tickets didn’t appear to be enough; though after reaching our fifth high-percentage beverages, we deemed that the amount of tickets was plenty to sustain a socially-acceptable buzz.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

There was not one type of attendee, either. The crowd ranged from older, local beer buffs to German-outfitted festival lovers, to college students looking to enjoy some cold brews in lieu of room temperature backpack beers.

“It’s my first time here,” senior Garrett Chisolm said. “I’ve tried some great local brews and food, and I’m really loving looking out onto Lake Champlain.”

Oktoberfest’s food choices were able to cater to a range of palettes, from local fan-favorites like Kountry Kart Deli to traditional cuisine from the Vermont Spatzle company.

The night wasn’t only for drinking and eating; the festival vendors also brought their games to the table. A local sticker company, Sticky Brand, had a plinko board set up in which players could drop a wooden chip to a numbered slot determining how many stickers they could take home. Samuel Adams brought an inflatable slide, fitted with hops flowers awaiting the participant at the bottom.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

A group of friends and I attempted the Escape Room challenge set up in the middle of the grounds. The theme was to escape from the drunk tank, so we were all handcuffed to a wall in the prison cell-themed room. We were given the last slot, thus, by far the drunkest of those who had attempted the game. Contrary to the title of the game, we did not escape the room.

“About 75 percent of the teams have been able to escape the room,” said Mike Garber, an employee of Escape Room.

Apparently, we were the unlucky 25 percent.

By the end of the evening, the crowd began to dissipate, and seemingly disappeared once the clock struck 10 p.m. and the taps closed. Overall, participants appeared to be extraordinarily happy with their choices in brews and abundance of food and games.

 

Extra Spice in the Old North End 

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

“I’ll do medium spice, just to be safe,” said the server at Central Market Taste of Asia on North Winooski Avenue in Burlington’s North End. I tried again.

“No, I really do want it hot. I liked the curry you made me last time.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “It has chilies in it.” I continued to emphasize that, yes, this was the level of spice I wanted, and after a fairly lengthy discussion she wrote “Hot” on the order slip and brought it out to the kitchen.

The issues I wanted to address during our discussion concerned whether or not I was doing something unusual. As a white American in a rural state, I realize that members of my demographic had probably come in before and been overwhelmed by spicy dishes— or, suspecting that they might be, had been careful to ask about a dish’s spiciness beforehand. I don’t blame my server, then, for exhibiting a bit of extra caution. Most of those inquiries had probably been followed by requests that the spiciness of an order of shrimp vindaloo or chicken tikka masala be toned down somewhat, to avoid undue discomfort.

On my first and third visits, I had apparently made the mistake of asking that same question. The first time, an otherwise delicious chicken curry arrived completely devoid of the bracing heat I’d anticipated. Its intact flavors were well-balanced and its chunks of chicken thigh were tender, but the lack of fire left me disappointed. I resolved to try again.

The second time, I ordered chicken shahi korma, a creamy curry dish with nuts and vegetables. I requested “hot,” without prefacing the request with any sort of question. I was asked to confirm my choice, and said yes with what must have been the right amount of confidence. The shahi korma was, indeed, blazingly hot. Small orange flecks of chili were visible throughout the pale sauce. On its own, the curry would have approached — but not yet reached — an uncomfortable level of heat. Accompanied by papadums, (thin, shatteringly crisp wafers of legume flour), white rice and pleasantly stretchy naan bread, the balance of heat and flavor was wonderful.

My third visit and subsequent order led to the conversation excerpted above. I had arrived with a question in mind, one I’d been mulling over since the first meal: Had my expectations of Nepalese food been skewed unrealistically toward the fiery side of things? The try-hard Westerner who seeks to prove himself by trying a foreign cuisine at its most “other” is a well-known foodie stereotype. He (for this diner is almost invariably male) is closely related to the seasoning-averse lightweight. Neither will appreciate another culture’s food except on their own terms, and neither is something I’d like to be.

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Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Andy Ricker, a white American restaurateur and Thai food expert known for a nearly unique deference to the culture that created his livelihood, has often suggested asking restaurant staff to “make [a dish] as you would for a Thai person.” He offers a translation of this phrase into Thai; lacking confidence in my off-the-cuff Nepali, I settled for English.

“Would a Nepalese person want this dish to be spicy?” I asked.

“Yes,” my server replied. “Nepalese people like very spicy food.” Whew. Reassured that this order would be the real deal and not just some crass stunt, I thanked her and joined my photographer, Ryan, to look through the shop’s grocery section.

Because we got to Central Market Taste of Asia toward the end of their kitchen’s operating hours, seating was not available and we had to take our order to go. To avoid a similar experience, readers should take note of the fact that Central Market sometimes closes earlier than their sign states (9:00); additionally, the kitchen closes at 8:30 and sometimes before then.

After perusing a burstingly diverse array of pan-Asian produce, packaged foods, and housewares (highlights included coconut-flavored larva-shaped cookies, perfect for Halloween; stark white cans of butane gas labeled with a red and orange explosion graphic and the word “POWER;” and a tall, slim glass bottle of fuchsia-hued “Houston Cowboy” lychee-flavored syrup, product of Thailand, complete with illustrated cartoon namesake– perhaps a placebo substitute for Houston’s better-known purple concoction?), Ryan and I collected our food and ventured outdoors in search of a place to eat.

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Tungsten streetlights lent a sleazy glow to the Old North End as we walked, and it soon became apparent that our food would grow cold before we found a table with natural lighting. We sat down to eat on the sidewalk by an African market, in full view of passing cars.

The thali platter I’d ordered included chicken and lamb curries, both assertive and complex, with tender and flavorful meat; lentil soup, whose float of orange chilies gave it a fruity, almost floral lift; the aforementioned pappadum, along with poori (a deep-fried whole-wheat bread puffed from within by steam); the creamy yogurt sauce raita, which was sweeter and thicker than Indian versions I’d had in the past; the ever-present white rice; and gulab jamun, a spherical dessert made of milk solids and soaked in cardamom-scented rosewater syrup. All were terrific. Ryan’s order of onion bhaji was enjoyable as well, although a tad greasy. We used part of the substantial portion to improvise a sort of quasi-Nepalese take on poutine, pouring a small amount of curry over the sweet, battered fried onion. It would probably have been better with some paneer to stand in for the traditional cheese curds.

All in all, I’m mostly pleased with the establishment that has replaced 99 Asian Market at 242 North Winooski Avenue. What was once Burlington’s most underrated bowl of pho has given way to an array of rich, well-spiced stews, as well as a number of noodle dishes I have yet to try. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future; already, Central Market Taste of Asia seems likely to inherit its predecessor’s place as an Old North End standby.

Eat a Real Donut: Ren Wiener at Scout & Co

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o you ever find yourself dwelling on cartoon depictions of ordinary food items, taking in their eye-popping colors and lushly plump contours and wishing that they’d leap into your hand from the television screen?

More specifically, have you sympathized with Homer Simpson’s opinion of the doughnut as rendered by Matt Groening, but been unable to find a suitable, tangible equivalent? The typical real-life doughnut has nothing on those bewitching pink-topped things.

Luckily, the word typical needn’t apply to your doughnut intake if you live in the Burlington area. Just head over to cult coffee shop Scout & Co, in the North End. There’s a Winooski, Vermont location too, but you’ll really want to visit the original spot if you have doughnuts on the brain.

 

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A successful vegan adaptation of the popular Girl Scout cookie, the Samoa, into doughnut form.

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]E[/dropcap]very Saturday, the Winooski-area pastry expert and all-around culinary marvel Ren Weiner delivers four varieties of doughnuts to Scout. These doughnuts are a throwback to her time at Misery Loves Co., a Winooski eatery where Scout owners Tom Green and Andrew Burke have also worked in the past.

Since setting out on her own several months ago as the one-woman baking company Miss Weinerz, Weiner has had plenty of opportunities to experiment and refine her recipes. “Doughnuts are awesome. Everyone knows what a doughnut is. With doughnuts as a base I can play with new fillings, flavors and techniques but still have a product that is approachable.”

That approachability helps Weiner’s donuts stand out among equally delicious but higher-concept offerings like Scout’s fingerling potatoes with oyster mayonnaise, pickled mustard seeds, pine oil and sumac.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The perfect topping for this fresh blueberry frosted doughnut. Weiner hand-cuts every rainbow sprinkle to the proper size.
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hen I arrived at Scout & Co, the doughnuts available were Blueberry Joy, with picturesque icing that lent a slight, dark tartness to the yeasty pastry, and cheerfully bright sprinkles hand-rolled and cut into charming pieces by Wiener herself; Orange Cream, an almost impossibly bright-tasting confection bursting with orange zest and coated with coarse sugar for a hypnotic textural contrast; Vegan Samoa, which managed to surpass both its Girl Scout-distributed namesake and the expectations of this non-vegan; and finally, Boozy Irish Cream, which lived up deliciously to every aspect of its name.

 

Of all these flavors, I was perhaps happiest to see Orange Cream, which I’d been fiending for ever since Weiner still made them for Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop. I was afraid that they’d disappeared for good when she left there, and was profoundly relieved to learn that this doughnut flavor was still available.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The orange cream-filled doughnut is coated with granulated sugar and a pinch of orange zest.

 

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he numerous hip parents who brought their children into Scout for doughnuts that Saturday morning must have been relieved, too, to discover a somewhat less guilt-inducing treat. Weiner said she prides herself on using the most sustainable ingredients she can source.

“[I use] cultured butters and fresh fruits, local and organic milk and eggs,” Weiner said. “The dough itself [is] made with natural yeasts and set slowly to rise over a two-day fermentation cycle.”

The benefits of this cycle, Weiner said, are significant.

“Because of [the fermentation process], my dough uses less sugar than most other recipes and has an amazing texture.”

 

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The boozy irish cream filled doughnut, for those who want their after-dinner coffee in the morning. Topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

If you’re interested in seeing some more great photos of Weiner’s work and want an up-to-the-moment heads-up as to what her latest creations are, check her out on Instagram. She has gained a strong following on the site, which she said is like “having a cheerleading squad in your pocket.”

Join the squad. Track down a doughnut. You won’t regret it.

http://www.missweinerz.com/Scout O.N.E.

237 North Ave, Burlington, VT 05401

Open Monday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Doughnuts are delivered at 11 a.m. Saturday, and served as supplies last.

 

Sugar Shack Celebrates Syrup

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and 30 to fuel Misery Loves Company’s springtime Sugar Shack event.

That figure doesn’t factor in the four gallons of syrup that chefs Nathaniel Wade and Aaron Josinsky also used in preparation for the ticketed private dinner, which spanned 11 courses and contained numerous nods to traditional Quebecois food while retaining, and at times topping, the typical Misery supper menu’s no­-holds-­barred experimental charm.

“When you go to southern Quebec,” bartender Mike Dunn said, “If you go to the sugar houses there around this time of year, they do dinners like this, where it’s a celebration of maple, and there are consistent flows of food … always way too much.”

Vermont shares Quebec’s enthusiasm for maple­­, but the Quebecois, having inherited a storied feasting tradition from local fur trappers and the Abenaki before them, generally have us outpaced in terms of sheer, gleeful gluttony.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The introductory course; house-made pickles and rolls served with whipped lard, fresh butter, maple syrup and coarse mustard

 

Not so at Sugar Shack. The meal began with a couple of yeasty, deliciously plush rolls; these were accompanied by mixed pickled vegetables, mustard, maple syrup and both kosher butter and a slightly smoky whipped lardo.

 That plate was quickly followed by one bearing chicharrones, o​r fried pork skins, dusted with espelette pepper; buttery, dense foie gras truffles; and thin slices of remarkably tender, well ­balanced ham that my photographer and I were told had come from a very young pig named Ladybug.

Next came a small glass of maple sap reduced by 50 percent, which we were encouraged to sip before consuming pale peach­-colored cups of a sea urchin panna cotta to which some sap reduction had also been added.

The urchins’ creaminess and delicate briny edge were smoothed together by soft­spoken maple undertones. More seafood soon appeared; as the “Superfly” s​oundtrack played overhead, we were given wild yeast b​lini​ topped with cured salmon, trout roe and maple creme fraiche.

It was then that Sugar Shack began in earnest. Slices of t​ourtiere, ​a hearty Quebecois pork pie whose deeply browned lard pastry had come from the nearby Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop, arrived alongside a slaw of turnips, red cabbage and beets tossed with hot maple vinaigrette. Both were delicious, but the slaw proved particularly helpful as more meats appeared.

Two home­made maple sausages, poached in sap and tasting gently of pork liver, paired deliciously with a porridge of Abenaki corn from Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont.

Double-­fried quail, whose preparation I’d been watching eagerly from our kitchen side table, was terrifically crisp and made for excellent finger food. The tiny birds came dressed with a maple shoyu sauce whose smokily salty flavor was edged with a resonant sweetness.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The whole suckling pig before being carved into slices for hungry patrons.

 

Bakeshop employee Logan Bouchard, who had temporarily resumed his past position as a server for the event, said that his favorite dish was either the quail or the wonderfully debauched pig’s trotter dish that followed it.

 For the record, that delicious dish consisted of trotters that had been disassembled and reconstructed around liverwurst stuffing, then seared and served over maple baked beans with ham broth and blood sausage.

“Aaron makes amazing liverwurst. It doesn’t have that metallic minerality that a lot of liverwurst does. And the trotter, there’s so much collagen in there that you can put anything in it and seal it back together, and it doesn’t look any different,” said Bouchard.

Speaking of collagen: the meat of young pigs is simply brimming with the stuff. It makes for a juicy, almost gelatinous cooked product. For the next and final meat course, Josinsky and Wade had removed the bones from a suckling pig’s body and rolled the meat into an approximate cylinder with the pig’s intact head at one end.

They had then roasted the pig until its skin, which crackled loudly under Wade’s carving knife, had reached a golden sheen. The resulting pork, complemented by a clove­-scented stuffing, was impeccably tender.

To announce the roast pig, Josinsky began banging a saucepan with a wooden spoon and strode into the dining room. He was greeted by applause.

After a brief post­-pork lull, dessert service got under way. The first and most substantial dish was a creamy maple sugar pie, a nod once more to Quebecois tradition.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A chef lays out rows of puff pastries to be filled with maple crème for the dessert course.

 

After that came a plate of cream puffs, hard candy and fudge, all maple-­based and deeply satisfying.

Sugar Shack’s final course, appropriately enough, was sugar on snow. Our server brought us a bowl of shaved ice and poured hot maple sugar, thickened just past the point at which it could have been called syrup, on top. The combination was simple, straightforward and refreshing.

The event’s syrup and sap came from Al Bushey at Brigham Hill Maple in Essex Junction, Vermont, Wade said.

After dinner, Bouchard and I chatted about upcoming Misery Loves Co. events amidst the slow, churning riffs of stoner metal band Sleep’s monolithic smog opera “Dopesmoker.” Those who missed out on Sugar Shack will be pleased to hear that, “probably sometime in early May,” MLC will bring back its Café Corretto evenings at the Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop in Winooski. This time around, in addition to cheese, charcuterie, baked goods and amari, there will be a focus on increased raw bar offerings as part of a collaboration with seafood distributor Wood Mountain Fish.

MLC will also be participating in Winooski’s art and music festival Waking Windows, which will take place May 1­3.

In the meantime, they’re open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Check them out sometime at 46 Main St. Winooski, VT .

Sugar Shack Celebrates Syrup

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]I[/dropcap]t takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and 30 to fuel Misery Loves Company’s springtime Sugar Shack event.

That figure doesn’t factor in the four gallons of syrup that chefs Nathaniel Wade and Aaron Josinsky also used in preparation for the ticketed private dinner, which spanned 11 courses and contained numerous nods to traditional Quebecois food while retaining, and at times topping, the typical Misery supper menu’s no­-holds-­barred experimental charm.

“When you go to southern Quebec,” bartender Mike Dunn said, “If you go to the sugar houses there around this time of year, they do dinners like this, where it’s a celebration of maple, and there are consistent flows of food … always way too much.”

Vermont shares Quebec’s enthusiasm for maple­­, but the Quebecois, having inherited a storied feasting tradition from local fur trappers and the Abenaki before them, generally have us outpaced in terms of sheer, gleeful gluttony.

IMG_7761 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The introductory course; house-made pickles and rolls served with whipped lard, fresh butter, maple syrup and coarse mustard

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]N[/dropcap]ot so at Sugar Shack. The meal began with a couple of yeasty, deliciously plush rolls; these were accompanied by mixed pickled vegetables, mustard, maple syrup and both kosher butter and a slightly smoky whipped lardo.

 That plate was quickly followed by one bearing chicharrones, o​r fried pork skins, dusted with espelette pepper; buttery, dense foie gras truffles; and thin slices of remarkably tender, well ­balanced ham that my photographer and I were told had come from a very young pig named Ladybug.

Next came a small glass of maple sap reduced by 50 percent, which we were encouraged to sip before consuming pale peach­-colored cups of a sea urchin panna cotta to which some sap reduction had also been added.

The urchins’ creaminess and delicate briny edge were smoothed together by soft­spoken maple undertones. More seafood soon appeared; as the “Superfly” s​oundtrack played overhead, we were given wild yeast b​lini​ topped with cured salmon, trout roe and maple creme fraiche.

It was then that Sugar Shack began in earnest. Slices of t​ourtiere, ​a hearty Quebecois pork pie whose deeply browned lard pastry had come from the nearby Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop, arrived alongside a slaw of turnips, red cabbage and beets tossed with hot maple vinaigrette. Both were delicious, but the slaw proved particularly helpful as more meats appeared.

Two home­made maple sausages, poached in sap and tasting gently of pork liver, paired deliciously with a porridge of Abenaki corn from Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont.

Double-­fried quail, whose preparation I’d been watching eagerly from our kitchen side table, was terrifically crisp and made for excellent finger food. The tiny birds came dressed with a maple shoyu sauce whose smokily salty flavor was edged with a resonant sweetness.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The whole suckling pig before being carved into slices for hungry patrons.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]B[/dropcap]akeshop employee Logan Bouchard, who had temporarily resumed his past position as a server for the event, said that his favorite dish was either the quail or the wonderfully debauched pig’s trotter dish that followed it.

 For the record, that delicious dish consisted of trotters that had been disassembled and reconstructed around liverwurst stuffing, then seared and served over maple baked beans with ham broth and blood sausage.

“Aaron makes amazing liverwurst. It doesn’t have that metallic minerality that a lot of liverwurst does. And the trotter, there’s so much collagen in there that you can put anything in it and seal it back together, and it doesn’t look any different,” said Bouchard.

Speaking of collagen: the meat of young pigs is simply brimming with the stuff. It makes for a juicy, almost gelatinous cooked product. For the next and final meat course, Josinsky and Wade had removed the bones from a suckling pig’s body and rolled the meat into an approximate cylinder with the pig’s intact head at one end.

They had then roasted the pig until its skin, which crackled loudly under Wade’s carving knife, had reached a golden sheen. The resulting pork, complemented by a clove­-scented stuffing, was impeccably tender.

To announce the roast pig, Josinsky began banging a saucepan with a wooden spoon and strode into the dining room. He was greeted by applause.

After a brief post­-pork lull, dessert service got under way. The first and most substantial dish was a creamy maple sugar pie, a nod once more to Quebecois tradition.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A chef lays out rows of puff pastries to be filled with maple crème for the dessert course.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]A[/dropcap]fter that came a plate of cream puffs, hard candy and fudge, all maple-­based and deeply satisfying.

Sugar Shack’s final course, appropriately enough, was sugar on snow. Our server brought us a bowl of shaved ice and poured hot maple sugar, thickened just past the point at which it could have been called syrup, on top. The combination was simple, straightforward and refreshing.

The event’s syrup and sap came from Al Bushey at Brigham Hill Maple in Essex Junction, Vermont, Wade said.

After dinner, Bouchard and I chatted about upcoming Misery Loves Co. events amidst the slow, churning riffs of stoner metal band Sleep’s monolithic smog opera “Dopesmoker.” Those who missed out on Sugar Shack will be pleased to hear that, “probably sometime in early May,” MLC will bring back its Café Corretto evenings at the Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop in Winooski. This time around, in addition to cheese, charcuterie, baked goods and amari, there will be a focus on increased raw bar offerings as part of a collaboration with seafood distributor Wood Mountain Fish.

MLC will also be participating in Winooski’s art and music festival Waking Windows, which will take place May 1­3.

In the meantime, they’re open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Check them out sometime at 46 Main St. Winooski, VT .

Eat a Real Donut: Ren Wiener at Scout & Co

Nicksmithsig[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]D[/dropcap]o you ever find yourself dwelling on cartoon depictions of ordinary food items, taking in their eye-popping colors and lushly plump contours and wishing that they’d leap into your hand from the television screen? More specifically, have you sympathized with Homer Simpson’s opinion of the doughnut as rendered by Matt Groening, but been unable to find a suitable, tangible equivalent? The typical real-life doughnut has nothing on those bewitching pink-topped things.

Luckily, the word typical needn’t apply to your doughnut intake if you live in the Burlington area. Just head over to cult coffee shop Scout & Co, in the North End. There’s a Winooski, Vermont location too, but you’ll really want to visit the original spot if you have doughnuts on the brain.

 

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A successful vegan adaptation of the popular Girl Scout cookie, the Samoa, into doughnut form.

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]E[/dropcap]very Saturday, the Winooski-area pastry expert and all-around culinary marvel Ren Weiner delivers four varieties of doughnuts to Scout. These doughnuts are a throwback to her time at Misery Loves Co., a Winooski eatery where Scout owners Tom Green and Andrew Burke have also worked in the past.

Since setting out on her own several months ago as the one-woman baking company Miss Weinerz, Weiner has had plenty of opportunities to experiment and refine her recipes. “Doughnuts are awesome. Everyone knows what a doughnut is. With doughnuts as a base I can play with new fillings, flavors and techniques but still have a product that is approachable.”

That approachability helps Weiner’s donuts stand out among equally delicious but higher-concept offerings like Scout’s fingerling potatoes with oyster mayonnaise, pickled mustard seeds, pine oil and sumac.

 

 

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The perfect topping for this fresh blueberry frosted doughnut. Weiner hand-cuts every rainbow sprinkle to the proper size.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]W[/dropcap]hen I arrived at Scout & Co, the doughnuts available were Blueberry Joy, with picturesque icing that lent a slight, dark tartness to the yeasty pastry, and cheerfully bright sprinkles hand-rolled and cut into charming pieces by Wiener herself; Orange Cream, an almost impossibly bright-tasting confection bursting with orange zest and coated with coarse sugar for a hypnotic textural contrast; Vegan Samoa, which managed to surpass both its Girl Scout-distributed namesake and the expectations of this non-vegan; and finally, Boozy Irish Cream, which lived up deliciously to every aspect of its name.

 

Of all these flavors, I was perhaps happiest to see Orange Cream, which I’d been fiending for ever since Weiner still made them for Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop. I was afraid that they’d disappeared for good when she left there, and was profoundly relieved to learn that this doughnut flavor was still available.

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The orange cream-filled doughnut is coated with granulated sugar and a pinch of orange zest.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]T[/dropcap]he numerous hip parents who brought their children into Scout for doughnuts that Saturday morning must have been relieved, too, to discover a somewhat less guilt-inducing treat. Weiner said she prides herself on using the most sustainable ingredients she can source.

“[I use] cultured butters and fresh fruits, local and organic milk and eggs,” Weiner said. “The dough itself [is] made with natural yeasts and set slowly to rise over a two-day fermentation cycle.”

The benefits of this cycle, Weiner said, are significant.

“Because of [the fermentation process], my dough uses less sugar than most other recipes and has an amazing texture.”

 

 

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RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The boozy irish cream filled doughnut, for those who want their after-dinner coffee in the morning. Topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

 

 

If you’re interested in seeing some more great photos of Weiner’s work and want an up-to-the-moment heads-up as to what her latest creations are, check her out on Instagram. She has gained a strong following on the site, which she said is like “having a cheerleading squad in your pocket.”

Join the squad. Track down a doughnut. You won’t regret it.

 

http://www.missweinerz.com/Scout O.N.E.

237 North Ave, Burlington, VT 05401

Open Monday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Doughnuts are delivered at 11 a.m. Saturday, and served as supplies last.