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travel: vermont and new hampshire

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

It was not long after my trip to Maine last summer when Sharon asked if I would be willing to come out to Vermont in March to learn about organic maple syrup farms. My reply was, “That’s prime ski season in Colorado.” Sharon convinced me that this would be a worthwhile adventure and she has never steered me wrong.

To be honest, I am not much of a syrup person. Most likely this is because I’m not a sweet breakfast person (or a breakfast person for that matter). However, years ago I did make the switch from “syrup” to pure maple syrup in my house because I realized how much junk there is in “syrup”. By junk I mean highly-processed, manufactured, chemical-laden ingredients. Pure organic maple syrup (what I use) has one ingredient and it’s all natural and minimally processed. It should come as no surprise that someone who titles her blog use real butter would insist on using pure maple syrup. But I wanted to learn more. It was enough to pull me away from my ski season for a weekend.

I wrote back to Sharon, “I’m in.”

A Song of Ice and Sugar

The Hand: Sharon Kitchens
Master of Coin: Arnold Coombs (Coombs Family Farms Facebook page)
The Small Council: Matt Armendariz, Rebecca Crump, Ashley English, Joy Wilson, myself, and Ellen Daehnick (my guest). [I realize The Hand and Master of Coin are both part of The Small Council, but just work with me here.]

Full disclosure: My transportation, lodging, meals, and activities were sponsored by Coombs Family Farms with no obligation on my part. All photographs, words, experiences, and opinions are my own.

Day 0: Boston to West Chesterfield: The Butcher Shop, Chesterfield Inn
Day 1: Guilford (VT), Brattleboro (VT), Alstead (NH), Walpole (NH): Ted’s Sugarhouse, Coombs Candy Kitchen, Bascom Family Farms, Burdick Restaurant, Chesterfield Inn
Day 2: Norwich (VT): King Arthur Flour Mothership
Day 3: West Chesterfield to Boston: fly home

Day 0: It took 9.5 hours to go from my house in the Colorado Rockies to a car to a bus to a plane to a car to dinner at The Butcher Shop in Boston. There, I met up with my partners in crime for a lovely reunion over multiple boards of antipasti (Prosciutt, Mortadella, Sopressata, Rosette de Lyon, Finocchiono, Petit Jésus), pâtés and terrines (duck liver mousse, gamebird en croûte, pâté de campagne, rillettes du jour), and housemade sausages. Servers loaded our table with cheeses, beet salads, hummus, pickled vegetables, marinated olives, Parmesan, Marcona almonds, breads, mustards, and honey while we did our best to clear plates and make more room. It was a divine welcome to New England and a great way to kill time waiting for the rush hour traffic to abate. Sharon navigated Boston traffic and a snow storm in New Hampshire to deliver us safely to the Chesterfield Inn in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, our home base for the next few days.

three types of housemade sausages

matt and joy contemplate where to begin

this was just our half of the table

nighttime at the chesterfield inn (the night we arrived, it was snowing)

Things I really liked from Day 0
Dinner at The Butcher Shop.
Catching up with friends on the long drive to West Chesterfield.
A good night’s sleep at the Chesterfield Inn.

Day 1: The Chesterfield Inn is a quaint establishment nestled near the Connecticut River, which dictates the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont. In the morning, I could get a better sense of the layout of the property and the neighboring woods. I met Yoda, the resident kitty who likes to perch (or curl up) in the mail tray and lazily observe guests as they come and go. We all convened in the sunroom for breakfast with our host, Arnold Coombs, a charming seventh generation maple farmer who produces organic maple syrup, organic maple sugar, and pure maple candy.

the inn by morning light

feels like new england

the inn’s mascot, yoda

yoda runs the place like a boss

every breakfast had a selection of maple syrups (and maple butter)

cinnamon maple french toast

**Jump for more butter**

travel: maine, the great state (long)

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

There is a special love I have for the state of Colorado – the place I call home. You can probably sense that from the way I photograph and write about Colorado in this space. It is not unlike the adoration that Mainers have for Maine. Before last week, Maine was never much on my radar except when good friends of mine waxed nostalgic for it (my pal in graduate school always referred to her as, “Maine, the great state”). But my western-centric attentions were pointed East when my friend, Sharon (who I met at IFBC Seattle in 2009 on a chance shared cab ride), invited me out on behalf of The Maine Office of Tourism and The Schooner J. & E. Riggin for a trip to explore some of their fine state. So yeah, I was in Maine last week and it was… AWESOME.

Full disclosure: The Maine Office of Tourism and The Schooner J. & E. Riggin sponsored my transportation, lodging, and meals with no obligation on my part. All photographs, words, experiences, and especially opinions, are my own.

Day 1: Portland: El Rayo Taqueria, Cantina El Rayo
Day 2: Portland: Gulf of Maine Research Institute, The Well, Jordan’s Farm, Broadturn Farm, Maine Mead Works, Regency Garden Café, Fore Street
Day 3: Portland to Rockland: Standard Baking Company, Rock Paper Scissors, The Slipway, Salt Water Farm, Rock City Roasters, J&E Riggin, In Good Company
Days 4-7: Rockland, Stonington, Camden: The Schooner J. & E. Riggin, Rheal Day Spa

Day 1: I left my house in the Colorado Rockies at 3:45 am and arrived at the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa in Portland, Maine, with enough time to drop off my bags and change my clothes for dinner. Joining my travel companions Joy and Rebecca, we walked with our host, Sharon, to the brightly colored and lively El Rayo Taqueria. The smell of savory Mexican food drifted on the fresh sea air as we approached. There we met with several local Portland food scene folks for refreshing margaritas and appetizers on the patio where every table was occupied with happy patrons.

a round of margaritas de la casa – perfection on a summer evening

flash fried shishito peppers with oaxacan sea salt, chips, salsa, and guacamole

abigail describes the different oysters she brought from her farm

and there were fabulous goat meat tacos… did i mention this was merely appetizers?!

El Rayo is run by the dynamic duo: executive chef Cheryl Lewis and general manager Norine Kotts. Their kitchen manager, Elena McMahan, gave us a tour of her urban garden which supplies the restaurant with fresh herbs and edible flowers in summer. The incredible oysters we sampled came from Abigail Carroll’s oyster farm: Nonesuch Oysters. I got to step inside the restaurant (which was also hopping) and get a quick tour from Cheryl.

pickled peppers at the counter

festive and packed with locals

the busy line keeps up with demand

We then walked next door to the swankier Cantina El Rayo which features cocktails and more refined fare compared to its sister, El Rayo Taqueria. I sat next to Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz of Ten Apple Farm, Elena, and Anestes Fotiades who writes Portland Food Map. Not only was everyone genuinely warm, but they are all fascinating people. Margaret and Karl supplied the goats for our dinner (from their farm). I think I kinda fell in love with those two. Here are just some of the noms we enjoyed for our meal, although I was in a food coma by the time the churros rolled around. Everything was fantastic. And then Cheryl gave us each a luscious, frosted coconut cupcake as a take-home treat.

the cantina

blueberry shrub refresco (yes to this!!)

delectable hibiscus pickled deviled eggs

heavenly chili pesto oysters

mexico city style street corn with cotija cheese and chipotle

goat meatballs with mole sauce and pickled onions

griddled hoja santa leaves with three cheese and tomatillo sauce

Things I really liked from Day 1
Virgin margarita and goat meat tacos at El Rayo Taqueria.
Oysters from Nonesuch Oysters.
Blueberry shrub refresco, chili pesto oysters, and Mexico City style street corn at Cantina El Rayo.
My elastic waistband pants.
A comfy bed at the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa.

Day 2: To counter the effects of the first night’s feast (hey, elastic only gets you so far), I got myself to the Regency’s fitness center for a run before our tour of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). Blaine Grimes explained how the institute provides a supportive connection between the science of the Gulf of Maine (and its watershed) and the communities that depend on it. GMRI builds working solutions to balance the needs of the environment with the needs of the fishing industry. Additionally, they have developed an impressive outreach program to educate Maine’s 5th to 8th graders on the Gulf of Maine through interactive exercises that teach the scientific method (this was the coolest thing ever).


blaine starts with an overview of the physical geography of the region

educating children by not giving the answers, but letting them discover for themselves

After the tour, we moseyed on over to Jordan’s Farm where Penny Jordan welcomed us. She then ushered us down to The Well, a tiny unassuming restaurant on the farm that is only open for dinner service. Chef/owner Jason Williams graciously hosted us for a special lunch demo of his preset menu. Much of the food is locally sourced, if not harvested right off the farm – fresh and beautifully prepared to highlight the ingredients. Jason’s kitchen is a converted trailer and there are outdoor tables and a couple of screened gazebos where patrons can enjoy an exquisite meal.

penny greets us in front of her farm stand

heading down to the well

nice fresh summery touches

jason works his magic here

in the gazebo

gorgeous salad with summer tomatoes and house-cured bacon

shishito peppers and a peekytoe crab sandwich

penny, jason, and his family joined us for lunch

vanilla bean maine blueberries with shortbread

**Jump for more butter**

elderflower cordial

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Recipe: elderflower cordial

It’s been a busy week of hosting an astrophysics retreat…

dinner and science!

setting the table at our house

welcoming my parents back to Boulder for the summer…

mom and dad in colorado

and keeping tabs on the wildfires along the front range as well as spot fires popping up in our local area.

our daily dose of lightning

Never a dull moment. Actually, a dull moment wouldn’t be so bad. Today’s recipe is a good “back to Earth” kind of recipe. Just what I need right now. Remember when my friend, Wendy, took me foraging? I picked a small batch of elderflowers because I love anything elderflower. Truth? When I go to IKEA, I like those little elderflower juice boxes. I’m guessing most of the elderflowers are gone now and in the process of becoming elderberries, but come spring next year – you must do this elderflower cordial, because it rocks multiple worlds.

elderflower blossoms

wendy forages

There are some basic rules to foraging elderflowers. First off, don’t mistake poison hemlock for elderflowers, because that could end badly – and by badly, I mean death. Do a Google Image search on poison hemlock and learn how to identify both plants. Second, avoid bushes or shrubs that have been sprayed with chemicals. Third, only pick flowers that are fully open, but not past prime (i.e. brown). Fourth, don’t pick a bush clean because not only is that a jerk thing to do, but you will prevent the fruits from forming later. You can find some good information from the pros here on Wendy’s site and here on Hank Shaw’s site. We harvested from several different bushes.

my loot, about 25 stems

cream-colored blossoms

pluck pluck pluck

The recipe is pretty simple although the task of de-stemming the flower buds is a tedious pain in the hoohoo. We de-stem the flowers because the stems are toxic. A little stem won’t hurt you (so I’ve read), but you really want to remove as much as possible. The flowers come off with a gentle pull (I found the older the flower, the easier to remove), but there are a gazillion of these little white blossoms. Running a stem between my fingertips helped to remove a decent percentage of them, but the more stubborn ones required actually plucking. It’s worth the effort.

the blossoms, de-stemmed

sugar, water, lemon, and elderflowers

**Jump for more butter**