Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vermont: the land of maple syrup, moose, and transcendental ice cream

Mr. Bear at the Orvis Store in Arlington
Ah, Vermont. Don't be fooled by the map showing major routes that you can take to traverse the state. Prepare yourself for wee little roads dotted with "moose crossing" signs. The good news is, Vermont is so lovely that you won't care if your tires are being slowly flayed off your car. Case in point, as we bounced over an unpaved road to Grafton, I stared at the lush green forest that arched above us into a canopy, dappling the road with filtered light, and I saw what might've inspired Robert Frost's line, "the woods are lovely, dark, and deep." There is a cool verdancy to the thickly forested land that seems like the kind of magic that would lure Hansel and Gretel further and further in, their trail of crumbs mysteriously disappearing. I was interrupted from this thought, however, when we rounded a corner and saw a bear crossing the road. My companion seemed quite delighted at this turn of events, while I stabbed at the auto-lock and squeaked for her to roll up her windows.

Near Bear Central
And the bear was not the first wildlife sighting of the weekend. Packs of wild turkeys, kamikaze squirrels, fuzzy little chipmunks, and trout the size of bread loaves were duly noted by the Bakery Babe. There's no getting around it: there's nature in Vermont. Luckily, there are also many humans who take inordinate amounts of pride in making really good food.

In the town of Bennington, we were treated to Cafe Nova Mae, an old-timey cafe with good looks and a tempting sweets case. The service was a bit slow, but altogether it's the sort of place you could happily while away a few hours over cofee.

Alas, all that glitters is not gold in Bennington. Just down the street, we stopped in at the intriguing "Crazy Russian Girls" bakery, only to find that despite warm cookies straight from the oven and cupcakes that looked like schnauzers, the bakery itself had a bit of gloom to it, with sparse shelves and a few bits of frosting that was beginning to crust over.

Feeling somewhat in need of a cheery thought, we fled next door to the Village Chocolate Shop.

But as we entered what should've been the cutest store in the entirety of Vermont, I quickly noted a plethora of cellophane badness, the absolute lack of the scent of chocolate, and two large "chocolate" moose that looked like their origins were strictly scatological.

Empty handed, we landed with some desperation at the Bakkerij Krijnen, an unassuming little building on the outskirts of town that has only the sign "Bakery" as any form of identification to the passerby. But trust me, it's worth hunting down. Inside you will find a bright Dutch bakery with exquisite frangipane tarts, pies, and cookies made with the best cocoa and marzipan.

Raspberry Linzer cookies

Cocoa Tulips
Yes, please.
This is exactly the sort of bakery I dream of stumbling into by chance on a quiet country road. At prices that are not too dear, you will walk out with a tower of goodies.

But for those seeking a truly unique Vermont experience, I suggest you proceed from Bennington to Shaftsbury, where you will find the Chocolate Barn on Historic Route A.

Now, I know that normally things which end in "barn" are not good (Liquor Barn, Dress Barn, Yarn Barn, etc.). But in this instance, you are to swerve, parachute, or walk on bended knee if you must to get thee to the Chocolate Barn. Why? Inside lurks the most heavenly, rich, creamy, substantial homemade ice cream that you will ever devour. By far better than any ice cream available in Boston. I opted for the maple walnut, and my face was quickly attached to a thick cream tower that was splendid with maple and absolutely packed with walnuts. It was magnificent. It was bloody good. And it was devoured so fast that I did not stop to take a picture. So you'll have to find out for yourself what the world's best ice cream cone looks like. But I can leave you with some idea of the other goodies that one might procure at the Chocolate Barn.

There were, of course, many treats of the inedible variety. Splashing about in idealic Lake Shaftsbury with some very energetic water monkeys, lounging on the cool screened porch and drinking Pimms with good friends, oggling fishing lures that looked like rock-star hair extensions at the Orvis Headquarters, fesh corn from the farm down the lane, and even trowling the local thrift sale for goodies. But I have to tell you, the very best treat of the weekend was something that simply cannot be bought in a store. Our gracious host brought out an amazing breakfast treat: maple syrup made from the trees on her land. In a quart jar. Served with a ladle. This is the kind of lux food indulgence that makes my heart and my blood sugar soar. A few puddles of this glorious stuff on blueberry pancakes gave me secret ambitions to move to Vermont permanently.

Do go:
The Chocolate Barn, Historic Route 7A, Shaftsbury, VT 05262
Nova Mae Cafe, 512 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201
Bakkerij Krijnen, 1001 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201

Do avoid:
Crazy Russian Girl Bakery, 415 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201
The Village Chocolate Shoppe, 471 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201

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