Travel Diaries: A Weekend in Vermont

Before this trip, I'd never been to Vermont or really knew much about it beyond maple syrup and cheddar cheese.

The trip I won (and actually, all the retreats hosted at Good Commons) included round-trip transportation from New York on a lovely and relatively comfortable jitney called The Good Bus.* The bus picked me and the rest of the group up in midtown on Thursday evening, and we settled in for the 5-6 hour voyage (including one stop somewhere in upstate New York). The talented GC resident chef, Matthew Wexler (who has is own blog) was on board and he fed us well! On the trip up we enjoyed banh mi sandwiches, black bean dip and chips, fresh fruit, peanut butter cookies, and sparkling water.

We arrived in Vermont after midnight at which point we sleepily made our way to our bedrooms. All the bedrooms are shared and there is a really charming (and lower-priced) sleeping loft which sleeps multiple people. I got one of the shared bedrooms (my roommate with a really cool woman named Connie) with access to a really fantastic steam shower.

Our first day started off with a hearty breakfast of homemade scones, fresh fruit, a couple baked egg dishes, salad, and a few other treats, all prepared by Chef Matt and served family style on a long wooden table.

We then headed off on our first excursion: a charcuterie demo and tasting at a very cool local restaurant called The Downtown Grocery. Owned by a really charming (and really good-looking) couple, Abby and Rogan, the restaurant is known for their in-house charcuterie and classic-with-a-twist dishes made using local ingredients. A lot of the dishes have a little bit of southern flair in honor of Abby, who is originally from Mississippi, with the accent and sweet southern personality to match!

When we arrived, Abby welcomed us with kir royale cocktails made with local cassis (I later picked up a bottle of it to bring home at the wine shop across the street).

We sipped our cocktails while Rogan showed use how he makes a variety of incredible sausages, from nduja (my new obsession) to fennel salami to pancetta. Abby then brought around platters of the meats for us to taste (along with some bread and local cheese). My favorite was definitely the nduja, which was seasoned with orange zest and smoked Spanish paprika, followed closely by the crisp and peppery pancetta.

We then headed out to a shop across to a wine and cheese shop across the street where I got a few kinds of local cheeses (I'm still enjoying these) and some wine to enjoy with dinner during the weekend.

We returned to the house for a bread-shaping workshop led by a local baker. She walked us through the steps of shaping rolls, baguettes, and a few other types of bread. Come dinner time, we all pitched in assembly-line style to prepare the dinner of fish en papillote (parchment paper pockets) with leeks, lemon confit, mushrooms, and a few other goodies.

The night ended with a really fantastic chocolate tasting and workshop led by Heather Terry, the co-owner of NibMor chocolates. We tasted about a dozen different kinds of chocolates (from different brands) as she walked us through the various characteristics of each. We learned about the different flavor characteristics and profiles of each bean, and she told us all about her experience in creating the company, which essentially started with a bit of experimentation in her own NYC kitchen. She are her business partner Jennifer are seriously cool ladies and I absolutely loved being able to listen to and learn from them. (Their chocolate is pretty great, too!)

(Well, actually, my night ended with a 90-minute massage just before bed. I think more places need to offer late night massages.)

The next morning we woke up to a continental breakfast spread to be followed by a brunch a few hours later. I took advantage of both. After breakfast there was a pilates class led by the lovely Meg Zirm and then we all piled back into the bus for a trip to a nearby jersey cow dairy farm, Jersey Girls Dairy.

We took a quick tour around the farm where the cows, heifers, and chickens are pastured and grass-fed. The best part was getting to pet and admire the cute little baby cows. I think I took about 50 photos of the baby cows alone--how adorable are they?

The dairy is permitted to sell up to 40 gallons of raw milk a day and a lot of local neighbors have containers that they regularly get filled up. The dairy shop operates on an honor system, with a price list, a money box, and a fridge. The customer comes, grabs what he or she wants out of the fridge and then leaves the money in the locked wooden box. So simple and perfect.

(For more about why raw milk is the best, check out this post I wrote not long ago. And if you're interested in a raw milk source in the NYC/NJ area that delivers (!!), shoot me an email and I'll hook you up.)

After the farm, we headed out to a nearby co-op called WAAWWE (We Are All What We Eat), where the dairy and a lot of other producers sell their produce, eggs, cheese, meats, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, and a lot of other local goodies. I stocked up on treats, bringing home some goat's milk caramel, venison sausage, more cheese, some Vermont maple soda, and some cookies for the road.

Outside the co-op there is a small lunch truck and I ordered an incredible lamb burger made with local lamb, a very soft freshly baked bun, pickled onions, local feta, and a local yogurt dressing. This thing was absolutely amazing; as was the mere fact of sitting at a little table overlooking miles of green in every direction. Heaven.

Our next stop was the Green Mountain Sugar House for one of the local specialties--maple creemees; a soft-serve ice cream sweetened and flavored with maple syrup. The flavor of this was fantastic, but I've just never been a fan of soft-serve or those Styrofoam-like cones it comes in; I'd love to make a regular ice cream version using maple syrup as the primary flavor.

The shop itself was also pretty fantastic--I got off line about 7 times because each time someone would get in line behind me holding something I hadn't seen, I had to go and get it. From this shop I brought home 2 packages of maple bacon, some maple candy, peanut maple brittle, Lake Champlain chocolates, a hand lotion made from local honey, and some more cheese. 

Our next workshop was the chocolate smoothie workshop, also led by Heather of NibMor chocolate (I mentioned this in my spicy chocolate smoothie post last week). We learned all about coconut palm sugar production and got some great ideas for homemade chocolate drinks (like that spicy smoothie version I pulled together).

After the workshop, a few of us headed out to the gorgeous hot tub in the backyard where we talked entrepreneurship and came up with a pretty cool idea that I can't wait to share with you guys in the coming months (it's going to be AWESOME!). I followed this up with a shower, nap, and some corn shucking.

Dinner that night was a feast of tacos, carne asada, cous cous salad, and some truly incredible beans. We then headed out back to the firepit for s'mores, which I followed up with another 90-minute pre-bed massage.

The next morning, Meg led a yoga class and then we feasted on a wonderful brunch/lunch of salmon with curried pesto (hello...AMAZING. I need to start adding curry to my pesto from here on out), salad, rolls, and an incredible egg + mushroom + onion + tarragon frittata. (Incidentally, I always forget how fantastic tarragon can be. I added some to my shopping list when I got back and have been eating eggs scrambled with mushrooms, onions, and tarragon ever since!)

It was, obviously, an amazing weekend and I am now 100% completely in love with Vermont (and Good Commons). I can't wait for my next trip up!

Good Commons hosts pretty incredible weekend retreats like this all year long so check out their calendar for current offerings. (They actually have a Food, Wine, and Rejuvenation weekend scheduled for labor day and still have a few spots left. I'm going to just be getting back from my friend's wedding in Europe so I won't be able to go, but I definitely recommend it if you're looking for an unforgettable weekend away.)

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