Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkeys Travel Too

I had planned on writing to you yesterday, but on the way to my computer I fell into a turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows coma, stretched out on the floor in front of my parent's fireplace, and fell asleep.

I've finally shaken my turkey stupor.  But I'm not quite finished with the turkey talk yet.  Now, now, before you turn around and run for fear of overdosing on any more Thanksgiving food let me set your groaning stomachs at ease; no turkey recipes, I promise.  I know the day has come and gone but there is something I have to share with you before we truly call it a day.

This year I stumbled upon something special.  An extraordinary turkey.  A bird with a story.

Before the last Thursday of every year's November, we travel from our corners, all with the same destination: tables holding pounds of golden, crispy turkey.  We come from Brooklyn, the west coast, just around the corner...all for the bird.  But what about that bird?  It travels too.  All years before this I'd say our turkey came from the grocery store.  Before the store? Hmm.  Maybe I'd rather not know.

This year it was different.  My turkey came from Kansas.  It came from The Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch.  It was farmed by Frank Reese Jr.  Frank Reese Jr. has a mustache.  This year I'm all in the know just from reading the package of my Heritage Turkey.

Heritage turkeys are ancestors of the industrial, Broad-breasted White turkey we find in our store coolers today.  They can have a lineage as far stretching as 150 years back, and are raised on small farms in the heartland of the U.S.  Domestic breeds, largely in danger of extinction as industrial farms pack chain groceries with heavy, antibiotic rich turkeys, to save the Heritage breeds farmer's would tell you we need to eat them.

For those in the east and the west, the north and the south,  Heritage Foods USA.  A business created by Patrick Martins, the founder of Slow Foods USA, Heritage Foods provides consumers with the Heritage breeds of turkey that need your ovens and gravy to stay alive.  A connection between the small farmers and your holiday company, with a Heritage bird you are assured a vegetarian fed, free range turkey.  A happy bird.  You'll know where it came from, who raised it.

And I can tell you, you'll know it will taste delicious.  Richer, full of flavor, and so mouthwateringly moist...

Best of all, it doesn't stop at turkey.  You're full of turkey, I know.  Heritage Foods USA also has pork, beef, lamb.  Charcuterie.  Even fruit preserves and snacks.  All from regional producers (like Frank Jr.) who celebrate honest American traditions of farming and food production.  Some have mustaches, some don't.

During a time when we travel to say thanks to our favorite people, I couldn't help but feel thankful for the traveling turkeys, that there are still healthy birds and people to plan their trips to our table.

I know you can't wait for Chinese take-out night.  Pizza.  Anything but more turkey (thank you for allowing me a few, possibly gratuitous post-Thanksgiving turkey photos!)  I just couldn't let pass the opportunity to share with you my discovery in hopes it will excite you too.

And remember, your Christmas goose is just around the corner, your Hanukkah brisket not far behind...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wishful Whiskeying: Part III, a conclusion and a cocktail

The past four days here in Brooklyn have been cold.  Really cold.  Mittens and a hat and a scarf and you're still shivery cold.  The consistency of four days in a row, I fear, means winter is close by.  And that, my friends, means it's about time to finish up that fall whiskey.

Taking a taste on the fourth day of infusing it was agreed upon that the flavor was just right.  The number of days had created a taste that was new and yet still with the definable feel and personality of straight bourbon.  After all the pears and nuts and cinnamon sticks, was I finally headed towards the title of whiskey girl extraordinaire?

Before the clock struck cocktail hour there remained one final step.  Time to strain.  To do this we gathered a large rubber band, scissors and a few pieces of cheese cloth.  

Folding the cheesecloth, creating layers to make a tight filter, we rubber banded the cloth over the jar lid and simply poured it from jar to spouted cup.

Warning: to those of you who look eagerly at the nutty mix of whiskey soaked spiced pears remaining at the bottom of the infusing not eat them.  Do not do it.  Yes, it was hard to throw away those remaining goodies, but thinking surely there was something that could be done with them I bit into a pear to knockout alcoholic, squish squashy results.  The pears have done their work.  Let them go.

And let yourself raise a glass!  Pouring the bourbon into a clean bottle it was like positioning a trophy as I arranged it on a shelf in the kitchen.  Admiring the amber mix a thought crossed my mind: it's wonderfully warming to take serious time creating something meant to be slowly savored.

And after waiting and wondering and wishing, how wonderful and warming is the first taste of the highly anticipated?  With the wind whipping at the kitchen windows all the shivers now were only in excitement of the first sip.

Spicy, subtly sweet, toasty and tingling.  I am a whisky girl for this.

I'm also still the pre-bourbon Kaitlin.  I like rosy drinks.  I haven't bought a red dress and while I am pleased with the fall harvest treat I'm not ready for a glass on the rocks.  But the possibilities only start on ice.  Inspired by the chilly weather and turkeys to be, Russ and I evolved the fall harvest bourbon into a crowd pleasing, company keeping holiday cocktail: hot-buttered cider bourbon, or what we like to call a "Baked Apple".

Straight, sweetened, dressed up or dressed in slippers, I hope you find just the way to make your bourbon your own.  And that your bourbon finds you a little warmth in your week.

Baked Apple
hot-buttered fall harvest bourbon with cider

1/2 T butter
2 t brown sugar
3 oz (just less than half a cup) fall harvest bourbon
6 oz (3/4 of a cup) apple cider

1.  Place butter, brown sugar and bourbon in a mug.
2.  Heat cider until hot enough to melt butter.
3.  Pour hot cider into the mug, whisking until sugar has dissolved and butter has melted.
4.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick and serve hot.

one serving

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wholly Pumpkin

In between all this talk of strong whiskey I feel the need for something wholesome.  Namely, pie.  Pumpkin pie.  It is the season after all, and if we are really being honest, when is there a wrong time for pie?

I have many pie ambitions.  I aspire to shape flawlessly crimped crusts.  I will find the perfect recipe for both flaky and mealy dough (I happen to prefer a crumbly crust!)  Among my many pie dreams is nestled a shamefully simple wish: to make a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin.  How this has yet to be, I often ask ask myself.  And while there will always be a place in my stomach for mom's Libby's canned pumpkin pie, I recently decided it was time to get back to basics and slice into a real, big, orange pumpkin.

Full of that enthusiasm you get from setting out to fulfill a lifelong quest, I pick two picture worthy, round and deeply orange sugar pumpkins from a big pile at my local grocery.  Two, and not just the sufficient one, because...I get excited.  Quest fulfilling enthusiasm is a powerful thing.

And speaking of powerful things, I'm sure all you pie people out there will confirm, once you start thinking about pie you can't compartmentalize that kind of want.  It calls for instant gratification.  Back in the kitchen, it's pie time.

To make pumpkin puree is a simple task.  The largest challenge really lies in getting into the pumpkin itself.  With a sharp knife, stabbing at the thick rind I felt ghoulish, a little like some form of vegetarian butcher.  Then, shaking the ghoul and setting down the knife, breaking open the pumpkin, comes a beauty moment.  Beauty moments are what I call those times when you, a true lover of food, think to yourself just how beautiful -- physically, colorfully, texturally -- food can be.  When you think, "that grows, that!"  My fellow pie lovers, a beauty moment:

Scraping out the flesh I remember being a little girl, soaking my fingers into slimy, stringy pumpkin goo to pick out seeds for toasting on pumpkin carving night.  I make sure to save the seeds from these sugar pumpkins to do the same.

Once clean, the halves go face down on parchment lined baking sheets and into a toasty 425-450 degree F oven.  Working on the crust I'll admit, a near crisis ensues as I nearly forget about the precious beauty moment inspiring pumpkins.  It's a mystery among many burn-prone when things go into the oven simultaneously the mind goes out for a drink.

But I come to just in time.  A small pumpkin should take about 40 minutes until the flesh is soft and the skin peels right off.

Once cool, the food processor comes out.  A few pulses, a whir, a hum, and the pumpkin turns into a sweet, brilliant, glistening pumpkin-pie-dream-fulfilling puree.

The rest is just like mom makes.  Eggs, cinnamon, allspice, sugar.  Adding a little more spice than the recipe calls for I watch the mixture turn a deep, rich and warm brown.  I pour it into the unbaked, not quite perfectly (yet) crimped crust.  And into the oven it goes.

Coming out, I think, "My god I love pie!"  Smelling it hot out of the oven I think it's a shame pumpkin pie tastes so much better chilled.  Waiting for it to cool I think how surprisingly happy I now am to have a freezer full of excessive amounts of pumpkin puree (re: the pumpkin buying enthusiasm).

The result of the real pumpkin adventure?  Worth it.  Perhaps worth getting excited and buying two, making extra puree and having it on hand to keep for the next time...less messy, and quicker.  But turning a pumpkin into a pie is a trick worth feeling enthusiastic about.  The flavor is sweet, but in an organic way, more complex and rich.  I didn't include a recipe for the pie because you can simply slip your puree into your own favorite pie recipe (I know pies can get very personal.)  You will however find a seed suggestion...for something to eat while you are waiting for the pie to cool.

Spiced Vanilla Pumpkin Seeds

The cleaned seeds from 1 pumpkin
Melted butter to coat
Sugar to coat
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
approx 1/2 t spice blend (or spice to taste)

Spice blend:
2 parts cinnamon
1 part nutmeg
1 part allspice
1/2 part cardamom

1.  Toss seeds in melted butter.
2.  Sprinkle with sugar and toss to coat.
3.  Stir in the inside of vanilla bean and spice blend...add more or less spice according to your taste.
4.  Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown, stirring often.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wishful Whiskeying: Part II, bourbon in the morning?

In the past two days something has gone awry. Don't worry, the bourbon is tasting delicious. But...somehow instead of slipping on that red dress, I've found myself sipping from a shot glass in my robe and slippers.

Now, now. I'm just tasting. And while I'm not suggesting you complement your morning omelet with a strong drink (other than a good dark roast cup of joe), it's just been too exciting to wait until the sun goes down to taste the changes in the bourbon each day. Right away it grew cloudier as the pears rose to the top, the nuts settling to the bottom.

On day two it was softer...I sipped and when no whiskey face ensued I nearly fell out of my slippers. Today I could start to taste pear and the sugars from the fruit. Looking for a little more spice we added half of one cinnamon stick and another tablespoon size piece of ginger.

Remember, before you try your mix each day give the jar a slow turn upside down to gently stir it up. For now our jar is back on the shelf and tasting like it will only need a few more days worth of infusing. All the fun is in making it exactly how you like; mixing and waiting and sipping...even in your slippers.

Check back soon for the final report and a cocktail recipe suited for sleepy, post-Thanksgiving dinner night caps.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wishful Whiskeying: Part I, an experiment in infusions

It's bothered me on more than one occasion that I cannot drink whiskey. If I could have it my way I'd be the kind of girl that could sit down in a red dress at a bar, toss my hair carelessly and order, "Whiskey, neat." Sometimes I toss my hair, but now that I'm thinking about it, I don't even own a red dress. What happens when I try whiskey is that my face wrinkles into a prune, my mouth burns and I make a strange involuntary, "plecchh," sound while my tongue shoots out (all of this further reason for me to forgo whiskey, especially in public places). I hate to admit it, but with the exception of a good gin and tonic, I am in fact partial to pink drinks that fizz.

Maybe it's the change in the season approaching, or a little chilly weather restlessness, but I've recently rediscovered my want to be a whiskey girl. I look to my right hand man. I think what a happy coincidence he happens to make a living mixing up spirits at New York City's Gramercy Tavern. And even better, that he's recently plotted to bring his work home, gathering jars and fruit and spices to make original whiskey infusions. As bottles and shot glasses come out, our kitchen island transforms into a bar and I decide this experiment will be good for me (and hopefully you too).

So welcome to day one. The project is called Fall Harvest Bourbon; 750mL of Bourbon whiskey infused with pears, hazelnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

As we peel pears and toast nuts I feel a bit like a kid making a mud stew with sticks and berries. It's a carefree way of cooking; chop it all up, and throw it in a jar. Smelling the toasty hazelnuts and the refreshing bite of the ginger we add, improving the planned ingredients a touch, I think this may be the kind of whiskey I can really get into.

And then my spiced pear dreaming is interrupted. With all the ingredients in the jar (save the alcohol), Russ pours a shot of the Buffalo Trace Bourbon. He pushes it towards me. "Here," he says. A reality check. I am not ready for this. Has he never seen my straight whiskey face? I panic. I wonder. I sigh. Only in the name of understanding the transformation from pre-infused to spicy sweet Bourbon do I hesitantly take a sip. No picture will follow of the face that ensued.

But it is a good start. Pouring the bourbon into the jar, I still feel the caramel, slightly musky and hot flavor burned into my mouth. I will know the difference when I taste it. And when will that be, I hear you thirstily ask? A general range is about three to five days, perhaps longer, though you should taste it every day to decide when it's reached the perfect point. Remember: this is the start of a few entries so don't feel lost and confused, we'll drink and work it out together.

Closing up the jar, we turn it over once, gently, then back to an upright position. It is set on a shelf to start it's transformation. A culinary science project of sorts, I stare at the amber mixture as if waiting for some sort of flashy chemical reaction to take place.

While it's no baking soda volcano, something is happening. I think about all the flavors melding and mixing and expect this project to be a serious step in my pursuit of an affinity for whiskey. Below you will find the recipe for our first go around, but note that it’s a recipe in development; check back soon for changes and taste tests.

With the Bourbon on the shelf for now, I think I might go shop around for a red dress.

Fall Harvest Bourbon
(a starting point)

750mL Bourbon
1 C pears, peeled, thickly sliced
1/2 C hazelnuts, toasted
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fresh nutmeg (1/2 tsp pre-ground nutmeg)
1 chunk ginger, about the size of a tablespoon

1. Put all ingredients in a large jar.
2. Pour alcohol over ingredients.
3. Seal jar. Gently turn over once.
4. Put the jar on a shelf...
5. Take a sip everyday and check back here while you wait and see!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

For the Love of Breakfast

        If the stories I write to you are any representation of myself and my appetite, then it's about time we get around to breakfast.  I love breakfast.  I love, love, love breakfast.  Pastries, pancakes, cinnamoned oatmeal and honey-flaked was early in my life that I realized how near breakfast was to dessert and it's been close to my heart ever since.
       I also swoon for the first meal of the day because as a rule, I wake up starving.  I'm with a bagel and coffee no less that 15 minutes out of bed.  Skipping breakfast offensive thought.  I could never do it.  In fact, on sleepy weekends when others rise at noon, it's often my growling stomach that forces my lids up before the sun and moves my feet to swing out from under warm covers.
        Take this morning for example.  A wonderfully grey, rainy Saturday and I'm up by eight o'clock pondering what's good in the kitchen.  Weekend mornings like this one, on the dry side of rain-drizzled windows, these are my favorite for they give you the time to make breakfast an event.  Scones, waffles...a little flour and a dash of elbow grease yield the food you work through the week to get to.
        Thumbing through the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion I scanned for the perfect Saturday starch.  Pancakes?  No buttermilk in the fridge.  Biscuits?  No honey or jam.  Reviewing the options, I could feel my hunger snowballing with every recipe read.  Fifteen minutes down; a decision needed to be made, fast.  I flipped the page.  In the top left corner the heading read "Welsh Cakes."  Welsh cakes?  The thrilling, rare occurrence of a breakfast goodie just discovered!    Described in italics as a cross between a pancake and a biscuit, the deal was sealed and the Welsh cakes were on.

        I should note that my love for breakfast is deepened by the inherent comfort both of making and eating it.  In the quiet hours of an early day there has always been something calming about noiselessly whisking together flour and sugar.  And I know it may be wrong, but facing a white-canvased morning, I've never managed to feel guilty about anything I eat for breakfast.
        So this morning I whisked quietly, stirring flour, sugar, nutmeg and allspice.  Looking for a substitution for currants, I chose very thinly sliced bananas, the fruit that both my mother and Russ will claim a cure all in times of hunger, headaches, heartache, dehydration, sleeplessness and stomach bugs alike.

        Now before I get to the griddle, allow me to bring something to light.  Surely there are many kinds of cooks in the world (some with a love of breakfast, others, bananas).  However, more specifically among the varieties there are those who are patient and methodical no matter the situation, and those who abandon focus and control while cooking when hungry.  Please remember how much time must have passed at this point since I'd risen.  I am not the first kind of cook.
        Thus, there were two results of my nature in the kitchen this morning.  One, I discovered that Welsh cake dough is delicious raw.  Second, was the creation of a new method, much faster yet ultimately producing a cake more...rustic in appearance (below you'll find both approaches so you can personalize your morning cake).  Ditching a process of chilling, rolling out and biscuit cutting perfectly thin, round cakes, I threw the bowl of dough in the freezer for five minutes, hand-patted thick cakes and flattened them on the griddle with a spatula.  My stomach and I are working on patience in the face of sweet dough.

        Whether you choose thin and lovely or thicker and slightly misshapen, I think you will find the result of your Welsh cakes a curl-up-on-the-couch-with-your-coffee classic.  Firm enough to pick up but soft and tender inside, the cakes were warmly spiced, sugary and so pleasantly filling.
        Sprinkle them with powdered sugar, drizzle them with syrup, cover them with jam or butter.  And if you believe in the power of something other than bananas, say blueberries, crushed nuts or dried cranberries, trade out the banana, put in what you love.

        Sneak into the early-morning quiet of your kitchen next weekend, heat up your griddle and try these sweet little breakfast cakes.  And for you late sleepers, a tip from an early weekend riser; if everyone is still sleeping, no one will see you eat the dough.        

Spiced Banana Welsh Cakes
adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t allspice
1/8 t salt
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 banana
1 egg beaten, with enough milk added to equal 3/8 C

Method 1: Oh my god I need to eat RIGHT NOW.

1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice and salt.
2.  Rub in butter with your hands until it is in coarse chunks, evenly distributed in the flour.
3.  Thinly slice the banana, and stir into the dry ingredients.
4.  Stir in egg and milk, creating a wet dough.
5.  Put the dough in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.
6.  Heat a griddle or frying pan, coat with butter.
7.  With floured hands form a cake about 3 inches wide and 1/2 and inch thick, dropping it onto the griddle.
8.  Cook until golden brown on one side, pressing down gently to spread as it cooks.  Flip*, and cook until golden brown on the other side.

*it may be hard to flip cleanly, but hey, it will taste the same either way and you are hungry.

Method 2:  I would like to impress my guests and will make these the pretty way.

1-4. See above.
5.  Refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes or until not too sticky to roll out.
6.  Working with one half of the dough at a time (reserving the rest in the fridge), roll out the dough to 1/4 inch.
7.  Using a biscuit or circle cookie cutter, cut rounds (the size is up to your taste) from the dough.
8.  Cook on griddle as instructed above.  

approx 10 1/2 inch thick, 4 in wide (once pressed) rustic cakes
approx  20 1/4 inch thick, 4 in wide lovely looking cakes

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Secret and a Chicken

        I have a secret.  Well, perhaps more of a guilty admission to make.  Remember that Vermont apple wine I wrote of?  Oaky and olive-ish?  Well.  The cold hard truth is that in reality it was...gross.  There, I said it.  Gross.  It was oaky and olive-ish but also tart and vinegary.  I wanted to like it, but I also wanted it to taste like a magically alcoholic cider that would warm one's toes on chilly nights.  This drink, it was not.
        In fairness, it was an interesting concoction.  Maybe it wasn't meant for my glass but with three-quarters of a bottle looking lonely on my countertop I couldn't bring myself to pour it into the sink.  Plus, I really did want to like this drink with such a nice title: apple wine, a drink that stirs cozy images of rustic winters.  To drink or not to drink?
        Perhaps neither.  Enter, the chicken.  To drink poach!  Resourceful and more than helpful in the kitchen, Russ considered the bottle then speculated; dry and savory, maybe the stovetop was just the home this wine was looking for.  It was an interesting idea.
        Now, before we go on, another admission: generally, I don't feel strongly for things poached.  The concept of a poached food has always brought to mind images of squishy eggs and slimy salmon.  But for the love of wine, on this particular night I decided to give poaching a go, if nothing else in the name of finding a way to like that rascally apple drink.
        Enter fresh rosemary and sage.  Enter garlic and onions.  Enter bacon.  All chopped up on a cutting board, I declare there is nothing like the scent of fresh herbs...drinking in the air around a bunch of fresh rosemary is like a green aperitif.  And bacon, well the sheer suggestion of a thick slice, waiting to be cooked, waters the mouth and puts grumbles in the stomach.

        Manning the tongs, staring that bottle of wine in the eye, Russ took on the chicken while I cared for a side- a bit of butternut squash risotto thanks to Gourmet (if you're looking at the recipe we omitted the arugula).  With a pan, a bottle of olive oil and seasonings close by, it was a brush off the cutting board, a clip and toss of the tongs and voila, onions were sputtering and the bacon was on.  I love the smell of onions cooking; it smells of the start of so many delicious possibilities.

        Three juicy chicken breasts snuggled into the mix and it was time.  Streaming wine into the pan the aroma grew full almost instantly.  The heat, the herbs, the super-hero power of bacon...all smells pointed to yes, perhaps this merry melange was just what the bottle was meant for.  The wine bubbled around the chicken, a woodsy smelling bath, herbs and wine and bird all cooking contently together.

        We popped a lid on it, drank gin and tonics to our health, and for our health boiled a lovely, leafy pile of curly green kale (you're giving poaching a's the time, try boiled kale too!)  Even if you don't like eating dark leafies, I always find that it at least feels good to cook them.  
        One cocktail down, a pot of kale drained and a heaping bowl of risotto steaming on the back burner, it was a happy kitchen...and, time to test the chicken.  I reached for the lid...  Lifted it up...  Wafting, scented steam wrote the end of the story in fragrant loops through the air.  The heavy, sharp flavor of the wine was the perfect backdrop for the earthy-herbed, salt and peppered, bacon-bettered chicken breasts.  From gross to good god that smells great!  Spooning all the goodies from the pan over the chicken, it was decided that the apple wine had led to a triumphant plate indeed.

        And so I reconciled my feelings with that bottle.  Tasty things come in tricky packages.  Apple wine, things poached, even boiled greens (I'm serious...try them).  A meal like this doesn't just feed your hunger, it makes you hungry to find the next surprising feast.  I hope you like it.

        And no more secrets here, I promise.

Apple Wine Poached Chicken

2 T olive oil
2 tsp  fresh sage, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, picked
1/2  a medium sized red onion, roughly chopped
3 strips of bacon, chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 T butter
3 chicken breasts (roughly 1 1/2 pounds)
approx 1/2 bottle apple wine*

*if you can't find apple wine, a white wine such as a riesling will be equally delicious...add a 1/2 T or so of apple vinegar to imitate the fermented flavor of the apple wine.

1.  In a medium frying pan, over medium heat, sautee sage, rosemary, onions, bacon, and garlic (with salt and pepper to your liking) in olive oil until onions begin to sweat.
2.  In the same pan, sear chicken breasts on both sides.
3.  Add butter and stream the wine over the chicken.  You want the wine to come about half-way up the side of the chicken breasts (depending on the size of the pan you are using, you may use more or less than called for in the ingredient list).
4.  Put a lid over the pan, lower the heat and let the wine simmer around the chicken for 15-20 min, or until chicken is cooked through.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

What Happened In Vermont...

        Fleeing Brooklyn's, no-sign-of-fall, fall streets, I recently snuck up to the North East of Vermont in order to drink cider and properly kick through colored leaves with true autumn-ish abandon.  I went to pick pumpkins, apples, to hike through Halloween-bare woods in the craggy mountains.  And I did.  I hiked and chomped on apples and everything was crisp and delicious and just as I'd hoped until something entirely unexpected happened.
        It began here:

        I'll explain.  Close your eyes and picture the food that horrifies and disgusts you, so much, yet so irrationally you rarely admit your aversion.  That thing for which you've perfected excuses why, "No thank you, you wouldn't care for any," at parties or dinners where everyone around you just loves it.  Maybe it's chocolate, peaches, oysters.  For me, it's cheese.
        After a near 24-year stretch of complete and passionately committed aversion, I now so occasionally nibble at it, and only the mildest of what's out there at that, all the while still amazed that I am actually putting cheese into my body.
        Which I hope now paints a new picture of that fated aisle.
        "Let's get some cheese and wine," my travel partner and main squeeze, Russ, proposed as we grazed through a local food grocery in Burlington.
        "Okay," I say.  Just like that.  It is entirely possible I was distracted by how nice he looked in plaid against the New England background.  Whatever the glitch, before I knew it I was cradling three wedges in the crook of my arm while we stood in line to pay.  I was holding cheese.  I was going to spend an afternoon eating cheese.
        Back at the B&B, beside a fire, with a crossword puzzle, some local honey and Vermont-produced apple wine, I sat in that cozy nook and my friends, did I eat cheese.

        I started sensibly; a thick slice of Vermont Ayr, a raw cow's milk cheese produced on Crawford Family Farm.  Milky, smooth and...sweet, I think to myself.  Another slice with honey on top, then another with a piece of apple underneath.  I felt no reason to stop there and, well, I was happily seizing that sense of adventure.
        The next, an alpine cheese, Tarentaise, from Thistle Hill Farm.  Yum yum.  Made from the organic milk of happy grass-fed cows, it was firm with a slightly salty, very  nutty and completely delicious soft flavor.  At this point, an on-looker may have commented that I appeared to have gone wild.  Though I will not admit it, it is said that I ate almost the entire little block right there, right then...
        In between all the munching, we sipped on North River Winery's Northern Spy Dry Apple Wine; to me, a very novice sipper, the wine exploded oaky with strange and surprising olive flavors.  Peculiar and somewhat tasty though not the easiest to drink, I kept on with the cheese.

        The shocking finale, and perhaps especially helpful if you happen to be a cheese newbie and ready to face the great big bleu...spread the news, an amazing discovery.  Our final choice, a blue cleverly named "Gore Dawn Zola," after one of the cheese makers at Green Mountain Blue Cheese Co., I ate, enjoyed and went back for seconds (it's true!) for the surprisingly mild and gently tangy blue striped cheese.

        My stomach ached an hour later. I wondered, without the country air blowing leaves and a too-perfect crackling fireplace and a handsome man in plaid sitting beside me on a dark leather couch, would this ever happen again?
        What happened in Vermont may stay in Vermont, though I did bring a few wedges home, just in case.