What do you get when you take some of Vermont's most talented musicians, put them onstage together and watch them shred some classics? Answer: Select Sessions. A collaboration of Select Design, Signal Kitchen and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, last Thursday's iteration — the eighth — of the concert series was a tribute to some of Motown's greatest. Luckily for me, the concert featured some soul-healing comfort food as well as music, and I surrendered to it all.
As most of my food excursions begin, two friends and I biked a good ways down Pine Street Thursday evening with a cool breeze at our backs. After a quick peek at a smoky sunset at Oakledge Park, we followed the road back up to Select headquarters, just of Flynn Ave. A few guitar licks and muffled runs from a female vocalist escaped from a giant white tent, where the band was still tuning up. It was enough to get us excited for the night. We decided to head straight for the food trucks, hoping to fuel up for some funky dance moves later on.
On Thursday, a wave of sadness rippled through the local food and restaurant community as information leaked out via social media and scattered news outlets that chef/restaurateur Michel Mahe had died.
Mahe — known for his gracious hospitality and wild ambition as much as for his food — grew up in a New York restaurant family and cooked at landmark restaurants Gotham Bar & Grill and Michael's on 50th before landing in Vermont in 1999. After opening Starry Night Café with a partner that year, the chef went solo and debuted the Black Sheep Bistro in Vergennes in 2002, which he followed with many other eateries, including the Bearded Frog, Bobcat Café & Brewery, Next Door Bakery, Park Squeeze, and, in early 2014, the Lobby. His culinary portfolio spanned from pub fare to upscale and fanciful, all delivered with friendly, easy charm and minimal pretense.
Via phone early Thursday afternoon, Mahe's general manager Dickie Austin confirmed the restaurateur's death Tuesday and requested, on behalf of his family, en route from France to Vermont, "a bit of privacy while they make arrangements." Austin also dispelled circulating rumors about the cause of Mahe's death: "No medical findings have been released yet," he said, adding that the chef's passing was totally sudden and unexpected.
Austin said he expected details on services or ways to offer condolences will become available once Mahe's family arrives. In the meantime, fans of the late restaurateur can show their respects and appreciation by dining at any of his restaurants.
"All of [Michel's] restaurants are open for service," Austin said. "And knowing him as well as I know him — I can say for a fact that that's exactly what he would have wanted."
When midsummer hits, I avoid cooking like the plague. My husband and I forgo the kitchen for the grill and eat whole fruits and vegetables as snacks as much as we can. Right now, our fridge is filled with black raspberries picked from our backyard and snap peas and cucumbers from the market, all of which are wonderful without help from a hot stove.
When I do need to heat something, I prefer to do it in bulk — making big batches of rice, beans and pasta that I can eat all week at room temperature, and blanching whole pots of veggies for use with the starches and legumes. Armed with a fridge full of these, you can produce an amazing variety of healthy, nourishing dishes with the addition everyday condiments or a quick, whisked-together sauce or dressing.
But about the market. Greens are coming into their prime now, as are beans, cucumbers and summer squash. Last week at Barre Farmers Market (which I still maintain is one of Vermont's best — small but wonderful), I grabbed a pound or so of gorgeous purple haricot verts and blonde cucumbers from LePage Farm. Today, I threw both over coconut rice for a light, easy-peasy summer lunch, which is, like so many of my other Farmers Market Kitchen recipes, endlessly variable. No beans? Use kale, broccoli rabe, bok choy, spinach (this will take far less time to cook) or cabbage. No cucumbers? Use apples, honeydew, pears or firm peaches. Even halved seedless grapes would work!
Here's the non-recipe recipe, which will serve about one person per five-inch cucumber. So for two, you'd need two five-inch cucumbers, or one 10-inch cucumber.
Due to some unfortunate planning on my part, I'll be out of town during this weekend's Vermont Brewers Festival. To make up for it, I recruited a friend and fellow beer lover, Jordan, to take a jaunt down Burlington's Pine Street and preview some of the new brews that will be on tap at the fest. To guide our tasting tour, we caught up with some knowledgeable folks at Citizen Cider, Queen City Brewery and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery. They gave us the inside scoop (and copious samples) on some special brews to get pumped for this weekend.
Our first stop was Citizen Cider. Yes, I’m aware that Citizen doesn’t normally do the beer thing. But for the second year in a row, it's teamed up with Zero Gravity to collaborate on a cider-beer for the brew fest called Citizen Zero. The Citizen Cider tasting area and bar is airy and spacious, with an outdoor patio and long, wooden, community-style tables inside. As we chatted up the bartender, interesting ourselves in the cider cocktail list, Citizen Cider cofounder Bryan Holmes appeared.
Holmes, who manages the fermentation part of the business, is a UVM graduate with a PhD in chemistry. He greeted us and offered to give us a tour before we sat down to taste Citizen Zero. Leading us through some swinging doors just right of the bar (which I had assumed led to the kitchen), we entered a huge production warehouse — the place where every ounce of Citizen Cider is made.
Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band gettin' down at Summervale
If you can't find it, it's probably right under your nose. That's how I felt last Thursday as I sped down Intervale Road on my bike with a gang of four friends cruising behind me. It was 5:30, most of us were just off work, and we were looking for somewhere to grab dinner and some drinks and sit outside — maybe a little background music.
I thought this might be too much to ask for. I had just recently heard about Summervale, Intervale's series of summertime festivities. Being a music fan and a pesto person, it didn't take much convincing for me to attend the celebration, which featured Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band and a make-your-own pesto table.
It was only about a 15-minute bike from downtown Burlington, so I barely had time to imagine the scene before we pulled into a grassy lot. There, a circle of tents enclosed what looked like a rather large crowd. We had followed some conveniently placed signs that advertised free, secure bike parking and checked in our vehicles.Upon entry, I showed my ID, got a cool stamp of a carrot and access to the Zero Gravity and Citizen Cider kegs. Now I was ready for the full Summervale experience.
There is really nothing better on a hot day than firing up the oven to do a little baking. Just kidding. But right now, my backyard is overgrown with ripe black raspberries. Elsewhere, these, blueberries and currants are just coming into season on Vermont's farms.
Garlic scapes are beautiful, sure. The floral byproduct of a crop seeded for its bulb, these serpentine swirls have a mild, green flavor and texture somewhere between asparagus and that of a firm, fresh pea. I usually pickle them, make them into pesto, or throw them into a sauté as I would a green bean. But what if they were the main event?
July 3rd fireworks spectacle at Burlington's waterfront
For some, patriotism may boil down to yearly, July 4th festivities. What better way to celebrate our independence than with burgers, beers and explosives (a few of the things that make America great)? This year, I did it a little differently.
Instead of drinking the day away down by the lake, I kicked off the evening of July 3 at a pre-fireworks extravaganza put on by Hotel Vermont. It was the first annual Cherry Street BBQ on the terrace between Juniper restaurant of Hotel Vermont and Bleu of the Courtyard Marriott. I looked forward to some good, American-style grillin' as my friend and I walked toward the waterfront squinting into the five o'clock sun.
Here's a fancy little something-from-nothing recipe. I spent the weekend moving so I didn't make it to any farmers markets, and I'm also working with a serious case of empty-fridge syndrome. But I've got the basics: eggs, cheeses, milk, butter and a few leftover bacon ends from Vermont Whey Fed Pigs, which I scored at the Winooski farmers market a few weeks ago. The nice part is that it's all local. The cheeses — Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm, eggs from Savage Gardens, milk from Kimball Brook Farm... It's nice knowing all my staples come from nearby.
And while I could have assembled a simple bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, I'm a huge advocate of greens for breakfast. And my new house is basically overgrowing with edible flora. I've been wanting to work with stinging nettles for a while now, and lacking other greens, today seemed like as good a day as any.