Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Power of Getting Away: Postcards from the Northeast

Today I gave myself what every soul, young and old, needs at least once in a while: a good, old fashioned snow day, complete with napping, pajamas, carrot ginger soup, hot tea, quality time with my doggies, reflection, and what our spirits all need in these harried times: rest.

I've always longed to do one of those Northeast autumn road trips. Like my snow day, it does a soul good. I really believe in the merits of getting away, even if it's just for the day or overnight. One of my favorite memories? A day filled with apple picking, a scenic walk, and pumpkin ravioli in New Paltz, New York. Reflecting, on this snowy day, on my late September trip. For the first time, except for our first stop, we had no agenda or plan.  It was just, "Where to next?"

Fortunately, I have a husband who doesn't think his wife is nuts when she proposes driving five hours north to visit the Wilder Homestead in Malone, New York, the boyhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband Almanzo. I've often told Steve he's my Almanzo, to which he says, "Who?"

I think we've strayed too far from our agrarian roots.

Butternut squash is a fall dietary staple for me. At Donovan's Steak and Ale in Malone, the daily soup was a divine creamy butternut squash.

They had just changed their menu from what I saw online, but the chef agreed to make the vegetarian risotto. I got three meals out of this!

Black  raspberry soft serve at a roadside ice cream parlor down the road from Donovan's.

The Kilburn Manor in Malone. Mrs. Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!) of Keeping Up Appearances would love this stately home turned bed and breakfast.

The shades of green in the room we stayed in were so soothing. On the bed, a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass from their library.

A regal library. Browsing through a book of Ansel Adams, bringing back cherished memories of my Southwest travels.

Next stop: Burlington, Vermont. Does it sound strange for someone who works in New York City and lives in congested northern New Jersey to say that Burlington was almost too big of a city for me?

I love a French bistro, and taking time to savor good food. During the week, I eat lunch almost daily in front of my computer checking news and email, even though I always vow to treat myself to lunch at the French bistro nearby more often. Cookbook author Dynise Balcavage who pens the blog Urban Vegan said it so well commenting on her reverse culture shock after a trip to Paris,

"Reentry to the US was particularly hard for me this time. Why? I miss the little nothings – les petits riens, For example, generally speaking, in France, people sit down to eat meals, with – gasp! – other people at actual tables sans TV and cell phones, mais avec an awareness of the food they are consuming and an appreciation for the companionship they share. Their lives are real, three-dimensional lives that don't center on social media."

With that in mind, having a social media-less lunch at Leunig's Bistro and Café.

A platter with fruits, crackers and local Vermont cheese.

An autumn salad with roasted butternut squash, cranberry goat cheese, toasted nuts on spinach with a yellow curry dressing.

Maple crème brulee with mint tea.

Bikes outside the Peace and Justice store, which sells a variety of fair trade goods.

Strolling along the waterfront. Two men were here enjoying white wine and playing some old French music and their appetite for life and enjoying the moment was infectious.

Nestled behind these trees was our lodging for the night, the Beal House Inn in Littleton, New Hampshire. I'll take towering trees over towering skyscrapers any day.

A dramatic four poster bed. Rose wallpaper is in the room here, and I don't know why wallpaper gets disdained so often. I love it.

When we drove by the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Jefferson, New Hampshire, we quickly turned around. I love these wonderful Americana restaurants I find on road trips.

A pancake (one was plenty!) with cinnamon apples, red raspberry herbal tea and orange juice.

I loved the landscape of New Hampshire at once.

Off to Mount Washington. My Honda Civic doesn't go into the right gear to drive up here, so we got a free trip paid by Honda to go via a van tour.

Reaching the top, I felt at once like a bird.

The trains here...

 ...look like toy models when viewed far away.
Taking a break from the wind and cold, breathing in fragrant balsam fir which fill these pouches. I picked up a small pouch adorned with bears and trees earlier at the Wagon Wheel gift shop. The woods really did smell of it.

Since the Tip Top House was for dinners of travelers past (love the red-checked tablecloth)...

we enjoyed nourishment in the cafeteria. A hummus sandwich, vegetable soup and pumpkin tea.

Our view. The "Sound of Music" song is so right,

"The hills are alive with the sound of music

With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like the chime that flies from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook as it trips and falls over stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more."

Spending time in nature makes me want to be a better caretaker of the Earth. In daily life, I'm a big believer in old fashioned energy conservation, like turning off the lights or hang drying laundry.

One of my favorite sonic storytellers from youth, and even today, is the band R.E.M. People know them for more showy songs like The One I Love, but I've always loved best their more quiet songs. From Maps and Legends off of Fables of the Reconstruction, I could relate to the need for solace and road less taken. In the landscape here, I found my own yellow, red and green.

"On his own where he'd rather be.

Where he ought to be he sees what you can't see.
Can't you see that.

Maybe he's caught in the legend.
Maybe he's caught in the mood.
Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood.

Down the way the road's divided paint me the places you have seen.
Those who know what I don't know what I don't know refer to the yellow, red and green.

The map that you painted didn't seem real.
He just sings whatever he sees.
Point to the legend, point to the east.
Point to the yellow, red and green."

We had a night and day left, and decided we overlooked Stowe, Vermont. On the way there, we happened upon the Fisher Bridge in Wolcott, Vermont. I often hear sky blue bells ring when hear the trains roll by, or think about the ghosts of trains past, thanks to the poetic take of R.E.M.'s Driver 8 from Fables of the Reconstruction.

"The walls constructed stone by stone.
The fields divided one by one.
And the train conductor says take a break, driver 8.
Driver 8, take a break, we've been on this shift too long.

And the train conductor says take a break, driver 8.
Driver 8 we can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away.

I saw a tree house on the outskirts on the farm.
The power lines have floaters so the airplanes don't get snagged.
The bells are ringing through the town again.
The children look up all they hear are
sky blue bells ring."

Taking the time, for we all have the time for it if we make it, to observe the beauty of flowers by the bridge, recalling what one of my favorite painters, Georgia O'Keeffe, said,

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not. I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale you could not ignore its beauty."
The real reason for going back to Stowe. My impulsive urge to dine at the restaurant of the Trapp Family Lodge!
We were lucky enough to have a merciful maître'd get us in for an early dinner on a Friday night before the restaurant filled up.
After sharing a Caesar salad with garlic croutons and Vermont Cabot cheese and having some hot apple cider to drink, I had the pumpkin ravioli appetizer with sage brown butter and pumpkin seeds. 
The Linzertorte (spiced walnut crust with raspberry and currant preserves), and of course, we had to get the crisp apple strudel!
Edelweiss vases adorn the table.  Edelweiss is one of my favorite songs from the musical. Which is yours? Did you see the NBC broadcast of The Sound of Music? I have it recorded to watch soon. Whatever the end result (no one can fairly fill the shoes of Julie Andrews who has the voice of an angel), I say three cheers for the potential of drawing a new audience to this story, a major network bringing back a musical to prime time television, and some family entertainment. On this front maybe I'm getting more conservative as I age, but so much of today's entertainment seems dumbed down or tabloid-worthy.
I also think this line in a Washington Post article sums up so much of what's wrong with society since social media overtook our worlds.
"Some viewers hoped it would be worse because that would have been more fun to mock on Twitter."
In addition to the loss of language, I'm not sure why so many comments online need to be snarky and mean spirited in nature. Much like those gentlemen sipping on their white wine in Burlington, I want to surround myself by positive forces and see the beauty in life, not the negativity. Like the simple beauty of these flowers by a glowing candle.
 I love this photo of the family enjoying story time. Let's bring back story time!

If I turn it on at random, a lot of time spent in front of the television feels like time wasted. Time spent in a garden never conjures that feeling.

At the gift shop, I couldn't resist picking up this copy of My Favorite Things, a beautifully illustrated children's book. A reminder to delight in the simple joys.

The Trapp Family Lodging is very pricey (dinner there was a splurge), so we stayed at the more reasonable and very lovely Northern Lights Lodge in Stowe, so enjoying their indoor swimming pool and partaking in the complimentary hot breakfast. Blueberry pancakes, apple juice and coffee.
A nearby diner getting ready to dive into a good book.
I love these beautiful churches. One of my favorite hymns is "For the Beauty of the Earth," something I felt like signing during my trip here. This hymn from 1864 reminds me to not only observe the beauty everywhere, but give thanks for it.
"For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light....

For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and brain's delight,
for the mystic harmony
sinking sense to sound and sight"

Quite possibly the best cider donut I've ever eaten at Cold Hollow in Stowe with some hot apple cider. Does autumn get any better?
For the ultimate fast food, turn to nature.

A cheese tasting at Cabot.

My chef husband Steve is always interested in behind the scenes of food operations, so we did the tour of Ben and Jerry's. The decadent triple caramel chunk was our free sample at the tour's end.
My berry berry (raspberry and blueberry) sorbet. If this is a small, what does the large look like?!?
You can tour their flavor graveyard. The Rainforest Crunch sounded right up my ally.
Pumpkins at a roadside farm stand.
Travel time: just a few days. Memories: enough to last a lifetime. 

Seeking solace in nature, away from the maddening pace of modern and city life, recalling some favorite passages from R.E.M.'s Find the River from Automatic for the People" and wishing for you to find a quiet place.

"Hey now, little speedy head,
The read on the speed meter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve
Don't be shy
Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river's goal,
A need to leave the water knows
We're closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river,
Bergamot and Vetiver
Run through my head and fall away...

We're closer now than light years to go
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way."


  1. Catherine, thanks, as always for delighting my mind and senses with the description of your lovely trip to New England. I live in beautiful Montana, but still long for the memories of my youth of charming New England. You really do seem to find the best veggie food and I shall have to walk in your footsteps in some of these locales to find these delights (Linzertorte at the Trapp Family Lodge! I've always wanted to go there!). And thank you also for sharing some of your favorite R.E.M. songs -- a group I know of but not much about. My husband and I did visit the Ben & Jerry's factory many years ago and it was a very fun, yummy, and informative visit. I don't think they had the flavor graveyard at that time -- what a hoot! Wishing you a warm and festive holiday season, Amy

  2. Hi Amy. A pleasure to hear from you as always! Perhaps one day I’ll have a travel series from Montana. It’s high on our travel bucket list! I hope to post my Washington state travel diary series (eventually!) and probably sooner memories of an overnight trip to historic sites in Philadelphia to celebrate my November birthday. I had wonderful meals on both trips (I had blackberry everything in Washington!) and am always trying to answer the question non-meat eaters often get, “But what do you eat?” I see so many people who can't go a meal without meat on their plate.

    R.E.M. was a very big influence on me as a teenager to be a caretaker for the environment. Recurring themes on their Life’s Rich Pageant album are living by example and raising your voice for your beliefs. I feel like the person in Find the River or Maps and Legends, having gone to task in the city, waiting for my just deserves, dreaming of nature and taking the roads less traveled.

    I can see why the von Trapp family was drawn to that area and how much it reminded them of Austria. It reminded me very much of the landscape of Switzerland. There’s something that calls to one’s soul in the mountains. John Muir had it right, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” Even just go the them! There was a cozy looking Swiss fondue restaurant in Stowe we saw when we were leaving. Another place to visit!

    Thank you! Wishing you a happy, healthy and joyous season as well. The winter solstice will soon be here, a good excuse to drink hot tea, gaze into a candle and find inner peace.

  3. Catherine I have recently discovered your site through Angela Barton's blog and have been slowly working my way through The Vegan Good Life and now American Dream Finder. Although I'm Australian I lived in New York many years ago and have a friend who once lived in Ridgewood and now lives in Mah Wah so I can relate to much of what you post about wonderful New Jersey.
    What I really relate to are your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism, consumerism - in fact virtually everything ! The difference is that I am old enough to be your mother (my daughter is 34) however the beliefs we share are (or should be) timeless and ageless.
    Have a wonderful festive season and I look forward to your future posts.

  4. Greetings to you Megan and thank you for your kind comments which mean so much to me! I have always loved Angela’s My Year Without Spending blog.

    You mention “wonderful New Jersey,” something I try and remind myself of when I’m frustrated in traffic (often, especially lately!) and the fast pace of life here. I think of the wonderful farms I love visiting that still thankfully exist, the great times I’ve had at the local historical group’s events which transported me in time and put me in touch with what’s so essential, and the familiar and friendly faces at the libraries, small businesses and charity thrift shops I go to, and such. I try and live by the notion that we get to decide the world we want to live in by voting with our dollars and our actions, but know perfectionism in our ideals is impossible and we are all flawed. But we also must try and seek out the quality of life we want, no matter where we are on the map.

    Thank you for reading, and best wishes to you for the holiday season. May it be peaceful, healthy and filled with moments of small joy!