Nice Day. Nice Temptation.

May 24, 2013
By Holly Jennings

A'ja with the state house in the background

 

Last Saturday morning, in anticipation of a forecasted sunny day ahead, I made a batch of A’ja (bread fritters) from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. These fritters, along with several other recipes from the book, can be served either warm or room temperature, making them an excellent choice for picnicking.

 

Once the fritters were fried, the requisite tahini sauce made, the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers prepped, and the rosé wine chilled, we packed up the car and hit the road. Our destination: Montpelier, the smallest state capital in America.

 

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The quickest way from our home in Randolph to Montpelier is on the interstate highway (I-89)—probably one of only a few interstates in America that you can describe as “scenic” without being ironic. On most stretches of it, you feel like you’re on a Sunday drive, regardless of the day of the week. This road, comprised of just two lanes in either direction, is completely free of billboards, thanks to Vermont’s forty-five-year-old law banning them. Views of farms, mountains, rivers, and lakes abound.

 

En route to Montpelier

 

A welcome sign in French? Besides being a vacation destination for the Québécois, Vermont has its own dose of French history (The state’s name is an English translation  from the French montagnes vertes—or “green mountains”.) I love it when the scan button on the radio lands a French-speaking Québécois station, which happens easily when you’re as far north in the state as Montpelier.

 

The welcome sign to Montpelier

 

In less than 30 minutes we arrived at our destination: the lawn of the state house.

 

The state house with sign

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My picnic partner, Mike, is a bit like David Leite’s “the one.” He’s very supportive of my food experiments and food blogging, but he doesn’t want to be pictured or mentioned except in passing. He is the photographer capturing me doing my blogging “work” on our outing.

 

Getting set up

Plating the bread fritter sandwiches

Take photos of the bread fritter sandwiches

A'ja (bread fritters)

 

Once a beauty shot was got, it was time for eatin’ and drinkin’ in the dappled light. The humble A’ja fritters lived up to their promise of being a perfect picnic food. Made with a large quantity of fresh herbs (chives, parsley, and tarragon) and a hit of cayenne to keep things interesting, they are flavorful yet wholesome and light. The tahini sauce adds an extra boost of nutty flavor and richness to this simple bread-based fritter, and the cucumber provides necessary crunch. The rosé we chose is mighty fine, too, with plenty of structure to balance its summer-y fruitiness. (Click here to find out about the wine.)

 

A bread fritter sandwich

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“I thought that when you said you wanted to have a picnic in Montpelier, we were going to picnic in that empty lot you like in town.” This Mike confessed to me as we took a stroll around Montpelier—as an intermission before our next eating act. Do you really think I’m that whacky, I countered. Yes, apparently so. And to show you just how whacky he thinks I am, here is a shot of that lot:

 

An empty lot in Montpelier

 

In the past this small lot had a for-sale sign on it, which lead me to fantasize a whimsical towerlike structure, something with a small footprint that, for privacy, starts one level up (the ground level could be a car port)  and goes up, up, up, and is topped with a roof garden. That fantasy aside, Mike’s suggestion for a picnic on the lot has got me thinking. What better place for a performance art picnic in an urban setting? (And this spot is about as urban as Vermont gets.) There is a cooking school and an art school in Montpelier (NECI and VCFA). Perhaps the students from each could collaborate . . .

 

After that musing, more walking. Here are more shots of Montpelier, affectionately called “Montpeculier” by its residents. From top to bottom: the main intersection of town, looking northeast; the Winooski River, from the bridge on State Street; the only fast-food chain in town that I know of. (Montpelier has bragging rights as being the only state capital to not have a McDonald’s.)

 

The main intersection in Montpelier_looking northeast

The Winooski River in town

The only fast-food chain in town

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Creemee time! One of Vermont’s oddities that I dearly love is the word creemee. It is what Vermonters call soft serve. (I so love this word, and the huge number of stands that dish out creemees, that I wrote a story about it, here.) Montpelier’s creemee stand, the Dairy Creme, is on the edge of town on Route 2,which runs along the Winooski River. Though the parking lot of the Dairy Creme is not scenic, you can see the river through the trees while licking your creemee.

Dairy Creme and view from parking lot

 

When I did research for the above mentioned creemee story, I got a tip-off about the Dairy Creme. According to my source, their baby-size cone is dispensed from one of the original soft serve machines from the days—the fifties, I believe—when there was a Dairy Queen in the same spot. This particular machine, I was told, produces the best creemee—one with better density and with an ultra creamy texture. After getting my first baby creemee at Dairy Creme, and seeing its adorable Kewpie doll tip, I’ve never strayed. Another singular attraction at Dairy Creme: They have a wider selection of dips than most stands, including our favorite, the toasted coconut dip, shown below.

 

Baby size creemee with toasted coconut dip

 

Looking at this cone, with its little dots of creemee popping through breaks in the toasted coconut flakes, reminded me of something from my childhood—perhaps the fabric used in one of my cherished childhood dresses. A quick search online revealed that it is the surface of Dotted Swiss fabric, a classic choice for baby and children’s clothing, that I was thinking of. How appropriate for a baby cone.

 

With summer just now unfolding, I hope for many more nice days, tempting foods from Jerusalem, and baby creemees (or “soft serve,” if you don’t live in Vermont).


8 Comments to “Nice Day. Nice Temptation.”


  1. Bev Morrow says:

    Enjoyed the “day in the life” blog! and a peek into the “foreign” state of Vermont! I will take issue with your claim that I-89 is only interstate that is scenic, living in Rocky Mt. region we have several scenic interstates. Thanks for sharing your adventure in cooking, eating, and exploring Vermont.

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  2. Sandra Korinchak says:

    Your top “beauty shot” with the statehouse in the background is fabulous, Holly. Love it. (Also, food non sequitur: I’m back from Paris, and though I spent plenty of time in the Alain Ducasse chocolate factory (it’s around the corner from Marie’s apartment, turns out–Clotilde Desoulier has a nice blog entry about it at chocolateandzucchini.com) I didn’t make it to the chocolatier in the outskirts that you deemed “the best.” Next time!)

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  3. I had a feeling that interstate comment might elicit a comment. And rightly so! Clearly, I need to get out this beautiful state and see more of our other beautiful states–with or without billboards. I’ve moderated the language to suggest the possibilities of other pretty interstates–thanks for cluing me in. And I’m glad you enjoyed the look around town. If you visit VT I’ll take you on a creemee tour.

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  4. I imagine you got a slew of “beauty” shots yourself from your glorious trip (and hopefully lots of chocolate to rekindle the memories).

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  5. Louanne Jennings Headrick says:

    Nice story. Lots of interest. Lots of color. Lots of good photograpy and down to earth eats. I had “lots of fun” reading and looking. Mike, I hope you won’t be too disappointed but I recognized your hands holding pocket lunch and the creemees. Thanks for being a model for the great goods. Wish I had been present for the picnic for is certainly looked delicious! Yes Holly, you did have more than one dotted swiss frock made by your mother. What a special little girl to wear specially made dresses. Thanks for being sooooo creative.

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  6. Holly!
    Love the piece and the gorgeous photos by both you and Mike!
    These bread fritters look like pita! Montpelier is a beautiful state capitol with a really interesting small city to walk around! I am loving cooking from “Jerusalem!” Great pick!

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  7. Thanks for taking the tour ’round MontP., Deb. I’m very glad your enjoying this book. We owe a word of thanks to club member Judy Stermer, who suggested it.

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  8. I knew the clothes designer and seamstress in you would enjoy the creemee-fabric comment. Especially since you made such nice things for me with pretty Swiss Dot.

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