We’ve been home for a few days now. We returned to the west coast loaded with new memories, suitcases full of homemade apple butter, buckwheat flour from Maine, and dirty clothes, and a newfound respect and awe for this country we call home. We experienced more adventures, met more friends, and dreamed more dishes than we could possibly ever write down. What we didn’t have it became clear after a few days was the time to write a post every day, about every potluck, documenting this road trip we’ll never forget. After the piece I wrote about the Hudson Valley potluck, I looked up at the green fields of Vermont as we sped past them in our blue minivan, and I realized I wanted to wait until we were home to write up these moments.
Today, we just started feeling as though we live in this time zone again. It’s time to write. Let’s go.
Vermont deserved my full attention. Other than the moments when I took photos, my phone stayed in my bag.
Oh these green fields and red barns.
Vermont at the end of September is some kind of heaven.
(Remember that moment at the end of Field of Dreams, when the character’s father asks, “Is this heaven?” That line kept going through my mind as I walked through this field.)
We were lucky enough to hold our Vermont potluck at Bliss Ridge Farms . It’s a working farm near Moretown, VT, with clusters of cows on the ridge. These cows live a good life.
And this farm has a beautiful barn. After hours of driving through upstate New York, and through the Green Mountains, into the Mad River Valley, we arrived to find this light.
Inside the barn is where we held the potluck. Can you imagine a party here? It was a fine party with a fine group of people. We gathered the tables together and shared Vermont washed-rind cheese, tomato soup from the garden, almond crackers, pumpkin muffins, and about a dozen other delicious dishes.
(The lovely ambient light of that barn meant we didn’t have enough light to take photographs of the food. Sorry about that.)
The good folks in that barn told us about Vermont, about the gardens everyone has (“You have to have a garden in Vermont to survive.”), about the maple syrup (“we really do pour it on everything”) and homemade cheese and good breads. As the people of Vermont at that party told me, “There was an organic movement here long before the rest of the country followed.”
I love that there are no billboards allowed in Vermont. Montpelier is the only state capitol in the United States to not allow McDonald’s.
Danny and I both wish that we could be in Vermont during the maple syrup harvest. So many told us it’s a real community event.
Danny also wishes that he could eat far more apple cider doughnuts.
“We have good dirt here,” someone said. “It helps attract some of the best souls in the country.” It also attracted a certain kind of person in the 60s and 70s, someone who wanted to get back to the land. Or maybe someone who wanted to get off the grid. (“There are a lot of woods to hide in here.”) My goodness, a lot of good food came out of that movement.
This is why Danny and I both loved this potluck road trip tour of New England. The folks at the Vermont potluck shared their food stories with us (“Don’t forget apple pie with cheddar cheese. My mother always made that this time of the year.”) and we were lucky enough to be there to listen.
Jordan, the woman who owns Bliss Ridge, painted this sign for us. We propped it up on a table at every potluck afterwards. We’ll be carrying it with us to the South in February and the Midwest in March. That’s all we want: we want to hear your food stories.
What became clear to us both, in all this traveling through beautiful countryside and past farm houses with spacious porches, is that the rural areas of this country are where some of the most interesting work in food is happening. The daily meals, the inventive flavors, the dishes we ate at these potlucks all seem to come from the bounty of the season in overflowing gardens. As someone we know said today, “There’s nothing much else to do in the country but make good food!”
We celebrate cities in the world of food. But man, the rural areas of this country have some amazing dishes and flavors.
I love old farmhouses, with warped-wood floors, that lead to big country kitchens. We sat in that kitchen the morning after our potluck. We sat in that kitchen and ate prosciutto that the owners made themselves. They fried us duck eggs in creamy local butter and we sat, satisfied, on tall stools, and felt grateful for being there in that moment.
And then I walked out onto this ridge and took in the grandeur of the day.
Can you imagine being married on that spot?
If you’re looking for a place to get married in Vermont? I’d certainly talk to Dan and Jordan at Bliss Ridge.
This is Dan and Jordan Von Trapp, two of the finest people we know. They rise early to take care of the cows and ducks, to build a new barn, and to tend that huge garden of theirs. And yet, they offered their home to us, when they learned we wanted to come by. We laughed in the sunlight together and we’ll never forget them.
(Here’s a fun fact. Dan is actually the grandson of one of the Von Trapp singers. You know, The Sound of Music? Here’s a not-fun fact. Lucy was very excited by this connection, until we arrived and she kept asking me in a whisper, “Is Maria here?” Finally, I had to explain that no, she wasn’t there, and actually she died decades ago. Sad face.)
But Lu took solace in the company of Dan and Jordan’s dog.
We are so happy that our daughter has met so many people, in so many places, and she’s only five.
Oh Vermont, I love your quirky personality.
Also, I really want these shelves. They were behind the counter at the Big Picture Theater and Cafe, a great place in Waitsfield. Danny wanted to try their maple doughnuts. Lu and I shared sausages and gawked at the place. I’ve never been in a cafe that listed more farms on its menu. Or one attached to an old movie theater with an Elton John pinball machine in the lobby.
The day after our Vermont potluck, we drove to Montpelier to visit the culinary school Danny attended in the early 90s. It made my heart glad to see him there. The head of the school came down to greet him, and then gave him a tour of the campus, some of which has changed. Every time we passed a current student, the head of school said, “I want to introduce you to Dan, who is an alumni. He writes cookbooks for a living now. See what could happen for you?”
Danny was so happy that day.
And we ate lunch at NECI on Main, the restaurant where students cook and serve at tables. They were completely educated about how to take care of me, gluten-free. That’s what I always find. The restaurants that truly care about food know what gluten is and how to avoid feeding it to me. Choose that kind of restaurant, and you’re good.
Also, my new template for favorite restaurant is one that has “Add duck confit to salad” on the menu.
The good folks at King Arthur Flour asked us to stop by and see their baking facilities and showroom in Norwich, Vermont. Oh goodness, this is every baker’s mecca. Plus, they have good gluten-free flours and baking mixes! I have always loved King Arthur for their dedication to great baking. But when I saw that they had this quote from Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen stenciled onto one of their windows? Well, I grew a little teary.
Vermont, we loved you. I could, so easily, live in that state. (When I said that, everyone said the same thing: “That is until your first winter.”)
Thank you for those green fields, the hills, your organic farms, and those kind, kind people who call you home.
We want to send out a huge thank you and acknowledgment of the good companies that have come forward to sponsor this American Road Trip Potluck Tour for us all.
Melissas Produce is providing us with great fresh produce for every potluck. We love their fruits and vegetables!
Thank you to these companies for their sponsorship of this tour.