Canada Trip #2 – Ben & Jerry’s and other Food

Before we crossed the border into Canada, we spent a couple of days pootling around in Vermont.  This enabled the boys to claim a new state.  My plan had been to take the boys to Shelburne Museum, an incredible, vast, eclectic and eccentric museum.  I had absolutely adored that museum when I visited back in 2001 but we agreed the kids probably wouldn’t find it had the same impact since we visited the similarly bonkers House on the Rock last year.  Shelburne Museum would have absorbed the entire day so abandoning that plan freed up time to do a lot more exploring.  A lot of the first day in the Burlington area was food-based – but don’t worry because we definitely earned our calories.

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First up was Ben & Jerry’s.  Mr Pict had been when he was a kid and before it was an ice cream empire and the kids and I had never been before.  I anticipated a small factory tour and a lot of brand merchandising but thank goodness we turned up early enough to get on the first tour of the day because that place is crazy.  It’s like a small theme park.  By the time we were taken off on our factory tour, the reception and shop area was packed with people like herring in a barrel.  It was ridiculous.

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The tour itself was efficient but interesting.  Sadly no ice cream was being produced because some part was getting replaced but we got to see the machinery and have the process explained to us, including the ways in which Ben & Jerry’s is different from its competitors.  It helped that our tour guide was an amusing nerd and it also helped that we got to sample a scoop of ice cream at the conclusion.  Extra samples meant that our youngest son lucked out and was given two samples.

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After the tour, we wandered around in the “Flavor Graveyard”, the way in which the company memorialises flavours that it has tried out on the general public and then permanently withdrawn.  We had learned that there are other flavours that get withdrawn and then make a comeback.  Those are called zombie flavours.

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That area of Vermont is also known for its cheese and cider so, much later in the afternoon, we went off to sample and buy some of both.  First up was the Cold Hollow Cider Mill.  While cider and apples were certainly the running theme of the store, there were lots of other products for sale too so we had a good pootle about but we kept our focus on the cider.  We watched a video about the company’s history of cider production and got to sample some.  I am generally not a massive fan of non-alcoholic cider or apple juice but it was ice cold and refreshing and just what I needed at that point in the day.  The kids were peckish so they chose a snack each.  Two of them chose hot dogs that had been steamed in cider, one chose an apple cider doughnut filled with cream, and the youngest bought four miniature fruit pies.

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Then we popped into the Cabot cheese farm store.  I am lactose intolerant so had to keep my sampling to a minimum but the boys and Mr Pict had fun taste testing all of the available cheeses and I tried some delicious mustard that I decided to buy and bring home with me as an edible souvenir.

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Dinner that evening was fast food of the local variety.  Al’s Food Frys is apparently a local Burlington institution so we decided to give it a try.  I must admit that the use of “Frys” instead of “Fries” made me all manner of twitchy and fast food is not my favourite way to eat but it is fun to try something new and specific to an area.  I must admit that the fries (not frys) were pretty delicious, really potatoey and with fluffy insides but crisp on the outside.  Those who had burgers said they were scrummy and my 12 year old loved the flavour of coating on the fried chicken he ordered.

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Day two of our trip was definitely about “travelling on our stomachs”.

Road Trip 2018 #1 – Say Cheese!

Brace yourself for lots of posts about this year’s Pict Family Road Trip.  Long time readers of this blog may recall that in 2016 we took two weeks and drove from Pennsylvania as far west as Chicago before pivoting back and returning to PA.  Reaching Chicago in a week felt ambitious then.  What then do you think about the fact that this year we had to drive as far as Chicago by the end of our first day?  Yup.  What we took a week to do two years ago we did in a single day this year.  It’s not just because we are utterly crazy – though there is that – but because we needed to reposition ourselves in order to make the rest of our plans work.  It was a loooooooong day of driving and it really felt long but the kids were absolute troopers and didn’t rage or rebel once.

We spent the night in Munster, Indiana, our bellies full of deep dish pizza.  The first proper, official day of our vacation, therefore, found us in Gary, Indiana.  My 11 year old is a Michael Jackson fan so we, of course, were compelled to visit his childhood home.  The house is privately owned so can only be viewed from the street but it was worth a brief detour to see it just to appreciate how modest Jackson’s beginnings were.  I have lots of siblings and grew up in a somewhat over-crowded house but the Jackson household must have been bursting at the seams.  It is quite fascinating to reconcile the flashy, lavish-living man Jackson would become to how humbly his life started out and to ponder over the relationship between his alpha and omega states of being.

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After departing Indiana and whizzing through a corner of Illinois, we were in Wisconsin.  This was my first time in Wisconsin and meant I could claim* it as my 31st state.  When I think of Wisconsin, I think ‘Laverne & Shirley’, beer, and cheese.  The latter was our chosen theme for the day.  I am both a cheeseaholic and lactose intolerant – not the best combination but it means I am also a tad obsessed with cheese.

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We headed to Monroe and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which proved to be a much smaller scale than we anticipated.  The museum was tiny and centered around the mid-19th Century Imobersteg cheese factory.  It proved to be the most perfect welcome not just to Wisconsin but also a lovely, gentle start to our road trip.  When we stepped inside the museum, we were greeted by an ensemble of chipper elderly women.  One of these, Joanne, was assigned to be our guide and she was wonderfully warm and welcoming and also a trove of information about cheesemaking past and present.  We enjoyed our time spent in her company.

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We learned about the Imobersteg family, immigrants from Switzerland, who determined to make their traditional cheese in their new surroundings.  Inside their tiny factory, we were led through their process involving copper kettles, a special metal jacket to keep it at the perfect stable temperature, a harp to break up curds, presses, brine baths, and hot and cold storage.  Joanne got the boys to act out various parts of the process, such as swinging the copper kettle on its arm.  My favourite thing in the tiny factory was the funny little window hatch through which local farmers would pour their milk.

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Inside the museum, we watched a video showing a modern cheesemaker replicating the Imobersteg’s process and creating an absolutely massive limburger cheese.  We also saw various artefacts and Joanne informed us about the arduous process of becoming a master cheesemaker, farmers operating as cooperatives, and the cheese quality grading system.  One of my favourite items in the museum was a one legged milking stool, the design of which was to permit balancing on steep slopes.

Obviously after learning about cheese we absolutely had to go and get some cheese so we drove a little further into Monroe and stopped off at an outlet and deli selling all manner of cheese and associated munchies.  They had lots of samples available which the boys fell upon as if they were wolves after a lean winter.  For the sake of my digestive system, I exercised maximum self-control, though I would be lying if that didn’t mean I still nibbled a few pieces of cheese.  We bought cheese and crackers enough that lasted us days of on-the-road lunches.

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We thought we should go and have a squizz at Monroe’s city centre and were pleasantly surprised to find a lovely town square.  It was neat and shiny as a pin and was filled with independent stores, boutiques, and eateries.  They also had a series of wooden sculptures placed around the square that were on an outer space and sci fi theme.  The younger boys had fun running from one to the other which kept them moving in the afternoon sun.

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We took a series of winding country roads past beautifully maintained farms and interesting dilapidated properties I would have loved to stop and photograph.  We noted that even the grounds of the run down properties were well maintained. So much green! So much corn!  The problem with being in a rural area, however, was phone reception.  I did not own a smartphone until we emigrated to the US but I have assimilated and become dependent on it for navigation in unfamiliar places.  It was, therefore, weird to be back to using traditional maps to plot our course to Dodgeville, our abode for the night.  The problem, of course, is that traditional maps can only get one so far.  When it comes to locating things at street level, a map book is no use.  We, therefore, took a while to find our hotel even though Dodgeville is far from a sprawling metropolis.  The kids loved the hotel pool and the fact that they could walk to get dinner and explore instead of getting back in the car – at least until the next morning.

 

*My rules for claiming a state are that I have to accomplish two out of three things while within its borders: sleep, eat, or pee.  Therefore, while I have been in both New Mexico and New Hampshire, I am not permitted to claim and count them because I only did one of the three things in each.  I am as strict with applying my rules as I am obsessed with visiting all 50 states.

Say Cheese!

The theme of the Documented Life Project’s prompts continues to be texture.  This past week it was suggested that we  utilise cheesecloth in our art journals.  As I have both declared and demonstrated a few times before in my art journal posts, textiles and I do not really see eye to eye.  I, therefore, decided to completely ignore the cheesecloth prompt and focus instead on the phrase prompt which was “say cheese”.

Initially I thought about cheesy grins and was going to create something around the idea of the Cheshire Cat.  However – not having time to even start the page for several days – I mulled it over for a bit and gradually I was just focusing on the word “cheese”.  I am a complete cheesaholic who also happens to be lactose intolerant.  Somehow the cheese becoming forbidden fruit has just made me more obsessive about it.  I guess that makes me a cheese addict.  I gave up all other dairy many years ago (with the exception of clotted cream when I can get it) but I just cannot give up cheese.

My page, therefore, is a rapid watercolour sketch of some of my favourite British cheeses – the ones I miss most – along with some figs and a cheese knife just to fill in some of the space and provide a bit of contrast.  Quick and simple.

Week 21 - Say Cheese

Field Trip

Today I went on my first field trip as a parent helper since we relocated to America.  The preschool class from my 4 year old’s nursery were being taken on a guided tour of a local independent grocery store.  I not only transported my own child there but was also asked to take another child in my car since I already have a bunch of child car seats.  I was not 100% sure where I was going and have only been driving in the US for a few short weeks so that felt like a heap of responsibility but, of course, everything was just tickety-boo.

The store manager took the kids on a tour of the store, the shop floor and the back rooms.  It was cute seeing the wonder in all of their little eyes as they learned new things.  They got to see someone making sushi and were allowed to sample a California roll, they saw the machine in the store room that compacts cardboard boxes, they had a geography lesson about locations for obtaining fruit and vegetables throughout the seasons, they saw meat being shrink wrapped and they got to see a checkout in operation.  My 4 year old’s favourite part was getting to stroke a lobster.  All the kids lined up to pat it’s shell.  So much affection before it is boiled to death.

After the tour, the kids each had a shopping list to use as a treasure hunt around the store and they were each sent back to nursery with a paper sack filled with a pretzel, carton of juice and piece of fruit.

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It was fun to accompany the trip and I got to meet a few more of the parents which was nice.  Best of all though was the fact that on the tour I spotted a display full of imported European cheeses.  I may have found a source of decent cheese!

Cheese

I am a cheesaholic.

I adore cheese. Adore. And all things cheesy too.

I think I may actually be chemically addicted to cheese. I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant some years ago and, while I’ve given up milk and yogurt and cream and ice cream, I have never been able to give up cheese. I’ve not even really scaled back my consumption beyond what I consider reasonable – which is a bit less than what Wallace and Gromit would consider acceptable.

It runs in the family. My Dad is also a big cheese fan. He taught me to eat cheese and apple together and that cheese is an acceptable late night snack. It’s bananas that give me nightmares. Vivid, surreal nightmares. There is no better comfort food than cheese on toast with a dollop of mango chutney.

Thus, I am not adjusting well to the standard of cheese in the US. It looks right, it sometimes even feels right, but it’s not right.

I bought some “sharp” Wisconsin cheddar. It was nothing of the sorts. On a kind day, I might have described it as medium but this is not a kind day. It was mild cheddar. For mild read bland. It’s serving its purpose in tonight’s meal as I need it more for texture than flavour but it’s still disappointing. Sharp led me to believe it would be mature at least. I love extra nature cheddar. Worship it. Mature is a compromise when it comes to cheddar; it’s permissible if I can’t get my mitts on extra mature. Really sharp cheddar should be creamy but slightly crumbly, like it just wants to tumble into your mouth and melt deliciously on your tongue; it should have a tang, almost sour, but with a sweet back note; it should be complex and perplex and delight the palate. What it should not be is one flat note.

I have another mission now: I need to track down a source of decent cheese.