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A year ago for my birthday, Tim gave me a beautiful orange Kalanchoe plant. The flowers died and the plant thrived, but I was uncertain if it would in fact flower again for me. I have that kind of luck, we are talking about the girl whose dad saved, rooted and nurtured the ivy from my wedding bouquet and planted it for me, only for it to slowly die on me.

Surprisingly, just recently, there were buds as it sat on the kitchen windowsill. The flowers came again, beautiful orange flowers. As I wash the dishes, it is right there, on the windowsill, making me smile, reminding me of my boys. Today, the sun was just perfect this afternoon.

I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. Tim, thanks again for the beautiful plant, it makes me smile and think of you when I see it everyday.

 One of my favorite hobbies is to cook, must be part of my Italian background because I love to see people eat. Mangia, Mangia, as my grandmother would say. It was never much of a problem with four men in the house – there was always someone happy to eat. Now, there are two of us in the house and the cooking presents a bit more of challenge, you see I am used to cooking…a lot (again, the Italian coming through). It’s difficult to figure out how to just make dinner for two, day after day.

We have had our share of good meals and our share of popcorn or PBJ for dinner when neither of us could seem to decide what we should do about that meal. I think, however, that I am coming around. Over the weekend, we felt like carrot cake, knowing full well that we couldn’t eat a whole carrot cake even if we spaced it out over days (carrot cake day #1 is great, day #2 is good, day #3 really, carrot cake again?) so I figured out that I would make a small carrot cake. I searched around and I found a recipe for a small carrot cake but it required a 6 inch cake pan. I searched around in the hopes that I could find something that I could use but not 6 inch cake pan or anything close to it. So I figured I would work with what I had, ramekins and make little carrot cakes – two of them.

They came out resembling little muffins, I cut off the raised tops to flatten them to look more like cakes, then cut each cake in half so there were two layers. The recipe called for a maple cream cheese frosting which was spread on top of one “layer” and then iced on the whole cake–it was delicious! Two little individual carrot cakes for dinner earlier this week.

The recipe was adapted from Betty Crocker’s website. I omitted raisins and walnuts which could certainly be added as you desire.

Carrot Cake

1/4    all-purpose flour
 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 egg white
2 tbs packed light brown sugar
2 tbs canola oil
 1 1/2 tps milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup packed grated carrot ( 1 carrot)

Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tps maple syrup 

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Spray 2 (6-oz) ramekins with cooking spray.
  •  In small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. In medium bowl, beat egg white, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla with wire whisk until blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined; stir in carrots.
  • Divide batter evenly between ramekins. Set ramekins on baking sheet and place in oven.  Bake 17  minutes or until cakes are set and spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in ramekins 5 minutes; remove from ramekins to cooling rack. Cool completely.  Level cake layers with a serrated knife.
  • For frosting, in small bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in powdered sugar and maple syrup until smooth.
  • Fill and frost layers with maple-cream cheese frosting.

Can you identify this?

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This, my friends, is what remains of our screen door.

Mother Nature can be a scary one.

The winds that were predicted by the weather services to kick up and be scary yesterday during the daylight hours never arrived.  Instead they showed up last evening, arriving with the darkness. The wind was howling and very gusty. A sudden and very loud slam alerted us to the fact that the screen door (which was not fully latched at the time) decided that it liked the field across the street better than our door frame. Perhaps I exaggerate just a little, it didn’t quite make it to the other side of the street, traveling a few feet down the driveway instead. We reclaimed what was left and now scratch our heads because we now have a very large doggie door (minus the flap part) that could easily fit two goats stacked on top of each other.IMG_2681IMG_2696

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SAY WHAT? GOAT DOOR???

(Hmmm… before those goats get any ideas, maybe we should just forget I said that.)

Could always have been worse… we could have had flying doors and flying goats. We must always see the bright side….always.

 

Today was a very un-January-like January day. The weather here has been less than winter-like and reminiscent of spring. Thank you (NOT) El Nino. Winter is supposed to be snowy and cold. Most of the day was rainy and damp with the actual temperatures well into the high 40s. What is left of the snow is either a lot of slush or a sheet of ice, not much in between.

On this lazy Sunday, a gumbo was simmering away on the stove. Tonight we had that gumbo made with North Country andouille sausage, chicken and okra that was flourishing in the garden a few months ago. Served with a loaf of bread, not mine but from the farmers’ market yesterday and some roasted hot peppers.

 

There have been Christmases since we’ve been here that the weather has not been very Hollywood Christmas-like. In fact, there have been a few Christmas mornings were there wasn’t snow on the ground, but we may have had some snow flurries for the effect, as if on cue. I remember one recent year that the snow began to fly as we left Christmas Eve mass, adding to the magic of the day. There was one Christmas when we went to bed without any snow on the ground and woke to a world glistening from an ice storm.

In general, though, even despite the lack of snow in years past, the weather has been winter-like, temperatures that required the wood stove to be casting its warm glow across the living room floor. This year, it was about 70 degrees on Christmas Eve and not much cooler on Christmas Day. The wood stove had no fire. I learned this year what those folks who live in Florida or other southern parts of the country must experience at this time of the year. I definitely realize that I am a winter/snow Christmas person – no flip flops and beaches on Christmas for me.

For Christmas morning, there was a feast of overnight eggnog french toast, sausage patties and wedges of fresh oranges. Better than the food, however, was the company. It was nice to have all of us around the table.

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I am the first to realize that I have adjusted less than optimally to this empty nest. I vow to embrace the upside of the situation even though two dinner plates look lost on our farmhouse table. Seems like it took forever to get the table that was my ideal for our family — and in a short amount of time it became too big, too soon. I think Tom and I are going to have to have one of those dramatic Hollywood style dinners one of our evenings — me at one end and he at the other….in the meantime, we’ll settle for a cozy dinner by the fire more often than not.

Whether your Christmas was warm or cold, dry or snowy, frantic or calm, I hope that you shared it with those that are close to your heart. Blessings and Peace this season.

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it ‘white’ ~ Bing Crosby

 

English: a bird nest Français : un nid d'oiseau

English: a bird nest Français : un nid d’oiseau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been two weeks since we moved the boys to school, that’s two weeks without any kids still living at home.

My question is….  who came up with this whole “empty nest” symbolism anyway? Obviously no one who actually did some research. From what I have read, most adult birds don’t stick around the nest when the fledglings leave, in fact, from what I’ve read some even leave the nest before their little baby birds are off on their own.

Imagine just how that would play out in the human world.

Kid: I will be leaving in a week for college. Are you going to miss me? I need some help packing and getting my stuff there and set up in my dorm room.

Parents: Hope you have fun with that. We are outta here! Headed south for the winter or maybe for forever. The house has been sold since we aren’t living here anymore and you’ll have to leave earlier than a week.  Don’t even think about coming home in a month or two for a break or Thanksgiving because the house may be gone or new folks may be living here but one thing is definitely certain, your father and I, we won’t be coming back….ever. And that moving in and getting settled at college thing. Good luck with that.

I came across this quote online and it definitely takes some of the sting out of the whole “empty nest” stigma.

I don’t like the term “empty nesters”…. I prefer “parents of free range young adults.” Robin Fox.

It is definitely a weird transition to go from a house where I have to wonder and plan for things like who is going to be here for dinner and what food shopping needs to be done to a house where there’s really no one to care what time we eat (my husband is pretty flexible with the whole food thing) or if we even eat. Makes my hobby of cooking and baking pretty darn obsolete, doesn’t it? Think I have to find a new hobby to occupy my time.

We just hosted my nephew and his girlfriend for the weekend. We had fun, I got the chance to bake some goodies, make a real breakfast for all of us and enjoy their company. There is one thing that I can tell you though. When we would have a houseful of company and they would leave after the weekend, the house, with the five of us in it, seemed empty. The house with just two of us in it after company leaves is even more empty and quiet. Sigh…….

Cupcake

Cupcake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love cooking and baking, but I think that I fall more on the side of cooking than baking. To me, baking is a science, or at least for me, it’s a science. There are precise measurements and instructions that need to be followed to ensure success. For me, cooking is a form of art. Recipes can easily be tweaked, ingredients swapped out easily. Recipes can be interpreted by the person doing the cooking, adding or subtracting a pinch of this or a touch of that and the result is a new dish, a new piece of art. I know that there are those that view baking the same way, but I am not one of them.

If you are one of them, if your passion lies amid pies, strudels and cupcakes then here is an opportunity for you, particularly if you don’t live here, but have always wanted to come and live in Vermont. There is a bakery in Waitsfield, Vermont that has a unique opportunity

for the baker (or baker wanna be) at heart. For $75, a 100 word letter and a cupcake recipe, you may be the next owner of a bakery nestled in one of the quaintest towns in the state.

Mix Cupcakerie and Kitchen is for sale and the owner is hoping through this unique contest of sorts, to find the perfect person to take over her dream. Kind of like a little Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory action, don’t you think?

Years ago, Tom and I became smitten with the Waitsfield area and dreamed of moving there. Alas, time and fate brought us to the mountain we call home in our little corner of Vermont. We are very happy, Vermont is wonderful, we have our dream. Perhaps, you can have yours. Here is the information to enter the contest. The owner is offering to mentor the new owner for 80 hours and give the lucky person all of her recipes to entice her regular customers to keep walking through the door. Also, I understand there is two months of rent and expenses paid for so you have the opportunity to get on your feet.

If baking is your passion good luck!

“Produced with Genetic Engineering”
This is one of the new labels that you will most likely see if Vermont’s GMO labeling law successfully avoids legal challenge and goes into effect as planned just about one year from now on July 1, 2016. The Vermont Attorney General’s office last week released the rules regarding the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering that will guide manufacturers and producers of genetically engineering products for sale in this state.

What is covered:

1. Unpackaged food required to be labeled such as fresh fruits and vegetables

2. Packaged foods with genetic engineering offered for sale in Vermont including packaged raw agricultural commodities as well as processed foods.

What is exempt:

1. Animal products and foods bearing USDA approved labels

2. Foods certified as not produced with genetic engineering

3. Processing aids

4. Alcoholic beverages

5. Foods containing genetically engineered materials where the weight of the genetically materials is less than .9 percent of the total weight of the food

6. Foods verified by a qualifying organization – such as food certified as “organic” in accordance with USDA National Organic Program accreditations.

7. Food for immediate consumption such as unpackaged foods served in restaurants.

8. Medical food as defined by federal law.

The entire set of rules adopted by the Attorney General can be found here.

On Monday, the Federal Court denied the Grocery Manufacturing Association’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of the law beginning on July 1, 2016. This was a positive result for Vermont, the “david” in this david versus goliath battle. Vermont is the first state in the nation to pass and put into effect a GMO labeling law and opponents of the law were quick to file a complaint in federal court seeking to have the new law invalidated. This request for an injunction was the first step for the opponents to see if they would be able to have the court order that the law could not go into effect until the litigation was finalized.

While this was rather important and justifiably was splashed across the news around the country, not many reported that there was a second part to that ruling. While the opponents were seeking to have the court grant injunctive relief, the state of Vermont filed its own application seeking to dismiss, at least in part, the opponent’s claim. Vermont was predominantly unsuccessful on it application to dismiss various claims. For example, in response to the opponent’s claim that the labeling violates First Amendment rights, the court ruled: The court believes that Act 120’s affirmative labeling requirement is not barred by the First Amendment, but denies Vermont’s motion to dismiss the First Amendment challenge because the court recognizes that this is a serious question of law as to which courts might disagree; but the court finds that Act 120’s ban on the term “natural” does violate the First Amendment.

The court did dismiss the opponent’s claim that the labeling law violated the Commerce clause stating that the Act’s affirmative labeling law did not violate the Commerce clause since the labeling requirement only applied to products sold in Vermont. The court in its ruling was skeptical of some of the plaintiff opponent’s claims of a constitutional nature, but since this was a preliminary application, the court was reluctant to outright dismiss the plaintiff’s claims as a whole.

As has happened many times in the past, all eyes will continue to be on Vermont as this law and the legal challenge to it unfolds.

Photo: 7 Days Caleb Kenna

Photo: 7 Days Caleb Kenna

Gotta love Vermont. Today there was a story in the news about a business that uses two draft horses (who are brothers) to pick up trash in the horse drawn trash container owned by a company called Draft Trash. Where else but around here would you find a horse drawn trash trailer coming to your house to pick up your trash. Evidently folks are thrilled with the idea, the service, the horses and the lack of a fuel surcharge!

The horses wait on line at the trash center alongside the much larger and much noisier trash hauling trucks and seem absolutely unfazed by the whole process. Read the entire article here.

_DSC0009 _DSC0019When I got home yesterday, our dog crate was sitting outside the back door. I learned that the game warden had returned it with an update on the little bear that was rescued. The bear that we thought was a cub, was actually a yearling. It has been relocated to the black bear sanctuary in Lyme, New Hampshire. He (or she) will join 22 other bears who live at that sanctuary. The warden advised that he weighed in at 18 pounds which is substantially less than the 80 lbs he should have been for a 1 year old. Poor thing was not only cold and shivering when he was crated but evidently also starving.

At his new home, he will be fed a high calorie mixture that will help put the weight back on and get the little one ready to be reintroduced into the woods of Vermont. The sanctuary is situated on several acres in Lyme, New Hampshire and the bears roam free, much like their natural habitats, except with access to food and medical care.

Here are some links to the sanctuary and articles about the bear biologist, if you are interested. The sanctuary is evidently the only facility of its kind in New England. Ben Kilham is the gentleman who has taken on this wonderful task. According to his website and related articles, he doesn’t get paid to do this and relies on donations and his own monies to fund this project. Should you find it in your heart and your wallet to make a donation of some type to help offset the $1,500 per bear cub that Kilham incurs to get these animals back where they belong, I am sure it would be appreciated.

Here’s a video about some bear cubs from last year.

The sun is getting a little higher in the sky and temperatures in the teens (without a wind) are starting to feel downright balmy. This morning’s temperature at 6:30 was -13 and later in the morning it was 13 degrees on the positive side of zero. Today we were surprised by a baby black bear cub while checking on a friend’s house. It climbed up into the tree, with no signs of a mom anywhere and curled up into a ball. Feeling sorry for the little thing, and it is pretty small, I went back to check up and see if it had moved on. It was still in the tree, curled up in a ball and only raised its head when a car went by. There are no tracks other than its own in the snow around and I fear it has been abandoned or wandered away. We’ve put a call into the game warden to see what could be done and are waiting to hear.

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ACDA National HS Honors Choir

ACDA National HS Honors Choir

This week, our youngest son is out in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is performing in the National High School Honors Choir. To say that I am proud of Tim and his accomplishment is an understatement. Right now, I am wishing that I were there to hear the concert and marvel at the achievement. That was just not in the cards. He has had, best as I can tell from messages and quick phone calls, an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I absolutely CANNOT wait until he comes home so I can hear all about it in person.

He was selected from approximately 4,000 high school choral students to be a part of the 300 person national high school honors choir for the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA). The group is performing this afternoon as a group and then will perform this evening in a mass choir with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He is one of three students from his high school and one of the five from the state of Vermont chosen following the auditioning process.  It is quite an honor. We are very proud of him.

We at our high school are blessed to have an amazing, dedicated choral teacher who goes above and beyond with our children. She sees their potential and helps them achieve things that they would never have even attempted without her guidance. We are grateful for all her time and effort, particularly since this week, she spent her birthday away from her own children to be with ours.

Here is the article that appeared in the local newspaper about the students and their experience.

From the Herald – NORTH CLARENDON — When the lights go up, the silence of anticipation will be broken by the thundering sound of 300 voices filling the air with song.
And three of those 300 voices will belong to Mill River Union High School seniors.
The students — Tim Heffernan, Katherine Bullock and Christian Brand — make up a tiny fraction of the nearly 4,000 students who auditioned for the 2015 National American Choral Directors’ Association Honor Choirs in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This weekend, the trio will spend several days rehearsing with the most talented vocal artists in the nation, and finish off the weekend with three performances. Roughly 6,000 people will be in attendance at those performances.
“It’s amazing and completely overwhelming to think of that many people listening to us sing,” said Brand.
Kristin Cimonetti, vocal teacher at the school, said this event is the highest honor of its kind that a high school student can achieve.
“It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It’s very competitive and there is no other choral event of this caliber in the country.”
Each student who auditioned had to use the same piece of music and record it electronically.
Each recording was then put under the audio microscope by a panel of judges who made decisions of elimination, whittling the 4,000 audition recordings down to a mere 300.
The blip of music was only about 40 seconds long, but the students rerecorded for hours, trying to get the perfect clip.
“We didn’t even listen to the final result,” said Bullock. “It’s too nerve-wracking, and you’ll never be completely satisfied with how you sound.”
Cimonetti was the one who listened with great detail to each of their recordings and ultimately made the final decision on which one to send to the judges.
“I listened for little glitches, like a breath that lasted slightly longer than it should,” she said. “But in the end, it all worked out.”
The recordings were sent in November, but the students didn’t learn the results until a couple of months later.
“It was like waiting to hear from college applications, but worse,” said Heffernan, laughing.
Each said that when they did get their results back, the feeling was unreal.
“I saw the email on my phone and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know if I trusted such good news,” said Brand, who read the email while walking down the street. The shock of it all caused him to abruptly stop walking, causing what he called a backup of foot traffic behind him.
“I was certain it was a trick,” he said.
But as the initial shock wore off, the students realized they had some serious work ahead of them.
They were each mailed a series of songs they needed to learn for the performances.
And they needed to learn them by heart.
Just because they had gotten into the choir didn’t mean they were out of the hot seat.
At the first rehearsal in Salt Lake, judges will walk through the rows of students, listening intently as they sing, eliminating anyone who doesn’t sound up to par.
“It may seem harsh, but it ensures quality performance,” Cimonetti said. “It holds everyone accountable.”
But each of the Mill River students have been dedicated to practicing in preparation for the event.
“We’ll absolutely be practicing on the plane ride, too,” said Bullock. “I actually feel bad for the people sitting next to us. We’ll be singing the whole time.”
While the three students said they feel a sense of pride, they all know they could not haven accomplished any of this without the help of Cimonetti.
But Cimonetti modestly shook off the compliment, saying the students were the ones bursting with talent.
“I really do think we will all be changed after this performance,” said Heffernan.
bryanna.allen

Photo: Rutland Herald

Photo: Rutland Herald

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