GETTING A RISE OUT OF DAD

Standard

In previous posts, I’ve described in great detail my dad’s prowess as the Combes Family Inn‘s breakfast chef, and, on a few occasions, wrote about my mom’s role as its main dinner chef. Dad also contributes to the inn’s kitchen as a specialty chef in different and oftentimes unique ways. These other specialties of his can best be described as culinary hobbies.

Dad in Baking Class (cropped)

(Above: Innkeeper Bill at a recent baking course at King Arthur Flour.)

For example, about 20 years ago, Dad really got into making his own pasta. Inn guests got to sample several delicious variations of fettuccini, stuffed ravioli, and the like. As popular as this phase was, unfortunately, according to my mother, it only lasted for about six months.

There is recent evidence of a pasta-making revival, however. Mom said just yesterday, “I was cleaning out the basement the other day and I found your father’s pasta machine. I told him he really should start making his own pasta again.” And, checking in with Dad on the matter, he said he probably would crank up the old machine again.

One of many food phases Dad went through included sausage making, which he said he only tried a couple of times. Evidently it was fun, but a lot of work. “There’s really an art to it and I can’t say that I developed it,” he admitted.

Then there was beer making, wine making, and mead making, each in a separate phase.  Dad moved quickly on from these hobbies. “They were not immediately gratifying, because you have to wait so long to enjoy them,” he explained. “In fact, I still have a whole refrigerator full of mead, which I suspect is getting better and better tasting the longer I let it sit.”

Despite the short-lived nature of the aforementioned, there are two culinary hobbies Dad comes back to time and time again: making soups and baking bread.

Finished Loaves (cropped)

(Above: Finished loaves from Dad’s last baking class.)

He says, “What I like about soups is you can just use up stuff that we have left over from the inn. I usually look through a soup cookbook and one recipe will catch my eye, when I know I have some of the ingredients left over in the fridge, then I’ll pick up whatever else I need and . . . voila!” (His favorite soup cookbook is 12 Months of Monastery Soups.)

And, what does he like about bread baking? A lot of things, evidently:

“You get to get all messy with flour which is fun. It takes you off of the street. You get to try different varieties of yeasts and flours. It’s fun to experiment. And, of course, it’s nice eating it afterwards.”

Since he loves baking bread so much, and because the inn’s guests love eating it, my husband and I gave Dad a class at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center as a Christmas gift one year. He’s now been to King Arthur for a different class three years in a row.

One of Dad’s all-time favorite breads from these classes is Portuguese bread, which uses what’s called unbleached “wholesome” flour. Dad’s secret is that you can put other things in it—such as seeds, nuts or berries—simply by replacing one cup of the flour in the recipe with a cup of one type or a mixture of these other goodies.

Baking Instruction (cropped)

(Above: My dad loves the instruction at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center so much he’s attended three different classes.)

He’s also a big fan of baking scones, and he attended one class that was exclusively dedicated to the art of making them. “I like making scones, because I like eating them,” he opined. “It’s more like a dessert. They’re also easier to make than other kinds of bread.” Several of these recipes can be found on the King Arthur Flour website here.

When I asked if he wants to get another class as a gift this coming Christmas, the answer was a resounding YES. “The classes are interesting because each has 30 people in it and everybody is different. Some are professional bread bakers and others are home-makers or whatever. I guess you could say that I’m a professional home-maker,” he says.

The Baking Education Center class calendar can be found here and King Arthur Flour bread recipes are here.

INN KITCHEN COMFORTS

Standard

More than 40 followers of my blog took a readers’ poll that I recently issued.  Although the responses indicate a diversity of interests, the message was clear: you want to read more tales about the Combes Family Inn, and you want me to throw in a bit about my travels, past and present. And, you want me to move past my “dry year” and associated diet and exercise journaling. Accordingly, I’ve put the innkeepers on notice that they need to dust off more of their apocryphal stories.

Blog Reader Poll Results

(The top vote-getters from the reader’s poll were Vermont Inn-Trigue, Travels, and My Memoir.)

While we await a few more “Vermont Inn-trigue” inn-keeping stories, I’ll share several of Mom’s famous comfort food recipes that she recently made for a dining room full of skiers. The menu included three of her most beloved winter recipes: broccoli soup, pork schnitzel, and homemade apple sauce.

Perched on the precipice of spring, we’re alternating between days of snow melt, mud, and rain, and nights (and some days) of freezing temperatures, ice, and snow flurries. This is a great time of year to enjoy comfort foods, in winter’s last hurrah before spring fully arrives, bearing both warm weather and fresh fruits and vegetables.

For the first course, what else but Ruth’s famous broccoli soup, a dish that has been on the menu since the inn opened in 1978? This treat, coveted by both family members and long-time guests alike, has transformed through the years.  The original recipe featured cream, butter, and chicken stock, and had relatively little actual broccoli.  The new one, as you’ll see below, is decidedly different, but it still tastes absolutely delicious.

Mom Dad soup

(Vermont inn keepers Bill and Ruth Combes are still dishing it out in the inn’s kitchen after 37 years.)

CFI’s Original Cream of Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
8 cups of broccoli florets

3 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoon of flour
2 cups of heavy cream
pinch of ground pepper

Method:
Melt 2 tablespoon of butter. Sauté celery and onions until tender. Add broccoli and broth. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Puree, using an immersion blender or a regular blender. In a small sauce pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, and stir in flour and cream.  Stir until thick and add to the soup. Season with pepper and serve.

My mom explains the transformation of her broccoli soup this way: “About 10 years ago, I switched to my current recipe, because our guests were looking for healthier food and, frankly, so was I. My current recipe is all broccoli, basil and garlic, with a little olive oil. I actually got this recipe from Joe, the inn’s refrigerator repairman, who happens to have a large garden. Many of his recipes feature garlic, because he grows a lot of it; this recipe is no exception. My only modification from Joe’s original recipe is that I typically use only olive oil, whereas Joe preferred butter.”

Broccoli soup has always been Mom’s signature soup. Now, it’s just healthier and more flavorful. This is Joe’s recipe, which, as Mom notes, freezes very well.

Joe’s Basil and Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:
5 cups coarsely chopped broccoli
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons of olive oil (Joe suggests a combination of butter and olive oil)
¼ cup fresh chopped basil (when fresh basil is unavailable, tubed basil paste works just fine)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt & pepper
Lemon juice

Method:
In a saucepan, bring broccoli and stock to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until broccoli is tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Purée broccoli and stock with an immersion blender, food processor or blender, until smooth. Heat oil and/or melted butter in small saucepan and sauté garlic and basil briefly, until garlic turns brownish. Blend with about 2 cups of purée and process until smooth. Stir into soup. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or a dollop of sour cream.

Broccoli soup

(The leaner, meaner version of Ruth’s broccoli soup, served with a dollop of Cabot sour cream.)

The entrée course featured pork schnitzel, simple noodles, and homemade apple sauce. Unlike the broccoli soup, Mom never made schnitzel when I was growing up in the inn, so I asked her to tell the story behind this recipe.

“We went to Germany in the early ‘90’s to visit [our son] Wayne, who was stationed there in the Air Force,” Mom said. “When we got back home, your father said we could write off the whole trip on our taxes, because we had brought back this schnitzel recipe, which we’ve been making ever since.”

She also explained that, in addition to being absolutely delicious, this is a very cost-effective, high-protein main dish. My father buys the pork in very large loins when it’s on sale and then slices it into several thin cutlets, which can be used immediately or frozen. The recipe below has its roots in the dinners my parents enjoyed in Germany while on vacation and is a modification of the pork schnitzel in a German cookbook purchased on that trip, combined with the method Mom uses to make her famous “Frenchie’s Chicken.”

Dinner is served

(The main course of pork schnitzel with homemade apple sauce, simple pasta, and green beans about to be served.)

Pork Schnitzel

Ingredients:
4 pork loin cutlets – either boneless pork chops or slices from whole pork loin, about 1/4 in. thick
¼ cup flour
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg beaten with a couple tablespoons of milk
¼ cup butter
¼ cup vegetable oil

Method:
Pound pork loin between sheets of plastic wrap until 1/8 inch thick. Melt butter and shortening in frying pan. Put the above flour, panko and beaten egg each on individual plates. Dip both sides of pork cutlets in the flour, the egg, and the crumbs, in that order. Fry in pan until golden brown on each side about 2-3 minutes per side.  Keep in slightly warm oven until ready to serve. Or keep cold and put in 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or so before serving. Serve with apple sauce.

When asked about the secret to the recipe, Mom dished out three: “Cut and pound the pork as thin as you can. You have to use panko and not regular bread crumbs. And, it’s the homemade apple sauce that absolutely makes the recipe.  Also, the secrets to my apple sauce are: apple cider, extra cinnamon, and using a food mill, to crank through the apples. Oh, and there’s another secret to the apple sauce:  I use the whole apple with the stems and everything.”

Mom for apple sauce

(Inn keeper Ruth Combers shares some or her cooking secrets, including a German cookbook purchased on a trip to Germany and her trusty hand-operated food mill.)

Ruth’s Home Made Apple Sauce

Ingredients:
5 lbs. of regular McIntosh apples
1/4 cup water, apple cider, or apple juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Method:
Slice apples. Do not peel or remove cores. Put apples and liquid in large covered pot and cook over medium flame for about 1/2 hr. or until apples are tender. Put apple mixture through a food mill. (“This is a great kitchen gadget, especially for pureeing soups and vegetables,” says Innkeeper Ruth.) Add lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon. Apple sauce can be frozen.

Needless to say, dinner was absolutely delicious. That’s all…for now. Tune in next week to find out how Innkeeper Bill fared after two, individual, day-long bread-baking classes at the famous King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center, up in Norwich, Vermont.

Polling All Followers

Standard

My Detours & Destinations blog is now over a year old and I’ve posted in it more than 70 times. Mostly, I’ve written about my “dry year” New Year’s resolution. I also wrote periodically about my travels (past and present), my memoir, weight-loss, and marathon training. And, who can forget the humorous stories about my parents’ Vermont inn? Now that my dry year is over, please let me know what YOU would like to read more about.

Thanks for following and for providing your feedback.

Vive La Différence!

Standard

As I reported last week, having resumed the option to drink wine at dinner has decreased the likelihood that I have time or motivation to exercise in the evening.  Since one of my key goals this year is to maintain my weight loss, this presents a real challenge that I’m committed to solving. Recall that not drinking was the main contributor to my losing over 20 pounds last year, as detailed in this post from last April.

For me, not drinking resulted in three positive weight-loss benefits: (1) It directly eliminated a few hundred empty calories each day from my diet, (2) It kept me more focused on what and how much I was eating, and (3) It freed up my evenings, making it very easy to exercise at night.

These past several weeks I’ve been tinkering with my routine, trying to find a formula that allows me to enjoy food and wine with my husband, further my marathon training, and maintain my weight. My concerns that adding alcohol back into the mix could reverse the positive results I achieved last year are well-founded. I’ve noticed more than once that just a few days of complacency result in some extra pounds.

Initially, I drank wine most evenings at dinner and changed my weekday routine by getting up early in the morning to run. I really thought this was going to be the right solution for me. After all, in the old days, they used to say that morning was the best time for a workout, because it let you get it out of the way quickly and set you up for a better, more energized rest of the day. This is still recommended by a lot of fitness bloggers and medical experts, including in this article and this one . I’ve been pretty good at following through with this routine change, happily getting up between 5 o’clock and 5:30 to hit the treadmill before work.

Although a strong 5-mile morning workout puts me in a great mood, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to help me shed those pesky two pounds. Further routine tinkering has revealed that the evening workouts are much more effective for me.

And, it’s not just about whether I have wine at dinner. In fact, my results appear almost equally as good whether I make time to exercise before dinner (even with wine) or whether I skip wine at dinner and exercise later in the evening. It turns out that my routine and results testing confirm a new “discovery” in the exercise and weight loss industry: everyone is different and you have to figure out what’s best for you. Some great articles about this trend include this one on WebMD and this one from the American Heart Association.

What does this all mean for me? As I begin to step up my marathon training for the season, I’m planning to skip wine most Mondays through Thursdays, so that I can bank an extra hour of sleep in the morning and increase the likelihood that I’ll workout in the evening. On the weekends, I’m going to push out my workouts to the afternoon, closer to the time when I’ll be enjoying all of that great food and wine.

What’s It Like?

Standard

Now that a full month has passed, it’s time to give some thought to the question people are asking me over and over again: What’s it like to drink again after a year without alcohol?

Once I got over being proud of myself for making it through my dry year, I was petrified. This was particularly true the first week, when I worried about the potential side effects of resuming drinking following a relatively long period of abstinence. I also feared that I’d fall right back into the old patterns that had led me to embark on my resolution to begin with. Not knowing what to expect, I initially made a conscious attempt to be very moderate in my consumption.

Alcohol Tolerance

Believe it or not, I detected no difference in the actual effect of alcohol on me while I was drinking it. I hadn’t become the “lightweight” that many of my friends and family thought I’d become. Perhaps because I took it easy the first week or so, I haven’t detected a difference in my general tolerance for alcohol.

That’s not to say that I didn’t experience adverse physical symptoms. In fact, I did, especially in the first two weeks. On more than one occasion, I felt sick from dehydration the day after having a few glasses of wine the previous night. Once I even thought I was coming down with the flu, until I figured it out the true cause. Physically, however, the most disappointing side effect of drinking again is the diminished quality of sleep.

How I Feel

In many ways, I feel the same as before my dry year. When I get home from work, I enjoy having a glass of wine. Even more, I like joining friends and family for a drink or two at dinner parties.

It’s also true that absence has made my heart grow fonder. I catch myself savoring the feeling when wine or champagne starts to take effect, the way the warmth of the buzz follows the liquid through my system and spreads throughout my body. This feeling is really the whole point of drinking to begin with, isn’t it? It’s like gaining temporary happiness from a bottle.

This heightened awareness of alcohol is the main difference in how I feel. I’m simply more aware of alcohol and how it impacts not only me, but also other people. As we all know, these impacts are both positive and negative.

Diet & Exercise

My chronicling of the diet and exercise accomplishments I attained in my dry year has inspired many women I know to give up alcohol for one month or more. Top of mind for these followers is how I am faring now that I’ve added alcohol back into the mix.

I’m happy to report that I’ve maintained my weight loss. I weigh exactly the same today as I weighed on January 1. And, this is the same weight that I achieved in late May last year. I have successfully lost 30 pounds and kept it off!  The winning formula to weight maintenance is exactly the same as it was to lose the weight: Weigh yourself often, keep track of everything you consume using MyFitnessPal, and add exercise to the mix as needed to reach (or stay at) your goal weight.

It became clear in the first two weeks that I needed to make two significant adjustments to maintain my weight: one to my diet and one to my exercise planning. In order to accommodate the calories from alcohol, I started by foregoing “real” lunches and opting instead for protein bars and diet bars. The second change was much more difficult. I needed to rearrange my workout schedule, since it became very hard to continue working out at night. During the workweek, I now get up earlier and workout in my home gym before going to work. I’m trying to make this a regular work day habit.

Other Impacts

My drinking habits may be forever changed by my heightened awareness of the expense of alcohol. I’m surprised that I’m not going out for drinks and dinner as much as I did before. And, whether at home or out, I’m making it count. Having a drink has to be enjoyable and of good quality. If I taste something and I don’t like it, I just dump it out and try something different, or just switch to a glass of water. In the past, I would have suffered through it and changed to something else after finishing it.

Although I’ll be reporting on it less frequently, I promise to keep you informed from time to time as I move beyond my dry year.

RESOLUTION, RENEWAL & CHANGE

Standard

I did it! I faithfully kept my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from alcohol for the entire year. To be honest, it surprised me that I stuck with it, especially considering the major lifestyle changes it required and the fact that I had failed at much simpler resolutions in years past. As you might have guessed, I won’t dwell on those failures here. Rather, this post is about the role resolutions have played in motivating me to succeed, by enabling a much-needed renewal of some aspects of my life, including personal development and enrichment.

SCF last drink (cropped)  SCF 2015 NYE

Above: Me last New Year’s Eve (left) and this year (right). I hope that my 2014 resolution to drink no alcohol will lead to a lifetime of moderation and better health and fitness.

As I revealed a year ago when I launched this blog, I’ve had a lifelong habit of carefully considering (and then announcing) my annual resolutions, and had mixed success in keeping them. The way I see it, the end of one year and the start of another presents a great opportunity to take stock of everything, from relationships, to health and happiness, and to the state of personal finances.

Considering the stats on resolutions and that only 8% of resolution makers are successful in keeping them, my track record, frankly, is pretty darn good. In two recent years, for example, I was able to use this annual exercise to focus on different challenges and interests that contributed to lasting change—change  that has greatly enhanced my overall happiness and sense of well-being.

In 2009, I resolved to get a diary and to write “every single day.” This was important to me, because I had been an avid journal keeper in the past and wanted to get back in the habit. Although it proved impossible for me to actually write on the day itself every single day for that entire year, I did conscientiously write and fill every page in that diary. I just started my new one for 2015…

Journals (landscape)

Above: My 2009 New Year’s resolution has led to a lasting habit of maintaining a diary.

The following year (2010), I resolved to “read more” and got that vow off on the right foot by joining not one, but two different book clubs. One of those clubs turned out to be very serious about the actual reading and discussion of books and this has helped me tremendously. My husband and I joined this club together and we both greatly look forward to each session. It’s always a wonderful gathering of great friends and reading and discussion, not to mention the excellent food and wine.

After the discussion section concludes, before we head in for lunch or dinner, the same question is answered by each member in turn: “What are you reading now?” It’s brilliant, because that compels many of us to keep reading other books, above and beyond the actual assignments.

Books

Above: My 2010 New Year’s resolution helped me to rekindle my life-long love of reading.

This has been, perhaps, a round-a-bout way of getting to what I’ve been thinking about this past week. Rather than rehash my already well-documented learnings from and achievements of my dry year (if you missed them or want a refresher, please read this post or this one), I’ve been considering what the lasting impact might be of my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from drinking.

First and foremost, I hope that I will be a life-long moderate drinker. I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or some bubbly without fear that I’ll over-indulge. Along similar lines, I hope that I will be able to maintain my weight loss for many years to come. Getting back to this weight feels great and I don’t want to go back. I’d even like to further improve my fitness level by adding more diverse workouts to my routine, and cut more time off my marathon PR (personal record). And I hope that I will remain committed to this blog and keep on writing in it regularly.

For those of you who tuned in thinking that I would reveal my resolutions for 2015, I apologize. Of course, I have more than a few resolutions up my sleeve that are already in full-swing. Please tune in next time to read about some of them. And, please leave a comment on this post with your resolutions big and small for 2015.

So Close, I Can Taste It

Standard

Just before I left the office last night, a rush of emotion came over me when I realized that today would be New Year’s Eve and 2014 would soon be a distant memory. Envisioning myself at midnight tonight, I became determined to have a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate the successful conclusion of my dry year. Surely, if ever there would be a time to enjoy a bottle of what is widely considered one of the world’s best champagnes, the anniversary of a full year without alcohol would be it.

So, I did a bit of online searching, made several phone calls, and managed to track down the only bottle of Dom Perignon within a 20-mile radius. Luckily, I was able to reserve it and pick it up along my commute home. It turns out that the bottle is from 2003 and is in a gorgeous commemorative box, bringing, perhaps, a bit more value to the $175 price tag that I paid for the bottle. Yes, I know that it’s sort of crazy to spend that much money on one bottle of consumable liquid. However, I deserve it, don’t I?

Dom Perignon

(I was happy to find this bottle of “Dom” on short notice.)

It might be hard for someone to believe me when I say that having this special bottle to celebrate with tonight actually has nothing to do with wanting to drink alcohol again.  Recently, I very happily celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and my step-daughter’s engagement party and never once thought that these milestone family gatherings would have been enhanced one iota by my drinking alcohol along with everyone else.

The best way to describe my desire to make tonight a once-in-a-lifetime celebration is to say that I am proud of myself. I can’t believe I did it. I launched my resolution and my blog exactly one year ago today, and went from enjoying a few glasses of wine every night and being a fixture at local wine-and-food-paired dinners to going an entire year without drinking alcohol.

Along the way, I lost well over 20 pounds, cut 23 minutes off my best marathon time, and, more importantly, learned a lot about the power of alcohol in our society and about myself. As added bonuses, I took an unforgettable trip to Laos to celebrate my journey and started writing regularly about my parents’ nearly four decades in the Vermont inn-keeping business.

Tonight, I’ll observe the end of a truly incredible 2014 and the promise of the New Year with family and friends over a bottle of something extra special. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. You can be sure, however, that I’ll let you know in future blog posts. Thanks for following – and, Happy 2015!