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Vermont

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This is me. This is me at the top of a mountain.
This is me at the top of a mountain falling in love with skiing.

The Genesis of Snow How

It started six weeks ago. The folks at Ski Vermont and Sugarbush Resort wanted to leverage the power of social media to promote January’s  Learn to Ski month in Vermont and Sugarbush’s Learn to Ski and Ride package. They turned to Cabot Creamery, a company that has been active in social media for years, to partner in getting a group of bloggers based in New England — bloggers who were beginning skiers or snowboarders — to come to Sugarbush with their besties and learn to ski or board.

The Learn to Ski program is pretty simple. If you’re a first time skier or boarder, you can take three two-hour lessons that will transform you from snow zero to snow hero — or at least snow competent –  in a day and a half. Once you’ve completed the program, Sugarbush gives you an all-mountain ski pass for the rest of the 2010-2011 season.

Oh lucky me! Not only did I get to play host to the team of bloggers, but as a newbie myself, I got to participate. As an added bonus, I learned to ski with my best friend and amazing sister, Roberta MacDonald.

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Not only would we get to ski together, lunch in the lodge was going to be fun, too!

Our mission was quite specific. We needed to identify four bloggers of renown and talent who were also novice boarders or skiers. Our team and their ski and boarding buddies turned out to be amazingly compatible, the perfect group to take up the Ski Vermont challenge. Barbara Jones is co-founder of Blissdom one of the country’s most successful women’s blogging conferences and CEO of One2One Network, a women’s word of mouth marketing space. She came with her friends Chris and Shanna, who were also up for a Vermont adventure.

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Barbara Jones (center) spent her birthday weekend learning to ski with her friends Chris & Shanna.

Robyn Moreno, who traveled with her NYC posse — adorable sister Bianca, charming boyfriend Marin, and super cool English friend Izzy — blogs at Practically Posh and is the author of Practically Posh: The Smart Girl’s Guide to a Glam Life ( July 2008, Harper Collins).

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Robyn Moreno learned to snowboard. She also learned her way around the hot tub.

We Are Not Martha. It’s a mindset as well as a wonderful blog by two childhood friends, Chelsee Adams and Susie Adams from Boston. Sues and Chels blog about food, decor, travel and life through the eyes of twentysomething women with style and flair. With a bit of trepidation, the We Are Not Martha team dedicated themselves to learning to snowboard.

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Chelsee Adams (left) & Susie Anderson, friends since 2nd grade, celebrated the 3rd blogiversary of their website, We Are Not Martha, learning to snowboard.

Food for Thought…and Fuel

We gathered the night before our first lesson to share a meal cooked by the incomparable Chef Mark Molinaro, who not only cooks and develops recipes for Cabot, he is also the Executive Chef at The New England Culinary Institute.

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As the women of Team Snow How arrived at Sugarbush, Chef Molinaro prepared appetizers for weary travelers. There were succulent Chili-Cheddar Mini-Meatloaves, rich, crispy fingerling potatoes stuffed with Horseradish Cheddar, and divinely decadent cheddar crisps.

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Later, dinner was served. There were oooohs and ahhhs and audible sighs as we tucked into a savory cheddar and butternut squash soup, which Chef Molinaro swears is quick and easy to prepare. The salad was a winter wonder topped with creamy cheddar dressing. A hearty vegetarian cannelloni rounded out the meal. No one thought they had room for dessert until we saw the apple and cherry crunch topped with a sinfully delicious dollop of Cabot whipped cream. Somehow, we managed to fit it in.

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Let the Lessons Begin

A gentle snow fell through the night and into the next day. We woke to a wintry play land and wasted no time suiting up — no one told me how unique and varied the clothing requirements would be — and getting to the ski school.

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If ever there is a time to learn to ski and board it’s the month of January in Vermont. We had amazing weather — a gentle snowfall, minimal wind and reasonable temps. We started out in the equipment rental shop and were fitted for skis and boots. Today’s equipment is remarkable. My boots were surprisingly comfy (other than that walking issue), and the skis — short and shaped — made the process much easier than my disastrous attempt of two decades ago.

Once we were suited up, on our way to meet our instructor we stopped at Ski & Ride HQ to meet skiing legend and extreme skier John Egan, named by Powder magazine as one of the 48 greatest skiers of our time. John had great advice and incredible energy to pass along to our group of newbies. Nice to have a little star dust rub off before we began our lessons.

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Skiing superstar John Egan imparts mountain wisdom before I leave.

Our instructor, Gary Eckhart, was wonderful and had the patience of Job. On the lift he told me about his other life. Gary is an accomplished water color artist whose work hangs throughout the Sugarbush Resort as well as in several Vermont galleries.

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Gary Eckhart and his happiest student.

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Skiing sisters!

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The Snow How Ski Team

Here’s the thing. In spite of what I thought to be true, in spite of my fear of throwing myself down a snowy mountainside, skiing, when taught by a competent and understanding instructor on well-fitted, updated equipment is a transformative experience. The beauty of the Vermont mountains is breathtaking, but on a scale that seems inviting — majestic without being overly intimidating. The muffled silence of the winter day interrupted only by  the  sound of skis cutting through snow, combined with the thrill of gliding down groomed mountain trails is an experience not to be missed.

I can think of no better place to learn to ski or snowboard than in Vermont, where the snow is deep, the winters are cold, and hearts are warm.

I told my friend Patty I was headed off to Vermont to learn to ski. “And you are doing this, why?” was her immediate and not particularly surprising reaction. It’s a perfectly legitimate question, given my advanced age — 57.9 — and my well-deserved reputation as The World’s Biggest Klutz™. My friend’s concern certainly makes sense. There are new frontiers I could explore that involve far less risk, ways to challenge myself that do not invite grievous bodily harm. Pursuits like scrapbooking, or oenology, or bridge come immediately to mind. But, as I noted in another recent blog post, and as my mother will point out to this day, I have ants-in-my-pants, what the Jews like to call “shpilkes.” This abundance of nervous energy is best managed with physical exertion combined with extreme concentration. Learning to ski is an almost perfect match for someone like me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have actually been on skis before. Years ago, when hair was big and real women wore shoulder pads, I bundled up my children, drove to Sugarloaf and enrolled them in pre-school ski-school.  Within minutes they were skittering and sliding down the mountain, making pizza shapes with their skis, grins as wide as a mountain pass. What they learned in their first lesson, I never really figured out.

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My first mistake was putting my instruction in the hands of a sadist masquerading as a friend. No sooner had I strapped on my skis, which were way taller than I am and about 2.5 inches wide — this was the 80s if you recall — then I found myself at the top of the mountain on a slope marked with a couple of ink-black diamond shapes. Graphically emphatic, to be sure, but meaningless to a novice like myself. I quickly discovered the diamond hard reality of the slope and for what seemed to be an eternity, but was probably more like an hour, I made my way slowly toward the bottom. Mostly on my bottom. My progress went something like this: point skis toward lodge, close eyes, slide, fall, sob. Point, close, slide, fall, sob. Point, close, slide, fall, sob — making my inexorable, humiliating journey ever downward.

After that first attempt, my heart was never really in it. My children continued to improve. I even went back with them a couple of times. Luckily because of my diminutive stature, clever costuming and my steadfast refusal to leave the bunny slope, I easily passed for a uniquely uncoordinated tween. As tiny little humans whizzed by me making disrespectful gestures and muttering for me to get out of the way, I never got much beyond the “point, close, slide, fall, sob” stage. OK, I did lose the sob, but other than that, it was more of the same.

Flash forward 18 years. During that time I have been passionately involved in fitness. I run, I hike, I swim, I snowshoe. I love to be outside. I love to be active. And I continue to harbor a nagging envy of my skiing friends. Living in Maine, that can be defined as just about everyone I know.

And then, as if by divine intervention, Cabot Creamery and SkiVermont decided to promote Learn to Ski month by sending 5 women bloggers of all ages and their BFFs to learn to ski or snowboard. They plan take all of us from novice to confident skier or boarder over the course of two days and three lessons. Ten of us will meet this Friday at Sugarbush Ski Resort for a Girlfriend Getaway of epic proportions.

Group of sport teens different ethnicity jumping winter outdors

So I’m madly borrowing ski pants and neck warmers, goggles and mittens, arming — and dressing — myself for an adventure in the Mad River Valley. I’ll let you know, step by agonizing step, how I progress.

Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? You bet your ass you can.

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img_02081James Beard

In a narrow brick townhouse on a quiet street in New York’s Greenwich Village, you’ll find one of the world’s busiest and most storied kitchens. For more than 250 days a year, the James Beard House plays host to the country’s leading chefs, allowing visitors to experience the cuisine of established culinary luminaries as well as emerging superstars. Here the legacy of the incomparable James Beard (1903-1985) is continued by the James Beard Foundation, which purchased the visionary chef’s home after his death. The Foundation has created a living memorial whose mission is “to celebrate, preserve, and nurture America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence.”

On March 22, the JBH welcomed Team Vermont, a group of the Green Mountain State’s most accomplished and honored chefs who are at the cutting edge of Vermont’s bugeoning locavore movement.

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The night was dreary, with a hard spring rain that kept the evening’s guests away from the house’s inviting garden. Instead, hors d’oeuvre were passed in a room off the kitchen where diners, packed elbow to elbow, were offered a hint at the gustatory delights to come.

Hors D’Oeuvre

Misty Knoll Farms Chicken Liver B.L.T.s

Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese Toasts with House-Cured Bacon and Wildflower Honey

Caesar Salad Ice Cream Cones

Aaron’s Corn Dogs

Vermont Beef Tenderloin Tartare with Radishes and Fried Pickles

Wanabea Farm Country Rabbit Pâté with Long Trail Brewmaster Series Imperial Porter Mustard and Pickled Turnips


img_0220Bill Whiting, Banfi

The cocktail hour featured Principessa Perlante, a crisp white wine with a hint of sparkle. It was the first of eight amazing selections, chosen to pair perfectly with each course. All the wines for the evening were supplied by Banfi Vintners, which has been owned and operated by one family since it was founded in 1919. Bill Whiting, grandson of the founder and Director of Wine Education for Banfi, mingled with the guests and spoke passionately about his family’s wine business.

The hors d’oeuvre gave a tantalizing preview of the evening’s offerings, so guests welcomed the announcement that dinner was served. Though the small, elegant rooms were not created to seat so many diners, tables of six, eight and ten somehow magically fit into the various levels of Beard’s home and Team Vermont began the main event.

It’s difficult to refrain from a loving and protracted description of each of the seven courses and the incredible wines that accompanied them, but that attempt might take this beyond a mere blog post and into novel length territory. Instead I’ll introduce the dazzlingly talented chefs of Team Vermont and the dishes they created in James Beard’s kitchen. Remember them and their restaurants. Stop by and say hello the next time you find yourself in Vermont.

While I don’t have a picture of every course, I’ve included a few to whet your visual appetite as well as your palate. Bon appétit!

TEAM VERMONT DINNER, JAMES BEARD HOUSE, MARCH 22, 2010

Course I

Aaron Josinsky, Bluebird Tavern, Burlington Vermont

Charcuterie Assiette (San Angelo Pinot Grigio)

img_02211Charcuterie Assiette

Course II

Steve Atkins, The Kitchen Table Bistro, Richmond Vermont

Heirloom Squash Soup, Roasted Sun Chokes, Misty Knoll Chicken & Spiced Cream (Centine Bianco)

img_0224Heirloom Squash Soup

Course III

Rogan Lechthaler, Verde, Stratton Vermont

Barramundi, Rutabaga, Turnip Greens, House Cured Guanciale Dressing (Centine Rose)

Course IV

Sean Buchanan, Solstice, Stowe Vermont

Cavendish Quail, Pork Belly, Cider Glaze, Smoked Cheddar Polenta, Bacon Braised Greens, Basil Honey

(Centine Rosso di Toscana)

Course V

Eric Warnstedt, Hen of the Wood, Waterbury Vermont

Maine Lobster, Spring Dug Parsnip, Brown Butter (Belnero)

img_0234Maine Lobster

Course VI

Mark Timms, Topnotch Resort & Spa, Stowe Vermont

Deconstructed Beef Wellington, Pickled Tongue, Braised Heart, Oxtail, Demi Cube, Virtual Egg (Poggio Alle Mura)

img_0238Deconstructed Beef Wellington

Course VII

Lara Atkins, The Kitchen Table Bistro, Richmond Vermont

Open Faced Coffee Chocolate Sundae, Candied Almonds, Vanilla Anglaise (Rosa Regale)


img_0232And they all lived happily ever after…

The End






libertyhillfarmOne of the advantages of working for Cabot is how, in the course of my job, my horizons are expanded beyond anything I could have imagined. Last week I had yet another work experience that came as a delightful and eye-opening surprise. Cabot’s marketing team gathered for an off-site retreat. My experience with off-sites has been almost exclusively of the hotel meeting room variety. This gathering promised to take the concept of a work meeting to a whole new level.

Agritourism – Living the Farm Experience

We met at Liberty Hill Farm Inn, owned and operated by Bob and Beth Kennett and their sons Tom and Dave. Liberty Hill is one of more than 1200 Cabot Creamery Cooperative dairy farms. It is also a leader in the burgeoning field of agritourism. For over 25 years, Bob and Beth have been welcoming guests into their Greek revival farmhouse, built in the early 1800′s and nestled near the banks of the White River and surrounded by the Green Mountain National Forest.

Some come to Liberty Hill to experience life on a working farm. Others come for the beauty and tranquility of the Vermont countryside.  Still others come for Beth’s extraordinary cooking. Breakfast and dinner are served family style around a groaning farm table laden with fresh meats and produce, homemade breads, cakes and pastries and fairly ringing with conversation and laughter. In the winter visitors make their way to the many nearby ski areas or strap on snowshoes and explore the countryside. Summer might find them floating down the White River on innertubes or exploring the nearby villages of Rochester, Quechee, Middlebury, and Woodstock.

Kids Play Free!

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Children, especially city kids, have amazing experiences at Liberty Hill Farm. They can help gather eggs for breakfast, feed baby calves, chase barn cats and cuddle barn kittens, or gather wildflowers in the field. The subtle education of a stay at the farm — where food comes from, how it is gathered and distributed, and the importance of family farms — imparts lessons that last a lifetime.

Advance and Retreat

Our group gathered to brainstorm around our social media and marketing plans for the coming year. Members came from as far away as San Francisco. I’m not sure what I expected, but I wasn’t prepared for the warmth and welcome extended by everyone I met, farmers and guests alike. We worked for hours at a time, connected to the world at large by wireless internet access, in a spacious yet cozy living room, tucked into soft upholstered chairs surrounding a wood-burning stove. When our ideas were stalled or we needed a stretch, we donned our winter gear and made our way up Liberty Hill.

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Lest this sound like a quick stroll to clear the head, I would describe Liberty Hill as…well, the word “daunting” comes to mind. It is a prototypical Vermont scene: a winding country road that goes twisting up the side of a mountain, just the thing to exercise our bodies and give our brains a rest. After an hour in the crisp winter air, the team was eager to get back to sharing ideas and solving problems.

Day two of our retreat began with a sunrise hike, again to the top of the hill to watch Mother Nature put on a show just for us…and our newly minted cow buddies. It was the perfect way to start the day. Breakfast, the most important meal of the day especially on a farm, also seems to be the most delicious. Beth prepared, among other tasty offerings, Cabot Cheddar scones with sweet Cabot butter, baked oatmeal with nuts and cranberries, segments of oranges and pink grapefruit, a broccoli, cheddar and egg casserole, and a seemingly endless supply of hot, strong coffee. Fuel for hard working farmers and hard thinking marketers.

It is impossible not to be productive in surroundings like we enjoyed at Liberty Hill Farm. Our off-site meeting felt like a week’s worth of activity packed into two days. New relationships were forged, strategic plans created, and to-do lists made. We helped feed the chickens, visited with the cows, and even got to name the new baby, born the day we arrived.

As for the city-dwellers who work for the farm families of the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, we gained a unique and valuable insight into the importance of the work we do, spreading the word about these New England and New York dairy farmers and Cabot, makers of The World’s Best Cheddar.

Sunrise from Liberty Hill

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