I had a great date tonight with my husband. We left the bustling metropolis of Northampton (pop. 28,370) for the Rustic Countryside of Sunderland to dine at the Blue Heron. This is the kind of restaurant that everyone thinks writers lie awake imagining for their faux travelogues, but that no one thinks actually exist. The town is the home of the Corn Maze and Cider Donuts of the Gods, and the restaurant occupies a 150 year old building that formerly housed Town Hall. I give the food an A+ – this is food that would have New Yorkers fighting in the streets to see who could bribe the hostess for a table first. And the building itself has significant artistic interest and provides a delightful setting for a nice Saturday evening out.
And we did appreciate it roundly – last Saturday was non-stop storm prep, and not at all fun or restful. Today was much better, but the memory of the events of the past week isn’t gone. I’m getting a slew of e-mails from many of the Vermont inns at which we’ve stayed over the last nine years, and every one that is e-mailing is telling me the same story: We’re OK! We didn’t flood! We have power! We are open! Come see us! I pretty much know what the story must be for the inns that are not e-mailing me. Not good.
And for the inns that are, and for Okemo, who is declaring loudly that their various attractions are open! Come play golf! Come ride the mountain coaster! Come stay at the lodge! I must have the same answer: There’s nothing I’d like more than to go rusticate in the hills and hike in the Green Mountain State Forest, and eat the cheese and ice cream from fat and shiny Vermont cows, and drink the amazing Vermont microbrews! But I can’t. Because I can’t get there from here.
See, you really can’t. That’s the official information about the state of the roads in Vermont, and as you can tell from the situation in the south and the center, the only place it looks like you can go from Massachusetts is either right up I-91, or to Manchester. You can’t get into the interior of Windham County, no matter how many awesome inns are open that you’d like to visit. From the east, you can get to Brattleboro, but the main road from Brattleboro has sections that look like this:
Our Secret Ninja Route into Windham County involves a trip up 30 to West Dummerston – you can’t see the name of that town on the 511 map, because it’s covered up with a big damned red circle with a white stripe for “CLOSED!” Unfortunately, I can tell that they haven’t labeled all of the washed out roads on 511, because this portion of our Secret Ninja Route isn’t marked on that map as damaged:
Rinse, lather, repeat for every other route we know of into this area.
This was all brought back home to me, again, this evening on our way to the date. We passed a flurry of billboards advertising the constellation of attractions that is typically available if you drive 30 minutes north to Brattleboro and then hang a left. It was like having lemon juice rubbed into a paper cut. They were all so…bright…and shiny…and appealing. Now they’re just reminders first, that you can’t get there from here, and second – and at least as important – how freakishly devastating the long-term effects of this destruction are going to be for the people who live there. Vermont has lots of colleges, lots of agriculture, and lots and lots and lots of ecotourism – presently, moribund for lack of accessibility. This is a time when dollars should be pouring into the local economy, not getting hoovered out of it.
Now, from the sounds of it, the Vermonters are doing a bloody awesome job of pulling themselves out of this, but I don’t see any reason not to help. I’ve been piddling money into the hands of the charitable agencies who are in a position to provide stuff like food, clothes, and shelter, and I can only hope that there are plenty of other people like me who can cut loose with $20 or $30 through Paypal. In the event that you’ve gotten this far, and you’re one of those people, here are some of the outfits I’ve been shooting my spare cash to:
Wilmington Vermont Flood Relief (the town we all watched wash away on YouTube)
Black River Good Neighbor Services (a little bit north, but still in a badly-hit region)
and, of course, the Red Cross, an outfit whose services I hope never to personally require.
I do not vouch for any of these charities, but I found their efforts worthwhile enough to support now. I don’t own a gravel pit, I don’t employ a fleet of giant earth-moving machines, I’m not in a position to take anyone who was affected by this storm into my house, I don’t have any children’s clothing or suitable shoes to spare, and I couldn’t get them up there even if I did. I hate all of that. I hate it that the only thing I can do is throw small amounts of money at this, and hope that it helps. It is, really, all I can do…and it doesn’t seem nearly enough.
We’re still bringing in the late summer harvest, so here’s another terrific summer soup. This one can be made vegetarian by substituting Not-Chicken Broth, but I don’t vouch for the results. I’m a big fan of chicken broth in otherwise vegetarian soups. Gives them a little more body than they’d have, otherwise. I love this soup, and I don’t even like eggplants.
Grilled Eggplant Soup
2½ lb eggplants, peeled and cut into 1” thick slices
1¼ lb tomatoes, halved and seeded (but not peeled)
3 carrots, peeled and diced
5 shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
½ T ground cumin
1 cup white wine
5 C chicken broth
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ C plain fat-free Greek yogurt
Heat grill to medium hot and brush or spray grate with oil. Brush eggplant and tomato halves with oil and run onto skewers, or just lay directly on the grate. Cook for ten minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from grill and cool. Remove and discard tomato skins. Chop the eggplant slices coarsely.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots and sauté 5 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme and cumin and sauté about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer to blend the flavors, about 30 minutes.
Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree. Wipe the cooking pot out, then pour the soup back into the pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through. Serve in bowls and add a spoonful of yogurt to each.
Serves 6 to 8.