Or, as it is in my world right now, Baseball, Chocolate, Rabbit Pate, and Rain Delays.
I am heartily sick of this weather. This is the time of year for which New England is rightfully world-famous. Or, at least, it should be. The days should be bright with watery golden sunshine. The sky should be the deep lapis blue that is unique to the season. The days should be cool, breezy, and brisk. The nights should be chilly and clear.
What we have had instead is episodes of steamy haze alternating with endless grey days promising – and delivering – torrential rains. I worry that if I sit still for too long I will begin to mildew. We have had the air conditioner on all week because it has been 85 in the afternoons, with dewpoints in the high 60s…and occasionally in the low 70s. Today, it is flooding again. It is not flooding badly but I am weary to the bone of any flooding at all. We have had two, maybe three days of Proper Fall Weather – just enough to remind us all that the weather we are getting for the most part is wrong, wrong, wrong.
This is not my imagination, either. This year is a record for rain-affected games for the New York Yankees. As I write, the Yanks are (we hope) gearing up to play Game 1 of the ALDS playoffs. This game was supposed to happen last night, but…rain. I doubt that fans of the Boston Red Sox will see things this way, but in a manner, they are fortunate for the freak chance that washed them out of the playoffs: otherwise, they’d be suffering through multiple delays. My husband has a ticket to Game 2 at Yankee Stadium – originally scheduled for tonight, now pushed back to tomorrow…and he’s desperately hoping that it doesn’t get moved back to Monday. It is not at all common to have this kind of weather-related problem with the post-season.
On the list of Other Things That Are Not Common For the Post-Season would have to be the presence of the Milwaukee Brewers in the picture. I enjoyed my stint as a Brewers fan out in Wisconsin, and love attending games at Miller Park. It’s a festive place! Especially when the Badger fans pour in for a game, bringing their comprehensive understanding of tailgate parties and binge drinking. Miller Park sells the biggest, strongest Bloody Mary I’ve ever had, anywhere. It’s a freaking pint of Bloody Mary. With a good inch or two of alcohol floating on the surface, waiting to be stirred down with the full-length celery stalk. I was never able to summon up the courage to order the Wisconsin Special – the Brandy Old-Fashioned – at Miller Park. I was certain that I”d generate static with my hair and cause myself to combust. I’m crossing my fingers and pumping the air: Go Brewers!! Let the Dark Horse Rule!!!
The rain is making everyone else miserable, too. Huey The Wonder Horse – who was originally to have become Mine tomorrow, now rescheduled right along with the Yankees Game, to Monday – was supposed to have been in a show today. His other rider, who shares my incredibly high regard for him, was going to give a last hurrah to the show season with my Mighty Steed today…also rescheduled, along with the Yankees Game, to tomorrow…and then further delayed, thanks to flooding in the ring, to next weekend. I was going to celebrate my last day of Horseless Existence with a trip to The Big E, aka the Eastern States Exposition, aka the New England State Fair, but…rain. I have a house guest who has never attended this amazing event, never witnessed the spectacle of the Center for Better Living or the Farm-A-Rama, never experienced the excesses of the Big E Cream Puff or the Maine Baked Potato. Or – my favorite – Creative Vegetable Arranging. I don’t know what the real name for this is, I had never, ever, ever seen anything like it before my first trip to the Big E…but you can imagine it: cross a history-class diorama with ikebana, executed entirely in vegetables of various types. And it was a competition, with winners. Add in the quilts, fantastical fabric art, daily parades, and the Avenue of States: a set of scaled-down replicas of the statehouses of all six New England states – complete with shopping opportunities inside.
And then, there is the Butter Sculpture. From the Big E website: “Butter artist in-residence Jim Victor…will sculpt an original piece of art from more than 600 pounds of butter…This year’s sculpture will depict a barefoot boy riding an ox through a field.”
I can hardly wait. The weather tomorrow – the last day of the Big E – should be better. It can hardly help being better than the weather today, which has absolutely sucked smelly rocks. Let’s put it this way: I almost didn’t consider it a hardship to stay in this morning and grade for four hours. And I hate grading. It is my absolute least favorite thing about teaching, second only to dealing with e-mails from students who are cranky because they do not feel that they received the grade they deserved. The two experiences are virtually inseparable – there are some students who will work up a full head of steam over getting a 99/100, and others who turn in work that is so far divorced from the actual assignment requirements that their papers take four times as long to grade as anyone else’s. I don’t know any professor who likes to grade, and I’ll venture to speak generally for my colleagues here, we all pretty much hate to grade. And even so, the weather was so shitty this morning that it didn’t feel like a sacrifice.
Granted, I did reward myself for finishing this tiresome task by taking a short road trip with my husband and house-guest up to Heaven On Earth, aka Burdick’s of Walpole New Hampshire.
Burdick’s is one of those restaurants that everyone thinks exist only in the souped-up imaginations of best-selling travelogue authors. It’s in a tiny, moderately picturesque village tucked away off the beaten path. It is not in my GPS databanks. I still do not know the proper address – on our first trip there, we input the address from their website, and got tracked off into the Rustic Wilds of New Hampshire. It is not a large restaurant. “Cozy” would be a good word. “Rustic” also comes to mind. But the very first words that spring to the thoughts are things like “divine,” “superb,” “dynamite,” “first-class,” and – always – “chocolate.” Most people who have heard of Burdick’s are familiar with the bijou locations in Cambridge, MA and NYC. These are but second-rate outposts, fit only for the city-dwelling savages locked in the rat race. The real action is in Walpole.
The restaurant is…well, to call it “epic” would cheapen the restaurant. Instead, I will simply arouse passionate envy and jealousy in the hearts of anyone who has the misfortune of reading this post in a location far removed from Mecca. I mean, from Walpole.
You start with a basket of bread, bread warm from the oven, bread with a melting center and a crunchy crisp crust, served with a side of butter from fat, happy, grass-fed Vermont cows. You have a chance to devour this – and you will, even if you first say “no” because your table mates will not rest until they share a bit of this extraordinary experience, and after that, you’ll be hooked. Then you move on to your order…a tray of freshly made pates: rabbit terrine. duck mousse. coarse country pate of pork. Grainy mustard on the side, and the tiniest, sharpest cornichons imaginable, and chunks of house-pickled beets. Alongside, you have a wooden platter of local cheeses: gorgonzola that melts in your mouth, with thin slices of red-skinned apples to set off the bitter molds. Melting camembert. Chevre from the goats down the street. Crunchy planks of crostini, made from the same heavenly bread. Fig confit. Smoked gouda, all made within 30 miles of the restaurant.
As you slide into culinary bliss, the warm wood ceilings smile down on you, the wind and rain lash the windows behind you, and the hissing of the milk steamer reminds you to save room for dessert. Instead, you entertain your entree: venison ragout. grilled calves’ liver, pink on the inside, from grass-fed calves. a beef daube that has spent the last twelve hours over a very slow heat, with whole cloves of garlic that melt in your mouth. Or, perhaps, a dish of the season’s last heirloom tomatoes, served with homemade ricotta that dissolves on the tongue with a mild, buttery flavor not usually seen outside of the Italian countryside. Or a tureen of roasted tomato soup, with a slick of fresh red pepper oil to season, and more crostini for dipping. The temptation to fail to save room for dessert is almost – but not entirely – irresistible.
Why is that? Because in the world outside of my corner of it, the name of Burdick’s conjures visions of chocolate. No, it’s visions of Chocolate. Or, really, visions of Chocolate!!! Burdick’s tiny chocolate mice, arranged in cubical boxes. Ranks of tiny chocolate penguins, arrayed as in church pews for a formal wedding. Miniature truffles that lack size but deliver a powerful punch. Cocoa nibs, by the bag. And – my favorite – hot chocolate, not hot cocoa, but the Real Thing. Dark chocolate shavings blasted into liquid with steamed, frothy milk. A cup, alone, is a dessert for the Gods. The jets of steam for frothing the milk have provided a counter-tempo to your relaxed meal. Order the hot chocolate. Get the small, unless you are a Trained Professional. Watch it arrive. Smell it. Go ahead. Make your wager that the silver spoon will actually stand up in the cup on its own. Eat your hot chocolate carefully from the spoon. Watch your dinner dates wipe up any drippings with their fingers and then lick them. You will not get this experience any time soon, and while it is possible to have it on the bustling, filthy streets of Cambridge or the Flat Iron District, know that neither of these can compare with having it in a cozy, wooden, warm, dry restaurant while watching a fall storm whip colored leaves across the face of a white clapboard Congregational church, the kind with the tall white steeple. Do it, I dare you. You’ll never want to go home again.
I would add a recipe, but I don’t want to profane this moment. The cooks at Burdick’s are better than I am.