Hello, 32!

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child

Chris and I have been off for the past 10 days or so, celebrating the end of summer -- and the end of my 31st year.  I realized that our vacations are pretty much planned around food -- we're not even done with lunch when we start thinking about what to do for dinner.  (Love it!)

We started things off with a trip to the dentist. (Seriously.) Chris likes to schedule appointments like this on days we're off, which is fine, but for some reason, the dentist (my least favorite of these kinds of things, even though we both haven't yet had a cavity in our lives -- knock on wood) always ends up happening right before my birthday.  Ugh.

Anyway, as a reward for behaving, Chris said I could choose our lunch spot, but having my mouth full of that gritty toothpaste-type stuff the dentist uses to clean your teeth didn't really put me in the food mood. Until, I remembered we were very close in proximity to a favorite artsy cafe we used to frequent a lot when we lived in that part of the state.  It's called Van Gogh's Ear Cafe and they make this most wonderful sandwich: cucumber slices and brie on a crusty baguette, drizzled with a sweet balsamic dressing.  Yum.  It was just what I needed.  Chris had a lovely roast beef and tomato sandwich and we each split a half of the other's sandwich.  Delicious!

Later that night, we grabbed a friend and whizzed down the parkway to another former haunt Toro Loco. (I guess we were feeling nostalgic that day.)  After some margaritas and cold Corona Lights, we ordered a cheesy nacho/quesadilla appetizer and then got down to business. Chris had a tour of enchiladas -- shredded beef, chicken, and cheese.  I ordered my standby -- a plate of chayotes, hollowed out and stuffed with corn, tomatoes, onions, diced chayote, cilantro, and topped with melted cheese.  Chayotes are in the squash family and are also known as pear squash.  They look kind of like a small green pepper when hollowed out, but are a light green color (kind of like a granny smith apple).  They taste so fresh and light -- a great contrast to the creamy black beans and rice that came with the dish.  It is my absolute favorite.  I always debate whether to order something else, but I go back to the Chayote dish every time. Always a wise decision.  Awesome.

The weekend continued in Atlantic City, NJ.  We had floor seats for Aerosmith (does it surprise you that the Gourmess is a Steven Tyler fan?) for my birthday -- thanks, Chris!-- and decided to go down early and stay for awhile.  I had some friends who were in town doing some gambling, so we met up with them for some drinks (terrible!) and laughs (great!).  The concert was absolutely amazing.  The seats were fabulous -- I could see Steven Tyler's face, and the music rocked.  It was so cool. Definitely an unforgettable experience.  (Also, the fact that the beer guys were teasing Chris that he was with a 19-year old, didn't hurt.)  While in AC, we stopped at White House Sub Shop. It's a little spot that has been around since the 1940s, and some even say it is where the submarine sandwich originated.  We slid into a booth and ordered our sandwiches. Chris did their special (Italian meats, provolone, and a lovely pickled pepper topping) and I got the meatball sub. It should have been called the meatloaf sub, it was so huge. Both were fantastic and filling. We didn't eat again for the rest of the day. There are two size options on the menu -- half or whole.  We were thinking that they must just give everyone a whole without asking--until we got the  bill and realized we both had halves.  Our "half" serving was about the size of a foot long sandwich.  Their "whole" was--well, let's just say people weren't leaving with baseball bats wrapped in wax paper -- those my friend, were sandwiches.  HUGE sandwiches.  Whew! Definitely a "don't miss" when in AC.  We left AC with our bellies and our wallets full and got ready for part two of our vacation.

Vacation continued with a drive up north to Shelburne, VT.  There's a lovely old, elegant inn on the lake with big, airy rooms, hammocks hidden by shade trees, and beautifully manicured lawns and gardens. It has such a peaceful, relaxing charm and we look forward to unwinding there at the end of every summer.

The Inn at Shelburne Farms is part of a working farm and almost everything we ate was grown on the property or from a nearby spot.  Cheese, bread, vegetables, berries, beef, pork, chicken, butter, eggs, wine.  All real, all fresh.  To get there, we had to take the ferry over from NY to VT, which is one of my favorite parts of the trip.  We got to the ferry dock around lunchtime, with just enough time to stop at a deli where we split the world's best roast beef sub (White House, not included).  Piled high with cheese, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, olives, etc.  The bread is chewy and crusty -- yummy!

Once we arrived at the inn, we unpacked, grabbed a glass of fresh brewed iced tea and headed out to the hammock for a few hours.  When it was almost "Attitude Adjustment" time, we headed back to the room, changed into our dinner clothes, and split a bottle of sparkling wine we had brought along.  Then, it was down to the sun-filled parlor, where we sipped a lovely heirloom tomato elixir cocktail, made with heirloom tomato water, organic vodka, fresh basil, lemon peel, and garnished with zebra tomatoes.  It went down so smooth...and got us ready for our lovely dinner.

View from our room
To start, I ordered the "Feast of the Fields," which is a selection of fresh vegetables from the Inn's garden, served on a wooden board. It is rustic and lovely -- grilled squash, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, etc.  So fresh and flavorful. I look forward to it every year. Chris ordered the house-made lamb sausage, which came with apples and celeriac and a lovely farm-made cheddar cheese and mustard sauce.  It was beyond words.  Just a perfect dish.  For our main dishes, Chris ordered a ribeye of veal that was divine and came with potatoes that melted in your mouth.  I chose the mixed lamb grill, which was a sampling of shank, leg, and loin. It came with a warm, garlicky, chickpea and tomato salad that was the perfect accompaniment to the dish. After downing those dishes and a bottle of wine, we settled on dessert. A creamy corn crème brûlée for Chris, and a fresh blueberry cheesecake for me.  I couldn't have asked for a lovelier birthday meal.

The next few days were filled with more lazy naps in the hammock, swimming in Lake Champlain, a packed picnic in a hidden spot, a hike to the farm barn, a lunch from the farm stand (lovely sandwiches with fresh farm ingredients on fresh-baked bread), a special picnic in our room with local wine, breads, cheeses, summer sausage, and a selection of mustards and relishes from the farm store, and of course several more of those tomato elixirs.  Our final night in the dining room started with beef tartare for Chris and a wax bean, heirloom tomato, and house-made mozzarella salad for me.  Then, for the main course, Chris had another lovely veal dish, this time with capers, lemon butter sauce, and homemade tagliatelle pasta. It was a farm-fresh version of veal scallopine.  I got a lovely grass-fed beef filet served with baby leeks, horseradish mashed parsnips, and chard.  The meat was cooked perfectly (medium rare) and topped with a pat of Merlot butter.  I couldn't eat the whole thing...but I wanted to!  We finished the wine and split the last piece of blueberry cheesecake for the season.  Another terrific meal to end a perfect getaway. Such bliss!

When we got home, a special surprise was waiting for me.  Chris, the sweetheart that he is, bought me a toque (chef's hat) and a custom chef's jacket as a congratulations gift for finishing my course.  The coat is white with pink accents and says "La Petite Gourmess" on the left side.  Is he the best or what?  Now, methinks I have to start taking this thing seriously and get moving on a business plan.  After all, I'm already dressed for it.