The sole of OCI’s French country dinner

Sole in a mustard sauce.  Just out of the oven and ready to serve.

This entree, sole in a mustard sauce, features a little used member of the marine fishes–sole.  At the October Country Inn, we’ve tried this particular dish with many different varieties of sole, as well as with similar fish (tilapia, haddock, flounder).  Our favorite is grey sole (east coast).  A close second is dover sole (west coast).  Sometimes neither of these fish are available and you just have to settle for what is available.

A word about fish in general–fresh is best.  The closer in time the fish on your plate is to when it was swimming in the ocean, the fresher it is.    When buying fresh fish, give it the smell test.  If it doesn’t smell like fish, it’s as fresh as you’ll find.  However, we think that frozen grey sole is preferable to fresh tilapia, for example.

Sole fillets placed in overlapping rows.

The following recipe serves 4 persons.  To serve more, increase the ingredients by multiples of 4.  For 8 people, for example, multiply the sauce ingredients (shallots, wine, cream, and mustard) by 2, and so on.   For the fish, multiply the number of persons by 5.5 ounce per person, divide by 16 to get the number of pounds, and round up to the nearest half pound.

 

The ingredients are:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of 2 to 6 ounce fillets of sole
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 or 2 minced shallots
  • 3 1/2 ounces of dry white wine
  • 7 ounces of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of Grey Poupon mustard
  • 6 sliced scallions, including tops
  • salt and pepper

We mince the shallots with a small food processor like this one.

The trickiest part of preparing this dish is the sauce.  You have to pay attention to this step.  Place the  minced shallots and wine in a saucepan and gently boil off wine until there’s no free standing liquid left.  Add the cream and mustard and bring to a slow boil.  Stir frequently.  The shallots tend to settle out and they will easily burn if not frequently stirred.  Add salt and pepper, and boil until sauce is thick, about 15 to 25 minutes.  Set thickened sauce aside to cool.  It will thicken more.

The wine has evaporated and you’re ready to add the cream/mustard mix.

Place sole fillets in an overlapping row in a pyrex casserole.  Add salt, pepper, melted butter, and lemon juice.  Place the thickened sauce in a wide row down the center of the sole fillets.  Place in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes.  Check frequently.  It is done when a fork easily penetrates (you don’t feel resistance) a thick portion of the fish.

Remove from oven, garnish with scallion slices and serve.  It will delight.

Vermont gold, and not the liquid kind.

The Ottauquechee River in Bridgewater Corners, VT.

An article in a local newspaper about prospecting for gold in Vermont tells about old time Bridgewater local Lawrence Curtis.  He was a logger that learned to pan for gold fifty years ago and always kept a gold pan in his truck.  People thought he had done pretty well over the years.  But all Lawrence ever said was “its pretty elusive stuff, that gold–always trying to hide from you.  And it does a pretty fair job of it.”

A 1928 report by Vermont state geologist George Perkins notes that gold was first discovered in the town of Bridgewater by Mathew Kennedy in 1851.  Kennedy wasn’t looking for gold, as the story goes.  He had recently returned from the California gold fields, and while fishing in Buffalo Brook, a glint in the streambed caught his eye.  His find caused a mini gold rush in the area.  Besides Buffalo Brook, gold was also found nearby in the Ottauquechee River near Bridgewater Corners.

Quiet pools are places where gold is more likely to settle out.

Gold is found, as nuggets, or small flecks, in the gravel of streams, which originally comes from quartz veins.  The gold is leached out by weather and stream erosion and carried on by flowing water.  This is called “placer gold,” pure gold that is found in place and doesn’t have to be extracted from ore.

Because of gold’s high specific gravity and ability to withstand weathering and alteration, it concentrates in stream sediment.  Once in a great while, nuggets of considerable size have been found.  Gold is easy to see.  It has the property of retaining its color under all circumstances.  For some inexplicable reason, Vermont gold is purer than gold found in other parts of the U.S.  It runs something on the order of 23 1/2 carats, which is roughly 96% pure.

Chuck and Patty work a secret spot.

At today’s gold prices it wouldn’t take much to provide a decent return for investing an afternoon of meandering at the wood’s edge alongside a nearby stream.  Instructional videos, gold pans, or complete prospecting kits can be readily found on the web.  Or, when visiting the October Country Inn, borrow one of our gold pans.  Maybe it’ll be you lucky day.

A short drive, a short walk, and a 100 mile view

A 100 mile view of the Green Mountains with Killington peak to the right behind the pine top.

The Lookout is well known by Woodstock locals, and provides a great and rewarding opportunity for a half-day’s outing.  Although the Appalachian trail provides the access to this stunning viewpoint, The Lookout itself is on private land outside of the Appalachian trail corridor.

The Cabin at The Lookout.

Once you get to The Lookout, upon breaking out of the woods at the end of a short spur off the Appalachian trail,  you’ll find a weathered old cabin perched in a small rocky clearing.  There’s a steep, wooden stairway that leads to an observation deck built on top of the cabin.  From this deck, you get nearly 360 degrees of 100 mile Green Mountain views.  Be sure and bring a lunch. This is  a great spot for it.

To get to The Lookout from the Woodstock area, first drive to the nearest trailhead which is off Greengate Road.

From the October Country Inn, go to the center of Woodstock.  Take Route 12 North about 3.5 miles to Wayside Rd.  Turn left and follow this dirt road.  You will come to a pond on your right.  Turn right at this intersection.  After 1.7 miles Wayside Road will bear to the left at the intersection with School House Hill Road and then turn into Greengate Road but you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t paying attention to the streetsigns.  Another mile on Greengate Road and the road makes a sharp bend to the right.

Edie and Patty walking through the woods on the Applachian Trail

On your left at this point, there’s an area that’s suitable for parking, and you’ll see a rutted, rocky, uphill trail leading into the woods beside a small brook.  Now almost unrecognizable as a road, this trail used to be Lookout Farm Rd.

This trail gets rather rough in spots due to severe erosion.  It will intersect with the Appalachian trail in about .4 of a mile.  Before that, you will come to an intersection with an old gate leaning off to one side.  Keep to your left.  The trail comes into the AT at an angle forming a “Y” intersection, and you’ll bear to the right, following the AT in a southerly direction.  Take a moment to mark this intersection in your mind so that you don’t miss it on your return.

Following the AT is pretty effortless.  White blazes adorn the trees bordering the trail, and the trail itself is well worn, relatively flat, and easy to follow.

Sign on the AT marking The Lookout spur trail.

After almost a mile, the AT starts to climb in a more serious way, and soon after that makes a sharp turn to the left.  The spur trail to The Lookout goes off to the right at this point.  There’s a sign on a tree that marks The Lookout spur trail.  A short .1 mile walk up the spur trail and you’re there.

Enjoy the view, and remember that this is private property that the owner’s have graciously allowed access to the public in order to enjoy this great spot.  Please respect it.

 

“Best pancakes I ever had”

At the October Country Inn, sour cream pancakes are one of our most popular breakfasts.  We often hear our guests exclaim how good they are.   Of course, even though they are by themselves much richer than a traditional breakfast pancake, a part of that goodness must be attributed to a generous helping of pure Vermont maple syrup (we like grade B).

Sour cream pancakes with sausages ready for maple syrup and a fork

These silver dollar sized pancakes may seem a bit complicated to make, but they really aren’t that difficult, there’s just a few more steps than usual.  This recipe makes about 30, 2 1/2″ pancakes.  A typical serving is 4 or 5 pancakes, so these quantities will serve 6 persons.

First, make sure you have all the ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup pastry or cake flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Melt the butter in a small pan or skillet.  You will need three mixing bowls.  Separate the eggs.  The whites will be whipped, so put the whites in the appropriate mixing bowl.  Put the yolks in a different bowl.   In the bowl with the yolks, put the skim milk, and sour cream. Whisk a little and set aside.

Batter, scoop, and spatula, ready to cook.

Put the dry ingredients, the two flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder, in the remaing bowl and mix everything together.  Make a hollow crater in the center of the dry mix, pushing it up the sides of the bowl as much as you can.

Whip the eggwhites until they will hold a peak and set aside.

Add the melted butter to the bowl with the yolk, milk, and sour cream and whisk it together gently and incompletely.  Add this liquid mixture to the dry bowl and gently incorporate.  Don’t get too carried away.  The pancakes will be flat if you get too rambunctious with your mixing.  The batter will be lumpy and there may be spots of dry flour when you add the whipped egg whites by gently folding them into the batter.

Pancakes on the grill.

We use a small ice cream scoop to scoop balls of batter onto a heated, buttered grill.  Cook briefly on each side, plate, and serve while warm.  Don’t forget the maple syrup.

A morning walk to Bridgewater Rock

It’s an especially beautiful late May morning at the October Country Inn.  Patty, our Irish Setter “grand-dog,” is spending the day with us and she needs to run.    The solution is a short trip up a back road in the trusty Saturn for a romp and ramble on the farm trails through the woods to Bridgewater rock and back.

Many local farms have been in the same family since before the Civil War.  One local was born on this farm, and has lived here for 75 years.  Some years ago he put the farm in conservancy, giving up developmental rights in order to preserve the property in its natural state.  Although his farm is private property, he invites visitors to walk the farm trails.

Edie and I (and Patty) thank farmer Bob for this generosity, and we take him up on his offer, sometimes daily, every season of the year.

We park at a gated pull-off at the north end of the farm.  We begin the walk with a heart starting uphill climb through mixed hardwood forest, what Vermonter’s call

Cabin by the pond.

“sugarbush.”  At the intersection with the loop, we turn right and continue climbing toward a clearing in the woods.  At the top we break into a clearing with a good sized pond full of healthy trout that are used to being fed.  They come around when you walk out on the dock.  A nearby rustic cabin offers an expansive view from the picnic table on the porch.

It isn’t that obvious at first, but the trail winds around the back of the cabin, goes through a moss carpeted canopy of evergreens while it continues to climb in a step wise fashion.  The area is strewn with large white quartz boulders.

Edie and Patty on Bridgewater Rock last Spring.

Our heart rate starts to come down when we reach the intersection with an old cabin trail that goes off to the right.  At this point we’ve only walked about one half mile, although Patty has probably run ten times that amount with her continuous forays off the trail in tangential loops.

The trail rolls up and down sometimes following an old stone wall that marks the top border of the farm.  After passing a clearing with one of those hundred mile views so typical of Vermont, a rustic lean-to beside the trail prompts all manner of speculation as to when it was built and why.  We were glad it was there once.  It provided welcome shelter for us to wait out a passing thunderstorm.

It isn’t much further and we break out of a stand of birch into the natural scrub grass clearing where the ledge bedrock comes to the surface.  Just up a short hill sits Bridgewater Rock.

From here, you have found a rare piece of Vermont that not many get to experience.  Enjoy the view.  Look to the east and you can see Mt. Washington on a clear day.  Look to the west and you can see Killington’s ski trail network streak down its cluster of peaks and valleys.

View from Bridgewater Rock

We climb down off the rock.  This is Patty’s cue that we’re heading back down the trail and she darts off in the lead.  Back under the hardwood canopy, we plod downhill to complete the loop and return to the Saturn the way we came.  Back at the car, Patty is tired but happy, as are we.  We’ve taken a hour out of our day, walked a mile and a half, and feel privilidged to be in a positon to have this option.