Spring is here. Time to get ready for the Bridgewater Raft Race

raftraceIt was just before noon on a recent warm clear Saturday Spring day when, from the front porch of the October Country Inn, you heard the start cannon go off.  Shortly thereafter the first wave of splashing rafters could be seen through the trees making their erratic way down the nearby Ottauquechee River.  The 39th annual Bridgewater Raft Race had begun.

raftrace4The race is always held on a Saturday at the end of April or beginning of May.  The three mile course down the Ottauquechee River, paralleling Route 4, starts from just west of the Long Trail Brewery, and ends at the Bridgewater Mill.  It is open to anyone with a self-propelled, home-made raft, and a $5.00 entry fee.  The entry fee, and revenue from T-shirt sales go to support the local Bridgewater volunteer Fast Squad.  Prizes are rewarded for first, second, and third place finishers, as well as for best raft name, most original raft, most challenging raft, and any other fun category somebody comes up with.

raftrace2In 1974 two local hippies decided to honor the Phantom Duck of the Rivers, and began what has become the annual Bridgewater Raft Race tradition.  Rules are minimal.  Rafts (including any oars)  must be home-made and self-propelled.  The Ottauquechee Rive is usually shallow at this time of year, but the water is cold.   Helmets and life jackets are recommended.  Interested in doing something unusual, and having some wet Springtime fun in the bargain,  check out the Bridgewater Raft Race website for details.

Four seasons each year amount to a Vermont timepiece.

Best OCIThe last big pile of snow on the back deck is quickly melting.  Buds are popping from the ends of the maple and apple tree branches.  Robins are bouncing around on the back lawn in search of worms, and the mornings are filled with twirps and chitterings as the songbirds return.  All the signs are lining up at the October Country Inn.  Winter is on the way out and Spring is around the corner as one season gives way to another.

DSCN0362Speaking of seasons, our guests, when they discover that we came from southern California, often exclaim: “that must have been a change!”  I always assume they’re talking about the weather.  The conversation that often follows usually focuses on the one thing that figures prominently in qualifying as a significant “change.” This is the fact that Vermont has four distinct seasons, and the associated mix of weather conditions, while California has but one (two if you count a rainy day as one season and a sunny day as another).

Dec 7, 03_2One “change” that comes from living in Vermont with four seasons, as opposed to living in southern California with no real seasons, has to do with the necessity for weather related planning.  In southern California, you can pretty much do anything any day of the year.  Weather doesn’t usually enter into planning your day.  It might rain, but odds are high that it won’t. So weather isn’t a factor that is usually considered, and as such, has an affect on, and becomes embedded in the regional culture.

ocifallI often overhear our guests puzzling about why their California branch office colleagues have trouble adhering to company deadlines.  The reason is clear to me.  It’s the weather.  When you’re used to being able to do anything  you want any day of the year how serious can you take a deadline.  If you can’t do it today, you’ll do it tomorrow.  What’s the big deal?  Californians are not exposed to the kind of weather restraints that are so ingrained in the East Coast lifestyle.   A Vermonter knows that he has a window in which to paint the house, for example.  If he doesn’t get it done by late September, he will probably not get another chance until next May.

The other major “change” that comes from living a four season life (the timepiece factor alluded to in the title) as opposed to the mono-seasonal California lifestyle, is that in Vermont you are always aware that time is passing.  There is an unavoidable sensory experience involved with the coming and going of seasons.  You can see the changes, smell the changes, hear the changes, and feel the changes.  This has an organizing affect on daily choices as you move through this environmental continuum.  In California, where one day is pretty much a carbon copy of any other, ten years can go by relatively unnoticed.

Yes. Our life in Vermont has been a big “change” from what we were used to in California.  It’s a change what we both relish, however.  The only regret we have, is that we didn’t make that “change” sooner.  If variety is truly the spice of life, four season living is a must.

This morning the OCI is serving French Toast for breakfast.

On any Vermont morning, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a hearty hot breakfast.  At the October Country Inn, we take this requirement seriously.  French toast, served straight off the griddle along with a pitcher of warmed Vermont maple syrup, is a favorite with our guests, especially the younger set.  Conversation stops when this breakfast treat lands on the table.

Basically, French toast is slices of bread that are dipped in an egg mixture and cooked on a hot griddle.  There are many varieties of egg mixture combinations, and endless types of bread that can be used.  The type of bread is an important component of any French toast recepie, and the type we use has a lot to do with this breakfast’s popularity with our guests.

Vermont is blessed with numerous artisan bakeries, each featuring its own particular specialities.  Baba A Louis Bakery, in nearby Chester, Vermont, is one of our favorites.  They make a cinnamon raisin bread that we eat way too much of because we can’t resist this delicious bread.   This bread is a perfect compliment for French toast when dipped in our egg mixture and lightly caramelized on a hot buttered cast iron griddle.

Ingredients for a serving of four:

  • 6 slices of bread (3, 1/2 slices per serving)
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

Peter, the Baba A Louis baker, getting a batch of cinnamon raisin bread loaves ready for the oven.

Crack three eggs into a shallow bowl big enough to submerge a slice of bread, whisk the eggs and then add the brandy, orange juice, maple syrup, and heavy cream.  Whisk again.  Add the nutmeg and cinnamon and whisk one final time.  Submerge each slice of bread in the egg mixture, and place on a baking sheet.

We use two thin stainless steel spatulas, one to move soaked bread slices from the baking sheet to the griddle, and another to flip the slices on the griddle.  Butter the hot griddle with a pad of butter folded in a paper towel.  Immediately place the bread slices on the buttered griddle as they will fit, and cook until each is caramelized.  Flip each slice as it’s ready, and then cut each slice in half diagonally with the edge of the spatula.  Cook again until caramelized and plate, garnish with powdered sugar if desired, and serve while hot.