Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mountain High

Our exhaustive study has proven incontrovertibly that not only does climbing Vermont's Camel's Hump mountain (a.k.a. Saddle Mountain, le Lion Couchant, and the Camel's Rump) have benefits that are both physical and spiritual, but making your way to the top of its 4,083-ft height has the effect of heightening the sensitivity of one's taste buds, making Vermont's already impressive range of delicacies that much more delicious.

Before we present our findings, you should know that the Camel's Hump is Vermont's third highest peak, but that it's #1 when it comes to undeveloped (or relatively undeveloped) peaks--meaning no ski hills, no radio towers, etc. Its summit sits above the tree line and consists of a delicate balance of rock formations and alpine vegetation. It also affords a glorious 360º view of the region. Not surprisingly, the Camel's Hump is one of Vermont's most beloved state parks.

Scramble your way to the top, stare eastward over the precipice, and the view looks something like this:

green mountains fig. a: due east

Put on your sunglasses, gaze westward toward Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley, and the view looks something like this:

view courtesy of vuarnet fig. b: due west

Lay your weary bones down, bask in the bright sunlight, and stare up into the sky and the view might just look like this:

michelle in the sky with clouds fig. c: due up

Crouch down and take a close look at the surface of the Camel's Hump and, if you chose the right spot, the view would look like this:

alpine flora fig. d: due down

Return to Red Hen

You know how we feel about Red Hen. We were so impressed when we visited Red Hen back in April that we wrote about them twice: here and here. This time we stopped in en route to the Camel's Hump. We were hoping to pick up some of Nutty Steph's granola for the trail at the same time, but it was a Monday, and Nutty Steph's was closed. Red Hen was open, though, and we took full advantage of their offerings: coffee, a couple of loaves of bread, a couple of sandwiches, and several pastries. The pastries--including one of their awesome ham & cheese croissants, an apple & ginger scone, and a plum & cheese Danish that Michelle promptly announced was "the Danish of [her] dreams"--were what we conducted our tests with. We had a couple of bites in the parking lot near the base of the Camel's Hump, then had the rest once we'd reached the summit. No doubt about it: flavors that were already complex and extremely satisfying became exponentially so at the top of the Camel's Hump. Remarkable!

Return to the Alchemist

You also know how we feel about The Alchemist. Our visit back in April was our craft beer highlight of 2009. Until now, that is.

This time we weren't 100% scientific--we didn't dare try the "before" and "after" thing, and we didn't haul any growlers to the summit to celebrate our triumphant ascent. We just paid a visit in the late afternoon, after we'd gone to the mountain (literally) and worked up a mean thirst. That said, as we settled into our bar stools and began quaffing our first pints, we both had the same impression. We both love our beer, but beer had rarely, if ever, tasted this good. Particularly refreshing on this particular post-hike evening was their Celia Framboise, the most satisfying fruit beer either of us has tasted outside of Belgium. Outstanding!

7149 fig. e: signpost

The Green Cup

Even less scientific, but no less enjoyable, was the test we conducted in Waitsfield. We were thrilled to be back in Waitsfield, and excited to be trying out somewhere new, but the fact that we'd never been to this particular establishment before meant that we couldn't fully gauge the effects of hiking the Camel's Hump on our dining experience.

We first heard about The Green Cup back in April when we visited our friends at Hen of the Wood. We had a particularly excellent server that night--she was knowledgeable, even passionate about her wines, she fielded all our silly, nitpicky questions with grace and charm, and she was happy to discuss Vermont's farm, dairy, and dining scenes at length with us. She gave us a number of tips that night, but the one that really stuck with us was The Green Cup, a tiny café/restaurant in Waitsfield that she claimed had one of the best kitchens in the state. In fact, she told us that Eric, the chef at Hen of the Wood, had had the very finest meal he'd ever had in Vermont at The Green Cup. Given our experience at Hen of the Wood, this struck us as high praise. I'm sure we would have gone the very next day if they hadn't been closed for their Spring Break.

It took us a few months to make our way back to Waitsfield and The Green Cup, but it was definitely worth the trip. Get this:

Rhode Island Squid and Elephant Trunk Sea Scallops with grapefruit, red onion, celery, lemon, and basil

Cornucopia Farm Skirt Steak Salad with lemongrass, cilantro, red onion, avocado, lime, mint, and leaf greens

Seared Arctic Char with Chanterelles three ways (tempura, raw, and roasted), green beans, and white grits

Homemade Fettucini with poached artichokes, a medley of mushrooms, browned garlic, and sweet basil

Again, I'm not sure if it was the effects of all that mountain air, but our meal at The Green Cup was nearly flawless. We loved Chef Jason Gulisano's intricate, perfectly balanced compositions and, quite frankly, Michelle just about lost it when she had that Vietnamese-inspired skirt steak salad. She couldn't have been happier.

The only thing that didn't totally blow us away was the carrot cake we had for dessert,* but according to Mark Bittman, we should have ordered the coconut cake. If only we'd known then...

So, there you go: hike well, eat well.


p.s. Full disclosure: Michelle was a little sore for two to three days after our visit to the Camel's Hump (yet another effect of our hike!), but all that good food and drink made any and all suffering sufferable.

* Then again, by that time it was several hours after our hike.


Andrea in Ottawa said...

Beware: we tried to go to the Green Cup yesterday (Aug. 19) for lunch but the sign said it was closed Wednesdays and Thursdays. So sad. Anyway I wanted to thank you for your earlier Vermont suggestions, which gave us ideas of where to go. Someday you should try Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield, a bit further west, if you haven't already.

Sarah said...

Just wanted to thank you guys for the previous posts about Vt. We were there for 2 weeks and printed out and visited almost all your suggestions. Great!

Here is mine: Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield. The savories and sweets are out of this world!
(ok, how odd, i swear i didn't read the previous poster -then i paused to answer the phone and read it while chatting ...bizzarreee)

Sarah said...

Yay! We are going back to VT for Canadian Thanksgiving..am already looking forward to stuffing made with Red Hen bread, a Hollister Farm Turkey and yummy organic vegs...and the spectacular views!