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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Vermont State Parks Offer New Year's Day Hikes

Posted By on Sat, Dec 31, 2016 at 9:26 AM

Groton Nature Center - COURTESY OF VERMONT STATE PARKS
  • Courtesy of Vermont State Parks
  • Groton Nature Center
Looking to start 2017 with some exercise and fresh air? Multiple state parks are offering free, family-friendly guided hikes on New Year's day. Professional guides and outdoor educators will lead participants, sharing their knowledge and love of the Vermont outdoors.

Below is a list of participating parks. Preregistration is not required; simply show up ready to enjoy the outdoors and the company of other participants. Dress for the weather and bring beverages and snacks. Dogs are welcome on leash unless otherwise noted.

Hikes on January 1, 2017
Ascutney State Park, Windsor
Guide: Scott Davison (The Woodstock Naturalist) Meet at 10 a.m. at the ranger station. Hike: 1+ hour, easy terrain. Note: Not a summit hike.

Bomoseen State Park, Castleton
Guide: Caitlin Gates (Vermont State Park Interpreter) Meet at 1 pm at park entrance station. Hike: 1+ hour, easy terrain

Button Bay State Park, Ferrisburgh
Guide: Ron Payne from Otter Creek Audubon Society Meet at 9 a.m. at park entrance. Hike: 3 hours, easy terrain

Groton Nature Center, Big Deer State Park, Groton
Guide: Dave Spencer (local expert) Meet at 1 p.m. at Groton State Forest Nature Center parking area on Boulder Beach Road, 1.6 miles from Route 232. Hike: 1+ hour loop, easy terrain.

Hunger Mountain
, Waterbury
Guide: Caitlin Miller from the Green Mountain Club Meet at 9 a.m. at Hunger Mountain Trailhead (Waterbury). Hike: 3.5 miles, 5 hours, moderate to difficult terrain. Hike to the summit if weather permits.

Jamaica State Park
, Jamaica
Guide: Lowell Lake Park Ranger Scott Renker Meet at 10 a.m. by the park office at the entrance. Hike: 1+ hour, 1-mile, easy terrain. Participants will have the option of a longer hike along the same trail.

Niquette Bay State Park
, Colchester
Guide: Jessica Savage from Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation Meet at noon at the trailhead in Niquette Bay State Park. Hike: 1.5 miles, 2 hours, moderate terrain.

Taconic Mountain Ramble State Park
, Hubbardton
Guide: Bat biologist Alyssa Bennett Meet at noon at the Hubbardton Battlefield parking lot on Monument Hill Road. Hike: 2-3 hours, easy to moderate terrain, followed by fresh-baked cookies!

Underhill State Park
, Underhill
Guide: John Connell, Greenmont Farms Meet at 1 p.m. at gate just below Underhill State Park on Moutain Road in Underhill Center. Hike: 3 hours, easy to moderate terrain. Bring a snack and warm beverage to share!

For hike updates, please call (802) 249-1230. For more information on First Day Hikes and to view additional hike offerings as they are added, visit www.vtstateparks.com or check out Vermont State Parks on Facebook and Twitter.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Go Exploring: A Guide to Fun During Vacation Week

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Dinosaur Revolution - COURTESY OF MONTSHIRE MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of Montshire Museum
  • Dinosaur Revolution
My favorite part of holiday break is hanging out with the kids after the flurry of gift-giving. We love to pull on our warm boots and snow pants and explore the outdoors. But if the temps drop, or the company isn't up for bundling up in bulky outerwear, there’s plenty to do inside to keep your crew amused and on the move. We'll likely be heading to the Montshire Museum’s Dinosaur Revolution exhibit before it closes on January 2. Here are some other indoor ideas — and a few outdoors ones — to keep you entertained during the upcoming school vacation!

  • Animal admirers greet Santa’s graceful friends and learn how these marvelous creatures survive the snowy season at Reindeer Up Close at ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Monday, December 26, 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. & 2 p.m. While at the science center, get answers to your kids' questions about clouds and hurricanes at the traveling exhibit, The Zula Patrol: Mission Weather.
"Flip, Fly, Fun!" - COURTESY OF SPRUCE PEAK PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
  • Courtesy of Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center
  • "Flip, Fly, Fun!"

  • On temporary loan from the Smithsonian Institute, X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside and Out at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium illustrates evolutionary history through translucent photographs of ancient sea creatures, in an elegant combination of science and art. Before you plan a visit, call ahead and reserve tickets for a planetarium show, too.

  • Treat your gang to a special night out. "Flip, Fly, Fun!" at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe transforms the stage with a dazzling array of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists and clowns. Wednesday, December 28, 7 p.m.

  • Giddy-up! Silver bells jingle as horses trot cherry-cheeked riders over snowy rolling hills by sleigh at Shelburne Farms. Daily from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., December 24-December 31 (except Christmas day); weekends through February.

Christmas at the Farm - COURTESY OF BILLINGS FARN & MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of Billings Farn & Museum
  • Christmas at the Farm
  • Families spend a day at Billings Farm and Museum in Woodstock savoring the season the old-fashioned way. Partake in 19th-century crafts in a restored farmhouse, keep toasty by a woodstove and enjoy tasty treats. Bring your warmest clothes to take a tour of the barn, meet the livestock and enjoy horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides. Daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., December 26-January 1.

  • Ring in 2017 at Montpelier’s New Year’s Eve, beginning with a 5K race at 2 p.m., followed by a magic show and evening fireworks. First Night Burlington makes merry with the Church Street Dancing Dragons Parade at 6 p.m.; circus arts, theater and music; and fireworks at both 6:45 p.m. and midnight. On the state’s eastern side, First Night St. Johnsbury caps the year with activities including Nimble Arts’ Ruckus Circus and the Family Fun Fair from 4-8 p.m.

  • Put your healthiest foot forward at FirstRun, a New Year’s Day 5K in Burlington. With two kids’ fun runs and costumes encouraged, this sporty morning event is a virtuous way to begin the new year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Home Cookin': Pepparkakor, A Swedish Jultide Tradition

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 7:11 AM

Pepparkakor - ASTRID LAGUE
  • Astrid Lague
  • Pepparkakor
Probably the most quintessential Swedish Christmas treat is Pepparkakor, or Swedish gingersnaps.  They come in many different variations. You can roll them out and cut them into shapes or do what this recipe calls for and simply ball them up and flatten them into disks. You can ice them or leave them plain. I prefer mine along with a nice cup of coffee.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so there are plenty to share! Bring some to your holiday cookie swap or simply store the dough in your freezer and pull it out when you need a little something sweet. The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least several hours before baking and keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so don't hesitate to prepare it ahead of time.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Swedish Meatballs: Our Family's Christmas Classic

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 11:56 AM

The julbord, or Swedish Christmas table - ASTRID LAGUE
  • Astrid Lague
  • The julbord, or Swedish Christmas table
My father's parents, Ingrid and Bengt, grew up in Sweden, though they met each other in the United States. When they started a family, they tried very hard to assimilate. They didn't teach their kids Swedish and they did the Boston Globe's crossword puzzle every week to improve their English vocabulary. They named their first three children James, John and Joan, which forced them to practice the English "J" sound, one that the Swedish do not use. They were proud of their Swedish heritage, but were determined to become Americans. Simple as that.

However, Christmas was a different matter.  My grandparents didn't have a turkey dinner or a Christmas ham. No, Christmas meant a Swedish Christmas buffet. My late father continued his parents' tradition with added vigor, using it as an excuse to cook all of the Swedish food he knew how to make. He would spend days in the kitchen, carefully laying out labeled serving dishes on multiple tables, ready to fill with the abundance of dishes we prepared using recipes gathered from at least half a dozen cookbooks. Visiting Swedish relatives have told us that we overdo the julbord, the Swedish word for the Christmas table.  Of course we do. We are American, after all.

Astrid's dad in the kitchen
  • Astrid's dad in the kitchen
I still vividly remember my dad's last Christmas. He was so happy to show all of us how to make the dishes he customarily made by himself. My sister was taught how to make Swedish cabbage rolls. Mom learned his secret to the Christmas liver pate. My husband and I got lessons on Swedish Christmas sausage. My other sister got the finer points of Swedish deviled eggs.

One dish that we didn't need instructions for was Swedish meatballs. The recipe is one my grandmother and grandfather perfected through the years. In America, "swedish meatballs" seem to be synonymous with any small meatball in cream sauce spiked with nutmeg. But this is not the way our family enjoys them.  My grandparents' recipe was clear: The only spices you need are salt and white pepper.

Our Swedish meatballs are made of equal parts beef and pork, ideally ground together by the butcher. Since your friendly neighborhood butcher can be hard to come by these days, we settle for buying ground meat and then running it either through a meat grinder or pulsing it in a food processor. The key is getting a finer grind of meat than what you typically find in pre-packaged ground meat.

Meatballs
  • Meatballs
The real fun, though, comes in the rolling. Many hands do indeed make light work, and your winter-chapped hands will thank you for the moisturizing they get from the fat in the meat. You'll want to make these meatballs small, only about a tablespoon each. And, instead of the traditional browning in a pan, my grandparents always broiled the meatballs carefully, until browned on all sides, before transferring to a pot full of pan drippings and water, where they would simmer away until fully cooked.

If you must serve these with a cream sauce, be my guest. I prefer them with a dollop of lingonberry jam (a relative of cranberry sauce), which you can find at IKEA, or the better-stocked international aisles of some grocery stores. This recipe makes about 100 meatballs, enough for a crowd. You can also freeze them after they're cooked to enjoy anytime.

My family spent a day last weekend with my mother, making Swedish meatballs and other dishes for our annual Swedish Christmas feast. We worked side by side and, somehow, 100 meatballs didn't seem that daunting at all.

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