Late Fall in Bartlett’s Orchard, Richmond, MA

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Picking McIntosh & Paula Red Apples

Dear Blag,

Happy Travel Tuesday! The winter season has finally begun which makes… Travel a bit harder……… Yesterday we woke up to the sight of cars buried in the fluffy, sparkly, wondrous blankets of freshly-fallen snow, in what was the second—third? I’ve lost track—big snow of the season. Forever a mystery, shoveling snow is actually a rather fun and enjoyable workout for me. Perhaps this further exhibits my oddity of character, or it could be that ’tis simply a sign that I am yet to be burdened by the ownership and constant maintenance of a driveway—but then again, ¿Por qué no los dos?

But as the days go by and transition from Winter Wonderland into a frigid, slushy underworld of wet messiness, let us reminisce over the embracing climate of early fall.

{Harp sounds of reminiscence play}

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Blue skies over the Berkshire Mountains

Back in September, amidst the temperate weather of Western Mass, we had ventured into the tamed wilderness of the Berkshires, an orchard field amongst the fluffy greenery of our mountains—I know I’m overusing the word “fluffy,” but everything’s just fluffy around here. There was even a morning where I felt like a Disney princess as I drove past a deer jumping around in a field, arrived at work and saw two foxes just chilling in the parking lot, and then on the way home almost hit a bunny by the side of the road. (The bunny was fine, it simply hopped back into the shrubs… I might not be the most graceful princess, though). I digress.

Bartlett’s Orchard is one of several orchards in the area, though it’s the only one we’ve been to yet, and so far so good! You go through the store front first, where they showcase several of their own grown fresh produce, then inside a variety of products and souvenirs for travelers, but the stars being obviously their apple cider and apple cider donuts, which are uber good—we’ve actually had the chance to attend tastings of the local orchards’ donuts and apple cider, and Bartlett’s are still in my top two, not sure I can decide…

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Bartlett’s Orchard in Richmond, MA
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Local Cheeses! Smoked, Jack, and Aged Sharp Cheddar
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Painting and… Oils?
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They grow Eggplants!
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Green Zebras??
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They grow Cayenne Peppers!
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Delicious Apple Cider Donuts!

Next, la pièce de résistance: You purchase your apple bag (choose your size) and off to the back, where the fields of trees decorated with red orbs like Christmas ornaments—BY NEWTON, IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS! (Twice as relevant ’cause birthday and gravity? Just… ok, back to the story)—pose their foliage like late summer nymphs. {Sigh} They’re a beautiful sight, and there’s something rather magical and childlike about picking your own fruit—indeed, this was my first time picking fruit—and not to mention, the taste can’t be paralleled by your typical grocery store purchase.

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David Picking Apples
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Paula Red Apple

Dave and I came in with the intent of picking our own apples for our first apple pie, so we asked the store clerk what apples he suggested for such an endeavor. At the time, it was earlier in the season, and the ideal apples for apple pie were not yet in season, so he suggested we use McIntosh. Boy oh boy were these apples delicious and juicy. Nothing like the apples we typically get at the grocery store. We also got some Paula Reds which were amazing too. Sadly, the latter did not last as long as the former, so by the time we made the apple pie, we only used McIntosh.

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Back to the cold now, but hey, at least their store is open year-round. Time for some hot apple cider? I think yes, my good sir/ma’am.

Happy Shoveling,
Kika & Dave.

References

[1] Bartlett’s Apple Orchard and Farm Market Website, http://www.bartlettsorchard.com/

Impromtu Date Night in Great Barrington, MA [Travel]

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The destination: Mango Lassi Ice Cream at SoCo Creamery

Friday August 26th, 2016

The day began rather late for us. We had some Blue Apron chilled chicken ramen for lunch and, shortly after, Dave crashed on the couch while I spent several hours (for some reason) rewriting our post on mead. Late afternoon descends upon us and Dave, reawakened and determined, exclaims, “I’m going out!” I blankly stare at him and respond, “Go out? (…) Where to?” “I don’t know,” he said, “Somewhere. Groceries, hiking, just somewhere!” I guess it really had been a rather unproductive day, void of interactions… “Can I come?” I asked, initially suspicious I’ll admit, but he was happy to have me join in.

And so we embarked on our car trip to… (!!!) Somewhere.

“How about ice cream?” We discussed, and mighty Google showed us SoCo Creamery in Great Barrington. Local, made from scratch. Sounds good!

On the way there, we came across a nature trail—there’s essentially a nature trail at every turn in the Berkshires—and with sunset creeping in on the horizon, we stopped the car and went for a pretty short, yet pleasantly active hike, with an alternating jog/run/walk-to-catch-your-breadth-’cause-you’re-so-out-of-shape pace. I especially love some of the hiking trails where you see the elderly couples and their dogs going for a hike on weekend mornings. It truly awakens a sense of inner balance and tranquility, if we want to go a bit new-agey on this post.

A prominent wild mushroom by a nature trail in the Berkshires
Rare shot of Bigfoot! (Also known as “Dave” in the Berkshires)

Besides the beautiful summer landscapes of the mountains, another sight you can’t miss includes the various churches spread throughout the area, standing tall with stunning facades of wood or stone and stained glass windows. I often forget to actually read the signs declaring what religion/denomination they belong to. (I unfortunately missed out on several shots of other churches and buildings on that evening’s drive. I proved too slow to make any proper captures with my cellphone camera as Dave drove by…)

Beautiful church structure during sunset in downtown Great Barrington

At last, we arrive in downtown. I immediately recognize the street as I had seen it on Google Images when I was first moving into the Berkshires—here’s one of the most recognizable ones, posted by the Boston Globe. Even if you live in other areas of the Berkshires, this quaint little street makes you feel as if you’re somewhere else in the country, or perhaps even in a little European town in the mountains.

We park past the small theater, pass a restaurant exuding the delicious scent of pizza ovens, and finally, we get to SoCo!

SoCo Creamery. Oh yeah.

We accidentally ordered two cones of Mango Lassi ice cream* instead of ordering different flavors to try them out, but sincerely, we had no regrets. This is one of the best ice creams we’ve had in a looooooong time. Usually, I find that ice creams reach a point of over-sweetness before I’m able to finish them. Not this one. This ice cream was subjected to my weird habit of biting my way through ice cream, (usually only done when I truly enjoy an ice cream). Not a drop was left. You could feel a great yet subtle balance of the mango and the delicious dairy in the constitution of the ice cream. I don’t think I can expand on how much of a crush I’ve developed for this food item.

SoCo Creamery’s Mango Lassi Ice Cream. Warning: Withdrawal symptoms might ensue.

Of course, no date night is complete without a visit to the local culinary store. We went to The Chef’s Shop, just a bit higher up in the same street as SoCo.

For your kitchenware needs: The Chef’s Shop in Great Barrington

The focus of our search: a mandolin, since Dave had been wanting one for months on end. We went with OXO Good Grips since, while the store lady said she blindly recommends Benriner for its quality and reliability—besides the fact that I love everything Japanese-made—OXO has the stand and it’s a bit more user friendly, so we went with the latter as our first mandolin purchase.

Mandolin Quest: OXO Good Grips versus Japanese Benriner

We proceeded to peruse the store with a sense of geekiness and mild overexcitement, (the sort that makes you giddy and exclaim in high-pitched “Ohhh!! Look at that!”s, without crossing that fine line where you’re scaring people away). The store attendant was really nice and informative, providing us with overviews of different items throughout the store.

The Chef’s Shop: The most massive cutting board I’ve ever seen so far. (I do not believe the image does it justice).
Wall of knives at The Chef’s Shop.
The Chef’s Shop and fermentation equipment. “People are big on fermentation right now,” said the nice store lady.

Next, a few more shenanigans around town.

Nighttime: The elegant, old-timey town clock ensures those with uncharged phones can still tell the time of day.
‘Murica Swag. Had this store not been closed at the time, I’d be several moneys poorer right now.
Caught a Horsea on its way for a stroll in the town.

The evening wrapped up with a dinner on the patio of Xicohtencatl. We had a couple of drinks, nachos, and a horchata drink (a sweet drink made out of rice) that made me exceedingly nostalgic of Venezuelan chicha (another sweet drink made out of rice, which is at the very least awfully similar to horchata**). Interestingly, this horchata had a bit of coconut flavor to it. Reeeaally good. I kept hugging the drink, (many more weird habits to go around).

Tortilla chips and spicy drinks at Xicohtencatl in Great Barrington
Horchata with a hint of coconut (Kika’s hugging the drink has been removed from this frame)

One thing I especially recommend and that others had boasted about in Yelp, is their mole poblano.*** It was actually here in the Berkshires that Dave first introduced me to mole, first at Pancho’s and then at Xicohtencatl. If you haven’t yet tried this divinely-inspired sauce[3], you should. Just sayin’. No pressure.**** Overall, mole is a rather complex concoction with about 20+ ingredients on average, (though some mole recipes have way more ingredients), a deep smoky flavor and often with a hint of chocolate. Pretty awesome and the star of the dish.

Word on the “street” was that Xicohtencatl had an amazing mole sauce. This “word” spoke truth.

So we ended up doing a lot more that evening than we expected, especially based on how late we started. Nothing too much out of the ordinary, sure, but even in our underdressed outfits, it was a lovely impromptu date night. Last item on the list: grocery shopping for the next day’s work picnic salsa recipe.

The Price Chopper fresh produce section, with incorporated thunder sound effects during veggie misting, which cannot be appreciated through still image.

* “SoCo’s Mango Lassi ice cream is based on the traditional Indian drink enjoyed by many as a way to beat the summer heat.”

** I mean, there’s different variations all over the place, and although the wikipedia article on horchata says that horchata is made with rice while Venezuelan chicha is made with rice flour, most recipes I’ve seen for Venezuelan chicha use just plain rice, and they both use cinnamon, milk, vanilla… I actually found a recipe for chicha I really want to try out[2].

*** [I should stop overusing these asterisks] Another place that has mole in the Berkshires is Pancho’s in Pittsfield, which they bring over plantain-filled corn tortillas with cheese and sesame seeds. While both are delicious, I personally feel the mole in Xicohtencatl has more depth and is a culinary experience to try, but I do enjoy better the overall dish at Pancho’s over simply chicken. If you’re in the area and willing, I’d suggest you try both.

**** PRESSURE.

References

[1] “Great Barrington blends small town with trendiness” by Alison Lobron of the Boston Globe, August 2014 https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2014/08/09/what-like-live-great-barrington/N03CoG1QYVYIcA2FSzdtsO/story.html

[2] “{All Around Latin America} Venezuelan Chicha Rice Milk Beverage in Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month” by Bren Herrera, October 2014 http://brenherrera.com/all-around-latin-america-venezuelan-chicha-rice-milk-beverage-in-celebration-of-hispanic-heritage-month/

[3] “Mole Poblano: Mexico’s National Food Dish” by MexOnline.com (includes recipe links) http://www.mexonline.com/molepoblano.htm

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