Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vermont and King Arthur Flour Visit

Last Saturday we got up at 5 AM and headed off to Vermont. From Boston the area we were going it is around 137 miles or 2 hours 45 minutes but with 2 giant cups off coffee and some salsa music we were excited to be getting out of the city. One of the ways we bonded from the day we met was taking road trips and just chatting and learning together. Five years later it hasn't changed! Originally the plan was to go Friday but I wanted to find another activity in the area because it seemed quite far just to visit the King Arthur Flour store in Norwich so when I went online and saw Saturday was the opening day of Billings Farm (A Vanderbilt property) in Woodstock we decided to change the plans and I am happy we did. 

For those of you who don't know, I have a love of farms and especially the animals that live there. If I were to own one I would most likely be a vegetarian as I get so attached I could never eat something I had raised. When I was 10 I volunteered at a farm up the road and lovingly cared for 2 piglets for several months and was absolutely stunned when my father came home with a ham that was a "gift" from the farmer for all my hard work. I cried and refused to take one bite of that ham and instead stared at it with contempt from the doorway. That was a hard lesson in real farm life that day! Luckily Billings Farm has been a working dairy farm since the 1800's so no danger on this trip. 

We pulled into the King Arthur Store's parking lot about 10 minutes early and it was a brisk 40 degrees but there were already people waiting in their cars. Most were locals waiting for coffee but I have to admit I was surprised. The last time I had been up there was maybe 10 years ago and they are renovating the whole property at the moment but everything was moved over to the new space and it looked like mostly cosmetic work was being worked on. It is gorgeous and very modern looking with a cafe and coffee bar when you walk in and then the store just beyond. I wish I could say I was blown away by the store but it wasn't as special as I remember it being the first time around. You know how you have something from the past you remember as being truly amazing and the when you go back to relive the moment or the taste it just falls short and disappoints? (For me it was these crazy delicious hand cut honey dip donuts at this family place in my hometown. They were square because he literally cut the dough by hand and they were light as air. The shop still exists but when they automated the donuts it was never the same) Think Williams-Sonoma but more expensive. I wish I was kidding. There were some whole grain flours I wanted to buy to make bread, 3 lbs for more than $10. That is just an example. As we walked around my fiance commented to me he was shocked by the prices as well and as he is a chef he had been pretty excited to maybe find a treasure or two himself. I did grab some things that I can not find outside of mail order. 
Espresso powder adds richness to chocolate baked goods and is one of those little secrets. Hard to find at most standard markets or even Whole Foods. Caramel bits that I thought would be interesting but unfortunately did not turn out as I would have liked. When baked they lacked caramel flavor and stuck to the bottom of the pan. Not up to my standards but live and learn. It was worth a shot. I do think they would be OK in cookies and maybe I will try that with the rest that are left over. I liked the photo of them!

I picked up several extracts such as hazelnut, coconut, mint and almond. I like their extracts because they are very high quality and not synthetic tasting. The shot glass in the front is not for drowning my failures but is a liquid measure for Tbsp/tsp for liquids like vanilla and the brown bag on the left is powdered low fat milk for bread baking. One of the last items I grabbed was a live piece of sourdough starter that was 250 years old! All I had to do was feed it and see how it compared to the one I made last week. My fiance added a digital thermometer and we were off but not before I treated him to a cup of coffee and we split a chocolate croissant. The croissant was absolutely delicious. The coffee was OK but that wasn't really why we had gone there. I felt a bit disappointed because I remember finding great deals and interesting items on my last trip. This was now dedicated more to the elitist home cook and they had quite a bit of mixes and items that weren't really true baking all at a very steep price tag. Ho-hum. 

When we went to the car I was glad we decided to add the farm into the trip because it would have been quite a long drive for such a short trip. Woodstock was just 19 miles down the road it was a nice winding trip through the country as we chattered about the beauty of the scenery and excited to see the farm. We have been debating purchasing some land in NH or VT on which to build our retirement home as prices in Boston have just gotten ridiculous and I don't see buying a tiny place for too much money there. Part of this trip was finding a town that would be right for us. All I had known previously about Woodstock was its shared name with the music festival in NY. Turns out it is one of the weather towns in VT and had quite an adorable downtown and was flanked by many stunning homes.

Billings Farm is still a working dairy farm and we were the first to arrive. In my excitement I failed to take as many photos as I would have liked but there are a few to share. In the first pasture I met Violet as I named her. She was around 7-8 months old and was very friendly.
Here she is peeking at me when I first approached and then sticking her nose out for a rub. She was so gentle and sweet I wanted to take her home with us but I doubt a backyard in Boston would be a better place for her!

We entered the horse barn but they were all out on the farm already either plowing or giving carriage rides. It made me miss my horse days. Don't they look so regal!
We opted out of the carriage ride as it was mostly screaming kids and strollers and instead finished walking the grounds and exploring the original farm managers home that they hard restored to the late 1800's which was very interesting. There was a nursery for the new baby cows, one of which was 10 days old and I got to see the new bull who at 8 months old was already several hundred pounds and quite adorable. He was one of the lucky boys on the farm as most males get sold off. The chicken barn had several baby ducks which I LOVE and hope to own a few some day as well as some standard chickens. It was full again of kids so I could barely see them and got frustrated and left. In the sheep barn they had some adorable baby sheep who were very curious. 
He was like a model posing for every shot and with his watchful momma munching her hay. Unfortunately the farm was not licensed to sell to the public so one of the locals recommended a farmers market on the edge of town. We headed off in search of some real dairy, meat and eggs and saw much of the damage from the devastating floods awhile back. They are still rebuilding which is shocking when you realize it was so long ago. Makes you realize how truly horrible the damage was. When we entered I was surprised to see such a progressive shop in such an isolated area. We grabbed dinner for that night as well as two dozen local eggs and a liter of milk in an old fashioned glass bottle. The quality of everything was indescribably superior to super market items and we had a fantastic dinner that night. My fiance also drank almost all the milk by breakfast and I had to fight to get a glass for myself! The drive home went by quicker than I would have expected and it was wonderful feeling to get out of the city and indulge our love of food and nature. 


  1. Ahhh! I want to smooch all of those animals on the snouts! Soooo cute! Looks like you made out pretty well at the store! :) That's cute, you split a chocolate croissant. I would stab the Mr with a fork before sharing. HA!

    1. I seriously debated shoving Violent in the back of the SUV. By "share" I meant let him have 2 bites :).

  2. I'm sorry your trip to our store wasn't everything you had hoped for! As you noted, we're in the midst of a major expansion/renovation (the under-construction space you walked into on this trip will become a lovely cafe by the end of July!) - and I hope when it's done you'll feel more of the magic you remembered. That said, we take all customer feedback very seriously and I am going to share your post with the relevant folks in charge of our store and merchandising, etc., for their consideration.

    Thanks for your honest feedback. Happy baking! Allison@KingArthurFlour