Friday, March 2, 2018

A Winter Escape to Woodstock, Vermont: Farmhouse Pottery & The Best Meal We've Ever Had

Josh's Christmas gift to me this year (or, last year, I guess?) was a clay date at Farmhouse Pottery. For a few years now, I've drooled over their pieces on Instagram after seeing them featured in Floret Flower's feed. I was initially drawn to their aesthetic, which is clean and simple, rooted in a farmhouse (obvi) lifestyle. When I read more about them, I came to really appreciate their dedication to quality, and the process behind making each piece in their Woodstock, VT studio. And also, their commitment to community. We met James, the husband of the husband-and-wife team at the Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck last year, and after a few minutes of chatting with James, Josh kind of fell in love with their company, too. Long story short, Josh got us a workshop date in their studio, and I'm here to recap it today, along with the rest of our trip.

We actually didn't stay in Woodstock, which I will say, I kind of regret once we experienced the actual town of Woodstock. We found an inn called the Snapdragon in Windsor, a town about 30 minutes from Woodstock, and they had a few rooms with clawfoot tubs at a really great price that was tough to pass up. Being that our master bathroom currently has no walls and no floors, and definitely no tub at the moment, this seemed really appealing, and we decided to stay here so that we could also experience another Vermont town. The inn was absolutely lovely. The house has a long history, which includes ties to Hemingway and Andrew Johnson, and the architecture was stunning. The rooms were impeccable and perfectly cozy after being outside in the winter weather all day. Our bathroom had radiant floor heat, and a warm bath was the perfect way to end our chilly days. They put out fresh-baked cookies in the late afternoon for guests, and they provided a wonderful continental breakfast each morning. Our stay was delightful.

But, we found ourselves gravitating toward Woodstock most of our time there, and the drive became a little tough going 30 minutes each way every day. But I'll get back to that in a moment.

The highlight of the trip was, of course, Farmhouse Pottery. Their studio is in an old bible binery, and it's been completely remodeled to suit the aesthetic of the pottery they create. What I loved about the building was that it was designed to be interactive. When you walk in, the retail store is to your left, and the studio is to your right. The studio is closed off, but its wall diving it from the retail store is glass so you can see the potters working at the wheel. The studio door is also left open, and you're welcome to walk in and watch the potters at work, and also ask questions. It's a really cool experience, even if you don't participate in a workshop.

The gentleman that helped us during our workshop was Pete, and he was so nice and totally put us at ease. Our workshop started with a tour of the building and an explanation of the whole process for each piece, from start to finish. We learned that their clay is a proprietary formula that's meant to create stoneware for everyday use. You shouldn't be afraid to use your Farmhouse Pottery pieces because they're made be a part of your daily routine.

Then, we got a chance at the wheel. If you go with another person, or a group, each person takes a turn at one wheel. The potter will walk you through the process, and also control the actual wheel for you so you can concentrate on what you're doing. I found it to be so much more involved that it looks! When you watch potters at the wheel, of course they make it look so easy, but actually doing it is another story. Each process takes careful craftsmanship to ensure the quality of the piece, and honestly I wasn't great at it. Josh seemed to pick it up so much faster, but we both agreed that it takes so much skill that you can't learn in your one-hour session. What I loved most about the workshop is that the potter that worked with us was really chill throughout the whole process, and was able to explain things really well so people who have never done it before could understand. If we messed up, he showed us how to fix it, and also gave us pointers along the way. They wanted you to make pieces you would be proud of when you left.

Once you're both done with your piece, they set aside to dry out in the damp room, prepare for it to be fired in the kiln, and then dipped in their signature white glaze before they ship it to you (assuming you're out of town - locals can come by to pick them up). You actually have to wait about two weeks after your workshop to receive your finished pieces in the mail, and ours just arrived. They were packaged with care so they wouldn't get damaged in-transit, and now our pieces sit proudly on our kitchen shelving.

Our finished pieces arrived to our home wrapped beautifully.

Our finished pieces. Josh's on the left, mine on the right.

Josh made a handle-free mug with a thumbprint to make holding it easier. Mine is ... well, I don't
really know what mine is, but it's cute.

Once we were done, we meandered the retail shop for a while. It's small, but masterfully merchandised, making you want every single thing on the shelving. I went in knowing that I wanted the Laurel pie dish and I lucked out because they actually had an imperfect one for sale on their Seconds (or, rejects) shelf. I only found one tiny little imperfection on it, and it was discounted a good amount, so it came home with me. Many of the pieces on their seconds shelf only had tiny blemishes, so you can really see that they take pride in their pieces, and don't sell anything at full price that's less than ideal. The potter that worked with us said that he had a few things on the Seconds shelf that were meant to be espresso cups, but the design didn't allow for little handles, so they became shot glasses of sorts. He laughed and said sometimes things don't work out like you hope, but it's all part of the process.

We left after our session feeling excited to have contributed in a small way to an amazing company that supports and celebrates true craftsmanship, and also educates people on its importance.

We spent the rest of our day walking around Woodstock, and honestly, it's probably my favorite destination in Vermont for so many reasons. One, it's amazingly picturesque. Josh and I kept saying that we felt like we were in Stars Hollow. The store fronts were still decorated for Christmas, but kind of had a little Valentine's Day flare to them. The buildings were old and beautiful. You could tell the store owners took pride in their shops, and all the ones we went into had such beautifully selected merchandise. We also went into the bookstore, Yankee Book Shop, which is the oldest independent bookstore in Vermont, and we were so impressed with the wonderfully curated selection. We could have spent hours in this tiny little shop reading excerpts from the books.

The bathroom in Mon Vert Cafe was probably the coolest I've ever seen.

What kind of made me fall in love with the town was the fact that they were hosting Snow Flurry, a snow carving contest, that week. If that's not the plot of a Gilmore Girl's episode, then I don't know what is. The sense of community in Woodstock just continued to surprise me, and give me all the warm fuzzies. People would gather around the town center area where the snow carving was taking place, and just mingle and watch the artists at work. There's a chalkboard in town called the Town Crier where people post local happenings. There's a covered bridge walkable from the cutest little general store that lights up at night, and at Christmas, there's a lit star in the mountains that you can see from town (which thankfully, was still up when we went, and we found it so insanely charming). We honestly just smiled the whole time we were walking around. It's a town that seems too magical to live in, and yet, it's an actual, real-life community.

Now that I'm done gushing about Woodstock, and how if it wasn't so far from our families and if we didn't love our house we'd move there, I'll highlight a few other parts of our getaway.

After leaving Woodstock, we stopped by the Simon Pearce flagship store. Now, we're not super into glass pieces (see my love story to Farmhouse Pottery above), but I had heard that even if glassware is not your thing, the flagship store was still a fun experience. So I suggested we stop there in Quechee on our way back to the inn. And guys, we had so much fun. We didn't buy anything, but we left with a new appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into every glass they sell. Downstairs they have a viewing area where you can watch the artisans create the glassware, and because it's not closed off, you can actually ask them questions. We happened upon a gentleman who was making wine glasses, and he told us about how he had worked there for about 8 years, and how it takes about two years to go through training, and still you can't know everything there is to know about the trade for several years after that. It was such a cool process to watch the glass come out of the oven, looking like a tiny little sun because it's just this glowing, orange ball. And then seeing it form into a glass shape by blowing into this long tube. It's just really cool, and I highly recommend you visit if you're in the area.

The Simon Pearce Quechee flagship store has a viewing area of their waterfall and covered bridge.

We also made the drive to Killington to go snow tubing. We only had a few hours in the afternoon on our last day, so we couldn't quite carve out enough time for skiing, but we were able to go snow tubing, which honestly, was really fun. There was a great balance of kids and adults at the tubing park, and they had a little lift service for you to go back up the hill, which I kind of loved. I've never really been one for outdoor winter activities, besides casual walks in the snow, but being around all the skiers and watching them go down the mountains made us both want to try skiing next year. We kind of started to plan a trip to the same area next year, and stay an extra day to tackle skiing down a few mountains. The whole atmosphere was really exciting and fun.

We also decided to take a ride on the Beast Coaster at Killington, which is a little roller coaster that goes around the mountain. It's great to do it once, but it was a little pricey at $15 per person, so it's probably not something we'd do again. Even in the winter, it was a fun experience, and you got to watch all the skiiers go down the mountain as you rode up on your little coaster car.

On our last night there, we decided to go out with a bang and had one of the best meals of our lives. Josh and I don't consider ourselves foodies. We both love to eat, and we've been to some pretty amazing restaurants in NYC and Chicago, but our palettes aren't super refined. When I watch those Top Chef-type shows and they talk about "such and such flavor not riding in tandem with the mood the dish set them up for" I kind of laugh, thinking these judges are making things up. But guys, this dinner had me rethinking the art of the dining experience.

We found the Lincoln Inn at the Covered Bridge on TripAdvisor, and after reading about it, we both decided to splurge and make a reservation. The Lincoln Inn only takes reservations for their dining experiences because the chef, who has worked in Michelin Star restaurants in Europe, curates a dish for each night, and she works alone in the kitchen to ensure that each plate being brought out meets her standards.

When you call to make your reservation, you're asked to arrive at 6:30 (in fall/winter season) to enjoy drinks in the tavern. We were the first to arrive, which was perfect because Mara, who co-owns the inn with the chef, greeted us, and walked us through the menu. We made a reservation for the four-course prix fix, and for this experience, they were able to accommodate our dietary restrictions. So, Mara walked us through the changes they made to the menu for us, and we were already impressed and excited for our dinner. Mara studied wine in France, and she curated a wine list to perfectly complement the food the chef prepares, and she walked us through it because many of them were small, more unknown vineyards that she's fallen in love with over the years. She suggested we decide on a bottle of wine before dinner so that she could bring it up from the cellar and open it to breath before we sat down for our meal. It was all orchestrated to be a relaxing, welcoming experience from the beginning that never had any hint of pretension.

Side note: One thing I loved seeing on the wall in the tavern were framed notes from a basic yellow-paged notepad with drawings and ideas about dishes from the chef. There were about four pages framed on the wall which showed conceptualization of a few different dishes, and the notes and scribbles about how they were planned out were so inspiring. I wish I had taken a picture like a hardcore tourist would have.

At 7 p.m., we were all led to the dining room, one party at a time, to our respective tables, and dinner was served over two and a half hours. It was the perfect amount of time to savor each course, and every sip of our (incredible) bottle of wine. I can't even describe the food, but each bite was comforting and exciting. The flavors were so well thought-out, and you could taste the passion the chef had for her creations.

At the end of the meal, the chef walked around to each table and asked if they enjoyed their meal, and she was so humble and engaging. She politely asked why Josh was a vegetarian, and you could tell it was coming from a place of wanting to learn and connect to her guests. She sincerely thanked us as she moved on to the next table, and she spent such a long time with each of us, answering and asking questions.

This was truly an experience we'll never forget. It was cozy and intimate, and the amount of passion that Mara, and the chef, Jevgenija Saromova, had for their guests' experience was so evident every step of the way. I recommend you research Mara and Jevgenija through a quick Google search and you'll read so many interesting things about them, and their experience in the culinary and hospitality worlds. 

I didn't talk any photos while we were there simply because we were just living in the moment, but I was able to snap a quick iPhone picture of the menu (our selections were a little different based on Josh's vegetariansim and my pescatarianism). But it gives you an idea of the food that was served.

During the dessert course of our meal, it started to snow! We were hoping for snow all weekend and got rain during the evenings, so this was extra special. We pulled over on our way home so we could walk around the town of Woodstock in the snow. The snow carvers had made more headway with their creations, the covered bridge was lit up, as were all the trees lining the streets. It was perfection. 

As always, with all our little getaways and vacations, is so sad to leave, but we're always excited to get back to our home in the country. But Woodstock, it won't be too long until we meet again.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a wonderful way to spend a wintry weekend!


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