The Heron-Duranti family lives in a teeny tiny town called Shutesbury. It is like a minute from Amherst, a slightly busier college town in western Massachusetts. They live up on a little mountain in the woods where cell phone reception dare not go. This can be frustrating in our day and age when the thought of not being able to contact or be contacted this very instant sends some into a frenzy of anxiety (I won’t name names, but you all know who you are). Luckily since my last trip they have installed satellite wireless Internet that is, as my cousin Valerie said, “slightly faster than dial-up.” But the difference was noticeable. The last time I visited their home was about six or seven years ago and dial up was the only option in a rural area that the cable company refuses to wire!
The first day Valerie and I went to Vermont (my first time there) to this little cheese factory to check out the cheese as it was being “cheddared.” Did you know that cheddaring is a verb and cheddar cheese is named after the process of making the cheese? Well this is something I learned at the cheese factory! The other really great thing I learned was about the delicious cheeses made there. The cheese factory provided my cousin and me with ample and generous free samples (my favorite two words) of speciality Vermont cheddar cheeses and spreads and mustards. My personal favorites included a sage cheese, garlic cheese, and an AMAZING soft horseradish cheese spread. We also sampled “cave aged” cheddar made in the original style of cheddar aging. It was aged coated in animal fat in the back of a cool cave the way it was done when cheese making was first invented. It was definitely tasty and unique; it was very hard in texture but not overly sharp. Another cheddar fact, the longer a cheese ages the sharper it gets. We picked out a couple cheeses to add to the menu for Val’s wine tasting party later that week and headed back. Val took me to one of her favorite little spots, a cute Asian fusion café with a specialty of “tea rolls” (a house invention almost like a teeny burrito with Asian influenced filling). Delicious.
The next day was also very busy with day tripping. Val and I headed to Newport, RI for the day. It’s about a two hour trek from Amherst to the beautiful mansion dotted shores of Newport but two hours flies by when the mean travel time I’d spent in the car this trip was about six hours. Rhode Island was another place I had never been (I know I’m such a rube, I mean who hasn’t been to Rhode Island?) so I was psyched. Especially after getting all juiced up on the hopes of having fried full belly clams, ogling beachfront estates, and watching the sail boats while sipping a hot drink. Newport is very pretty. It’s one of the many New England retreats for the North Eastern elite (the shop prices reflect this appropriately). We started the visit on the cliff walk, a public trail that ran right on the edge of the water and right next to mansion after mansion some public for tours and some still owned by private parties. It was a breathtakingly perfect day and the walk was charming. Unfortunately, I happened to visit Newport the day that Flo’s Clam Shack. Something about the off-season *grumble*grumble* and it being in the middle of the week *grumble*grumble* so the famous Flo’s was not an option. Now, we are completely hopeless, starving, and have no idea where to eat without handing over an I.O.U for our first born in lieu of payment. We happened to end up at an unlikely pub where we dined on oysters, clam chowder, and fried clams for about 20 for each of us. The real treat was the chowder. It was quite a surprise to have a clam chowder with the perfect consistency of a white broth (not thick and starchy) and the incredible element of fresh dill! Anyway it all worked out. Val and I grabbed some hot cider and hung out on the wharf gossiping and watching the sea. Then we headed to the Newport vineyards for a wine tasting (the whites were great, the reds were ok, and we go to keep our glasses as a souvenir!) This being a Wednesday Coastline Show Chorus rehearsal was the next stop. We headed just back into Massachusetts and met up with Suzie.
Coastline Show Chorus is a top Sweet Adeline’s Chorus (they’re actually competing at international this week, go Coastline!) Suzie joined a couple years ago (inspired in part by my own mothers participation in Sweet Adeline for fourteen years and counting with the City of Lakes Chorus, among others). Val just joined in the summer, and is already completely submerged in the culture of competitive choreographed women’s barbershop choral singing. It is actually pretty intoxicating. Coastline’s competition music is great. I had such an emotional experience watching them rehearse. How inspiring it is to watch people work so fervently toward a common goal simply because they love singing and performing. I am humbled and reminded of some of the things in the entertainment business that lead so many of us to become embittered. But these singers just give. It makes me want to do that too, all the time.
The last full day I spent in Amherst was mostly dedicated to prepping for the wine tasting party Valerie planned with her friend Alyssa. We bought little snacks, tidied the house, made party favors, and got glammed up (the attire was semi-formal, fancy huh?) until guests started arriving around 6:30. Val had assigned certain items to certain guests. We had made quite a few little bites (crab cakes, spanakopita, cheese spreads, shrimp cocktail, chocolate fondue, pigs in a blanket, crackers, etc.) the wines and a few other treats were assigned. Guests were asked to bring a bottle of wine or some cheese or chocolates, whatever. The party was a huge hit! People really got into tasting different things. There were even buckets to dump out excess and a water carafe to clean one’s glass between tastes. I know those things have fancy wine tasting names but I don’t know what those are.
I retired early from the party to get some sleep because I was planning on driving halfway to OKC the next day, and that is exactly what I did! I drove from 8:30 to 11 on Friday, slept, then drove 9 to 8:30 Saturday. It wasn’t as bad as it seems although I’m hardly ready to become a teamster. Tucked back into my bed in Oklahoma was rewarding. What a great trip.