Here we are in the middle of the summer. Humid days, cooler nights and occasional thunderstorms that rip across the broad lake to water the beloved flower and vegetable gardens that many of you have labored over for the better part of the last few months. The summer season represents many different things to all of us — baseball, fishing and the big one that got away, hiking this peak and then that one, walking on the shore of Lake Champlain or skipping a stone in the brook behind your home, or peddling around town or cycling as if there were no tomorrow. We all have our summertime passions (and there are many) but most of us have one thing in common.
Yes, that’s right, there is a common denominator among those of us who truly embrace this time of year, one activity that truly represents “summer” when we’re doing it.
It is grilling! Wouldn’t you agree? Haven’t you had some of your best moments flipping a burger or basting a chicken breast while soaking in the sun and sharing some laughs with your family and friends as you all crowd around your grill? It’s fun to pop open a cool one or sip on a glass of homemade lemonade (with a bendy straw, for sure), kick back and let the grill do its thing. The pomp and circumstance of “the grilling night” can be quite the event, for sure.
For me, part of the grilling pleasure is procuring the best local ingredients that I can find. When I worked in both Portland, Maine and New York City, I had the luxury of walking out of the restaurant just a few blocks, in either direction, to purchase our fresh items. I embraced the ritual of shopping local for it was so much fun talking to the local growers, and to be able to look, smell and feel the actual product.
Living and working in the beautiful Champlain Islands, I rely on visiting our local farmers markets. Held on both Wednesday nights (in South Hero) and Saturday mornings (in Grand Isle), I count on our farmers markets for the same experience I was afforded to in the bigger cities. Unfortunately, due to the distance, I have to drive and, honestly, it’s simply not the same as a little stroll down a cobblestone sidewalk. But, I’d far rather give up that aspect of the local shopping experience than the beauty of Vermont and all our wonderful Green Mountain State has to offer. So, I get in my car, turn on my tunes and make it my own little Saturday morning sojourn.
This week, I dragged along my business partner, Mandy, to the farmers market in Grand Isle. It’s held on the lawn behind St. Joseph’s Church. There’s a little bit of something for everyone – beautifully-knitted sweaters and hats, gorgeous handcrafted jewelry, homemade ice cream and maple products, brilliant flowers, rustic signs and, of course, what I was on the look-out for: fresh vegetables. We’ll be offering a special side salad for our rib eye steak tonight and these gorgeous vegetables from Heather of Darby Farm in Alburgh will be delicious components.
There were many varieties of produce in which to choose from several different vendors. But the fresh beets, ugly tomatoes and tiny cucumbers caught my eye for making a colorful and yummy salad that I had planned for the evening’s specials. So, I picked away while Mandy insisted on taking photos.
At The Paddle, a good part of our menu consists of grilled entrees.
There are some nights at The Paddle that I find myself wondering why I’m not very busy – or not out straight – at my sauté station. Then, I inevitably look over at my sous chef, Eric Goodrich, and I see why. The grill is completely covered with various meats – grilling to all their individual temperatures. Our two-foot wide grill has held up to 24 pieces of protein (that’s busy!) at the same time and I give so much credit to my wing-man for his consistency at his station.
So it’s time to visit your local farmers market, and have your own grilling experience. Our American farmers are under-appreciated, in my opinion. Here’s to supporting our local growers!
Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.