Even before we bought a house in New England, we would find any excuse we could to get ourselves up there each weekend. And so, in the fall of 2011, Astrid’s avid interest in several colleges in this part of the country were greatly appreciated.
I loved every second of it. I loved being part of this important decision, loved being presumed to be Astrid’s mom, loved that her grades and SAT scores earned her visits to whichever university she was interested in, and I loved saying to friends and colleagues, “We looked at Princeton, but I don’t think she was into it. Next weekend’s Amherst and Wesleyan.” Saying it as though my own GPA hadn’t been the tragedy it was.
While Bertrand scheduled tours and interviews, I handled the accommodations, googling the various college towns, sniffing out the quaintest inns that allowed for single nights during peak foliage season.
Before the visits began, Astrid had stated her campus mandates: “I want to go to a college in a big city, where the student population will be big enough that I’ll always meet new people; and where, no matter the time of night, something will always be going on.”
The metropolis notion disappeared as soon as we stepped foot on our rural campus. “I want to go here,” she beamed up at us as we walked out of the Vassar library. This declaration of love became a favorite recurrent phrase, but we didn’t care. Better she find many suitors than none.
A few weekends after Poughkeepsie, we drove to Vermont. As we parked outside the Middlebury Admissions office, a strong sense of fraudulence slightly paralyzed me. I didn’t deserve to be here. Could my SAT scores be tattooed on my ankle or the back of my neck during some drunken night?? I also had a flashback from decades earlier, when my brother and I drove down from Burlington, where he was going to UVM, to check out the gorgeous campus. “You know how hard it is to get in here?” I remember him saying as we passed Mead Chapel and Dana Auditorium. He let out a loud whistle that translated to Unbelievable.
And yet, here we were, following the tour guide whose name was Harmony or Rainbow or something like that, telling us where she grew up (Oregon), her major (Ecology), the clubs she was in (Quiddich team and Jazz) and why she chose Middlebury (the language programs). As she walked backwards, pointing out each building and explaining the campus housing system, I mentally kicked myself for not studying harder in high school.
When the tour ended and Astrid once again pledged her newfound devotion, we got back in the car and headed southeast. The Kedron Valley Inn (http://www.kedronvalleyinn.com/) is about 90 minutes from Middlebury. The South Woodstock destination is classic Vermont, with a sprawling front porch, fireplaces galore, and a cozy tavern/restaurant. We all started with the butternut squash soup and drank some excellent Malbec.
As the waiter removed our bowls, I boldly asked him whether the chef would consider sharing the recipe. A few minutes later, as we ate our apple crisp, a torn piece of paper was placed next to my wine glass. No directions, no measured amounts. Just a list of seemingly incongruous ingredients: Maple syrup, almond butter, soy sauce, and several others I can’t recall. “That’s all I could get out of him,” our waiter shrugged. He got a big tip.
Having arrived after dark, we awoke the following morning to bursts of yellows, reds and oranges practically knocking on our window like a Technicolor film. An hour later, we were in Hanover. An hour after that, we were ditching our dull tour guide and heading for lunch.
What grabs a prospective student? Of course, the most important factors are the curriculum, the size, the location and the rankings from various trusted publications, but the visit itself is right up there. A boring guide or even a rainy day can drop a school down a peg or two. Conversely, superficial elements like an intoxicating aroma emanating from a dining hall or showing up on homecoming weekend or winter carnival can totally seduce. Maybe we didn’t dig Dartmouth because our tour guide droned on too much about herself and wasn’t a nimble backwards walker, or maybe it was because Astrid’s mom, a Dartmouth alum, hadn’t loved her time there. Who knows? We all agreed that the best part about Hanover was Boloco Burritos. It always goes back to the food. The food, and whether there’s a good coffee place in town.
Astrid’s first impressions of Middlebury proved to be true love. Our son ended up going there, too, and now that everyone’s graduated, we miss visiting that sweet town. But we have our photos and our sweatshirts and a whole new set of friends–both our kids friends and their parents.
I have no idea where that piece of torn paper from the Kedron Valley Inn is, but whenever I make the soup, I stir in those curious ingredients and one or two new ones, just for fun. To me, this soup is meant for experimentation. And even though we didn’t discover it in Middlebury proper, making it always takes me back to those weekends, where one tour guide, or one soup, or one soy latte held more influence in our kids’ futures than any of us might have realized it at the time. So glad we tipped that waiter.
- 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
- 1 large onion
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 TK apple, cored and sliced
- 8-10 fresh sage leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary, de-sprigged
- 8-10 fresh mint leaves
- 8 T olive oil
- 2 T almond butter
- 2 T maple syrup
- 1 T soy sauce
- 2 c cooked wild rice or forbidden black rice
Preheat oven to 400. In large bowl, mix 3 T olive oil with squash and apple, making sure each piece is well coated. Place on separate rimmed baking dishes (one small for the apple, two medium or large for squash) and put in oven. After 10 minutes, remove apple dish. Leave squash in for 10-15 minutes more, stirring every five minutes or so. Remove from oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, in large Dutch oven, heat 2 T olive oil. Add onion, stirring 8-10 minutes until transparent and soft. Add the herbs and let cook for about 5 minutes, then add broth, squash and apple. Bring to boil, then turn heat down to simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in maple syrup, almond butter and soy sauce and let sit for another 10 minutes. Transfer into food processor or Vitamix and pulse until desired smoothness (we like it to still have some texture). Return to Dutch oven and stir in rice. Serves 6-8.