A culinary online center dedicated to promoting the importance and the joy of American home cooking with an emphasis on local products and talent, celebrating the unique spirit and energy of the new food world ethos, especially in Vermont.

amuse bouche

I love quotes that add meaning to my life. Here are a few to live by:

We can dramatically increase global food availability and environmental sustainability by using more of our crops to feed people directly and less to fatten livestock.
—Jonathan A. Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment, U of MN

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
—Michael Pollan

Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.
—Craig Claiborne

People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed food.
—Michael Pollan

Two Last Meals, Part 1: Lunch at the Circus Smirkus Pie Car

L to R: Amity Stoddard (chef), Kattie Schroeder (head chef), Jessi Lundeen (chef), Willow Yonika (local foods coordinator), Judith Jones, Bronwyn Dunne & Cathy Donnelly.

What is it about last meals? No, not that kind of last meal, though I’ve had a thought, now and then, about what I would order on my last day on earth. We’ve probably all had that idea. Food is so important to our lives.

The two “last meals” I’ve just had were celebratory and not at all final, really, because both of the dining rooms I ate in are seasonal ones. They’ll be up and running again next spring.

The First Meal & The Second Meal
The first meal was a lunch, the last lunch in the Pie Car at Circus Smirkus, a favorite icon of Vermont’s inherent spirit of fun and adventure. The second meal was a breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, the hostelry in which I would most love to spend a long weekend. It is so redolent of the Gilded Age, a vanished America, that I always feel like a character in a 19th century children’s book when I enter the dining room.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I had my last breakfast, there was my last lunch.

A Last Lunch
My stepmother, Judith Jones, and I, with friend, Cathy Donnelly, owner of the Lakeview Inn on Caspian Lake in the Northeast Kingdom, met in Greensboro, Vermont, on a beautiful late summer morning to join Marialisa Calta, food writer and friend of the circus, for an early lunch with an intrepid group of young performers at the Pie Car of Circus Smirkus. It was their last lunch before the last matinee performance of the summer season. At the end of the day, the whole troupe would be saying good-bye to each other and the Big Top, until another circus season.

Now, you ask, why is the dining room of the circus called the Pie Car? In this case, it was a very stationary building on the farm property that Circus Smirkus has called “home” for the last twenty-five years. But the tradition of circus meals is one of the many traditions that make the life of the circus a marvelous potpourri of discipline, history and lore, hence, a name with a past.

Circus Smirkus cooks in the Pie Car

Cars that Moved Where the Circus Moved
Circuses once travelled by train or wagon, so their dining rooms and kitchens were either in train cars or, in earlier times, rolling rooms that were on wheels attached to horse rigs. Either way, they were food-making and eating “cars” and they moved where the circus moved.

The “pie” part of the name is still a bit of a mystery. It’s not because clowns throw pies at each other, if that was what you might be thinking. It’s probably because pies were a staple of food making for large crowds of people in the early days of circus life. Meat and vegetable pies, as well as fruit and custard pies, are filling, cheap and easy to make in large quantities. 

But pies weren’t on the menu for the last lunch. And the kitchen for the troupe’s dining room was actually in a food car, like one of the food cars that you see at fair grounds, not a train car. When I peeked inside the tiny space, I thought, “It doesn’t matter what we have for lunch because anything cooked in this space will be miraculous.” 

A Miraculous Meal
And close to miraculous it was! Judith, Cathy, Marialisa and I joined the acrobats, clowns and aerialists, all vibrant, young and hungry. Before us on a series of tables covered with oilcloth was a feast of vegetable soup, stuffed pasta, overflowing bowls of fresh vegetables and several salads, accompanied by several different kinds of bread and cheese. The piece de resistance was a dish of chicken with artichokes flavored with honey. It was delicious. As we sat under the dining tent that extended the dining room onto the field outside, we asked Katie Schroeder, the head cook, and her staff of two, Amity Stoddard and Jessi Lundeen, if our lunch was typical Circus Smirkus fare. “Absolutely,” was the answer, “We have to feed a lot of hungry people everyday, but we enjoy making the meals as good and as interesting as possible.” See the recipe for Chicken with Artichokes and Honey.

A Circus Smirkus act

Running Away to the Circus
It was a lunch filled with surprises, the best being the appearance of the founder of the Circus Smirkus, Rob Mermin. I felt so honored that he’d taken time to sit with us and tell us a little of his story. I immediately saw the connection he had with the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. He had the same ageless physical grace and sense of wonder. It was not a surprise that Marceau was a mentor. Later, when I read about the difficulties of Mermin’s first decade and the trials of starting Circus Smirkus, I was even more touched by the special lunch we’d had. All had come true from Mermin’s early dream of running away to the circus. It was right there, on that bright summer day, surrounded by the kids who were inspired by him as we shared a meal in the Pie Car.

The Capital Camp-aign, 2013
Rob Mermin’s circus dream turned into a reality for him and now it is going one step further with a new home for the circus camp, in the heart of Greensboro, Vermont. The Capital Camp–aign 2013 is an effort to raise moneyfor this expansion of the circus facilities. The campaign will make it possible for 200 more children to have the fun and excellent training Circus Smirkus provides, resulting in the opportunity for more kids to “run away to the circus.” If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, check out their website, www.smirkus.org or contact the office by calling 802-533-7443.

Taste Memory
After lunch, we joined the young performers at the last matinee, a time-traveling explosion of classic circus acts, but when it was over, the circus was over, and catching up with “The Three Graces,” as I called the Pie Car cooks, ran into difficulties. Not able to connect with them, I’ve relied on my memory for the recipe for chicken with artichokes and honey. When you try my recipe, I hope you’ll like it.  It’s an example of what can be done with just the taste memory of a dish and the basic skills to pull it together. After some experimentation, I finally think I’ve got it right, a really special chicken dish inspired by the one created for the Circus Smirkus gang by Katie, Amity and Jessi in the tiny Pie Car kitchen.  

Please check back next week for Part 2, A Last Breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

A Bientot!

Posted: 11-3-2012

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What is it about last meals? No, not that kind of last meal, though I’ve had a thought, now and then, about what I would order on my last day on earth. We’ve probably all had that idea. Food is so important to our lives.

The two “last meals” I’ve just had were celebratory and not at all final, really, because both of the dining rooms I ate in are seasonal ones. They’ll be up and running again next spring.

The First Meal & The Second Meal
The first meal was a lunch, the last lunch in the Pie Car at Circus Smirkus, a favorite icon of Vermont’s inherent spirit of fun and adventure. The second meal was a breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, the hostelry in which I would most love to spend a long weekend. It is so redolent of the Gilded Age, a vanished America, that I always feel like a character in a 19th century children’s book when I enter the dining room.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I had my last breakfast, there was my last lunch.

A Last Lunch
My stepmother, Judith Jones, and I, with friend, Cathy Donnelly, owner of the Lakeview Inn on Caspian Lake in the Northeast Kingdom, met in Greensboro, Vermont, on a beautiful late summer morning to join Marialisa Calta, food writer and friend of the circus, for an early lunch with an intrepid group of young performers at the Pie Car of Circus Smirkus. It was their last lunch before the last matinee performance of the summer season. At the end of the day, the whole troupe would be saying good-bye to each other and the Big Top, until another circus season.

Now, you ask, why is the dining room of the circus called the Pie Car? In this case, it was a very stationary building on the farm property that Circus Smirkus has called “home” for the last twenty-five years. But the tradition of circus meals is one of the many traditions that make the life of the circus a marvelous potpourri of discipline, history and lore, hence, a name with a past.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"] Circus Smirkus cooks in the Pie Car[/caption]

Cars that Moved Where the Circus Moved
Circuses once travelled by train or wagon, so their dining rooms and kitchens were either in train cars or, in earlier times, rolling rooms that were on wheels attached to horse rigs. Either way, they were food-making and eating “cars” and they moved where the circus moved.

The “pie” part of the name is still a bit of a mystery. It’s not because clowns throw pies at each other, if that was what you might be thinking. It’s probably because pies were a staple of food making for large crowds of people in the early days of circus life. Meat and vegetable pies, as well as fruit and custard pies, are filling, cheap and easy to make in large quantities. 

But pies weren’t on the menu for the last lunch. And the kitchen for the troupe’s dining room was actually in a food car, like one of the food cars that you see at fair grounds, not a train car. When I peeked inside the tiny space, I thought, “It doesn’t matter what we have for lunch because anything cooked in this space will be miraculous.” 

A Miraculous Meal
And close to miraculous it was! Judith, Cathy, Marialisa and I joined the acrobats, clowns and aerialists, all vibrant, young and hungry. Before us on a series of tables covered with oilcloth was a feast of vegetable soup, stuffed pasta, overflowing bowls of fresh vegetables and several salads, accompanied by several different kinds of bread and cheese. The piece de resistance was a dish of chicken with artichokes flavored with honey. It was delicious. As we sat under the dining tent that extended the dining room onto the field outside, we asked Katie Schroeder, the head cook, and her staff of two, Amity Stoddard and Jessi Lundeen, if our lunch was typical Circus Smirkus fare. “Absolutely,” was the answer, “We have to feed a lot of hungry people everyday, but we enjoy making the meals as good and as interesting as possible.” See the recipe for Chicken with Artichokes and Honey.

[caption id="attachment_1068" align="alignleft" width="240"] A Circus Smirkus act[/caption]

Running Away to the Circus
It was a lunch filled with surprises, the best being the appearance of the founder of the Circus Smirkus, Rob Mermin. I felt so honored that he’d taken time to sit with us and tell us a little of his story. I immediately saw the connection he had with the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. He had the same ageless physical grace and sense of wonder. It was not a surprise that Marceau was a mentor. Later, when I read about the difficulties of Mermin’s first decade and the trials of starting Circus Smirkus, I was even more touched by the special lunch we’d had. All had come true from Mermin’s early dream of running away to the circus. It was right there, on that bright summer day, surrounded by the kids who were inspired by him as we shared a meal in the Pie Car.

The Capital Camp-aign, 2013
Rob Mermin’s circus dream turned into a reality for him and now it is going one step further with a new home for the circus camp, in the heart of Greensboro, Vermont. The Capital Camp–aign 2013 is an effort to raise moneyfor this expansion of the circus facilities. The campaign will make it possible for 200 more children to have the fun and excellent training Circus Smirkus provides, resulting in the opportunity for more kids to “run away to the circus.” If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, check out their website, www.smirkus.org or contact the office by calling 802-533-7443.

Taste Memory
After lunch, we joined the young performers at the last matinee, a time-traveling explosion of classic circus acts, but when it was over, the circus was over, and catching up with “The Three Graces,” as I called the Pie Car cooks, ran into difficulties. Not able to connect with them, I’ve relied on my memory for the recipe for chicken with artichokes and honey. When you try my recipe, I hope you’ll like it.  It’s an example of what can be done with just the taste memory of a dish and the basic skills to pull it together. After some experimentation, I finally think I’ve got it right, a really special chicken dish inspired by the one created for the Circus Smirkus gang by Katie, Amity and Jessi in the tiny Pie Car kitchen.  

Please check back next week for Part 2, A Last Breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

A Bientot!

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What is it about last meals? No, not that kind of last meal, though I’ve had a thought, now and then, about what I would order on my last day on earth. We’ve probably all had that idea. Food is so important to our lives.

The two “last meals” I’ve just had were celebratory and not at all final, really, because both of the dining rooms I ate in are seasonal ones. They’ll be up and running again next spring.

The First Meal & The Second Meal
The first meal was a lunch, the last lunch in the Pie Car at Circus Smirkus, a favorite icon of Vermont’s inherent spirit of fun and adventure. The second meal was a breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, the hostelry in which I would most love to spend a long weekend. It is so redolent of the Gilded Age, a vanished America, that I always feel like a character in a 19th century children’s book when I enter the dining room.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I had my last breakfast, there was my last lunch.

A Last Lunch
My stepmother, Judith Jones, and I, with friend, Cathy Donnelly, owner of the Lakeview Inn on Caspian Lake in the Northeast Kingdom, met in Greensboro, Vermont, on a beautiful late summer morning to join Marialisa Calta, food writer and friend of the circus, for an early lunch with an intrepid group of young performers at the Pie Car of Circus Smirkus. It was their last lunch before the last matinee performance of the summer season. At the end of the day, the whole troupe would be saying good-bye to each other and the Big Top, until another circus season.

Now, you ask, why is the dining room of the circus called the Pie Car? In this case, it was a very stationary building on the farm property that Circus Smirkus has called “home” for the last twenty-five years. But the tradition of circus meals is one of the many traditions that make the life of the circus a marvelous potpourri of discipline, history and lore, hence, a name with a past.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"] Circus Smirkus cooks in the Pie Car[/caption]

Cars that Moved Where the Circus Moved
Circuses once travelled by train or wagon, so their dining rooms and kitchens were either in train cars or, in earlier times, rolling rooms that were on wheels attached to horse rigs. Either way, they were food-making and eating “cars” and they moved where the circus moved.

The “pie” part of the name is still a bit of a mystery. It’s not because clowns throw pies at each other, if that was what you might be thinking. It’s probably because pies were a staple of food making for large crowds of people in the early days of circus life. Meat and vegetable pies, as well as fruit and custard pies, are filling, cheap and easy to make in large quantities. 

But pies weren’t on the menu for the last lunch. And the kitchen for the troupe’s dining room was actually in a food car, like one of the food cars that you see at fair grounds, not a train car. When I peeked inside the tiny space, I thought, “It doesn’t matter what we have for lunch because anything cooked in this space will be miraculous.” 

A Miraculous Meal
And close to miraculous it was! Judith, Cathy, Marialisa and I joined the acrobats, clowns and aerialists, all vibrant, young and hungry. Before us on a series of tables covered with oilcloth was a feast of vegetable soup, stuffed pasta, overflowing bowls of fresh vegetables and several salads, accompanied by several different kinds of bread and cheese. The piece de resistance was a dish of chicken with artichokes flavored with honey. It was delicious. As we sat under the dining tent that extended the dining room onto the field outside, we asked Katie Schroeder, the head cook, and her staff of two, Amity Stoddard and Jessi Lundeen, if our lunch was typical Circus Smirkus fare. “Absolutely,” was the answer, “We have to feed a lot of hungry people everyday, but we enjoy making the meals as good and as interesting as possible.” See the recipe for Chicken with Artichokes and Honey.

[caption id="attachment_1068" align="alignleft" width="240"] A Circus Smirkus act[/caption]

Running Away to the Circus
It was a lunch filled with surprises, the best being the appearance of the founder of the Circus Smirkus, Rob Mermin. I felt so honored that he’d taken time to sit with us and tell us a little of his story. I immediately saw the connection he had with the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. He had the same ageless physical grace and sense of wonder. It was not a surprise that Marceau was a mentor. Later, when I read about the difficulties of Mermin’s first decade and the trials of starting Circus Smirkus, I was even more touched by the special lunch we’d had. All had come true from Mermin’s early dream of running away to the circus. It was right there, on that bright summer day, surrounded by the kids who were inspired by him as we shared a meal in the Pie Car.

The Capital Camp-aign, 2013
Rob Mermin’s circus dream turned into a reality for him and now it is going one step further with a new home for the circus camp, in the heart of Greensboro, Vermont. The Capital Camp–aign 2013 is an effort to raise moneyfor this expansion of the circus facilities. The campaign will make it possible for 200 more children to have the fun and excellent training Circus Smirkus provides, resulting in the opportunity for more kids to “run away to the circus.” If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, check out their website, www.smirkus.org or contact the office by calling 802-533-7443.

Taste Memory
After lunch, we joined the young performers at the last matinee, a time-traveling explosion of classic circus acts, but when it was over, the circus was over, and catching up with “The Three Graces,” as I called the Pie Car cooks, ran into difficulties. Not able to connect with them, I’ve relied on my memory for the recipe for chicken with artichokes and honey. When you try my recipe, I hope you’ll like it.  It’s an example of what can be done with just the taste memory of a dish and the basic skills to pull it together. After some experimentation, I finally think I’ve got it right, a really special chicken dish inspired by the one created for the Circus Smirkus gang by Katie, Amity and Jessi in the tiny Pie Car kitchen.  

Please check back next week for Part 2, A Last Breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

A Bientot!

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What is it about last meals? No, not that kind of last meal, though I’ve had a thought, now and then, about what I would order on my last day on earth. We’ve probably all had that idea. Food is so important to our lives.

The two “last meals” I’ve just had were celebratory and not at all final, really, because both of the dining rooms I ate in are seasonal ones. They’ll be up and running again next spring.

The First Meal & The Second Meal
The first meal was a lunch, the last lunch in the Pie Car at Circus Smirkus, a favorite icon of Vermont’s inherent spirit of fun and adventure. The second meal was a breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, the hostelry in which I would most love to spend a long weekend. It is so redolent of the Gilded Age, a vanished America, that I always feel like a character in a 19th century children’s book when I enter the dining room.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I had my last breakfast, there was my last lunch.

A Last Lunch
My stepmother, Judith Jones, and I, with friend, Cathy Donnelly, owner of the Lakeview Inn on Caspian Lake in the Northeast Kingdom, met in Greensboro, Vermont, on a beautiful late summer morning to join Marialisa Calta, food writer and friend of the circus, for an early lunch with an intrepid group of young performers at the Pie Car of Circus Smirkus. It was their last lunch before the last matinee performance of the summer season. At the end of the day, the whole troupe would be saying good-bye to each other and the Big Top, until another circus season.

Now, you ask, why is the dining room of the circus called the Pie Car? In this case, it was a very stationary building on the farm property that Circus Smirkus has called “home” for the last twenty-five years. But the tradition of circus meals is one of the many traditions that make the life of the circus a marvelous potpourri of discipline, history and lore, hence, a name with a past.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"] Circus Smirkus cooks in the Pie Car[/caption]

Cars that Moved Where the Circus Moved
Circuses once travelled by train or wagon, so their dining rooms and kitchens were either in train cars or, in earlier times, rolling rooms that were on wheels attached to horse rigs. Either way, they were food-making and eating “cars” and they moved where the circus moved.

The “pie” part of the name is still a bit of a mystery. It’s not because clowns throw pies at each other, if that was what you might be thinking. It’s probably because pies were a staple of food making for large crowds of people in the early days of circus life. Meat and vegetable pies, as well as fruit and custard pies, are filling, cheap and easy to make in large quantities. 

But pies weren’t on the menu for the last lunch. And the kitchen for the troupe’s dining room was actually in a food car, like one of the food cars that you see at fair grounds, not a train car. When I peeked inside the tiny space, I thought, “It doesn’t matter what we have for lunch because anything cooked in this space will be miraculous.” 

A Miraculous Meal
And close to miraculous it was! Judith, Cathy, Marialisa and I joined the acrobats, clowns and aerialists, all vibrant, young and hungry. Before us on a series of tables covered with oilcloth was a feast of vegetable soup, stuffed pasta, overflowing bowls of fresh vegetables and several salads, accompanied by several different kinds of bread and cheese. The piece de resistance was a dish of chicken with artichokes flavored with honey. It was delicious. As we sat under the dining tent that extended the dining room onto the field outside, we asked Katie Schroeder, the head cook, and her staff of two, Amity Stoddard and Jessi Lundeen, if our lunch was typical Circus Smirkus fare. “Absolutely,” was the answer, “We have to feed a lot of hungry people everyday, but we enjoy making the meals as good and as interesting as possible.” See the recipe for Chicken with Artichokes and Honey.

[caption id="attachment_1068" align="alignleft" width="240"] A Circus Smirkus act[/caption]

Running Away to the Circus
It was a lunch filled with surprises, the best being the appearance of the founder of the Circus Smirkus, Rob Mermin. I felt so honored that he’d taken time to sit with us and tell us a little of his story. I immediately saw the connection he had with the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. He had the same ageless physical grace and sense of wonder. It was not a surprise that Marceau was a mentor. Later, when I read about the difficulties of Mermin’s first decade and the trials of starting Circus Smirkus, I was even more touched by the special lunch we’d had. All had come true from Mermin’s early dream of running away to the circus. It was right there, on that bright summer day, surrounded by the kids who were inspired by him as we shared a meal in the Pie Car.

The Capital Camp-aign, 2013
Rob Mermin’s circus dream turned into a reality for him and now it is going one step further with a new home for the circus camp, in the heart of Greensboro, Vermont. The Capital Camp–aign 2013 is an effort to raise moneyfor this expansion of the circus facilities. The campaign will make it possible for 200 more children to have the fun and excellent training Circus Smirkus provides, resulting in the opportunity for more kids to “run away to the circus.” If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, check out their website, www.smirkus.org or contact the office by calling 802-533-7443.

Taste Memory
After lunch, we joined the young performers at the last matinee, a time-traveling explosion of classic circus acts, but when it was over, the circus was over, and catching up with “The Three Graces,” as I called the Pie Car cooks, ran into difficulties. Not able to connect with them, I’ve relied on my memory for the recipe for chicken with artichokes and honey. When you try my recipe, I hope you’ll like it.  It’s an example of what can be done with just the taste memory of a dish and the basic skills to pull it together. After some experimentation, I finally think I’ve got it right, a really special chicken dish inspired by the one created for the Circus Smirkus gang by Katie, Amity and Jessi in the tiny Pie Car kitchen.  

Please check back next week for Part 2, A Last Breakfast at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

A Bientot!

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3 responses to “Two Last Meals, Part 1: Lunch at the Circus Smirkus Pie Car”

  1. Nadia Roden says:

    This is wonderful! So informative and fun, thank you Bronwyn.

  2. Bronwyn says:

    I’m so happy the postcard reached you, somehow, Nadia. Hope you continue to find the blog a good place to share things. I’d love it if you had a Spoon Fed Story -any short story about a food experience you would like to share- you’d like to write. Let me know and we can post it. Your book will be reviewed soon on the blog.

  3. […] If you missed Part 1 of my “Two Last Meals” series, click here to read about my lunch wi… […]

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