Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower, and a forgotten favorite hike – Stony Brook

As I’ve been saying, we started hiking again a few weeks back. Trying to get ourselves back in shape after spending so many months working from home and sitting on the couch all weekend because we couldn’t go anywhere. Well, masks are still required here in MA, and most shops and indoor spaces are either not open to the public, or have limited occupancy. So why not get out and explore now that the weather is New England gorgeous!

Burges Pond from the north side trail looking out to the beach on the girls’ side.

Dorothy had it right, you can find special places in your own backyard

A few weeks ago we visited a park that we’ve been to many times. We’ve hiked there with the dogs, brought friends over for a quick walk to the pond on New Year’s Day. And even stumbled across a LARPing wedding proposal being filmed. We got to watch but were asked to stay clear of the camera since everyone was dressed in their warrior gear to surprise the soon-to-be newly engaged!

It’s a park just down the street from us, one we kind of take for granted. But we hadn’t been there in a year or more. This resulted in our deciding it was time to rediscover a newly renamed place (It used to be referred to as East Boston Camps) now known as Stony Brook Conservation Land and located just down the street from our house. Stony Brook Conservation Land is owned by the Westford Conservation Trust.

Early isn’t as early as you’d expect!

We planned on meeting our friend Sandy around 7:30 am. Even at that early hour, there were cars parked. This place is deceiving and easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The first parking lot you see from the main street is directly across from a Farm Stand, currently for sale. Parking is along the edge of a railroad track, and next to the bridge crossing Stony Brook. But if you drive further in, there is additional parking further down, under the trees. In fact, when we arrived that morning, there were probably 10 cars already, but we only ran into maybe 3 or 4 people on our walk!

Dog-friendly but a challenging path. Wear sturdy shoes!

Dogs are welcome on the trails, on-leash. Most people are respectful with their dogs, stepping off the trail to let us by. In the past, we’ve brought our corgi and our terrier mix to hike, but it can be a rugged trail, and holding onto a leash while maneuvering over roots, and along narrow paths, pond-side can be challenging. Some people take dogs there off-leash, but I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a very woodsy nearly 400-acre parcel, filled with lots of wildlife including birds, deer, foxes, fisher cats, bobcats, and a lot of other furry residents. I’m sure there have even been a few bears wandering those forests.

The boat house as seen from the loop trail. You can easily walk down to the pond.

The Fresh Air Fund and East Boston Camps

The park was originally owned by East Boston Camps (a “Fresh Air camp”). The group brought inner-city children out to the country back in the 30s. Read my earlier blog post about my previous experience with the fresh-air program. The property is still partially occupied by the EBC. Buildings include boys and girls cabins (on opposite sides of the pond), a dining hall, and grounds. The grounds are used for a day camp, and the buildings are also available for rental during the Spring and Fall. The biggest draw for us is the pond, Burges Pond is a beautiful spot for your water-loving dog to take a dip or chase a stick, and covers about 25 acres. There is also a trail looping the pond that is about 1.75 miles long. Get to the park early since parking does fill up. At times groups are hiking, and when summer day camp is in session, others are given limited access to hiking but must stay away from the camping areas. Arriving early ensures you’ll not only have a place to park your vehicle, but most of the trail areas will be a fairly solitary space. You’ll be amazed at the natural silence, broken only by bird song, frogs croaking in the pond, and an occasional chipmunk or squirrel sounding an alarm. As you walk on the west side of the pond, watch for the giant beaver dam! There are also many fallen trees, with the tell-tale signs of beaver teeth assisting in their demise.

This is a beautiful space that we visit often. But we forget about it when we’re thinking about places to go for a day outdoors. In like manner, thinking about recipes, cauliflower is NOT one that immediately comes to mind. But in the store this week, fresh cauliflower was on sale, and I couldn’t resist. So here is my recognition and respectful treatment of a vegetable that doesn’t always spring to mind when you’re thinking about dinner! But it should!

Cheesy roasted cauliflower with walnuts

  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 1 ½ TB minced garlic
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • Fresh ground Himalayan pink salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 ½ TB chopped walnuts
  • Fresh dill and thyme (1 TB or more)
  • ¼ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

Since cauliflower heads vary in size, use the above measurements and your personal taste as your guide.

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  • Toss cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, walnuts, and herbs into a bowl and toss until well mixed and coated.
Cauliflower tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs
  • Spread in a single layer on a sided baking sheet ( so you can stir everything without it falling off).
  • Bake for 15 minutes on the center rack.
  • Remove and stir/flip the cauliflower so it can brown on the other side.
Roasted cauliflower with parmesan and walnuts served with roasted pork loin
  • Bake for 10 minutes more or until the cauliflower is softened to your liking.
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately. The flavor of roasted walnuts and cauliflower with melted parmesan is so good! The two of us ate the entire thing!