Archive for the ‘Seven Days’ Category

Sunbathing, dancing, doing homework (or not), getting married and having sex are just a few good uses of the Flying Diaper. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about an actual diaper. The Flying Diaper is the unofficial name of a structure on the University of Vermont’s Redstone Campus that just happens to resemble a diaper if it were upside down and, well, flying.

UVM students pass the Diaper every day en route to classes or Patrick Gymnasium. Its location is also a great place to nap, or have a snowball fight.

For a few years, students could even watch a live cable feed of goings-on in front of the Diaper by tuning to channel 13 on their dorm-room sets. UVMtv, the student-run television station, used to be located in the bottom of Coolidge Hall, a building near the Diaper. Then technical director Trav Fryer rigged it so a camera filming the structure connected directly to the cable network.

Once, UVM Diaper legend has it, some students forgot about the surveillance and were caught enjoying illicit substances near the Diaper. The opportunity for late-night Diaper amusement was lost, however, when the camera was taken down at the end of the 2009 academic year, when UVMtv moved into its current Davis Center location.

Students have a strange fascination with the Diaper, mainly because few know why it’s there in the first place. Even professors who have been at the university for years admit they don’t know the origins of this oddly shaped structure. The only clue available to the curious investigator is the rumor that engineering students were behind it.

Turns out, the rumor is correct. An inquiry to UVM’s engineering department reveals that the Flying Diaper was built in 1968 by the graduating civil-engineering class, and it’s officially called a hyperbolic paraboloid — in engineering slang, a “hypar.” It’s a shape made entirely from straight lines that appears curved — hence its strange appearance.

In the spring of ’68, assistant professor of civil engineering Burdette “Bud” Stearns taught a course on the mechanics of materials. Mid-semester, Stearns assigned his 23 students a design project and, to make it interesting, divided the students into groups to compete with each other.

When the designs were complete, the class regrouped and voted on the best. The winning design, by Burlington native William Arnold, was chosen for its practicality and the ease with which it could be built. It was a hypar — our future Flying Diaper.

Then Ralph Clark — a nontraditional student who had worked in construction — suggested the class actually build the hypar. All the students pitched in, and local firms, including Vermont Structural Steel and Anderson Ready Mix of Waterbury, donated the necessary materials.

Stearns managed to bypass university red tape and gain permission to build the structure on the modern-day Redstone Campus. The feat still astounds current UVM engineering professor Jeffrey Laible, one of Stearns’ former students.

Clark took charge as foreman, and the building process began. Laible recalls that the group was lucky the weather held. The Rutland Herald ran an article noting that the sunshine gave the male engineering students a different set of problems — distracting “coeds” sunbathing on the lawn. (Redstone used to be the female campus).

The group had to build a wooden mold and fit it with steel bars to support the concrete after it was poured. Pouring the concrete was the trickiest part of the process, since it had to be done in one go. The students worked in shifts of five or six for three full days to pour all the concrete.

“Well, we ordered pizza and [brought along] other sorts of things that we weren’t supposed to have. It was a good time,” Laible says. “Of all the things in my undergraduate experience, this was the most valuable one,” he adds. “You went from theory to actually building it.”

In 2003, the Diaper faced a serious threat — it was targeted for destruction to make way for new university parking lots. But another of Stearns’ former students came to its rescue. Like Laible, Jean-Guy Béliveau helped build the Diaper in 1968 and returned to UVM as a professor. Béliveau clearly had a special place in his heart for the structure — when he got married in nearby St. Augustine Chapel, the couple’s receiving line passed under the Diaper.

Béliveau joined his daughter, Chantal, a member of UVM’s civil and environmental engineering class of 1997, to speak for the Diaper at Burlington City Hall, and the university ended up sparing it. When Béliveau passed away in 2009, part of his memorial service was held under the hypar.

The Flying Diaper remains in its rightful location to this day. Nowadays, a quick search will bring up videos of students freestyle skiing off the Diaper, but usually it hosts more peaceful pursuits. The UVM students of 1968 and 2010 aren’t so different — they know a great napping spot when they see one.

Published in print and online by Seven Days on 08/18/2010. Read it here.


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Head Trip

It’s just after midnight, and a late-night snack is in order. Downtown has some decent options: You can order from Big Daddy’s Pizza, head over to Kountry Kart Deli for a Rise & Shiner, or maybe grab a falafel at Ahli Baba’s Kabob Shop. Or, you can have fresh, homemade chocolate-chip cookies delivered to your doorstep.

A love of sweets and some entrepreneurial flair went into the creation of Hungry Headies, a late-night cookie-delivery service. Founders Greg Ramey and Wyatt Fowler, both community entrepreneurship majors at the University of Vermont, started the company on a whim. They began making cookies to satisfy their own nocturnal snacking needs and thought maybe others would be interested, too.

After UVM’s 2010 spring break, the pair put up posters — as a joke, they say, since they weren’t sure they’d have any takers. Little did they realize that nighttime cookie demand in Burlington was, well, high.

“We didn’t have hours when we first started,” Ramey says. “I had people calling me at 4 o’clock in the morning asking for cookies, and I was, like, ‘I need to sleep, man.’”

After the posters brought them their first orders, the two nascent businessmen set some official hours: Thursday through Saturday, delivery begins at 10 p.m. and continues until 3 in the morning. After just a few weeks, Ramey and Fowler had gained some very loyal customers. “A friend of a friend told me about it, and I’ve been all over it,” says UVM senior Aaron “AJ” Kasen. “How can you not like cookie-delivery service fresh to your door?”

Ramey and Fowler make sure the goods are fresh by whipping up a batch of 200 cookies from scratch at about 8 p.m. in the basement of their fraternity, Sigma Phi. If they run out, they make more — sometimes 600 cookies in a night.

Fowler, Ramey says, is the mind behind the cookies. His love of cooking is one of the reasons the guys started baking in the first place. They kept tweaking Fowler’s recipe and feeding the test runs to their fraternity brother and to high school buddy Ax Hayssen.

“I was one of the main testers,” Hayssen says. “I probably tasted 100 cookies.” Poor guy.

After two weeks of having their treats turn out too gooey or too dense, the duo had an “aha” moment. Now, with just the right balance of chips to batter, their cookies have the perfect consistency. Hayssen raves about them: “I’m a big cookie person,” he says. “I put [Hungry Headies cookies] on the same level as Oreos and milk, and that’s saying something.” Hayssen encourages customers to ask for milk with their cookies.

At first, moo juice was on the menu every night, but, Ramey says, people were too picky about whether it was skim, whole or 1 percent. Now, he and Fowler bring along a gallon jug of milk on their delivery rounds and pour out some if customers ask nicely and pay a couple of dollars extra. Other add-ons are energy drinks and Hungry Headies chocolate syrup (i.e., Hershey’s syrup with “Hungry Headies” written all over the bottle).

The head Hungry Heads keep their customers updated on specials and other events via Facebook and Twitter. They even have a competition for the “Hungriest Head of the Week,” which is more about enthusiasm than the number of cookies consumed. “We’ve had people with vomit on them order. It gets pretty rowdy,” Ramey says. “You can always tell when someone is competing to be Hungriest Head.” The winner gets a featured photo on the Hungry Headies Facebook page.

The owners have stories galore. Ramey’s favorite is about the time somebody requested delivery to the South Burlington McDonald’s. At first he and Fowler thought the Mickey D’s staff had the munchies, but they got blank looks at the front counter, and eventually found their customers sitting at a table.

Far-flung deliveries like that one aren’t rare. While Hungry Headies originally targeted campus-dwelling UVM students, Ramey and Fowler say most of their cookies end up in downtown Burlington.

The cookies aren’t available during the summer, but the arrival of the fall semester means Hungry Headies will reopen in full force: Students and townies alike will be able to order packs of a half-dozen cookies for $5, a dozen for $9, or two dozen for $16. The owners have plans to expand, too; they’re in the process of making T-shirts, relocating their kitchen and searching for a pro skier to represent them. They’re even sponsoring rapper Wiz Khalifa’s concert at UVM in the fall.

Despite all the time and effort the service takes to manage, Ramey and Fowler have fun. “It doesn’t really feel like work. [It’s] like a party, delivering cookies,” Ramey says.

Hayssen chimes in. “[Hungry Heads] are people who enjoy life … and want good cookies to complement their good life,” he says. “If you are a Hungry Heady, you are hungry for cookies and a whole lot more.”

Published in print and online by Seven Days on 08/18/2010. Read it here.

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For six hours, Jason Frishman — cofounder with his wife, Shana Witkin, of specialty-food company FolkFoods — and 10 close friends have been working together to create an almost ludicrous amount of Master Sauce. The flavorful condiment, sold at the couple’s booth at the Burlington Farmers Market, is made from a slew of flavorful ingredients, including carrots, maple syrup, tamarind and fiery habanero peppers.

“All right, everyone,” Frishman says as he begins to set up the jar-filling station, “when you go to the bathroom, don’t touch your genitals once you’ve touched the peppers.”

“Don’t touch anyone else’s genitals, either,” Frishman’s longtime friend and neighbor, Chapin Spencer, says with a smirk.

Putting body parts at risk is a given when one decides to help make FolkFoods’ summer supply of its signature sauce — 650 gallons’ worth. Since it isn’t something a home kitchen can handle, at 8 a.m. on a sunny summer day, Frishman and friends began production in the Vermont Food Venture Center in Fairfax.

A run-down, practically windowless building, the center houses an industrial-sized kitchen that can be rented by small food businesses that would not otherwise have access to one large enough to meet their needs. It has everything, including a Cuisinart the size of a small bathtub.

Peeling paint, grungy rooms and “well-loved” supplies make the 14-year-old building look like it’s on its last legs. The center will move to a new, modernized location in Hardwick next January.

Frishman, usually sunny and full of energy, looks a little glum when someone mentions the center’s relocation. It takes him forever to drive down to Hardwick, he points out, and he still doesn’t know where or how he’ll make his sauce after the move.

Frishman’s positive attitude returns when Eric Van Vlandren, compost manager at Burlington’s Intervale Center and a close friend, bursts into the room hallooing cheers and waving his arms. It’s the kind of reaction Frishman, whose day job is working as a family therapist, seems to elicit on a regular basis.

“I love working with Jason. He has such a carefree personality,” says Brittany Langdon, a FolkFoods employee, housesitter for the couple and friend.

Langdon starts directing traffic and setting up workstations — one for chopping two huge sacks’ worth of white and purple onions, one for measuring spices, one for cleaning.

Watching the scene unfold, it’s easy to see why Frishman attributes his success to his pals. Master Sauce was invented seven years ago when Frishman and Witkin were trying to write a cookbook, not build a company. After three years of urging by his sauce-besotted friends, Frishman finally decided to sell it. “The booth, the bottle’s label, the name — it couldn’t have happened without my friends,” he says.

For example, when crises hit, Frishman has ultimate handyman Sky Lewe on his side.

“What do you mean, the scale is broken?” Frishman asks, hanging on to a jug of cumin. A few minutes later, with the help of a pocketknife and batteries, Lewe has the scale up and running.

Next, helpers dump out gallons of maple syrup and jars of tamarind. To his friends’ chagrin, Frishman’s favorite brand of the pungent pulp comes only in relatively tiny, 16-ounce containers.

As each ingredient is prepared, the crew divides it equally between two huge cooking pots in the back of the room. The pots are set to a low simmer, and everyone gets a chance to stir the concoction with a five-foot-long whisk.

An immersion blender goes into the sauce next, and people begin to cough as fermented habanero pepper fumes from the vats fill the room. “It’s like going to a Cheech & Chong concert, except worse,” Van Vlandren says with a wink.

As the jarring process commences, the laid-back Vermonters form an automotive-style assembly line. Each jar must be placed under a mechanical funnel that spurts exactly six-and-a-half ounces of sauce, then lidded and boxed.

After five hours and numerous habanero burns — which make the skin sting for at least 24 hours — all the sauce is processed.

Given the time commitment, one would think Frishman must be making a great profit when he sells the sauce for $6.50 a jar, but he says he only makes enough to cover costs. He jokes that it’s because he gives away all his sauce to friends. “We don’t have money, and we don’t have time,” he says. “But what we do have is food, and that we can be generous with.”

Frishman holds up the final jar of sauce with a ceremonial flourish. “Done!” he exclaims.

When someone in the group asks what she should do with her allotment of free sauce — which has a subtle, intense heat mixed with a fruity spiciness — Frishman replies that it goes well in curries and on grilled-cheese sandwiches and eggs.

Van Vlandren has a different response. He looks at the questioner blankly, as if she should already know the answer. “Everything,” he says.

Published in print and online by Seven Days on 08/04/2010. Read it here.

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