Spring…Maybe, Stove…Definitely

I haven’t contributed an article to The Red House Project since September. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, it’s mainly been an overloaded work schedule and not any time to sit down and write. Plus I have to admit since I sit in front of a computer for sometimes 12-14 hours a day, spending another hour or two writing about the Red House is difficult.

We came up to the Red House for spring break week to hopefully speed the renovation process up a bit.  Lynn has finished painting the main guest bedroom and is currently working on the second, smaller one. It was a fairly big job since he had to take off all the moulding in the room, then put it back on when he finished painting. In the process, he also made all new baseboards which I think look very good.

IMG_7227We also managed to get our kitchen (finally!) painted and even have two of the four appliances we need (that would be the dishwasher and the gas stove) delivered this weekend. We still need a new fridge and a microwave, but I’ll have to hold off buying those other two things for now. I’m extremely pleased with the way the kitchen turned out (a lovely bright white) and now just have to think about cabinets and possibly a kitchen “island.”

IMG_7219We’ve also started work on the master bathroom. In the beginning, there was a small room (probably a nursery at one point) next to the master bedroom that I had used as my office. Once we realized that we’d have to walk through a guest bedroom if we needed to use the facilities, we decided the room should really be converted into a master bath if we could find someone who could do that without breaking the bank.  We’ve found that someone and the contractor we’ve hired managed to tear out the walls and floor boards and start all the plumbing necessary to put in a toilet, a shower and a vanity.

IMG_7225I’ve been with Lynn for 35 years and little did I know that he was very, very particular about toilets. We have lived in four different homes together (this being our fifth home), which means four different bathrooms over the course of our many years together! I, however, didn’t realize that he had a thing about cleaning the bottom of the toilet – you know that part where all the dirt and dust collects when it sits on the floor! Which led us to buy the only model available that didn’t have all the plumbing visible on the outside but was tucked nicely inside for a very clean look.

IMG_7235All I can say to this is, it just better work, especially since we had to haul it from the store into the car and from the car into the house including up 3 deck stairs! Who knew a toilet would be so heavy (the box said 90 pounds, to me it felt like 190!)

While the snow has melted on the property and it looks like our landscaper even mowed the back meadow at some point last week, there’s a lot of pruning and clean-up work that has to be done.

IMG_7228The fact is that besides planting the garlic, I don’t remember what else I planted or what survived this brutal winter. I know I have to take the hay off the garlic (put there in the fall to protect the crop) and at least rake up all the rest of the debris (including some old pumpkin vines!) I also looked for some signs of asparagus peeking up through the ground but I saw nothing. Also, even though I thought I planted as many garlic cloves as last year (over 70!), right now it appears that maybe half that number are coming up. What did seem to “spread” were my wild strawberry plants so if we can get to enjoy them before the bunnies and the deer that roam the property, I think they will be a very sweet treat.

Chives that I grow in a big wooden barrel are always abundant, so I snipped a few and threw them into a batch of scrambled eggs with goat cheese one morning.

IMG_7204I did spend most of an afternoon raking and even pulling up weeds when I realized half way through that weed pulling was an enormous waste of time before anything is planted. I did, however, make repeated trips with the wheelbarrow dumping dead “things” to our compost pile and since I haven’t been doing this kind of manual labor since last fall, it reminds me of what a great workout it is! (Meaning I was sweating like a dog.)

IMG_7260Also walking the property I came across tires that had been tossed into the bamboo as well as ramps that were in the forest on a path up to the waterfall.  First, I pulled the tires out from the tangle of bamboo.

IMG_7243Then I picked the ramps (digging them out with a pruner actually). I did have a thought that they might be poison-ramp look-alikes but figured what the hell. So I brought them in the house, washed them off, and plan to eat them for breakfast with a couple of fried eggs.

IMG_7239Besides the ramps, there are other little signs of springs, tulips that I don’t remember planting in a certain part of the garden have come up and when they do bloom (hope we’re up here to see it), they will be very pretty.

IMG_7249As I was walking the property though and seeing the signs of spring ever-so-slowly emerging, my heart kind of sank at the house itself. While we’ve made every effort this past year to keep the renovation moving (inside at least), the outside looks awful, and the only thing I can say is I feel really bad for my neighbors. We need a new roof, new siding and a new front walkway as well as entrance. I guess I need to apologize that this is what they have to look at day in and day out!

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IMG_7266On a different note, I went into town the other day and low and behold the supermarket is scheduled to open next week! When I inquired at the drugstore as to what day this will actually happen, the cashier told me they would be opening the store on April 21 to anyone who donated $5 to charity (what charity she didn’t know) giving people the option to “walk around” but not shop until the following day. For some reason I thought this was particularly funny; it’s almost as if the supermarket were being granted some sort of museum-like status. What were they thinking? Letting the townsfolk walk around and “oh and ah” at all the shelves stocked with different brands of soup, cereal and bottled water?

Speaking of museums, our handy Proctor Silex burner, the one thing that’s managed to cook our food these last four years, we think is worthy of being its very own installation piece. I’m thinking of taking off the legs and mounting it on one of the walls at the Red House, not only as an objet d’art, but also as a reminder of how very far we’ve come.

IMG_7210In case anyone is curious, this is what the new stove looks like. Yes, it’s gas, and yes, the oven is slightly smaller than the one we have on Long Island. I’m already thinking of what the first meal should be…

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Posted in Construction, cooking, Flowers, food, Gardening, Garlic, kitchen, Renovation, The Property, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The End of Summer…And Finally the Start of a Kitchen!

Unlike last summer where I had over 100 heads of garlic, this crop, because of all the rain (and the flooding in particular), yielded less than 50.  Of those 50, the cloves were very small.  I might have picked them too soon, but I was afraid if I kept them in the ground any longer they would rot and then I’d have nothing. And while most of the literature I’ve read about harvesting garlic insists you can do it with a fork, Lynn actually has to take a crowbar out to the garden to pull them up. Yes, the roots are that deep!

Once unearthed however, the German “reds” were tinged the exact shade of purple they were supposed to be. I’ve saved some cloves to plant in October but I think I’ll also have to pick up some more hearty varietals from a roadside farm market, too.

IMG_6813What’s left in the garden are tons of zucchini blossoms but only a few very large zucchini.

IMG_6984I picked the zucchini but also in error picked what I thought might be acorn squash which my newest contractor told me was pumpkin.

IMG_6959I contemplated putting the pumpkin back in the garden for the bunny to chew on but decided instead to take it back to Long Island to see if even after it’s picked it turns orange or simply rots. (My guess it will be the latter.)

The more exciting news to the end of the summer is that finally, my kitchen is underway. The walls have been stripped down to the studs, new framing has been put in, with insulation and new sheetrock to follow.

IMG_6927I also suddenly have electrical outlets.

IMG_6951And an indication where the fridge and dishwasher will go.

IMG_6948Unfortunately, while Lynn and I have been putting off thinking what type of floor to put in the kitchen, we suddenly had to make a very quick decision this weekend and pick out some tile.  Now, we had picked up tile samples of things we liked over the course of the summer and decided on a simple brown, but when we went back to the store to buy it, they had discontinued the exact shade of brown we had agreed upon. Which is how we ended up with this:

IMG_6957Ironically Lynn is the “fussy” one with things related to the way the Red House should look but when push came to shove (as in you need to make a decision now), he was actually kind of cool about the choice.

There’s still much plumbing to be done not to mention the painting we ourselves have to do, but at least it’s a start in the right direction.

I’m already thinking of next summer…when hopefully all the painting will be done and the appliances bought and installed.

Meanwhile, because of the crazy weather this summer, my bamboo, flowering madly on the property, seems to be confused. Normally this time of year it’s actually turning brown not lush like this.

IMG_6993Wouldn’t it be lovely if summer could start all over again? On second thought, no. I must admit though, we learned a lot of “skills” this summer. #1 being how to make sandbags, fill up gaping holes in a basement wall and not panic when you’re standing in 6 inches of water.

When I woke up this morning, our last day of summer at the Red House before we head back to Long Island, we found a sparrow in the house. Apparently we have many holes in the recently demo’d kitchen that need to be plugged since it appears that’s how the bird got inside. We opened all the windows in the living room and it managed to fly outside.

For those readers who remember my garlic story that I wrote this time last year in relationship to our daughter Rachel, you might be pleased to know that she is going to school in Florida next week. She had completed a trimester last spring and is now heading back to hopefully a productive and successful year. Like the sparrow, she’s managed to escape and for that Lynn and I are very very happy.

We didn’t work on the Red House all summer. We managed to take some time off to do a few things we really wanted to do: a short trip to Montreal, a couple of trips to our favorite lake, and lunch at a new winery. It’s the little stuff that makes me happy, really. Oh yeah, and the thought of next summer and a finished kitchen.

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Posted in Construction, cooking, food, Gardening, Garlic, kitchen, The Property, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning How To Make Sandbags

I didn’t plan on spending this past week up at the Red House learning how to make sandbags, but I did. My TOP TEN list of things I could have done this week included:

  1. Sleeping
  2. Making ice cream with my new ice cream maker.
  3. Sleeping some more.
  4. Having a pitcher of Mojitos.
  5. Grilling outside rather than trying to “cook” inside.
  6. Sleeping.
  7. Going to a lake (any lake).
  8. Going to a winery (any winery).
  9. Sleeping some more.
  10. Weeding the garden.

This, however is what I did instead.  I spent a lot of time in a cold smelly basement trying to figure out with Lynn where exactly all the water was seeping in from.

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See the weekend after we got our hot water back, we had a serious rain storm.  So severe in fact, that the water started pouring in from the walls like one of those crazy fountains you sometimes see in Italy (but minus the cute little angels or quirky gargoyles). The water simply shot forth from every nook and cranny, small fracture in the cement or hole in the foundation that wasn’t visible to even corrected eyesight.

Then there was the floor.  We saw water leaking not only from the walls but pouring in from the floor, too. We knew we were in big big trouble. As it kept raining, the water kept pouring in; I put on a pair of boots and grabbed a couple of buckets. Lynn grabbed a broom, and we tried to capture the water – first with the buckets, then with the broom pushing the water into the sump pump.  This took us nearly 2.5 hours when finally it stopped raining and the water stopped coming in.

The next morning we got up early (the day we were supposed to tackle #7 on my list (that would be going to a lake, any lake) and instead went to the big box hardware store to try and buy cement or something that we could use to shore up not only the walls but the foundation, too.  Problem was that the big box store RAN OUT OF ANYTHING that you could use to do such a task because apparently everyone else in the county I’m currently residing in had the same exact problem.

We got in the car and kept driving until we found a mom and pop store that had the last two buckets of “leak stopper” cement and a couple of brushes.  Oh yeah, we bought extra brushes, masks and a really big container of stuff you wipe on the walls after you’ve patched all the visible holes.

We also wanted to buy some work lights since we had none (which the big box store had) and sand bags (which they didn’t have.)  So, I ended up ordering the sandbags online and had them sent Fedex, then picked up some play sand that the big box store had in stock.

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Meanwhile, it hadn’t rained in nearly 24 hours so we decided to try and do some patching. Let’s just say it was an experience, and when we were finished nearly 12 hours later, I SIMPLY TOOK OFF MY CLOTHES IN THE LIVING ROOM AND THREW THEM AWAY. This is what the basement (patched and supposedly waterproofed) then looked like.

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Problem was the floor was still wet and actually with the mess we made trying to stop up all the holes and waterproof the walls, there was more paint on the floor than on the walls. This proved to be a good thing.  Why? Because suddenly we had a little river of paint that was running where it always collected (under the staircase) and hence, we were able to detect a few leaks in the corners that we had missed.

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Even though the smell of all this surely cancer-causing stuff was making me sick, I was actually thinking about food.  What I had wanted to make (peas from the garden with gnocchi) was not to be because this little guy ate all my peas!

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I still, however, had all the scapes I had cut from the garlic a few days prior, and decided to make a scape pesto.

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Now, while the scape pesto looked gorgeous, when I tasted it, it was vile.  I mean, really garlicky and bitter.  I did something I never ever do.  I actually threw the entire batch out.  Yet, now that I’m looking at the consistency, kind of like the cement we had been using to patch the basement, I wondered if perhaps it could have been used for that instead!

I did, however, leave just a tiny smidgen of scape pesto on the food processor blade (to give it a slight garlic flavor), went out to the garden to pick some fresh basil, and made “real” pesto that I then tossed with some linguine instead.

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And then I went to sleep! (At least I’m doing some of the things I wanted to do on my list!)

The next morning it was around 120 degrees, okay it was really 86 degrees, but the humidity was right up there and I was thinking if I had to do a still-life of what my summer should look like it would resemble this:

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I wanted a pitcher of Mojitos, buffalo chicken wings, and crunchy celery sticks with blue cheese. And geez, yes, I was able to make all of these good things although I did substitute blue cheese for Roquefort since that’s what was on sale at the supermarket.

I also wanted ice cream.  Meaning I wanted to make my own.  See, we have a really great Goodwill store in the town next to ours (that’s the town with the only supermarket, too!) and the last time I was there I picked up not just an “ice cream maker” but a La Glaciere for a mere $4.50!

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Yes, I did read the article that was floating around recently about how much the CEO of Goodwill makes (millions) versus how much he pays his disabled workers (22 cents an hour) but the fact is if I didn’t buy the La Glaciere someone else would have beaten me to it. So I did and I brought it home and washed it out and realized I had nothing to make ice cream with (ingredient-wise) but I did have store-bought vanilla ice cream, walnuts and a jar of hot fudge (hidden between the rum and the hot wing sauce in the picture.)

But first we had to make the sandbags. Now, if you’ll remember I paid extra to have them sent Fedex, so they would arrive in two days.  And while they did arrive in two days, in our town you have to go down to the post office to pick up any Fedex packages!  I didn’t ask why this was, I was just glad the post office was actually open, and that I was able to get my box of sandbags and take them home.  Once home we attempted to cut the bags of play sand open and dump them into the white bags.  Now play sand is for kids, right?  What would possess any manufacturer to put that much sand in a bag (50 lbs) so that mom or dad could easily break their backs trying to transform an old plastic tub or baby swimming pool into a sandlot for junior?  Really, I never knew these bags would be so frigging heavy!

Anyway, we managed to not spill half as much sand on the driveway as I thought we would, but poor Lynn, he’s a really strong guy but was just struggling with the weight of this sand.  We eventually filled all the bags and then had to carry them down into the basement.

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Lynn managed to carry two at a time, I was struggling carrying one. We laid them flat, like sausages, trying to make a barrier in front of the furnace, hoping that if we get 3-4 inches or more of water in the basement again, at least the furnace will be protected.  I don’t know if this will work out not, but at this point I was running out of ideas and it was the only thing I could think of.

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So back to the list.

#1,3,6,9 – We did sleep a lot. (Fitfully however, because of the day and night noise of all the county trucks going past our house carrying large loads of rocks that they were dumping in the creek north of us to try and stop the flow of water onto people’s properties.)

#4 – We did have a pitcher of Mojitos (and a couple of pitchers of vodka martinis (no vermouth!) too.

#5 – We did grill (mostly steak and the occasional hamburger).

# 7 – We did get to a lake (twice).

#10 – We did attempt to weed the garden but said screw it, there are too many weeds and it’s just too damn hot.

So, while I didn’t get to try out my new ice cream maker, I did learn how to make sandbags. And yes, gussied up store-bought ice cream with fresh strawberries, hot fudge sauce and walnuts was the perfect sweet ending to yet another Red House “adventure.”

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Posted in Basement, Dessert, Flooding, Furnace, Garlic, Meat, Renovation, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Definitely Not A Pioneer Woman

This past 4th of July tested me. First, with all the flooding that hit Central New York State in the past week, we weren’t sure what we would find when we got up to the Red House.  Thing is the Red House basement floods when it rains. With an avalanche of water pouring down from West Canada Creek then meeting up with both the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River we couldn’t even imagine what the damage might be.

So when we arrived late on July 3rd, everything appeared to be okay (granted it was dark). We had power so I was able to warm up a roast chicken with some potatoes I brought with me and then made a simple salad with cubes of  feta cheese. After dinner however I realized there was no hot water to wash the dishes. We went down to the basement and there was a puddle of water where it always is. The furnace appeared to be on but when I tried to turn up the thermostat to make sure the heat was working the radiators did not heat up.  Which meant we had no heat or hot water and if I wanted to wash some dishes I would have to boil water.  Taking a frigid shower wasn’t my idea of the perfect way to start off a holiday week but I managed.

In the morning I got on the phone with National Grid who didn’t want to tell me that they themselves might have cut the gas until the flooding in the area subsided. They weren’t going to turn it back on they informed me unless we hired a plumber who certified the inspection in writing that our equipment (furnace and hot water heater) was A-OK.

Problem was it was the 4th of July and we knew no plumber was coming to the Red House to do us that kind of favor.  So we got in the car and just went to the lake instead.  First however, we drove through the county and looked at the havoc this storm left.

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The debris lying on the street, from 1st floors and flooded basements I presumed, reminded me of the last storm we endured, Sandy.  Except while Sandy left sand, this storm left mud.

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Our community field was pretty much ruined also, although the pool seemed to be okay.

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We were also not prepared for the turbulence of the Erie Canal.  Here are a couple of shots of what is normally a very calm body of water.

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That said, all this water wrecked havoc on my garden.  There were weeds everywhere and the ground was saturated.  What made matters even worse was the fact that we had the sprinkler on a timer the last two weeks we hadn’t been at the house so besides the abundant rain fall, the garden was getting soaked by the sprinkler, too!  So while the lettuce seemed to thrive under these conditions, the tomatoes definitely did not.

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The peas that had been so prolific last year appeared to be chewed off exactly where the pod should have been.  Since I saw at least two if not three rabbits hopping away from the fence (guess the fence didn’t work), I can only assume they had themselves quite a feast.

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I did, however, learn my lesson from last year and cut off the scapes from the garlic.  I think I might have been about 2 weeks too late, but I cut them anyway and plan to make a garlic scape pesto from them.

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Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about how much of my day up at the Red House goes into preparing food.  Now with no hot water to bathe or wash the dishes, I’ve resorted to boiling the water in pots, actually, a pot (singular) is more accurate since I still only have the one electric burner and a small pot to make pasta in.  I found myself the day after the fourth of July spending an enormous amount of time prepping (I wanted  to make cole slaw), and cooking (followed by pulled pork sandwiches).

This summer I decided I couldn’t live without a food processor. Now, during the late 1850′s,  I realized the women living in the house before me had neither running water (hot or cold) and if they wanted something resembling cole slaw, they were chopping all the ingredients by hand.  Truthfully, if I had to choose between a hot shower and a food processor, my food processor would win hands down.

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But of course even the set-up wasn’t that simple. I had to put the food processor on a coffee table in the living room in order to plug it in, then walk through three other rooms to get to the kitchen sink to wash it out with cold water from the tap with a bit of hot water I had boiled in a pan.  I will admit I was already exhausted from the amount of time and steps it took to make and clean up this simple side dish! The only thing that didn’t make me totally lose my mind was that since it was roughly 87 degrees both inside and outside the house at least I wasn’t in a long skirt and a petticoat!

Meanwhile, back upstairs, Lynn was relying on the help of a 20th century tool, (a drywall lift) to help him get the sheetrock in place for one of the bedroom ceilings.

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Luckily, he managed to do this project without my help which gave me time to keep boiling pots of water to do all the pans and dishes. (I did at one point consider paper plates but I just hate the way food tastes on paper….)

We have been eating much of the lettuce that’s been growing in the garden — one salad comprised of Greek feta, cucumbers and grape tomatoes, the other simple lettuce leaves with big chunks of Roquefort cheese.

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Since we still have NO SUPERMARKET IN TOWN, I’m happy to bring up the cheese and even happier that I have lettuce growing in my garden.  Looking at how little they’ve accomplished on the site of where the supermarket should be, it’s difficult to even guess when a supermarket will be built and open for business.

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So right now I’m waiting for the plumber who hopefully will tell us the hot water heater and furnace is OK and then I can place a phone call to National Grid to get them to turn the gas back on.

The reality is that every time it rains up at the Red House, we have water seeping into the basement. Luckily we do have a sump pump but it doesn’t seem to handle the amount of water pouring in.  There could be a leak in the foundation or there could be water seeping in from someplace we can’t see or get to.

Lynn and I never minded the rain in our many years together and often would find ourselves forging ahead (especially when we were traveling) to see everything we wanted to see — bad weather or not.  Let’s hope our storm-related problems at the Red House end on a happy note, too.

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P.S. The rainbow after yesterday’s storm is faint but visible in the upper right hand corner of the shot.  A fitting tribute since the plumber just left. He simply lit the pilot lights in both the furnace and the hot water heater. He figured there had been about 4 inches or more of water in the basement but both very expensive pieces of equipment were just fine.  No call to National Grid would be required….

Posted in Cheese, cooking, food, Furnace, Gardening, Garlic, kitchen, The Property, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memorial Day Weekend: Weeds, BBQ, Fiddlehead Ferns And A Single Director’s Chair Left

As I’m writing this entry, it seems that not only was May dreary and wet but June is shaping up to be too. The weather was so bad when we drove up to the Red House for a long Memorial Day weekend that it took us nearly 1.5 hours longer than usual because the Saw Mill Parkway flooded and they closed the road.  Now, I don’t particularly mind detours provided there is adequate signage telling you how to get back on the road.  In Westchester though they apparently have their own rules since we drove around in circles near Ardsley for nearly an hour until we finally found our way back towards Tarrytown and over the bridge.

When we arrived at the Red House, the rain stopped long enough for us to bring everything inside without getting soaking wet.  Our other activity that evening, unfortunately, before we could have a cocktail or even think about eating was to haul all the trash we had collected two weeks ago plus all of the recyclables (mostly beer and wine bottles!) we had collected from LAST summer to the curb.  Thing is at the Red House we have trash pick-up once a week — on Friday’s.  Since we usually arrive Friday night, we always miss trash pick-up and have to always take the garbage home.

Since most of the trash we had bagged consisted of debris from the house, many of the bags were simply too heavy to lift (for me at least), let alone carry down the very, very long driveway to the curb. That’s when Lynn and I decided we would put a big blue tarp in the back of the car, hoist the bags onto the tarp, and DRIVE down the driveway. It worked. However, spying on the garbage guys the next morning, they seemed a little perplexed by both the appearance of trash in front of a house that looked abandoned, coupled with the sheer weight of what we were ditching.

It rained all day Friday and Saturday, and part of  Sunday.  While this was supposed to be our planting weekend in addition to our finally sheet-rocking the upstairs bedrooms, the most I could do via planting was to layout all the little packets I wanted to put in the ground.

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Now the only reason I even contemplated planting all these goodies from “scratch” or seed actually (which I had never done on Long Island) is because everything I planted last year from these same little packets grew!  I may have gone a bit overboard by the number of packets I purchased, but I figured what the hell, let me at least try.  But I’m not an idiot, I did have a back-up plan in case nothing grew and bought lettuce, two different kinds of tomato plants, basil, and marigolds (to keep the deer away), too.

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The other good news about the property is we finally found someone to mow all four acres.  Our landscaper actually showed up to mow on Memorial Day and with two really big ride-own mowers and a helper, he did THE ENTIRE PROPERTY IN TWELVE MINUTES.  I felt so bad that Lynn used to spend hours, entire weekends actually, trying to mow the meadow on the Troy-Bilt.

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One good thing about a rainy weekend (even a long holiday-one) is that you are forced to tackle projects you’ve been putting off.  This enabled us to start sheet-rocking one of the upstairs bedrooms.

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We, however, got off to a bad start.  It seems we had forgotten how difficult it is to rock a ceiling. So even with me standing on a chair and Lynn standing on another chair, holding up a piece of rock by myself with Lynn trying to secure it to the ceiling with a power tool wasn’t working. Apparently, I was a lot stronger three years ago than I am now… But then we remembered the last time we rocked the living room ceiling, we had rented one of those sheet-rock “helpers.”

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It’s basically a drywall lift that puts the piece exactly where you need it to be without killing yourself trying to do so. So we bagged the ceiling idea until we could rent one and Lynn focused on doing the walls instead.

Meanwhile the amount of weeds that were growing in the garden and around the house needed to be dealt with.  So despite the pouring rain, I went outside and pulled as many weeds as I could thinking at least once the rain stopped we would be able to till the soil and plant anew.

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I hadn’t forgotten, however, in doing this project that Lynn, always the perfectionist, wanted to do the ENTIRE garden over again.  That meant before I could plant (provided of course, I got all the weeding done and it stopped raining), he wanted to put down new sheets of weed-blocker, plywood dividers, and bags and bags of small marble chips.

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While he was doing this part, I decided I wanted to try and make pulled pork sandwiches that we could eat if we ever got back later that night to Long Island. I found a pork shoulder that was small enough to fit in the toaster oven, cooked it for about 5 hours at 275 degrees, and voila, it did turn out to be quite tasty!

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I also picked some more asparagus from the garden that I discovered hiding underneath all the weeds! I can’t tell you how tickled I am to snip asparagus from my own garden. Lynn is tickled that they look like the “real” thing; I’m assuming he means the supermarket variety.

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I also decided to take some photographs of the property.  I still love the color and look of the “barn” aka garage door, and hope even if we have to rebuild it someday that we can at least duplicate its rustic look.

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My other culinary find this weekend was to see huge bags of fiddlehead ferns at the local farmer’s market.  I have to admit the first time I ate fiddlehead ferns was in Cape May, New Jersey, of all places. Since their season is so short and they have such a unique texture and earthiness, to me they’ve become that much more exotic (and thus a must for my table!)

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Of course the weather finally cleared up just as we were about to leave the Red House. We had hoped to set up the deck furniture and have a meal or at least a glass of wine outside during our time there but it wasn’t to be. I thought about other Memorial days we had spent together, one in particular when we were living in a $375 a month rent-stabilized apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Since combined we made little more than that each month and thus had no extra cash for anything, we would often find ourselves many hot summer evenings on “tar beach,” aka the roof on the top of the apartment building. If we were “tanning,” we’d lie on a towel, if we were trying to be civilized, we actually sat on a couple of director chairs that we had bought at Conran’s back in the 80′s.

Originally the chairs had black canvas seats and backs but somewhere along the line I must have replaced them with what looks to be now like a light blue. There was one chair left and our son Nicholas wanted it for his up-and-coming photography and video studio. I took a picture of it before I sent it off to him. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll do a photo shoot at the Red House and bring it back…It’s got a lot of history you know.

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A Church Pew Vision and Curry Colored Scrambled Eggs

Spring at the Red House means we are are dealing with a very large tree that toppled over during the winter and we’re not quite sure how to get rid of it since we have two (yes, two!) chainsaws that don’t work. I guess eventually we’ll find someone to remove it or buy a chainsaw that does work. (Hint: I won’t volunteer to be the first one to use the chainsaw, I like ALL my fingers thank you very much.)

Our bamboo though is growing back slowly and everything we planted in the fall seems to be making a very cautious beginning.

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We have a few pieces of asparagus sticking up through the soil in the garden and I managed to snip off four stalks to eat.

IMG_6235 Our strawberry patch will be awesome if everyone of those little white flowers I saw turns into a berry. The garlic, too, is slowly shooting up but even though I thought I planted enough garlic (75 cloves!), I don’t think I did and I may actually need to plant another batch. Oh yeah, we have a few daffodils and tulips, too.

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We were going to concentrate on the garden this weekend, planting everything we want to grow over the summer. The garden desperately needed to be weeded plus we wanted to buy more rocks and lumber to better define the space. Since the weather was absolutely perfect (high 70′s who would have thought) there should have been no excuse not to do it. However, I got side tracked when I saw an ad on craigslist for church pews. Real ones. In the exact color I wanted.  For $50 each.

The plan is to eventually have a “Stube” in one corner of the kitchen. Basically for those unfamiliar with the German word, a “Stube” is simply a room, in this case one where I would like to have breakfast and maybe even lunch. I’m thinking in one corner of the kitchen is where I would like the “Stube” to be.

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We still have to figure out what kind of table we want in the room but church pews as benches were exactly what we had in mind.  Problem was, even from the Red House, the pews were in a church over 3 hours away.

But first we had breakfast. The day before we found the first farmer’s market of the season setting up in town where we bought farm fresh eggs and ramps  Now if you’re not familiar with ramps they look like a scallion with a leaf on top.  Really! For 3 bucks this is what we got.

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They have a slight garlic taste and if you saute the leaves, the possibilities of whipping up a really good stir fry are endless. I ended up throwing them into a batch of scrambled eggs (along with some pancetta, too) which resulted in eggs that were so yellow Lynn actually thought I had put curry in them!

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After breakfast, we got in the car and headed north. It was a gorgeous, sunny blue sky kind of day but unfortunately there was no place to stop for lunch and I hadn’t thought to pack anything except a couple of bottles of water. We ended up having to make a pit-stop at a Mickey D’s, and about 3.5 hours after we left the Red House, (and only about 20 miles from the Canadian border), we arrived at the church.

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Now even though we had been given the EXACT specifications of the width, length and height of the “short” pews over the phone and had even measured the trunk of our station wagon, we decided that one pew would definitely fit, but two might not.

Inside the church we met Pastor Rusty and his lovely daughter Olivia. They not only helped us carry out the pews to our car, but they also lent us tools to remove the racks that were attached to each pew back. (Did I not remind Lynn to at least put a screwdriver in the car because I figured we would need something? Yes, I did, but he didn’t remember.) Luckily, Rusty and Olivia were there to help us position the pews in the back of our car just right so that both pews did in fact fit!

And then we simply drove back! On the same road that took us there.  Round trip we drove over 300 miles that day to get them and yes, it was still that warm even at 7 o’clock at night.

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When we got back to the Red House, we lifted the pews out of the car and stored them (temporarily) in the tv room next to our dining room table (still in the box) and the real Charles Eames chairs we’ve had for at least 20 years but have never used. (Because you have to wear padded underwear to sit on them, yeah, they are that uncomfortable.)

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Even though it was time to think about dinner, I couldn’t help but wonder who would grab the rest of the pews we had seen in the church that day.  Whose houses or restaurants or perhaps even other places of worship would they end up in?

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But let’s get back to dinner. We were out of propane so grilling wasn’t an option, I did have a couple of filet mignons in the fridge and since it was Cinco de Mayo, I thought why not slice up the steaks and stuff them in a flour tortilla!  Of course as I was trying to broil the steaks in the toaster oven (which didn’t work they just turned an icky grey color), I kept staring at the gas line we had installed three weeks ago wishing that 1) the kitchen was finished and 2) the kitchen had at least a stove that could have sizzled up these babies in no time.

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I finished the steaks in a frying pan on the burner; we sliced them up, they were edible. I also made a salad I’ve been making frequently these days (courtesy of Jamie Oliver) by combining roasted carrots, lots of fresh parsley and slices of avocado and red onion topped with a zesty lemon dressing and cubes of Havarti cheese. Ok, so it’s not particularly low cal but it’s really really awesome!

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot done that weekend because of our little church pew excursion. Lynn did however manage to paint the door going down to the basement. I loved the way he covered the “port hole” windows in the door by putting paper plates on them! Really, I think this is such a funny look, I might actually insist the door stays that way.

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And while we did manage to BUY ALL THE DOOR KNOBS WE NEED FOR EVERY SINGLE DOOR IN THE HOUSE, they, alas, are still sitting in a big pile as you walk into the house.

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For those of you who don’t know what farm fresh eggs look like- they look like this – some are brown, some are beige and some are even tinged a bit green! Oh, yeah, they come in all different sizes, too – just like people. And that’s as philosophical as I’m going to get…today…

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Posted in Breakfast, cooking, Eggs, Flowers, Furniture, Gardening, Garlic, Grilling, kitchen, Meat, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Red House Renovation: Taking Too Long?

According to a letter we received this past weekend from our FORMER insurance carrier Otsego Mutual Fire Insurance, our homeowners policy is being canceled “due to non-owner occupied.” We also “no longer qualify for homeowners coverage due to ongoing renovations & poor conditions of dwelling. Coupled with the “deteriorated condition of garage, condition of driveway and large amount of debris on property, as well as increased fire and liability hazards.”

Excuse me?

Did I not tell the broker on the account that this was going to be a 10 year project? Did I also not have the argument same time last year with the insurance company when they threatened to cancel me and I had to send them a very lengthy letter explaining all the renovations being done (ad nauseum) as well as pictures?

Seemingly, they don’t really give a damn, they just took my money for the last 3 years and then just up and canceled my policy. Who would have thought that an insurance company could do this? Moreover, I think it’s outrageous that this company is going to tell me how I need to fix my house and give me a time frame to do it in. (I don’t think so.)

Furthermore, considering there is about 4 inches of snow on my driveway right now, how could they even see what the driveway looked like?

And that “debris” behind the garage, yes this one, is the result of us cleaning out all the crap in the house that the previous owner left us.

"DEBRIS"

I’ve thought a lot about the “debris,” and imagine it perhaps in the atrium at the Museum of Modern Art titled, “Red House 1850” as an interactive piece. I’d invite visitors to leave little post-it notes on each of the items found, encouraging them to scribble what they might use said “debris” for.

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It appears to me that this insurance company is more concerned about “curb” appeal than anything else. The fact that we installed 30+ new windows, ripped down the entire back end of the house that had caved in (and started a new addition), put in a brand new furnace, and replaced a crumbling cement porch with a new deck, they didn’t give a hoot about.

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Do you think Peter Mayle when he was writing A Year in Provence got a letter from his insurance company saying the renovation was taking too long? (Well, he probably didn’t have insurance, but you get the point.)

So I did what I always do, I got on the phone and called someone locally who agreed to come out right away (I like that) and is currently working on some numbers for us.  This new broker understood immediately the task at hand and seemed quite impressed with what we had achieved so far (I like that even better.)

The reality going forward is although we are in the midst of finishing our kitchen (yes) and a second bathroom (double yes!), the siding and the roof over the main portion of the house will probably not be done until next summer. That means for at least the next 12 months we will be living with a Red House that on the exterior looks like this, but on the inside is coming along very nicely.

Dripping Icicles

 

The Living Room -- Work in Progress

This past weekend, Lynn managed to sheet rock, tape and spackle a small hallway leading to the basement. He also put up new blinds in the master bedroom, and decided that he hated all the doorknobs in the house so he is going to replace them — one by one.

Since the glass doorknobs we have in every room are a dime a dozen in most houses this old (and can be found as collector’s items in a few antique stores, too,) I didn’t have a problem with this…

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But then I did the math. Turns out we have 13 doors in the house that I know of that will need to have new doorknobs put on. This means that you first take off the old doorknob which leaves you with a big gaping hole in the door that you don’t want. You need to fill the hole, then plane down the door so that the new doorknob fits just right. Doing this one door alone took him nearly 2 hours…

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Didn’t I always say this was going to be a 10 year renovation project?

I think I might add all of the old doorknobs to our pile of debris (so there Mister Insurance Company!) And when the time comes for the MoMA show, my post-it note for “Red House 1850” will say this:

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The Tailor & The Cook Revisited: Followed By Season 3 With No Kitchen

I rarely do follow-up reviews of restaurants, usually I’m a one review girl and then move on. (Julia’s Kitchen, a restaurant I absolutely loved in Napa before it closed, is the one exception to this rule.)  I have also never talked about a restaurant on The Red House site.  However, two if not three things motivated me. (Bad weather+no supermarket in town+ still no kitchen at the Red House!)

First, while I mentioned things that motivated “me,” I need to say “us,” because the truth is my husband Lynn has been doing nearly all of the back breaking renovation work (with the help of a really cool contractor, too) and I’ve just simply been working all hours of the day (and night) trying to earn $$ to make it happen.

This winter has been a real pain. First we had Sandy, then a Nor’easter, then a snow storm (10+ inches) and this past weekend temperatures hovered in the teens but felt like negative numbers because of the wind chill factor. Consequently, cooking as an art form and as a heart-warming endeavor has been put to the way side.

Thus, on those Friday nights when we make the journey up to the Red House from Long Island/Manhattan, I’m still hauling up food to heat up on my handy little one burner guy.  Yep that’s him.

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Which leads me to this. We are now approaching our third season without a kitchen and Lynn and I both came to the same astonishing conclusion — eating out is just a hell of a lot easier than eating in! A part of this decision was based on that fact that since December the town lost its only supermarket! Now, we do have a gas station that’s open 24 hours and is well stocked with basics such as bread, eggs, cheese, cigarettes, condoms, beer and of course a milk shake in any flavor, but unless you’re 18…these items don’t really have that much appeal if you’re trying to make dinner.

Now, it’s not that the supermarket we had was particularly great, it wasn’t, but at least I could manage to put together a meal if I had to during the cold weather months when there was nary a farmer’s market in sight. And, since it was small and old school, it had some items that you don’t find in big box stores like maple syrup that was made by a guy just outside of town. And they also had ham at the deli counter that I really liked because it tasted well, like real ham!

The word on the street is that a bigger, better supermarket will be taking over the space. But, two months, later this is what we’re still looking at.

A Slow Supermarket Renovation

A Slow Supermarket Renovation

Yes, no sign of a supermarket, no sign of activity, no people shopping, no food, no nothing. Just a big ugly tractor sitting there looking like it was going to make way for the new…but actually was just kind of killing time.

Obviously, living on Long Island we have lots and lots of supermarkets so shopping and making dinner is never a problem. One of the reasons I also cook nearly ever night is that we actually rarely eat out on Long Island. Since we find most of the restaurants around us mediocre and overpriced, we try to save our “dining out dollars” for high end restaurants in the city (as in NYC) a couple times a year.  I hate to confess this but eating out near the Red House has enabled us to eat out more frequently for a fraction of the cost.

We visited The Tailor & the Cook last spring a few months after it opened and my review at the time waxed eloquently about the fish I had that night.  We’ve had many dishes since then, taking a cue from one of my online editing jobs that people still had something called “date night,” a word combo I was not familiar with until now! Geez, people actually go out and enjoy each others company and a meal too on a Saturday night?

Therefore this past Saturday night found us once again enjoying the creative cooking geniuses of Chef Tim Hardiman and his sous chef Steve Arbogast at The Tailor & the Cook in Utica, New York.

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Three years ago when we first bought the Red House, I met Suzie Jones at a farmer’s market where she was selling beautifully crafted little goat cheeses.  As I got to know Suzie, her husband Peter, and the farm, she also was able to sell me some chicken but most importantly little packages of chicken livers at a fraction of what I would normally have paid for a container at the supermarket.  These livers, since they are from the farm’s organically raised chickens, have nearly no fat on them or any of that slimy green stuff you frequently encounter when trying to clean them.  So imagine my surprise when Chef’s Tim and Steve had concocted a special chicken liver risotto appetizer that evening made from Jones Family Farm liver!

Set before us was a plate of creamy arborio rice, still-pink-in-the-middle chicken livers simply seasoned (so I was told) with ground pepper, fresh ginger, and a little cheese, then served up piping hot. I love liver and I love risotto, so this was a real winner for me.

The house salad that I wasn’t crazy about in my initial review, remains, but since they know my tastes, now when I get the salad, it comes with extra dressing on the side that is not only heavy on the vinegar (which I love) but just makes the salad that much better!

Seeing really fresh fish on a menu in Central New York is difficult. Finding a chef who really knows how to cook it in any part of the country, is even more of a challenge.  Chef Tim who I had complimented the last time about his fish cooking skills, did not disappoint this time either. On the menu that night was a lovely piece of arctic char coupled with a quinoa salad and a green pea shoot pesto. My only complaint? The skin which is great when it’s cooking in the pan and technically holds the fish together, I think with a quick flip of a spatula could be tossed (as in the garbage)  and not plated, too.

I did have another thought (sorry chefs, humor me here) of what to do with the fish skin. Lynn and I had dinner at Jean Luc Figueras in Barcelona many years ago where an amuse bouche of fried fish crisps (fried cod skin actually) was brought out to the table. At first glance the shape alone (a long thin cylinder) reminded me of those French cookies (pirouettes) that accompany many a bowl of glace or gelato in Europe. It was salty and sweet and crunchy at the same time. Thinking back on my arctic char, could the dish have been elevated ever so slightly with something whimsical (i.e., fried skin) on top?

While the shrimp and grits had been on the menu for a while, we had never tried it. And I have to admit, although it was technically Lynn’s entree that night, I ate at least half of it! Calling a shrimp a shrimp, isn’t fair if you’re cooking up fresh prawns (heads and all) that have been beautifully grilled and seasoned and serve them with fried okra and an adorable dollhouse-size frying pan filled with the aforementioned grits.

Ripping off the heads of these delicious crustaceans and sucking out the bodies, well, had a yacht cruised by the front of the restaurant rather than the hourly snowplow, I could have sworn we were having dinner on the Cours Saleya in Nice. Which I think is the whole point of good cooking, if a chef or two can rustle up a dish that is absolutely delicious and reminds you of eating a similar dish someplace else, wow, that’s real talent.

Which brings me to this part of the story. We think the kitchen will be done this summer. In order to at least believe it will happen, we’ve started picking out floor tiles. We laid the color tiles we’ve chosen so far on the (dirty) rubber mats that are currently lining the floor and all weekend we debated the merits of each and every one.

Kitchen Tile Project

Kitchen Tile Project

I know ultimately there will be more colors added to this arrangement so hopefully when the time comes we will choose wisely. Because after this long of a wait, the Red House kitchen is only being done once in our lifetime.

And if you think I remembered the name of the restaurant in Barcelona where we ate the crispy fish skin that easily, I didn’t.  What I do have are old school composition books where I usually record nearly every single thing we eat when traveling!

Travel Composition Notebooks

Travel Composition Notebooks

I thought maybe one day I’d manage to weave into a Red House article the time Lynn waited for me at the Milan (as in Italy) train station for 16 hours so we could have a meal together. This story, I think, can be told now.

Why would anyone wait 16 hours to have a meal with a girlfriend one might ask? Well, first of all this was back in the Dark Ages when we didn’t have cell phones, computers, or Facebook, etc., etc., and thus, no way of communicating with each other. So, you either waited for the person or you didn’t. When I finally arrived, parched and starving, everything was closed. We ended up spending the night (on the floor no less) of the Milan train station and got the first train to Florence in the morning. And what may you ask was the meal we had when we arrived? Pasta carbonara of course! Which is the very first “real” dish I hope to make in the Red House kitchen this year. Unless, of course, I can convince one of the T&C chefs to make it for me!

 

 

Posted in Cheese, chicken, cooking, Dessert, Fish, Renovation, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Year in Food

Sometimes it’s really easy writing this blog, because although it wasn’t meant to be indicative of our times (all pictures, no words), sometimes describing the food I’m growing, cooking and then eating is just easier when there’s a photograph.  So, while my attempts at cooking at the Red House wasn’t meant to be a picture book for adults, it mostly has been.

I said goodbye to 2012 realizing that there are quite a few dishes I never used to eat but do now (herring and sardines for example), things I shouldn’t be eating, but crave (chocolate, cheese, bread and pasta), and certain dishes I’d like to simply forget (dry chicken and grilled pizza).

Here though is my year end wrap up of what I think I liked the most.  Remember though, since I have no working kitchen, the following pictures show what I had to work with, namely my “stove,” my “dishwasher” and my “oven.”

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2012 saw us eating: Fondue, Fried Green Tomatoes, Farmer’s Market Orange Beets with Jones Family Farm Goat Cheese, Peach Tart, Carbonara(!), Soft Shell Crab, Lobster Claws, Homemade Rosemary Bread, Crepes (both savory and sweet), Shrimp in Green Sauce, French Toast, Burrata, and lots and lots of tomatoes.

Reviewing this list, I realized we did eat chicken and duck and hamburgers and an occasional steak or two but they simply didn’t photograph well. The chicken often looked burnt and the hamburgers misshapen and greasy. This, I think, will please my vegetarian and vegan readers.

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If you’re not hungry after looking at these photographs, you should be! Happy New Year!

Posted in Breakfast, Cheese, cooking, Dessert, Eggs, Fish, food, kitchen, Meat, Pasta | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Green January (Mostly) And Frozen Pipes!

Driving up to the Red House for a long three-day weekend we were pleasantly surprised that 1) there was no snow which meant 2) we wouldn’t have to shovel to get into the house at 10:30 at night. While I’ve come to dislike driving in the dark and not being able to see the river on the way up, I particularly abhor not being able to see the meadow until the following morning.

What we weren’t expecting that evening however was to find that both the hot and cold water pipes leading up to the bathroom sink had frozen. Luckily, the bathtub was ok and we could still flush the toilet. But washing your hands or face? Had to be done in the bathtub. And brushing your teeth? Bathtub, too.

We were perplexed as to why those two pipes froze and I guess if I had to choose losing the bathroom sink over not being able to flush the toilet or take a shower, I’d lose the sink. What we couldn’t figure out though was where those frozen pipes were located. There was nothing that was dripping or broken in the basement, and while we don’t have the heat blasting in the house when we’re not there, the thermostat is set purposely so the pipes don’t freeze.

In the morning, I saw the meadow. It was nearly totally green with a few patches of leftover snow. I tried to turn on the bathroom sink and a slight trickle emerged. I ignored the water situation and instead turned my attention to the garden.

The Meadow In January

The Meadow In January

I was already thinking spring and what I would plant. Definitely lots of tomatoes and basil but perhaps some rosemary and a big sage bush, too. There would be flowers — sunflowers in particular along with perhaps some rose bushes. Since both my beans and peas had been prolific, those would be planted again, particularly since I saved and dried the pods from my last green bean crop.  I knew my asparagus would be coming up early in the spring and this time I would make sure I snapped all the asparagus I could before it grew into its ugly hedge-state. I also wanted to plant some potatoes and onions and squash in the fall since I saw zero returns on any of those veggies last year. (I think I simply just planted them at the wrong time.)

Of course by the time I had finished planning (in my head at least) everything that I wanted to plant in the spring, it started to snow. Soon the meadow was  a field of white and by evening we saw deer prints. At this point (nearly 24 hours later), the pipes in the upstairs bathroom sink had thawed and we had running water!

In the morning we had about 3 inches of white stuff. Before I shoveled I decided I was going to make a batch of pancakes. Luckily I had a griddle that doubled as a Raclette maker so I poured out the batter onto the grill and made what looked like “pinstriped” silver dollar pancakes. They were tasty, albeit a tad cold by the time the entire batch was cooked up.

Pin Striped Pancakes

Pin Striped Pancakes

Lynn has this strange habit of having to put a fried egg on top of his pancakes so that the whole thing (pancakes and egg) can be smothered in maple syrup.  It’s pretty disgusting to look at, yet he claims it’s delicious. I’ve tried for many years to break what I consider a nasty habit of him eating pancakes in this fashion but I have failed. See, here’s his egg all ready to go!

The Obligatory Fried Egg

The Obligatory Fried Egg

Since I knew he needed a lot of energy to finish putting up all the moulding in one of the rooms, I just let it be. Especially since I knew he was also determined before the day was done to rip out one of the last pieces of linoleum that was left in one of the hallways, too.

Very Old Linoleum

Very Old Linoleum

Underneath this mess was a wood floor that was in fair to poor condition but we figured with some sanding and/or poly it would be just fine.

More Wooden Floors

More Wooden Floors

Meanwhile while he was tackling this, I decided to go out and shovel. Luckily the snow was fluffy not wet (since our driveway is nearly 60 feet long, if not more), and I got through the task fairly quickly.

January at the Red House

January at the Red House

And while the snow looked quite bucolic and the temperature hadn’t dropped yet (it would do so later in the evening), I kept looking up at the house and hoping that one of those really sharp looking icicles wasn’t going to fall on my head or poke an eye out!

Dripping Icicles

Dripping Icicles

And yes, I shoveled in my gardening boots…am I rushing spring? Absolutely.

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Posted in Breakfast, Eggs, Frozen Pipes, Gardening, Renovation, The Property | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment