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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Posted in Construction, Renovation, The Property | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

More Garlic And A Field Gone Wild With A Few Movie Memories Thrown In

When the leaves turn red, yellow and orange in this neck of the woods, they truly are spectacular.  Which is why I now understand, why “going to see the leaves” can and will command top dollar if you want to stay overnight at a local inn or B&B in the upstate New York or New England area.  Luckily we have the Red House, where such a stay is virtually free.  And while our view may not be lake or mountain front, we do in fact have the “field” and all the surrounding trees which in the fall are absolutely gorgeous.

A few weeks ago I did manage to prepare the ground (the soil that is) for believe it or not, next year’s garlic crop!  Now if it seems like we just pulled out last year’s crop, we did! (And as previously mentioned we still have quite a few cloves to consume.) This time however, I at least had an inkling of what I was doing and what the outcome would be. Cut the scapes, cut the scapes, cut the scapes so the garlic will fully grow! Ok, got it.

I did, however, plant less garlic than last year. Somehow last year, I managed to get nearly 100  cloves in the ground which I had purchased at a local garlic festival.  This year, I planted 75 cloves. When I was planting them and counted what I had put in the ground I was tickled. 75 seemed to be the “special number” this year and since we just celebrated my Dad’s 75th birthday this past September, I had mixed feelings about both.

The fact that I planted next year’s crop (hopefully) from garlic that I had grown myself made me quite proud.  Thinking of my Dad turning older than I ever could have imagined he would be left me feeling a bit nostalgic.

How exactly could my Dad be 75?  See, he was a young father (a mere 24 when I was born), and when we were living in Munich, Germany, he was the guy who used to take me to midnight movies at the tender age of 12.  Why at midnight you might ask? Well because the midnight show at the Europa movie theater was the only place in Munich (at least in 1973) where you could see an American movie in English. The fact that it was across from the Munich railroad station, (and thus like most neighborhoods surrounding a transit hub rather seedy) was a bit odd especially since during the day the theater would primarily show x-rated movies. (Hint for younger readers: there are no x-rated films out there anymore, you’re either watching true porn or they cleaned it up and made it an R-rated flick.)

This meant that in 1973 I saw Soylent Green and Papillon with my Dad in addition to The Sting and The Exorcist.  I know The Way We Were also came out in 1973 but since that was definitely more of a chick flick, I don’t I think I saw that movie until many years later when I was in college.

The fact that some of these movies might not have been appropriate for a 12-year-old was irrelevant, which is probably why even to this day, I blink rather rapidly when I hear the words “Soylent Green” (even though I liked Charlton Heston, especially in Ben Hur) because I’m still terrified of the thought of people being chopped up to create a new food group!

As if that wasn’t enough, I remember putting my hands over my eyes when I saw Steve McQueen in the scary leprosy scene in Papillon where everyone seemed to be wrapped in dirty blankets but minus a limb or two.  This probably also explains why once I was old enough to babysit, I strongly discouraged the kids I was watching from building any sort of fort structure made out of old blankets or sheets.

But I guess the Red House has made me grow up a bit (even though I like most New Yorkers did spend some very formative years living in Brooklyn dealing with mice and roaches and other unsavory things) so that when I was cleaning up the property and found a dead mouse a few weeks ago, I didn’t run shrieking from it.  I actually took a picture of it.

Then I went back to deal with the mess we’d made of the field by not mowing it.  While originally the thought of creating “paths” with areas that would be filled with wild flowers was a good one, the idea wasn’t properly executed. The wildflowers grew on the perimeter of the property (which I didn’t plant) and not in the middle (where I did plant.)  Consequently, there were very large prickly weeds growing out of the soil with quite a few cotton ball-like looking things, too.

I have looked at numerous gardening sites to try to determine what these are exactly, to no avail.  Kindly send me a note, if anyone knows their name (other than a pain you know where.)  They are extremely prickly and will tear through even the toughest pair of gloves I discovered.

Still, I decided they had to go, so I took a machete (yes, we actually have one) to the stem, then stacked them all up so that I could drag them, en masse, over to the compost pile.

Now since the Red House property was once an old potato farm, I wondered if this was some sort of weird leftover potato weed.  But I don’t think so, know why? Because do you remember seeing something like this sticking out of the ground when Scarlett was digging up the very last potato or radish there was to eat in Gone With the Wind? No, and her hands (like mine these days) were pretty much a mess which unfortunately even Rhett noticed when she went to try and seduce him into giving her some coin to pay the taxes.

But back to the weeds. The other thing that made dragging the weeds to the compost pile bearable is that I could actually get to the compost pile since the day before, courtesy of Craigslist, I found someone who showed up in a truck and for $200 agreed to haul half of the construction mess away. The fact that the guy who showed up with even less teeth than Steve Buscemi in Fargo, made it just that much more appealing.

And now let me get back to the garlic. With those 75 cloves in the ground, I know I needed some hay to scatter over the dirt.  Now, if you’re even lucky enough to find hay on Long Island it generally costs around $10 for a teeny, tiny bale.  In upstate New York, the same bale is half the price and three times as big!

See, I even put in on the tractor, to show it off!  I pulled off a couple of pieces and scattered them on top of the garlic I had just planted and that was that.

So with all this activity, we needed some food.  Since I still don’t have a kitchen (and truthfully 2013 doesn’t look promising either for this endeavor), I brought stuff up.  Which meant, since I was still in the end of summer mode, I made what I will lovingly call the “Rotten Fruit Tart.”  Well, it might sound of kind of disgusting, cleaning out the fridge of overripe, rotting fruit, but the truth is once you cook it,  it all kind of comes together anyway. (And, yes, I did throw out the fruit that had mold on it.)

So, there were plums, blueberries, and raspberries to use. I sprinkled the fruit with some walnuts and whatever sweet liquor was in the cupboard that I can’t bear to drink but always have on hand to sometimes “rescue” a dessert.  It all got piled into leftover tart crust and went in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes. Bottom line: it looked ok and tasted even better.

I also made bread, a rosemary-flecked loaf that would have been perfect to dip into soup but somehow the weather turned warm and the fish place in Island Park had lobster claws on sale for $25 so how could I refuse an offer like that? Well, since it took me nearly 2 hours to shell all five pounds worth, maybe I should have resisted.  I ended up with chunks of lobster meat and somehow managed to pull together a meal we could eat.

But back to the Red House garden. I have celery still growing and brussels sprouts which I realized I planted too early so I’m hoping they’ll mature enough in time for Thanksgiving.

I’ve also made frequent visits to a couple of local farmers in the area, who unlike NYC Greenmarket prices, will sell you an enormous head of broccoli for a mere 75 cents, a head of cauliflower for a dollar, and a cute little pumpkin for two quarters.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this parting shot, a not-too-comfy chair that we leave out in the field year-round.  I don’t think you’d ever want to watch a movie sitting on it, but you never know.

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The Fall Clean-Up: Surprise Finds

It’s a vicious cycle trying to grow vegetables for it seems as soon as the last bean/tomato/garlic is harvested, you have to start preparing the soil to plant something that will appear in the spring.

While we managed to pull out all the garlic plants last weekend (in order to plant new ones next weekend!), we weren’t quite sure where to actually store all the garlic.  I know we were supposed to keep them in a cool, dry place so the only real storage place that came to mind was an empty wine fridge we have in the basement of our Long Island house.

“Joy” to our Garlic!

Since we actually didn’t keep any wine in the fridge other than a bottle of champagne someone had gifted Lynn one holiday season, it seemed the perfect home for the garlic.  So there the garlic sits.

After digging up the garlic, I turned to deal with the sunflowers.  Since I had never been very successful in getting anything to grow from seed packets I had picked up at a hardware store, I was particularly tickled that these sunflowers grew big and tall.

I’m particularly fond of large sunflowers primarily because when we would travel with the kids through southern France, many many summers ago, we would see fields and fields of sunflowers blowing in the wind.  Rachel, who was around nine-years-old at the time, nicknamed the sunflowers, appropriately I thought, “happy heads.” The name stuck, and to this day that’s still what we call sunflowers when we see them growing on someone’s property.

Unfortunately, I know I should have read up about harvesting the sunflower seeds, but the birds beat me to it.  This is what was left:

I also had a profusion of green beans, you know the kind that are overgrown and kind of stringy.  I did manage to pull most of them off their vines; the ones that were fairly small I steamed up, the others that were too big, I shelled them and saved the beans.

Strangely, though, while most of the veggies seemed on the way out, the bamboo on the property was flowering! (I’d like to say I remember this happening last year too, but really, I thought it was flowering in May, not September!).

Especially since all around the property, the leaves were already starting to turn colors. See?

So by the time I had raked over where the garlic had been planted, pulled out the sunflowers and generally tided up the garden, I came across a small baby potato.

All I can say is I’m so glad I’m not trying to make a living growing things, because I’d be broke and starving!

Really, I think nature was having a little bit of fun with me because a day later, I came across what I thought was a weed, but on closer inspection it proved to be something closely resembling a carrot top poking out of the ground. I carefully pulled away all the weeds surrounding it and very gently tried to dig it up.  By the time I was done, the garden had yielded one more surprise find: one teeny, tiny baby carrot.

The last time I had visited the farmer’s market, I came across one farmer’s carrots that were absolutely stunning. In fact they were the most vibrant purple, orange and yellows I had seen that they almost looked like they burst out of a still life painting!

Obviously, this is something I want to aspire to when trying to grow vegetables in next year’s garden!

Oh yeah, and my tiny little carrot?  I actually washed him off (yes, I decided he was male), sliced him up, (which yielded a total of 5 pinkie-sized coins), and threw them in with some scrambled eggs for breakfast.

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The End of Summer: Finally A Ball Game

Both of my parents are writers.  In the 1980’s, my mom had an article published in the Times, about me moving to Brooklyn.  I decided I needed to counter her version, wrote an article, and the Times published my story, too.

This past summer my Dad wrote an article about watching a game at our small town baseball field and the Wall Street Journal published it.  Although I did send the WSJ this article, thinking perhaps they, like the Times, (even after 30 years) would be amused by my version of his day at the ballpark, they apparently didn’t think it was worthy of their publication.  I, however, do think it’s worthy of mine.

And not to totally discredit the big boys, if you’re a subscriber to WSJ, you can read his version, “A Dawgs Day Afternoon at the Ballpark” online.

While my husband Lynn and I had been in Herkimer County, New York, for two years trying to renovate a house, we had yet to see a baseball game.  When my parents decided to visit us one weekend, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for us to see some “real” baseball. Besides, since I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to a baseball game with my Mom and Dad, I thought it would be a lot of fun.

So, the four of us went to Veteran’s Memorial Park one Sunday afternoon to watch the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs play the Amsterdam Mohawks.  My father was amazed that tickets were a mere $3. I was tickled at the fact that we wouldn’t even have to pay that, since a woman standing near the gate was handing out free tickets to anyone who wanted them, insisting a local fast food place was giving them away.  I grabbed up my free four while Dad was still parking the car (parking the car in town means you park on the street in front of someone’s house, not 25 minutes away for $30).

I was a bit concerned about having my mom sit on oh-so-uncomfortable metal bleachers for who knows how long, but she was a trooper and would occasionally stand up in between innings.  My dad was standing up a lot, too.  First, he went to get some beer.  He kept asking me, “do you want a beer, do you want a beer?”  I, never one to refuse a free drink, thought, “why not,” and he practically skipped away to the concession stand where someone had nailed on a block-lettered sign with the word “BEER” to the top of the booth.  He returned holding a cloth bag as if he had decided in between to do some environmentally correct grocery shopping, and low and behold, inside the bag were 5 cans of beer for a mere $12.  There were also a fair amount of ice cubes thrown into the bag, too, which knowing the price of ice these days made me wonder if the beer had actually only cost $2, and the ice cost $10.

Dad particularly liked our announcer that late afternoon, a gentleman with a keen sense of wit who he decided to name after the actor Wilfred Brimley.  Since I’m a lady of a certain age, I actually don’t know who Wilfred Brimley is but that’s irrelevant.  The point is, the guy was funny, he kept the game moving, and my Dad (and Mom) were having a great time.

While initially my Dad started yelling “Go Devil Dawgs, go!” I had to quietly correct him and tell them they were the Diamond Dawgs, named for the “diamonds”, i.e., crystals that could be found in the Herkimer area, not a baked good which is what he was calling the team.

He laughed at his mistake and then went to look for a hat with the Dawgs logo on it.  He came back with not only one hat, but two for a mere $20.  One hat he gave to my husband, who as long as I’ve known him has not worn a hat of any kind, ever.  This hat, however, he swiftly put on his head.

While mom and dad were amused by all the entertainment in between innings – the county dairy princess and her court had the unenviable task of setting up contests with some of the local kids which usually involved either drinking a large container of milk or running with it.  I, on the other hand, was amused that the dairy princess, seeing as she was around 16, was not pierced or visibly tattooed, her hair appeared to be a “natural” color and that she actually was wearing a sensible skirt (as in slightly above the knee) and a top that showed absolutely no cleavage!

I looked at the brilliantly blue sky and as the afternoon wore on and the sun started to set, a light breeze picked up.  Since the park is set in a valley, all around us were hills, and massive oak trees that were stunning in its setting.  I noticed besides the constant comment from the Wilfred Brimley sound-alike, that I could actually hear the wind and not some annoying person in the crowd yelling into their cell phone.

Although the Diamond Dawgs lost that glorious afternoon, one final event made me realize how much fun we had that day. The team was sponsoring a 50/50, which I didn’t realize mom and dad hadn’t heard of before.  Now, while I’m not much of a gambler, I love playing 50/50! (For those who aren’t familiar with the game, you put in a certain sum of money, get a raffle ticket and if your ticket is called, you win 50% of the purse and the house keeps the other 50%.) When I explained the simple rules of the contest, Dad pulled out some money, too.  A young ballplayer, accompanied by one of the dairy princesses’ was approaching people in the bleachers to play.  Reportedly because of league rules that prohibit players from physically handling any money, the dairy princess put the cash in a bucket, while the player handed out an “arms length” of raffle tickets for $5.  In the meantime, Dad struck up a conversation with this young man, realized he was from a certain town in New England that they frequented, and started talking to him about a local restaurant!

I’ve often heard comments about how the Mohawk valley area looks a lot like Italy – rolling hills, brilliant sunshine (when it’s not snowing), and enviable farm land. When I was 12 years old, I bet my Dad I would someday have a house on a hill in Italy.  I realized that day sitting in the ballpark that even though I lost my bet  with my Dad about having a house in Italy, I did in fact end up with a house on a hill in an area that really does look a bit like the Italian countryside!

And the ballplayer who was handing out the 50/50 tickets, did I mention that he had really long arms and we ended up with nearly twice the amount of tickets we should have? Yet, the 50/50 purse wasn’t ours to be had that day. We didn’t need it, we ended up with so much more.

 

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My Daughter and the Garlic Project

It’s been a difficult summer. Therefore, I’ve decided to write only one story to try and sum up everything. It has nothing to do with the house or the renovation but about my relationship with my daughter vis a vis my attempt to grow garlic.

Around the time the first buds of garlic started to appear in the Red House garden, my daughter decided in her final semester of high school that although she had already been accepted to a very expensive college, she thought (incorrectly) that she could blow off going to class, not hand in work that was missing, and last but not least, decide she wasn’t going to take any more tests! (The latter she tried to rationalize with the following logic: why take a test that you know you are going to fail anyway?)

While I would have preferred to spend my days thinking about the Red House rather than to test or not to test, suddenly during the months of May and June, my cell phone number  became the #1 speed-dial option on my daughter’s guidance counselor’s phone. He, in turn, gave me a serious reality check that I had a daughter who was in real fear of not graduating from high school.

To say that I was embarrassed about this turn of events (me, the high school honors student and college graduate), was putting it mildly.  In fact I was horrified; I tried to pass off her sudden ennui as a phase of “senioritis,” but then realized it was much more than that.  For the first time in her 18 years, her father and I started worrying about her grades.  This was particularly uncharted territory for us since we both believed that grades didn’t matter much as long as you learned something.

By the middle of May, we also realized she wasn’t going to get enough funding to attend the expensive college in question. Her father and I had also made the decision earlier in the year that we were not going to pay for an education that was so costly, especially when the promise of a job at the end of  four years was not a given. This proved to be not as heart-wrenching as it may sound since her grades spiraled downward and she actually had shown little interest in a field that was supposed to be her major. I decided she had better think about a back-up school or she may end up with no place to go. So she put in a few late applications to a couple of schools in the city, we sent in another application fee, and waited to hear back.

I, in the meantime, went up to the Red House to deal with my ever growing crop of garlic.  I visited a local farmer’s market one Saturday and eyed a bag of scapes that someone was selling.

Two Bucks at the Farmer’s Market Gets You A Bag of Scapes

Since I remembered seeing plenty of scapes growing in my garden but failed to cut them, I realized I had already made my first garlic mistake.  Theory is, you need to cut the scapes when they appear so all the energy gets diverted back to the garlic bulbs still in the ground.

I began to wonder somehow if the mistake I made with the garlic was reflective of the mess I was facing back home.  Should I have been able to change something in her life to divert her energies back to her studies?  While that was probably me channeling some existentialist theories, ultimately she, not I, was responsible for her (in my opinion) bad choices.

So while I thought the scapes that I failed to cut earlier in the summer looked lovely, ultimately they wouldn’t amount to what they could be. I have to admit, this correlation between the two (the stunted garlic, the stunted daughter) was haunting me.

Garlic Scapes in the Red House Garden

Both of us forged ahead.  She did graduate from high school as my previous story revealed but somehow failed math.  While she didn’t “technically” need math to graduate from high school what she failed to realize is that she needed math to get into college. Suddenly one of the back-up colleges that she applied to, sending her a conditional admittance letter, rescinded their decision when she went to take a math placement test and failed it.

I meanwhile, working off of a recipe the farmer selling the bag of scapes had given me, put my $2 worth of green shoots in a food processor and attempted to make pesto.

An Artfully Arranged Scape

I suppose she and I both felt at that point that we had been through the grinder. I didn’t particularly like the scape pesto I ended up with and she didn’t like the idea she couldn’t get the money to go to her first choice school.  Like the scape pesto I made, everything was wrong; in my case it revolved around the texture of the dish, plus it was just too green. Somehow though I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out; it had to be eaten even if I could only manage a little bit at a time.

Scape Pesto

My dislike for this new-fangled pesto mirrored the increasing distastefulness of our family life.  We moved to Plan C which we realized was the only option left after my daughter didn’t get into any of the city colleges.  She and I begrudgingly filled out an application to our local community college and I managed to find a kind soul who had summer duty in her high school guidance office who was able to pull all the paperwork together that we needed, again.

I decided this painful ordeal was similar to me trying to harvest my first head of garlic.  Now, I’m the last person to believe everything I read online, but I did come across an entry from someone who claimed garlic can easily be dug up with a little bit of elbow grease and a fork.  Here’s what happened when I tried to follow his advice; my garlic broke in half and the fork was dented, too.

Not The Way To Harvest Garlic

The nearly-broken-fork and barely intact piece of garlic probably should have given me an idea of what else the summer had in store for us.  Apparently, having a daughter who could barely get through high school wasn’t enough, I needed to have said daughter’s  on-again, off-again boyfriend be behind the wheel of her car one afternoon and get into a car accident.

Now while no one was hurt and the boyfriend technically wasn’t at fault (other than not being quick enough to get out of the way of a driver who wasn’t paying attention to avoid the collision), what we didn’t realize was that the boyfriend was driving the car with a suspended license!  This coupled with the fact that the car sustained over $11,000 in damages resulted in our insurance company immediately cancelling our policy after writing a really big check to the auto body repair shop.

I spent the next few days looking at the garlic growing in the garden and fielding phone calls (no pun intended) from insurance agents who said they were unhappy to inform me that we were suddenly placed in a high risk category because of this mishap and that we could possibly be looking at premiums as high as $12,000 per year for car insurance.

A Field of Garlic

Thoughts of every project I wanted to do on the Red House in the next two years started evaporating, right before my eyes. And while the garlic growing actually looked ok, attractive even, I knew it was  just not right.

I thought about all the healing properties garlic was supposed to have and wondered how I was possibly going to dig it all up by Labor Day weekend. It would be naive of me to think if I perhaps ate enough of it everything both inside me and around me would get better. I suddenly remembered breastfeeding both of my kids when they were infants and trying to avoid eating foods (like garlic) that might wreak havoc on tiny babies tummy’s.  I had to think, perhaps if I had eaten a clove or two, then nursed, perhaps I could have increased her stamina to not just coast along and barely make it, but to finish proudly.

I picked one final clove before I left the Red House and went back to deal with getting new insurance, a car repaired, and the results of yet another placement test at the local college. It was a nearly perfect bulb. Let’s hope that’s how she turns out, too.

Nearly Perfect Head of Garlic from the RH Garden

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Fried Green Tomatoes: The Garden So Far

It’s been very very hot up at the Red House and even with the complicated sprinkler system Lynn has set up, some things are being watered, others are not. (Half the garden is on a timer, half is not, half the hose was run over and flattened by our car, the other half just had a kink in it.)

I’m disappointed that all the zucchini I planted have revealed zucchini flowers only. So if any chefs out there want flowers for stuffing, just let me know!

All Flowers, No Actual Veggies!

I also have lots of peas and beans, both of which I picked and picked and we ate and ate.

Fresh Peas

 

Green beans with the lone pepper that grew

Also, for the first time ever in a garden, I was able to grow sunflowers aka known as “happy heads” in our family because of a family trip we took one summer to the south of France. Our daughter Rachel, probably around 10 or so at the time, saw so many sunflowers (i.e.,”happy heads” ) bobbing to and fro as we drove past fields and fields of sunflowers that forever more amongst the four of us that’s what sunflowers will always be called! (Obviously, this was a trip that was taken where simply looking out the car window for entertainment (and education, I might add) was the norm, and texting was still a few years away.)

Happy Head Sunflowers

There’s also brussels sprouts and asparagus gone wild, and literally towers of lettuce. Now, I know you’re not supposed to let lettuce grow that tall because it supposedly makes it bitter, but I picked some of the lower leaves, and the truth was it tasted just fine and better than anything I’d get in a supermarket anyway.

Lettuce “Towers”

More reassuring, however, is that I will eventually have lots of red tomatoes because right now there are so many green ones growing in all different shapes and sizes.  Since we couldn’t wait to try one in its red state, Lynn decided to fry some green ones up and then topped them with fresh basil!  They were so yummy, thank you sweetie!

Frying Green Tomatoes

A Plate Full!

 See here they are before we cut them up and ate them! I predict buckets and buckets of sauce down the road…

Tomatoes on the Vine
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