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.

Posted in Baking, Family, Gardening, Garlic, Mom and Dad, Movies, Munich, The Property, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Flowers, Gardening, Garlic, The Property, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in Family, Sports, visitors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Gardening, Garlic, Teenagers, The Property | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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
Posted in Gardening, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A French-Inspired Fourth of July Followed By A Basement Flood…

When it was Bastille Day a few days ago and we ended up throwing a couple of burgers on the grill (chased down however,  with a Cote du Rhone), I realized that our 4th of July had actually been kind of French.

I splurged at Fairway before heading up to the Red House and picked up a lovely duck breast which I thought I could cook fairly quickly on the grill.

Amazing D’Artagnan Duck Breast

I also had a hankering for crepes and thought they would make a lovely breakfast to start off the 4th.  Seeing how I don’t have a food processor or mixer up at the Red House and am genuinely too lazy to mix things by hand unless I absolutely have to, I prepared the crepe batter the night before and poured it in a container.

In the morning, I found a small enough frying pan to cook them in and before long had a small stack of crepes to eat.

Making Crepes

While I was thinking my crepes would of course be sweet with a topping of fresh raspberries and local maple syrup, Lynn decided his would be savory.  So, the smoked salmon I was saving for lunch that day, ended up being eaten with the crepes for breakfast.

Norwegian Smoked Salmon

At first I thought Lynn would eat the crepes like a “normal” person, (with utensils) but no, he ended up rolling the smoked salmon inside the crepe and making it burrito-like.

Smoked Salmon Crepe “Burrito”

I, on the other hand, stuck with tradition, and ate my crepes in a civilized manner (with a fork and a knife!) I know, I know, sometimes I’m just no fun.

Crepes with Raspberries

This breakfast for the first time since acquiring the Red House, we were actually able to enjoy on our newly built deck.  Last summer I had bought an outdoor furniture set complete with big red pillows and even a red umbrella!

Partially Finished Deck!

While I, of course, coveted much hipper outdoor furniture I had seen at Crate & Barrel, (with outrageous price tags to boot), this set (four chairs, the table and cushions) cost me a mere $99 from Walmart. And the umbrella? Well, I found that online for $39!

Comfy Red Chair!

The fact that these chairs are the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever had in my entire life (really), makes it even sweeter.

We did occasionally get up from the chairs that day, and I was about to make some crab cakes as an appetizer before I put the duck on the grill, when suddenly we heard the sump pump do its thing in the basement.  Well, that was curious I thought, since there hadn’t been any rain in days, which meant there had to be an ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF WATER IN THE BASEMENT.

Since the Red House basement is particularly scary, I sent Lynn down to investigate and sure enough a pipe had burst.  In order to get the water to stop, we would have had to turn off the main water valve.  Obviously, if we did that we wouldn’t have any water for eating, washing or drinking, so that wasn’t a viable option.  One of us (not me) had the not-so-brilliant idea we would try to duct tape the leak (that didn’t work), while the other one of us (me) thought rigging up a contraption to get the water to flow directly into the sump pump rather than pool on the floor would be a more manageable temporary solution.

It took about 2 hours to finagle some old metal radiator covers that we positioned under the burst pipe so that the water would go right into the pump.  We thought about calling a plumber but seeing how it was nearly 8:30 p.m. on the 4th of July and the water was still at a non-threatening level, we thought our “flood” could wait until the morning.

Which is why even though I managed to fry the crab cakes up relatively quickly after this plumbing adventure, by the time I got the duck breast on the grill, it was pretty dark outside. The crab cakes, courtesy of an easy recipe I found in Food & Wine, consisted solely of crab, mayo, hot sauce, and homemade breadcrumbs.

Amazing Crabcakes

And while I thought the duck cooked up perfectly fine (slightly pink in the middle), the photograph I took shows the meat swimming in a pool of grease.  This shot I absolutely cannot publish.

I will however, leave you with this, what the old deck used to look like, broken and crumbling and slippery when it snowed.

Old Porch, Finally Gone

Happy belated 4th!

Posted in Breakfast, Duck, Eggs, Fish | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections From the Red House: Baking in a Heat Wave and Surviving a High School Graduation

Yes, it has actually taken me nearly three weeks to get over my youngest child’s graduation and coming up to “relax,” at the Red House has given me a moment to reflect on this event. (I’m “relaxing” because it’s raining which gives me a bit of reprieve from gardening since Lynn is busy with moulding and luckily I know nothing about moulding other than after you’ve ripped it down, somehow you have to put it back up.)

Even though we weren’t having a big gradation party, I still had to take a day off from work to do all the cooking. Now remember, I’m the girl who doesn’t blink an eye about making Thanksgiving dinner in under four hours (even with all the side dishes) so I was surprised that making everything for graduation took me nearly twice that long.

First problem of the day was that we were in the middle of a heat wave. I should mention that in all the years we’ve lived on Long Island, we’ve made do with old school box fans, coupled with a window fan or two.

Old School Box Fan

This I realized was not going to work when the temperature both in and outside the house was over 90 degrees!  (Yes, I actually went outside to my car to take a picture of the temp!)

It’s Definitely Hot!

So, Lynn decided to haul out our really big air conditioner and set it up in the living room, hoping a bit of the cold air would waft into the kitchen (it didn’t), when I realized that when I started to make the chocolate-covered strawberries, I forgot I left the chocolate in my pantry! Imagine how not funny it was to discover that the chocolate had completely melted inside the wrapper and going to the store for more wasn’t an option. So, I simply squeezed what chocolate I could out of the wrapper (don’t all good chefs do that?) and voila, the double boiler cooking time to “melt” the chocolate was cut by 99%.

My Melted Chocolate Mistake

I quickly got the chocolate to stick to the strawberries and popped them in the refrigerator but was melting myself since for reasons known only to the baking gods I had also decided to bake:

1) Regular bread

2) Zucchini bread

3) Pound cake

4) Brownies

5) A cherry cake

6) Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Home-made Bread

While all of this was either baking, mixing or waiting for one of these two steps to happen, I also was trying to set the table and put together a three-tiered cardboard dessert tower.

Wilting Rose Table Decorations

Baking…

 

The Dessert Tower

Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely detest baking.  I mean, yes, I can do it but all the mixing (butter, eggs, flour, etc., etc.,) is just not fun!  Yet, I still do it. And while the brownies were from a box, everything else was made from scratch. The cherries I needed for the cherry cake needed to be pitted by hand, the zucchini bread needed to be closely monitored since at the last moment I decided to make them miniature size and wasn’t too sure about the cooking temperature, and my favorite Bundt pan (the one I  normally bake the pound cake in) had mysteriously disappeared one day on the Long Island Railroad (don’t ask.)

Fresh Cherries For the Cherry Cake

Miniature Zucchini Breads

I mean really, anyone else who was sane would have simply ordered a cake from a bakery and that would have been the end of it.  Don’t my “slightly” chocolate covered strawberries look nice, though?

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

I did manage to get through all the baking and the heat and even made dinner, too, on top of all the desserts.

Aerial Shot of some of the Desserts

Posted in Baking, Dessert, Eggs, Flowers, kitchen | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Aching Back: A Temporary Kitchen Sink And A Garden Growing Slowly

I decided the old farm sink that was held together by duct tape on top of some sort of cabinet had to go.

The Kitchen "Sink"

So we corralled someone who was doing a different home repair project for us one day to rip it out. He was even polite enough to clean up all the mouse droppings underneath for us without being asked to do so!

In the meantime, we’re using a utility tub to wash everything and using a table we picked up from Ikea to put the dishes on to dry.

The Temporary Sink…

What I didn’t realize before I decided to go ahead and have him tear out the old sink however, was that the new sink, hooked up as it is, is considerably lower than the old one.  Which means, I have to bend nearly in half to wash a plate or a pan!  Maybe that’s why my back has been hurting?  Granted, I do in fact have a couple of herniated discs (5 actually) that were sustained 20+ years ago lifting my firstborn in and out of his car seat but only on occasion do I get flare-ups.  (I would have loved to insert a picture of child #1 here, but, ha ha ha, all the pictures are old school and tucked away in photo albums!  And if anyone is thinking “summer scanning project”? The answer is, I don’t think so!)

But back to the present…  Apparently I am a glutton for punishment because after I finished washing the dishes in my bent state, I decided to go out to the garden and tackle all the weeds.  We have an awful lot of weeds growing between everything I’ve planted because of all the rain we’ve had.  Luckily, I noticed what looked like some sort of weed sprouting pretty yellow flowers on the side of the house, and its attractive nature gave me a bit of a push to tackle this unpleasant task.

How Can Weeds Be This Pretty?

So I made my way over to the newly fenced in garden and pulled as many as I could, let some just be, and tried to straighten up ever so slowly so as not to particularly aggravate one disc in particular which just happens to be located above my ass! (I always thought this was my L5 for those who have disc problems but when I researched it, your L5 is located down by your big toe and that’s actually the only part of my body that is not hurting these days!)

In this bent position I did manage to discover that the following were growing already: beets, celery and lots and lots of brussel sprouts.

Baby Beets

Celery

 

Brussels sprouts

Why is Brussels sprouts so difficult to spell? And why do I always forget to add the “s” after Brussel… sorry about that.

Anyway, I had a ton of celery last year and since I’m not a big celery fan I thought I wouldn’t do it again, yet when I went to the nursery to buy my plants, it just looked so green and crunchy that I couldn’t resist. Hence, the repeat planting of last year.

On another note, everything I’ve read about how the garlic should be “turning” and making something called “scapes” which one can apparently eat, or should technically cut back to make the garlic hardier, have actually appeared on my crop.  Wow, had I not see the youtube video of what this was supposed to be like, I would have thought there was something wrong with the garlic.  But, no, it’s turning out exactly as it should. See the way the flower stalk is curling?  That’s the “scape” part.

Garlic Scapes

I also have an incredible amount of lettuce and peas, so time will tell what actually grows and what the animals don’t eat (even after building the fence).

Fresh Lettuce!

Hopefully, by the time we get back up to the Red House, there will be more of everything to feed us through the summer. And eat and enjoy it we will.

Posted in Gardening, kitchen, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Toaster Oven That Doesn’t Toast

This is a short story.  We had a toaster oven we had inherited from our son’s ex-girlfriend’s father.  Really.  I put in on a baker’s rack in the Red House and was just lucky that it kind of worked.

Red House "Appliances" - Coffee Maker and Toaster Oven

But the reality was the toaster oven was really small and I saw this new bigger toaster oven on sale one day that I thought would be so much better.  So I bought it and I plugged it in and put in a couple of pieces of bread to make toast one morning.  Except it didn’t have a toast function!  How could you call a toaster oven a “toaster” oven if it doesn’t toast bread!

The New "Toaster" Oven

Needless to say I was shrieking.  Lynn, trying to be positive during my hysteria, thought it was ok to have “warm” bread.  “Warm” bread?  I don’t want warm bread for breakfast the rest of my life I want toast!

This meant I had to go out and buy a real toaster! And maybe I was channeling a little bit of Martha Stewart during this shopping expedition because I couldn’t even find one that matched!  I wanted a black or a stainless steel toaster.  What I got was white and grey. I have to live with that.  Actually, considering we have been living in an unfinished state of white and grey sheetrock going on 2 years now, I guess the new toaster does match….

Old School Toaster

Oh yeah, it works really well, too.  And the “toaster” oven? Well, I made a batch of oatmeal cookies first thing.

First Cookies in the Toasterless Oven

Posted in Baking, Dessert, kitchen | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Progress: Old Porch Gone, New Window In and Making Toaster Oven “Baguette” in Between

This past month we’ve managed to put in new French doors and our old cement porch is finally history!  That’s the good news.  The bad news is the first week our porch was demolished, we had to use a cinderblock to step up into the kitchen. This is manageable if you’re not carrying anything, but difficult if you’re lugging in a cooler full of food, bottles of wine, and laundry. Should I mention that it was pouring rain, too, and the soil below turned to a big messy puddle of mud?

New French Doors, Temporary "Step"

In case you’ve forgotten what the old cement porch looked like, here it is.

Old Cement Porch

In the process we also put in a new kitchen window and while I would have liked it to be even bigger than it is to really maximize our view of the property, I had to stay within budget and order a simple replacement window that supposedly was a few inches larger.  On the outside of the house, it doesn’t look that much bigger, but it’s centered and guess, what, the windows actually open!  How cool is that?  (Really, when you’re doing a house renovation of this magnitude, you’re just happy that anything works.)

New Kitchen Window

Old Kitchen Window

On the culinary front, I decided to try a new bread recipe, baguette to be precise, from the late labor leader Albert Shanker. Since I had been using a New York Times recipe for years that I wasn’t particularly fond of (the dough was always really gooey and difficult to work with), I thought it was time to not only try something new but hopefully  more manageable, too.  I also wanted something that I could make in our toaster oven (the one that doesn’t toast) so thought making “mini baguettes” might be feasible.

I made the dough beforehand and brought it up to the house.  I let it sit, then cut it in half and tried to fashion each half into something that resembled a baguette shape but in reality looked like a hero.

Baguette....Sort of

I popped each loaf into a baguette form and put it in the toaster oven.  Since I was afraid that “misting” or throwing in a cup of water to give it the steam effect the bread would need to make it crunchy would cause my toaster oven to catch on fire, (or maybe even the house), I added a metal drip pan filled with about half a cup of water and put it in the oven.  It appears that this oven is afflicted with the same problem as my oven on Long Island — one half of the oven cooks faster (and hence darker) than the other half! This meant, one baguette turned out darker than the other. I let them cool a bit and while the desired crunchy top was achieved, I thought they could have spent a few more minutes cooking.

Homemade Bread!

 

With the bread we had a simple lunch of marinated white anchovies (thanks for the gift Mom!).

Spanish Anchovies

And some burrata, tomatoes, and a few leaves of basil I managed to steal from the garden.

The basil is the only thing here from the garden...

It’s just then I realized our contractor had taken off the front of the house, too!

Red House Gets A Face Lift!

Now even though I was attached to the old “look” of the front of the house and the columns, the scale was all wrong, not to mention the fact that it was actually about to collapse from all the rot! (Really, I was always terrified whenever anyone was actually standing under that part of the house!)

The Red House

We did keep two of the columns though and are trying to think of something we could do with them.

Lovely Red House Column...

 

 

Posted in Baking, Construction, Renovation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment