Red House Fondue

The thing is, I grew up eating a lot of fondue — both meat and cheese. Maybe it was a 70’s thing or maybe it was just Mom’s way of saying it’s “fondue night,” so she didn’t have to cook.  Either way,  she’d dig out the fondue pot, a sterno, a couple of fondue forks, and then start cutting up pieces of beef or chicken.  When she first started out making meat fondue, we always “cooked” the meat in vegetable oil.  Eventually she switched from oil to chicken broth which unfortunately always took twice as long to cook the meat but had the added benefit of giving the diners a bonus dish — bowls of soup to be eaten after the fondue part was over. Sometimes she’d even crack an egg in the broth, giving the soup a weird but good kind of egg-drop look to it.  We’d also have a couple of dipping sauces (usually mayo and ketchup or a curry-thing) to dip the meat in, some French fries, and a salad. Of course the meal wouldn’t be complete if someone didn’t stab their fingers a couple of times while trying to spear the meat or poultry onto the fork or even burn their tongue while trying to chew the still-too-hot-to eat pieces!

Somewhere along the way however, I fell out of favor with meat fondue and preferred to go with the cheese version instead.  I’d cut up some day-old French or Italian bread into nice-sized cubes and other than having to grate the cheese, the meal basically made itself.  (Ok, I will admit that on a few occasions I substituted small white potatoes in place of the bread and once even added a plate of thinly sliced ham that we could dunk into the cheese mixture.)

But I need to segue a bit. I think my kids are the only kids I know who have been to the town of Gruyere to eat real Swiss fondue in (duh!) Switzerland. I’m not mentioning this to be elitist in any way shape or form, it’s simply a fact.  Growing up in Munich, I remember  visiting the town of Gruyere as a child, and one summer when we were traveling with our kids through Europe, I was determined they would see Gruyere, too.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise given my love of all things fondue-like that I’m the proud owner of  TWO fondue pots. One of these pots was actually one of the first things I put into a box after I bought the Red House.  After all, we had no kitchen (and no stove), and I figured making a pot of fondue every now and again would be an easy (and yummy) meal.

My Fondue Pot

Why it took me nearly two years to make that first cheese fondue at the Red House, I don’t know.  But finally we had it.   Be sure to use some good cheese and good wine, and by all means great bread.

Crusty Italian Bread

Since I’m not a purist, I actually like to use a combination of cheeses (not just Swiss), but feel free to substitute any hard cheeses you like.

Swiss and Colby Combo

And even though I don’t normally “do” recipes, I’m including this one anyway.  Enjoy!

Red House Fondue

1 cup grated Swiss cheese (preferably Emmentaler)

1 cup grated Monterey Jack or Colby cheese

2 cups white wine

1 clove of garlic

1/4 cup of flour

1 loaf of Italian or French bread cut into cubes

Freshly ground pepper

1.  While most recipes call for you to wipe the inside of the fondue pot with a clove of garlic and then toss it (the garlic, not the pot), I actually like to leave the garlic in the pot. Let it cook so it’s nice and mushy, and whoever gets that piece of garlic, in my opinion, wins a bonus prize! Also, most recipes also call for a dash or two of Kirsch to the mixture but I’m not a big Kirsch fan so my fondue is without this additional ingredient.

2.  Grate the cheeses and sprinkle some flour over the mixture.  This will add a little thickness to the sauce.

3. On the stove, warm up the wine in the fondue pot (remember the garlic clove should be at the bottom, too), then gradually add the grated cheese.

4.  Keep stirring until the cheese has melted, then transfer (use pot holders!) to your fondue rack.

5. Dip away!

Absolutely Delicious Fondue

Oh yeah, try not to eat the entire pot of cheese because if you leave just a smidgen at the bottom, the cheese will “fry” up.  Using a knife or even your fondue fork, gently lift up the remaining cheese disk, cut it up into pieces, and be nice and share it with the rest of the table. Or not.

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Christmas Over, New Year Begins With The Impact Driver the Favorite Toy

I think my Christmas cookie baking scenario should have given me an inkling that 2011 wasn’t going to go out easy.

For starters, I’ve never had a problem making cookies.  This year it seemed I made batches of my usual kinds (butter with raspberry jam, chocolate chip, almond and amaretto butter, cinnamon sugar) and only two of the four were decent.

Decent Christmas Cookies

The others spread across the pan as they were baking as if they were trying to escape!

Raspberry Jam Cookies Wanting to Escape!

Since I’m also fairly stubborn when faced with having to pay large amounts of money for things that I think are overpriced ($9.99 for a bag of shelled walnuts???!!), I bought two bags of walnuts in the shell ($2.99 each), and then not only shelled them, but proceeded to crush them with a rolling pin the way my mother did, and her mother before her. Note to self: no way in hell will my daughter EVER do this to save a few bucks.

Crushed Walnuts, the Old Fashioned Way

Consequently, with all the holiday baking and eating behind us, I definitely felt it was time to do some serious work up at the Red House (or at least try to).  So, instead of leaving after work on Friday, and getting there at midnight, and then being hopelessly tired the next 24 hours, I actually took a day off from work to get a head start.

One of my first projects nearly two years ago when we bought the house was to paint a pink hallway at the top of the staircase white. I had, however, never gotten around to painting (priming actually) the actual staircase, so this I decided to tackle.

Half Pink, Half Primed Staircase

Problem was, since everyone knows I’m afraid of heights, I actually couldn’t reach to paint the ceiling and no way in hell was I going to figure out how to rig up a ladder (without falling down the stairs) that would let me do so. I moved on.

Next on the list, help Lynn finish insulating the dining room.  This involved me doing nearly next to nothing (holding up pink foam board with two fingers), while he’s struggling with screws and an impact driver.

A Nearly Insulated Dining Room

While he was doing that, I decided that a closet that had been installed in a hallway that leads down to the basement, had to be ripped out.  I’m assuming the closet had once been used to hold towels or other toiletries since it had been located outside the original bathroom.  Well, now that the original bathroom is  gone, it was not only taking up room but was hideously ugly as well.  It had to go.

I started ripping it apart and Lynn didn’t like that I was attempting to dismantle it old school-like, (with a screwdriver and a hammer), so suddenly I found the impact driver pushing my hand away from the screws that are holding the closet shelves in place.  They do come down rather quickly that way (impact driver 1, Julie 0), and we decide to stack all the pieces in the kitchen.  Arranged, I realize they very much look like a Georges Braque still life.

The Closet As Still Life

After this much work in a single afternoon, we decided it was definitely time for cocktails with some smoked oysters as a little amuse bouche. Lynn and I are the only people that we know who actually enjoy eating smoked oysters (other than my parents and occasionally our son if I wrap them in some puff pastry with a big dollop of goat cheese, too). I have to however assume there are other people out there who enjoy them just as much as we do, otherwise they wouldn’t bother smoking them and canning them.

Awesome Smoked Oysters with a Lime Squeeze

While Lynn would have probably liked to use his impact driver to open the can, luckily it was simply a pull top! (I promise I will soon stop the impact driver jokes.)

Since before the weekend had started I thought in order to spend more time renovating and less time cooking, I would simply bring up a bunch of food that was already cooked. That meant for the next three days, we would be eating chili, chicken rollatini and sausages.  I cheated a bit with the sausages because while I did grill them beforehand, I still had to boil some water for pasta (they were going to be thrown into a pasta dish), and slice them along with some roasted peppers, too.

Chicken and Apple Sausage Fixin's for Dinner

The next morning we woke to snow, contemplated whether we should eventually get a snowblower, but then realized it would probably be one of those toys (like the Troy Bilt) that wouldn’t start when we needed it the most.  That said, we both went out with two big blue shovels and simply shoveled the driveway and part of the sidewalk.  This took less than half an hour.

Real Women (and Men) Shovel

We didn't shovel this part....

Besides the snow (3-4 inches), it was also pretty cold (think 2 degrees), and while the rest of the house was warm, the kitchen in it’s current unfinished and uninsulated state was simply unbearable. This meant that when I tried to wash the breakfast dishes that morning, the sponge had frozen to the sink!

Isn't this a beautiful kitchen?

I tried not to spend much time in this room the rest of the weekend and instead helped Lynn put more insulation around a new window we had installed.  Luckily, we had a big bag of that cotton candy looking stuff that comes in rolls, that Lynn reminded me we had used when we redid our kitchen on Long Island.  Since I’m the queen of throwing things out I think we no longer need, I’m actually amazed we still had it!

Insulation that kind of looks like a burrito!

Putting the insulation in the window was pretty simple, trying to fit the original moulding around the frame was not. The impact driver got a particularly good workout with Lynn trying to make pieces fit that should have gone back together in a snap, but wouldn’t.

This is what a new window looks like!

I decided to at least try to keep up with all the mess he was making so I started to sweep, then, mop, particularly in the hallway where we had torn out the closet.  Problem is there is just so much dust from all the sheetrock we are using that even after all my efforts at cleaning, the truth is it didn’t look like I had done anything at all!

Where the closet had been...

Bored with cleaning, I decided to try out some new cross country skis I had been gifted.  Now here’s the thing, the last time I was on downhill skis was probably around 1978. Cross country skis, while more recently (maybe 1997), I, in fact, had to think hard about a) how to put them on, and b) how to actually do this.  Once I figured it out, I was even able to do a fairly slow glide kind of thing across the back meadow until I realized how incredibly hilly the back meadow is.  Hilly, means I would have to go DOWNHILL ON CROSS COUNTRY SKIS.  So, not wanting to fall on my ass just yet, I simply took them off and walked back to the Red House.

There, I placed them, skies and poles, too,  against our crumbling red siding. I was always the girl anyway, who preferred to be in the ski lodge (at the bar of course), then actually on a slope. I will however, find a Cross Country Skiing for Dummies book, or some such nonsense and learn how to do it.

A Great Place to Cross Country Ski....If You Know How!

Meanwhile back on the ranch, I mean, the Red House, as I stumbled up our broken steps, afraid that if the ice beneath my boots wouldn’t send me flying, surely the icicles hanging down from the roof would give me a nice bump (or worse) on my head.

Ice Ice Baby

I did look at the other rooms that are shaping up fairly nicely (before we even had an impact driver, thanks Mom!) and thought that if we could just finish one room by the summer, maybe we could actually buy a sofa we could sit on?  One that would be comfortable and wouldn’t pinch our ass?

The Living Room -- Work in Progress

So three days later, after we had tackled as much as we could, I woke up craving French toast with real maple syrup from a farmer down the road, so I made some. Lynn wondered why I needed that much syrup on my plate.  Because I like maple syrup I said, and poured even more on the toast I had fried up in a pan on the hot plate.

Yummy French Toast (Why is it called French, anyway?)

Considering what happened next at the Red House, I’m really really happy I had as much sugar that morning as I did.  Turns out when I went to flush the toilet in our ONE bathroom, there was no water in the bowl.  When I tried to turn on the water in the sink, only hot water came out.  That’s when we realized that the cold water pipes leading up to the bathroom had frozen solid.

This unfortunately came about because yesterday, knowing the temperature was going to seriously drop (think double digit minus numbers), we tried to insulate the exposed water pipes by wrapping some heavy duty plastic between the pipes and an exterior wall.  Wrong! This had exactly the opposite effect we had wanted, hence the freezing pipes.  We turned the heat up in the house, thought about calling a plumber, then I decided I would simply wrap the skinny pipes in towels.  My theory was whenever the kids got out of the ocean and were freezing, wrapping them in towels got them warm in no time.  So that’s what I did.

Trying to warm up the frozen pipes!

Ha. Ha. Ha.  Couldn’t use the impact driver to solve this problem!  Within an hour the pipes had “thawed,” and we had cold running water back up in the bathroom. Shortly thereafter we left the Red House for the weekend, but decided to leave the pipes “dressed” so to speak in the towels.  The theory was, if the pipes actually burst, maybe the towels would catch most of the water!

I already can’t wait until spring.

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The College Road Trip

It should have started a year ago, but here we were nearly a quarter into our Senior year when we started thinking about colleges we were interested in attending.  I can comfortably say “we” because the daughter in question has for the first time in my life made me a “helicopter mom” in this endeavor.  Prior to this year, she had managed quite well on her own, learning how to cook, how to drive, and even working 2-3 part-time jobs without any help from me, myself and I.

Suddenly, however, trying to find a college that 1) interests her and 2) that we can manage with the help of lots of student loans has become nearly a full-time job for me.

While this article may not seem relative to post on the Red House site at all, in fact there are some instances when it actually is the perfect place to rant, I mean, talk about a college road trip. Why?  Because,

#1 Doing a college road trip involved being able to stay at the Red House (thus saving $ on a hotel room).

#2 One of the colleges (note the use of the word one, as in single, as in uno, as in the only one) was a mere 1.5 hours from the Red House.

Which is how at 6:30 a.m. on the Sunday morning before the Thanksgiving holiday, we found ourselves in the car and heading towards Rhode Island.  But first, we needed to stop at the local bagel store.  Unlike, one of my fellow bloggers (that would be you, Dad), who does not like to eat while driving, I’m quite happy with noshing as I drive.

It turns out that this would be quite a day for noshing, since after we finished our bagels, Rachel curled up in the back surrounded by enough pillows and blankets to keep her warm in sub-zero weather, and fell asleep. But when she woke up, she reached for a box of Ritz crackers and pretty much ate the whole thing herself!

Lots of snacks on this road trip!

Since we had left so friggin early in the morning, we got to college #1 (in Rhode Island) in under 3 hours.  We walked around campus and it was eerily quiet which led me to think the kids were already on Thanksgiving break.  This however was not the case since when we ventured into the student union, a friendly staff member told us that the kids simply like to “sleep in” on Sunday mornings.  Oh yeah, I had almost forgotten what that was like (at least to “sleep in” past nine anyway).

We continued on.  It was still early and we decided before we drove to see college #2 in Providence we would make a detour to Newport.  I love Newport! When the kids were little, Lynn and I would often visit the town when we needed a quick getaway.  Rachel had been to Newport before (we had taken her to see The Breakers) but alas, she didn’t remember it.

The Breakers (Red House Wannabe)

So although she was impressed with all the mansions she was seeing in Newport (Mom, why can’t we live in one of those?), she wasn’t too keen on getting out of the car.  I persuaded her it was a gorgeous day, let’s do the cliff walk.

The Cliff Walk in Newport

I even saw her sneak a picture or two of the ocean, so I knew even though she had complained, she thought it was pretty.

We kept driving. And got lost once we hit Providence.  Now, Lynn and I have been to Providence a couple of times, hitting a particularly good restaurant one afternoon, but this day it seemed we kept driving in circles and the town seemed kind of dead.  All three of us  wanted a cup of “chowda” and maybe a lobster roll if we were really lucky.  We were! We stumbled upon a bistro-type of place that made a decent New England clam chowder and did a Lobster Club sandwich with fries that was pretty darn good.

After lunch we visited college #2, were not terribly impressed, and got back in the car.  We had planned that night to stay at the Red House and once again, overestimated our driving time.  But I have to segue here just a bit. I know I’m probably the only mom ever to take a cooler filled with food on the college road trip circuit. (And I’m not talking about lunch!)  That’s because I had visions of us reaching the Red House after 10 p.m. (when nothing would be open). We, in fact, arrived shortly after 6 p.m.  That meant we had ample time to finish the few remaining Ritz crackers Rachel had not consumed in the car and a nice piece of Brie.

A Really Nice Brie

From the cooler I took out a couple of steaks I thought we could put on the grill, a tupperware container filled with roasted rosemary-flavored potatoes I had made the night before, and some lettuce for a salad.  The potatoes I was able to warm up in the wok, and the steaks we put on the grill.  What we didn’t realize is since we had been grilling all summer, our propane was seriously low  — so low in fact that we decided to only light one side of the grill, thinking we could conserve a little fuel that way.  It was too dark outside to see what we were doing anyway, so we just left the steaks on the grill until we were really hungry.  Let’s just say, they were done enough.

We ate, we drank and then it was not even 8:30 and there was nothing much to do.  Remember, at the Red House, we have no TV, no DVD player, and believe it or not, I had not brought my computer up with me. (A real vacation!) It was too early to go to sleep, and since Rachel had slept most of the time when we were driving anyway,  I figured she was good for another 6 or 7 hours! That’s when I was introduced to “Words With Friends” which is kind of like playing scrabble except you play it on your i-phone!  This lasted about an hour and as you can see from our scores, Rachel was very determined to beat me. Oh yeah, note the words “poor” which is what we will be after this college experience but hopefully not “poor” enough so we can still “eat”!

Our Only "Game"

Road Trip Day #2

For some reason, breakfast just tastes better at the Red House.  I made a huge ham and cheese omelet for the three of us to share, warmed up some mini bagels in the toaster oven, made a big pot of coffee, and it was a late enough breakfast to last us through a visit to college #3.

I absolutely have to mention that this is the outfit Rachel slept in at the Red House (this year’s Halloween costume) and wore to breakfast! “Mom, it’s warm and fuzzy,” is what she said to me.

Daughter as Power Ranger?

Obviously, we were having way too much fun here. Perhaps she should pursue acting? Why were we looking at colleges with Criminal Justice/Psychology programs anyway?

When we finally left the house a few hours later, I have to admit I cheated a little.  I really want her to go to college #3 (state school, lovely campus, nice town) so I took the scenic route.  That would be the one that goes past lots of pretty little lakes and charming towns filled with antique stores.  She slept the entire way.

We were early for our tour, drove around town, then walked around most of the campus ourselves.  We stopped to have a cup of coffee and split a piece of cake.  We finally had the tour (us and only one other family), and this campus was empty, too, not because the kids were sleeping, but in fact everyone had already gone home.

It was nearly 3 p.m. when we got back on the road when Rachel decided she was hungry (again) so we stopped at a Mickey D’s (don’t tell anyone!) and got fries and cheeseburgers for the road.

After our trip, I felt as turbulent as the waves I had seen on the cliff walk 24 hours prior.

Ocean View From The Cliffwalk

I was wondering how many more colleges we would be visiting in the next few weeks…and all the money we would need to come up with to make this happen for her. Because I’ve realized one really simple equation:

College = No Money for the Red House

But I’m good with that, who needs a kitchen anyway?

P.S. This week we found out Rachel was accepted to a college which was not one of the three we visited that weekend.  It is also the most expensive one.

P.S.S. Have I ever mentioned how very much I like my one burner?  I think so.

The "Flame" As We Know It

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Preparing For Winter (And Craving Chicken Pot Pie)

The great thing about being in upstate New York is that the weather is so unpredictable. (I love change and I love surprises even weather-related ones.)  About a month ago we woke to a few last colorful leaves on the trees, some hardy flowers still blooming, and a sky that was sunny and blue.

The Red Door at the Red House

But two hours later when we decided to do a bit of a road trip up to the mountains, this is what we greeted us.

An Early Snowfall

I thought it was gorgeous actually and it made me crave heart-warming things to eat.  Since we had recently watched the French film The Secret of the Grain, I started to think of a couscous I could make that would be perfect to whip up in the wok (aka the only pan that works really well on the ONE burner).

My Couscous

Filled with shrimp, chick peas, fresh cilantro and grapes (because I had some leftover), it made a simple but lovely dinner.  But before we could eat it, we needed to work on one of the projects that was our raison d’etre for being at the Red House that weekend — namely putting in some insulation in the dining room.

Funny thing, the room we spend most of our time in (and cook in, too) is also the coldest room in the house!  That’s because there’s absolutely no insulation between the dining room and the bathroom/laundry room addition which in its current state is simply a shell. We went out and bought some of that pink foam board and with the help of some furring strips, managed to hang some of the foam board and a few pieces of sheetrock.

Putting In Some Insulation

What I didn’t count on was the fact that this part of the house was falling apart so even attempting to screw in the furring strips caused a few old beams and bricks to give way.

The Mess

Lynn labored at doing this but as usual we ran out of time and finished less than half a wall.  Leaving the Red House that afternoon, I looked at the bamboo that dies each year but somehow manages to come back stronger and lusher than before.

The Bamboo in Winter

For some reason, along the way home, I started to think about making a chicken pot pie.  Why I was craving chicken pot pie I don’t know other than it was cold outside and the combination of pie crust, potatoes, chicken, peas and carrots all cooked in a lovely cream sauce just sounded really good.

A few days later, I was able to pull the dish together albeit not at the Red House. I cheated a bit and made the pie crust (flour, ice water, butter) in the food processor, then rolled it out on my slab of marble.

Pie Crust for the Chicken Pot Pie

Prior to that I had cooked the potatoes, peas and carrots and tossed them with some chicken I had boiled earlier in the day.  Mixed together with some heavy cream and some dried tarragon, this was my filling.

The Filling

I baked the whole thing in the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes and yes, it was pretty yummy!

Awesome Chicken Pot Pie

And as we were eating it, I was still thinking of the snow we saw that day and knowing there is much more to come.

A Winter Wonderland




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The Last Grill of The Season

Columbus Day weekend was warm and sunny and I figured it would be the last decent weekend for grilling outside.  I didn’t want to go crazy with the “last grill,” but there were a few things I wanted to make — again.  At the beginning of the summer, we attempted to cook a pizza on the grill and it turned out pretty well, but I thought we could do better.

So after making the dough, I heated up a pizza stone on the grill, then gently put the dough on top, waited for it to cook a bit on one side, and then actually flipped it like a crepe.  Only after that did I spoon on some sauce, basil from the garden, and this funky log of mozzarella that when I sliced it, it was in the shape of a ring.

A Funky Grilled Pizza

Because I flipped the pizza this time around, it had more of a rustic-look to it which I liked.  What I didn’t like was there was way too much sauce on the pie.  Guess what, we ate it anyway, and it was pretty good.

Since the pizza was technically our appetizer, I took it off the grill and we nibbled at it with a couple of cocktails and then I  got down to the business of cooking Cornish hens.  Now, I know Cornish hens are a bit of an old school kind of dish and frankly I actually had trouble finding a supermarket that still carried them but eventually I did find two small birds.

I stuffed the cavities with fresh celery leaves from the garden and then sprinkled the hens with fresh rosemary and a bunch of dried spices (notably oregano and paprika),  gave them a good dose of olive oil,  and put them on the grill.  Since I didn’t want these babies to char right away, yet be raw inside, I turned the flame down fairly low and spent the next 30 minutes or so moving them around.

Hopefully The Last “Cornish” Hen I Ever Eat

While they looked pretty, the reality is they were completely tasteless! ( Sigh, so much for my Cornish hen fantasy.)  Luckily, the lovely roasted beet and arugula salad (with red onion and tomato, too!) I made to accompany those ucky hens saved the day.  In hindsight, sticking with the pizza and the salad would have been a much better option.

Lovely Roasted Yellow Beets, Arugula, Tomatoes

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Bring It On Food Network

This time last year we still had a somewhat functioning stove (if you could call two burners on an old kitchen range a stove),  so that winter weekends at the Red House could at least yield a bowl of soup.

A Very Sorry Stove Indeed

Since I wasn’t particularly thrilled about having to grill outside in the snow, when I saw a plug-in “extra” burner on sale at the supermarket, I thought I’d give it a try.

This handy little gadget became our “flame,” and with a little bit of planning and lots of creativity on my part, was the answer to our lack-of-stove problem.

The "Flame" As We Know It

The first morning we used it, we plugged it in, and since not all of the electrical wiring is done in the house, we managed to blow out all the lights on the first floor! Sigh, yes, we realized too late that we couldn’t have the toaster oven and the “flame” going at the same time.

Consequently, Lynn went down to the basement and flipped the switch that had tripped. Meanwhile, I turned the toaster oven off and we continued “cooking.”  Turns out though that we still needed to be a little conservative with anything else we had plugged in when the “flame” was on because once we turned it on high, the lights in the dining room started flashing on and off.  Wow, disco this early in the morning!

I scrambled some eggs from Jones Family Farm, went outside to get some fresh chives that are growing in a big barrel by the side of the house, and voila, breakfast was finally served.

Lovely Chive Speckled Eggs

The other thing I discovered was that the “flame” was the perfect dimension for my wok.  This resulted in my making a really wonderful shrimp curry with some green beans and onions and a couple of red grapes thrown into the mix, too.

Wok Stirrred Shrimp Curry? At the Red House -- Yes!

The only draw back was that since I was working with one single burner, the rice I had made before I could make the curry was cold by the time we sat down to eat it.  Minor details.

So far, I’ve cooked a lovely piece of salmon (which we ate with some baguette from Fairway and a creamy brie), macaroni and cheese, chicken every which way, and a really big pot of chili which we ate with a homemade pizza one night.

Nearly Perfect Salmon

Yummy Chili

Obviously, I still need a kitchen with a real working stove and an oven. Oh yeah, I need a new fridge and a dishwasher, and counters and cupboards would be nice, too.  Right now I’m entering every single contest that is offering these goodies, since that’s probably the only way I’m going to get an entire kitchen in the next few years.

However, I’m happy to know that we don’t have to rely solely on the grill to cook our food and that we’ll make it through the winter at the Red House just fine with this single burner.

So, yes, I would welcome any chef, or chef-wannabe to a Red House cooking challenge.  One burner, no oven. Try me.


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Our Not Very Cooperative Boy Toys

When we first bought the Red House, I waxed eloquently about my first attempt to ride the Troy Bilt, and while I was scared doing it, ultimately it was a lot of fun.

The Troy Bilt is fun no more.  Ever since we purchased this machine, we’ve had nothing but problems with it.  Last year when it was sitting in the garage, it became the dwelling of choice for many of the field mice.  They decided it would be really cool to build a house made out of straw (I’m not kidding) inside the engine.  This resulted in us having to waste time and clean out the engine and the filter component before we even attempted to turn it on.

Since our time up at the Red House is limited, the last thing we want to do is spend three hours picking out pieces of dried grass in order to try to get the damn thing to work! Plus, that wasn’t our only problem. One weekend we had a flat tire, this weekend it was the battery.  Lynn even managed to find the “directions” (shown here on the machine and even written in fairly basic English), but we just couldn’t get the stupid thing to start.

My Nemesis

Luckily, we had purchased a 3 year maintenance plan, so once again we had to call the big box company for a service repair request and then they, in turn, phone a guy that works as a subcontractor for them.  He shows up with a trailer attached to his truck and simply hauls the thing away “to take a look at it,” he tells us.

Since we were trying very hard to get a “last mowing” in before the winter weather is upon us, I already know if it doesn’t snow, the grass will be more than a few feet high and the length alone will probably cause the Troy Bilt to explode or something!

Then there was the tiller.  In fairness the tiller hadn’t been used in two years so when it wouldn’t start after numerous tries, Lynn had the bright idea that we should empty out the old gasoline that had been sitting in the machine, fill it with new gas, and give it a go.

The Handy Tiller

Luckily since we wanted to get all the garlic in the ground, it eventually decided to kick on, and although it was difficult to handle (it kind of pulls you), it generally did what it was supposed to do.

I must have had an inkling that mowing the lawn wasn’t going to happen that weekend though since before we drove up, I  remembered thinking of  an old push mower my mom had sitting in her garage.  Could I borrow it?  Would it work?  Could I at least mow the lawn in the front of the house?

I guess I got the last laugh on this.  It did work, although pushing the damn thing through the grass was difficult.  To thank it for a job well done I decided to give it it’s own “portrait,” kind of like a shot you’d see in a magazine romanticizing farm-life.

Hello -- Old School Lawnmower!

Hello, it’s only romantic after the chores are done!

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The First Fall Planting

We decided this past Columbus Day weekend that the garden, as we know it, simply wasn’t working for us. The original design that was sketched for us (thanks Natalie!) had pathways and tidy little plots each dedicated to a particular vegetable, herb or flower bed.  In reality what happened is we never clearly defined the pathways; plants were simply planted helter skelter, and the rest of the garden slowly but surely became overrun with weeds.

So working off the original drawing we set out to divide the garden into sections by laying down some pressure-treated wood to create walkways and then putting down some plastic weed-blocker and covering it with small stones.  We started with 5 bags of stones, then went back to the store and got 12 more.  We realized we had totally underestimated the amount of stones (and wood) we needed but we got a good portion of it done.

A New Garden Design

Unfortunately, some of the plants (marigolds in particular) I had planted in the spring needed to be moved, but I think they’ll survive.

Hearty Marigolds (Hopefully!)

The biggest accomplishment this weekend was the planting of over 100 cloves of garlic, 70 tulip bulbs and 20 daffodils. My mom was gracious enough to buy me the flower bulbs, and Lynn and I went to a  garlic festival a few weekends ago and picked up a couple of different varietals, notably the Purple and Hardy kind. (I think that’s what they were; I’m kind of new at this garlic planting so I’m really winging it.)

Tulips from Holland


Lovely Daff's

I started by digging holes into the garden and afterwards thought it looked like a gopher had been there!

Where the Garlic Is Going To Go (and Hopefully Grow)

These were the bags of garlic we had picked up from the festival.  Hope they work!

German Hardy and Purple Garlic

I then carefully separated the cloves trying to keep them as intact as possible.  What I noticed right away were these cloves were difficult to pull apart, in other words not like the other garlic that we normally get from the supermarket (from China no less) where the cloves separate very easily.

Cloves To Be Planted

Then I went outside with my colander filled with cloves (don’t worry I didn’t wash them I’m not an idiot, it was just a handy way to carry everything outside!), and one by one I put one clove, pointy side up in the ground.

Hope this Works!

The soil was a little dry since it hadn’t rained in a while but I did water after everything got covered up, and I even made sure I put a little straw over my plantings to give them a little layer of protection.  I’m hoping that at least half of what I’ve planted will grow and also hope that the bulbs I’ve just planted are not dug up and eaten by the increasing number of deer we have on the property.

By the way, if anyone reading this knows I’m totally doing this ass-backwards, please please drop me a note!

Meanwhile, the leaves have started to change a bit on the sumac trees, which are quite lovely this time of year.

Leaves Turning

But I think the bees were confused by the warm weather we were having since they seemed perfectly content to be buzzing all over the place and trying to grab that last bit of nectar out of every last flower that was still blooming on the property.

Doesn't this look like something from National Geographic?

After all the planting, I did try to clean up some of the garden and filled the wheelbarrow with weeds and the various dead plants (tomatoes and eggplant) that didn’t grow too well.

No Need To Go To The Gym After Doing This!

I also discovered a small new crop of arugula that may make 1/2 a salad…

Late Arugula

Until Lynn stepped on it, that is.

I also planted two new rose bushes that were on sale (5 bucks each) after the window guys had trampled the previous ones.


Baby Rose Bushes

So we’ll see what the fall brings and what spring blooms.

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Why Am I Dialing India? Some Thoughts About Trying To Get A Service Call For My New Furnace

While we had the new furnace put in last April, we haven’t really had an opportunity to test it out.  While it might have been sunny and warm during the day this past Columbus Day weekend, the nights were very California-like; the days started off foggy, gradually got hot, but ended up kind of chilly at night.  Consequently when we got up to the house late Friday night, it was 44 degrees outside, and only 59 degrees inside the house.

We turned on the thermostat and yes, the radiators warmed up nicely….but only on one side of the house.  It seems that the Red House has a two-zone heating system which is supposed to heat the first floor then the second floor.  Well, in theory that’s how it’s supposed to work.  We found out that in reality, only half of each floor is controlled by each zone.  Which means, we had heat in the living room and our bedroom (the east side of the house), but no heat in the upstairs bathroom, guest room, and the family room on the first floor (the west side of the house).

Since our first priority was to have something to eat (my hot potato and leek soup), it wasn’t until 12:35 a.m. that I dialed the number for service.  Little did I know that the company we had bought our furnace from, that would be Sears (previously known as Sears Roebuck & Co. and founded in 1886 which makes it younger that the Red House), would be outsourcing its call center to India. Which means at close to 1 a.m. after being up roughly 19 hours, I’m trying to explain to someone in a different time zone about my relatively new furnace not heating one entire half of my house.

Now, considering we survived just fine last winter by sleeping with all our clothes on underneath a layer of quilts, I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t get through this nippy night, too.  After all, our room had heat, but no other bedroom did.  But more importantly I was angry. If I’m laying out big bucks for a new furnace, that furnace had better well be working!

My New Furnace

Saturday morning I received a phone call from a Sears representative in the United States (Florida to be precise), who apologized for my “inconvenience” and told me she would contact the repair person ASAP. Sunday morning came and went and finally on Monday I picked up the phone again and started ranting and raving about getting someone out to look at the furnace to see why only half of my house was heating up.

But here’s the thing.  At this point I was told by Sears that they don’t offer 24/7 emergency service.  And while they kept trying to contact the one authorized repair person in my area, they kept getting an answering machine and didn’t have his cell phone number.

I thought that was odd and then remembered that I had the cell phone number of the guy who had installed the furnace for me in the first place and could this conceivably be the same person who was now responsible for maintenance, too?  It was.  I called the number I had and sure enough it was the same person.  I told him the problem and asked if he could come over to look at it but he said he couldn’t because he had another job to go to over 100 miles away.  He suggested we “drain” the pipes, thinking there might be an air pocket preventing the water from going through the old steam radiators, so Lynn and I found a couple of buckets, some pliers, and went around letting the water out of the radiators.  We cranked the heat up to 72 degrees in the house and voila — all the radiators started to work.

But here’s the thing.  Living on Long Island, I guess I’m spoiled.  If I have a problem with any appliance in my house, I can usually get someone to at least come out and look at it within an hour or two. In Upstate New York, I apparently don’t have that luxury.  But I’m also dismayed that what I always thought of as the quintessential American company (that would be you Sears, Roebuck & Co.) is using a call center in India! Hello, isn’t the federal unemployment rate still hovering around 9.1%? Couldn’t we transfer some jobs back to the U.S. of A.?  Like this one?

As if this wasn’t trying my patience enough, I was also informed that if I ever have a “real” heating emergency in my home, it would only be dealt with Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

I guess I should learn how to knit.  I may have to start making a bunch of blankets.

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My Love Affair With Leeks

I suppose it started when I was living in Munich and my Mom, on one of the few true warm summer days, would whip up a batch of vichychoisse for us to eat at lunch.  It was thick with potatoes and leeks, and there was always a sprinkling of fresh chives on top. I remember frequently having two bowls.

Who knew that 30 years later, I would find myself growing leeks up at an old farm house, so that I, too, could make batches of vichychoisse!

I only planted a few leeks this past summer not knowing how many of them would survive  but every single one of the leeks I planted made it!  I started digging them up a few weeks ago, and they were absolutely the biggest and prettiest leeks I had ever seen.


Lovely Leeks

Since leeks are fairly expensive (think $3 a stalk) in my supermarket (if they even have them at all), I was pretty pleased I was able to grow this vegetable on the Red House property. I started thinking of some of my favorite leek dishes. They are:

Carmelized leek and goat cheese pizza

Leek and swiss cheese omelettes

Macaroni and cheese with sauteed leeks

Roasted chicken smothered with leeks

Salmon with leeks and cream

And finally my own “warm” version of vichychoisse — an awesome potato and leek soup with freshly snipped chives. This tasted especially yummy a few weeks ago after a 5.5 hour drive up to the house with a thermostat inside that said it was 59 degrees! (And 44 degrees outside!)

Warm Potato and Leek Soup

Oh yeah, and since I’m trying to convince VW to make me their spokesperson since I love my TDI (when I get to drive it that is…I have a teenage daughter), I sent them this shot of our other VW.  I am still waiting to hear from them…

Leeks on VW


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