Linoleum, Grilling and Craving German Food

This weekend I dealt with two major issues.

1. I still had two rooms of linoleum that I never ripped out from last summer.

2. If we wanted to eat, we would have to grill.

So, I hauled the grill out of the barn and got a wonderful shot of some beautiful wildflowers that have suddenly sprung up all over the property.  While others might consider them to be a tad weed-like, I’m keeping them.

Beautiful Blue Wildflowers

The first morning sans stove I was pretty ambitious, I put some applewood smoked bacon on the grill which cooked up quicker than I thought but then suddenly it started to rain and even though I tried to cover the bacon as I was carrying it from outside to inside, it was cold and wet.  Yummy!

Grilling Bacon!

Luckily, the pancakes faired a tad better.  Since I never like to do anything really simple, I threw together a quick pancake batter but threw some fresh blueberries in to just kick it up a notch.  Oh, yeah, I also had real maple syrup that was tapped by a local guy down the road and which the local supermarket even sells.  How about that for a real-time CSA?

I Love Blueberry Pancakes

After my breakfast, I decided to tackle the really ugly linoleum in one of the bedrooms.  I mean really, who would even contemplate putting something this awful down on their bedroom floor?

Who Would Put This On Their Floor?

By the time I managed to rip it out, including lots of stubborn nails that were stuck in the floorboards, I thought about lunch.  It was still overcast and raining on and off, windy and a tad chilly.  I had purposely brought up some brat wurst, sauerkraut and even a package of pierogis for lunch or dinner but I decided I wanted them for lunch.  Yes, I know pierogis are Polish but they are heavy enough for me to be kind of an ersatz German food.

Brat Wurst and Pierogis

I like to boil my pierogis so I put on a pot of water on the side burner of the grill and waited and waited for the water to reach a slow boil.  Wow, this took a really long time! In the meantime, I threw the sausages on the grill and finally when the water began to bubble, I threw the pierogis in.

And yes, they were pretty darn good and filling and heavy but after all I felt I needed a bit of a reward for all that ugly linoleum ripping I had to contend with.

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No Stove And A Toaster Oven From An Ex

I left Long Island this morning and it was 58 degrees. I get up to the Red House and it was 38 degrees.  What is going on with this very long winter?  But the weather is not what my current dilemma is, right now I’m currently stove-less and that’s a really big problem.

Yep, true to his word, my contractor finally decided my stove had to go.  Reason being, since we are tearing out the sixth bedroom (I mean really who needs that many bedrooms?) we decided that by eliminating the space over the kitchen (the aforementioned) sixth bedroom, we could have a really awesome, double height kitchen.  Since he actually couldn’t rip out the sixth bedroom with the stove in the way, it had to be removed.

A Very Sorry Stove Indeed

Now, last summer when my sweet son, Nick, came up to visit, he, of course, claimed the sixth bedroom as his because even though it was remote and had no access to a bathroom, unless you went through four other rooms, it had the best view.  He’s not an idiot.  And because he thought this particular bedroom would be his forever and ever, he also decided to start painting the room in the colors that he liked.  At the time, those colors were purple and black.

Wow, A Purple Room!

Looking at the picture now, it doesn’t look that bad, kind of quaintly Victorian with the black trim and such, but painting or no painting, the room had to go. The room before the purple room (a.k.a. the 5th bedroom) had been the previous owners smoking den.  The walls were stained with nicotine and since even the 5th bedroom is not very convenient to get to, I actually can’t even imagine exactly what anyone would do in there.  Well, I can imagine, but since I do try to keep this site borderline R-rated,  I won’t fantasize about the possibilities.

Smokers Den

So, the dormer room is stripped down to the rafters as is the room that’s going to be demolished.  That’s when we found some really cool beams.  Kind of like the beams you see in 5th grade when you’re visiting a house that George Washington slept in!  Well, maybe not that old but you get the idea.

But since the guy who is working on this project is really cool about this house renovation (really), these were his exact words, “Jules, we’re saving that right,” he said pointing to a beam that in my opinion was probably Smithsonian-worthy.  A type of beam one would find in a George Washington-era dwelling? These beams looked like they came over with Christopher Columbus!

Really Cool Beams

But enough history. I didn’t realize how dependent I was on a stove.  Without a stove, you can’t make scrambled eggs, or saute a lovely piece of fish, or steam some vegetables!  Nor can you boil water for all those good things I like to eat – like pasta or mashed potatoes.  I’m not weeping…yet.

When I came up last summer for the first time to try my hand at camping up at the Red House, I rummaged through the garage on Long Island before I left and found some discarded houseware items that Nick had stashed after moving from one apartment to another. For the Red House I was able to claim dishes, pots and pans, and low and behold a toaster oven that an ex-girlfriend’s father had given him when he had been kicked out of the family home for whatever reason.

This is the toaster oven I was dealing with.  It was old and whenever I plugged it in at the Red House, my ceiling lights started flashing on and off.  Cool, I thought!  So, what exactly was I going to make for dinner with that one basically useless appliance?

Toaster Oven Cooking

Well, I brought up some leftover chicken rollatini and put it in the toaster oven to warm up. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan for any other meals and after I ate, I was well, still pretty hungry.  Things didn’t get any better the next day.  I had brought up some hard boiled eggs, stuck a piece of toast in the toaster oven and had some coffee.  Lunch was a yogurt, a banana and when I was hungry a couple of hours later, I made myself a pseudo grilled cheese; two slices of American on white bread in the toaster oven.  I ate it not because it tasted good but because it was hot when I took it out and I was trying to pretend I was eating soup.  Not really, but whatever.

So going forward, yes, we do have the summer to look forward to where grilling will be a viable option, but since the purchase of a new stove to outfit a new kitchen is still Far Far Away, we’ll have to be creative.

Stay tuned.

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17, OMG, How About Carbonara?

My daughter Rachel, who is 17,  is in the process of filling out college information surveys. Apparently last night’s college survey wanted to know 1) what is the highest level of education your parents have achieved, and 2) their current job titles.  When she asked me what’s my “title,” I responded “Food Writer.”

That elicited this response from her. “No , I’m serious!” she was practically shrieking.

“OMG,” I said, which since the Oxford English Dictionary now includes as a “real” word, I felt I could justifiably use to counter her statement.  What I really wanted to say was “WTF!”  Why exactly wasn’t there a “food writer” category on the college application?

Instead, I countered with,”Well, how about writer?” I asked.

Apparently, that wasn’t an option either.  My choices were to be  classified as a business owner, self-employed, management, middle management, or laborer. Further down on the form, she was then asked to identify the field in which I was employed, with the good old standby choices of accounting, medical, or education. Luckily, there was also a category for non-profit which considering the amount of money I’m making as a food writer these days, I figured would be the appropriate box to check.

This conversation left me in a particularly wicked mood and the only thing that was going to improve it was to make my favorite dish.  Pasta Carbonara.  Since this is also the perfect dish to make and eat up at the Red House, (one pan, easy ingredients) I did just that.

But since I really wanted an appetizer (also known as the “Vorspeise,” the thing you eat before the meal, for those who speak German), I made my own version of tuna nicoise — searing a piece of tuna on the grill pan and plating it with some tomatoes, arugula, and of course, green beans with lots of freshly ground pepper.  I won’t reveal how much I paid for said piece of tuna but I figure if I’m looking at paying tuition again soon (she’s my second child), I better splurge now while I still have a couple of nickels left in my wallet.

Tuna Nicoise

After that I made the carbonara.  What I like to refer to as an “adult” carbonara because I threw in lots of pancetta, mushrooms, eggs, an ENTIRE container of cream, freshly grated parmesan and some arugula. Dare I mention I mixed it all together in a Wok because that’s the biggest pot I have up at the Red House.  Yes, and it was delicious!

 

Adult Carbonara

 

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A Picnic (Inside) at the Red House

Let me begin this post by telling everyone I’ve been getting a lot of spam lately most notably by some outfit called New York City Divorce Lawyers.  Are they trying to tell me something?  Like the Red House has put the husband over the edge and he’s calling it quits?

Unfortunately, because of our busy work schedules, we hadn’t been up to the Red House in over a month and he was actually looking forward to being up there. Was it the anticipation of more spackling and taping, or the fact that he thought we might actually be able to put  on a coat or two of paint?  Hard to say.  I, on the other hand, was looking forward to being in a different place (the Red House is perfect for that), and thinking of things I could cook without the benefit of a real working kitchen.  That’s when it came to me.  I was tired of winter and longing for summer.  Summer at the Red House means eating outdoors.  Could I make something akin to an (indoor) picnic at the Red House?

Reality check.  It’s still March and the snow has barely melted.  Since we have little to no heat in the Red House, having a picnic inside was kind of like eating outside on a nippy day.  So, once again I planned and packed and lugged food up to the house.  Here’s what I came up with.

The Picnic Menu

Chopped Liver Pate

Cold Shrimp Vinaigrette

Fried Chicken

Potato Salad

Mini Cheesecakes With Cherries

Prep The Night Before

The night before we drove up, I quickly sauteed some chicken livers and threw them in the food processor with a generous dash of brandy, a shallot and a hard boiled egg.  Done.

I boiled the shrimp, drained them, let them cool, then tossed them with some olive oil, lots of lemon juice and sprinkled them with salt and pepper and some red chili flakes.  Perfect.

Shrimp Salad

I figured I had at least two dishes under my belt, the rest I could make when I got up there.  But remember my dilemma — I’m a two burner girl up at the Red House.

Instead of leaving on a Friday night after work, we decided to leave early on Saturday morning. (Note to reader: early for some people means 5 a.m., early for us is 10 a.m.)  Not only did we not hit any traffic leaving that Saturday morning, but the snow had melted enough so that we didn’t have to shovel a path to reach the front door.  How awesome is that! OMG!! (Sorry, had to channel the teenage daughter for a moment.) Consequently,  we pretty much had the whole afternoon in front of us to contemplate painting, spackling, and all those other good things.

Lynn went around turning on the water and pretending he was turning on the furnace.  I, on the other hand, walked from room to room imagining big comfortable sofas in such impractical colors as white with a couple of shag rugs scattered about, and lots of art and pictures on the walls.  Then I went into the kitchen.

Remember my kitchen.  It’s disappearing soon (or so my contractor tells me.)  Look at the burnt beams on the ceiling from a previous kitchen fire (not mine).  Since it’s dark and scary and I’m always afraid something is going to fall on my head as I’m cooking (dust, dirt, a beam, a rodent), I like to do what I have to do in the space, quickly, and get out.

Kitchen Ceiling

I start to think about what I’m going to cook.  Since I think you can’t have a real picnic without some fried chicken, I start to make some.  I cup up some of the chicken I brought with me, dip the pieces in some egg mixture and then into a plate of homemade breadcrumbs. That goes into a frying pan sitting on the big burner.

Modest Fried Chicken

I have one burner left and attempt to make potato salad.  The water however takes forever to get to a boil and frankly the kitchen is just to darn cold to stand in for very long so I have to keep going in and out of the kitchen just to warm up.  (I did briefly think about getting into my car and turning on the heated seats (butt warmer seats as we like to call them) but I had to remind myself that this is what I wanted — a large house, a lot of property, and most importantly a place to escape to.

Finally, the water starts to boil, and I throw in some potatoes. When they’re done, I use the same pan to quickly fry up some pancetta, thinking I’ll do a German-style potato salad and toss the potatoes with the pancetta, add a chopped up red onion and lots of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Not Your Average Potato Salad

I lay everything on the table including some cheese and baguette and it’s a nice picnic to behold.  We dig into the food but occasionally have to get up and move around because even though we are both wearing THREE LAYERS OF CLOTHES, it’s a tad nippy in the house, so we need to keep moving.

The Spread

While I loved the chicken liver pate as an appetizer, I thought the rest of the meal was just fair.  Maybe it’s because I was cold and perhaps I should have made soup to start?  But who has hot soup at a “picnic?”  No one.  I was hoping dessert would be the clincher.  How about those mini-cheesecakes I had brought from home?

A few weeks ago I had a family get together and had leftover filling from a cheesecake I threw together. Not one to waste anything these days, I poured the extra filling into ramekins and put them in the freezer.  Luckily I also had some leftover cherries from a jar and spooned on top,  they were a nice ending to the first (and hopefully last) indoor picnic.

Cherry Cheesecake

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Snow, Salmon and Naan

We’ve had quite a winter both downstate and upstate.  Since this is my first winter at the Red House, I don’t have anything to compare it to.  It’s been bitterly cold (try minus 13!) and I’ve never seen so many icicles.  Actually, I had never seen icicles until I bought the Red House!  Going into the new year, the Red House has taught me the following:

When it’s overcast, the meadow has kind of a sinister look to it.

A GRAY DAY

When it’s sunny, I can see myself cross country skiing…but I don’t have skis.

BEAUTIFUL SNOW

Looking at all the snow outside the Red House, I realize I probably should have brought up a pot roast or pea soup — something heavy and hearty to eat this weekend.  But I didn’t; I brought up a piece of salmon which I cooked in a pan with some fresh basil and pineapple juice. I thought that would be a nice light and healthy way to start the new year.

PAN SALMON

The salmon was decent but it made me long for summer; the season I’m most looking forward to right now after too many hours spent shoveling sidewalks and digging out driveways.  Dare I mention we spent New Year’s Day spackling and sanding the walls and spackling and sanding some more?

In spite of my salmon dish and partially because of the cold weather, I’ve been craving spicy food, particularly Indian.  Since I’m not big on curry sauces that come in a jar, I decided to look for a naan recipe instead.  I will admit I did NOT make these up at the Red House but wanted to share it here, nonetheless.

I realized when I was making the naan, the execution was nearly identical to making flour tacos except it had a yeast starter.  You make the dough, let it rise, tear off the dough into little balls, let it rise again, roll the balls into circles and fry them in a really hot grill pan and then coat them with butter.  Since in my mind anything that you can grill and top with butter is bound to be delicious, I figured this would be a win-win dish.   It was and when summer finally does roll around, it will be the perfect flat bread accompaniment to lovely BBQ dinners outside at the Red House.

HOMEMADE NAAN

Homemade Naan (courtesy of Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients
1 package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons salt

4 1/2 cups bread flour*

2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)

1/4 cup butter melted.

1.  In a large bowl dissolve yeast in warm water.  Let stand about 10 minutes until frothy.  Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt and enough flour to make a soft dough.  Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise.  Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in  volume.

2. Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls and place on a tray. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

3. During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.

4. At grill side roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill and cook for 2-3 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter and turn over. Brush cooked side with bugger and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

* I used regular unbleached flour for the recipe and although I omitted the garlic I would probably add it the next time.

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A Scary Basement Weekend and Stewart’s to the Rescue

The Red House has a scary basement, trust me.  While we turn the water off when we’re not in residence and make sure the heat is really low (50 degrees), we still have to go down to the basement each and every time we are there to turn everything on or off again.  Inevitably, we also arrive late at night which makes the whole process even scarier.  I’m always afraid we’re going to find a dead rodent or something else (raccoon, chipmunk, rabbit) that’s gotten in from outside waiting to pounce on us when we open the basement door… Luckily, it’s just the usual spider webs that greet us.. but still.

SCARY BASEMENT STAIRS

When we bought the house, we weren’t sure of the condition of the furnace.  That’s the deal with foreclosures; you may be paying close to nothing for a dwelling but once inside, you may find that in fact you just bought the structure and the property – there may be no heat or running water. We were lucky in that we are on a town water and sewer line and the water was just fine. (Exceptional really!)  This is also the first house we’ve lived in that had a hot water heater so there would always be an ample supply of hot water to shower in.  Heating this house however was a whole other issue.

OUR VERY FIRST HOT WATER HEATER

First of all, the house is not very well insulated coupled with the fact that most of the windows are broken.  The house has two separate thermostats and when we walked in the house Friday night, we immediately turned the thermostats up to 70 degrees then went downstairs to turn on the water.  Problem is while there are many radiators in the house, and large ones too boot, it takes a long time for those radiators to warm up.  And even when they do warm up, they never get really hot, just mildly warm.

ONE OF MANY OLD SCHOOL RADIATORS

That’s why whenever I know we are going up to the Red House on a Friday night and will be arriving late, I try to have a hot soup on hand as a first course that we can heat up.

I’ve also become dependent on my local Stewart’s since I’m a bit lazy in the morning preferring to have breakfast “fixings” on hand rather than have to first go out and get them in the morning.  I had heard over the summer that Stewart’s closes around 10 or 10:30 in the winter months but luckily when we drove up Friday night shortly after 10 p.m., it was in fact open until 11:30 every night.  Whew!  I stocked up on butter, rye bread (in name only, it wasn’t really rye bread it was just a shade darker than the white bread), orange juice, milk and eggs.

BREAKFAST!

After turning the heat and water on and unpacking the car, I warmed up the soup, cut up some leftover French bread to grill and thought about how to warm up the pork tenderloin I had cooked the night before.  I decided to cut the tenderloin into thick slices then put it in a large wok-like pan with some olive oil and a little white wine.  As it started to warm up, I also threw in the carrots and onions I had roasted and put some fresh cilantro on top of that.  Lid on the pan, we were able to have a vodka aperitif as it was warming.

DRINKS AT THE RED HOUSE

Biggest problem of the evening?  The bottle of red wine we opened was nearly too cold to drink.  I tried cupping the glass in my hands to warm it up but it didn’t help any.  We drank the cold wine anyway, ate quickly, washed the dishes and were thankful we had big heavy quilts to crawl under in the bedrooms upstairs.

Next morning was no different, the living room was pretty cold and when I put my hand up to the window, cold air was rushing in.  Perhaps that’s why the previous owners had put a strip of duct tape where the window meets the sill?

BROKEN WINDOWS

While I do miss not having a kitchen, I’ve decided that my first priority for the Red House is new windows followed by an energy efficient furnace.  Look at this thing, it’s really scary. It also makes a lot of noise and literally causes the dining room table to vibrate since it’s directly below where we eat.

OLD COAL FURNACE CONVERTED TO GAS

I do have lots of ideas though about transforming a scary basement into a usable one.  The basement has an old stone foundation that curves just so.  It will be a great place to store wine; wine that hopefully one day will always be at the proper temperature.

Cheers!

FUTURE WINE CELLAR?

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My Life in the Kitchen: From Blueberry Pancakes to Homemade Bagels

It started with a batch of blueberry pancakes that I made in August at the Red House.  They weren’t the best pancakes I’ve ever made but they weren’t the worst either. Here’s the thing, I was trying to cook them in a pan on an electric stove rather than the electric grill I normally use. The one thing they did have going for them was the real maple syrup accompaniment that I bought at the supermarket in town.  When I looked at the label on the plastic jug, I found out that the maple syrup came from a guy just up the street from me who taps his own trees. Figuring in the whole farm to table movement, unless I tapped my own trees, I don’t think we could get any more local than that.

BLUEBERRY PANCAKES

Once I got back to Long Island though, all I could think about was the food I wanted to make up at the Red House.  To compensate, I’ve gone into a super duper baking and cooking mode.  It helps that the holiday season is upon us and that the weather has suddenly gotten much colder.  Consequently, I’ve been making lots of “comfort food” type meals with a few fish dishes thrown in for good measure.

Here’s some of the meals I’ve been making and hope to recreate up at the Red House…. some day.

October

Roast pork loin with some white carrots that I picked up at the local farmers market with cippolini onions and leeks.  (Lynn likes roast pork so much he could eat this dish every night.  My bigger problem is that no matter how big the roast pork, if I want any “leftovers,” I have to cut pieces off the pork and hide them prior to serving.)

PORK ROAST, CARROTS, ONIONS, LEEKS

Paella with clams, calamari, shrimp and chicken.  I think it’s decent.  (I try to persuade Lynn to at least eat all the fish knowing it’s not a good thing to “brown bag” for lunch next day, but he ignores me. Because he ignores me I tell him not to call me if he gets sick. If nothing else, after 31+ years with this guy, I’ve perfected the Bitch Factor.)

MY VERSION OF PAELLA

Roast chicken with peppers and eggplant and onions.  (I’ve tried to get him to just cut the chicken in half and eat it like the Italians do “mezzo pollo” but he’s big on hacking the bird into pieces. It’s ultimately just as good.)

PEPPERS, ONIONS, EGGPLANT AND CHICKEN, TOO!

Another roast chicken this one from Jones Family Farms. The chicken was leaner and gamier (which I like) but also bloodier than I was used to so it seemed to take a tad longer to cook. It also looks a bit well, sexual in this photograph — maybe I overstuffed it with the parsley?  (I think Lynn liked the chicken, but I’m sure he liked the potatoes that went with it better.)

A REAL CHICKEN

November

A Friday night dinner at home (our idea of date night) included fresh fettuccine with chanterelles and freshly grated parmesan cheese, salmon with an orange mustard glaze, and some baby spinach and pitty pat squash as a side dish.  (Lynn likes my Friday night dinners when I’m up to making them because I usually do courses or something “fancier” knowing I don’t have to get up early to go to work.  Tonight was no exception.)

FETTUCCINE WITH CHANTERELLES

SALMON ON A BED OF BABY SPINACH WITH PITTY PAT SQUASH

Goat?  I had never actually made goat chops.  It’s not normally a regular menu item in our house but we did buy one-quarter of a goat a while back from Jones Family Farms and we’ve been making our way through it.  Luckily, I also made meatballs from some of the chopped goat meat we had too since I overcooked the chops a tad and they were a little tough. (Lynn loves any kind of chopped meat so much I’ve started calling him “hamburger boy.”)

GOAT CHOPS

GOAT MEATBALLS

Finally, towards the end of November, I came up with the following dinner menu:

Italian wedding ball soup

Slow-baked tomatoes stuffed with mozzarella

Pork “Schnitzel”

Tempura onion rings

The soup

I made the Italian wedding ball soup because a) it was cold outside and unless it’s really really cold, we don’t turn on the heat in our house, we just put on another sweater and I make soup; b) see my comment above about “hamburger boy.”

I must admit that we’ve been to Italy a few times and we’ve never seen this soup on a menu.  Lynn, whose mother was born in Naples, Italy, never made this soup when he was growing up and since she’s no longer with us I can’t even ask her about it.

The tomatoes

Since I hate to throw vegetables out that are overripe, I try to find ways to use them.  Tomatoes that are too soft to use in salads I often bake or broil in the oven.  The tomato flavor is even more concentrated and stuffing the tomatoes with mozzarella is I recipe I found in Fran Warde’s Food for Friends.

BAKED TOMATOES WITH MOZZARELLA

The “Schnitzel”

Other than chicken cutlets (which when I fry up I always call chicken cutlets), everything else that gets fried in our house (namely pork or veal) gets the name “Schnitzel.”  This was the pork version.  (Lynn on the other hand likes to call everything that he fries “Milanese” and here’s why.)

Lynn and Costoletta alla Milanese

Lynn grew up with a mother, Bianca, who was born in Naples, Italy.  A war bride (World War II!), she spent the first 13 years of her marriage moving from one Air Force base to another both stateside and in Japan.  By the time Lynn was born, they had settled in upstate New York.  She had six children to feed but when cooking would rely on classics that everyone liked – veal cutlets being one of her classics.  Why Bianca would spring for the more expensive veal rather than chicken cutlets, especially when you had a family of eight to feed is beyond me but she did.  Consequently, Lynn grew up eating veal cutlets as large as your plate and always with a slice of lemon to squirt over the fried meat.  To this day, he can’t resist ordering a veal cutlet if he sees it on the menu.

(This entry is towards the end of Chapter 9 in my book, Pure Form, Pure Food: In Pursuit of Great Architecture and Wonderful Meals ©2009.)

PORK SCHNITZEL

The onions

Tempura onion rings.  This was originally a shrimp tempura recipe but I’m not particularly keen on fried shrimp but I do like the occasional onion ring.  This is a fool-proof recipe so I’ll include it.

Tempura batter

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup cornstarch

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons curry powder

8 ounces cold seltzer (add more if batter is too thick)

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together.

TEMPURA ONION RINGS

Last but not least my bagel issue

I think it was the sign at the bagel store that may have put me over the edge.  They wanted how much for one bagel?  Ninety-five cents with nothing on it!?  Growing up in Munich and being bagel-less for a good 10 years, we often craved bagels.  My mother attempted to make lots of things overseas that we couldn’t get in Germany (biscuits, brownies, chocolate chip cookies) but bagels weren’t in her repertoire.

I decided to attempt to make bagels on my own and started looking for a recipe in some of my “old school” cookbooks (The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking).  I finally found a recipe in Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook that looked pretty simple except for the fact that it required something called “malted milk powder.”  Since “malted milk powder” was nowhere to be found,  I simply omitted that ingredient.

For my first attempt, I think they came out quite nicely.  And the fact that they were gone in a day thanks to big family eaters made me even happier.

BAGEL DOUGH

BOILING THE BAGELS

AFTER BAKING

THE FINISHED PRODUCT

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Dreaming of Making Kolach at the Red House

Since I don’t have a kitchen up at the Red House (a two-burner electric stove and a fridge does not constitute a kitchen), I have to really stretch my imagination to think of a day when I will be able to prepare holiday meals in a kitchen that right now doesn’t even exist on paper.

This past Thanksgiving as I was baking in my house on Long Island (a task I don’t particularly like by the way), I started to think of what it would be like to be at the Red House to celebrate a holiday.  Actually, what I’m really thinking about is the view I have from the Red House kitchen that looks out onto the meadow and up to the forest.  As I was kneading dough and mixing batter on Long Island, I glanced out of a kitchen window that reveals nothing more than a white fence and lots of ugly houses.  Although I see them, I don’t.  I see my meadow.

Even though I wasn’t cooking Thanksgiving this year, I still wanted to bring something to the table.  That’s why the Wednesday before the holiday, I found myself making bread (The New York Times recipe they published November 21, 2007 entitled Simple Crusty Bread), a dried cranberry and apricot tea bread I found online, and an old Hungarian family recipe, kolach.

Simple Crusty Bread

Cranberry Apricot Tea Bread

A few years ago I finally typed up my grandmother’s handwritten kolach recipe because it was beginning to fade and I was afraid it would eventually just disappear.  Making kolach in our house is usually a once-a-year affair, simply because of the effort involved.

When I pulled out my grandmother’s recipe this year, I noticed for the first time that it was dated November 22, 1960.  I wondered if she too had wanted to prepare something special for Thanksgiving.  Here’s her recipe and my sorry attempt to photograph the finished product.  If anyone wonders why there was only half a loaf left in the photograph, it’s because three loafs were gifted and I ate nearly half a loaf myself the day after Thanksgiving!  Yes, it’s really that good.

November 22, 1960

Kolach

1 package dry yeast

1/4 cup luke warm water

1 cup milk

1 cup butter melted (2 sticks)

3 egg yolks slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

4 cups sifted flour

Nut Filling

4 cups ground nutmeat (walnuts)

1/3 cup sugar for each one cup of nuts

3 egg whites beaten stiff

1/3 cup milk (more if needed)

1 cup raisins (generous)

Dissolve yeast in water.  Mix melted butter, egg yolks, salt and sugar in large bowl.  Add milk.  Add flour and beat thoroughly until dough comes clean from hands.  Let rise for a minimum 4-5 hours.  Cut into four pieces and roll each piece on a floured board into a rectangle.  Spread filling over dough.  Roll like a jelly roll.  Brush with 1 egg slightly beaten.  Bake in moderate oven 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Makes 4 nut rolls (medium-sized)

Kolach Dough

Nut and Raisin Filling

Kolach Loaves

Some notes about the recipe:

Originally the recipe called for scalded milk.  I realized that this was probably because the milk she was using wasn’t pasteurized.  My grandmother would also occasionally put the dough in the fridge which defeats the process of having the dough rise.  (Somehow, still the kolach would turn out fine.)

There are also three other filling variations that can be used but the nut/raisin combination is my favorite.  She mentions using “nutmeat” in the recipe.  I’ve always used walnuts and I’m not quite sure what other nut she might have used.  My mother has made kolach with a prune (Lekvar) filling, apricot filling and poppy seed filling.  Making the fruit fillings is as simple as buying a jar of prune or apricot preserves and spreading it on the dough.  The poppy seed filling is made by Solo and comes in a can (which you can even buy online these days!) but I think it’s kind of nasty.

Finally, while she generally cooked the loaves for 40 minutes, my oven is temperamental and sometimes it’s taken closer to an hour.

Kolach - What's left!

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The Meadow

We have a really big yard up at the Red House.  Actually, it’s more than a yard, it’s over four acres of property, a meadow really, that’s framed by five or six houses on one side and lots of trees and bamboo on the other.

THE MEADOW

BAMBOO

That’s just the bottom half of the hill.  On the top half of the hill and above the trees, we have a whole other little piece of property and part of a forest that leads to a hidden waterfall.

THE FOREST

Since I wrote about trying to mow this property extensively on the www.eathappy.net website, including my trying to conquer my fear of riding the lawnmower, I will focus on something else.

Like all pieces of land back in the late 1800’s, this was farm land.  I’m not sure what kind of crops they were growing back then but as recently as the 1980’s the fields were still being cultivated to grow potatoes and corn, green beans and tomatoes.  The crops are long gone but I do have a ton of mint and what looks like burdock.

WILD MINT WITH BURDOCK

There’s also lots of berries and a old well that’s an eye-sore, boarded up as it is in the middle of the property, that we have to think about what to do with.

BEAUTIFUL BUT PROBABLY POISONOUS BERRIES

THE WELL

I casually planted a few flowers and they grew so abundantly that next year I’ll definitely plant some more.

A FEW FLOWERS

Then there are the weeds.  I know weeds aren’t supposed to be beautiful, but look at these.

ARTISTIC WEEDS

There are also oak trees that have fallen and their twisted branches have taken up shapes (the antlers of a reindeer, a large wishbone) that remind me of some very highly priced artwork I’ve seen at ABC Carpet in Manhattan as well as in a couple of furniture catalogs. Perhaps I need to sell some of these pieces to help with the renovation? (If any one wants one of these, please let me  know.)

THE WISHBONE

ANTLERS

Watching the seasons change up at The Red House has been breathtaking.  We watched the meadow go from nearly still-frozen turf when we acquired the house in late April, to lush green by July, to a cornucopia of color when the first red and gold autumn leaves fell.

THE LEAVES ARE CHANGING

While the house renovation is consuming us, we have started thinking of ways we can landscape all this property without losing its inherent natural aesthetic or breaking our non-existent budget.

In this week’s (11/24/2010) Dining Section of the New York Times, I came across an article about people who forage for edible plants for high end restaurants.  Perhaps I should share some of my sumac fruit with the chef at Del Posto?  For a price of course.

SUMAC

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Back Roof, Falling

When we first saw the Red House, our real estate agent, Tara, had the foresight to have someone lay a dark blue/green tarp over the back part of the house.  Why?  Because the roof over the back of the house was collapsing.  To hold the tarp in place, a couple of wooden skids were thrown on top of the plastic, too.  On one side of the house was a large pile of roof shingles that had either been torn off during this process or simply had fallen off.  It was quite a sight but luckily not anything you could see from the road.  If the back of the house were in fact collapsing, you didn’t notice it until you were actually standing in the two rooms that were damaged.

THE BIG RED MESS

These two rooms at one time had been an ugly beige and brown bathroom and a former laundry room that had been converted to a dingy white kitchen. Since I was totally frightened of even venturing into the bathroom because a) the ceiling had in fact collapsed and b) there was a dead mouse in the bathtub, I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph the space.

DINGY OLD KITCHEN

Needless to say, the previous owners left us nothing but a mess.  No kitchen, only one working bathroom on the second floor and most importantly no keys to get in or out of the house other than going through the back door. This was very scary.

Every time I had to go through the back door, I was afraid the ceiling was going to collapse on my head.  Consequently, I would make a made dash through the room until I reached the safety of the “red room” and quickly close the door behind me.

RACING TOWARDS THE SAFETY OF THE RED ROOM

Once inside, I could open three other doors to get in and out of the house and wouldn’t have to deal with going through the back door until it was time to leave and lock up the house again.

We went through the summer trying to ignore the damage but the reality was every time it rained, there was this icky mold smell. I was pretty sure whatever it was we were smelling probably wasn’t good for us to be breathing either but I chose to ignore any potential health issues. What I really wanted to do was try and salvage those two rooms figuring it would be cheaper to fix them than to build new.

We finally gave our contractor the go ahead to start the demo work to try and figure out what we could do.  He tore everything down to the rafters and confirmed our worst fears.  The damage was so extensive it would be cheaper to tear down and rebuild a room on a smaller scale then try to fix the roof and the space that the previous owners had so blatantly ignored.  (Note to homeowners: if you have a leak in your roof, try to fix it right away otherwise it’s going to cost you a lot more money in the long run.)

THE GUTTED SPACE

Our contractor started to frame out a small new addition and we decided this new space, while half the size of the previous two rooms, would work just fine.  It could easily be both a laundry room and a second bathroom.

BEGINNINGS OF A NEW ROOM

We’re heading into the winter months now so we did as much work as we currently can afford.  Looking at our little room when I’m standing outside, I think aesthetically and architecturally it’s far superior to what was there previously.  Now the challenge is to try and finish the interior.

THE NEW ADDITION

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