The Bounty of the Garden

So far it seems the meadow that used to be an old potato field still has a lot to offer.  When you look at the soil, it’s dark and rich and tills up quite nicely, unlike our suburban garden that’s sandy and dry and filled with rocks.

When we started the garden and planted asparagus and green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, some leeks, and yellow and green squash, too, neighbors repeatedly told us that even if anything did grow, the critters (namely deer, chipmunks and squirrels) would eat it. I didn’t want to negate what they were saying, but realized they might be right when I looked at our tomato plants and thought they looked like well, a tad clipped.  In fact, it looked as though some sort of animal had taken to biting off all the good parts, namely the flowering part, without leaving us humans with anything to eat.

I, however, wasn’t going to give up. Working on the theory that sometimes if you just keep pruning it will eventually grow back, I did just that.  Unfortunately, the tomatoes weren’t the only vegetable the animals seemed to like;  the green beans that usually grew so abundantly everywhere else, were shriveled and tiny and didn’t bear any resemblance to the healthy plants I knew.  The eggplant in particular seemed to be suffering from some sort of bug infestation with all the leaves chewed in various places.

I kept watering and looked at the abundant sunshine and hoped for the best.  The good news is that what I’m left with looks very pretty.

Like this single green baby zucchini that I can imagine selling for $7.99 a pound at a Greenmarket in Manhattan, and the zucchini blossoms stuffed and fried and served on a plate at Eataly.

No Zucchini Should Be This Lovely!

 

Then there’s the  single, slightly dark jalapeno, that no animal has claimed.

The Lonely Jalapeno

And a nice crop of basil and celery, too.

Gorgeous Basil — Lots of Pesto!

 

Celery

My biggest discovery working with a garden this size are the weeds.  They are prolific, constant and truthfully add some charm to the plot.  I don’t want to admire them so much that they become an integral part of the landscape, similar to the overgrown acreage of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut, with only the bare minimum being plowed and plucked, but it is fairly tempting to go that route.  Ironically these weeds, since they originated from the hay we lay down to purposely keep the weeds at bay, have very pretty yellow flowers.

Pretty Yellow Weeds

These “flowers” are not to be confused with everything else I’ve got going, interspersed as they are between the vegetable beds.

Lovely Flowers

 

More Lovely Flowers

 

And Again...

I also have the beginnings of a very long cucumber vine, with a lone and chunky cucumber hanging off.  I know he just wants to be a pickle already.  I mean look at him, he already looks like a pickle!

I Just Wanna Be A Pickle!

So even though the few tomatoes that I have are still green.

 

Tiny Green Tomatoes

And my eggplant looks like it’s been attacked, I do have the beginnings of some lovely strawberries and asparagus.

Iffy Eggplant

The Beginnings of Strawberry Fields?

I Love Asparagus

My leeks, unfortunately, look like they’ve battered by a windstorm, or maybe I just stepped on them by mistake!

 

The Leeks

While my chives prefer to hang out in a pot filled with pansies!

 

Pansies and Leeks In An Old Barrel

So even though some of my plants are being stubborn or eaten by the animals, like my green beans for example…

 

No Jack And The Bean Stalk Here!

 

I, at least, have newly painted chairs (red, of course!) to sit and watch everything grow….

But not until all my work is done.

 

These Are Real Wood, Painted Red

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A Red House 4th of July

It’s been over a year since we’ve owned the Red House and I’d like to take this opportunity to recap all that we’ve accomplished to date.

1.  We tore down a part of the house that had a kitchen and bathroom whose roof had collapsed and we started framing a new one.

2.  We put in a new furnace, but left the old one it its place.

3. We tore out two bedrooms that were basically useless and decided to make one big master bedroom suite.

4. We sheetrocked 5 rooms (partially).

5. And primed one staircase wall.

6. We redid the bathroom to make it ok for now.

7. And primed a small room which hopefully one day will house a piano.

8. We nearly finished painting the family room.

9. And for the first time ever will have a kitchen that has a fan and two overhead lights.

10. We learned how to mow the lawn on a ride-on lawnmower.

11. And how to do dishes by hand (again).

12. We learned that even if you have no heat in the house and sleep with your clothes on, you won’t freeze to death.

13. We learned that contrary to popular belief, if red wine is too cold, it’s bad stuff.

14. We learned not to be afraid of bugs that suddenly appear out of nowhere, of snakes that slither out of the garage, and chipmunks that like to sit in the middle of the driveway just as you want to start the car.

15. We learned that country life is slower.

16. And that you really don’t need a stove to put a meal on the table.

17. We learned to cherish the bounty of our summer garden.

18. And that if you take a 15 minute nap in the hammock even with all the work that needs to be done, it’s not the end of the world.

19. We learned that watching a movie at night on a laptop works just fine.

20. And that even if you have worked all day, hit traffic, and don’t get up to the Red House until after midnight and there’s five feet of snow in your driveway, you still have to shovel a path to the door or there’s no way in hell you are getting inside!

21. That sharing one bathroom, is ok, too.

22. We also learned that we shouldn’t be running to the window every time we see the Amish family driving down the road in their buggy as if they were some sort of exotic creature, or something.

23. We also learned that if we wanted any “fancy food” up at the Red House, we had to bring it with us.

24. And that because of technology we can never truly “escape.”

25. Most of all we learned we don’t fight up at the Red House. Ever. This last point is particularly nice since we’ll be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in a few months.

On that somewhat positive note, it’s really kind of amazing everything we’ve learned to do in one year! Last year at the Red House, our 4th of July was kind of quiet.  We were probably in a state of shock about how much work we were facing. This year, we arrived a few days prior to the 4th, and were able to catch a glimpse of a small fireworks display in the distance, if we stood on our tippy toes and peered over the ever-growing bamboo forest.

To celebrate the 4th and how much we’ve accomplished (with lots more to go), I decided anyone can put a hot dog or a hamburger on the grill.  But since I always like to be a tad different, this is what we ate at the Red House on the 4th of July.

For breakfast, I made an omelet which stuck to the pan I was cooking it in because I simply couldn’t get the pan hot enough since I only had the side burner of the grill to use.  Working on the theory that if I covered the pan with a lid the eggs would “steam,” and thus, somehow warm the ingredients inside, I did just that. So while it may not have been the best omelet I ever made, it was decent enough.  Loaded with cheese, red onions, and even a jalapeno from the garden, the spicy factor started off the morning with a bit of a bang (sorry, couldn’t resist) in anticipation of the holiday.

Japalepeno, Red Onion and Cheese Omelet

After breakfast and running a few errands, Lynn came back to the house and started sanding the sheetrock in the living room.  Even though he hung a thick roll of plastic between the living room and dining room, it didn’t help much since dust was everywhere. Consequently, we spent much of the day coughing and rubbing our eyes from it and saying to each other, “this can’t be good.”

He kept working but I started to think about dinner. My original plan had been to make lamb burgers. But since ground lamb, which had once been fairly cheap had suddenly become trendy and thus overpriced, I picked up a package of chopped pork instead.  My idea? Pork burgers with gorgonzola on top.  I unwrapped the package, made lovely little patties by hand, and carefully crowned them with tiny balls of cheese, then put them on the grill. They cooked up fairly nicely (quickly, too), and I think they looked quite presentable on the plate!

Pork Burgers with Gorgonzola

I picked some fresh lettuce from the garden, made a simple salad, and also fried up some potatoes. Unfortunately, I started the potato portion of the meal during cocktail hour and actually forgot about them, so they well, got a bit dark. Luckily, Lynn likes anything that’s remotely spud-like and burnt to boot, so he was still pretty happy with this dish.

Burnt Potatoes

Finally, to end the holiday on a sweet note, I emptied an entire container of raspberries onto half a pint of vanilla ice cream into a single bowl, stuck in two spoons, and we ate the whole thing in about 10 seconds flat.

Happy 4th!

Fresh Raspberries and Vanilla Ice Cream

 

 

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Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner: You’ll Need the Grill

Since I’m relying on my grill to currently cook all meals up at the Red House, I particularly enjoyed reading Alice Hart’s “Please Read Before Burning,” story that appeared in last week’s food section of the The New York Times. While Ms. Hart managed to whittle down a list of things she thought were basic necessities when cooking outdoors, she mentioned she could live without a colander when “roughing it.”

I can’t. My colander does many things. I use it as a bowl when I’m picking fresh produce from the garden, as a strainer to drain potatoes or pasta, and when I’m done prepping, to carry whatever fruit or vegetable peelings I’m left with out to the compost bin.  My other absolute must-haves when grilling and cooking outdoors are a few decent knifes, a cutting board, and pans that can double for many uses.

The Colander I Can't Live Without

The one thing we both agree on, however, is that while getting the food and prepping might be cumbersome when you’re camping outdoors, the real problem is when you are relying on a grill (or any kind of outdoor flame for that matter) to cook your food, it takes a really, really long time.

Consequently, if I add up the time spent trying to put breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table at the Red  House, you’ll understand why the renovation is taking so long. (Because I’m cooking, not hammering!)

Breakfast:

My husband never had a steak for breakfast in his life until he met my Dad and my brother.  The family ritual was to have steak and eggs on Christmas morning.  Maybe it was a guy thing, since I’ll take some smoked salmon and a hard boiled egg with a fruit salad chaser over a steak any day.  Up at the Red House, though, steak and eggs just sounded like a really good breakfast to have if you were facing a grueling day of sanding a wall or two followed by a few coats of primer.

Thing is the grill we have kind of slants to one side (even after moving it around to different parts of the driveway), and instead of fussing with it, we just lived with the fact that everything we put on the grill pan always slides to the left.  Now, perhaps in certain circles this might have some sort of political connotation — at the Red House it simply means we have to fix the driveway!

See how the steak and eggs just cozy up to one another?  I love it. And yes, they were tasty, too.

Real Steak and Eggs

Lunch:

Remember the scene in The Company Men where Kevin Costner tells Ben Affleck to pick up two pieces of sheetrock the next time he’s carrying something into the house they are renovating?  Well, that’s kind of how I’m feeling about this house renovation right now; we need to both work harder and faster. Consequently, I feel that if Lynn and I are both doing a fairly decent amount of physical labor (he more than me, I will confess), it at least justifies eating hearty meals.  Well, sort of.  This probably explains why my husband didn’t even blink when I suggested we have pasta with broccoli rabe followed by barbequed chicken AND country-style pork ribs for lunch.

However, to make the broccoli rabe, I needed to put up a pan of water on the grill’s side burner about an hour before I wanted to eat.  After about half an hour of waiting for the water to boil (it never did; there were simply a few bubbles and a lot of steam emitting from the pan), I simply threw the macaroni in and stirred it a couple of times.  But here’s the thing, pasta that sits in warm but not boiling water like this and desperately tries to get itself  “cooked,” has a slightly different, kind of gummy taste.

Brings New Meaning To Cooking Outdoors

When I figured it was done enough, I strained the pasta into my beloved colander, then sauteed the broccoli rabe with some olive oil and threw the pasta on top of it.  I had forgotten to buy garlic but did have some red pepper flakes and a chunk of real parmesan cheese to grate on top so it wasn’t a total disaster.

Elbow Macaroni with Broccoli Rabe

 

Chicken and Ribs

Any sane person eating this much food for lunch (with a couple of bottles of Canadian beer no less) should have taken a nap.  I went out to weed the garden and Lynn got on the Troy Bilt to mow the lawn!

Dinner:

Well, I confess, I did cheat a little since I brought our first course from downstate — lovely balls of burrata that I plated with some grape tomatoes (store-bought, sorry!) but with fresh basil from the garden.

I do need to segue just a tad here for two reasons.  #1 I love burrata and when I’m feeling particularly flush (which is hardly ever), I buy the real stuff that comes in little plastic bags and is flown in daily from Italy.  The key word in that sentence, so you have an idea how outrageously expensive authentic burrata is, is ‘flown.” (As in there are lots of darling little burratas flying first class on Alitalia.)  Better option: Trader Joe’s makes a decent product  for under $5 that I’ve become slightly addicted to.  #2 I love burrata so much that when I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, Blood, Bones & Butter, and she talks about digging spoons into a big platter of lovely rounds of burrata instead of a boring old wedding cake, I thought what a brilliant idea!

Lovely Burrata

Meanwhile, back on the range (literally),  I had a fire going under some lamb chops topped with fresh mint from the garden.  In fairness, it looked pretty as it was cooking, but imparted absolutely no mint flavor whatsoever, which was actually perfectly fine with me since I’m not a big mint fan anyway.

Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint from the Garden

Earlier in the day (when I was weeding the garden actually), I had picked some yellow squash to eat with the lamb chops as well as some lettuce.

Freshly Picked Squash

Amazing Lettuce

I felt lucky that I was able to put together a few side dishes courtesy of my new garden but it did make me pause and think about the Red House and what it was like as a working farm a hundred years ago.  What were the people who were living here cooking, growing, and ultimately eating?  I’d love to know.  One thing I’m absolutely positive about, even 150 years later, we were both washing dishes at the end of every meal the old fashioned way — by hand!

Old School Dishwashing

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The Beginnings of a New Kitchen; A Lovely Garden and Pizza, Too

Some things are really cool like when you leave later than you anticipated on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend but manage to hit little to no traffic on the West Side Highway.  This unexpected event got us up to the Red House in a decent amount of time (think under 4 hours!) from Manhattan.

When we opened the door of the Red House, we were pleasantly surprised by the beginnings of our new kitchen.  Gone were the ugly burnt beams and in their place, a lovely in-the-works vaulted ceiling with new beams holding the room from collapsing in on us.

Even though it was late and we really wanted to have dinner, we walked around the space and “oohed” and “aahed” like little kids marveling at how different the room looked.  We also thought the replacement of a regular old window with a nice octagonal window was really neat, too.

New Kitchen Beams

Another View

In the morning, bright and early with the sun beating down on the meadow, I caught a glimpse of the beginnings of a garden, my new friend Natalie had started for me.

The Beginnings of a New Garden

Natalie (and her husband Greg) spent much of the previous week removing a large patch of sod (in the rain no less), raking the earth and coming up with a design idea of what should be planted where.  Luckily, she’s not only creative but appreciates using found objects as much as I do.  Consequently, she was able to take some hay we found in the barn as well as a couple of old railings and use them as accent pieces.

Flowers and Stepping Stones for a New Path

I love what she’s started for us and can’t thank her enough for helping me start my first vegetable and flower garden up at the Red House.  Her own blog, http://gardenspot-natalie.blogspot.com/ is sweet, too.

Before I came up to the Red House this weekend, I had already decided I would try to make pizza on the grill since last summer’s attempt resulted in a charred, inedible mess.  This time I was prepared.  I dug out my pizza stone and decided that I would roll out the dough on the stone, then put the stone on the hot grill, before the cheese or any other toppings were added.

Now, I realize this is ass backwards; the stone is supposed to be piping hot to cook the dough but I figured this would be the easiest way and would circumvent me having to try and transfer dough from one board (wooden) to another (stone) without it falling apart.

Pizza Fixings

So I rolled it out, put the dough on the stone, put the stone on the grill, added my tomato sauce and cheese, stole some basil leaves from Natalie’s newly planted garden and viola — Pizza on the Grill!

Grilling the Dough

 

The Pie!

I will admit it wasn’t the best pie we’ve ever had, the crust was still a little bit too doughy but we’re getting there!  After all, I have all summer to perfect this technique and experiment with different toppings, too.

 

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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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