A Spring Secret

  • One of my messy desks

    p1010652This is what I'm up to-----entering the busy season of making and hopefully selling my books while carrying on with the general craziness of everything else. And in the thick of it all, I'm beginning my  studies for a CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine, for those non-winos out there). So please understand if you don't get as many words from me in the next few weeks!

  • Thanksgiving thoughts

    In some ways, I am a true traditionalist. When the temperature drops, the food I most crave is roasted chicken. Juicy and tender with crispy seasoned skin, sitting on a bed of roasted root vegetables is how I imagine it, golden and radiating warmth and lustful smells throughout the house. And that is how I spent two good hours Sunday evening, prepping the perfect bird for its shining moment under the oven light. Garlic is diced ever so finely and gently rubbed beneath the skin. The cavity gets stuffed with the fresh herbs that have survived the first few frosts (parsley, lavender, and marjoram) and half of a lemon. The skin gets a quick rub of olive oil, and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. In it goes, reclining next to the baking whole wheat bread, beneath the winter squash that are roasting for a future dinner, and all is right with the world. The house is full of smells that normally only come around at Thanksgiving, and I start dreaming of stuffing and mashed potatoes. In fact, I wish so hard for stuffing that I decide to make some, adding celery, shallots, and parsley to cubes of rye bread. The star vegetable is brussel sprouts, roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they are brown and carmelized. The funny thing about my pre-turkey day feast is that I inadvertently play this same part every year. Not matter where we are having Thanksgiving, I feel the urge to do nearly the whole dinner a couple of weeks before. One year I even bought a turkey---a 10 pounder for Matt and I, not caring one bit that I would be eating the exact same meal in a week. Matt doesn’t understand it, especially the turkey part, since he never even liked turkey when he was little---his grandmother would make lasagna for him instead. But I love being able to imagine and make my perfect Thanksgiving the way that I want it, without anyone else’s desires to fill.

  • ....shed, continued

    We don’t do things the easy way---ever. Most of you know us well enough that this statement needs no explanation, but for those of you who don’t, I will enlight you. The ceiling that will go up in our living room/dining room is maple---3” pieces of maple that were rough-cut, meaning that they had to be sanded. Matt spent his whole summer sanding each piece, and I have to say, they are beautiful after the sanding, and then of course, the coat of clear polyurethane that I am working on applying. We just bought a fully assembled shed from the Jamaica Cottage Shop, which I talked Matt into buying instead of the kit, luckily. It came unfinished, only needing a shiny new coat of paint. We chose a coppery-red and light gray in a thick outdoor latex. The unfortunate thing is that the wood was very rough and soaked up lots of paint and the board-and-batten pattern proved much harder to paint than we thought. Add into the mix a couple of windows and the trim, and nearly 40 hours later, we were finished. It is a beautiful little building, though.

    And it snowed this week.....Happy Halloween!

  • A new shed and a cocktail

     

    I know, I know. It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, and I’m sure you missed me. The only reason I can give for my absence is that we’ve been working on the house…and we got a huge new shed (photos to come in the near future when it’s completely painted---which has taken a solid 30 hours of man, woman, and cat power). The other excitement is my recent work-related jaunt down to NYC to attend a bartending class/test. It consisted of a written exam of all things spirits related, and a practical test of making classic cocktails. Yes, that’s right, I shook my first cocktail—in front of a panel of the nation’s top spirit professionals! It was a bit stressful, to say the least….and I had only found out that I was going days before. There will be more about that endeavor—I promise.

  • More Fall

    So, I tried to buy some time last week with fall pictures. I hope that they were so enjoyable that you didn’t even miss my running commentary. This week I am trying to do better, although I will still ply you with pictures. It’s hard not to when the leaf peepers are out in full strength, armed with cameras, bags of just-picked apples, and quarts of maple syrup…and maybe a few pumpkins to complete the fall country experience. The weather, though, has been pleasantly un-fall like. It’s been sunny and warm---nearly 70 degrees last week into this week. Absolutely perfect for apple-picking, which we did this weekend, and putting the garden to sleep for the season, which I am in the process of doing, but not so productive for working on the house, which we are supposed to be doing.

    Growing up, my dad was not a do-it-yourselfer. We did not live amidst the chaos of renovation. Flash forward thirty years, and here we are, ducking beneath and around stacks of ceiling panels, finished and unfinished, stepping around odd furniture that would not fit in another room or in the basement, and having various tools stashed in corners around the room. The worst thing (in my opinion) are the light sockets dangling freely from the wall. We removed most of the wood paneling, and in order to do so, everything needs to be removed and/or unscrewed. Every time I reach for the light switch, I cringe, thinking that my fingers will slip in the socket and fry my brain. So far it hasn’t happened, and Matt has assured me that’s perfectly safe, but I remain cautious with my electrical decisions.

    Enjoy the pictures, especially if you live somewhere that I envy when winter time rolls around for months and months and months here….. 

  • Fall is here

  • 'Shrooms

    These are beautiful mushrooms that I received from Marx Foods. They were foraged from the Cascades. The sampler included lobster, chanterelles, porcinis, and matsutakes, none of which I had ever cooked. I decided to saute them with a little butter and olive oil, give them a quick salt and pepper, and serve them over a dried shittake infused risotto. Pretty tasty. I enjoyed all of the 'shrooms, though I was most surprised by the texture of the lobster and matsutake. The lobster mushrooms stayed very firm after cooking, and had a subtle sweetness similar to a sweet potato. The matsutake also stayed very firm, with flavors of pine and juniper. Yum!

  • The last survivors

    The garden is in a sad state. Spring is a hopeful time, full of anticipation, colorful seed packets, and sprightly young seedlings. Summer continues along optimistically, with endless sunny days and lush green foliage leading to ruffled heads of lettuce, jewel-like Sungolds, and ruby red peppers. Fall is the decline, with only a few choice survivors thriving in the midst of weeds and neglect. My last survivors are brussel sprouts and lacinato kale (and some stray lettuce and carrots). A few of you may have cringed at the mention of b. sprout, but oddly enough, it’s a vegetable that Matt really likes. Maybe because it reminds him of tiny cabbages, and he is a fan of those. Since he can be a little….selective when it comes to green veggies, if I find one he likes I’ll cook it as often as I can get away with. The sprouts are definitely taking their sweet time to be ready to pick—we’ll see if they make the cut for next year.

    This past week, I attended my first official wine tasting. I’ve been to other wine and food events, but this was the first that I was only there to try wine…and lots of it. The event I attended was hosted by a company whose portfolio is strong in Italian wines. We started with sparkling and whites from the Alto Adige area. The Pinot Grigios are pure and pristine, full of crisp fresh fruit. They certainly redeemed their Californian cousins, which didn’t prove near as interesting. I had a beautiful Italian Gewürztraminer  from the producer Tramin, the 2007 Nussbaumer, from the same region, so pure and exotic with rose petals and spice. (Side note—this very wine is featured as a pairing partner in the current issue of Food and Wine! Who knew I could be that trendy?) The other very pleasant surprise was a grappa made from straight grape varietals from the producer Jacopo Poli. Incredibly refined and distinctive, the muscato had beautiful bright floral notes on the finish. And an aged grappa, rich with caramel and vanilla, full and round and elegant. Two and a half hours and nearly 40 wines later, time flew by with me feeling like we had just gotten started. 

  • Fall? Or Summer?

     

    [caption id="attachment_119" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Looking for summer"]Looking for summer[/caption]

    We had a hot, sticky day today, the kind of day that made me wonder where it was in July and August. I was just starting to come to terms with the onset of autumn, and here I am, nostalgic again for the long days of summer. As much as I like fall with its apples, squash, and crisp days that require cozy sweaters, it takes me awhile to say goodbye to summer…..and endless tomatoes and peaches.

    Fall means football, and in our case, it means Gang Green with the newly acquired Brett Favre. Matt is an avid Jets fan, like his whole family and group of childhood friends. After being on the waiting list for twelve years, he finally has season tickets. The reason that I am so excited about the start of the season is that his going to the games (and watching the away ones with friends) allows me to luxuriate in my quiet Sundays alone. Yes, I love my husband and enjoy spending time with him, but I also like having a day to myself. This also means we can’t do house projects on Sundays…see next paragraph.

    Just in case you didn’t know (or were planning on visiting us soon), we are in the middle of a total rehaul of our front room/living/dining room space. This entails installing new lights and electrical, building a closet, moving the wood stove, and putting in a ceiling. We are currently working on the ceiling. Actually, sanding the slats of maple lasted the entire duration of Matt’s summer vacation. Now I am finishing each one with a water-based polyurethane. It will be the most beautiful hand-sanded, hand-finished ceiling that you have ever seen, I promise…but don’t plan on seeing it anytime soon.

    I was talking to a very good friend the other day, and she has also been canning this summer. Since we both made peach jam, we have decided that we should do an exchange. This opened up the idea that maybe others have a couple of jars that are looking for a new home…and a desire to taste the fruits of someone else’s labor! It would be fun to coordinate a jam swap, so let me know if you’re interested. P.S. I would also be up for the swapping of other items….like fun old buttons or fabric. No children, please.

  • Circles of thought

    I was trying to put into words today why I enjoy tasting wine (other than the obvious!). Maybe my mind was somewhat fuzzy since I had been tasting for the previous two hours, but that’s one reason it’s so interesting; it’s really hard to put smells and tastes into words. As I’m swishing, I’ll go through lists of adjectives, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, until one seems perfectly suited to what’s happening in my mouth. And even though we taste in flights so there is something to compare in each category, it still requires “palate-memory” to determine whether a wine has a long finish, or is balanced, or medium bodied. It’s like playing an instrument where you always need to have an idea in your head of what each note sounds like to stay on pitch. I have never thought of comparing tasting to the arts, but I see that there is a strong parallel. There is a slightly nebulous idea of good and bad, balanced and disharmonious, and it is a highly thoughtful, contemplative activity.

    Beyond the analytical aspect, there is a strong sense of place that comes through in well-made wines. When I first heard the word “terroir” used, I thought it was an elitist term that only wine snobs used (and misused). But I now I see that all agricultural products have some aspect of terroir, and it is amazing to compare similar wines from different parts of the world. I can taste the sunlight, and the iron in the soil, and whether it was a wet or dry year. And then you realize that everything living has an aspect of terroir that endears it to a certain part of the world. And then here I am, back to my ongoing exploration of place and home, breathing a sigh of relief that my life makes some sense and isn’t as disconnected as I think it is.

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A Spring Secret

Even in Vermont, daffodils are blooming, herbs are rising from their winter slumber, and roads are (finally) being graded. Sometimes I could do without the winter, but then I wonder if the spring would be as sweet. If I lived somewhere that had pleasant weather for most of the year, would I be as excited about spring’s glorious arrival?

My husband and I have created a tradition that is all about spring–we ride the mighty Hoosic River in our trusty canoe. This is our third year doing the run, and it’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. While “mighty” Hoosic is a bit of an exaggeration, the river runs fast at this time of year from the snow melt running down the mountains and early spring’s inclination to dump massive amounts of rain.

The first year we did it we waited until May to ride. This trip was a languid three-hour tour, with ample time to eat a picnic lunch, tiny sections of quick water, and numerous squeezes through narrow, rock-filled streams of water, involving us getting out and walking in the icy water and rendering our brand-new-used canoe heavily scarred. Last year, we took advantage of a freakishly warm 70 degree day in early April to really ride the river, quickly, in half the time it took the previous year. Having never attempted such a raging river in anything other than a raft, complete with experienced guide, it was an exhilarating (and scary) experience. So you don’t think that we were totally out of our minds (as several passer-bys did while we were launching the canoe), my husband is a champion Boy Scout merit-badged canoer, and he does the steering…and we were both securely strapped into life jackets just in case.

This year, the verdict was that it was fast, but less so than last year. The weather was amazing: clear blue blue skies and sparkling full sun. We spotted lots of waterfowl, including a couple of red-headed ducks that I had never seen and couldn’t identify (and I’m from MD’s Eastern Shore–we know our waterfowl!). We were the only canoers out there on that beautiful Saturday. We’re considering telling friends about it to plan a river party next year, but on the other hand, it’s the perfect spring secret.