Stocking the Shelves

Today: granola, cheese crackers, chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, yogurt, granola bars, and tomato cashew cream pasta.

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The crackers are from The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila. I don’t own a lot of cookbooks, but this one is worth having.

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It’s eminently readable, and every recipe I’ve made from the book and Alana’s blog has been eminently eatable as well.

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Tending Hearth and Home

With the thermostat set at 60 degrees, we’re all chilly enough to be drawn by the sounds of flames crackling and logs shifting.

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This morning my kindling was a stack of crispy-dry hydrangea cuttings. We gathered them last Spring, tied them into bundles, and stored them in the shed in preparation for a Winter day we could only imagine. And here we are, imagination come to life.

Around the Corner

We’re taking a break from house projects. Time to save up a bit of money, energy, and enthusiasm to tackle what’s left to do. This morning I came across a series of photos from when we worked on the craft room.

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Looking at them I feel half inspired to get to the next project and half exhausted just thinking about how much time and effort one little corner takes.

Hat Head

I’ve never been a hat girl. Partly because I have a big head and a lot of hair, so it’s difficult to find one that fits. But mostly, I’ll admit, because I don’t look very good in them. As I faced numerous trips to the woodshed in cold, hard, rain this week, though, I reached for one of Dagny’s hats. Not just any hat – a hat handmade by my favorite Karen. If I’m going to look stupid, I might as well have two giant pompoms bouncing on my head.

What I learned? Hats are good. By the time I finished hauling wood, I didn’t much need the fire.

Point of View

We removed two rhododendrons from our yard on Saturday. I’m generally not a fan of taking out existing plants, but we’ve lived with these for twelve years and were all agreed they had to go. Too close to the house, too huge, too ugly. Taking them out was no easy project. It was simple for Jon to chainsaw them to the ground, but getting the roots out was another thing all together, and took Jon and Andrew most of an afternoon. In the process they unearthed some treasures.

I moved debris while they dug, then Sunday we finished the cleaning up and Dagny and I began moving plants from other parts of the yard to fill the new garden space. For now, everything looks a bit sad – lots of transplant shock, an ugly bit of foundation to cover, and some uneven ground that needs filling and leveling – but we’ll fix it up next Spring. There were some expected consequences – the light in the craft room has changed dramatically, and we can see the rock wall which was previously mostly hidden – but there was also one that hadn’t occurred to me.  When we walk out the kitchen door, we now have a view of our neighbors’ backyard, aka acres of farmland.

Much better.

Wood Warms You Twice

We’ve managed to get all of our seasoned wood into the woodshed, ready for this winter’s fires. Jon did an enormous amount of stacking alone last weekend, filling the shed to the brim.

Preparations have already begun for next winter’s fires as well. The Elm tree we lost to old age will be providing us with heat for years to come. Much of it is ready to be split and stacked, with only the statue (the main trunk) remaining to be chainsawed into manageable pieces. We’ve many (many) hours of work ahead of us, as it was a truly enormous tree. We’ll work through the chilly days of fall, and if we manage to get it all done before winter sets in I intend to be very impressed with us.

Our house is large and over 100 years old and generally a heating nightmare. As oil costs have skyrocketed over the past few years, we’ve had to make some changes, the biggest being an adjustment to much lower indoor temperatures than we were used to. A few things have made this bearable: Lots of 100% wool sweaters, warm blankets, hot drinks, heated rice/barley bags, and our fireplace. As it gets colder, we spend more and more of our time close to the fire. Like everything in this old house, our fireplace is not a model of efficiency.  The flue is stuck in the open position. There’s a chink in the bricks through which you can see daylight. And, of course, a wood stove would be ever more efficient than an open fireplace. The repairs are on the list (and the wood stove on the wishlist) but the list is long and must be taken in manageable bites. Inefficient or not, there’s no denying the particular comfort of a roaring fire on a cold January day.

Custom Made

Jon and I work for a week every year as helpers in a camp kitchen. While I love the equipment – giant mixers, walk in coolers, hot boxes, speed racks, oh my! – I’m always glad to be back in my own kitchen, which is small and laid out to my exact liking.

A kitchen that works for you is more motivation to cook than any piece of fancy equipment. While it would have been nice to move into a home with a clean and workable kitchen, the benefit of having had to remodel ours is that we were able to design it to function for the way we cook, eat, and clean up. Living with it gutted and unfinished for a few years (yes, we did) gave us time to understand the space and how we move in it.

The counter with the microwave on it is our baking station. Standing at it, we can reach everything we need to bake without taking more than a step in any direction. The largest base cabinet opens to reveal our mixer on a shelf that rises to just below counter-height.

All of our ingredients are in the cabinets to our right. Baking sheets are to the left. Measuring cups, spatulas, assorted bowls, and mixer accessories are close at hand.

Not everyone needs to, wants to, or is able to renovate their kitchen. But anyone can organize the one they have to make cooking easier and more enjoyable. Here’s how I’d do it:

1) Donate anything you do not use regularly. Don’t let things you don’t need clutter your drawers, cabinets, or counters. Keep what you need and love, and you’ll be happy to use, organize, and maintain it.

2) Make things easy to get to. You should not have to walk into another room and climb on a stool to get your mixing bowl. (I’m not naming any names.) If you need to store things in another room, make sure it’s the things you don’t need every day, and make them as easy to access as possible.

3) Place things in the way that makes sense for how you use them. Do you use one spatula every time you scrape your mixing bowl and another every time you flip pancakes? The first should be near where you mix, the second near your stove.

4) Group the things you need to do specific activities together: make a baking station, a chopping station, a cleaning station.  This does not mean you need a gigantic kitchen. Stations can overlap, and none needs to be enormous.

5) Look beyond the kitchen. The giant pot you use a few times a year for canning does not need cabinet space. It can go in the basement. Of course if you find your basement is overrun with kitchen supplies, you may want to revisit step one.

All done? Make yourself a treat.

Upside-Down Peach Cake

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup boiling water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons brown sugar

peaches, peeled and sliced (3-6 peaches, depending on their size)

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. (Sift if you like.)

Beat yolks til thick and light.

Add sugar to yolks gradually.

Add water and vanilla.

Add flour, powder, and salt gradually.

Melt butter in an 8″, oven safe frying pan.

Add sugar and stir til melted and combined with butter.

Remove from heat.

Layer peaches on top of butter and sugar. This will be visible as the top of your cake, so lay them prettily if you like.

Pour batter over peaches.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, til golden.

Turn upside down onto plate and serve.

(First photo thanks to Kyra Elizabeth Photography.)

Me and My Shadow

I’ve been alone for over 24 hours. Well, not alone – I have 2 puppies and a cat for company. I would be hard pressed to tell you the last time I was without human companionship for this long. As the weekend approached I wondered what exactly Rue-by-herself does. Ends up she does pretty much what Rue does.

Just more quietly.

Pretty in Pink

I don’t like rhododendron. I don’t know if it’s the shape of the leaves or what. I just know I’d never plant one.

Which is unfortunate, because there’s a gargantuan specimen wrapped around the corner of my house.

I have to admit, though, that a few days a year it puts on a good enough show to get my attention.