Friday, February 19, 2010

Ready to Run

Just as I was steeling myself for the New Ice Age and the permanent descent of winter upon us (and never Christmas), I have started to see some early signs of impending spring. We’re not talking anything as out there as crocuses or anything, but the house has sprouted some very impressive icicles, some of which are almost as long as me (not a big wow by human standards, but pretty big for an icicle), and although just a few days ago I poo-pooed my husband’s tentative plan to tap the sugar maples this weekend, now I can practically feel the sap starting to rise in the trees around me. That’s what 2 degrees Fahrenheit can do for you.

Furthermore, the big male skunks are out getting hit on the road at night (not something that would normally gladden anybody’s heart, but an indisputable sign of spring, because they’re out looking for mates after hibernating since Thanksgiving); my family in southern Pennsylvania and my friend in southeastern Vermont have both seen large traveling flocks of robins (my uncle says they left D.C. early this year to avoid the blizzard); I saw what appeared to be 2 hawks riding a thermal today (a thermal!); and I also saw three wayward Canada geese noodling around near some open water a couple dozen miles south of here, where it is a good deal warmer.

Obviously none of these things is going to cause a stampede of Easter rabbits and daffodils. But the evidence is accumulating, and apparently the sap is also rising in me, because I feel a sudden urgency to order seeds and march up to the sugarhouse to make sure they are no bears under it in advance of next weekend’s tapping session. I am taking charge of sugaring this year, because John is too busy, so you can expect to hear more of that shortly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Adventure Thrust Upon Us

I have always had an interest in wood-fire cooking, and have always intended to learn about it some day. The previous occupant of our dear cottage, a woman of considerable oomph, had spent several years in the late '30s doing everything the hard way in the wilderness of British Columbia, and she left us some interesting cooking tools. I have even fantasized more than once about dragging the original wood cookstove back out of the barn and into the kitchen. But I have never been quite interested enough in wood-fire cooking to, like, do anything about it. Fortunately, yet another opportunity to learn and grow and fulfill my every ambition has been thrust upon me.

The gas range is dead. Well, it may not be dead, but it’s not feeling very well, and nobody is coming out to fix it until Monday, if it is fixable and the guy happens to have the right part in the van. So for a few days, it looked like microwave tea for me, and that is a level of culinary depravity I was not going to take lying down. It struck me that my mother on numerous occasions has said that the best tea she ever had came from the kettle that was permanently installed on her grandmother’s coal stove, because the water was still boiling when it hit the tea bag in your cup. So I tried putting our kettle on the wood stove, and by God, it made the water hot. So then I tried flipping some corn tortillas and frying my eggs in a little skillet on the stovetop, and by God, they cooked and were good. And then I remembered that there was a cast iron griddle in the cellar (shaped suspiciously like the work surface of the cookstove in the barn, come to think of it), so I brought it up and am going to try cooking naan on it this afternoon. And why not soup, right? So back to the cellar for some of the onions left over from the wedding, onions so immense that they can never be used at one time, and so have never been chosen for use. But what better onion to sweat down for French onion soup, am I right? So now I can smell the onions from the other end of the house and I am chainsmoking cups of the most wonderful green tea, and if the naan works out, a curry would be another good candidate for the cast iron pot.

Possibly the Complete Disaster of the gas leak and broken stove, which evoked yesterday’s anthem, tentatively entitled “Even As Men Wracked Upon A Sand,” has led to a culinary revolution at Wren Cottage. I recall a field trip my son’s class took to a canal, which involved traveling some distance on the canal boat at about 2 miles an hour. I remarked to one of the other moms that this seemed like a pretty good pace at which to live. She was aghast, but I think I just found the right way to cook dinner on the very slow-moving canal boat of my life.