Monday, November 5, 2012

Maiden Voyage of the Resurrected Coronet

Ever since we moved here and I found it hiding in the barn, I have wanted to resurrect and use this wood-fired cookstove, which I take to be original to the kitchen of Wren Cottage. It is a Sears Roebuck “Coronet” of uncertain vintage, and based on the number of men it takes to carry it, it can’t have come from very far away.

The memory of the oldest living previous inhabitant, my friend Pat who grew up here and next door, only goes back as far as a coal-fired cookstove that I take to be the reason this one got the boot. But the hearthstone and chimney access in the kitchen remain and are used by our Harmon heating stove, and various cast iron implements like a two-burner grill that I found down in the cellar fit the cook top as though made for it, which I expect they were.

Three years ago when John and I got married, we spent our honeymoon drive to the elk herd of scenic Western Clinton County, PA, brainstorming about a summer kitchen, primarily as a potential home for the cookstove.

Well. Three years later, the epic construction process has finally drawn to a close, and about the last thing to get done was the plumbing in of the chimney for the cookstove, which just happened two weekends ago. And then Hurricane Sandy came and everyone got sick, so there was no Ceremonial Firing for an entire week.

On Saturday morning, however, we struggled to light a fire in the rather tiny firebox. It took some doing but eventually when I ran to the edge of the porch and looked up at the shiny new silver chimney, there was smoke pouring forth! John said, “Do we have a new pope?” And I said, “Yes!” and we hopped around for joy.

I had not planned to cook the day of the Ceremonial Firing, but I couldn’t stand it. First I boiled the kettle and made a cup of ginger tea. This was so satisfactory that I threw a bunch of white beans and water in a heavy pot and set them on to soak in the warmth. Then I went off to walk the dogs in the orchard and when I came back, a delicious scent drifted over the wall of the summer kitchen and up the new stone path, and I quickly realized from the cloud of steam rising through the rafters that THE STOVE WAS COOKING THE BEANS. I was practically frantic with happiness. So I dashed inside and stirred up a batch of granola, the most harm-proof baked good I could think of, threw it in a casserole and popped it into the oven. And although the end next to the firebox burned a little—hence the injunction to turn baked goods periodically throughout their baking time—it came out actual granola, not sticky nasty raw burned oats.

So. Although I have been planning and desiring this for many years, no one is more surprised than I that it has come true and it actually works! The very next thing that happened was that November came and now it is snowing in the summer kitchen, but I am really looking forward to figuring this out next summer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Light Through Yonder Jelly Breaks?

The harvest was largely compromised this year, giving us an excellent opportunity to support our neighbors who actually grow stuff for a living, but I did put up a batch of crabapple jelly this week. Our friends, Betty and Tom, have a wonderful, decorative workhorse of a crabapple tree that always fruits during Artists Open House Weekend, when nobody has time to harvest the apples. No artist, that is. Fortunately I am a writer instead, so I get them. Ha ha! And Betty and Tom get some jelly by way of rent.

I don’t eat jelly straight up, or even on toast, but I do make a kickass jam tart, which requires me to amass a lot of interesting candidates for the jam layer—thus, this veritable Notre Dame rose window of sugary tart bliss.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pollo de Janeiro

As you can see, my contribution to urban planning so far consists of a slum in my back yard known as Pollo de Janeiro, because, as my daughter said, we have individuals equal in the eyes of God living side by side, some in splendor and some in squalor. Appropriately enough by international standards, the mansion belongs to Paco Negro, aka Paco Tercero, the deposed former benevolent dictator of the henhouse, who was run off a couple years ago by the younger roosters and had to go into the Rooster Protection Program (RPP) because nobody would let him back in the barn, so he was standing miserably in the rain at the foot of the barnyard, looking to die of exposure. I like Paco, and as I said he was a nice, gentle rooster with beautiful feathers, so now he has his own coop, where he goes by the RPP cover identity of Brewster Rooster. His neighbors believe him to be a New England native of a family rumored to have been represented on the Mayflower, but they understand that he could not have retired this early unless he had hit it big in Silicon Valley, which they assume accounts for the wild feathers. California, don’t you know. It’s going to fall into the sea some day.

So a week or two ago we moved the range pen, which is that flat-topped item next door, from the barnyard to the back yard so I could keep an eye on a hen who had gotten a late notion to sit on a clutch of eggs. It was necessary to remove her from the barn because That Black-Hearted Bitch of A Black Hen (who murdered the one and only chick of the little English hen earlier this summer) had moved back into the barn with her seven thriving adolescents, and there was no way I was letting anybody hatch out new chicks in her homicidal vicinity. So the single mom moved into the range pen.

Where, I am sorry to tell you, she leapt straight off the nest she had been sitting on for 2 weeks and began clucking and running up and down inside the screens, provoking the ire of the corgis, who made everything a hundred times worse by running up and down outside of the screens, barking their fool heads off.

Suffice it to say there will be no more baby chicks at Wren Cottage this season.

This is good news in a number of ways, because in addition to not wanting to worry about new babies in increasingly cold weather, this development also opens the door to a new autumnal activity: slum clearing. This repressive, CIA-backed zealot—it’s true, the CIA leaves peanut butter sandwiches in my mailbox every day—is going to brutally and without compassion move the empty range pen back into the barnyard for next year’s baby chicks to live in, as soon as I can conscript some teenagers to carry it.

The corgis may die of boredom, but I am a brutal zealot, so whatevs.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Harvest Home

Is there anything in the world more gratifying than getting rid of crap you should have gotten rid of years ago? John secured a Dumpster for me last week, and I spent seven glorious days throwing away the moldy; the mouse-eaten; the things that didn’t work out the first time so I have been saving them for twenty years in order someday to fix whatever the problem was; the bits and bobs of stuff that would have been perfectly usable if only they were attached to some other bit or bob that does not exist here or perhaps anywhere on the planet at this point, since these B&B were so very, very old. And how about the things that were broken or damaged because of some stupidity on my part—how long must one store those? Forever? In case one of the B&B happens to be just the thing you would need to fix that broken or damaged object if one ever somehow had the time and energy to do that? So you could then have a mended old piece of crap that you have been living without all these years while it was awaiting fixing?

Reader, I trashed them. I trashed them all. The ones that didn’t get trashed went to the burn pile so we can have a superior bonfire later this fall, a bonfire that will be visible from surrounding hilltops, a bonfire that will declare my independence from old junk, my own and other people’s.

The cellar is empty except for stuff we actually use. The canning shelves have been braced up with actual 4 x 4s cut to length instead of with an assemblage of wood that was rotten to begin with and then wedged in as needed, so whatever I get to can these next few weeks, why, it will stay up on the shelves and not end in a slick of glass and despair on the floor.

The Dumpster went away yesterday via a talented fellow in a big truck with an impressive hook-thingie that scoops up the loop on the container and hauls the whole menacingly rocking item onto the truck back. This is fascinating to watch; it obviously requires some skill. And now the Dumpster is all gone, and we can use our driveway again, and most of the dumb things I have ever done have been taken to the landfill to return most charitably to the Earth.

And the burn pile? If I were any good with Photoshop, I would make you a LOLcat smirking in front of the pile with a can of gasoline.

The past? I burnz it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ditch Weed

I was just noting the other day—rather complainingly—that my very most favorite aster of all this aster-filled time of year was the dark purple kind that grows rampantly on the banks of every ditch in the county, and yet it could not be induced to grow in the yard where a person could observe it more closely instead of just noting its happy existence as you flash past at 55 m.p.h.

And then, lo! This dark purple aster showed up down in the North Orchard! I have been visiting it relentlessly ever since, and I applaud its good taste in coming up right under the new crapabble tree with the dark red leaves, because when there are more leaves in the future, the children of this aster will look very handsome among the goldenrod below.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Loaf of My Heart

Today I baked the best loaf of bread of my life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Irrationally Happy

Our dear old Boof left us last week. She was ten and had struggled for some time with a breathing disorder common to old Labs. The lack of good oxygenation made it hard for her to exercise, but it did no harm to her mental state, which continued cheerful til the end. We had discussed whether to stop taking her for walks in the orchard, especially since the hot, humid summer weather was hard on her, but since walking and eating were the main joys of her life, we felt that prolonging that life by keeping 50% of her happiness from her was not good math.

On her last day, she had lunch and then nagged me at length to take her out. Finally I got up from my desk and we went down the orchard trail, where she ate many windfall apples and a handful of blackberries my daughter had picked for her. On the way home, she had a heart attack. She lingered long enough for John to race home, and when he arrived, she wagged her tail. A few minutes later she was gone.

It is sad to lose a friend, but I hope I am fortunate enough to go like Murphy did, on a beautiful afternoon in the cool green grass, with the clouds sailing overhead and birds flying up singing around me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For Future Reference

If you decide to wile away the quiet afternoon by burning the mouse nest off the broiler, the time to start all the window fans and disable all the smoke detectors is before ignition. Not after.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Which Has The Higher R-Value? Dead Mice or Cat Food? Discuss.

In designing the super-efficient country house of the future, architects must keep in mind the R-value of two substances that pack the walls of every domicile in the Endless Mountains and, I can confidently assert, all mountains everywhere apart from the moon: cat food placed there by mice, and dead mice who have gone to their heavenly reward in a heaven of their own making. Leaving aside the deceased little greedikins who blocked the opening of the birdfeeder with his portly form last winter, the dead mice in my walls have come to a place that could not be more perfect to spend eternity: dark, winding, free from predators and packed with an excellent brand of dye-free, additive-free, naturally preserved cat food. If only the mice themselves were naturally preserved. Summertime dead-mice-in-walls for 24 hours smell like a garbage container truck that was en route from the slaughterhouse to the landfill on an August afternoon but lamentably broke down and therefore was held up at a roadside rest area for two or three days while parts where shipped in from the Midwest, but then their smell is gone. It burns itself out in a horrific maelstrom of stench, localized to a part of the wall where hopefully you do not have to go that day. By contrast, wintertime dead-mice-in-walls are more the Peruvian Ice Maiden of unreachable rodents. They start out cute little thieves intent on tanking up on the burned oil residue under the stove burners before making the big climb up to the cat bowl on the counter to ferry its contents away into the superstructure. Then they take their time over the cold, dry months turning into tiny mouse mummies who may not be wrapped in nice textiles (or who may, actually, if you consider the state of the fabric storage drawers upstairs) but who are lavishly supplied with food for the afterlife, which, since they are mummified, is going to last as long as this house stands. Which is why it is important to include their R-value in your home designs.

You may think that the heat produced by the composting process might give the dead mice an edge over the room temperature cat food, but in fact the heat is short-lived and the only way the decay process advances the mouse’s cause is by compacting him, which improves his R-value because it allows the walls to be filled with a far greater number of his deceased relatives over time. The fact that our house is almost 100 years old and still filling up with mice shows the efficacy of this process. Meanwhile, the cat food has a distinct advantage because it is smaller to begin with and therefore packs more closely. Whereas dead mice are the open-cell spray poly of organic insulations, cat food is the closed-cell: inherently more of a barrier. However, in the final analysis, we recommend that you design to make the best of the diverse heat retention qualities of dead mice and cat food used in combination. In particular because, if you live on Earth, you don’t have any choice.

P.S. The illustration shows an oxalis demonstrating heliotropism and indoor air quality management in a south-facing window during the heating season in the North. Because inside of a wall, it’s too dark to illustrate.