mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

new england color . . .

It is a grey, rainy day here in New England. You might think it would be gloomy and dark but nothing could be further from the truth!

We happen to have sassafras trees in our yard that have the most beautiful leaves that turn brilliant yellow in the Autumn.

In addition to that, we plant climbing vines of morning glories every year (almost missed it this year due to our broken ankle and back injury,) that present beautiful sky blue flowers which are especially heartwarming on days like this. Here are some photos to enjoy along with us.

morning glories on a rainy day viewed from our kitchen window. . .

morning glories on a rainy day viewed from our kitchen window. . . 

more morning glories, two days later . . .

more morning glories, two days later . . .

brilliant yellow Sassafras trees from our rainy bedroom window . . .

brilliant yellow Sassafras trees from our rainy bedroom window . . .

 

 

more dahlias! . . .

dahlia burgundy 2

group of dahliasToday might be the last day that Fiveforkfarms, a flower CSA farm located in Upton will have fresh flowers since they’re expecting a frost to hit soon. So, today at the farmers market, I met D. the father of the five forks clan and G., the youngest daughter whose idea it was to start a flower CSA. I bought a bevy of huge plate-sized blooms. It turns out that D. and I discovered we are both Chinese, shaking hands, and joking back and forth about who was older (when he insisted he was older than I, I bet him a CSA subscription that I was older and he backed off!) I knew I would win because my kids are quite a bit older than his, it seemed to me. G. was so gracious to me when she wrapped up the bouquet of dahlias. I’m looking forward to a time when the farm decides to sell retail, maybe next year.

cream dahlia

Because it was a rainy day, I decided to do some errands early and visited the farmers market around 9:15 a.m., plopped the fresh flowers into a white enamelled pail filled with a couple of inches of water I had prepared, set on the passenger seat floor and drove into town to pick up a hand-made pottery vase that I had asked a shop to order for me.

If you look around, a number of potters have been making ribbed, white contemporary looking vases, notably Jonathan Adler about a decade ago, his prices going from reasonable to, well, way more expensive as he got famous. And others like Frances Palmer who hand builds white pedestal vases that were so gorgeous you wanted to figure out how you could justify buying one–and then, there are ones like the vase I ordered and brought home today. These flowers are just amazing to behold, aren’t they?

2 vases

“late style” . . .

title: "final fiesta" . . .

title: “final fiesta” . . .

This morning is gloriously beautiful–a temperate, sunny day in October here in New England. While reading the morning New York Times and drinking my coffee, I read about the Matisse exhibition opening at the Museum of Modern Art. Half a million people viewed the exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London.

title: "that's not my age" . . .

title: “that’s not my age” . . .

This phase of Matisse’s creativity came late in his life after a series of setbacks. His wife of forty years left him and legally cut off their marriage. He had abdominal cancer and endured surgery that made him a semi-invalid, bed-ridden for the rest of his life. Due to the War, he lost his apartment in Nice and moved to a temporary place in Vence, a town nearby. This is the setting for making collages out of paper cutouts, almost sculptural and filled with color. They are so uplifting to view that one wonders how he got these ideas and where he came up with the hues of paint he had his assistants apply to paper, pin up, move around and generally serve as cogs in a slow-moving artistic process.

The NYTimes and others labeled this “late style” to commemorate a burst of creativity late in life, Matisse having died at the age of 84 in 1954. As you know, I’ve thought a bit about how to continue to be creative as one ages. The only thing to fear is lack of time. Or, that you’ve just been daydreaming about things all your life and unable to carry out the kind of creative life that you wanted for yourself.

On a much more mundane level, one of our projects lately has been to put together a book of G.’s photographs of the ocean, taken at different locations in Rockport, MA. where we rented a cottage in the winter and in Truro in Cape Cod before a huge storm changed the actual configuration of the beach. An extension of the photo book idea is to enlarge some of the photos and mount them on the three-story stairwell of our Queen Anne Victorian house, rebuilt by G. over the last three decades. A few years ago, I had a Rockport seascape blown up (about 3 X 6 feet) which currently hangs on the second floor landing wall. Why not create a seascape gallery going all the way up the stairs, we asked ourselves at breakfast this morning?

A brief online search turned up all kinds of possibilities for blowing up images: prints on paper, laminated, on poster board, on canvas, and so on. As for me, I carried out a major clean-out of our sitting area yesterday. I washed an antique hooked mat that lives on the red-painted stand beside the sofa. We tried out various table arrangements and settled for one close to what we already had except that I put all the detritus that pebbled all of the surfaces into small boxes so that we could actually see the tables! It’s amazing what clutter does to the eye. And what the absence of clutter does for the soul. Honestly, I’m not kidding.

I also applied a coat of dry wax to our new soapstone counter. There were also a couple of other repairs we made yesterday, like replacing a three-way switch to an old marble lamp we had that now provides a new level of light in the room at night; and mounting a cherry Shaker door to an old shelf to hide miscellany that would otherwise spill out onto the counter: teabags, aspirin, vitamins, etc. These may not sound like Matisse, but they’re very economical and pleasing fixes for the way things were. A pottery lamp that I bought thirty years ago had broken into two pieces and sat downstairs waiting to be repaired. Yesterday, with the help of three pairs of hands, it was put together again with superglue, better than Humpty Dumpty! So now we have double the amount of illumination than we had before–and at barely any expense. The place is so de-cluttered now that it’s hard to believe that we actually live here. I am still making my way through sorting out the stuff in the cardboard boxes but at least they’re out of sight, if not out of mind.

Each day as we wake up to such fine weather, we know how we lucky we are to be living together and sharing our lives. This appreciation is in sharp contrast to Republican doom and gloom that everything has already slid into a hand basket on its way to Hell. And even as the newscasters dumb down their nightly broadcasts into a replica of People Magazine (especially David Muir on ABC), try getting a parking space at the mall (which I don’t go to very often,) where it is mobbed with so many affluent shoppers at Nordstrom’s that they can’t all fit on the elevators. The Apple store is usually mobbed and the sushi open restaurant is pretty full as well.

So where was I? Oh, yes: “late-style.” Well, we can make of our lives whether we think it’s late or not. Thirty-somethings might even think it’s “late” for them. Little do they know once they get to be our age that “late” is a relative term. Today is my husband, G.’s birthday and it happens to fall on the same day as his mother’s — who lives across the street from us. Gram will be ninety-six today and so we will celebrate with a bevy of birthday cards (the most preferred vehicle of good wishes with a dollar for each birthday year) and some birthday cake tonight. How’s that for some “late-style” activity?

Matisse 2

 

bean and ham soup . . .

It’s a fairly mild day in early October, warmer than it has been with the chilly rainy days we had last week. But the moisture has been great for the garden and the Montauk daisies are almost in full bloom.DSCN7159

These perennial plants are ubiquitous in Rockport, a town close to the ocean, and huge clumps of them can be seen all over town. They multiply and appear in the Fall in great profusion, a notable cousin to shasta daisies which bloom in the summertime. I bought some plants when we had a winter rental there and they are beginning to take hold in our garden this year.

Like the morning glories that we plant for their sky blue color which appear on the second floor deck on foggy mornings this time of year, these Montauk daisies 2Montauk daisies bloom after flowers have virtually disappeared from neighborhood yards altogether.

For some reason, I’ve been hankering for some bean soup that I saw advertised in a Vermont Country Store catalog that came in the mail yesterday. It boasted that its canned bean soup is still served in the Senate dining room. That’s U.S. Senate, I guess. I wonder if anyone is still eating anything there since there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in the Senate these days. Anyhow, I decided to make my own bean and ham soup.

The recipes online called for boiling the beans, letting them sit (to make them less gassy) and to cook the beans with smoked ham hocks. When I looked at the package of smoked ham hocks in the grocery store, they looked rather gross with skin, bone, gristle and not much ham to speak of. They were almost black with 4-5 of them in a pack and I didn’t want to buy that many anyhow. So, for the same money, I picked up a thick slab of ham which I’ll cut in half and freeze the remainder to use in a batch of green pea soup later in the year.

The parboiled beans are now cooling on the stove. For this recipe, I will:

Cut the slab of ham into chunks and brown in unsalted butter

Take the ham out and saute a chopped vidalia onion in the ham/butter skillet along with a crushed clove of garlic

Add a couple of quarter-cut carrots and celery stalks with the onions

Tie together some sprigs of parsley and thyme from the herb pot on the back deck; add a bay leaf

Add back the beans and ham to the vegetables

Add 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 spring water to cover; add a small can of stewed tomatoes

second simmering in the soup pot . . .

second simmering in the soup pot . . .

Cook low on simmer for a couple of hours or so; add more broth/water as needed (I stored the soup in the fridge overnight and then started it simmering again the following day, adding spring water to the soup)

I decided to incorporate the ham pieces into the pureed soup rather than taking them out. When the soup cooled, I spooned all of it into the Vitamix and turned it on low. Gradually increasing the speed, it suddenly took off and turned the whole pot of vegetables, beans and ham into a coarse puree.

I put it all into a saucepan and added another cup or so of chicken broth to lighten the soup consistency a bit. I heated it up on very low heat so as not to burn the soup on the bottom. It tasted delicious. To go along with the soup, I toasted some English muffins, spread with butter and grated gruyere cheese, broiling them until golden brown and bubbly on top.

pureed bean soup . . .

pureed bean soup . . .

 

 

 

 

 

dahlias! . . .

dahlia 1 dahlia 2 dahlia 3 dahlia 4 dahlia 5jpg dahlia 6 dahlia 7jpg dahlia 8There’s nothing as beautiful as seeing a bevy of dahlia blossoms in the beginning of October here on a New England Fall day! I went to the local farmers’ market this drizzly morning to buy eggs but the stand I usually buy them from said it was too cold for their hens to be laying!

It was slightly muddy, walking around the tents that were set up and I was getting ready to leave when I saw a booth with buckets of dahlia blossoms. Some had heads that were at least eight inches across! They were grown at a farm in Upton, MA. and after I selected three blooms, an Asian man who looked like a Zen priest wrapped them carefully in two layers of paper and handed the bouquet to me with a smile.

I’ve always loved the look of dahlias on a table–one of my daughters grew them and they always looked fabulous strewn in various bouquets around the house.

There’s also a house a few miles from mine here in town on a busy main thoroughfare that grows dahlias every year. And I don’t mean just grow them. Around the perimeter of the fence, there are five-foot high dahlia clumps with blossoms, spaced a few feet apart. There must be hundreds of them. I marvel at what it takes to grow them: to dig up the tubers and winter them over in the cellar with some mulch, then plant them each year, fertilize and stake them (that’s the laborious part) and then do it all over again every year. It’s certainly worth it but I’m not sure I have the patience although every year when I see the blossoms, I’m tempted to try them in my own garden. I do carry over amaryllis bulbs over the warmer months and they come back to bloom over the holidays after two months of a chilly/dry habitat.

Anyway, these three dahlia flowers were just a fraction of those at the market–but since we are enjoying them so much here on the kitchen table, I thought I’d post them for others to enjoy too.

Happy weekend!

Postscript: Just discovered the website for the flower farm in Upton, MA. where these dahlias were grown. It turns out to be a flower CSA farm–and they supply flowers to all sorts of florists and restaurants too.

Click on Fiveforks Farm and you can take a look too!

 

under the weather . . .

vegetable stock . . .

vegetable stock . . .

The weather has been unseasonably warm (87 degrees over the weekend) and is now rapidly cooling off. They say that rapid shifts in temperature are liable to make people vulnerable to colds.

I’m fighting one off the last two days and can’t remember the last time I had one. Lots of sneezing, sore throat and congestion. The plumber who installed the faucet and Insinkerator the other night was wheezing and coughing, saying he had just come from the clinic with a Z-pack prescription. Hmmmmm. Turns out the dishwasher he installed earlier in the week wasn’t getting water during the wash cycle.This became evident after I emptied dishes caked with drying fluid and still greasy. It finally dawned on me that nothing had been washed even though we had set the one hour cycle the night before.

One of G.’s workmen, J., came yesterday to troubleshoot the dishwasher and after testing the water valve in the house and the machine, discovered there was a kink in the hose looped around the back of the dishwasher that was obstructing water from coming in. I was relieved it wasn’t an electronic board fault that would have required a service call on a brand new machine–and thankfully it wasn’t. Anyway, that was a puzzling glitch yesterday. And hopefully the last.

My daughter, M. who is studying nursing skyped this morning and suggested I use my spirometer–a breath strength measurer they gave me after surgery to boost lung strength and to keep congestion at bay. I also followed her suggestion to humidify the area and took out ingredients to make a vegetable stock that would simmer on the stove all day: leeks, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes and parsley. It was satisfying to cut up all the vegetables and stir them in olive oil, then after browning, adding a gallon or so of spring water. It’s on the back burner of the stove right now, quietly cooking goodness that will supply us with stock to make fresh vegetable soup tomorrow and to freeze. I’ve found that the rich, hearty taste of this homemade vegetable stock is more appetizing than either the beef or chicken/pork bone broths that I made a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it was the proportion of ingredients to water but there wasn’t as much flavor as the vegetable stock.

french onion soup . . .

french onion soup . . .

Because J. is coming again today to work on some carpentry, I also decided to make a separate batch of French onion soup, using some bone broth I had in the freezer and two large onions which I browned in unsalted butter until softened and golden brown. This soup is one of our favorites and we’ll have it for lunch. I have a dry end of a French baguette that I’ll broil with gruyere cheese on top that will soften when we float them on top of the soup right before serving. Yum!

I’ve also been taking Airborne–cold-preventative tablets that fizz up in some cold water (I like to add an ice cube) that both G. and I have taken the last couple of years whenever we felt a cold coming on. It’s done us well as neither of us has had a serious cold since then. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to nip this one in the bud too.

humidifying . . .

humidifying . . .

 

 

 

our kitchen: back together again . . .

 

better kitchen picture

Here’s a photo of our kitchen, taken this afternoon after days of disruption due to construction of our new soapstone countertop. The Grohe faucet was installed last night and our plumber recommended we replace our old Insinkerator with a new one which I purchased at Home Depot around 8 p.m. while he was still here.

a Grohe faucet in brushed nickel finish . . .

a Grohe faucet in brushed nickel finish . . .

This morning, I washed all the soffit pottery (old and new) that I’ve collected over thirty years. The huge New England wooden bowls went back up on the top shelf where they have watched over us for as long as we have been together (>21 years!) One of the bowls was the first thing I ever bought at auction for fifteen dollars when I first moved to New England and became an antique dealer. I’ve sold many collections since that time, not needing to hold on to them as such, but keeping one or two things–okay, maybe three or four (redware) that are my favorites. Actually, I enjoy having a few things that I absolutely love than collections of things. Like this old carved, bleached out breadboard.

shino teapot with carved breadboard and redware. . .

shino teapot with carved breadboard and redware. . .

 

One of my daughters sent me a quotation about the metaphysical meaning of soapstone too:

Soapstone or Steatite creates a positive energy around itself and exerts a calming influence on the person using it. It is used when undergoing great changes in one’s life and helps to prepare you for anything! It is thought to allow your ideas and inspirations to broaden, open and develop. It is said to open pathways between our physical plane and other planes of existence–for both sending and receiving. It allows you to give up old patterns and pathways and to ‘go with the flow.’

A real bonus: positive energy flowing from a gorgeous soapstone countertop. What else could we ask for? We give thanks to all the Helpers to find the sink and faucet we liked the most at the very last minute; for the soapstone workers who were truly nice people and who cared about their work, selecting the flow of the contrast grain so that the countertop has a natural energy flow rather than merely static wisps of pattern in the rock. It’s all come together with a lot of effort on everyone’s part.

Thanks also to my husband, G. who diligently aided and supported the workmen during the project. I still have so many projects in my head to prioritize and reorganize kitchenware, drawers and the pantry. I like doing it though, even if It takes me awhile. It doesn’t feel like work, especially in light of this wonderful group undertaking that has transformed our home.

 

 

soapstone! . . .

countertop with pink 2

 

octagonal soapstone countertop left  side . . .

octagonal soapstone countertop left side . . .

octagonal countertop right side . . .

octagonal countertop right side . . .

After dreaming about having a soapstone countertop for years and not thinking it would ever happen, here it is! I have an affinity for soapstone because it feels like a throwback to a simpler, New England time. It is not jazzy like granite, doesn’t stain like marble and has a mysterious shadowy darkness with veins of contrasting color that G. and I like. By pure happenstance, we ended up with a graceful, smaller stainless sink with a brushed nickel faucet that is almost Shaker in its simplicity.

We’re happy with the result. Have a look!

wax 3

wax 2DSCN7063

And here’s a photo of the raw slab of Pinheiros Altos soapstone from Brazil that was used for the countertop:

"pinhieros altos" soapstone slab from Brazil . . .

“pinhieros altos” soapstone slab from Brazil . . .

kitchens (almost there) . . .

plastic sheeting to contain honing dust . . .

plastic sheeting to contain honing dust . . .

After roughing in two-thirds of the countertop yesterday, the workmen were back here at 7 a.m. this morning. I was impressed. Two of them stayed to cut the remaining piece over the dishwasher and then fit the backsplash around the perimeter of the countertop.They mentioned it’s only the second octagonal countertop among thousands that they’ve done (most kitchens having square angles) and that it made the angle cuts for the back splash more challenging. It took them all afternoon to cut, install and hone the angled backsplash.

The grain on the third piece fit in well with the other two. G., meanwhile, secured the dishwasher so that there was enough space to open the drawer and cabinet door next to it on the left hand side. We have our fingers crossed that the dishwasher, now anchored in place until there’s no tomorrow, will function properly once the water is hooked up again and it goes through its wash cycle.

Our plumber will come tomorrow night to hook up the new faucet with the insinkerator and to move whatever pipes need to be repositioned given the new location of the faucet. After my physical therapy session this morning, I went to the grocery store and brought back salad and some roast turkey slices for the workers’ lunch. One of them declared that the salad dressing I made was “one of the ten best I’ve ever had!” and asked me for the recipe. I thought I’d include it in this post too.

K’s Classic Vinaigrette Recipe:

Champagne Vinegar and Light Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Depending upon the quantity you’re making, use a ratio of 1:2 for the vinegar to olive oil.Then, add:

Crushed clove of garlic—or a light sprinkle of Lawry’s garlic salt

A dollop or two of Poupon country mustard (depending on the quantity you’re making)

A squeeze of FRESH lemon juice—this brightens up and makes the dressing smell wonderful

A dollop or two (or more) of honey—to taste, we like it slightly sweet and sour. You’ll know how much by tasting it after whisking the mixture with a fork. Sprinkle a little cracked pepper if desired.

The guys seemed refreshed after they finished their lunch. I was surprised they were so health-conscious, eating an apple in the morning and drinking water the whole time. I left some more fruit and bottles of water outside on the front stoop to tide them over during the afternoon.

Last night in artificial light, the raw, untreated stone looked more green than blue-grey. Once the plumbing is completed tomorrow night, we’ll use a special dry wax to cure and condition the surface of the stone on Friday. I’m remembering that pot of delicate, pale pink chrysanthemums I saw the other morning at Home Depot too. It will look gorgeous on the new countertop, won’t it?

Here are a few photos of the raw soapstone countertop, completed but unwaxed. Photos of the finished countertop will be posted soon.

Salut!

left side raw countertop. . .

left side raw countertop. . .

center raw countertop . . .

center raw countertop . . .

right raw countertop . . .

right raw countertop . . .

 

 

 

 

 

kitchens (cont.) . . .

"before" kitchen counter, left side

“before” kitchen counter, left side

"before" kitchen, center

“before” kitchen, center

 

"before" kitchen, right side

“before” kitchen, right side

Today is the day for the soapstone countertop project to begin. I say project because I’m not sure when it will be completed as it is sandwiched in with another job the contractor has in Boston tomorrow.

This morning, I was awakened by G. who said he was leaving to take his mother to the doctor’s and that he thought the new sink we had was too big and too deep to fit into the space. This was a little after 8 a.m. and the soapstone was due to arrive at 10 a.m. I hopped out of bed (literally, since my ankle is still stiff,) got dressed, washed up and got in the car to go to Lowe’s to see if they had a small undermount sink. They had only one in stock and it was approximately the size G. had specified but was still ten inches deep. Along the aisle to the sinks, I happened to see a single mount faucet by Grohe that was much sleeker and simpler than the bulbous Kohler faucet that arrived from Amazon yesterday.

I grabbed the new faucet, the undermount sink and checked out. I decided as long as I was at it that I would drive to the Shrewsbury Home Depot to see what they had in the way of sinks because I wasn’t crazy about the one I had just bought at Lowe’s. All I could think of was getting some hot, black coffee and honey dip donuts but didn’t have time to stop.

Lo and behold, although Home Depot also only had one undermount sink to choose from, it had frontal rounded edges that I had seen and admired previously at another stone cobbler contractor’s shop. It was an Elkay and I bought it while making a mental note that I would come back for a large pot of beautiful chrysanthemums once the countertop job was completed.

When I got home, we unpacked the sink and looked at how it might fit in, allowing for more cooking space. The faucet would be mounted on the right side, giving an asymmetrical look. When I opened up the box for the new faucet, we found that the faucet parts themselves were missing! That’s right, the kit had been previously opened, the long neck of the faucet was missing and other boxes in the kit were opened. The box had been secured with those stiff plastic tapes that you have to cut off with scissors. I had asked someone at Lowe’s whether I could look at the contents before checking out. Now, the worst had happened.

When I went back to the faucet section of Lowe’s, “Dennis” greeted me with a smile and then with a frown when I showed him the inner contents of the box and its missing parts. There was one more box of this particular faucet, the most expensive of the now FOUR faucets that I’d obtained as possible candidates (the Kohler faucets were gigantically bulbous and humongous-looking compared to the scale of the smaller sink.) When we pulled this one out of its wrapping, it was a brushed finish rather than shiny chrome which I actually liked better than the bright finish.

By this time, I’d figured out that the design and choices for our kitchen had been taken over by the Kitchen Gods, that they were now fully in charge and that we were just along for the ride. Towards that end, I silently asked for cosmic helpers of countertops to weigh in to obtain a good outcome for soapstone matching and cutting, carrying soapstone up three flights of stairs and properly finish the job. I thought I detected a slight flutter of wings but maybe that was just my imagination. By this time, we had had three sinks (Kraus, Franke and Elkay) and four faucets (Moen, two Kohler and a Grohe) to choose from. As it turned out, the very last sink and faucet that I found this morning were the ones we liked best so all that running around turned out to be worth it.

The soapstone slabs and workers arrived around 11 a.m. That’s when I learned that they were due to complete a fourth floor Boston job at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow and would have to leave this job and come back later to finish our job. I took my laptop and power cord into the bedroom with a couple of books because I wanted to give them free rein in the kitchen and also didn’t want to look like I was Cleopatra sailing down the Nile eating grapes while they slaved away.

Shortly after the first template was made, I was called down to look at how it would be positioned on the soapstone, especially where the veining would appear. We compromised a little and they’re cutting the stone now. G. will pick up lunch for them at a local shop nearby where one of the workman said he grew up.

Stay tuned for the next installment (literally!) of our new kitchen counter saga. Hopefully soon.

 

 

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