December 14, 2012

Ohhhh Tannenbaum

I had just knelt down around the tree to demonstrate to my still new-ish husband the approved "Pam Way" procedure of stringing the lights. Brand new boxes of sparkly lights were stacked and ready to go, and I was eager to pawn off this nasty job and tackle other Christmas preparations. My Dear Sweet Helpful Husband was asking all the right questions which were showing me he was keen to the assignment. My confidence in the outcome was building when things went sideways. Not the fun Pinot Noir kind of Sideways: The dishwasher gurgled, sloshed, and gushed gunky water, flooding the kitchen floor.
Another reason to love Le Bete!
The sharp one I am, I figured that the fates had just given me the choice between plumbing and lighting our tree, and since my plumbing skills are zilch, I settled in amongst the strands while The Man of The House made himself comfortable under the kitchen sink with his monkey wrench. I'd like to say that a fun time was had by all. Ha.

The Zen mindframe I'd talked my husband into adopting pre-tree lighting seemed to carry him over to the plumbing. Me, on the other hand. . . Apparently, I had missed the 100-lights per foot of tree rule by, oh, say, half, when purchasing the new strands, which I only discovered mid-way through the endeavor. This moment of awareness coincided with my Mister's not first but second trip to the hardware store for plumbing parts. My hopes for productivity rose as he arrived back home with more boxes of Made in Taiwan lights that looked to be a perfect match to the unique sparkly little globes purchased all the way across town. Things appeared to be back in the flow, at least as much as they can in times like this.
At this point, I must say that I don't think I've ever had more than five tree-trimming experiences in my half-century plus of Christmases that have gone without some form of grand emotional display or disaster. Each of the five "good years" have been in the most recent past, so I'm still a little skittish. You'd think that this tree curse would have passed over someone born on Christmas Day, wouldn't you? But no. As if we weren't having fun already, the new lights, when plugged in, glowed a strange flickery fluorescent blue, not the pretty candlelight glow of the others. Not wanting my living room to feel like a Wal-Mart store, the project halted until tomorrow. (The good news: The dishwasher works better than it has in years, and there's a new kitchen faucet installed to boot. My Dear Sweet Helpful Husband has earned his Hero badge for the week. And, to borrow the words of my friend Kim, we both managed to keep a cuss-fest at bay. )
So yesterday turned to today. I found a huge stash of old Christmas lights buried in a box I thought I'd lost, and decided to put them up along with the new ones rather than going to the across-town store for more that match. About four frustrating hours into the six total hourlong job of hanging 17 strands of lights, I gave up on my hidden cord technique. Seventeen (YES! 17!) strands of lights on our six-foot high tree-plus-antlers, and I've still got a light gap about a quarter of the way up from the bottom. And a neighborhood holiday cocktail party to host this weekend. And the resignation that Christmas is just like this, and I can choose to either be depressed or to laugh. I think I'll laugh, and officially declare this the Year of the Wreath.
I'm an utter failure at lighting a tree, but I make a crazy good soup. The other day, Martha Stewart was kind enough to send me her January 2013 magazine issue, right on time, like she has for the better part of 22 years. She has a few nice soup recipes included, and within a couple of hours of pulling the mag out of the mailbox, I'd made a version of her Mexican corn and poblano soup. I won't presume to instruct you on lighting your tree, but I will encourage you to give this warming, spicy, friendly, chowder-like soup a go. And I'll refer to Martha, the Maven of Everything, for tree decorating advice.

MEXICAN CORN AND POBLANO SOUP
Martha Stewart Living, January 2013





As much as the scent of a freshly-cut evergreen is nice, so much more is that of a roasted poblano!! You'll see where I differed from the recipe, as I roasted my chiles over the open flame and the onions (and yes, I added garlic) on top of a cast-iron comal in the traditional Mexican way. The recipe is also a bit wonky with their corn measurements. I used a 2-lb. bag, about half of which went into the blender and the other half later.

The recipe is not yet available online.

December 11, 2012

Lion Taming and Other Illusions

Chicken with 40 (or More) Cloves of Garlic 
Forget everything I said about The Beast. When I first moved in to the our "city house" last spring, I was sure that I'd forever detest the massive hunk of steel in my kitchen. While many of you were thrilled at the prospect of using a commercial Wolf range as your primary cooking heat source, I had done it before professionally and didn't find it all that terrific. The oven ran hot and cold, shall we say, and as the restaurant's baker, it was also my job to clean the monster every week, which was no small task. I'm a function-leads-form person, thrilled with the innovations of variable BTUs, sealed gas burners and self-cleaning ovens. A home cook needs to make a delicate sauce every now and then without burning it, and doesn't want to spend her life cleaning the stove, right??
Well, here's the deal. I have grown to love the She-Beastie. Just like the lion-tamer believes that she is the one to revise the characteristics of the lion, I had assumed that I would take charge of this enormous beast and impose my own set of rules upon her. And, just like the lion-tamer, I ended up standing back and letting her teach me a thing or two. It's simply an illusion that it is me who is in charge.

No, I' won't be cooking a hollandaise anytime soon, at least not without a stack of three flame-tamers underneath the saucepan. How often do I do that, in reality, anyway? What I do cook is a lot of one-pot stews, soups and tagines, which are so easy to do on this rather large and roaring piece of equipment. Like this perfect pot of 40-garlic chicken.

40-clove garlic chicken was the restaurant rage in the '80's, but I'd never prepared it at home. The recipe comes from my favorite issue of my new favorite food mag, Saveur. The October 2012 issue featuring 100 classics is a treasure. I was pretty thrilled that the recipe called for 40 cloves, or up to 100 cloves of garlic. I had a rather large bag of peeled garlic from Costco, an impulse purchase, langoring in the fridge that could use a purpose, so in went 80 or so cloves. (I stopped counting at 60, but know I didn't quite make it to 100.) This definitely falls into the "garlic as a vegetable" category rather than garlic as a seasoning.

We all know that garlic cooked low-and-slow tames to a very mellow, smooth flavor rather than it's biting, ferocious raw counterpart. This recipe exemplifies that mellow quality, with the garlic melting into a fantastic rich brown pan sauce. This amount of garlic also makes the sauce a little thicker than it looks in the photo in Saveur.

My adaptions to the recipe were these:

  • Instead of piling the ingredients into a baking dish to finish in the oven, place them back into the large, deep-sided skillet that I had used to brown the chicken, lidding it, and finished it on the stovetop. One less pan to wash, and incredible results.
  • After reserving a generous amount of garlic to be left whole, I smoothed the sauce with my immersion blender and used perhaps twice as much stock as called for to thin it, adding back the whole cloves after blending. 
  • I had thyme and rosemary instead of tarragon, which were wonderful added to the sauce. 

Make enough of this for left overs, as it tastes even better the next day.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Saveur Magazine, October 2012

SERVES 6-8

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 (3 to 4-lb.) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
40 cloves garlic, peeled (you can use up to 100 cloves)
½ cup dry vermouth
¾ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon

INSTRUCTIONS
Heat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to pot and cook, turning once, until browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to an 8″ x 8″ baking dish; set aside. Add garlic to pot; cook until browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Add vermouth; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add stock; boil. Transfer ¼ of the garlic to baking dish; mash remaining into stock. Pour over chicken; bake until chicken is glazed and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with tarragon.

December 6, 2012

Take Five

Ready for the oven
This week, a historic musical paragon passed away. Dave Brubeck helped shape the jazz scene back in the day, and introduced innovations that can only come from some secret source of giftedness. For 91 years, Mr. Brubeck's presence made a difference in this world, simply because he shared his gift. His most icon piece was this:
This year, I'm adding Take Five to our holiday music playlist. While it may not be traditional, this piece will be a reminder to, like Dave Brubeck, add an extra beat to my timing, to move with intention and joy, to bravely contribute my own innovations, and to take those extra five precious minutes to realize all the good that surrounds my world.

While you listen to your holiday playlist, why not throw together this delicious supper? It's rich, warm and gooey, perfect for an early winter holiday season evening or Sunday afternoon supper. The combination of the music and the pumpkin lasagne may just be the perfect inspiration for seeing the world in snappy new ways.
Half baked
This Pumpkin Lasagne recipe came from Food & Wine magazine, a wonderful resource for interesting, delicious meals, many of which are quick and easy.
Fully baked
Because I'm recipe-bound challenged, here are my personal riffs: I used fresh sage from my back-door pot, and I always use cooked lasagne noodles rather than the no-boil noodles suggested in the recipe which never give me the textural result I desire. And, a little extra chard in the filling didn't hurt, either. I also wouldn't hesitate to exchange the chard for just about any other greens or combination thereof. The bitterness of kale or twang of mustard greens would nicely counterpoint the richness of the dish. Food & Wine suggests pairing this with an Oregon Pinot Gris, and I couldn't agree more.

To learn more about the remarkable man, Dave Brubeck, listen to this 1999 interview.

Pumpkin Lasagne, Food & Wine magazine online

  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 onions, chopped
  3. 2 pounds Swiss chard, tough stems removed, leaves washed well and chopped
  4. 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  5. 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  6. 1 teaspoon dried sage
  7. 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  8. 3 cups canned pumpkin puree (one 28-ounce can)
  9. 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  10. 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
  11. 1/2 cup milk
  12. 9 no-boil lasagne noodles (about 6 ounces)
  13. 1 tablespoon butter

  1. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high and add the chard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until the chard is wilted and no liquid remains in the pan, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of the pumpkin, 3/4 cup cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
  3. Pour the milk into an 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Top the milk with one third of the noodles, then spread half the pumpkin mixture over the noodles. Layer half the Swiss chard over the pumpkin and top with a second layer of noodles. Repeat with another layer of pumpkin, Swiss chard, and noodles. Combine the remaining 1 cup of pumpkin and 3/4 cup of cream. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lasagne, sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan, and dot with the butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 15 minutes more.








November 11, 2012

Celebrating Our Way


Because life is short, we tend to do a lot of celebrating, and the entire month of October was devoted to commemorate our second wedding anniversary. Pulling out the precious bottle of Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc from our dwindling New Zealand stash demanded the just right food pairing. It didn't take too much imagination to refer back to our first Goldwater tasting adventure for ideas.


It was a great experience several years ago at a Turkish restaurant, Troya, on Clement Street in San Francisco, that determined the destination of our honeymoon trip. Actually, it was the aromatic, spicy, honeysuckle-nosed Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough that stopped us in our tracks that night and caused us to head off to New Zealand in search of more. More we had, and this beautiful bottle made the trip home with us.


With dolmas in mind, I'd brine-preserved leaves from our own Pinot Noir and Riesling vines this summer. We always have our favorite local Anderson Ranch lamb in the freezer, and adding fresh mint from the garden, pine nuts, rice and spices, it all came together into these beautiful little packets of goodness.


Taking another hint from the Troya menu, muhamara, a spicy red pepper and walnut dip, and smoky baba ghanouj because it's a favorite of my Sweetheart, rounded out our meze platter.


We sat in the glow of the fireplace and candlelight, eating with our hands, pulling apart pieces of chewy pita. Warm little bundles of lamb and rice, all wrapped up in the leaves of the vines we planted from clippings we were given from vineyard visits on some of our earliest dates made the celebration all the more special.

While I was cooking, my sweetheart and husband pulled together a playlist for the evening of music that we'd fallen in love to, including the first dance song from our wedding. And we danced.


October 23, 2012

Saveur Love

Hot and Sour Soup: Sun La Tang

The Adam Rapoport-ization of Bon Appetit magazine just hasn't worked for me.  I shouldn't fault Mr. Rapoport, but rather publisher Conde Nast which has parlayed Mr. Rapoport's GQ background into a marketing circus. From hosted dinners pairing chefs with fashion designers to a "Desk to Dinner" fashion line in partnership with Banana Republic, the mood of the magazine has shifted from food to celebrity and fashion, feeling more like Vanity Fair. I'm all for fashion, but BA has lost its food voice, which is what I was after when I clicked the re-subscribe button year after year. Captivating food happens outside of New York City or a celebrity-packed party, too.
Move aside, BA, and make way for Saveur. This breath-of-fresh-air publication is smart, elegant, and truthful. Intriguing stories are told from Pasadena apartments, Virginia woods, and Maine gardens, as well as from Paris, Morocco and New York City. A broad perspective of history passed down through mothers and nanas, as well as new discoveries and trends is told in the pages of Saveur. The story of food and its crucial place in our lives resonates.

The recipes range from accessible week night fare to imagination-stretching elaborate endeavors. Growth as a cook is potential as a reader, as well as comfort.
Soaking Shiitakes

The October issue of Saveur is a wonderful example, offering 101 classic recipes from all over the world. Lamingtons from Australia, Tortilla Espanola, Sauerbraten, and Senate Bean Soup. Caribbean Oxtail Stew, Saag Paneer, and Beef Stroganoff; each with a warm and personal introduction from its contributor (cook book authors, chefs, and food writers.)
The Suan La Tang, Hot and Sour Soup, was perfect on a chilly evening. In three simple steps, a spicy, warming, substantive soup came together. It was as delicious as any I've ever had in any San Francisco Chinese restaurant. Its acquaintance was made like this:
Hot and sour soup is a culinary contradiction. In it, the mildest ingredients—mushrooms, tofu—are nestled in a fiery, vinegar-laced broth. It is often administered to the unwell. Other cultures soothe their sick with bland milk toast and chicken broth, but the Chinese kick their sick in the pants. This soup doesn't just warm you; it burns through you and brings you back to life. —Mei Chin, from "Sour and Spice"
I encourage you to subscribe to Saveur if you don't already. I get nothing to tell you that. I just happen to think it's one of the best $20 you'll spend this year.
Living Room, Before and After
On another note, last spring I told you about a big remodeling project that My Baby and I were undergoing at our city house. I thought I'd pass along some of the before and afters.
Master Bath Redoux
 We're coming along! It looks great, and feels wonderful, too.

October 20, 2012

Capturing Sunlight in Water: Establishing a Vineyard




Veraison- Sarver Winery
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

The first drop of ethereal wine poured from a vineyard’s debut vintage embodies years of continual evaluation, determined planning, unfailing toil, and dogged optimism. While Galileo’s conjecture, “wine is nothing more than sunlight held together by water,” makes the enterprise sound like wave-of-the-wand magic, knowledge is at the heart of growing premium wine grapes. The suitability of the vineyard site must be determined, the varietals to plant must be selected, a business plan must be developed, and only then may planting the vines take place. Once planted, the viticulturist must provide astute management and wait patiently for up to four years before harvesting the first grape clusters for wine production.
Winter Vines- King Estate Winery
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

If it is true that great wine is made in the vineyard, site selection is the primary reason; the single factor that determines the eventual success of a vineyard is the site. Climatic conditions such as growing degree days, winter temperatures, spring frosts, the length of the growing season, the presence of advantageous and problematic micro-climates and amount of precipitation all must be assessed.
Vineyard Soils Cross-section- LaVelle Vineyards
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

Soils require just as much attention through mapping and type analysis, verification of the lack of presence of pesky nematodes (the worm-like parasites that will rapidly devour the roots of the cherished plants,) and ascertaining that there will be just enough water to nurture the young vine roots, but not so much as to drown them.


Slope and Aspect, Unknown Vineyard
South Island, New Zealand

Not that the vine grower doesn’t already have enough to think about, she must also consider the degree and direction of the site’s slope to ensure that the sun-loving clusters will receive enough light to produce the superior flavor that wine lovers treasure. Together, these factors help determine overall site suitability as well as which varietal will have the greatest success once planted on it.
Winegrowers are Farmers, Too!

Choosing the varietal, clone, and rootstock for planting becomes the viticulturist’s next challenge of marrying science and art. The selected varietal (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) should be more than the viticulturist’s favorite, but should be selected to meet the specific attributes of the site identified through the process of site selection. The same is true for the clones, or sub-varietals, which offer different characteristics from disease resistance to aroma and flavor profiles. Rootstock, to which the varietal is grafted, is chosen for its recognized resistance to the site’s known risks for pests, diseases and drought tolerance, greatly amplifying the odds of grape-growing success.
Row Spacing and Ground Cover- Barboursville Winery
Charlottesville, Virginia

As romantic as it sounds, a vineyard is a commercial endeavor, after all, and requires a solid business plan for success. The viticulturist must ask, “Are more people, or less, projected to drink this particular wine variety in the future? Has the market met its saturation point? Will my product offer consumers something that is not already at their fingertips? How will my wine grapes be unique?”

Trellising- Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards
Umpqua Valley, Oregon

The viticulturist must also understand and accurately project the cost of establishing her vineyard. The costs of land, soil preparation, rootstock, irrigation, trellising, and labor must all be factored. If it is determined that a need for financing exists, she must also understand the criteria for obtaining commercial or government financing and comply with that criteria.

Pruning- HillCrest Vineyards
Umpqua Valley, Oregon

A lot of effort has already gone into the vineyard venture, and only at this point is the viticulturist ready to plant the vines. Consideration now must be paid to the row direction and vine spacing. Rows are oriented to capitalize on the direction of the suns rays during ripening season; to make the most of available air flow to minimize molds and diseases; and if harvesting is to be mechanically aided, to ensure tractor safety.
Weed Management- Soter Vineyards
Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon

How vigorous the selected varietal and rootstock is, with low vigor generally producing the optimal wine grapes, determines how closely together the vines are planted. Some varietals in some conditions prefer the stress of being planted close to their neighbors; some don’t. The final test of whether the viticulturist has conducted a complete due diligence may perhaps lay in her vine spacing decisions.

Summer Heat- Beresan Vineyards
Walla Walla, Washington

With the vines firmly ensconced in their permanent home, it is now up to the viticulturist to manage them with the care a parent gives her child. The young vines will grow perfect juice-producing clusters if their leafy canopy allows enough sunlight to kiss them. The vines will stay healthy with careful watching for and early treatment of pests and diseases. Nutrients added in the form of crop rows will provide no more and no less food than what the maturing vines require.

Hans Herzog Vineyards
Marlborough, New Zealand

Eventually, with up to four years of breath-holding and constant nurture, the grapes make their way into wine. Wine which, with optimism equal to that that went into its grapey raw material, elicits sighs of, “Aaaah. Sunlight… captured in water.”

Hillside Farming, Unknown Vineyard
South Island, New Zealand

October 1, 2012

Change of Course

A Day at Amelie Robert 
 The challenge of popping back in to the blogosphere after an absence is to try to explain where I've been, which is easiest said, in brief, that life is nothing if not one exciting change of course after the other. May I make the assumption that we can pick up like old and dear friends, the kind that only need a quick summary to bring them together again? In the last five months:

  • We've increased our sanity by collapsing our living arrangements from three places to two, with the Love Nest no more. I cried a little as I drove away with my trailer full of stuff from the little town I'd called home for the previous 21 years. Even though the last few years have only been a placeholder there,  the final move marked an end. And a beginning . . .
  • The aforementioned event was precipitated by a forced reduction in work hours that not only  allows me to work from home most of the time, but also opens up time to put the wheels in motion for the biggest change of all . . .
  • I've become a full time student. Yes, after 33 years of being out of the classroom, I'm now studying for a degree in Vineyard Management/ Winemaking/ Wine Marketing. I will eventually narrow my focus to one or two of those areas, but the first few terms allow me to determine where my individual passions, skills and strengths will best fit within the wine industry. 
  • Potential has opened for some of our neighboring farmland to be made available to us for the larger-scale grape-growing venture we had imagined, but that our smaller property doesn't accommodate. We are exploring that option, and are really enthused about the possibilities it possesses.
  • My Dear Sweet Baby has also decided that since growing grapes is in his future, he should also enroll in the wine program. As he got ready for his first class, he said that the last time he went to school he wore a peace-symbol necklace, to put the event into perspective!
  • Ever interested in footwear, I figured that no self-respecting vineyard worker could go inappropriately shod, so, I purchased these...
 In addition, the refurbing of our city house that I told you about in the last post is coming along beautifully, and I promise to post some "after" photos of that project soon. And, yes, The Beast has grown on me; I've actually fallen in love with her. So, you can see that some things are falling into place for our midlife venture. 

Amalie Robert Syrah
 That leads us up to about, oh, yesterday. Our most favorite Oregon winery, Amelie Robert, which I've written about here, and here, and here, and here, held a pre-harvest tour and tasting. Ernie and Dena continue to be ever so generous with their information and learnings, both on their website and in person. Ask any question, and you'll get a thorough, thoughtful (and most likely jocular) response. They are most willing to sharing their expertise and artform. It sounded like a perfect day for us eonophiles, and now viticulture and enology students.
Up-Valley View from Amalie Robert Vineyard
We were greeted warmly by Dena, who was pouring one of each of their estate-grown varieties; Chardonnay (2009 Her Silhouette,) Viognier (2010 Our Muse,) Pinot Meunier (2010), Pinot Noir (2008 vintage Debut), and Syrah (2009 Satisfaction.) These offerings are a nice representation of the quality, structure, character, and beauty of all of the wines in the Amalie Robert portfolio. While some of the wines are in the upper end of our "everyday wine" budget, many fall more closely within our "special occasion" wine budget. Fortunately, we are ones who find things like a full moon (thank you, August, for giving us two,) a tax refund check arriving, that we were able to get the tractor started, or that we appear to have the fly problem under control as special occasions.
Beautifully Maintained Vine Rows
 After we'd sipped, Ernie took us into the lab where he offered us tastes of the juice freshly squeezed from the harvest-awaiting grapes of each varietal. I realize how much I have to learn to be able to imagine the taste of finished wine while the juice is in its unfermented form. I could discern sweetness and acidity, and that's about all that juice registered on my palate. Ernie assures us that the numbers (brix, pH, etc.) strongly guide this part of the process, and are large determiners of when to call the crews in to pick.
Chardonnay Ripening
As part of his open-handed sharing, Ernie brought out soil samples, soil survey books, site maps, aerial photos, and textbooks to open our eyes a little more to what is ahead for us in our exploration of our venture.  Ernie then graciously took us into the vineyard. Thirty acres of five varietals; block after block of row after row. Ernie is intimate with it all, knowing exactly which row has which rootstock, clone, soil type, and the best views.
Our vineyard walk filled me with a sense of neatness, tidiness, orderliness, and intimacy. I've walked quite a few vineyards in my day, but none as tended to as this. It may not be necessary to have a tidy vineyard to produce great wine, but I believe that the well-supervised vineyard at Amalie Robert gives us a glimpse of the level of detail that is put into each aspect of their production. Ernie and Dena aren't interested in producing commodity wine. They are interested in producing the highest quality wine possible.

As we drove home from our superb day, we passed another winery whose product we've tasted before and left us unimpressed. We asked each other just what made that wine so "not-good." As we continued on, we passed "the other brand's" unkempt, sprawly, shaggy vineyard, and I realize that our visits to Amalie Robert provide the answer.

April 19, 2012

Making Peace with The Beast

The Beast
I thought I was crazy when I only had two places of residence. Adding a third house to the mix of my already spread-thin life has only intensified the sense of never being where I should be for maximized productivity and efficiency. Let me explain.

Late last fall My Baby and I undertook the huge project of rejuvenating a gorgeous, interesting house in a beautiful neighborhood in our nearest-by town. The house had been his part-time bachelor pad/ part time home to four active children for the 20 years before acquiring the house in the country five years ago. In the time that has passed, the house has been lightly lived in and somewhat overlooked. Our early love affair created a bit of a distraction, so the house needed, let's just say, a bit of work. Besides, every house needs a little makeover every 20 years or so, right?

Allow me to describe this wonderful house: A spaceship crashed into the side of a mountain and turned into a modern, multi-level structure built on an exo-skeleton of enormous exposed fir beams, bolted together, straddling triangular picture windows looking out over wooded hills.

I should mention that the house also has a full sized 1979-vintage Wolf range. Not the made-for-home variety, but the real commercial deal.  Griddle, salamander, two ovens, six untamed gazillion-BTU gas burners. 48 inches and 2 tons of unbridled power in electronics-free black steel. She will from henceforth be called La BĂȘte.

 Rib Eye and Sauteed Wild Mushrooms on The Beast
My experience cooking on The Beast so far has been limited to a pot of soup and a chicken casserole, prepared to keep our small crew of two or three going on construction afternoons.  I'll just say that with all that unrestrained heat, it was the fastest-cooking pot of curried lentils I've ever made.

Master Bath, Before
The contractors recently completed foundation repairs, new roofing and deck structures. Our own elbow grease now takes over with deck paving, painting, bathroom and kitchen updating. And my biggest job of all; to make peace with The Beast.

 In Need of a Little Updating
Last week, after months of arduous work, we spent our first night back at the city house. My Baby made a little ceremony out of it. He brought provisions for a commemorative meal, our favorite Reidel wine glasses, and a bottle of our favorite Cabernet (Black Coyote, Napa Valley 2006, in case you're wondering.)
We sat amongst the ladders and patches of experimental paint colors, eating rib eyes grilled on the Wolf, in front of the fire and toasted to our crazy, three-house life, and the ensuing adventures with La BĂȘte.

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