Thursday, December 30, 2010

Count Down to 2011

I can't believe that tomorrow is New Year's Eve. Perhaps my disbelief  is caused by not hosting our annual New Year's Eve dinner party for the first time in over a decade. Our Calumet house is just too small to accommodate the old acquaintances that gather to usher in the new year.
Setting the table was always the most fun.
So instead of rushing around taking down Christmas decorations, hauling out wine glasses, plates and silverware, planning a theme and menu for the event and cooking up a storm, I'm left with a simple commitment to bring a wild rice salad and Jack's leftover fireworks and show up at Lynn and Walt's house at 7:30 for the festivities. Jackie and Paul have even offered to be our designated drivers for the evening. How simple. Sounds fun.

I'll save my cooking for the next day. I'll stay in my PJs all day but venture into the kitchen to put together a Reunion Pea Casserole -- really just a pie. It's tweaked from a recipe that was published by Southern Living in 1987 and I've been making it on New Year's day for at least 20 years. It features black eyed peas, a sure source for good luck in the new year. I pretend it is healthy since it also contains squash and zucchini.

1 pound bulk hot pork sausage
2 (16-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained, or two cups dried beans - cooked
2 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried whole oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups sliced yellow squash
3 cups sliced zucchini
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 eggs, well beaten
2 cups (8 ounces) mozzarella cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

Preparation (makes two pies)
Cook sausage in a skillet over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain well. Combine with peas, chiles, cumin, oregano, pepper and salt. Set aside. Saute squash, zucchini and onion in olive oil until tender and drain well. Cool 5 minutes. Combine eggs and 1.5 cups of each cheese; fold into squash mixture. Set aside. Place pie crust into pie pan. Layer sausage and pea mixture into a pie crust. Top with squash mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheeses on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. (Make sure crust bakes thoroughly on the bottom). Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Warm wishes for the new year.

 Peace and joy to you and yours.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Good Day

Part 5: France 2010

Our entire week in St. Jean de Cole was lovely. Yes, it still rained and yes, we still got lost. But it was so nice to have a home to come home to. Perhaps my best memories will be of one day early in the week when we, along with Jackie and Paul, headed south toward Bergerac for a winery tour of Chateau Belingard.

The rain quit just as we pulled up to the Chateau. The sun peeked out and shone over the vineyards. The blue sky with the yellow fields looked like a perfect Impressionist painting.

 A young woman led us through a tour of the winery before seating us at a table for a wine tasting of 16 or so wines. Too bad it was only 10 o'clock in the morning!

Afterwards, we headed a half an hour or so east to the little village of Tremolat where we had reservations for a multi-course tasting meal at Le Vieux Logis. I meant to take a photo of each of the courses, but was so caught up in how beautiful they all looked and how tasty they all were that I only remembered to take the first and last course.

After lunch we were ushered into "the smoking room" -- although, no smoking was allowed -- for coffee. Outside, hale was coming down and bouncing off the ground, but we were warm, snug and very content to wile away the afternoon.

And, then, for a brief period the sun shone again. We walked around the village marveling at how beautiful things look with a bit of sun shining down.

It was dark before we returned home. We built a fire in the fireplace and settled into deep wingchairs to read a bit before heading off to bed. Good wine. Good food. Good books.  And especially good friends. All in all, a very good day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

He Says; She Says

Part 4 - France 2010

Okay, if you've been reading these recent entries of our trip to France, I'm concerned that you may get a distorted view of our trip. Ed's entries can be summed up as: It rained. We got lost. We got locked in a museum. So, I'm taking over, because other than getting lost, getting wet and having to break out of a museum, the trip was splendid.

After Quimper, we headed south to the Dordogne and to the house in St. Jean de Cole that we would call home for the next seven days. We met up with Jackie and Paul and Shawna and Bruce, friends from home. The house, lovingly restored by former Louisvillians Jim and Mary Oppel, was so welcoming that I didn't care if it rained nonstop for another week. Our bedroom featured a fireplace in the bedroom as well as one in the bath. Rather than tell you about the house, I'll give you a tour:

Kitchen: looking out to the back arbor

Kitchen: dining table

One of the bedrooms

Living room

The back arbor
(actually, this photo was taken in the summertime and sent to us by a friend.)

The village was equally charming. If a complaint could be made it was that the town's bell tower was just across the street from the house and so every hour/half hour the bells tolled for us. A Tylenol P.M. did the trick for me. I'd hear the eleven o'clock bell and then the 7 a.m. one. In between, I didn't hear a thing.  Ed got so used to the bells that he complained when we got back to Paris that he never could tell what time it was.
St. Jean de Cole. The tallest building is the clock tower.

The Cole runs through the village
Foie gras, a regional specialty, in the making

to be continued...

On to Quimper

Part 3 - France 2010

 Still raining and still lost. No one at the tourist information office – who would have thought that there might be travelers on a national holiday?  No idea where the hotel was and the lady at the hotel had no idea where we were.  Apparently she was unfamiliar with the main tourist office. She kept saying go to the Cathedral and go two stop lights.  “In what direction?”  “Just go two stop lights.” She seemed to think this clear enough.

Off we went with absolutely no idea where to go. No one to ask. Nothing open. Finally found a boulangerie open where the French were buying their evening bread. Believe it or not, the first guy I asked knew the hotel and asked us to wait while he got his bread.  Then, he drove to the hotel with us following.  We only got lost three more times trying to get back and forth after that.

The hotel was an old manor house in the country resembling the opening scene from the movie Halloween.  It would have been complete if Debbie had done to me what Michael Myers did to the nurse. No French jury would have convicted her.

Dark shadows over our hotel.The blue tarp over the front door was needed after
high winds blew out the glass while we were staying there.
The next day broke cold and wet so a visit to the Cathedral seemed like a good bet. In an old abbey just by the Cathedral was a Brittany museum we deemed worth a visit. We got there about 11 a.m. and shortly thereafter there was an announcement in French – le musee blah blah blah in dix minutes. Now surely the museum wouldn’t close in the middle of the day.  Anyway in any museum they give you plenty of warning and then send a grumpy guard to shoo you out. So we moved quickly and finished our visit at about 12:05. Guess what? – the museum was locked up tighter than Dick’s hat band. "Don’t worry," I said, "I’ll find someone in the office to let us out." I forgot that was lunch time and no French person worth his sel is going to stay in the work place. Debbie and I looked at each other not knowing when, if ever, the museum might reopen.

A quick survey of the reception area revealed a weak link in museum security: a chest-high window locked only by a bar from the inside and shutters that were jimmiable.  Fortunately, the museum was eaten up with stone age tools.  An old raggedy spearpoint I found lying around was perfect for forcing the shutter.  A head stuck out into the courtyard showed no guards or police; in fact there was no one else about. Did I mention that it was lunch time?  And there was a bench outside just below the window. In a moment Debbie had boosted herself up and was out. She looked around nonchalantly and gave me the high sign. Liberte! I followed, at long last breathing the air of a free man.  A better (worse?) might have helped himself to a handful of souvenirs before the breakout but I left empty handed. – just kidding about the spear point.

Planning an escape


and out.
And did we hightail it out of there. Don’t say anything about this. I imagine there’s still an outstanding warrant on us.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Brittany: Lost, Wet, Lost, Wet...

Part 2 - France 2010

The next day we rented a car and headed for the provinces. Still raining, of course. Fortunately we had two sets of highly detailed driving instructions. So, we were lost within 10 minutes. It’s easy to drive in Paris if you know where you’re going. If you don’t, good luck to you because you will recognize the street you need to turn on only after you’ve gone past it. From then on, all the streets are one way – the wrong way.  

Finally, you reach the Peripherique, the Waterson Expressway of Paris -- a diabolically designed multilane highway which requires more attention to detail than heart surgery. We were on it and then next thing I knew, we were lost in a McDonald’s parking lot.

Ultimately, we broke free and headed to Chartres on that cold rainy day. For the first time since the late Middle Ages there were only a handful of people in that most magnificent medieval cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres.  

The Cathedral Spire at Chartre
Got lost again leaving Chartres. Ultimately to the walled city of Dinan and lost again.  Eventually found our hotel – a charming old pile on a cobblestone street almost wide enough for one car. “You can’t go up there," a lady told us. "It’s a pedestrian street!” Watch me. The hotel had a lovely garden which looked beautiful even in the pouring rain.

Debbie, in the rain, at Dinan's market.

The only other guests came down for breakfast – two French young people, a shaggy rooster-haired boy with wispy side burns and a blonde girl, both gaping and rubbing their eyes.  They must have been worn out  by their nights sleep (or lack thereof). The girl, a slight beauty, was so dazed that she forgot her bra. They sat by us and talked to each other in that peculiar way that the French have – like sitting by a quiet running stream.  As Emogene used to say about foreigners, they just "jabber, jabber, jabber".

The next day we drove to Roscof on Brittany's northern coast where the driving rain was accompanied by a driving wind which nearly blew us off the pier. Since it was 11/11, the Musee des Oignons Roses was closed, thereby depriving us of the rare opportunity to see how you can build a museum on pink onions – not all onions, but only the pink kind. Anyway, that area is the artichoke and cauliflower capital of France – reason enough to visit that part of the world.

Roscof, home to the Musee du Oignons Roses
From there we went Carnac to see the ancient fields of stones.  Since Carnac is only about the size of Shelbyville, we were only lost for about half an hour before stumbling on the field.  This is the ancient stomping ground of Asterix – one of the best comic book series ever – where Asterix and his Gaul comrades outsmart the Romans at ever turn – think French cowboys and Indians – worth a look even if you only have minimal French.

Stones at Carnac
Luckily the rain let up to a steady drizzle which allowed us to walk among the stones, all oriented in long lines east and west, and speculate on what they were for.  I suppose it’s the prehistory equivalent to graffiti “Hey, everyone, I was here”.

Hey everyone, I was here.

 to be continued...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Innocents Abroad!

Last month, Ed and I headed to France in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. It had been a very long time since we were last there and both of us had forgotten how much we love certain things about France (most having to do with food and wine!). 

Most every day I would find Ed scribbling on a scrap of paper. When asked, he admitted that he was just making some notes for our blog. We got back to Louisville three days before Thanksgiving; now it is three weeks after and we are just now getting around to publishing his notes. As a service to our readers I've mercifully broken his entries up into four posts. I'll put one up every couple of days so that you will have something to read on multiple occasions. So, here are the first of his "bons mots".

Paris: City of Light and Rain

In keeping with our goal of reducing our possessions, we decided to take a trip to France and thereby lighten our load by several pounds of US dollars, a currency that would have to strengthen up to be a laughingstock.

We took the train into Paris from the airport, the first and last smart decision we made for a while.  It was raining. I told Debbie that before we left the Gare du Nord train station we would put on our coats and hats and check the map. Cunningly the French had installed an escalator that went directly outside. No chance to consult a map or put on our coats or hats. 

Outside in the driving rain we tried to orient ourselves. We found ourselves directly in front of a large church which I couldn’t place. Turns out it was Notre Dame Cathedral which was hard to recognize without scaffolding in front of it. I understand that they taken the scaffolding for repairs and should have it back up in a few months for the spring tourist season.

Notre Dame, without the telltale scaffolding

The info lady at the airport had said that we would be only two minutes walk from the station to our hotel. Since there were no cabs in the rain, we walked and were immediately lost, which became clear when Debbie pointed out that we passed the same café several times. I tried for directions in a book store. The clerk said that there was no Rue de l’Universite anywhere in the city.  Either that or "Beat it" –  my French was still a little rusty.

Eventually, like most bad experiences, it came to an end (except for the one’s that don’t). We reached our hotel looking like drowned rats – which interestingly is the same word in French, only without pronouncing the “t”, so drowned ra’s.   

God bless whoever invented rollers on suit cases.  On the plus side, our room was ready.  Of course it was so small that they could get it ready in a Paris minute. You could clean it by getting in one corner and blowing toward the door.

Our hotel was near the church St. Germaine des Pres.  Like many others, I suppose, I was surprised to learn that St. Germaine was not Presbyterian.  Maybe they should think about changing the name to St. Germaine des Catholic to avoid confusion. 

Stupid with jet lag (at least I’d like that think that’s the explanation) – we managed a meal and a walk.  We ended up sitting for a bit at Notre Dame praying that the jet lag wasn’t terminal and that we could stay up til 8:30.  Both prayers were answered.  Anyway, if we died of jet lag, we would be in a state of grace.

Ed. standing in the rain, looking very Parisian
The next morning we dejeunered at the Café du Flore where I managed to pay $40 for two coffees and croissants.  Wait, wait – I forgot that I also ordered jam and butter.  Of course, no refills on the coffee. Well, I guess you could get a refill if you wanted to part with another $7.  Anyway, Café du Flore was a favorite of Hemmingway’s.  Papa might still recognize the place, but the prices would drive him to suicide.

In general the prices in Paris were on the far side of breathtaking.  Dinner for two cost about what my parents paid for their first house. Good thing we weren’t in the pricy part of town.

to be continued...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Aunt Gladys: You are My Inspiration

I love the Christmas season. But I don't love decorating the house for the holidays. Red and green have never been my colors and our house decor doesn't really benefit from the few fairly pathetic decorations that I pull out year after year.

The children know that spreading this kind of Christmas cheer around the house is not my forte. In fact, when Jack was about eight, he got so fed up with my humbuggedness that he stomped up to the attic and hauled all the decorations down to his room and created his own version of a winter wonderland. He staged wooden nutcrackers on his dresser, arranged snow globes on his bedside table, hung the Santa Claus made from panty hose and the reindeer made from a brown sock on his walls, and strung strands of colored Christmas lights from his ceiling, held in place with scotch tape. Years later, the lights were gone, but the tape remained. 

This year posed a special challenge for me. The Christmas decorations were packed away in boxes piled high in the basement of the house we are renting. The house is much smaller than our Rainbow Drive house, with not an extra cubic foot of space for a tree. I was hoping no one would notice that I had "forgotten" to get in the spirit...that my heart was too small.

But then sister-in-law Gay sent me a photo of Aunt Gladys (age 96) who already had figured out a way to decorate her walker and is looking forward to a car ride around Owensboro to look at all the lights. With Gladys as my inspiration, my heart grew three sizes today. I got busy  and put up the tree, strung it with lights and then hauled it out onto the terrace.

Deck the halls and the walkers

I unpacked our 1940's-era manger scene and carefully placed Baby Jesus up in the loft to await his arrival on Christmas Eve.

I pulled the spear out of St. Patrick's hand and replaced it with a evergreen sprig, removed the snake at his feet, and placed him on our mantle posed as the Christmas Angel, ready to bring the glad tidings of great joy to anyone who is willing to listen.

Peace on earth, good will to all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Am I Designing a House? Or a Lifestyle?

One of the things about designing and building a house from the ground up is that it can be anything you want. The sky's the limit (well, maybe tempered by the budget). What I really love most about the process is imagining our life on the farm. I wonder if I will take on the characteristics of the house or if I will just putter along being who I've always been. For example, I wonder if I design a house that is smart and authentic, will I become smart and authentic? If I live on a farm, will I become a farmer? And if I design a beautiful and well organized pantry, will I become beautiful and well organized?

Ahh! a pantry -- one that is large enough to walk into and designed so that I can see all the items on the shelves -- that's the stuff of my dreams. I think I'm as excited about our new pantry as I am about our guest cottage. Just as I imagine friends and family coming for visits and loving a stay in the cottage, I imagine a pantry, well stocked and organized. Rows of jars of green beans and tomatoes home-grown and canned; a dozen kind of Rancho Gordo beans displayed in antique mason jars; a collection of Fiestaware pitchers in a variety of colors all lined up on an open shelf. Rather than close the door and hope that nobody will peek inside, I want to have a pantry that I can leave the door open and it looks like a work of art.

Here are three photos that I found on my favorite design site: that illustrate this dream of mine.

Dream pantry #1

Dream pantry #2
Dream pantry #3
No harm in dreaming...right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


My guest blogger today is none other than Ed, who reflects on another farm in another time. And so it goes....

As Townes Van Zandt used to say, time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.  This is never more true than in the fall when you realize that tempus has indeed fuged with so many dies still uncarped. 

This dry autumn was remarkably missing the pageant of changing trees -- only a few yellow maples made up some color. Otherwise, it seemed the trees just changed from dusty green to rust and waited for winter:

To the darksome hollows where the frosts of winter lie.  – Wordsworth.

Mama Fitts
This fall reminded me of a long ago fall when I went to visit my grandmother.  My grandfather had died some years before and she was barely hanging onto the old family farm.  It was just a little dirt farm on a road from nowhere to nowhere else, but it was the home place that we called “out home”, where they had made a life for 55 years of marriage and hard work.  Now she was sticking it out there by herself, rattling around in the big pile of a house which echoed with the distant noises of long ago.

It was dry-as-dust September.  The sunset across the fields that day had every orange and yellow in it.  Shadows grew long and black.  I sat in the old kitchen.  A light bulb hung from the ceiling, turned on by a pull cord.  I could remember where the wood stove – the milk pail – the lava soap with pumice – had set. 

My grandmother stood at the window looking out into the gathering dark.  “You know,” she said, “even after all this time, I still expect to see Dad coming back from the stable.”

The falling night changed the window to a mirror reflecting her face.  I soon returned to my own life taking me far away.  My grandmother held on for a while, but gravity and age had their way and she moved to town to live out her days.  The old house was rented out and burned down by drug-dealer tenants.  Today, the barns, stables, stripping room and granary have been torn down so you’re hard pressed to even find the place.

And so it goes…