The Place for Pie: Noon Mark Diner

IMG_2946Amid all the chores of autumn, cutting back the flowers, turning the compost, trying to fit the outdoor furniture into the garage, being sure it doesn’t block the snow blower, we always make time for foliage tours and exploring the Adirondacks.

In addition to the photos of the foliage I shared recently, I need to tell you about a pie or, I should say, THE pie.

In a tiny town, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, in the noonday shadow of Noon Mark Mountain, sits a diner. It is named, as you guessed, the Noon Mark Diner.

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mapThe Noon Mark Diner is a friendly, kind of goofy place, that caters to locals, to hikers and outdoors-folk, and to tourists.

IMG_2894The food is generally good and plentiful but the thing that sets the Noon Mark apart is the pie.

goodeatnoonmarkThey make dozens of kinds of pie and trying all of them is on my bucket list. Some people set a goal to climb all the Adirondack High Peaks; me, I’ll eat the pies.

IMG_2890The problem is, I never get past the same pie. We don’t go to the Noon Mark that often because it’s in Keene Valley and about an hour from home. So, when we do go I look for the blackberry cheese crumb pie. Yes, yes! Blackberries on a cream cheese base, with a crumb topping!

When we went last week, we had lunch before we had pie and ended up having to take the pie home with us. This is obviously a common request because they have dandy little pie-shaped to-go containers. And, even more diabolical, they have stacks of whole, entire pies to go!

IMG_2891We stuck with single slices because, as my husband says, if we took a whole pie home, “we’d just eat it.” But most of the people we watched come in and out of the diner snagged a whole pie before they left. They’ll probably just eat it . . .

The pie was, as always, delightful. Tart berries (real berries!), creamy cheese on a pastry crust, a super sweet crumb topping. We didn’t put ice cream or whipped cream or anything on it—it doesn’t need a thing.

I’ve been looking around and think this recipe for cranberry cream cheese crumb pie from Food.com comes close to what they make at the diner. I’ve never tried the recipe and probably won’t because going to the Noon Mark itself is a rare treat. (And, because, if I made the pie, I’d just eat it.)

But, if you love a good pie and want to elevate it to a whole nother level, as we say in the North Country, and if you can’t make it to the Noon Mark Diner in Keene Valley, NY, this recipe is worth a try.

Diners are famous for pies. Does your local diner have a pie like this? What kind of pie is special in your region?

Autumn Senses–Scent of Ginger

ginger choc caramels-4It’s a rainy, cool autumn morning in the North Country, the kind that engages your senses in a variety of ways. Right now, I’m most aware of my sense of smell because my whole house carries the scent of warm ginger.

Lots of people seem to associate maple with fall but I think ginger is the signature scent. Don’t get me wrong—I have maple in my blood. I grew up on a farm where we made maple syrup, but, to me, maple is a spring thing—that’s when the sap is running and the boiling down occurs, to turn that sap into heaven.

Ginger is warm and cozy—like a favorite sweater on a cool day. I love that it has a spicy zip to it, too. I’m making ginger caramels, which involves infusing cream with fresh ginger root and then adding that to the other caramel ingredients and letting the whole thing burble for a couple of hours.

When the caramel reaches the “soft ball” stage, I’ll add finely chopped crystallized ginger and let them set. They’re amazing just cut into squares—like Reed’s Ginger Chews only creamier—but I’ll dip some in dark chocolate, too, because I am of the opinion that dark chocolate makes most things taste better!

I have more fresh ginger root and crystallized ginger on hand so I think my next step is to try these Triple Ginger Cookies. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

What is your go-to fall scent? Pumpkin? Apple? Cinnamon? Or do you love ginger, too?

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If you make caramels and want the details about giving them a jolt with ginger, let me know!

Good Fences Make . . . Us Human

IMG_3058Do you have a fence where you live? I bet you do, even if it’s very basic. Did you choose it or was it there when you moved in? What is your fence for? Is it meant to keep your pets in the yard? To give you privacy from neighbors? To add to the “look” of your home? Is it your ideal fence?

I love a good fence. I don’t think of fences as “keeping out” or “keeping in” so much as establishing boundaries that humans seem to want and need. In addition, I think we communicate about who we are by the fences we build and maintain.

On the farm of my youth, it was different. We needed our fences. Some were made of stone, not because it was attractive or especially great wall-building material, but because the soil was poor and farmers needed to pick stone out of the fields, to prepare the ground for planting. Stone walls are often where they are because, simply put, the farmers needed a place to put the stones. The more miles of stone wall you see on a farm, the worse the soil used to be.

file0001006375413A lot of the fences on the farm were barbed wire or electrical fences, again for practical purposes. I remember lessons in how to cross a barbed wire fence safely, and how to help another person get through. Foot on the lowest wire, spaced between the barbs, push down. Hand on the next higher wire, spaced between the barbs, pull up. Watch other person climb gingerly through and place hand on head to protect head from barbs. My sister and I did this 1000 times as we rambled.

These fences were meant to keep the cows where we could find them, and the cows were always getting out. Snowmobilers and hunters were the bane of the farmers’ existence—they would cut barbed wire and electric fences to get where they wanted to go.

And then, in the spring, when the cows were let out of the barn and their long winter incarceration, they would find every hole in every fence. Usually in the evening, when Lost in Space was on TV. Right about the time the Robot would intone “Danger, Will Robinson, danger,” my sister and I would be called to go out and help corral the animals again. And we’d never know what happened to Will Robinson. I’ve been bitter toward snowmobilers and hunters ever since.

For most of us, in the 21st century, our fences are no longer meant to keep the cattle home or keep undesirables out—we have fences to mark our spaces, solve a problem, and to communicate about who we are.

At our house we use tall cedar hedges next to the road as a fence; they were here when we moved in but we maintain them carefully because we like the look and they give tons of privacy.

IMG_3229We use a stretch of fence along the driveway, made of old cedar split rails, to say, “enjoy our yard but from a distance” but also to communicate “we fit in” and “we like it ‘old-school’.” The split rail fence is very common in rural upstate New York, and traditional. We got the rails for an old farmer, who had been clearing a long-overgrown piece of land, and found them stacked up along the side. One of his ancestors had meant to build a fence and never did get around to it. We now enjoy the fruit of his labors, and that special look, at our place.

IMG_3234If you have any doubt about this idea that we use fences to communicate about who we are, check out the number of boards on Pinterest that are dedicated to fences. I don’t know why anything about Pinterest would surprise me, but I was astounded by the extent to which people are establishing fence wishlists!

My favorite fence, for sheer impractical exuberance, as well as for fitting into its environment and telling us something about the owner, is this spectacular Adirondack twig fence (here and at beginning of post).

IMG_3048IMG_3052On a small road, in the middle of nowhere, someone put a lot of energy into this cedar fence. This fence does what fences do—marks territory and says, “This is mine,” but it says so much more about the person who built it. He (or she) took a considerable amount of time to make a fence that communicates about a commitment to a traditional Adirondack vernacular of using limbs and twigs as decoration on furniture and homes. It’s rustic, but never plain. It also, to me, communicates a sense of humor and whimsy. It seems designed to make a statement and to make passersby smile. It is certainly designed to be noticed!

So, what does your ideal fence tell us about you? Are you homey and nostalgic, loving a white picket fence? Are you private and maybe a little introverted, looking for a high fence that blocks prying eyes? Are you creative and artsy? Laid back and rustic? Show me your fence and I’ll tell you who you are!

Come Leaf Peeping With Me!

Gallery

This gallery contains 29 photos.

The High Peaks region of the Adirondacks in New York is already past peak foliage–it came early this year! The colors were great, and still are in lower elevation parts of the North Country. If you love fall but missed … Continue reading

The Garden Diva (But Worth the Trouble)

IMG_3181One of the things we added to our garden this summer was a rose tree or rose standard. Our big box hardware store puts plants on deep, deep discount when their prime moment has passed and my husband couldn’t resist this tree for $5.99.

If I had read about the care and feeding of rose standards before he bought it, I probably would’ve said, “Don’t bother.” As I’ve told you before, I like a hardy, tenacious flower that thrives where it’s planted, with not too much input from me.

The rose standards are not hardy or tenacious and they need a lot of attention from humans–they are such divas! They’re actually created by humans and grown by grafting a hybrid rose to the top of a long rose cane, and that means they can be top heavy. Without real care in pruning, the cane will snap from the weight at the top. So they need to be supported with a stake, kept out of strong winds, and monitored for the cane bowing.

IMG_1751And, as if that weren’t all enough to worry about, they need special care in the winter. We will need to create a tall cylinder of chicken wire to go around the cane and then fill the cylinder with mulch, to protect the cane from freezing. We’ll try this but I don’t know if the poor thing will make it . . .

But in spite of all this, I have come to love the plant! It has given so much in the few months we’ve had it. It has gotten beautiful new foliage and produced dozens of the most gorgeous yellow roses, and they even smell fabulous! To top it off, it’s still blooming, better than ever, in October.

I do hope it makes it through the winter—I’ll keep you posted. If you’ve ever had a rose standard and have advice, please pass it along!

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As a postscript, I just finished dipping these coffee caramels and think they’re too pretty not to share!

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Early Autumn Apples–Naming Names

IMG_3133It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.Henry David Thoreau

Apples are synonymous with autumn in upstate New York. This is a place where farmers name their kids after apples—I swear I know a Cortland and a Macintosh but, though we joked about it, we never knew a girl named Delicious.

My great-uncle and aunt owned an orchard so I have apples in my genetic structure. They had just one of dozens of commercial orchards in the area that offer many varieties of apples, some you’ve never heard of, as well as hard and soft cider, apple cider donuts, apple pies, apple picking and all other manner of fall fun. (Let’s be clear, my people never made hard cider, though their descendant likes to drink it!)

Did you know that apples can’t be reliably grown from seed? You might eat the perfect apple and think that you can have more by growing a tree from the seed of that apple, but you’d be disappointed. Apples do not grow “true to variety” from seed, so all the great eating apples are created by grafting a branch that produced a great apple onto another tree.

So, apples need humans to perfect and sweeten them, just as humans have loved apples for their sweetness and perfection. One of my favorite chapters of a favorite book is the chapter on apples in Michael Pollan’s book, Botany of Desire. Pollan writes of the connections between humans and apples:

How many other fruits do we call by their Christian names?  . . . There were names that set out to describe, often with the help of a well-picked metaphor: the green-as-a-bottle Bottle Greening, the Sheepnose, the Oxheart, the Yellow Bellflower, the Black Gilliflower, the Twenty-Ounce Pippin. There were names that puffed with hometown pride, like the Westfield-Seek-No-Further, the Hubbardston Nonesuch, the Rhode Island Greening, the Albemarle Pippin . . . There were names that gave credit where credit was due (or so we assume): the Baldwin, the Macintosh, the Jonathan, McAfee’s Red, Norton’s Melon, Moyer’s Prize . . . and Walker’s Beauty. And then there were the names that denoted an apple’s specialty, like Wismer’s Dessert, Jacob’s Sweet Winter, the Early Harvest and Cider Apple, the Clothes-Yard Apple, the Bread and Cheese, Cornell’s Savewell . . . Paradise Winter, Payne’s Late Keeper, and Hay’s Winter Wine.

We stopped yesterday at a favorite orchard, Northern Orchards, in Peru, NY, and looked for apples we hadn’t met yet, whose names we didn’t know. We had recently gotten William Prides and Pristines from them, and loved them both.

This visit, we got some of the well-known, but fab, Honey Crisps and also grabbed some Silkens and Red Wealthies. Never heard of these? That’s not surprising since apples that we’ve heard of tend to be the ones in the supermarket, and the ones in the supermarket are chosen because they keep well, travel well, and fit buyers’ mainstream notions of what apples should look and taste like. No matter how lovely an apple tastes, if it doesn’t keep for a really long time or bruises easily, you won’t find it at your store.

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Silkens (the yellow ones) and Red Wealthies

The Silken is a gorgeous apple, medium in size, with a glowing, creamy yellow skin color, “having a translucent appearance like white porcelain with a bright lustre.” It’s a firm, crispy apple, really juicy. It’s considered an “early” apple here and, like many early apples, does not keep well. People who know them and love them have to be prepared to enjoy them in the few weeks they are available.

The Wealthy or Red Wealthy is described as a “somewhat tender–but crisp–medium-coarse white tinged with yellow, bearing juice that is tart but not unbalanced. There is a little banana, lemon-lime citrus, something like tart strawberries, and some fizzy acidity.” I love reading descriptions of apples that treat the taste and texture with the serious given to a fine wine! And I love that the name came, not because the farmer had hopes to become rich off it, but because his wife’s name was Wealthy!

The Wealthies are described as a near-perfect apple but I never seem to see them in stores, only at farm stands, and I’m not sure why. Have you seen Wealthies at your supermarket?

When we go out, we only buy a few apples at a time so we can eat them before the next varieties become available. But we got more than usual yesterday because the orchard had four experimental apples that they were inviting people to take. The woman at the stand couldn’t tell us exactly what they were, although one is a honey crisp/gala mix. I worry that I’ll love one, or all, of them and never see them again!

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

These are gorgeous apples!

IMG_3145This one, in particular, makes me think of the apple the Wicked Stepmother offered Snow White. It would be impossible to resist, at least in terms of looks! The red is a sort of deep pinky cerise that fades into the yellow. It is really crispy and quite sweet (actually a little sweeter than I like) but it isn’t cloying at all. I wish I knew how to find it again!

It’s fall—go get some apples! If you want to experience apples at their finest, try looking beyond the grocery store and your usual favorites. The farmers’ market, farm stand, the co-op, or, ideally, the orchard—all of these will open your eyes to apples whose names and tastes will make you want to get to know them better!

Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

IMG_2986Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.
James Beard

There may be no activity more “hands at home” than baking bread. With a zillion different kinds of bread available in every store, many of us still look for opportunities to bake our own, and it always seems to be appreciated!

I remember fondly the days when my grandmother made bread for the farm. She made all the bread for the household and used a standard yeast recipe for white bread. When the bread came out of the oven and she rubbed the crust with a stick of butter, heaven came to earth for us kids! We’d sneak into the kitchen, when no one was looking, and use our fingernails to peel pieces of buttery crust off the top of the bread. Then we’d sneak away, leaving naked, crustless bread behind, like no one would notice. How did we get away with that?!

I have been known to bake yeast bread and love it but I’m more likely to make a quicker bread. When we first visited Ireland, we learned to love the earthy, dense soda bread that is so associated with the Irish. I’ve read that it didn’t originate in Ireland at all and, honestly, I don’t care about its history—I just love the way it tastes.

And I love how easy it is to make! When I got home from that trip, serendipity kicked in and I found an issue of Bon Appetit magazine that featured Irish cooking. Their recipe for soda bread became my standard. For a while, I made it so frequently the recipe was imprinted on my brain. And then I just stopped making it and I don’t know why.

But I came across the recipe last week and made it and rekindled my love for it! It is not at all sweet, like some recipes for soda bread can be, and it has no extras added in, although I’m told some people like raisins in their soda bread (ick).

This bread is heavy and cake-like; it is perfection straight out of the over with butter and I might even like it better toasted with peanut butter. In fact, just typing that sentence got me so excited, I went directly to the toaster and am currently chewing and typing at the same time!

I think the bread must be pretty healthy, too, because all the packaging for the ingredients seems to be in shades of red, orange, and yellow, the way marketers signal consumers that food is “natural.” And marketers would never mislead us, right? I hope it’s somewhat healthy, since I’m going to be eating a lot of it now—it’s a fall and winter kind of bread! Enjoy!

IMG_2972Brown Soda Bread
Bon Appetit, May 1996

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran*
3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ*
2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well.

Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. This is my favorite part because it makes me feel like a real cook. You rub the cold butter and dry ingredients between your thumb and fingers, making that gesture like you do when you’re talking about money. (Does that make any sense?)

Stir in enough buttermilk to form soft dough. I used about 1 ½ cups and it seemed like enough this time.

Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is dark brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. I cooked mine about 37 minute.

Turn bread out onto cooling rack. Turn right side up and cool.

* My wheat bran was “untoasted” so I actually put these two ingredients
in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and stirred them around until
they smelled like they were toasting. I’m not sure in makes a lot of difference in the final product.

 

Spectacular Sunset

gray red skyWhen I was in college, I took an oil painting course. The professor told us that, when we painted a sky, we could paint it any crazy way we wanted to, because at some time, in some place, nature would make a sky that looked just like that.

I’m not sure I believed him then but, after years of paying attention and watching the sky, I believe him now. I don’t paint much any more but it is very easy to take a great photo, when nature does all the work!

Sewing Hands at Home, with Attitude

IMG_2546I don’t sew.

Well, I do sometimes, but I hate it. I like sewing by hand well enough but I just hate using a sewing machine. I hate any sewing machine but I loathe my expensive computerized machine.

My problem is I hate a couple of other things more than sewing so I find myself sitting at a sewing machine every once in awhile, like I did last week when I made these curtains.

A couple of years ago, we took out the wall between two guest rooms and put in French doors, with the intention that any company we had could use the space as a kind of suite—lovely, right?

But, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with lovely intentions and hell, in this case, is one very nice guest room, connected to a room that has become the repository for all the vintage linens I have purchased and have yet to list in my shop. Hellish, indeed.

IMG_2528So, until I can get those linens under control, we needed a way to block the view from the guest room into hell. And that’s where the curtains came in.

I had a clear idea of what I wanted in curtains and to find them I was going to have to shop, spend money, and settle for something that didn’t live up to what I envisioned. And those are exactly the things I hate more than sewing.

I really don’t find any joy in shopping, unless it’s for vintage stuff at great prices. I rarely go to a store and, instead, make do with what I have rather than facing the hassle of buying new.

I wanted simple curtains, anchored at the top and bottom with rods, with blue and yellow. I wasn’t going to find those in a store so my other option was to have someone make them for me.

But . . . but . . . pay someone else to do something I could do myself (even though I hate doing it)? My pesky Puritan work ethic simply wouldn’t allow that happen. And so the windows stayed uncurtained.

Everything started coming together about a month ago. I found a bolt of new, old-stock Stevens linen toweling fabric on eBay. That’s a lot of adjectives but they’re all important to me. The bolt meant I got 20 yards of fabric and I needed a lot. It was vintage and originally would’ve been sold to women as yard goods, to make their own dish towels, but it was also brand new and never used. Stevens is an American company, still in operation, that has been making towels for over 150 years.

The fabric was a beautiful natural linen color, with bands of yellow and thin accents of blue running along the edges. And to make it even more perfect, because it was meant as toweling, it was 18 inches wide; I could make two panels for each of the French doors and not have to hem any sides. All I would have to actually sew was the top and bottom rod pockets!

IMG_2531And we had company scheduled to arrive, which really lit a fire under me.

So I dusted off my loving hands and sat down to sew. I still refused to use that nasty computerized machine, opting instead for my mother’s old mechanical machine. It was more than up for the task!

I cut the fabric so I knew it would be plenty long enough and then did the top on all four pieces. First, I double-turned and stitched a quarter-inch hem because the fabric was a loose weave and wanted to ravel.

IMG_2535 IMG_2536Then I folded over about 2 inches of fabric and pressed it and stitched two rows, one along the very edge of my double-turned hem (so, two inches from the top edge) and the other one inch in from there. The space between those two lines became my rod pocket and left about an inch of header fabric. Am I making any sense?

IMG_2538In the meantime, my husband hung the rods. The top rod was done as usual, with the brackets facing up to let the rod sit in them, but the bottom brackets were placed upside down, so I could hook the bottom rod over them.

I hung up all four panels on the top rods and stepped back to admire my work—that’s the only good thing about sewing!

To finish the bottom ends, I sat on the floor and pulled the fabric in each panel to the degree of tension I wanted and pinned it. I didn’t try to do any measuring because the panels were so long and because it seemed easier to just fake it. I did one panel at a time and did run back and forth to the guest room to double-check everything a lot so that, if I messed up, I wouldn’t ruin everything.

IMG_2542The bottom hems went in just like the top ones. I didn’t trim the extra length until I put the finished panel up and made sure it was just right. If it was too loose or too tight, I could’ve picked the stitching out and made the adjustment.

But they all came together perfectly! And because of the tension on the panels, when the rods were snapped into place, I didn’t even have to iron them.

I honestly love these curtains—they are just my style and just what I envisioned. I have fabric left over so I can make more curtains or pillows or dish towels, for myself or to sell.

Don’t get excited, though. I still really don’t like to sew. But it certainly is a useful basic skill to have and to fall back on. Am I alone in my antipathy for sewing? Can you sew? What can I do to learn to love it?

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