Grand Central Counter

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At night, it’s a mild-mannered kitchen peninsula.

But, when day breaks, it transforms into a hub of activity, a hive of productivity—it becomes Grand Central Counter!

With a complete lack of planning or foresight, this one spot in our home has become the go-to spot for many of our daily activities. The traffic of our daily lives all goes through Grand Central.

It measures 27 inches wide—easy to reach across but wide enough that a husband and wife can stand on opposite sides and work on a salad together.

It’s a long and lovely 72 inches long, plenty long enough for bolts of fabric to be unfurled or many pans of candy to be lined up, for dipping in chocolate.

For reasons known only to the guys who did the renovations for us, the counter is about two inches taller than the average counter height of 36 inches. That seems perfect to me, when my back never gets sore from bending over it.

At Grand Central counter:

  • 11-pound blocks of chocolate are chopped to usable size
  • Fabric has been cut for oh-so-many yoyos, as well as for curtains and quilts.
  • Thousands of candies have been dipped into chocolate—caramels, fondant cherries, mint, peanut butter . . . yum
  • Over 1200 Etsy orders, for candy and linens, have been packaged and taped and readied for the mail
  • Weaving has taken place on the counter, on a table loom; I needed to stand on a step stool for that!
  • Fringe has been twisted
  • Limoncello has been made here
  • Pomanders have been started
  • Family members gather for holiday baking
  • Hundreds of caramels have been wrapped in waxed paper
  • And all the food prep of a busy kitchen crosses this counter, too—dough is kneaded, veggies are chopped, chicken is pounded for cutlets
  • Cocktails are mixed here at the end of busy days—wine and scotch and bourbon and Drambuie and vodka and beer have been sloshed here

The counter is spritzed and wiped and cleaned many times a day—get the chocolate off to make room for the weaving; move the weaving so dinner can be started.

Grand Central becomes congested at certain times of day. If a project is ongoing when the load of groceries comes in from the car or it’s time to sort paper for recycling. Negotiations are sometimes necessary, to determine who gets to use the counter next and for how long.

Grand Central Counter is a godsend for busy, loving hands at home. Each night, it gets cleared off, and left quiet and empty, having earned its rest just like we have.

It awaits me now, in early morning light, ready for the traffic of the day . . .

Does your home have an equivalent?

There’s No Fireside . . .

IMG_3764“Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.”

The first time we went to Ireland, on our honeymoon, we bought this plaque with Gaelic words that translate to say, “There is no fireside like your own fireside.”

It was a sentimental and appropriate choice for newly-wed introverts, ready to commence sharing a fireside and both believing that home is the best place to be.

The plaque sits by our fireside, bearing testament to a continued love of home, now, twenty-five years later.

I always like being home, coming home, having a place that is “HOME” to me.

But never do I appreciate my own fireside more than days like today.

See the "feels like" temp in the bottom left corner? That -30 Celsius

See the “feels like” temp in the bottom left corner? That -30 Celsius

We’ve seen snowier and we’ve seen colder. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the snow is “falling” sideways today and we can’t see a boundary between lake and shore and sky. It’s a day where photos in full color are simply shades of gray.IMG_4317 IMG_4296

We’ll have to go out later and clear some of that snow but, for now, the fireside is the place to be, for folks and for critters.

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It’s a day when the weather can be used as a excuse for doing what we please, or not doing much at all, a grownup’s version of a snow day, off from school.

It’s a day to stay home, at the best fireside–our own.

. . . At Home

sangers w viewHas your blog developed the way you thought it would?

When I started writing, I intended the emphasis to be on “loving hands” but, now, almost 18 months later, I’m amazed at how often I focus on the “at home” part of my title.

By sharing some information and impressions with you, I’ve realized that I have more affection for my home region than I ever knew!

People hear “New York” and they think “Big Apple,” Empire State Building, Broadway. My New York, the “North Country,” couldn’t be more different.

My home is in upstate New York, about 60 miles south of Montreal, Quebec, and 45 miles east of Lake Placid, where the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games were held. The nearby town is Plattsburgh, represented by the back dot in the map. I have to drive due south for over 5 hours to get to New York City, which is at the bottom right here!

New York

I live on a lake that forms the boundary between upstate New York and Vermont; Lake Champlain is 120 miles long and runs north into the Richilieu River and the St. Lawrence.465px-Champlainmap.svg

The lake is in a valley between the mellow, old Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, which are part of the Appalachian Chain.

Our combination of water and mountains, rural farmlands and small towns, makes this part of New York feel much more like New England than like the New York that pops into most minds.

This is a land of sugar maples, oaks, birches, and pine trees, which give us our fall colors, the fragrant litter of pine needles in the sun, and the “tock, tock” of acorns on the roof.

This is a world where French-Canadian roots run deep and the map is littered with place names like Point au Roche and the Boquet River (although the latter, strangely, is pronounced “Bow-ket.” I’m told the old-timers called it the Bow-qwet.) One’s friends have names like Benoit Lafave and Andre Delorme and, when they swear, they say “Sacré bleu!” or, even better, “Jeezum crow!”

Similarly, one can never forget the Native American inhabitants, the Ganienkeh, the Awkwesasne, the Abenaki. Words from their languages name mountains, rivers, and towns. Even “Adirondack” is supposedly a Mohawk word used to insult the Algonquins. The word translates as “bark eater” or “eater of trees,” and was an insult to suggest the Algonquins were not very good hunters!

The history of European settlement of this region is very old, by American standards. Samuel de Champlain reached the Champlain Valley in 1609. The region was under French rule, then British rule, and then played a role in the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

My people came here in the late 1700s and carved a farm from the rocky soil on a big hill overlooking the lake. They fought in the American Revolution and watched from the hill as the Battle of Plattsburgh, in the War of 1812, unfolded in the valley below. The photo at the top of the post shows my family, when we were still living on the farm, with that valley and Lake Champlain behind us.

War and national defense have always figured prominently here. When I was a kid, Plattsburgh was home to a Strategic Air Command base of the US Air Force. Fighter bombers and huge cargo planes were so commonly above our heads that we simply no longer heard the infernal noise they made.

I moved away from this area when I was in my early 20s, to go to grad school and to teach college elsewhere.

But I never really left. The lake and the mountains and my family always drew me back. Every summer of my adult life has been spent here, on Lake Champlain, at “camp.”

And now “camp” is home.

It was odd to come back here full time, after so many years. I’m forever meeting people who worked with my father or had my mother as a teacher in first grade. My favorite story came from a woman who lives down the road. When she heard my name, she told me that her father and my grandfather shared tractor tires during the Great Depression. Tires were expensive! So, even though the farms were about 12 miles apart, they alternated the tires between the two tractors and made do.

I love that story. I love feeling connected to a place, knowing the short cuts to get anywhere, recognizing names, and being able to say, “that’s where I lived,” “I learned to ski there,” “I think we went to high school together.”

I’m honestly not sure how much of this I would ever have pondered, if I wasn’t writing to you. Writing about where I live, telling you about it, makes me appreciate it more.

Thank you for that.


What makes your home special? Have you written about it? Can you leave me a link to your post?

On Leaving and Returning

Sailing into the sunset? Or safe in the harbor?

Sailing into the sunset? Or safe in the harbor?

I read a blog post the other day, by a couple who sold their worldly possessions and now live their whole, entire lives traveling.* They have no home. And they are happy!

I cannot imagine that. I don’t want to imagine it.

You know how I love home.

I thought my blog would be primarily about the “loving hands” but I’ve found I’m just as likely to focus on “at home.”

But even I can feel the call of the open road, the siren song of other lands, different roads to wander, different beauty to enjoy.

If pressed, I guess I’d say that I like to go (a lot) but I LOVE to come home.

Traveler or homebody? Who are you?

Coming or going? What direction suits you?

Leaving or arriving home? Which do you like best?

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* And, of course, I can’t find it now! Sorry!

A Window in the Kitchen

geese2When I was a child, my grandmother always talked about how glad she was that there was a window over her kitchen sink. She lived in a big old farmhouse and the window looked over the back yard, with the sugarhouse and the chicken coop.

I never understood what the big deal was. Nothing happened in the sugarhouse, except during early spring when the sap was being boiled down, and who wants to look at chickens?

Now that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, tending caramel while it burbles on the stove or stirring chocolate for long periods, to temper it, I finally understand what my grandmother saw there.

Looking out a window, and letting your mind wander, near and far, helps pass the time spent doing the most prosaic chores. My grandmother didn’t just see chickens scratching and empty farm buildings.

She saw her grandchildren playing and, maybe in her mind’s eye, she remembered her own children out there. She lost a daughter, at age 12, so maybe she remembered Ruth swinging on the gate, and the boys on the ponies.

Maybe she remembered her own youth, on a farm not far away, and in her memories moved from the farm kitchen, doing dishes and baking bread, back to tree climbing and rambling through the orchards.

This is the view I’m fortunate to have outside my kitchen window, to occupy my eyes and mind while I make candy.

geeseSince candy-making season, for me, extends from fall to spring, I can watch the seasons change outside this window. In the fall, I watch the leaves turn on the trees across the bay and see, and hear, the Canada geese and snow geese as they spend a few raucous weeks getting ready to head south. Then I think about the time when I’ll fly south and visit my mom and friends, and escape the North Country winter for a little while. It’ll still be here when I get back!

Before too long, I’ll be watching ice fishermen instead of geese and reminding myself that, if one goes through the ice, I should call 911 and absolutely should not run out on the ice to try and help! I’ll wonder what makes those fishermen tick—what do they think about while they sit out there waiting for a bite? Why are they there? Do they need the money so badly that it’s worth catching fish in the cold?? Or are they out there daydreaming, while I’m in my warm kitchen daydreaming?

And, in a few months, I’ll catch my first glimpse of a robin outside this window. I’ll see those geese on their return flight and think about the cycles of seasons, days past and future, what tomorrow and this season will bring. I’ll look forward to summer, when family and friends gather here at the lake, and I’ll study the landscape for the first signs of growth, re-birth, in my gardens.

It’s not just a window to outdoors, although the outdoors is well worth viewing in its own right. My window is a trigger for my memory and my imagination, just as it was for my grandmother and no doubt her grandmother before her.

When I was a girl, I looked out the window. It just took me a while to see.

 

 

Goodnight, Sweet Geraniums . . .

IMG_3447I did one of my least favorite preparing-the-garden-for-winter chores this week. I cut back my geraniums and put them in the dark for the next 6 months.

The whole process of putting gardens to bed in the fall makes me sad. All those beautiful annuals, which gave so much all summer, go to the compost pile. The perennials, some still doing their best to produce flowers, get cut way back.

I’m not going to tell you how I talk to the plants as I cut them back and consign them to compost. It’s a little embarrassing. But it does make me feel better, to reassure them that they were wonderful.

The geraniums, for me, are the most difficult. They still look so completely fabulous, in the traditional red and this crazy-pretty salmon color.

IMG_1025The only thing that makes me feel better is that, with a little luck, some of these plants will survive the winter and be back, better than ever, next summer.

Most people who really garden know that geraniums can be over-wintered. When we lived in a house with a proper basement, I could count on the geraniums every year. I would just cut them back, including getting all the blooms off, and put them in the basement. It was cool in the basement, but not cold, and they got a little light, but not much. I could throw water on them if I thought they were excessively dry but, mostly, I just said “Hi” when I went down to do laundry. When spring started to come around, I’d start watering and give them more light, and all would be groovy.

But now I live in a house with only a completely lightless crawlspace beneath. It stays pretty warm, it stays pretty damp-ish, and it’s 100% pitch black. We don’t really go down there at all, all winter. I sure wouldn’t want to spend 6 hours down there, let alone 6 months!

When we first moved here and I realized I had no place to properly over-winter the geraniums, I decided I’d just stick them in the crawlspace and see what happened. I figured they would die but they were going to die anyway, if I left them outside. I was sad, of course, especially about the salmon ones because I’d had them for a few years at that point; we were old friends.

When the plants came out of the crawlspace that first May, it was a kind of horrifying sight. They were alive but looked undead, kind of the albino-vampire-zombie version of geraniums.

IMG_2871 IMG_2866The stems were completely white and spindly, very leggy, like they were desperately trying to find some light, any light. I couldn’t imagine these pale pretenders ever looking alive again.

But we’d come this far together so I cut off the dead stuff and the really spindly stuff, I watered them and I put them in a warm, sunny spot.

And, slowly, the most amazing thing happened. The stalks became hot pink and little green leaves sprouted.

IMG_3005Then, they became gorgeous again.

IMG_3446I guess it’s not really all that amazing. We probably all have a story about nature bouncing back against all odds. But these geraniums, and their will to flourish, sort of symbolize what spring is all about to me.

So, in the fall, as I put the geraniums into their lightless prison, I think about spring. And I think about my own winter, hunkered down in my warm, cozy house, with the geraniums sleeping beneath me. I think about how we’ll all keep a low profile for the winter and reappear come spring, very pale, craving the sun, but ready to thrive!

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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!

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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You Put Zucchini in What?!

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In the twenty-five years she’d lived in Three Pines she’d never, ever heard of a crime. The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time.   (Still Life, Louise Penny)

The poor maligned zucchini. They are so plentiful that no one much appreciates them. That, combined with the fact that there are only so many ways you can use them, means, I suspect, that a lot of zucchini goes to waste.

If you’ve received the gift of many zucchinis and have made all the zucchini bread you can handle, it’s time to take a walk on the wild side.

How about trying some zucchini frozen yogurt?

WAIT! Before you just scream “ICK!!” and click on someone else’s blog, hear me out!

I have had this recipe for years—it seems to have come from a 1997 issue of Country Living magazine. It sounded so bizarre and intriguing, I decided to give it a try. We were having company for dinner, the kind of friends who I knew would forgive me if this ended up being just a really, really bad idea.

But I loved it! And they said they did, too! (Of course, they are also the kind of friends who wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings . . .) The flavor is not that of zucchini, which we all know has very little flavor. What you taste is the lemon and the tartness of the yogurt, a very refreshing combination. The zucchini mostly adds texture and a little crunch to the frozen yogurt. (Full disclosure: my husband, who is not afraid of hurting my feelings, doesn’t love this and says the zucchini is stringy. You decide.)

You need to try this at least once:

  1. it’s good—even if you don’t love it, you won’t hate it
  2. it’s fun—let people taste it and then spring it on them what it’s made of!
  3. it’s healthy—almost no fat and, really, how many desserts provide you with one of those elusive 5 servings of vegetables you’re supposed to eat?
  4. it’ll use up some zucchini

Zucchini Frozen Yogurt

Makes about 10 ½-cup servings

  • 8 ounces of zucchini, coarsely shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk; I used regular sweetened condensed milk because it’s what I had on hand)
  • 16 ounces plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  1. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat grated zucchini, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest to boiling over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.zucchini yogurt-1zucchini yogurt-2
  2. Boil zucchini mixture for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat and, in larger bowl, combine zucchini and sweetened condensed milk; stir until well mixed.
  4. Stir in yogurt and lemon extract until no lumps of yogurt remain. Cover and refrigerate zucchini mixture until cold.
  5. Freeze mixture in ice-cream maker following manufacturer’s directions.
  6. Spoon soft frozen yogurt into airtight container; cover and freeze until firm enough to scoop, 2 hours to overnight.

zucchini yogurt-4I served this with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, just in case the yogurt was gross. I liked the combination of the refreshing lemony yogurt and the robust cookies.

So, I hope you’ll give this a try and let me know what you think!

PS: The zucchini quote from the top of the page is from the book Still Life, the first in a series of great mysteries by Louise Penny. If you like well-written mysteries and haven’t found Penny yet, give her a try!

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