25 July, 2008

how idyllic is this?

Well, it took awhile: your odd power outage, fence destruction, underfoot deceased rodent... but today is what I think of when I imagine Red Gate Farm: bright blue, unmarked skies (unless you count a couple of airplane trails), green, green grass and trees, red barns, sparkling bird bath (I cannot say it is clean, because there's a whole layer of algae or moss or something, living under the surface, but the water is clean), birdsong to go with it. And a perfect visit to the horses up the road, as you see: what sort of people rescue abandoned horses and give them homes? Our dear neighbors Mike, Connie and Taylor, it turns out. We can't wait till they're living out in our back meadow (the horses, I mean), just an electrical fence or two from now.

I still have some lurking homeowner issues (of course no one has been back to see my long-suffering fence since last week, but I'm not feeling very confrontational today so I have declined to harrass or chivvy my "Accident Survey Report Consultant Manager" or whatever her title is). Namely, this morning as I walked past my stove I had to admit what I've suspected for several days: a gas leak. It was but the work of a moment to call the number on my gas tank only to be told that it's no longer in use. The very same with the number I got from 411. Hmmm. A little assiduous googling, however, and the guy is on his way. I refuse to be distracted from my extremely good humor, however, and plan to see his prompt response as a good thing, not the first salvo in a long gas-related episode.

Continuing on the propane theme, I have run out of the precious gas for my grill, so in true feminist style I managed to follow my brother in law's precise instructions (I love having someone to turn to who is not only as precise as I am, but understands ignorance and does not make fun of it!), and removed the tank from the grill, pocketed all the bits and pieces that attached it, and bob's your uncle. Well, I haven't actually replaced it yet, which will require a trip to the hardware store and asking for something I don't really know how to identify, and hoping I get what I need, not to mention am able to re-attach it and cook dinner without exploding us all to kingdom come.

Luckily (or not) "us all" is only Avery and me. We have decided that we can't invite Anne, David and Katie to dinner EVERY night. But it's been a couple, so perhaps we can lure them for homemade pizza tonight, and grilled vegetables? I long to take a hundred pictures of Katie, just to remember how tiny she is this summer, and to put her with Avery, if only to highlight the contrast between newborn and nearly-teen. Avery has crossed some invisible line this summer from little-girldom to budding independent person. She is really enjoying being sent to the Starbucks order desk by herself, or sent to get red peppers when I'm already in line at the grocery. We are toying with the notion of having her go to Blockbuster Video while I go to the Gap a few doors down. I've ascertained at the library that she cannot be dropped off there until age 12 (next summer, then), but she is happy to go upstairs to the children's section on her own, check out her own books and pack them up, while I hang around the ground floor doing my upright ab crunches (don't ask, I've become completely obsessed with how many I can do in a day while still not seeming to exercise).

Avery is also interested this summer in... shopping. On a rainy day this week we found ourselves at some nameless mall in Waterbury, Connecticut, shopping at a fairly hideous but harmless store called Limited Too. I remember a store called The Limited from my own teen days, and I also remember caring about clothes and shopping, although it seems to be from a very long, long distance of about 30 years and about 20 pounds. Could anyone have been as thin as I was as a teenager? How on earth did I find any clothes to fit? But now it's fun to see Avery try things on. "Are these sparkles an affront, or are they kind of cute?" "Well, if it was ONLY sparkles, or lace, or sequins, I can see the point. But all three?" Luckily we agree on most things. The arrangement is that we don't either of us buy anything that the other absolutely HATES.

How relaxing is a day when the tasks involve nothing more strenuous than washing all the kitchen rugs and hanging them in the sun to dry, walking in a leisurely way across the sun-dappled road to see what the mailman has brought (every summer John is aghast at the number of valueless used books that Avery and I manage to order, for a dollar apiece, from booksellers all over the country, all to end up in our rusty old white mailbox that still bears the name of our former homeowner).


I spoke too soon. No, it is even more pathetic than that. I TYPED too soon. It was not only a gas leak, but a gas leak in... my stove. The nice gas guys came out to look at the tank, and after a bit of masculine working about and explaining to me nicely about pipes and connections and whatnot, and spraying some mysterious liquid onto rubber bits and looking for bubbles which would mean something very, VERY awful, they implied that we will all die of asphyxiation on a Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.... The long and short of it is, I am now waiting for a stove repairman to come... Tuesday. As John's mom says, I'm the only person who would see this not as an opportunity to leave the dishwasher empty for four days, but as a horrible prison sentence in which I'll have to eat... OUT.

Anyway. I refused to let it spoil the gorgeousness of the day. I refused to be distracted or made surly by the fact that the guys from the gas company had dropped my sandwich bag full of sugar onto the kitchen floor, or that when they pulled the old, OLD Indiana pine bench out from the terrace wall to look at the gas connection they pulled the arm off the bench, or that I was looking at one sleepover with a three and a half year old tomorrow, and another on Monday with two girls, and possibly two further sets of lunch guests... with no stove.

Accordingly, we decided to rise above it ALL. I thought about dinner. No stove, no oven. No boiled water for corn, mashed potatoes, no steamed rice, no baked chicken or meatloaf, no pasta, no risotto, no soup, no casseroles... hmm. Finally I remembered about Joel's instructions on the grill propane tank. And would you believe I was capable of detaching it, storing it in the car, and transporting it all the way to the hardware store where I exchanged it for a full tank. Brilliant! Something I never dreamed of in little sleepy Southbury: I had to drive it around to the back of the shop to have it filled up: apparently, having an empty tank of propane that one simply walks into the shop is tantamount to a bomb threat. Who knew.

Anyway, off Avery and I went to the pool for an hour or so of simple, brainless happiness under blue skies and surrounded by shouts of the eternal, inevitable "Marco... Polo," missing our friend Barbara, the all-knowing, all-seeing former schoolteacher who always knows where to get the freshest salmon or the nicest dried flowers or newest bookstore or a new riding helmet (that didn't work out so well, as Avery's helmet's been on order for two weeks and counting...) who has headed to Alaska on a cruise. The pool was so much quieter without her! I spent some time swimming UP UP UP to the surface to see that ONE perfect green tree I love against the blue blue sky. Somehow it always makes me think of Maine: the serenity, contrast of colors, fresh crispness...

Well, it turns out, on our return home, that one can produce a perfectly DELICIOUS dinner without a stove or oven. I promise you, and here it is. Of course, I don't know if it will taste even half as good without your having Avery's trampolining songs in the background... but you can try.

Spatch-cocked Grilled Chicken
(serves 4-ish)

1 large organic chicken
2 tbsps softened butter
1 tbsp Fox Point Seasoning from Penzeys (again!)
4 tbsps goat cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt

Put the chicken on a cutting board upside down (breast-side down). With a VERY sharp knife, split the chicken down the middle. Choose one side or other of the backbone and simply CUT it down the middle. Once it is cut through, flatten the chicken out and cut out the backbone if you like (not necessary).

Place the chicken breast side up on a platter. Loosen the skin over the breast and squish half the goat cheese under the skin of each breast. Mix the butter and herby mix. Then spread the herby butter over the top of the chicken.

Heat the grill to about 400 degrees and place the chicken, flattened out, breast side down. Close grill and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook another 20 minutes. Turn over again and cook skin-side down while you finish up side dishes.


Jack Curran's Grilled Potatoes
(serves 4)

1 large Yukon Gold potato per person, plus 1, peeled and sliced thin
1 white onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 stick butter
sea salt and pepper

Place 2 long pieces of aluminum foil in a sort of t-shape, and pile potatoes, onions, and garlic onto the center. Dot with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold up foil package so it's airtight. Cook at same time and temperature as chicken: in other words 40 minutes, at 400 degrees, turning twice.


Grilled Vegetables
(serves 4)

2 peppers of any color
1 bunch asparagus
handful mushrooms, sliced THICK
2 tbsps olive oil
sea salt and pepper
garlic salt

Cut vegetables into nice serving pieces and arrange on a plate. Pour over olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings. Let marinate while everything else cooks, then grill for about 15 minutes.

Microwaved Sweetcorn (seriously!)
(1 ear per person, at least)

Shuck corn and place on a plate that allows itself to rotate in the microwave. Allow 3 minutes per ear, high power.


Well, this is a delicious dinner and NO one at your table will ask why the stove and oven are chilly and dark. I'm not sure how this grill-only method will serve me for three a meals a day times four day times one toddler times one 7-year-old times two 11-year-olds... but I'll let you know! In the meantime, it's that blue sky we're concentrating on, isn't it?

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