We haven’t been to the Endless Mountains since November. Our cottage there is not winterized, and spring weekends are filled with activities that keep us in New York City. But 7 months is much too long, and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever get away. Then, finally, it happens – a free weekend.
We arrive after 10 pm on Friday night. A stop for groceries and dinner and a pelting rainfall on back roads has turned a normally 3 1/2 hour trip into an almost endless 6 hour ride, and we are exhausted. We find the house still standing, and rush inside to see how things have fared this winter. Good news – no mice nests. Bad news – No water. We just this month had the well pump replaced and the filter system fixed, but looks like the plumber never came to turn things on inside the house. No problem – we lived without water in this house last summer when the well went dry. We can tough this out till morning.
Which would have been fine if we hadn’t opened the fridge to put away our supplies and discovered the shelves to be spattered with black mold. Lesson learned – Unplug and dry out the fridge before closing up next time. Now, we set to work with Clorox, some bottled water and a rag.
Next morning, we figure out how to get the water back on (simple valve in the shed) but there is no hot water. Turns out we had turned on the power to the hot water heater before it filled up, and burnt out the heating element. Luckily, the plumber comes and fixes things. Soon, we have fresh, delicious running water supplied from our well by the new pump. Good enough, I declare, to forgo bottled water for drinking and cooking, a first for us here.
A gorgeous sunny day ensues. Armed with fresh coffee and the radio, I clean the kitchen and arrange the larder while Mr TBTAM mows the lawn using his trusty hand mower and the girls sleep in. We all head into town for lunch at the Sweet Shoppe, and discover it is under new management, which worries us when we find out that the mac and cheese is coming off the menu and there are no more onions for Mr TBTAM’s burger. We reserve judgement, though, and promise to give the new management the rest of the season to learn just how to keep us happy.
Then it’s off to the local winery for a bottle of dry white wine for tonight’s dinner. Along the way, we detour to a flea market a a local campground. An airshow is underway at a nearby airfield, and antique biplanes loop overhead as we poke through out of style clothes, old suitcases and Tupperware. Next, the hardware store for a new garden hose.
After we get back, Mr TBTAM takes a long nap while I bike the loop around the lake, pleased that my rides in Central Park this spring have toughened my legs such that I can do the hills without stopping. It’s still too cold to swim as far as I’m concerned, but the girls go in for a dip while I’m gone. I stop at the lake at the end of my ride – thankfully, nothing there seems to have changed. Promising to come back tomorrow and attempt a swim, I head back to the house for a hot shower.
Now comes the best part of the day. Cooking. This is really why I come here. The lake and the bike riding and the mountains and the fresh air – its all just a gorgeous backdrop of an excuse just so I can get away and cook.
It’s still a challenge cooking in this kitchen. We really should replace the oven, but are waiting till we are ready to redo the kitchen. The altitude (2100 feet) makes baking feel like a science experiment, and slows down everything on the stove top. But there’s decent enough counter space and a large pantry, and I can get NPR in on the radio with just a little static, so I am just fine, thank you.
Tonight’s dinner is a wonderful risotto I modified from a recipe by Marc Murphy, chef at Landmarc Restaurant in Tribeca. The recipe uses Gorgonzola cheese, and Mr TBTAM is hesitant. He hates blue cheese. Can’t I leave it out? But I’ve been planning this meal since Thursday, and am convinced he’ll love it. (I was right, of course…)
As I am stirring the risotto, obligatory glass of white wine in hand, my thoughts turn to fungi. It is mold, after all, that marbleizes through and gives the Gorgonzola its distinct flavor. And, ironically, it was also mold that kept me up till midnight last night, scrubbing the fridge with Clorox. In the right place, with just the right set of circumstances, fungi can do wonderful things. But in the wrong place with no control, they are nothing more than trouble.
Which, not surprisingly, gets me to thinking about the current administration, politics and the upcoming election…
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about food, and summer, and country houses. The need to get away, and the work that can bring. Tomorrow, I need to scrub the pantry floor and try to get up the rust the old metal cabinet has left there. Dust the cobwebs from the mantle and hang the pictures we’ve brought up. Hose down the porch. Hang the hammock. Lay the rug we brought up with us. Think about planting some herbs for summer cooking.
Which gets me thinking that opening up a country house is a lot like making risotto. It’s takes patience and a bit of work. But in the end, it’s a delicious meal.
The original recipe was actually a pumpkin risotto with no instructions on how to roast the pumpkin, called for a bit less onion, sage and cheese than I used, and use toasted walnuts for garnish. I tried it with the walnuts, and decided it was gilding the lily. Maybe if you wanted nuts your could add some toasted pine nuts. But I think this is fine as is.
Don’t be afraid of the Gorgonzola in this recipe. It adds wonderfully complex flavor without dominating the dish. Mr TBTAM hates blue cheese, and he loved this risotto. We served it with a salad of fresh greens tossed with a homemade lemon vinaigrette.
1 large butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp Fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion
2 large cloves garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
chicken stock (3-5 cups, depending on how you like your risotto)
3 tbsp crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 tbsp grated Parmesan
2 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the squash, cut lengthwise and remove seeds and pulp. Cut into 1 inch dice. Toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves, salt and pepper in a medium size bowl. Spread out evenly on a cookie sheet and roast for about 20 -30 mins, tossing once or twice while cooking, but being sure to leave them long enough to develop a nice brown color on at least one side. (See the little squash pieces in the photo up there for an idea of what it should look like when it is done)
Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth on a back burner and keep warm.
In a large pot, melt butter with olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, sage, salt and pepper and cook till onion is translucent. Add rice and cook, stirring, for about 3-5 minutes. Add wine and cook until it is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add a large ladleful of chicken stock and cook till almost absorbed. Keep adding chicken stock, 1 ladleful at a time, cooking each time till absorbed before adding more stock, until rice is cooked but not too mushy.
Remove from heat. Stir in roasted squash, 2 tbsp butter and cheeses. If you want, garnish with a little more chopped fresh sage and some fresh ground pepper.