Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday evening...What lovely words to whisper

Rolling up and down the New Hampshire hills...the air laced with curling smoke plumes

What a lovely thing it is to say friday evening.  Whether you are the type of person who looks forward to a night on the town...or a person more like me who just wants to settle in and snuggle at home...friday evenings are the filled with unwinding, de-stressing, and topped off cups of hot apple cider.

I have my feet stretched out as close to the fire as I dare, a kitty on one side of me happily purring away and a fluffy little dog practically enveloped behind my head on the sofa cushion.  I can feel his breath on my neck.  His little legs begin twitching in rapid fire motion as he chases imaginary birds in his dreams.

How normal and entirely relaxing this Friday evening feels after the tumult of the house going on the market in Houston in September, house hunting all over the New England area through the fall, and then experiencing our nerve-wracking last minute change of heart on one beautiful home days before Christmas leading to the serendipitous finding of another beautiful home...this beautiful old home we are resting our lives in for now.

Lower left:  A bit of forest fun...Patrick being impaled with a gi-normous icicle!

Patrick has taken off again for Italy.  Before he left, we took long therapeutic walks along the river trail.  We would occasionally talk about the decisions ahead of us that will have to be made at some point.  Decisions like where are we going to live?  Do we want to buy land and build a home?  How many homes might come on the market to look at soon?  Do we even want a permanent home base or should we tempt fate and try a nomadic lifestyle for awhile. Blah, blah, blah... walking, no talking.  Only then can one hear the forest noise

But on the trail by the river, we mostly just stop talking and walk.  Sometimes side by side.  Sometimes one in front of the other, leading the way.  Surprisingly, walking through the woods is noisy business.  I always imagined that during winter, the still and quiet of the woods would be such a profound experience.  It is.  But, one has to be very very still to feel the profound quiet and expansiveness of the woods.

Walking through the woods, however, is a noisy affair.  If we are talking, we feel like our voices are disturbing the frozen tundra for miles around.  If we are silent, the sound of our boots crunching the snow seems to shatter the quiet. Our footsteps sound deafening and so disturbing in the forest.

The farm up the road has their Angora goats all bundled up 
to keep the beautiful fur clean

So, we walk a little bit, we talk a little bit...and then we grow quiet.  We end up just standing still in the woods and waiting for the noisiness of our presence to dissipate and let the quiet of the woods present itself. No footsteps crunching, no voices yammering away, just beautiful pristine...quiet.  

Kumquats in the winter...a serious treat

The sound of the river rushing alongside the trail is soothing.  The occasional chirp of a bird is sweet and pretty.  The swaying of the pine tree branches is soft and swishy.  The earth is so frozen and everything in it must be tucked deep down into it, we seem to be like giants trudging noisily on top of a slumbering earth.

Tonight, I'm looking into the mesmerizing flames flickering every which way within the fireplace.  This is a fire that I built.  In fact, I have two fireplaces crackling away on this Friday night.  Four weeks ago, I had never started a fire in my life.  

I feel like I should have some sort of badge pinned to my down coat when I go out and about that boasts my recently learned fire starting skills.  People would see it...then wink...and remark what a hardy New Hampshire-ite she is turning into in such a short time. 

"First get the paper wadded up" Patrick coached before he left, "then put down a layer of kindling."  I could hear Patrick's voice instructing me on what to do as I carefully stacked the logs that Riley brought in from the barn.  I arranged them in a neat little stack on top of the pile of kindling.  

And...then I wait...rather impatiently...

First a few hissing sounds start.  Curls of smoke climb their way up the floo.  I wonder if it is spelled "floo" or, perhaps "flu"...or maybe "flew".  Oh, another thing to google. 

Before not too long, a rolling, crackling fire is waving away successfully. I sit back, with a Cheshire cat-like grin of satisfaction and stretch out my toes in realization that I am finally truly relaxing.

I decided to try out a new chicken recipe for supper on Thursday night.  I threw out a last minute dinner invitation to our new friends who have been so kind to us to join us.  This chicken dish can easily be pulled together two days in advance and then popped right into the oven before guests arrive.

The gorgeous views from mountain perched homes

I've been so impressed with the recipes that I have tried from the Ottolenghi cookbook that I keep trying one more and then another.  I don't even have the cookbook.  I just happen to come across a recipe that sounds delicious enough for me to see where it is from...and then I find that it is another one from this fabulous chef, Ottolenghi.  It is probably time I actually buy the cookbook.

This delicious recipe combines the brininess of olives with the rich pillowy softness of medjool dates.  The caramel like flavor of the dates, the garlic cloves, white wine and fresh oregano all marinate together for several days with the chicken to make an extraordinarily flavorful sauce.  Before the chicken comes out of the oven, the tray is placed right under the broiler to get the chicken skin nice and crispy.  

Being all flustered with our new guests, I forgot this final step.  Too bad, because the chicken is delicious once the marinade has caramelized under the broiler and that crispy chicken skin forms.  Oh time...

Never did I expect to meet so many kind neighbors so soon after our arrival.  I dug out our nice plates, set them on the rather makeshift dining room arrangement we've concocted, lit candles throughout the house, added logs to the fireplaces to warm the rooms and looked forward to an evening getting better acquainted with a very lovely family.

We've been trying to get out more and explore the beautiful countryside around us.  We've found a couple of plots of land with beautiful mountain views in the distance.  Should we build?  Should we renovate?  As I watch the morning birds playfully toggle with one another on the trees outside the kitchen window, these questions whirl around in my head much as I dreamily swirl around the hot milk in my coffee.

The adorable optometrist's office

We've discovered the gorgeous drive up to New London.  We sampled the locally brewed beers at The Flying Goose.  They have delicious clam chowder as well as locally sourced beef hamburgers...all with gorgeous views of Mt. Kearsarge in the distance.

The lakes are dotted with hardy ice fishermen

We've popped  into one of our little village's  restaurants called The Foothills. They make homemade cinnamon rolls the size of my hand!  We took one home and cut it into slices to toast as morning bread.  It was delicious and now I fear it will be hard to pass through the village without picking up one to take home.

Lower Left:  The barn from the hill going down to the river

The best, Best, BEST part of this week was this southern girl putting on a pair of skis for the first time...EVER!

We were invited to tag along on a day trip to Ragged Mountain up in Danbury.  This ski resort is only 25 minutes from our house.

Riley and I were like the blind leading the blind.  From figuring out what clothes to wear to trying on the clunky cumbersome ski boots...we were nothing short of pure awkwardness and more awkwardness.

Learning to ski is tough business for a southern girl trained in classical ballet most of her youth.  The idea of pointing those skiis straight forward, as opposed to a ballet first position, is as abnormal a feeling as trying to write with my left hand.

"Oh, you're a natural" was said to me several times.  If that were true, then I imagine that taking one tiny step forward with the skis strapped on, criss-crossing the blades and repeatedly falling in slow motion smack down into the snow is...natural?  I became a pro doing that skill for about the first full hour.

After a good hour, though, and learning the "stop" move with the skiis, my shakiness and dorkiness lessened to a tolerable and more manageable degree.  The fun of swooping down (a very teeny hill, I know) began to become more and more thrilling with every unwieldy attempt.

Watching the 4 to 6 year old group of kids sweep past us looking like animated super heros is hard for the pride to digest.  As I heaved my tangled mess of a self back to a standing position, evil thoughts of sticking out my ski pole in front of one of the adorable pint size wiz kids slipped across my mind.  Those little ones are so darn adorable...and talented...and fast!

We are hooked.  We are smitten.  We are already planning our next ski day on the slopes.

It is rather amusing to watch the three of us in front of the fire on this dreamy Friday evening.  Polly, Chester, and I are sleepily sunk deep into the cushions of the couch while the heat envelopes the room and keeps out the deep winter chill.

In contrast, we might be right back on the slopes tomorrow in the throes of the chilly January air.  I am definitely planning on making a huge pot of soup in the morning along with some apple spice bran muffins.  Perhaps the evening will be a repeat of tonight...the 3 of us  sitting in a dreamy stupor staring at the flickering flames performing their dancing ritual that lulls us into complete relaxation.  

Life is good.  
My heart is full.  
Let me pinch myself one more time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

We are starting to feel rested and settled in our cozy farmhouse here in New Hampshire.  All the heavy duty lifting and unpacking is over.  The fireplaces are blazing with a warm glow throughout the day.  Phrases like going to chop more kindling, damping down the flu, and stacking the pile of wood are becoming part of our regular vocabulary.

We've had a wicked cold snap keep us sequestered inside this past week.  Hardy New Hampshire-ites have assured us that these negative temperatures are NOT typical...they quickly inform us that if we can weather these bitter temperatures, then it's all uphill from here.  

A few times during the day, we all find ourselves tucked into the family room where the fireplace is roaring.  Patrick is working on is laptop, Madeleine is organizing her next college semester or beading new jewelry designs, and Riley and I are hard at work completing his last semester of high school.  I absolutely love watching the snow flakes swirl outside over the field out one window and collect in the nooks of the tree branches in the woods out another window.

Last week, we had a "tap, tap, tap" on our door.  I don't think we realize just how disconnected from people we have been since we are new to this state.  We were hauling the last of the boxes out to the barn, wondering if there was ever going to be an end to this tedious chore when two smiling faces appeared at the doorway of the farmhouse.

Neighbors had come to call!  We were actually going to entertain our first house guests. I was thrilled and as we collected coats, hats, and mitts from them, I immediately wondered what little nibbles I could conjure up from our just unpacked kitchen.

Our neighbors, Jennifer and David live in the next farmhouse over.  Actually, their house was the original tavern that sits at the crossroads of this little village. A lumber mill brought traffic up and down the river that must have had thirsty and tired travelers. Also, the tavern sat on the main road that early Americans took from Boston up to Canada.   It was built in 1793 and is an absolutely beautiful home.

Our neighbors were instantly likable.  Jennifer is a soft spoken woman from Vermont who has a quietness about her that I find so endearing in people.  David is fascinating because he is a font of information and stories about the region.

After we all huddled in front of the fire, a pot of coffee brewing and a plate of cookies Madeleine kindly brought to us, stories of life in the Northeast started to unfold.  We sat back, relaxed, and eagerly  waited to hear their stories and become acquainted with new friends in New Hampshire.

Except... that David isn't from New Hampshire at all.  Like us, he is a transplant to New England...from...


Indeed, David and I both hail from not only the deep south but from the same cajun territory of that deep south...Louisiana.  He even has a brother who has also settled up here and runs an Inn that features cajun style cuisine adapted to New England dishes.

So, while shaking heads at the serendipity of it all,  conversation flowed from interesting stories about New Hampshire's many delights yet to be discovered by us to news about the people and culture of the deep southern state of cajun Louisiana.  Banter such as "Why good french bread  for po'boys is so hard to come by...what is just the right type of batter for fried oysters, and who claims to have the best Mardi Gras...New Orleans or Lafayette were exchanged with amusement.

Having our college girl home means supper time treats made for us
like Korean Kimbap rolls and Thai Tom Yum soup

The coolest, COOLEST news that our neighbors told us is that they still run a small tavern out of their home.  The tavern is in the actual historic portion of their home.  Not only is that the coolest thing to our ears, they also brew their own beer. 

Patrick's eyes lit up at this news and I saw future waves of  conversations about this hobby...that would include Patrick somewhere in the middle of those brewing experiments.  

We munched on cookies and drank hot coffee while listening to such varied and interesting stories.  I was immediately smitten with our new neighbors.  Not only because they are adorable, but in New Hampshire's rural villages, it is unique to even have neighbors!

I settled back into the couch contentedly and could have listened to their stories all afternoon.  

A few days later, Jennifer and David invited us to their tavern, um...home, to meet several other families from the village.  We were delighted to be finished with the unpacking chores and begin delving into the fun of exploring the area.  Being that we found this farmhouse and negotiated a lease on it all within about an hour's timeframe from back in Texas, we weren't exactly sure where we landed and what type of community were around us.

The Mink Hills behind our house shrouded with snow clouds

I cannot even begin to describe what a wonderful evening we had at our neighbor's historic home.  I fretted over what dessert I could bring to feed a group of people I've never met.

Inspired by all of the pristine snow around us and the frozen red berries hanging from the bushes, I thought a thick winter spice cake would feed a group of New Hampshire-ites...oh, and an additional three cajuns from crawfish land (shakes head in disbelief)

We arrived at their home...the fires were crackling and beautiful smiling faces greeted us.  The tavern is exactly as it sounds...cozy, historic-looking, and filled with wonderful music.  

It seemed almost everyone from the village plays some sort of instrument.  Music flowed the entire evening, more stories were swapped about the lives of our new friends, and we felt thoroughly enchanted and welcomed by the community.

We, of course, couldn't wait to sample David's homemade brew.  It was a delicious, hoppy amber IPA.  Patrick's curiosity about this hobby is thoroughly peaked so I imagine we'll see some alchemy interest in our future.

The neighbors own the most lovable gi-normous grey Irish Wolfhound.  Literally, their dog, Ajax (an apt name taken from Homer's larger-than-life character Ajax in the Illiad)

Ajax is the sweetest dog with a calm demeanor.  His head   literally comes up to my chin!  We haven't introduced this new canine neighbor yet to our rather tea cup sized Chester.

While I was making the spice cake, I thought it would be pretty to adorn it with wintry items from our walks in the snow.  Pine trees, birch trees, and red berry bushes are all over the property.  

I picked a few branches of pine limbs that had fallen in the snow.  Cranberries are such a New England berry that I am not used to eating in Texas.  Cranberries are everywhere up here.  I thought I would soak them in sugar syrup and then roll them in sugar for a cake top garnish.

This cake is a dense old-fashioned cake.  It is a good one for feeding a group at a party.  Dates, honey, and spices are used to sweeten the batter instead of sugar.  The icing that is drizzled over the top is made with orange essence, cinnamon, and vanilla.  The cake seems as if it came out of an old-time cookbook so I thought it was be fun to bring it to this old-time New England tavern.

I didn't bring a compote or fruit sauce to add to the cake but I would add this wet fruity ingredient to spoon over the top the next time I make the cake.  I loved the cake.  The texture is wonderfully dense and a light fruit compote would give it a nice balance of moisture to sweetness.

We can't wait to hang out at the tavern some more.  The  community it draws is wonderfully warm and welcoming. Watching people play their craft and create music together is much better than watching anything on today's TV channels.  

We felt lucky indeed to enjoy such a jovial evening.  At times, I could sense what an old-time tavern must have been like and how relieving it must have been in between long journeys  on dirt roads to be in the company of others, beer in hand, during the middle of the snowy New Hampshire winters.

[Recipe from Adventures in Cooking Blog]

Monday, January 5, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt slept here...and other oddities to boggle the mind

Traveling from Texas to New many beautiful sunrises and sunsets

The Kenneys have finally landed.  And land with a thump and many bumps we did!  We officially sold our home in Houston and have survived the trek up through 13 states to arrive in New Hampshire. 

It sounds so simple to condense the entire family move into one sentence.  However, each step of the way was filled with dramatic pauses, non anticipated hyperbole, and plot twists that bordered on ridiculous in comparison to the original story line.

Stopping for a wonderful holiday visit with my brother's family in Mississippi

Our buyers in Texas desperately needed to close a week earlier than planned so they incentivized us to close much earlier than projected.  

As we became leasers of our own home, we made the rash decision to let the historical home go back on the market in New Hampshire.  That was the house we anticipated directing our moving truck to the week of December 16.

So we were leasing here and not purchasing there.  That meant we were officially "homeless".  

Stately and Serene...lovely and graceful Mississippi

Our behavior at that time can only be described as frantic, panicked, and frenetic!  We now had a moving truck due to arrive within one day and no address to give them...or us!

Patrick and I were at the kitchen table the night before the moving truck was to pull up in front of the house, fingers and phone calls flying, hopping from zillow, craigslist, and to any tips that we could research in order to find an apartment, home rental, or storage facility willing to take us on...oh...a day's notice.

The farmlands of Alabama, Georgia, and West Virginia

We began calling all over New Hampshire inquiring about lease agreements, rental terms, pets/no pets, etc.  We were committed to the decision that we made about not purchasing the home we had contracted, but knew this part of our journey was going to be nothing short of tumultuous.

Preparation for Rosemary, Pear, and Asiago Scones

Tumultuous is a good adjective to describe that 24 to 48 hours of chaos.  The moving crew arrived the next morning. They were a fabulous crew and laughed good-naturedly at our predicament.  We sat in the middle of the tumult making more and more phone calls to find a place to live.  

Patrick and I decided to drive over to the bank to finish some paperwork.  That was when plot twist #2 decided to give us whip lash. Our phones started pinging with multiple alerts containing ominous messages.

Fraudulent activity detected...unauthorized usage of your debit cards...all accounts now being shut down...Your accounts have been hacked!!!  

We stood in the lobby of our own bank, while blood drained from our faces, watching someone out there drain funds from our bank account on a wild shopping spree.  The ironic thing that struck us was...we were in the lobby of the bank!

The sultry Smoky Mountains

A good hour later, with half the bank staff working feverishly to close our accounts and arrange for new cards to be issued within hours, the wonderful bank staff waved us on with pity as they wished us well on our move that would take place within hours at this point.  They were heroes at that moment as they quickly shut down our accounts, ordered to cards to be delivered to us within hours, and wiped the fraudulent charges off our accounts so we could drive from Texas to New Hampshire and have some funds for things like...oh, gas and food!

A glimpse of the 3 story red barn behind the back porch

With this unexpected fire put out, we desperately turned our attention back to lock in a living arrangement while we sorted out the mess that ensued from not finalizing our house purchase.

I remembered a beautiful farmhouse that I looked at back in September on my first house hunting trip in New Hampshire.  It was vacant.  It sat high up on a hill wrapped by an enchanting porch overlooking a quaint wooded covered bridge and roaring river.  I liked the house quite a lot but it did need some care and renovation work.  It is called the Nehemiah Ordway Homestead and is listed on the national registry of historic homes.  Also, it was further north than we had anticipated settling so I kept it on the back burner for further consideration.

Drive from Texas up to New Hampshire

I placed a desperate call to the realtor of the house...throwing all caution to the wind that we might arrange some sort of agreement with the owners.  The odds that a house that I picked for potential purchase would be available for emergency leasing seemed too improbable...or would it seem too serendipitous?

Fortuitously, as the movers were loading the packed boxes onto their truck, all the stars aligned for a few moments of tremendous relief.  The owners of the Nehemiah Ordway Homestead, who live thousands of miles away, were delighted with a lease proposal. The realtor cobbled together a lease agreement with an hour working hard to give us peace of mind.  We thrust a final address into the hands of Glen, our super sweet moving coordinator. Glen chuckled some more and said, "O.k. Kenneys...let's get this show on the road!"

The huge heavy doors of the moving truck were locked, we exhaustedly piled into our one remaining car (having sold the other), and we all drove out of the city of lights into a truly unknown future.  

Back in September, I had seen the house for about 30 minutes.  There was a lot to like about it.  However, Patrick and the kids had barely even seen any photos of the house much less stepped foot inside.

So the adventure was to truly begin!  And, not at all the way that we had intended events to unfold!  But, we were on the road, serenaded by the cat throwing up 10 minutes after take off.   We were exhausted but ready to drive through half of the country.  We would climb our way up to New England through 13 of our beautiful states.  Finally, I felt some relief and reached for my camera to capture some of this land's beauty.  

And what a glorious drive across this beautiful country!  After we breakfasted on piles of pancakes and biscuits with pure maple syrup and roasted apples, we felt optimistic and adventurous.  We counted 13 states that we passed through from Louisiana to Mississippi...up to Tennessee and Pennsylvania...and then into New York up to Massachusetts and finally into our chosen land of New Hampshire.  

One of our first stops was to feel some much needed Christmas cheer at my brother's gorgeous home in Mississippi.  The stress of the past few weeks were beginning to lighten. The holiday spirit was in full force at my brother Scott's house.  We drank in their hospitality and festiveness hardly realizing that Christmas was only a few days away!

Our first eyefuls of the Nehemiah Ordway Homestead
 overlooking the sweet wooden covered bridge

We lunched on delicious jambalaya made by my sister-in-law Gail, enjoyed their lovely neighborhood set in wooded rolling hills and decked out in festive lights  It started to really feel like the holidays weren't going to pass us by this year.

Wild red flames in a blanket of white snow

Back on the road again, we drove through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the rugged foggy terrain of West Virginia, and the pastoral undulating farmlands of Pennsylvania.

The weather was kind to us, holiday music regaled us along the way we well as ample supplies of soft peppermint sticks and nutmeg spiked coffees.

Our first friend, Cricket, and her amazingly beautiful dog...Suli

We were able to make another holiday stop to visit my cousin and her adorable family who live in West Point, NY.  Her husband, J.D. is a professor at the Academy there and they have 3 of the most precious little girls that one can ever lay eyes on...creative artistic and quiet Maria, thoroughly entertaining and ever-smiling Camille, and sweet lovely little peanut Lila.  

We were immersed in more holiday cheer, Christmas lights, and yummy homemade treats for the rest of the drive into New England.  The exciting part of this visit to my cousin, Jena's house, is knowing that there will be many more because they are only 4 hours from us now!

Inspired by dinner at The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire...
Swordfish in a Balsamic Brown Butter sauce with roasted tomatoes

So we rolled over the adorable covered bridge and saw the water tumbling below over huge granite boulders.  We laid eyes for the first time on this old 1800's New Hampshire farmhouse.  We were a whole lot nervous, a bit shell-shocked, but smiling at the beauty of our surroundings and hopeful for the future of a state that has bucolic vistas around every corner.

And then...Glenn, our moving truck drive called with the unexpected news. Instead of a December 23 delivery, they would not be unable to arrive with our goods until December 26...after Christmas.

The good news was...we didn't really care!  We were in a beautiful home.  We were healthy.  We were incredibly fortunate to be in such a beautiful setting. We had our house sold and closed. The spirit of Christmas season could be felt everywhere and the snow falling gently out the windows of this rambling farmhouse made us relaxed and carefree.

Four days of air mattress "glamping" with a fire and of course...s'mores!!

So on Christmas Eve, we journeyed one town over. We shopped at a local L.L. Bean store.  Everyone was treated to new warm down coats.  We picked up a few air mattresses, some marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate to roast in the large fireplaces while we camped on the floor of the living room.

For several nights, we  "glamped" as Patrick put it on the floor of the living room right in front of a cozy fire...bellies filled with s'mores.

West Point, New York...we are out of the tropics for sure

One of the highlights of this trip, and the inspiration for this Swordfish dish, was our wonderful Christmas Eve dinner at The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire.  I wrote about this inn in this article here.  I had such a nice stay there that I booked us back in November for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Our first glimpse of the Nehemiah Ordway Homestead

We each enjoyed our selections, but it was my taste of Patrick's swordfish dish that won the favorite of the night.  I kept thinking how delicious it was for days afterwards.  

When our goods finally arrived, accompanied by many back breaking hours later of unpacking boxes, rearranging furniture, and sorting way too much stuff, I decided the first meal in the farmhouse kitchen would be a dinner centered around swordfish.

In between snowy treks down to the covered bridge and walks along the sweet trail that runs the length of the farmhouse property, I broke in the kitchen so we could all enjoy our first official dinner of Swordfish with a Balsamic Browned Butter Sauce with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes.  

I happened to come across a recipe that caught my eye for savory Scones with Asiago cheese, Rosemary, and Pears.  They were delicious with the briny flavors of the fish.  We popped open a bottle of wine, listened to the sounds of this old farmhouse entertain us, and then relaxed (seemingly for the first time in weeks) in front of the roaring fireplace.

I think we are going to adjust here just fine.  There is a very old hand written sign in one of the closets that informs that "Theodore Roosevelt slept here".  In the closet?  We all looked at one another in puzzlement, carefully closed the closet door.  In old houses like these, who knows?  

After all, if Theordore Roosevelt slept in a closet in this house, then camping out on the living room floor is good enough for the Kenneys.  

New Hampshire...we had the entire country to choose from...and we picked you

...upon our official arrival, you have won our hearts over already!

Sunrise from the upstairs tower