Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Winter's touch a little Spring

I am sitting here at my old pine table looking out my kitchen window at the hillside of trees that tumble down to the river below.  The tress are swaying back and forth making the most beautiful forested sounds.  At times the sound is similar to the ebb and flow of an ocean tide as it sweeps in with a whoosh and then slides out with a swish.

We keep saying it is "the calm before the storm" around here.  The kitchen window I am looking out will not be there in another month.  The floors below my feet will be changed and made to look old and historic instead of polished and new.  A stone mason will be here to build a large grey and black fieldstone fireplace for the kitchen...the true heart of my use on all those cold winter mornings.  

The list of changes continues.   But, right now I am looking at spring photos of Springfield, Missouri from about 5 weeks ago when springtime was in full bloom over there and snow was still on the ground up here. 

We decided in April that a winter time escape was needed from the cold as well as from the stress of negotiating and making plans on whether or not we would become the owners of this beautiful old home.  The previous owners of this home had such a hard time saying goodbye.  The Nehemiah homestead kept holding on to them and they were reluctant to let go...for good reason.  The situation was understandable.  These houses come with a history and we become part of the fabric of that history.  It is hard to let go.  It will be hard for us to let go someday.

The previous owners poured their heart and soul into this floors, adding entire layers of new insulated walls, flipping and then reinstalling antique pumpkin pine floors to reveal the other side, and creating a kitchen area out of what was once stables long ago.

Easter 2015 in Springfield, Missouri

Not only did they lovingly restore the bones of this house, they also became parents to 2 children in this house... so the history and importance of it to them was even more sentimental.  This was and will be always be their children's first home.

While the owners were deciding if this was the time in history to pass on "the Nehemiah" and if we were the right owners to carry this house forward into the next chapters of its history, we escaped to springtime in Missouri for a week of relaxation, delicious BBQ, homemade breads, and family time of our own in order to await our future path.

There are beautiful elements of Springfield that remind us of our newly adopted state of New Hampshire.  When we were looking across the country at where to settle, we repeatedly mentioned details about Missouri in our criteria of desires.  Long country roads, swaying woods, rolling hills, and small quaint towns were on that list.  Basically we wanted a setting, mood, and location very similar to that of Missouri..but in the Northeast.

I still remember the first time stepping foot into Patrick's family home all those years ago.  I was 22 and had fallen deeply in love with this young man with soulful green eyes.  His easy-going manner and  Midwestern drawl revealed over time a person of deep moral depth combined with a high level of intellect I found entirely endearing.  

His family welcomed me with gracious acceptance.  The warmth and replication of their early American styled home, filled with carefully selected antiques from the time period, left an impression that has stuck with me all these years.  

Over the years, Patrick and I have been returning to his home state of Missouri.  We've watched as George's collection of early American pewter formed a queue over the fireplace mantle.  We've admired Joanne's brown & white transferware dishes.   She collected it piece by piece from various antique stores across the country. Each holiday there was a new piece added to the Christmas or Thanksgiving table setting.  I've never been able to commit to a set of dishes all at one time and found the idea of searching for one piece at a time more to my liking.

Watching and listening over the years as their house shaped and formed left a mark on us as we progressed from newlyweds to new parents in about 9 locations...and now to soon to be empty nesters.  Wow, even writing the words "empty nesters" has me coping with a range of conflicting emotions.  Over the years, as Patrick and I moved from one location to the next, there was only sometimes, but not really often,  a yearning to build our nest one day in one spot as opposed to leaving our little twigs and branches all over the country.  We lived for the moment most of the time and enjoyed our many adventures.  Settling down was a word that made me cringe at not yearn for.   However, I think the time has come for a building of a family nest that can form and grow for years to come.  More adventures hopefully will grab a hold of us but we have decided to plant roots in one place and adventure out from this piece of earth here and be able to come right a home, not just a house.

Returning to Missouri is always filled with family time, good food, and slower paced living.  BBQ rules in this part of the country.  Patrick came home one day during the week in Missouri with the most delicious ribs from Oscar's BBQ.  They are melt in your mouth delicious.  We've been going by Oscar's BBQ for years and never stopped to buy any.  I do believe a new tradition has been born because we have mentioned several times since returning home to New Hampshire how much we cannot wait to get more Oscar's time.

Oscar's Ribs in Springfield, Missouri

So we escaped winter's last grasp on New England and put our feet up for a bit  and felt the sun on our faces in Missouri while enjoying their blooming springtime season.  The cardinals could be seen as ruby red streaks flying through the air from one bird feeder to another.  The squirrels were camped out under the bird feeders packing the fallen seeds into their swollen jowls.  Lily of the valley had already sprouted up and the tiny white bell flowers were dangling and scenting the air with their sweet smell.  Daffodils were on stage front with their trumpet shaped flowers standing tall and bright yellow.  The air was chilly one day, warm the next, rainy the day after...just as spring should be.

I think the shock of greenness in the grass is one difference from living in Texas that always  made an impression on us.  The grass is just so green in Missouri...truly like what you see on The Little House on the Prairie T.V. series.  As soon as we flew into the airport of Springfield, the fields of green were lush and expansive.

We took long walks in the woods around Patrick's home.  We watched the ducks fly up from the south, land in the ponds all around the area, and take off again on their journey northward for the summer.  They would get a running start by deftly paddling on the surface of the water, spraying water in an arch behind them with their green rimmed necks jutting out as if adorned with emerald studded collars.  

We sat for hours around my MIL Joanne's antique kitchen table and discussed house plans detail by detail.  These long sessions of planning out flooring, windows, paint colors, and lighting details were only punctuated by trips to various antique stores in the area to mingle and dream of our developing nest up north.  If Patrick or Riley were in tow on these antique afternoons, then it was entirely probable that there would be a stop by our favorite place for an afternoon pick-me-up...Andy's frozen custard.

For most of my life, materialistic possessions have come second to adventuresome experiences.  I've never really had the compulsion to commit to a set of china or collect pieces of carefully searched for antique furniture.  I'd much rather buy plane tickets to Scotland or Istanbul than commit to flatware or light fixtures.

All that has seemed to change in the past few years.  Living in New Hampshire and finally becoming owners of this historical property has us wanting to carefully select antique pieces and well as preserve or plan for everything in this home down to the door latches and lighting fixtures.

I'm going to properly introduce our new home to "Thyme" soon.  I'm collecting photos here and there as we discover the property without feet of snow on the ground.  Every day, I stroll around gasping at the number of flowering trees and plants that are revealing themselves by the day.  Most of my days have been filled with painstakingly cleaning out a 200 year old barn filled with bric a brac and hauling things to recycling stations.  Then there are the days where from dawn to dusk I can be found unearthing these grounds that have been buried by vines and weeds for years...and years!

I have found two gardens on the property.  There are several more but I thought I would focus on the first two nearest the house.  The first was buried in about a foot of leaves and debris outside our kitchen porch.  We've been told it was an herb garden years ago.  As I reached down and pulled up some of the debris, I could see a patch of old brickwork.  That sight was all it took to get me excited about discovering what lay beneath.  I've uncovered an entire circular brick area with extending brick walkways.

The second garden is near the old barn.  It was specifically designed to be a vegetable garden.  As one can imagine, only the faint wooden outlines of the vegetable beds could be seen.  The rest was covered in layers of leaves and weeds.  After a solid week of work, these beds are cleaned out and a new medley of vegetables are planted in there.  Hopefully, there will be several lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and rhubarb...for starters.  There are still several beds still open for more veggies.

I've seen my in-laws in Missouri transform their property from one year to the next into beautiful gardens.  I figured if they can do it then I'll give it my best try.  For two weeks straight, I raked piles of leaves, hauled them to the woods, carefully pulled out various types of weeds until I could see the roots dangling intact.  I uncovered  all sorts of hopeful buds trying to make their way through the muck.  Vines were choking the lilac trees so I carefully unwrapped each branch.  Day lilies were marching through the yard as if an invasion was ordered so I took a shovel to tame those flower intruders.  That was no small feat.  Darn day lilies!

When I got discouraged and my back ached and I looked at my earth stained hands, I just thought of one of my favorite childhood books "The Secret Garden".  I imagined the romantic notion of clearing an overgrown patch of secret garden by 3 little children.  I sat back to survey my own little plot and convinced myself to forge ahead unearthing one little natural treasure after another. 

The timing of the trip to Missouri was a perfect one.  It was a much needed respite from heightened emotions as well as a week of calmness that we may not see for awhile.

Shortly after we returned, events moved along swiftly.  As I announced on instagram and Facebook...we are indeed the new stewards of this New Hampshire home that we have been yearning for 5 months now.  Final negotiations were ironed out.  It seemed the very next day, we had a revolving door of contractors, masons, landscapers, architects, decorators, plumbers, cabinet makers, and electricians all bearing charts and plans that they spread out on our kitchen table.

In order to build a fireplace, we need a floo.  In order to have a floo, we need to move a toilet.  In order to move a toilet, we need a bathroom redo.  The plans kind of start in that manner from room to room and then start going wonky and haywire from there.  

Then there are the windows to contend with.  The windows are old...not as in historical old...just plain old... old.  Actually, they are historical.  They are the original windows to the home.  Which is a problem here because New Hampshire-ites value every historical aspect of a home and do not want to change it despite the decaying condition that it is in. Some windows have multiple screens with multiple glass storm windows on top of original windows that were painted shut and take a rubber mallet to pry open.  Then each window has been fitted with a rubber lined pop in window frame that takes Herculean strength to pry off.

Not to mention that each and every crevice in between each window panel is filled FILLED with dead ladybugs.  No matter how many times I lug the vacuum from window to window (and there are 56 windows) nothing seems to stop them from filling up again.  Really gross.

The fine line between what is historical and worth keeping and what is historical but past the point of preservation is a tough debate topic around these parts of the country.  However, after living through the coldest winter on record for New Hampshire, coping with the lady bug infestation, and prying open 56 windows that went 3-4 layers deep,  it wasn't too hard for us to make a call on this window debate.  When the 56 new windows arrive in 4 weeks and one by one the ladybug infestation is finally behind us like a bad memory, the historical nature of this historical window topic will be shut...sealed...and locked...with all bugs on the outside where they belong and us snugly warm on the...inside where we belong.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Visiting abandoned cellar holes...becoming a true local in New Hampshire

I had a little ping in my inbox that caught my eye last month.  It was from a charming inn called The Hancock Inn.  Hancock, NH is one of those quintessential New England villages that just defies the march of time.  Life there seems to be in eternal repose.  At first glance, this little village seems to be slumbering away quite peacefully, however I learned that there are layers of activities as well as an abundance of passionate people buzzing just underneath the sleepy veneer of this charming part of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.  

Recently, what caught my attention are a summer series of "history walks" being offered by the inn. Each month a gathering of enthusiasts will meet at the inn, depart for historical walks that involve learning why abandoned cellar holes exist and who left them, delving into historic cemeteries to hear whispers of stories that made up the lives of early settlers, indulge our tastebuds by learning about signature foods of New Hampshire like baked beans and clams, and finally a trip to trek through protected lands to see how blueberries came to be cultivated as an important crop of this state.

I thought these history walks would be a great way to meet locals of New Hampshire, make new friends, and have a really good time getting to know our new home state.  And after going on my first walk with the group...I was right!

It was a great way to do all three of those things.  The April gathering exceeded my expectations.  The entire day was filled with meeting fabulous people, enjoying the outdoors, and dining on exquisite meals.  

After  listening to the history tour on the morning walk, we met up again that evening back at The Hancock Inn for a delicious gourmet dinner.  We were entertained during the dinner by another guest speaker, Henry Walters, a renowned poet from Dublin, NH who led us through poems of Robert Frost.  Henry  walked us through how Robert Frost often wove themes of impermanence into his writing.  Many of his passages made us reflect on how each of us currently are weaving a tapestry of events in this time period  for others in the future to look upon and wonder about.

I have been excited to get here to "Thyme" to talk about the experience.  I am looking forward with delight to the next several months of gatherings.  I continue to  feel like our move here was just the right decision for us.  The more we get out there and play in this state...the more I continue to fall deeply in love with New Hampshire.

So this first historical walk was themed "No More a House...the Cellar Holes of Hancock".  We met on Saturday  morning at The Hancock Inn to meet our guide, Eric Aldrich.  

Eric works for the Nature Conservancy and enjoys spending his spare time researching the characters that populated the town long ago during the first period of settlement.  He was a terrific, engaging, and passionate guide that was a delight to spend time with during the walking tour.

By looking at the leftover granite cellar holes, Eric told us about his research into the early residents of New Hampshire, how they survived in those settler days, and why they left with only their cellar holes to tell the tales of their history.  

Ingredients for Sautéed Cod with Pea Cream Purée

When we all arrived in Hancock, the sleepy little town was gently coming alive with soft murmurs of activity.  A jogging group was just beginning their morning sweep through the town's tree lined lanes that are bordered by quaint little white fences.  Clad in bright colored running gear, the running group was chatting happily while stretching for their run.  In front of the town church, a pair of volunteers were quietly raking the lawn. The rhythmic swish of the rakes created a pleasant sound.   Several people were just leaving Fiddleheads Café cradling cups of hot coffee that left trails of whispy steam behind them as they moved off up the street to enjoy a quiet Saturday morning.

With hiking boots laced up and warm jackets on to ward off the spring morning chill, we caravanned deep into a patch of woods outside of Hancock in order to begin our hike.

Just the walk itself into the woods was delightful.  The air was fresh and sweet with the promise of spring just around the corner.  We had a brilliant peacock blue sky overhead. The blue sky burst through the feathers of pine branches overhead to dazzle us with the natural beauty that is a forest.   The crunch of the twigs and branches underneath  hiking boots could be heard amidst the banter of a group of happy people celebrating the end of a long winter with a perfect morning walk. 

Images of Hancock, New Hampshire

Eric took us from one leaf covered cellar hole to another.  Each hole was structured with huge boulders of granite.  He talked about the family that lived there, how they survived the harsh New England winters and what made them abandon their homes.  

Millwork employed many people in the region.  Much of the land and forest we were walking through was actually rolling hills that were more pastoral and open and much less forested and woody.  When much of the wood was cut down and used up for the milling industry, families packed up and moved further west looking for more work, leaving behind their granite anchored farmhouses to give us glimpses into their lives during this time period.

Images of Hancock, NH

These families left behind clues as to how they constructed their homes, how far apart they lived from their neighbors and generally how life was mostly about survival, keeping warm, and managing livestock from one season to the next.

What I enjoyed in particular was the camaraderie of the group.  There was lots of laughter, swapping of stories, and appreciation for the culture and heritage of New Hampshire.  Each person in the group contributed their knowledge and experiences about their own role in preserving so many things that make this area of the country so beautiful and unspoiled.

Being outdoors most of the morning, observing swollen buds everywhere on the cusp of blooming into an impending palette of spring beauty, inspired me to think about spring harvests, spring recipes, and seasonal meals.  I itched to get into my kitchen and put together a meal that symbolizes the change of seasons from winter to spring.

Sautéed Cod with a Pea Cream Purée

Everywhere I drive in New Hampshire, there are signs of seasonal delights about to come. Farm stands are being unshuttered and signage is popping up and being dusted off promising fresh produce coming soon.

Nurseries are quietly moving out trays of spring violets and readying to empty out their greenhouses of container pots in which sprout little shoots of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and rhubarb.

Farm animals are making their way back out into the fields.  On the way to the hike, I saw young lambs basking in the early morning sun rays and horses that looked friskier as they moved from barn to field to stretch their limbs after a long winter indoors.

I thought about spring cakes, spring herbs, and all manner of seafood dishes that are popular in this area.  I love seafood so delving into New Hampshire plates that involve clams, cod, and lobster are beckoning me to give so many of them a try soon.

Sautéed Cod with a Pea Crème Purée

After the delightful history tour listening to Eric give us insight into the relics of cellar holes left behind by early settlers, I looked forward to the second half of the day.

We all scattered to wash up, put on pretty clothes, and then return that evening for a continuation of  hearing stories, through the writings of Robert Frost, about the passage of time through an era...all while enjoying a beautiful dinner at The Hancock Inn.

Images of The Hancock Inn, NH

After getting settled into our beautiful and stately room in the John Hancock Suite, Patrick and I made our way downstairs in the inn to the dining room to gather again with the other guests, sip on cocktails, and sit around a large table to begin the enjoyment of a  pleasant evening together.

The Hancock Inn, New Hampshire

For an appetizer, Patrick ordered the bruschetta which came with venison loin, cranberry mayo & pickled beets.  I sampled his selection and it was delicious. The toast was crisp, there was just enough spread to add flavor but not overpower the tender velvety venison.   I ordered the Gillfeather turnip soup flavored with sausage, dill & caraway.  I was very impressed with the flavors of the soup.  None of the flavors dominated the other and the blend of soup had layers of taste that constantly made me pause from chatting with my neighbor and focus on enjoying each savory spoonful.  

Henry Walters, a young and passionate reader, had us under his spell the rest of the evening as dishes quietly appeared and disappeared from the table.  Patrick and I truly enjoyed every minute of this event while dining on exquisite dishes, meeting incredibly talented people, and listening to Henry's depth of knowledge about Robert Frost's poetry.  

What made us look at each other throughout the evening and laugh and reflect is the fact that it has been a long road of parenting for the last 20 years involving  busy schedules, always impending deadlines to meet for something family or work related,  and rare nights out like this where we found ourselves completely relaxed and thoroughly engaged in an evening of pure enjoyment.  

Life is so good, indeed. We marked the evening by being fully aware of the beauty of life... yet the impermanence of life. We are fully aware and appreciate the fortunate circumstances that are allowing us to live life to its fullest at this time.  The poignant theme of our existence as carriers of history for a short period of time was not lost on us that evening.  

For dinner, Patrick sampled a dish made from local New Hampshire ingredients.  He had the  Vicuña Cocoa Husk & Salt Roasted Beef Eye of Round, Gilfeather Turnip Puree all honey braised with Mint Hollandaise spooned.    

I learned that Vicuña is a type of coffee bean imported by a little chocolate house called Vicuña Chocolate Factory in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  Gilfeather turnips are named after a Vermont heirloom root crop cultivated by John Gilfeather.  He was careful to cultivate a cross between a rutabaga and a true turnip to produce a soft flavored root vegetable.  

I ordered the Walpole Valley Farm Pork with Turnip, Apple & Cabbage.  It was a delicious locally sourced meal filled with flavors that remind me of New Hampshire.  Walpole is a picture perfect village located on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont.  Patrick and I sought out several farmhouses in this village to buy before we fell in love with the one we are currently in here in the Sunapee Valley.  

I would love to drive over to Walpole Valley Farms and learn more about their heritage pasture-raised pork.  They are a multi-generational family who own and operate their farm. Sustainable, humane farming practices are at the root of their endeavors.

The wonderfully relaxing evening could be personified by a slow released exhale of a soft and satisfied sigh. We all made our way up to our rooms to each fall into a slumber of contentment from an evening of pleasurable food, conversation, and company.

Unbelievably, after a night of feasting, Patrick and I somehow managed to thoroughly enjoy a scrumptious breakfast downstairs in the bright and cheery breakfast room.   The Inn offers several breakfast choices and we selected the Hancock Inn's "stacker".  It is an English muffin topped with a house made sausage patty, a locally sourced fresh poached egg, and Vermont cheddar cheese.  I have a hard time trying anything else on their menu because the stacker is so delicious.

We visited with the baby goats that live next door to the inn.  Holy cuteness!  They were frisky and hopping off of tree stumps while bumping into each other. When we come back next month, we going to sample the goat's milk cheese that is made next door by Main Street Cheese.  

At breakfast, we chatted with a young family looking to make a move to New Hampshire. They were currently on a house hunting trip.  I remember it was last September that I was sitting at that same table as this family on my own house hunting head filled with possibilities of change but not knowing if it would really come true.

I told them to hold on to their dream of buying an historical property and calling New Hampshire home.  They had fallen in love with a house a few doors down.  I do hope they make it work out as we were able to do.  We gave them all the encouragement we could over breakfast.

So after we journeyed home, up and over the Monadnock hills into the Lake Sunapee region which is overlooked by Kearsarge Mountain, we are now knee deep in raking leaves, pulling weeds, and tidying up our rambling farmhouse lot.  We have trees that need chopping and years of clearing that have Working off the delicious dinner and scrumptious breakfast was in order and the yard work was happy to provide much needed workouts.

But my mind was thinking about a spring meal in the works.  My neighbor just returned from Portugal.  Her husband just returned from sailing his sailboat along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to its new home in Portsmouth, NH.  Our other newly made friends have returned from a meandering tour of the Tuscany region in Italy.   

I'm making this spring meal for all of them so I can gather them together and hear the tales of their adventures. Mustard seed marinated cod over a bed of shallot and pea cream and white wine sauce topped with flavors of dill.  The yard is bursting with spring blooms everywhere and I cannot wait to embrace spring around our kitchen table and sit back to our own feast with new friends.