Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas, We Hardly Knew Ye!

I took my dogs out at noon today for a Christmas walk at Percy Warner Park, and on the drive home passed the old model airplane field where Nashvillians dump their Christmas trees so the city can shred them into mulch.

How strange it was then to see a large pile of trees already discarded by people whose main mission on Christmas morning was not sitting around opening presents or eating brunch or looking at the pretty lights, but was instead pulling down the tree, stuffing it in the car trunk, and tossing it on the pile at the park.

How does a holiday so anticipated and so all encompassing end so abruptly at midnight on Christmas Eve? What happened to the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Of no interest to anyone these days- for the presents have been given and the shopping, except for the returns, is done for. And was not the shopping the point?

Tomorrow morning the music, which I feel is the true glory of the season, will disappear. The dumpsters will overflow, and Christmas 2012 will slip into the quicksand of forgetting.

Enter then the top ten lists for the past year, and the roll call of dead 2012 celebrities. Soon to be followed by wall to wall info-mercials for exercise machines.

And so Christmas ends- not with a bang, but a whimper-

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Blog Fatigue

One of my favorite bloggers is shutting down her blog. She is Nan, from "Letters from a Hill Farm". I will miss her. Her blog was six years old. In a world where blogs die young, this was longevity.

I often wonder if blogging is worth it. How discouraging it is to see that most of one's readers are Ukranian and Russian spam computers, who are not readers at all.
To never have an audience of more than a handful of readers,( though Nan was far more successful with this than I).

The Internet is clogged with blogs. Many are abandoned. Others not worth reading. Others obscure, and written for an audience that does not exist. At first one runs on hope, wishing for luck, but over time hope wears away and luck never comes.

Mark Twain said that if, after writing for 3 years no one has offered to pay you for your words, you might as well go back to cutting wood for a living.

I will miss you Nan. I hope you will send me your email address so we can write each other.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries- Before Christmas Edition

There is a major estate sale starting on Wednesday and continuing through Saturday here in Nashville. This looks like one of the biggest of the year. Because of work I will not be able to go, and instead of downnloading pictures from the estate sale company site into this post, I am linking to it. Only by seeing all the photos can one get a sense of how important this sale is. This estate is that of Francis Preston, "a well known executive in the music business". The sale is on Woodmont Boulevard.

The paintings and furniture are of great interest-


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Old Farwell School in North Charlestown, New Hampshire

All of us over thirteen have a foot in two centuries, though some of our foot prints are further back than others.

Far enough back to remember this old two room schoolhouse that still stands beside the main road in the little town of North Charlestown, New Hampshire. I was a student there for a few years in the early 60's, after our father moved us from suburban Connecticut to a hill farmhouse above the Little Sugar River in North Charlestown.

Behind the school, and beside it were apple orchards that went all the way back to the Connecticut River. Looking out the school windows we could look west towards the hills of Vermont, and on the playground, in spring ,we played for keeps for precious marbles.

I doubt each classroom had more than 15 children. First through third in one room, and fifth and sixth grade in the other.

Our house was miles from school, and every weekday a red van came to collect me and other children out from town. In later years it would drop us off at Farwell, and then off on buses we would go again, south to the junior high school in Charlestown.

The village of Charlestown was once an outpost on the New England frontier. Old Fort Number 4 still stands there, for the Abnaki Indians threatened. Indeed one day many decades ago, my sisters and I found an old Abnaki axe in a cornfield torn into by outgoing ice on the Connecticut River.

What bucolic, innocent days those were!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries- The Second Hand Kitchen

I have written in the past about how sorry I am not to see young people at estate sales, for they are the very people who need them the most.

Imagine you are a young person standing in an empty kitchen in your first apartment. Your mother has give you a few old pans, an oven mitt, a set of flatware. Everything else-you must find yourself. Imagine how delightful a search this would be if you lived in Buenos Aires or London or Paris. Think of the old shops, the flea markets-

But let us come closer to home and farther from dreams. Let us pretend that you are a young professional woman- a Registered Nurse- and you and a friend decide to splurge on living and to rent an apartment in The Gulch in downtown Nashville. An exciting zip code with nightlife and restaurants, and not more than a few blocks from the Hospital district.

You have a car loan. You have student loans. If you cannot pay the former a wrecker comes for your car. If you do not pay the latter you lose your nursing license. These are non negotiable expenses.

No matter, you think, you can go to Bed, Bath,and Beyond or Target and use your credit card to put together a working kitchen. That is you could if you had a decent amount left to charge after going to the Coach handbag counter and the upscale shoe store.

Or, if your credit card has reached your limit, you may have to send your money to China- by buying at the dollar stores.

And you will get what you pay for.

Do not dare tell me you are too tired to go to Friday morning estate sales because you worked a 12 hour shift all night in the ICU. You are 24 years old! You stay up to go out with your friends for breakfast and mimosas. Or you might stand in line at The Pancake Pantry. Or stay awake till noon so you can get a second look at those shoes you saw at Nordstrom's.

Get in your car, drive to West End or West Meade, then once inside the sale, head to the kitchen. Buy the Kitchen Aid vegetable peeler for 50 cents, and the Pyrex measuring cup for a dollar. Kitchen towels, soup ladles, can openers. A buck apiece. Grab that food processor for $30 and that old Waring Blender for $5. Look under the table where you will see a big slow cooker. Yours for $12. Those stainless steel skillets beside the cooker- Emerilware. Made by All Clad. Take them home for $8.

Whisks, mixing bowls, useful knives. A coffee grinder. Remember that you cannot stir soup with a high heeled shoe or bake in a handbag.

Buy that battered copy of "The Joy of Cooking" you see in the bookcase over the counter.

Spend $100 on what would have cost you many hundreds more new.

Unless of course, you never intend to cook. Perhaps you will be like one of my old neighbors here at the apartments. She was a federal judge who kept rooms in Nashville and a house in Knoxville. She did not cook, could not open a can because she had nothing to open it with, and she kept her legal files in her oven. She did not even own a microwave, and she ate every meal out.

I doubt any young person will read this post, since my rather limited circle of readers are most likely over 40. But some of you may be the mothers of young women in first apartments. Perhaps you could pass on my advice.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries-Friday December 7th

At 7;45 this morning I was cursing myself for getting caught up in Green Hills traffic just to go to an estate sale on Estes Road. But the sale had looked more intriguing than a second sale in my home suburb of Bellevue, so I went to Estes first.

Congestion, thy name is Green Hills. Narrow road shoulders. No parking in the cul-de-sac where a smallish line of people waited outside a pleasant brick home. I was lucky to find a spot out on Estes that was not blocks away.

When I saw the front and side garden I knew my trip was worth it. How I wished that the estate sale company was selling the hardy primroses whose crinkled winter leaves lined the front walk. How rarely are primroses seen blooming here in spring! The garden had a nice shrubby St Johnswort and a forest of Hellebores, or Lenten Roses. The foundation planting was bright with nandina berries. Someone had loved this garden.

At 8:30 the doors opened and the line shuffled in. "More stuff upstairs!", said the estate sales lady, and we had to agree, for inside the stuff did not end. I confess to not going upstairs to the obligatory Crammed with Christmas Decorations Room, a constant at Nashville estate sales. I went right to the kitchen, where I had no competition.

And there, for 12 dollars I found the pan of my dreams-a 13 and 7/16 inch cast iron skillet.

There was more cast iron. A nine inch and a 6 inch skillet. I did not need them and passed them by, but they were soon gone to someone smart. Left behind was a set of overpriced Calphalon( a 55 dollar dutch oven) and a big set of vintage All-Clad too scratched and aged to be worth 250 dollars.

For a few dollars I bought a tri- cornered glass canister, a tiny sieve, a fancy peeler, and an oven mitt still wearing its store tag. Also two small steel beating bowls, and a nice cluster of measuring spoons (for who can have too many).

There was a stamp collection in a back bedroom, and boxes of old LPs, which always bring collectors. On the coffee table were seven or eight antique books from the mid 19th century. On top was a Dickens with an inscription on the inner cover in spidery 1858 handwriting. I saw no more, for the book started to fall apart in my hands, and my curiosity evaporated.

And I did find it curious that such a well-equipped kitchen had only one major cookbook. No surprise though that it was "The Joy of Cooking".

Here are some pictures of what else was for sale from the estate sale website.

And here- is my big find of the day, found at the Bellevue sale. Birding binoculars for $26 dollars. My binoculars broke last spring, and until today, I was without. Perhaps they are not top of the line, the latest thing, or a birding status symbol, but they are mine for a good price, and they will do.

Some pictures from the estate sale website for the Bellevue sale follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Learning From The Best-Richard Olney

One night, in the nurses' break room, in the hospital where I used to work ,I overheard a young woman, a respiratory therapist, talking about her boyfriend, who after many suppers at her place, had blurted out "Can't you cook anything besides pasta?'

She couldn't, and I felt sorry for her, for her mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins had left her rudderless in a culinary sea, with her only life jacket a pot of spaghetti and a big jar of bottled sauce.

Some might think she could have looked for teachers on TV, on one of the food channels. Mario Batali would have taught her, had his show been on consistently and at a watchable hour-. Or she could have searched for Sarah Moulton, whose show is now lost somewhere on PBS.

If this young woman could afford it, she could have signed on to the cooking classes over at The Viking School in The Factory in Franklin, Tennessee.

Had she asked me for advice ,I would have told her to buy a few good cookbooks to study. Perhaps Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything" if she insisted on something contemporary. But no books by the latest Chef Of The Moment with his stunt recipes from his stunt restaurant. Far better to trust in the late Richard Olney, and his fine cookbook"Simple French Food".

Olney, who was something of a bohemian, escaped Iowa as a young man and fled to France to become an artist. He bought a broken down hovel in Provence and restored it to liveable, all the while making fast friends with his neighbors Lulu and Lucien Peyraud, who owned a farm and a winery nearby. And he began to cook.

Olney loved simplicity. I could not imagine him spending hours making a spun sugar helmet for a cake, as Julia Child did once on an episode of "The French Chef". A gratin of turnips, garlic,and Gruyere cheese. The pork chop recipe that follows. This was Olney's style of cooking.

One note. Olney added dry white wine to this recipe to deglaze the pan after browning the pork chops. I omitted this. I added prunes, which sometimes sneak their way into pork dishes in provincial France. Olney did not use them in this dish. The following is my version.

3 or 4 apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced thinly

1 tbs butter

4 pork chops,no more than 3/4 inch thick

Salt, to sprinkle on the chops before browning

1 cup heavy cream

2-3 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard. To taste.

Pepper, to season the chops before browning

Spread the apples on the bottom of a lightly buttered gratin baker that is large enough to place the pork chops in side by side. Bake the apples in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
While the apples are baking, salt and pepper the chops, add a little butter to a saute pan, and brown the chops for 7 minutes each side over medium high heat. Then place the chops on top of the apples in the gratin dish. Add some prunes along the sides of the baker. (If your digestive system rebels at sulfured prunes you might want to omit these!)

Next pour 1 cup of heavy cream into a bowl, and add the mustard a little at a time to taste. Then pour the mixture over the pork. Olney advises that you the shake the gratin pan side to side to allow the cream to seep down into the apples. Then return the gratin pan back to the oven and bake at 400 degrees for another 15 to 20 minutes.

This should serve four or five. And I think it would impress any young woman's boyfriend-

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries- Weekend of December 1st- The Ones That Get Away

I regret missing several sales this past year, and I regret missing this one. But I had to work this weekend, and money is tight. And even if I had had the time to go, the logistics would have been difficult, for this sale was in Green Hills, a pricey suburb where estate sale signs are often banned and parking is non- existent. The latter is a problem for anyone with bags full of loot, for who relishes a three block walk to their car?

How I would have loved that green enamel cookware set or the two green topped tables. I am certain they were gone in minutes. There may have been vintage clothing as well. Just look at those mink coats. They look like something Doris Day would have worn in "The Thrill of It All." or in one of her romantic comedies with Rock Hudson.

Unfortunately, for the rabid estate saler, life intrudes. My money must go to fixing up my truck, which just failed Metro Nashville's emission testing because of a faulty oxygen sensor. How dismal life can be.

We crave old linens and antique plates. End tables and cutting boards.

Instead we face a 300 dollar bill at Firestone Complete Auto Care.