Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today and you know I can see summertime slipping on away.James Taylor, September Grass
Another birthday week has come and gone with relatively little fanfare (although it was a significant year for one of us), but it included plenty of inspired cuisine as always. The Chef has returned to pastry, not professionally yet in this here new hometown of Wilmington, but in our own kitchen. After wowing friends and one local purveyor with his chocolate bombs, he decided to make opera cake ahead of our birthdays. So that was our sweet treat to celebrate.
For birthday dinner, we hemmed and hawed a bit before settling on shrimp and grits, appropriately. Shrimp and veg grilled outside on skewers, and fancy grits my ex-sister-in-law-but-still-my-sister down in Charleston sent us last Christmas. The bag’s still in the freezer, with just enough for one more dinner.
Meanwhile, Chef David fished out some ceramic cookie stamps that are quite ancient, a gift from his grandmother, who found them in Oregon many years ago. He made a couple batches of shortbread to try them out; look for more of these at Christmas. Also, the Christmas stollen has been made and frozen. At this time of year there is no candied fruit, so David made his own from scratch. And what could be better than butter and rum? Friends, it is exquisite, and that is all.
Bread baking is now my established Sunday morning routine. I think I did a fair to middlin’ job of keeping the goals list realistic when I started this adventure, like so:
1. Learn to actually make dough rise using yeast and then bake something edible. <check>
2. Try baking more than one type of edible bread. <check>
3. Make it pretty. <eh>
4. Become an expert bread baker. <nope>
Still, it’s looking a little less like a kindergartener made it. I’m learning a lot about patience, commitment, and humidity, and I’ll leave it at that.
Also, however haltingly, I have started putting classical ballet back on this ageing body after an eight-year hiatus. I’ve set up a little studio space in one corner of my home office, and have the sound system hooked up, if still needing its unsightly wires concealed, etc. More than a decade of teaching has yielded a lifetime of class plans; maybe someday I’ll see whether the Y could use a weekend ballet teacher, who knows.
Because the space overlooks the living room down below, which is open to the kitchen, the sound carries downstairs too. And because of the lofty cathedral ceiling, the space is acoustically so alive. It’s fantastic to fill the air with music while baking; the result is a satisfying multi-sensorial collision.
Unpacking continues, and we’re now down to just about a half dozen or so boxes. Still, we’re far from finished moving in, if you understand the distinction. The biggest challenge ahead is arranging our art collection on the walls here, which are begging for a gallery-style display. The first piece to go up was my birthday gift to David, the reframing of a print that once hung in his restaurant in Vermont. It’s now hanging above our sunny dining room windows.
In case you’re wondering about Grant Wood, you’ll almost certainly know his painting, American Gothic.
Fortuitously, right now I’m reading a new book by Hugh Eakin called Picasso’s War, which has me thinking a lot about the monumental effort it takes to introduce something new to a reluctant audience. If the subject interests you, the reading’s worthwhile.
Aside from the Grant Wood and our one Norman Rockwell print, which has a place of honor in homage to our erstwhile home state of Vermont, the walls are bare, with the balance of our artwork and art photography collections propped in stacks against the walls. We’ll start with a showy piece or two in the middle of the big wall, we think, and then build around them. These vast, empty walls were but one reason among many this house spoke to us in the first place. Getting art on them will be a day-long or longer project, and now the wheels are turning. We’ll arrange some dramatic up-lighting in the space above the Rockwell.
Scout does not appreciate the heat and humidity in coastal North Carolina, but has made his peace with it more or less. Six years on in his tenure with us (but nearing age ten), and he knows his own proclivities well enough. He still prefers to own rather than play with his toys. He goes to doggie camp one day a week, and has one buddy in the ’hood named Jerry, a five-year-old American Foxhound. Jerry has alluring eyes and a big tail wag and thinks Scout is a snob, which he is. They still dig each other, and Jerry is always outside waiting for us when we take our evening walk.
Scout is never far off when good smells are coming from the kitchen, which is most of the time when we’re at home.
Something reasonably exciting is coming up in our lives in a couple of weeks, about which more then.