Living Small, Living Well: (Almost) Two Years of Handsome Chef Boyfriend

When Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I had our first delicate conversations in September of 2012, I told him that chefs are artists of the highest order of magnitude, to my way of thinking. I meant that. The two of us have so much fun with food–talking about it, finding, creating and playing with it, and enjoying it. We take neither it nor ourselves too seriously. (I once told him I probably offended the butcher at a boutique-y grocery back in Knoxville when I said I could never eat something called “turducken.” Why, asked the butcher? BECAUSE, I said, it contains the word TURD. Gah. I believe HCB reacted to my telling of the story with his face in his hands.)

When he starts something in the kitchen–mine or his–I like to grab my camera and start snapping. I love the process of the unfolding of cuisine, in much the same way that I love the process of making a young dancer, or a ballet. More often than not I am asked to put away my camera. Sometimes I comply.

Neither of us is in a place of excess or extravagance in our lives at the moment, and I don’t believe those conditions would make us happy in the first place. But we still live well, especially when we are together. I have been thinking of sharing some photos I’ve made, many of them over HCB’s strong objection, the past two years. I have already shared many of them in individual posts from the archives. He will hate this attention, and that is the only reason I am a little sorry for doing this. But not that sorry; he will get over it. He is a gifted artist and I want to shout that from the rooftops. For now, this here blog is the best platform I’ve got.

In no particular order, I give you a teeny, tiny sampling of (almost) two years of amazing, wonderful, beautiful HCB cuisine, most of it prepared in a kitchen smaller than a closet, and on or in an apartment-sized range, with not one jot of counter space, on a shoe string budget.

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Teriyaki pork is the happy result.

PB Cookies

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Clear Brook Farm, 180 Degrees

IMG_20140720_115217We are spoiled in Vermont during the summer growing season with an abundance of gorgeous produce to be had in local Saturday farmers’ markets and elsewhere. (I am okay with being spoiled, or spoilt as a Southern friend likes to say; the flip side of that is Vermont winter.) I have observed before that the farmers’ markets here are a bit different than the ones I frequented in the South–the food is maybe a little fresher, more abundant, and the selection of plant species is better. I think this is owing in large part to Vermont’s agrarian economy, and also the strength of its dairy industry.

The other local outlet for all that produce is the farmstand. When I think of this the way I did in the South, I imagine a guy selling a couple of items off the back of his pickup (or crudely constructed lean-to, if we are being generous) on the side of a suburban highway. The produce–peaches, watermelon, strawberries, et al.–can be amazing. But his farm is usually somewhere far away.

Here the farmstand is more of an institution that is built (literally) right on the farm, and significantly, most of the food on its shelves is grown right there. Once in a while I find myself driving past this one, which I love and patronize when I can.

Lately I have been reading Michael Pollan’s writing about food, about how disconnected we have come from the farm, how processing has had an impact on American obesity, and about moderation. I hope to write more about this in the near future. One thing is certain about buying from local farms (which Mr. Pollan advocates): it is expensive. Being on a tight budget demands balancing quality with frugality. This can be a huge challenge. I find myself always looking for new ways to live small, but well. I think Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I do a fair-to-middlin’ job of this, as we say down South.

Yesterday we visited the Clearbrook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont. We found the first peaches of the season (imported from Georgia, not yet ripe enough to eat), along with some beautiful corn on the cob, tomatoes, and lettuce, which formed the bulk of our dinner last night. I did not do the math, so I don’t know exactly how the cost of our beautiful summer dinner would stack up against something made with ingredients purchased exclusively from the supermarket (but far less than dinner out, to be sure). And what we ate was supplemented by ingredients HCB had on hand already. I still like the idea of shopping for a meal, buying local, eating well, and feeling good. Much more to come.

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Wednesday Morning

When I was a little girl my dad had a way of putting a positive spin on things during a challenging week. “It’s Wednesday–Hump Day!” he would quip. “Friday will be here before you know it!”

This rainy Vermont Wednesday morning the air outside is clean scrubbed. Inside a little of the the maple-cinnamon oatmeal I made earlier still hangs in the air, along with the summery fresh watermelon I just cubed for my lunch. I raise my coffee cup to you and your Wednesday. (And to you, Dad; thanks.)

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Sunshine inside.

 

Saturday in Quechee Gorge: Photo Essay

If you hang out long enough near the swimming hole at the bottom of Vermont’s breathtaking Quechee Gorge you will hear various languages spoken among the tourists. Yeah, it’s a bit tourist trap-y, but it’s an incredible geologic phenomenon; people come from all over (obviously) to see it. Which makes it all the more amazing to think that it’s right in my own backyard. Yesterday was a perfect day for this simple out-and-back hike. And no perfect Saturday is complete without a stop at Worthy Burger for dinner with Handsome Chef Boyfriend. Sunny hike + Vermont microbrew = Zzzzzzzzzz…. How nice.

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Watching the Garden Grow

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I drive past this very ambitious looking garden patch on my commute some days, depending how I go. I love this quirkly outdoor art installation. Somebody’s got a great sense of humor. And an appreciation for the finer things in life. This always makes me smile, even when I am having a gloomy day. I finally had a moment today to stop the car and snap a photo. Call me crazy, but in its own odd way this reminds me of American Gothic.

If anybody in these parts knows the story behind these jolly good chairs, I’d sure love to hear it.

Charge Complete, Okay to Disconnect

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“The main question is, Are you actually gonna cook in this amazing kitchen?’

The answer came in turn as a question: “Do you want to eat?”

I had put this to Handsome Chef Boyfriend a few nights ago during one of our twice-daily phone chats, referring to the beautiful house where I have been dog- bunny- frog- fish- and plant-sitting, and in general looking after things since last Wednesday.  A ballet school family asked me to fill in for a few days before the arrival of their other house sitter tomorrow. It was a gracious invitation to live in these lovely digs for a little while and enjoy the incredible property around the house. Kind of a like a vacation, they suggested. And so it has been.

HCB and I were discussing the logistics of his arrival and time with me for the weekend, which ended this morning. Of course we were going to cook in the kitchen. What was I thinking–Chinese takeout?

No, but what I was thinking: leaving the tiniest possible evidence of my tenure here. The stuff my parents instilled in me growing up. The Golden Rule. Do unto others…. No Risky Business on my watch (cue Bob Seger).

So far, so good. HCB and I had a rare kind of day yesterday, jammed with so much we had not a single idle moment, save some very early time at the kitchen island with our coffee and toast, quietly chatting, working a crossword, making plans.

There has been exactly no time to slow down since the end of the academic year, until now. Not for me, anyway. While the rest of the ballet school population had a brief sabbatical I was teaching ballet camp for a group of littles ages five to seven, pretty much all day, every day. I spent the small balance of those days working my second job, and the rest of the nighttime waking hours at home working my third, which gets fully underway in August.

Last week the pace slowed a bit. There is something about being completely removed from your own surroundings for a while that allows you to empty your head, to purge all the deleted files from the mental recycle bin, as it were. Being at home physically means a million distractions–the backlog of stuff that has been back burnered because there was no time, the pile of household chores, the unmown lawn, the correspondence and trappings of the day. At least this always seems the case, real or imagined. (All those things await my arrival home tomorrow and will bite me in the behind when I walk through the door.)

Yesterday was vacation through and through. HCB and I managed to squeeze in our usual summer Saturday fare (which almost always includes a visit to the farmers’ market for beautiful produce, and as many tag sales as we can stand), but once home we indulged in some of the fun this place has to offer: a swim in the spring-fed pond, paddle boarding, paddle boating, and the zip line.

As the people who live here warned, the zip line was not designed to handle a full-size grownup (which would definitely include HCB). So once you go, they explained, you’ve got to be committed to let go over the pond or risk running aground on the other side in an unfortunate way.

No way in the world could anybody convince me to do that. But once he had it in his head to go, there was no stopping HCB. I lost count of how many times he zipped (is that the correct verbiage? who knows?). I was asked to record this act for posterity, which the time-delayed Instagram app on my Droid made difficult. On something like the fifth run we each had a funny epiphany that the original request had actually been for a video record of the event. So there was another run. I would post the movie version here, except the whole thing is ninety degrees flipped on its left side, and I have no clue how to correct that. Plus it took me an eternity to upload it from the Droid to my laptop, where it immediately consumed the remaining memory. Plus there is ridiculous audio of me giggling at the end.

We had fun in the water, alternately warm and freezing cold, depending on shadows and sunlight and (we surmised) proximity to one of the feeder springs. It was my first time to swim in something besides a swimming pool, but familiar territory to HCB. We indulged in the hot tub for a while until we could stand the heat no more and came inside to start dinner, already pretty late. (Menu: pepper crusted pork tenderloin (reprised from last week because it was so wicked good), fresh corn on the cob and red potatoes, and farmers’ market salad; watermelon for dessert.)

While we were collapsed on the sofa with one of our flea market DVDs, each of us fighting sleep, we both agreed that this kind of exhaustion is so delicious–sun kissed, tired, generally euphoric. It did feel like a real vacation, we decided, if a bit fleeting.

I have told HCB in the past I feel like I can plug in and recharge when I see him each week. Maybe that is an unfair burden to bear, to serve as someone else’s battery charger. But quoting a friend who is gone, I think it is possible we are put here to help each other. I can live with that.

Oh, and we left the kitchen spotless.

HCB Makes Zipline Impact
HCB Makes Zipline Impact