And we are almost out of firewood: we have what you see in the photo, plus a bit more stacked on the front porch. No big deal. We don’t depend on it to heat our house, as I did in the beautiful but isolated Vermont loft where I lived between 2013 and 2015. But we think keeping a fire going most nights and over the weekend is putting a dent in our oil consumption and our electric bill. Last year we were too busy dotting I’s and crossing T’s to think about details like firewood, and it was already a tad late by our closing in November, to source some seasoned wood. Not so this winter.
Like so many older homes in Vermont, our 1934 house is heated with an oil furnace. The first floor has some of the original cast iron baseboard heaters, and in our master bathroom is an old radiator. When the heat gets going, let me just be frank here, those things get hotter than hell and half of Georgia. It’s a wonderful thing to walk into, though, that wall of heat, especially when the mercury drops below 0°F outside and the deck boards pop like shotgun blasts, sending a certain dog I know out of his skin. Hopefully we’re past those god-awful temperatures now that it’s March. No guarantees in life, though, except death and taxes.
Taxes. Another thing to work on, but not this weekend.
As I was saying, we’re almost out of firewood, and so a couple of weeks ago the Chef and I visited our local Tractor Supply looking for the big flats of pellet logs—these are logs made of smooshed-together sawdust, extruded Play-Doh style I imagine, and then lopped off into uniformly shaped blobs. Lo and behold, they were completely out. Ditto our local Home Depot. This occurred at a moment when the Midwest was being walloped by winter’s fury, much worse than we were up here in New England, and we thought there might be a connection.
But now that the stores have restocked their supplies, we bought a bunch of them last week and stacked them next to the fireplace opposite the Actual Wood. The Chef makes a fire from the real stuff, and then once it’s going, plunks a pellet log on top, et voilà! The fire burns for several more hours without needing much of anything at all. I would not have known to do this, being the Southern lady I am, but it’s one of the Chef’s many impressive aptitudes—knowing how to get more from a dwindling wood supply, how to change his own brakes and pads (and mine), how to build his own fence, and certainly, how to make a few ingredients in the fridge—when we desperately need to shop—morph into a photo-worthy dinner. I can hear a certain friend of mine say, in her lilting Southern accent, “he sure knows how to stretch a dollah.”
We don’t always see eye to eye in that department, though: if there is one thing that annoys the heck out of the Chef, it is my habit of opening a new package of something when there was still a little left in the old one. Case in point: a box of crackers. Why, he will quiz me, did you open these (waving around Cracker Box A in his right hand), when we still have some of these (shaking the nearly empty Box B in his left)? Because, silly, I’ll retort, I wanted those (pointing to his right hand), and not those (pointing to the left). But seriously, this kind of thing breaks so many Chef rules, goes so stridently against the frugal fibers of his being, it makes him want to claw his eyeballs out.
I make your life immeasurably better in all ways, I remind him on these occasions.
I made my own life a little better, I think, yesterday. On impulse, I asked my stylist to whap off most of my hair. So I’ve gone back to my erstwhile Annie Lennox look. Or Joan of Arc, depending on your perspective. Sitting in the chair at the salon, I had to work hard to shush my mama’s voice rattling around inside my head: “You look cute with short hair. Well, maybe not that short.” Thing is, it’s my hair, and so I get to choose. My longer style was getting on my last nerve, so much so I decided I’d been suffering this fool gladly for quite long enough—the fool that is longish hair that demands fooling with every damn morning. So I made a bit of a rash, Queen of Hearts-style decision: not Off with their heads! so much as Off with this hair! For better or for worse, the thing is done. I will spend exactly 30 seconds on my hairdo before work tomorrow morning, so mission accomplished. I know the Chef’s love for me does not hang on the length of my hair: it hangs on how many boxes of crackers are open at the same moment.
Here is a thing that makes the Chef happy: I made ‘kitchen sink soup’ earlier today. Some might call it ‘stone soup’—an aromatic, brothy soup made with whatever’s in the fridge/freezer/pantry. This time it was by design. I will share with you now how we make the Best Ever Soup. We started with our favorite ginger marmalade chicken last night, which we had with steamed Brussels sprouts the Chef jazzed up with Frank’s RedHot® Sauce. (Here is a close approximation of the ginger marmalade chicken recipe, should you wish to try it.)
Today when I came home from yoga, I chopped some fresh veg (I was careful to use the last of some old celery before opening the new bag, so I am not completely hopeless). I sautéed the onion and peppers long enough for them to brown a little on the edges, and then I added some carrot and celery, sautéed a bit longer.
To this I added chicken broth. We buy store brand; there’s always an open container in the fridge, so I use that, plus all of another 48-oz. container. Then I added a bunch of frozen vegetables; we shop at Hannaford, and their organic store brand is respectable. Finally, I sliced a large piece of the leftover chicken from last night, and then added the key ingredient that makes this soup so damned good: the goop in the bottom of the baking dish. The Chef even agreed with this point. It is the goop that really sets this soup apart from others of its ilk. I added a bit of dried thyme, some freshly ground pepper, and allowed the soup to come to a boil. And that is all: we’ll have some for supper tonight, and then we’ll each bring it with us to work for lunch all week long. This soup habit has been one of the smartest of the winter, and I can honestly say I’m still not sick of eating soup, even if I am sick of winter.
In other news, Scoutie and I have had some surprise opportunities lately for winter runs in the city, even after a snowfall. This is an adjustment for me: I’m not a huge fan of running on cement, but finally decided a cement run is better than no run. Scout loves getting out and prowling around in the neighborhood. I believe this will help once spring arrives in earnest and we resume our longer runs out in the country. And he’s grown accustomed to the mandatory post-run quickie shower to wash all the schmutz off his belly and his toes.
I’ve tried to alternate running with yoga, more or less every other day, this winter. This plan does not always work, but when it does is a thing of beauty and makes me feel so, so good. Meanwhile, I’ve been eating raw celery and radishes at work in lieu of other snacks. I am not sure how my colleagues feel about this, as the munching in my corner of our modern ‘open concept’ office is quite noisy. But I’ve dropped some pounds, and so as long as I can tolerate this kind of snacking I shall continue to disturb the peace.
At home, I’ve enjoyed venturing bravely into the realm of fiction writing. I’ve had positive feedback on my new Morning Miniatures from lots of readers and other writers. Really, this is simply a little exercise to get my brain working in the early morning, and to flex the creative muscle a bit with a simple piece of descriptive writing—whether it goes anywhere beyond an exercise, time will tell. And some mornings, gentle reader, I need the sleep.
Also last week, this book I ordered finally arrived at our local bookseller, and made my day: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. All I can say is, the writers whose work I edit every day will be hearing so much more from me about this brilliant little tome. And I hope like heck one day I can meet Benjamin Dreyer, because anybody who begins the first chapter in his book about writing with a list of words to avoid—and includes ‘very’ (thank you, Mr. Dreyer! I feel vindicated now)—is a kindred spirit.
It is still winter. We have snow in the forecast tonight, I have a staff meeting tomorrow morning, and life in Vermont goes on. However longer we must suffer through this (rest assured I am not the only one: most Vermonters get pretty dang grouchy along about March), here is a truth even winter can’t deny: the northern hemisphere is shifting back towards the sun and the days are growing longer. So soon, winter, in spite of the misery you must insinuate upon this landscape now, and with however much tenacity, you must and you shall yield to spring. Until then, we have pellet logs to warm us, lots of soup and crackers, and fresh cut flowers and iced tea to evoke sunny days ahead.