The glue here is Bourdain

Morgan – where & when?

My older son worked in restaurants while in school, during the summer, and when out of work. In fact my younger son worked in restaurants — how could I forget? I’m pretty sure both Sarah and Sam, their wives, did also.  Morgan at the old wonderful Woodshed in Moultonborough, Egg in Brooklyn, even Chili’s in Nashua, someplace on Martha’s Vineyard, at a few ski resorts, and Alex at Court Street Grocers again in Brooklyn, both of them at our Olde Orchard Inn. They washed dishes, cleaned the stove, threw pizzas, shucked oysters; worked the line and the register; expedited, managed, served, and played various roles at our bed and breakfast.

513wxtu2q4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_They told stories of course, but nothing like those of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, which came out in 2000. I read it, learned from it, cringed at parts of it.  It was a peak into what went on in kitchens and what happened after the kitchens closed. It was a frenetic read, but thankfully it was neither of my son’s lives.

I never forgot the book, in fact thought of it often, but never followed Bourdain nor watched his series. Now Journeyman, the article in a recent New Yorker has Bourdain calling to me again and hopefully I’ll catch up.  He is not, yet he is, the same man whose book I read.

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi - $6

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi – $6

Why my inerest? His life, his work, his experiences are legend.  He’s been everywhere, eaten everything, gets to film it, write about it.  President Obama had lunch with him on one of his adventures.  So cool.  Would I like to go on  one of those adventures?  Not so sure I could do it.  I once invited myself to lunch with Norman Mailer and then could barely say a word.

All through the  New Yorker article I found snippets that made me think of my children, quotes to send them or not send them. I usually have to think it through — how often to email, call or text. How often to intrude into their already full adult lives.  These are important decisions for a mom who is so proud of and so loves her sons and their wives but doesn’t want to be over-momming it.

Instead I’ll write them here.  Perhaps they will read them some day.

For Morgan, who has done research on New York City’s food carts, and who with his wife Sarah works at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, this quote from Bourdain describing his proposed Pier 57 “market modelled on Singapore’s hawker centers or open-air food courts.”  Bourdain plans to bring in the “best street-food vendors” recruited “from around the world and awarded visas — assuming that the United States is still issuing them — ”

Singapore’s orderly hawker markets combine the delights of roadside
gastronomy with an approach to public-health regulation that could pass

muster in post-Bloomberg New York. They cracked the code with out
losing this amazing culture.

For  Sam, who writes for Food 52, and Alex who is a frequent commenter, this clip on Bourdain confessing that he now seeks to “capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict” while filming Parts Unknown — ”

160912113331-parts-unknown-s8-card-large-169

As ‘Parts Unknown’ has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and
more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of places Bourdain visits. . .
To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history.  He points out that most shows about food are premised on a level of abundance that is unfamiliar in many parts of the world.

Go Sam!  We all knew you were right to bring politics onto the website!

I’ve got a good one for my buddy Lee, who’s a firm believer in “if it doesn’t kill you it will make you strong” as he judges the edibility of some morsel that I question.  It’s a conversation of Bourdain’s with Stephen Werther, his partner in his new market project, and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, the design firm which has agreed to work on the Market.  They are talking about those Asian food vendors again. “The new frontier for American tastes is fermentation. . . That’s funk. . . Aged steaks. . . Age is code for rot. .  . Cured.”

“Alcohol is the by-product of yeast,” Stephen Alesch chimed in.  It’s the
piss of yeast.”

“Basically , what we’re saying is that filth is good,” Bourdain concluded.

And I found one for me. Bourdain’s publisher Dan Halpern from Ecco and HarperCollins says of Bourdain —

“He can’t believe his luck. He always seems happy that he actually is Anthony Bourdain.”

I am so lucky too!

* * * * * * * * * *

Last night, after putting this post to bed for a quick review in the morning before publishing, the thought came to me that there was still more to do. Netflix streams Parts Unknown.  I watched the first episode, filmed in 2013, in Myanmar.   Bourdain presents an interesting, colorful travelogue, integrating the life of the people with the food of the country.   His dining companions spoke out loud, but guardedly, of their new freedoms. The story is out of date because the papers today are filled with atrocities against the Rohingya, and I was left wondering what his experience would be if he went back.   Bourdain seemed surprisingly uncomfortable in front of the camera.   I will watch more.

Advertisements

Love in the Cookie Jar

Back in those crazy years after my husband died and I began dating again, a fellow who intrigued me asked me to bake him cookies in exchange for his affection. He followed a quasi gluten free diet. I bought Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America.  Author Richard Coppedge had formulated four specialized flours that could be blended for breads, cakes, cookies, bagels, pancakes, everything to keep a lover happy.  It was intense, scientific, and required visiting several natural food stores for ingredients. This was 2008, before gluten free baking flours and such were readily available.  I am just a casual baker, and after several attempts at success, was not willing to put in the effort to get it right.

Love in the Cookie JarIn the end the fellow wasn’t worth the effort either, but at this point I was hopelessly smitten. Momma’s Favorite Monster Cookie was perfect. I found it on the internet.  It was simple, forgiving, nutritious, and the recipe produced 48 delicious cookies.

He loved them. They surpassed anything found anywhere, and they still are hard to beat. He encouraged me to market them.

Well he’s gone but the cookie is still a favorite.

Lots of friends and family, one with gluten issues, visited these past few weeks.  I made a double batch, froze them – which they do so well — and served them continually.  Several cookie lovers asked for the recipe.

I went online to send them the link. The url no longer existed. Fourteen million, six hundred thousand results popped up binging “Monster Cookie.” Ah yes, a lot of them were Cookie Monster hits. Forgot about him.

There were countless versions of this oatmeal, peanut butter cookie:  Grandmother  versions, Jewish versions, Amish versions, Nestlé’s version, Pillsbury’s version, Paula Deen’s version which has 447 comments by the way; a modified version for autistic children which uses corn syrup instead of butter or margarine, fully illustrated presentations, utube demonstrations, and some which added flour.   One site honored it as a “modern classic.” And then there was that entirely different blue genre mentioned above.

What is my point?

I’m not sure.

But many caring women, and hopefully some just as caring men have featured this recipe on their blogs or have commented on it suggesting variations, asking for more details, or simply praising it.  And surely, an even greater number of women who have discovered and baked and loved this cookie have their own story they will tell when they share this treat.

Momma Kate’s recipe was originally at recipezaar.com and is now available on food.com.

One of the most recent comments on Paula Deen’s site is “. . .They did not turn out. They were yucky cookie balls. Such a bummer.”

My suggestion to the writer is that she try again.  Practice makes perfect, and mine get better and better every time.

Just like picking fellows.

Stephen, Lee Rubinstein, Jo Hills, Mary Jo @ Beekman Arms (Rhinebeck, NY)

 

Chinatown Update

No trip to NYC is complete without our last minute shopping spree.  My birthday celebration in the city was no different.  We ventured out from our Mott Street apartment into the daytime bustle of Chinatown.

Pig headsI worry about the endurance of this neighborhood.  Just today I read in the Times “that New York needs to be lofted back into global competitiveness. That the city isn’t modern enough.”  And that the Department of City Planning is “envisioning a taller, denser, shinier future for the neighborhood around Grand Central.”  How soon before the entire city is one tall, dense, shiny complex dotted with gentrified neighborhoods for the super-wealthy and not so-super wealthy?

At least not yet.

We scurry from one stall to another buying baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, mangoes, cherries, pomelo and whatever else we see that looks good.  The cost is always considerably less than what one would find locally.   But the biggest incentive to shop is that it is so much fun to be part of the activity on the streets.  Lee is a pro and his interactions with the vendors are swift and smooth.  He can’t speak the language but he’s got the brusqueness down pat.

We bring home more produce than we think we could ever eat but always seem to consume it all in one stir-fry and soup after another.

Then we pop into the markets for all kinds of noodles, sesame oil, sauces, and black beans.  Lee has his favorites.

2013-04-22 13.01.39

We go to Kam Man on Canal Street when we need more tea blossoms, a teapot, or other kitchenware.  I’m more at home there.  The store has American structure with check out lines and cash registers, and now New Kam Man has a web presence, but we still pay in cash, which is the norm in Chinatown.  Hank C, the “Perpetually Hungry,” on Yelp says he see more tourists in Kam Man than locals, and that could be. The store is  doing something right, at least for me and the other tourists. Hank recommends the Hong Kong Supermarket and other shops on Elizabeth Street and perhaps we’ll give them a look-see when we are down again next week.

Yee Li

Our last stop was Yee Li for lunch and to stock up on meals to bring back home.  We were delighted to see that our favorite restaurant is freshly painted and has earned its “A.”  The ambiance is still the same however.  We were tickled to see two men carry a large glass canister to one of the tables.  They dumped out a big pile of cash and started to count the bills.  No pretense here.  No fear either.  The waiter smiled when we took our photo.

We learned from Lee’s Chinese family that this was the tip jar.  And of course since they grew up working hard in their family’s restaurant they added, for their enjoyment and ours, a few stories of their childhood in the business.

The future is what it is all about, but when life seems meaningless and we feel lost, these small vibrant connections to our past can help us remember the way home.

Musings on Mom and Shredded Wheat

This evening I bought three boxes of bite size Post Shredded Whole Wheat and two curtain rods in Walmart and I feel sullied.

*

It was on my way home from visiting my mom in her assisted living in New Jersey – a two-hour trip one-way.  She was at the table napping in front of a magazine when I arrived, but one of the caretakers who likes to make me feel that my trip hasn’t been in vain, badgered her (but in a gentle way) until she lifted her head from her chin, opened her eyes, and together they sang a few bars of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean and Cielto Lindo in Spanish.  My mom never knew Cielto Lindo or any Spanish when she was who she was.  I find it interesting that she has learned something new.  She said hi to me and gave me a smile, and went back to sleep.  

Mom and Me at the BeachWhen my mom isn’t too deep into her own thoughts or too sleepy, she recognizes me and that makes me feel good, but I would have been okay going home without connecting with her.  She’s 96 and she is tired.  I have no idea what goes on in her mind.  She has started to mumble when she is half-asleep.  She might mention her oldest grandchild by name, or my father, but there is usually no context to her mumblings, and I miss most of the words if they are words.

Often when I visit the house is full of chatter. Her housemates talk to themselves, one speaks on an imaginary phone she holds to her ear, some talk to baby dolls.   They are important conversations but only one-sided.  They have their own languages and sometimes they talk to me, expecting an answer.  I comprehend nothing except their desire to communicate.  I try to respond but feel very inadequate.  There is one man with the most beautiful smile and brightest eyes who speaks bubbly words of nothingness.  What was he like when he was whole, and what makes him so happy now?

Why should my mom wake up to smile at me?   I lowered my expectations a long time ago.  My visits are opportunities for me to see how she is, which means is her color good, has she slipped further into her illness, is she in pain, is she miserable, does she look comfortable and peaceful, does she need anything, and we hold hands.  If we talk, it is for a few minutes and then she drifts off.

When I left, I was already in my “why?” state of mind. 

*

My plan was to stop at the bank and Lowe’s and to pick up cereal.  Lowe’s had the paint but not the curtain rods. I don’t usually shop at Walmart.  It’s too big, too much a bully, too destructive, but it was on my way out of the big box complex, and it would have everything I still needed.  Just one stop on the way home instead of two stops in the other direction was a good idea.

The parking lot was very crowded.  I cringed looking for a space and once again entering the store.  Memories of my husband who would come home from errands excited by the tattooed ladies in the Walmart in Plymouth, New Hampshire made me smile.  I stood on tiptoes and stretched to reach the three boxes of shredded wheat that were on the top shelf — so far back and high that I had to coax the last two forward by knocking them down with the first.  Obviously PSWW is not a big seller.  The price was nice, but it made me even more uncomfortable with my lack of resolve.  It is so easy to slip into abetting the enemy.

PSWW is the only “just cereal” that I have found, even on health food shelves.  It has nothing added – no sugar, no honey, no nuts, salt, dried fruit, cinnamon, additives. The back of the box proudly shouts out that Post shredded wheat has “an ingredient list that is so good, we have nothing to hide.”  Why does this statement madden me instead of making me happy? I’ve  researched it and it seems to be true.  It’s not organic, but I want a “NO GMO INGREDIENTS” label, and no BHT, and more choices.

My body was quickly moving to rant mode, and eventually my thoughts caught up and settled on frankenfish; over-processed flour; chemical-laden apples ripening in boxcars; aspartame in milk; misuse of antibiotics; chicken breasts with no bodies, heads or feet lined up on shelves in a dark warehouse, hooked up to feeding tubes.  I just don’t understand an agricultural-industrial complex that arrogantly tries to convince consumers they have no right to know what they are putting into their bodies.  Individuals run agribusiness.  Their families eat food, drink water, and breathe air.  How can they  greedily produce foods that negatively effect their children’s bodies and their children’s environment?  How do they and the politicians who support them twist the reality which is that they are destroying the agricultural diversity and sustainability of our planet and the integrity of our food supply into the fantasy that they are graciously feeding the world?

My son, the one who works with food and public health, and I talk a lot about the world’s food supply.  He has convinced me that a new round of make-millions-while-crippling-life-as-we-know-it will belong to the medical-industrial complex.  They will discover ways to alter our bodies so that we can adapt to our unnatural diets, and of course we will pay with our health and our money to fix their “mistakes.”  Maybe we already are on this path; there certainly are enough pills and medical procedures that help us cope with our debilitated digestive systems and allergies and ballooning numbers of ill. 

One neighbor always tells me that we have choices.  We can shop at natural food stores, grow our own vegetables, buy at local farms, prepare from scratch. These choices are still very limited and they take research and energy, commitment and time.  They are luxuries not available to those who are struggling.  They are not concerns of the hungry.

There is more to life than shopping for food.  

____________________________________________________________________

Something new to think about:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-30/genetically-modified-wheat-isnt-supposed-to-exist-dot-so-what-is-it-doing-in-oregon

You can’t have too many extra virgins

Lee moved into his new man cave in January.  His old cave, which was his studio/office/storage facility/private space while we planned and built the addition on my, now our home, was in our friends’ house around the corner. He moved there in October 2011 so that we didn’t have to go across the river and through the woods to be with each other anymore.

One of Lee's cabinets filled with spices and sauces

One of Lee’s cabinets filled with spices and sauces

When I met Lee three years ago he was in the middle of moving  from his home for over twenty years.  His wife Caroline had died and his son had established his own life.   He no longer wanted to be in a rambling empty house and he had recently  renovated a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian on a quiet but main street, in walking distance to all one could need — almost.    One gathers lots of stuff in 60 plus years, and a lot of memories.  He had filled his apartment with pottery and art and cool hand made things that he and his wife and son had created or bartered for.  It was a very personal and comfortable space.  We became the old couple who walked their big dogs through town.

Soon he made his second move, to his man cave around the corner.  He minimized again, tossing some more, and moving large items into the barn he had built as the pottery studio at his old home.

*

Like Lee I’ve minimized several times. Even so, my home is still filled with furniture, dinnerware, blankets, and more that belonged to my parents and grandparents.  I lived on the same street as my mother’s family, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins my own age who were playmates always near. We all spent summers together in a big house at the shore. Last year I broke the flowered pitcher that used to sit on my grandmother’s coffee table and I cried.  I know the story behind every item that came from my family, or at least I once did.

Since my husband Clark was an only child, when his mother died, a moving van brought all of the contents of his parents’ house to our door.  I still have much of it, and value it as a tangible connection for my sons to their father.

My sons Morgan and Alex saw my family and Clark’s family most likely two or three times a year, and once Clark’s folks moved to Florida, and the boys got involved in school and their own friends, perhaps once a year.   We got together with grandparents for holidays and birthdays when they boys were young and the adults were healthy, and gatherings were always warm and fun.  It was a different kind of family experience than mine.

I wear a wedding band from Clark’s family.  I think it belonged to his grandmother – but which one?  Morgan and Alex  don’t know that my mom’s mother embroidered the raggy pillowcases in my linen closet when she was sick with cancer.  They don’t know which dinner set belonged to my mom and which to Clark’s, or that the little scissors in the cup on my desk was the one my father kept in the middle drawer of his dresser, the only scissors in our house we could always find.  They will recognize none of the people in the old photographs in the boxes of albums I have in the closet.   I know so few in the boxes from Clark’s family.  Sometimes my boys tell me stories that I passed on to them about people and things, and I look at them in wonderment.  Did I tell them that?   Is the story true?

*

Now that Lee has moved for a third time, into his new space on the first floor of the tower addition, he has picked through all he owns in the world after 66 years one more time.  I IMG_0721don’t think he is as sentimental as I.  Perhaps he is, but when thinking about it he is definitely more practical and efficient.  He gets through it.  I move on, but am never done.

His new space is a bit crowded and disorganized, and there are lots of unopened boxes and stuff piled under the staircase, but it looks great, is comfortable and cozy, and he’s enjoying it a lot.  It will most likely stay that way until we’ve moved into the upper floors and all of our possessions mingle and spread evenly through the entire house.  Then we’ll put pictures on the walls and sculpture on the shelves.

We did however integrate most of our kitchens. We’ve gone through the pots and pans and the dishes and glasses and mugs and mostly decided what to keep in the kitchen, what to store, and what to toss, although I haven’t yet made the plunge and tossed it.

The other evening we went through the spices and sauces.  After combining jars and containers and throwing away items that had date stamps all the way back to 1998, we found we had:

IMG_0724Four

  • bottles of apple cider vinegar, as well as rice and balsamic
  • canisters of sea salt, but no kosher or iodized
  • jars of molasses

Three

  • extra virgin olive oils
  • black bean sauces
  • vanilla extracts
  • baking powders

Two

  • crushed red peppers
  • Lea and Perrins
  • IMG_0719oyster sauces
  • Hoisin sauces
  • oreganos
  • whole cloves
  • herbs de province
  • basils
  • sesame seeds
  • mustards
  • cumin
  • black pepper
  • black beans
  • sesame oils

We had singles of lots of common and uncommon treats, the most interesting of which are:

  • Big O’s $787,000,000,000 Stimulus Sauce (contains no pork)
  • Kotterin Mirin – did you know you only have to walk 11 minutes to burn off the 40 calories per serving of this sweet cooking seasoning?  It is for glazes and sukiyaki.  It has only 15 mg of sodium per tablespoon serving, but corn syrup is the first ingredient on the list.    Funny thing – I just tried opening it see what it smelled like.  It is still sealed.  I didn’t open it.  Maybe it’s a toss.

IMG_0716

  • Tiger Lily Buds – which he never has used, but how can one throw out something with such a sweet name.  It may have to go though because I’ve looked at them on line and they are a different color than ours.  Ours may be from Caroline’s mother’s kitchen which would make them at least twenty years old.  Would Lee’s son want shriveled up flower buds from his grandmother’s kitchen, when he can just walk into a shop in Chinatown and buy them fresh?
  • My favorite of all – Red Boat Fish Sauce.  It is 100% First Press Extra Virgin ca cam (black anchovy) and sea salt.

Not wanting to take any responsibility or show any interest in what he considered a no-brainer project, Lee left the decisions of what to keep and what to throw away to me.  We now have three cabinets full of sauces and spices as well as those in the refrigerator.

The only thing he did say as he flew out of the kitchen to hide in his man cave was “You can’t have two many extra virgins.”

Christmas 2012

One night mid-December dinner was meatballs and spaghetti a la Otto’s. My noodle man Lee had been looking for meatballs to satisfy my craving at our favorite grocers. I can’t remember where the craving came from.  We have been watching a lot of Fellini.  Does Marcello’s father eat spaghetti and meatballs in La Dolce Vita?  Lee’s noodles are so good that I often tell him he should open Lo Fan’s Noodle House and finally bring a great Chinese restaurant to the Hudson Valley.  But “meatballs and spaghetti” is not really his thing.  He was also a little turned off because he had just read an article on the unsanitary – disgusting is a better word — conditions surrounding our meatballs on their way to the grocer’s meat counter – any grocer’s meat counter, not Otto’s in particular.  We still ate the meatballs but he has given up his search for tasty ones.  Maybe the craving will come back and I’ll start trying to concoct that meatball of my dreams.

My office is so crammed with stuff we piled into it because of the construction going on at our house, that I moved gift wrapping downstairs to the living room.  After dinner I picked up where I had left off the evening before.

Lee was at the piano and he sounded good.  He was playing Maria – and I realized he had discovered how to separate his two hands and play a single note in the right and accompaniment in the left – something he has been trying to accomplish for a while.  Lee is a self-taught piano player – he needs to reinvent piano theory on his own in order to understand it.  It takes time, but he does it.  While at first it frustrated me, I now admire him for his persistence and success.

The boys and I were celebrating Christmas/Chanukah on the ninth night of Chanukah.  The date is never as important to us as is the occasion.

But it was Christmas that was on my mind as I wrapped presents.  Our Ch/Ch (pronounced chichi) gathering, was also the negative tenth day of Christmas.  Usually wrapping presents brings on conflict of a sort.  I enjoy wrapping presents, although, as my father used to say, not too much: it goes on too long, or there’s not enough scotch tape, or I worry if I’ve overdone, favored one son, or . . .

This year though something was different.  I was having fun wrapping; there was a little scenario unfolding.   I always use posters saved from our children’s bookstore for wrapping paper.  It is getting harder and hard to cut up these posters as I am getting further and further into the collection and pretty soon only my very, very favorites and the signed ones will be left.  I selected the posters so that each package had a full picture on the front – that was something new.

IMG_0704The leftover gift-wrap paper from the store which reads “the most important twenty minutes of your day” is always my choice for wrapping books.   We read together every morning from when my children were babies until they went to school, and then every evening before going to bed.  This year I actually stretched and chose books and other gifts for them on my own, not from their wish list.  This made me feel good about myself as I must be feeling more confident.  I think they liked them, although they are much too kind to their mother to ever say “What were you ever thinking, mom?”  They always choose books for me in return.

I used red rosin paper left over from laying the floors in the addition.  The paper folds so beautifully.  It was a delight to work with, so my pleasure was not only emotional and intellectual, it was also physical

IMG_0701All the gifts to girls had angel tags, and all those to the boys had stars. (Oh my goodness.  Did I really say girls and boys and not women and men?!)   The tags were also left over from the “Giving Tree” that we used to have in the store.  In the past I chose my tags according to color, or if the presents were from Santa, or Mrs. Claus (she always gave the clothes — a tradition carried on from Nanny), or from Mom and Dad, or just one of us, or by how many words I could fit on them, or – you really don’t want to hear any more.  But I’d love to tell you the story about the snowman bags.

I had already been wrapping presents for three nights.  No rushing, everything was well paced.

Being at ease in the living room was a new sensation.  The room had never worked for me.  At Thanksgiving Morgan and I repositioned some of the furniture and that helped. The fireplace always smelled, and above the fireplace is an empty cabinet built for a large flat-screen TV.  That’s another story, which I will spare you, at least for now.  It’s no matter because once television became hi-tech and the news became gossip, TV failed to interest me any more.  And TV is something I always watched in bed, not with guests in the living room.

The fireplace is gas and an ugly one at that.  It was necessary to turn the gas and the fans on full blast to avoid the stench, which meant that it was only on during power outages.  The man where we bought our little gas stove for the tower suggested I take the whole fireplace apart and clean it well.  That helped too.  He also wanted me to remove the firebox completely and get the dust out from behind, but enough is enough.

The living room is starting to be a good space.

IMG_0695Our Ch/Ch gathering was very warm and we didn’t leave until much too late.  Alex and Morgan’s new girlfriends were there and I hoped we did not overwhelm them, or even worse, frighten them away.  When Morgan wrote and told me that he thought “the Ch/Ch that Alex and Sam hosted was wonderful,” I decided we had all done good.

Lee and I went out to a romantic early dinner at Ship to Shore in Kingston two nights before Christmas.  When the food is good (it doesn’t have to even be great) and I can use my fingers to eat, the restaurant is quiet, it has a bit of elegance without pomp, the waiters are polished, personal and yet keep their distance, and we are happy, I consider the dinner romantic.  The waiter asked us if we were all done with our Christmas shopping.  (Perhaps we looked as relaxed as we were.)  There are gifts that the elves didn’t finish on time and there are two in the freezer that I forgot when loading up our sleigh to Brooklyn.  But we were not only done with our shopping, we were done with Christmas and all I had were happy memories.

Perhaps I had none of my usual Christmas angst because there are now so many people speaking out:  we are not a Christian country; there should be real separation between church and state; God does not belong in school, on the dollar bill, or in party platforms.  It was such a breath of fresh air to learn that the Democrats left God out, and such a disappointment to see God put in.  There is even a growing movement ridiculing the so-called War On Christmas.

Last night, Christmas Eve, I worried a little.  Were Morgan and Alex enjoying Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  Did they and I over-react to my last year’s rant by hardly mentioning the word?  I hope they are enjoying themselves with friends and that we can look forward to many more Merry Christmases together in the future.

So let me tell you about my tower #1: Background

“Squirrel Bread,” is a dense, very nutty raisin apple bread of mine named for the little furry characters of Brian Jacques’ Redwall.  I read the Redwall books to my sons for many years, and always wished to be invited to one of the banquets prepared from chestnuts, honey, berries, apples, and crunchy, healthy squirrel treats.  It was a quick, easy jump from fantasizing cooking in a squirrel kitchen to fantasizing living in a squirrel house.

a dream book for designers of squirrel homes

When Lee and I decided we were tired of traveling 45 minutes, crossing over the psychological barrier of a river to spend our nights together, finding a squirrel house for our new combined life became a real possibility.  How nice to weed one garden, stock one refrigerator and always have what you wanted with you.

We felt strongly about both of our homes, which was probably why we put up with commuting for so long.  We had a country and a town house. Mine was referred to as a small gem:  brick walls, a picturesque hamlet location, a panoramic view of and access to the Hudson, lots of character and charm, very peaceful except for the New York/Albany train running past.

Rosendale Library

Lee’s apartment was in Rosendale, where, they say, people from Brooklyn move when Brooklyn gets to be too much or too expensive.  He lived on the main street, with shops, restaurants (my favorite is Bywater Bistro where we ate our first dinner together), the theater, the Alternative Bakery, Jane’s ice cream at The Big Cheese, the delightfully squirrelly library, and the post office all just a walk away.  His first floor apartment had five French doors opening onto a  large pleasant porch, and he had landscaped front and back.   Rondout Creek was across the street where our dogs could run free and swim.

Both of our homes were too small for both of us.  Mine had been completely gutted by the previous owners and reconceived as their weekend home. It made an excellent one-person cottage.  Lee’s was an apartment he had originally renovated as a rental.  We both had already minimized.  We each needed our own space, which was another reason having two houses was so nice.

We looked for other houses available on the market.  Perhaps we could find one that would fill some of the good things about the two of ours together.  We actually found a nice larger home on a lake at a near reasonable price, and it made us realize that we didn’t want to give up the Hudson River or the lively street.  Deep inside we probably knew the cottage on the river would finally win, and we finally started to play with the idea of an addition.

Lee and I work in different ways and speak in our own shorthands.  So to be as clear as possible to both of us, I wrote up a dream list and sent it off to him on March 13, 2011.

Approximate footprint:  14 X 24  (336 sq. ft.)

Concept:

  • Adding square footage to make room for two
  •               Separate space to provide privacy for us when kids visit 
  • A space to give us each privacy from each other
  • Keeping the character of the original house intact
  • Complimenting the original house
  • Providing an outdoor space with a view that is sheltered from the intense summer evening sun, and the strong winds

Design:

  • Large open first floor
  • Loft second floor
  • Main bridge connecting two second floors bumping out the old house ceiling
  • Main entrance stays where it is with a covered walkway connecting houses???
  • Shed roof sloping towards the road?
  • Rectangle tilted slightly towards south to get the best mountain views
  • Simple but special

First Floor:

  • Large but not ridiculously large laundry room with roughed in full bath
  • Fireplace
  • Multifunctional – piano, office, studio, master bedroom if ever needed for us
  • Closets and storage space

Second Floor

  • Master bedroom
  • Master bath?  Or use bath in original house and make full bath on first floor
  • Protected deck with view of  water – perhaps to the north?  — accessible from master bedroom

Entrance

  • Hidden from road
  • See through to the field
  • Places for flower beds
  • Door to new house
  • Mud room

Sometime later I added that I wanted the bathroom to look out over the field to the north of the house.  In the cottage the bathroom mirror reflects the Hudson and the Catskills and it is a wonderful way to brush one’s teeth.

Look good?  It looked great to us.