Friday, October 30, 2009



I'm making time today to get this into the queue so I won't forget to tell you about it. It's a real winner that I had tucked away for a good 25 years before I ever even tried it, just last week. (One more reminder that it pays to go off the beaten path and try something "new." Obviously, since I had gone to the trouble of collecting the recipe in the first place, I must have thought it had possibilities. I just never got around to making it.)

Once I decided to post the recipe, I had to figure out a good name for it. I collected it as "Rindfleisch und Schweinenfleish-Gulasch" but that seemed pompous, and besides, "Rindfleisch" is beef, and I left the beef out. I thought about "Hungarian-Style Pork Stew," but "goulash" is a word everybody knows (and it was part of the original name), so that's what I settled on.

Goulash is usually served over buttered egg noodles, but I put it on mashed potatoes and it was scrumptious. Do whatever you want!

2 lbs. pork shoulder, cut into cubes for stew
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Hungarian paprika (smoked, if you can find it)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 15-oz. can mushrooms stems and pieces, undrained
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 thyme sprigs, tied in a bundle
salt and pepper
10 oz. frozen peas
1 cup sour cream (can be low-fat but not nonfat)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat oil in a dutch oven until shimmering. Add pork in batches so it is not crowded, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and brown thoroughly on all sides. Set meat aside as it is browned. Add third tablespoon of oil to same dutch oven, then add onions and carrots and stir until they begin to deglaze the pan and turn brown. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant.

Sprinkle paprika over onions and carrots and stir to coat vegetables, then sprinkle flour over all and stir to combine. Add the broth, the wine, the mushrooms with their liquid and the Worcestershire and cook, scraping bottom of pan to completely deglaze, until sauce begins to simmer and thicken. Stir in thyme bundle, along with reserved pork and any accumulated juices. Cover pan tightly (using foil between lid and pan if necessary) and bake in oven for 2 hours or until pork is fork tender.

Remove goulash from oven and set on rack. Remove remains of thyme bundle. Stir in peas, cover, and allow them to cook in the hot sauce for 10 minutes. Just before serving, stir in sour cream and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle parsley evenly over all and serve over mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In which I discover life outside The Project

This backyard visitor may be the most exciting thing that happens today. There's still hope, since it's only 8:30 in the morning, but rainy days like this one cause life as we currently know it to screech to a halt.

I think I've either created a false impression that we are constantly busy with The Project, or maybe it's a kind of vicarious fantasy life that my reading friends have conjured for us because of the things I usually write about these days, but allow me to set the record straight: we have no life whatsoever outside The Project as long as it remains a "project" instead of a home. We are in limbo, in purgatory, in-between, and a rainy day like this one makes that abundantly clear. Even after a rain, when the sun is back out and the weather is dry, we still can't do much because where we "do" things is on a construction site where there is only dirt. Dirt becomes ankle-sucking mud after a rain. There is nothing. to. do. I suppose that should make me happy because it gives me a chance to write here, but look: all I'm doing is complaining!

But even as I write those words, I am reminded that we actually are getting a few other things accomplished during these waiting days--things that we had almost given up hope of ever doing. For one, we're having my chair re-upholstered. The current upholstery is showing its 25 years of daily use; the chair needs a face-lift to feel comfortable with whatever sectional sofa we eventually buy for the new great room. Our Deep Creek neighbors came through once again for us, this time with the name of a favorite upholsterer up in Elizabeth City, and we took a picture of ther chair to her last week. We're waiting for an estimate.

Another long-put-off project was the repair of our three antique clocks. Over the years in Virginia they had all stopped working, and because of prices there we despaired of their ever again being more than beautiful but non-functional conversation pieces. (The repair of just the clock pictured in the linked post would have been $300.) Once we got here and started haunting antique stores, we asked the proprietors if they knew of anyone who repaired antique clocks, and always came up empty. So in a spare moment I simply googled "antique clock repair" in eastern North Carolina, and came up with two local shops, one, again in Elizabeth City, and the other on the Outer Banks. I called the E. City guy and he came all the way down here to look at the clocks and give us his estimate. He fixed all three clocks, the one pictured, a companion to that one, and an Emporer grandfather clock, for less than the price of the one clock in Virginia. Repairing the grandfather clock had special meaning because my father had made it from a kit, his first retirement project, back in the 70s. So now we have three lovely clocks ticking away here, keeping (more or less) accurate time. We already know where they will go in the new house.

It's now an hour later than it was when I started here, and guess what? There is something happening today more exciting than the goat visit. We got the estimate on the chair. We're off to Elizabeth City!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life's a beech

Among the scores of trees on our 2 1/2 acres was a magnificent and ancient beech. It stood at least 50 feet tall and had a circumference at the base of over 6 feet. It stood within touching distance of our spanking new garden shed and, alas, it was rotten at its roots. Huge holes had been dug into it by everything from microbes to insects to, no doubt, snakes. With regret, we had to face the fact that it must come down.

Dwight was the man for the job. He was the foreman on the framing crew, the man who directed all the very intricate carpentry that made all those peaks and valleys on our roof a reality. He's a master carpenter and also a nice guy who's always hustling a few extra bucks. That's what we paid him to cut the tree down--it was on the ground, cut into immense, even logs, when we returned from our Nags Head vacation in September.

It goes without saying that the eventual destination for this wood bonanza is our fireplace. To get it ready for service, the next step for us was to split the logs into hearth-size pieces, and Dwight said we could borrow his gas-powered hydraulic log-splitter to do the job. We still had to finish building the shed and then siding it, so the task had to wait a few weeks. And in those few weeks Dwight, that sterling character of a master carpenter, made like a contractor and disappeared. "Oh, yes," he said, when we called him to confirm he would still lend us the splitter. But he never showed up on the appointed day, and he stopped returning our calls. He'd gotten his money and had no sentimental need to continue the relationship.

So there we were with many many beech logs to split and nothing to split them with. We looked at renting a splitter and were prepared to do that, even at $69 a day, because we thought we had no choice. Then our Deep Creek Shores neighbors stepped into the breach. One of them stopped by for a chat and in the course of the conversation he mentioned that another neighbor had a splitter we could probably borrow. Relieved, we called that neighbor to talk log splitters. He said we were welcome to his, but it hadn't worked in months and he'd trashed it. He'd ordered a new one, but it wouldn't be delivered for weeks.

Back to the rental idea. Since these splitters are big machines that have to be towed, and none of our vehicles has a trailer hitch, our plan was to borrow the truck and trailer from the same guy (yet another neighbor) from whom we had borrowed them to clear brush. But he had major qualms about letting us drive the rig all the way to the rental place in Elizabeth City. Insurance concerns. He was very apologetic and it was clear he felt bad about leaving us in the lerch, but we understood, probably would feel the same way if we'd been the lenders. We went back to square one with our plans, preparing to actually rent a trailer to pull the splitter down from E. City, when the truck-and-trailer neighbor called us to say he remembered yet another neighbor who had a splitter! That was the middle of last week. We called neighbor number 4, and we got the response with which we were becoming depressingly familiar: we were welcome to borrow his splitter, but it wasn't running at the moment. The difference this time, however, is that this guy is a whiz-bang mechanic who can make anything with a carburetor run. He said he'd be able to fix the splitter over the coming weekend (this previous one), and we'd be able use it for as long as we needed it after that. Since it rained all last week anyway, no untoward time was lost. We found other things to do on the property while it rained.

Finally, last Sunday, Mr. Mechanic delivered the splitter. A noisy monster that applies 14 tons of hydraulic pressure to split the biggest log we'll ever see (and that's not even the biggest, which comes in at 20 tons), it will be our boon companion all week. It took us a mere two days to reduce the mighty beech tree to the stacks of wood you see in the photo above. That is about 132 cubic feet of wood, slightly more than a cord. It will last us several lifetimes. And we aren't even finished. Tomorrow we'll tackle this pile, which was saved from the original land clearing. It's oak and cypress, and there's at least another cord there.

Need some firewood?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An update

Accuweather and NOAA are unanimous in stating that at this time, clouds are supposed to be gathering for a coolish, rainy Saturday in these parts, but you couldn't prove it by the clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and delicious, cool breezes we are enjoying as I write. This would be a perfect day for the beach, but it would be our luck to get there just as the rain started--for it's bound to start. It's just a little late. Last night was incredibly beautiful. We sat on the deck and looked at the sky, so clear that the Milky Way was literally just that: a cloud of light so dense that the stars in their indistinguishable billions looked like nothing so much as milk spilt across the sky.

The clearing work is done! That's Steve up there in the picture, standing on top of the last load we took to the dump yesterday. (There is actually still quite a bit of clearing to be done on the waterfront, but we can't get to that until mid-winter, when the water recedes and we can walk on the shore. We're so good at this particular job by now we ought to have the beach done in a matter of a few days, and then, North Carolina being a state that allows such things as long as we get a permit, we will burn it. So we can truly say our huge yard-waste dump runs are over!)

I just wrote an email to a friend with an update and realized everybody else may be hungry for the news, as well, so I thought I would share the interesting parts:

The house is coming along, mostly on the inside, so there hasn't been much in the way of photos to share. The HVAC rough-in is done, plumbing is about 3/4 done, and wires for electricity are being pulled now. It's at times like this that we are so glad to be here to watch the process closely. We can talk to the guys on a regular basis, establish relationships with them, learn a lot (especially good for Steve, who has the technical basis to build on) and catch errors, sometimes of judgement but mostly of omission on our part. We forgot a few things when designing the kitchen, for instance: a place for trash, and dedicated lights over the sink and over the cooktop. We've been able to add those things on the spot by talking to the right people. And then Gary, our otherwise sainted builder, took it upon himself to assume that the deck along the back of the house would be a step down from the house, instead of mounted flush with the interior floor. That to us was a series of accidents waiting to happen, with people having to negotiate a step as they went outside, lawsuits in the making. Plus, the big deck off the kitchen will be a dining area. Can't you see someone (me, of course) armloads of food or dishes spreading dinner all over the deck because I missed the step? We fixed that.

Since electric is in process, Steve and I have been focused on fixtures: deck, dock and driveway lights, lights on either side of the garage door, a doorbell, and various interior lights that aren't part of the standard package. (And we're talking a lot to the electrician about outdoor electrical needs: trenches for the lines to the dock, to the driveway, which at 450 feet needs plenty of lighting, and to the garden shed. Since we're here, we can easily stay on top of all those things.) The Lowe's down here in Elizabeth City is pretty good in the electrical department, and after looking at all the specialty stores, we ended up buying all of our fixtures there. Their selection was huge and the bill was a fraction of what it would have been at an electrical supply place. We actually like everything we chose, didn't have to "settle" on anything. (And no, I'm not being paid for this plug!)

Siding is going on the house now. It's a painstaking process because of all the peaks and soffets, but it's looking beautiful. The next good pic to share will be of that job when it's finished.

Steve and I are fine--I'm OK once I just accept the fact that this is a limbo time, and for now I can't do some of the things I love, like listen to music and write. The luxury of those couple of hours a day just doesn't fit into the current schedule. Also, I'm in the worst physical shape I've been in for years because there's just no place to take my walks and our days are often so busy, lunchtime is just too much food--salads, mostly, but big restaurant ones with a lot of extras that I of course finish. So I'm putting on a few pounds. (Nobody else would notice, but I do, and so does my blood pressure.) Again, I quell those worries with the reminder that this situation is just temporary.

And now, sure enough, the clouds are beginning to gather, and it's becoming humid and more uncomfortable. The rain is on its way, just in time to do whatever the day demands in the form of errands. If I play my cards right, that may not amount to much.

Sorry for the weird font and color changes. They come from copying from the meail format to this one. I did what I could to fix it, but it isn't perfect, because Blogger isn't......