November creeps in on subtle feet. Almost soundless, this eleventh month. Gone are the flash and flare of October, the mellow excitement of September, the urgency and richness of August. I love November. Most of the time. I love the first fires in the fireplace and wood stoves, and the ochre and russet of the beeches and oaks. And the food. The beginnings of winter food. I cooked for myself today. First time in awhile. A number of things. First, a soup for tomorrow's breakfast. The best way to eat on this farm is as a French peasant. Soup for breakfast. The soup I made today had yellow eyed peas (a concession to my New England background), onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes and oil cured olives (those too a concession to Provence), bacon and a chiffonard of Savoy cabbage. To finish it were some dried chestnuts. The smell from the pot on the wood stove was just what this raw, snowy, rainy, damp, cloudy, sunny, miserable day insisted on to redeem itself. It is a day just like those I spent one week in November on the tiny island of Mont Saint Michel on the very line between Brittany and Normandy with my children. The weather changed every fifteen minutes. As it did here today. I proceeded to make a very nice dish called Farcon de la Combe de Savoie. One lines a deep round baking dish with the outer leaves of a Savoy cabbage. It is then filled with a mixture of mashed potatoes, lightly cooked chopped bacon, onions that have been browned in the bacon fat and lightly glazed with a tablespoon of sugar, and the addition of finely shredded Savoy cabbage that was melted down in the last of the bacon fat. The top is covered by another cabbage leaf and into the oven it goes. One of my favorite autumn - winter breads, a pear-pepper French bread is also sitting in the oven. And, last but not least, a batch of pumpkin jam from about five pounds of pumpkin sits in there as well. I cooked the soup and started the jam on the wood stove. But once the gas stove was lit, I put the jam in with the bread and the Farcon de la Combe de Savoie. I've added dried pears to the pear and pepper bread recipe, and chestnuts to the Farcon de la Combe de Savoie. They are classic recipes, but my additions remain to be I hope, in keeping with the tradition.
I started restacking wood today. It is my chore that has its own built in addiction. It, too, is one of my favorite activities. I always think I will limit myself when I first begin a task like that. Moving about eight face cords of wood into the wood room or to the house. Oh, today, I'll stack two wheel barrows-full. And add one a day after that. So as not to get worn out, or strain a muscle that is unaccustomed, at the moment, to the task. But once I get started I don't want to stop. One load quickly becomes two then four. Before I know it, I've tricked myself into restacking the depleted row, and carry 3 or 4 or 5 more arm loads full to one house . I've left one full barrow by the mud room stairs, and rather than carry that in, I've bought several more armfuls up to the basket in the kitchen, leaving the barrowful as "extra". I love stacking wood. It is, like shoveling the barn, one of those absolute kind of tasks that are immensely satisfying. You know, without a question, what has been completed. It takes approximately 30 face cords of wood a year to heat this house. That's about 12,8000 cubic feet of wood to carry, stack, restack, and move to the fireplace and wood stove.
Central heating is slowly being introduced into this house. The boiler is here and paid for. It shall be installed next week. That doesn't mean a functioning system will be in place but it does mean progress is being made. I never expect to give up the pleasures of wood heat. But I do expect to, eventually, be able to walk into a kitchen that is at least 50 degrees to start with rather than a fairly typical 40 degrees, winters, that I frequently experience although shall never become accustomed to.
There is a strong possibility that the barn may be mucked out next week. It is likely, possible, but, as all things on a farm, uncertain. I very much want it done. Someone new to me, with machinery, has turned up interested in work here. All kinds of work. I've always had a consistent method of handling workmen. I am nice. This time I am going to try something new. And that is by making absolutes. Firmly. Briefly. Sternly. That is kind of ludicrous. All things taken into consideration, primarily my former methods of being "nice",
uncritical, and serving lunch. However, a new approach is about to be tested out. "Where are you located?" "On Barchester Creek three miles up from West Abercrombie", I start to reply. "Oh I know where you are", I am interrupted. "You're right on Route 93." "No, I'm three miles up from there", I begin once more to respond. "I know where you are. You're right past the Methodist Church in Wilkinson Corners." "No, I'm not..." "Don't worry. I know my way around. I'll see you tomorrow at 3:00." A subsequent no show. Another phone call. Another attempt at directions. Another attempt to arrive. "Hello. I'm on the road. In West Abercrombie." "You're on Barchester Creek, Main Street, West Abercrombie. Stay on that road for 3.4 miles. You'll see a large barn with a green metal roof." "Be right there."
About half an hour later, I watched a large black van cruise slowly past my house from East Abercrombie, in the opposite direction headed towards West Abercrombie. You can't see the green roof on my barn from that approach. I know, instinct born of experience, it is he. The aspiring barn skid steerer outer. He turned around. Lo and behold. He saw a barn with a green metal roof. He pulled into my driveway. A half an hour late and at least 20 miles out of his way. "This must be it. I went up the hill instead of driving straight along the road. I got lost." "You didn't listen to me", I said. I once, last week, perhaps, would have said instead, oh, I'm so sorry. And so when he started making suggestions about the job, based on all that he claimed to have known in his many years of experience, I said, "No, you're going to do it my way." I wonder if he'll show up next week to do the barn.
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