Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flickering candles on a snowy blue morning, a little poetry, strong coffee, and the dogs of course (following a marvelous Merry Mount evening)

Rio and I got up early this morning, despite the late night last night (more on those festivities later), to see if there would be a pink-hued sunrise over the barren, snow-covered fields surrounding Merry Mount. We crept onto the sunporch so as not to wake the other 8 people (and 4 dogs) in the old part of the farmhouse. Quietly opening the porch door, however, we were greeted with the warm, golden glow of flickering candles and the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee, and I said out loud, “Oh look, how pretty! We have candles!”

Usually I’m the first one up at Merry Mount but Pat had beaten me to the punch, with his two Jack Russell terriers snuggling on his navy-blue robe-covered lap and a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. Rio and the Jacks – Jackpot and Sweetie – quickly headed outside, snuffling in the snow, while I grabbed a cup of java and settled onto the wicker sofa.

When Lee and his 17-year-old Jack Russell Bess joined us, while the rest of the house still slumbered. Pat said, “How about a little Yeats?” and read this poem aloud:

Brown Penny
I WHISPERED, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.
William Butler Yeats

‘Twasn’t long before the rest of the pre-Thanksgiving, slumber-party-at-the-farm guests ambled in one at a time, aching for caffeine or a little ice water to combat the cobwebs that had formed since the previous eve. Surprisingly “Julie’s Baby” was Dave, not JR. Don’t ask me where that term came from -- but the last person to get up and at’em is always christened Julie’s Baby.

Soon, the scent of Rett’s southern specialties filled the air – light-as-air biscuits made with White Lilly flour and loads of butter, thick sliced bacon and scrambled eggs. More coffee.

Why any of us wanted to eat after a late evening feast the night before is a good question. But it’s the holidays. It's Rett's fabulous cooking. And, as Rett and Pat like to say, “When you’re at Merry Mount, you can do whatever you want.” Guess that includes eating!

Pat also likes to say, “There’s to be much Merriment at Merry Mount!”
And there was, especially last night. 9 of us converged on the wintry farm for a pre-holiday get-together of close friends, before heading out to roast turkeys, juggle side-dishes, and host nearly-grown children, parents and assorted relatives for the big event. No, this snowy night was full of laughter and love, easy (but fabulous) food, and just a little good wine (like JR and Dave’s favorite, Frank Family Vineyards).
Rett’s new gas stovetop and her red pots were standing at the ready for smoked salmon pasta with capers and parmesan.
 The table glowed with candles – and the sweet, sweet warmth of dear old friends.
The evening definitely went to the dogs…

There was much laughter…
 Even more… oh Lord, it hurts to laugh this much  
 Good girlfriends
 And perhaps a tiny mixed drink like a Manhatten.
Rett’s specialty, though she and Robert debated whose recipe was better. Here is Rett’s version, using her recommended Woodford Reserve for the bourbon

Rett's Manhatten:  2 jiggers bourbon, one scant jigger sweet vermouth, three drops of bitters, one teaspoon cherry juice and a couple of maraschino cherries. Pour over ice, or shake with ice and serve up in a martini glass. Enjoy!

Before we all headed to our various Thanksgiving celebrations with our families, we tried to get the doggies to pose for a picture. Not so much. So we enlisted some helpers for posing. Then off we went til our next warm gathering at Merry Mount!
 Once we got home, my Rio feigned a headache and took to her bed. All those little dogs were exhausting, she said!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ahhhh. Merry Mount. And Tomato Gravy Too.

Close your eyes and imagine the place on this planet that makes you the happiest. Hands down, for me, there is one place on Earth that makes me completely happy. I only have to stand there, take a deep breath, embrace my surroundings, and I am totally at peace.

That place is Platte Lake in Northern Michigan. I've been going there since the early '70s when my dad and uncle jointly bought a fishing cabin. Over the years, I've gone "up north" in high school (with Peggy when she said we could sip a half a beer and jump up and down and it would make us feel "drunk"), in college (oh, those fires on the beach), and with my beautiful young kids in a newer cottage that my dad bought on the opposite shore of the lake.

These days, I rent an old log house (complete with beach, dock and huge screened porch) from a rabid (gasp) U of Michigan fan. We love Platte Lake and even as the kids grow up, they all say it's their favorite week of the entire year.

My cousins and their children also converge that week, and all the kids jump into a conversation that they started the previous year. You know how that is? They don't talk for 12 months and then they just pick up where they left off. On jet skis, on tubes, at the fabulous sand bar, around the campfire.

So, that is my happy place. My only happy place.

Until now.

Now Merry Mount is my happy place too.

I realized this, last weekend, when I got that same ol' peaceful feeling when I got out of the car and ambled across the land and looked at the wide-open spaces. Deep breath. Oh yeah, this makes me happy.

 Last weekend Jim and Dave and I hung out happily at Merry Mount with Pat and Rett. We had planned on a big bonfire to scorch a huge pile of old bushes and brush. But, as the fireman across the street advised, it was a tad too windy to ignite a big fire.

No prob. We hunkered down, made some fabulous pots of soup (sausage/kale and roasted tomato) and popped open a bottle of vino. Good friends and good food; who needs anything more? Even the dogs got along; Rio was a lot less anxious at this sleep-over; I think she knew we were just visiting and I wasn't going to leave her! She's a sweetheart.

Next morning -- Rett's breakfast.

Bacon, of course.

Her famous Southern biscuits. Yum. (secret recipe)

And with them, tomato gravy. I've always heard of tomato gravy but never had this southern specialty. Rett made 2 versions; one regular and one gluten free for me! Recipes below!

After breakfast we took a walk down the road to a little farm with turkeys and chickens.

And then it was back to reality! Goodbye Merry Mount...for now. 

Tomato Gravy (Rett's directions):

Cook 3 or 4 pieces of bacon. Remove when done, but leave drippings in pan. Cut up a few fresh tomatoes or you can use a 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes and add to pan. Let stew until mushy. Make a thin paste of 2 Tbls. plain flour (or cornstarch or gluten free flour for gluten free version) and milk to make about 1 cup.  Get out all of the lumps and stir in with the tomatoes. Add more milk until a bit more pink and stir until it thickens. Serve over hot biscuits!  Yummy !