Today is the third anniversary of our first date. We woke up this morning feeling tired but cheerful and ready to clean and unpack. It snowed last night in Portland; I walked Dingo at 7:15 through a light powder. My mother arrives tomorrow for a weeklong visit — we want our new guest room to be ready for her.
Yesterday we moved, officially, into our new house. We got here at 3, parked in the garage spot we rent from Alice, our next-door neighbor, and carried our backpacks and the food box and Dingo’s bed in through the back door. Our stellar contractors, Patrick and Jeff, were just wrapping up the job. We helped Jeff load up the painting equipment so he could go home to his wife and new daughter. I started mopping while Brendan went around with the Shop-Vac and Patrick rehung the blinds in the newly gold twin living rooms, or “parlors,” as we might have to pretentiously call them, because that is what they are.
Just as Brendan’s mother and grandmother arrived, stage right (front door), Patrick exited stage left (back). Brendan and I gave Kathy and Charlotte the grand tour: gold parlors, foyer minus the tile inlay (tiles arrive in two weeks), newly restored upstairs bathroom with its old, dense pine floors (Patrick rescued them from a demo site) and handmade walnut countertop, green study with new built-in shelves and cabinets and window seats that look like they came with the place, big blue bedroom with an old clawfoot tub in one corner. (We found the tub in the basement when we bought the place, and that was the only place we could figure out to put it; I’ve always wanted a tub in the bedroom.)
The back half of the second floor and the third floor are a separate apartment; we inherited our great tenants from the previous owner and feel very lucky about this. Our house has a checkered history. It’s a brick Italianate three-story, built around 1875. It was a boarding house in 1922; it was already divided into two apartments then, and the owner’s name was Jennie Stein, we learned from the only historical document we could find. In the 1990s, it was a Goodwill house for adults with Down syndrome. Before that, it was a school.
In the past ten years, it’s gone through several owners, and more than one of them was apparently (according to Alice) batshit. This was evidenced in some of the décor that we ripped out – a crappy build-out between the bedroom and the bathroom with an MRI-like shower stall in one half and a half-assed closet in the other; hideous blue tile and fall-of-Rome-like fixtures; thick super-plush puke-gold carpet over the entire upstairs and staircase; cockroach-brown/red shiny Brazilian cherry prefab flooring in foyer and kitchen and dining room; and so forth. That’s all gone now, and the original upstairs pine and hemlock floors, and the stripped staircase, are gleaming with new polyurethane. Our intention in renovating was to restore the house so people would wonder what was done to it aside from painting the walls and refinishing the floors. This took our contractors months of hard work to achieve.
After the tour of the upstairs, we took Kathy and Charlotte downstairs through the foyer to the back half of the house to show them the disastrous, post-yuppie, half-demo’ed kitchen – the instant we bought the place, we ripped out the Brazilian cherry, hoping for original flooring underneath. It’s there all right, grand old king pine boards, under two layers of plywood. Meanwhile, the kitchen and dining room floors are dirty plywood, and the kitchen consists of white melamine cabinets, a gigantic white side-by-side fridge, cold ugly granite countertops, and a layout that makes me shudder. One of the windows has been Sheetrocked over.
Some day, when we have the money, we’ll tear it all out and do it over. For now, now being the foreseeable future, this is our kitchen, the place where we’ll cook our meals. Brendan took the doors off the top cabinets, which instantly improved things, and we plan to swap out the gargantuan, horrible fridge for an older, top-freezer, stainless steel one. Patrick gave us a tip on an appliance guy who happens to be his cousin, and anyone Patrick recommends is okay with us.
The dining room, which is hardly separate from the kitchen, has an old fireplace with an original tile hearth (as do the parlors) and an old crystal-teardrop wrought-iron chandelier, and, like all the rooms in the house, it’s spacious, high-ceilinged, full of light from big windows. A previous owner wallpapered it with pages from old editions of Green Mansions and A History of the Presidents. Another former owner, or maybe it was the same one, chopped off the back of the built-in hutch to make an enormous yuppie powder room behind it. In the next renovation phase, we’ll put everything back the way it might have been, once.
After the tour, the four of us went to Caiola’s, a Mediterranean place a couple of blocks from our house. After salads all around, Brendan ordered a manly hanger steak with mushrooms, but we ladies opted for the shad roe, pan-fried with bacon. Shad roe is light, delicate but rich – and it has the consistency of a kidney, spongy but meaty, melting on the tongue. With it, we drank two bottles of Argentinian Malbec, and for dessert, we shared a pannacotta that likewise melted on the tongue.
Kathy and Charlotte went back to Falmouth, and Brendan and I spent our first night in our new bedroom. We have no curtains yet, just blinds, and the streetlight is right outside the windows. The light kept us awake, since we’re used to total rural darkness. We’ve been on our usual cleansing early-spring diet this week, so all that rich, salty food gave us both a touch of Victorian dyspepsia, perfectly in keeping with our house’s vintage.
New England Kitcharee
Every spring, after a decadent, gluttonous fall and winter, we have our own version of Lent: we spend a few days eating lentils. Two years ago, thanks to a recipe my sister Susan sent us, we made kitcharee, an Ayurvedic mung-bean stew we made with lentils because there are no mung beans to be had in New England that we’re aware of. We drank nothing but water with lemon. After five days of this cleansing monodiet, light-headed and giddy, we broke our fast with bison burgers and a bottle of good rioja. Last spring, in addition to a three-day kitcharee diet, we went on the wagon, or something like it, for five months. This year, we’re opting for moderation and hoping for the best. This year, our kitcharee was slightly unorthodox but delicious nonetheless:
In 2 tablespoons peanut oil or ghee, saute a teaspoon of garam masala and ½ teaspoon each coriander, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, and salt. Add a chopped red onion, 2 serrano peppers, 1 red pepper, 3 carrots, 2 celery ribs, and many cloves of garlic, chopped. Saute for a while till it all softens. Add a cup of rinsed red lentils, 1/2 cup of basmati rice, a whole cut-up cauliflower, a cup of Pomi chopped tomatoes, and enough organic vegetable broth to make a thick stew. Simmer covered till cooked, stirring frequently and adding more broth as necessary, about 45 minutes. Serve with chopped cashews, cilantro, Sriracha hot sauce, Greek yogurt, and Major Grey’s mango chutney.