Living without a kitchen for a season due to an extensive, much-wanted renovation is a first-world problem, of course, especially if you have enough money (albeit barely) to eat out a couple of nights a week as well as another house to decamp to the rest of the time. So I’m not complaining when I say that we’ve had to adapt this winter, strategically, in certain ways, and also that we’ve discovered what it means to be forced to eat in restaurants: it’s not the treat you might think it would be.
For the past couple of months, maybe almost three, our Portland house has been filled with the banging and screaming of power tools during weekday work hours, and everything in it is covered with dust. We spend two nights a week there so I can go to my two Pilates classes and work my Thursday soup kitchen shift, and also so we can go out for Wednesday drinks night with our group of writer pals – our only social life, these days.
Brendan’s family farmhouse in rural New Hampshire, where we live the rest of the time, is isolated and remote, and winter is not over, although it’s late April, so when we’re here, we tend to burrow in and work all day, take long walks, cook much-anticipated meals, watch whole TV series at night (“Nashville” and “Battlestar Galactica,” lately), go to bed early, and sleep deeply till morning.
It’s just the three of us: Brendan, Dingo, and me. We’re a compatible and democratic little unit; there is no strife or discord amongst our ranks, and although no one is strictly in charge, things get done as they should, according to the strengths of each. The house is well-guarded against interlopers, chipmunks, porcupines, and UPS drivers, for instance, thanks to Dingo’s superior hearing and barking abilities and diligent – even obsessive – attention to outside goings-on from his lookout post on the window seat. We can go to town to replenish the larder thanks to Brendan, the only one with a driver’s license; he also keeps the fires burning in the fireplace, moves the laundry along when it needs noodging, and makes the best Italian food for hundreds of miles around. As for me, I sing along with CDs and try to keep conversations lively, for morale. And so our little ship sails forth.
This weekend, the air temperatures are slightly less frigid than last weekend. A warmer wind blew in during the week and melted the lake and much of the snow. Yesterday, on our walk, the dirt road was soft and strewn with squished baby frogs who’d gotten in the way of the ten or twelve cars, mostly Subarus, of course, that drive along the road each day. The lake was a rich steel blue, choppy in the fresh breeze, shading to black around the edges. The mountains were cobalt hulks under a cloud-dense, abruptly sunny sky. Down at the beaver pond, we counted two new dams, making a grand total of five; their population is thriving, exploding even. A gosling swam behind its parents as they came bustling over to check us out. The little protruding hummocks near the shore had newborn, spindly stalks and greening moss.
Yesterday, in the early afternoon, Dingo and I went out to sit on the porch and take stock of the outdoors. We lounged in the sunlight, smiling at each other. This was a strange, tense week; the news close to home was terrible, and the news further away was as bad as it always is. But here we were, dog and human, on a porch in weak but certain sunlight. The trees were all still bare, with knobby little buds, but the grass was turning green, and the crocus spears were finally poking out of the dirt.
As befits the change of season, we’ve been eating and drinking much more lightly – less meat, less booze, less butter for the humans, less food in general for the dog. But even in the most ascetic of diets, there has to be some indulgence, although that becomes relative: a decadent pleasure in the early spring is different from winter’s sausage and cheese and olives, heavier, chewier luxuries.
Last night, at cocktail hour, I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir, poured a couple of glasses, and set out a plate of hors d’oeuvres: slices of English cucumber, whole red radishes, flaxseed-and-sesame crackers, and a bowl of spicy hummus. With our glasses of wine diminishing at our elbows, we devoured the whole plate while Dingo lay at our feet, accepting any bits of cucumber or radish that came his way.