Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Interrupt This Broadcast...

I had my week all planned out. The day planner read something like this: Monday? Meeting in Dallas with oil client. Tuesday? Meeting to square away my recent licensing by the State of Texas to operate and manage a B&B and a restaurant. (!) Wednesday? Design meeting with folks handling web design and promotional material for Freeman House. Thursday? Errands, banking, consultation with contractor. Friday? Wait for piano tuner and pest control guys. Plant pumpkins and squash. Jar up my homemade pesto. Update the Etsy shop. Crash.

Of course, it never goes as planned, does it? First thing, the oil client called and wanted to reschedule for Wednesday. Then Wednesday's meeting said, really, it would still be several weeks until they were prepared to present mock-ups for the site. Then the bug guy said he was waiting on chemicals and ... and so on. Sunday I sat down with a good friend and said, calmly, "I can't even plan my life one week in advance. Most people have things on their calendars three months from now and I can't even commit to anything three days from now! I envy you folks with a little stability. Can we trade?" And then I started shaking. Shaking. I think I'm too keyed up or something.

Love Letters, Freeman House

All that said, I'm so excited about what the next year holds for Freeman House... for my life. This winter, the old place will open to its doors to begin serving regular lunches, dinners and teas. The bakery will kick off. I'll be launching my own brand of organic spice blends and baking mixes. And Freeman House will begin receiving overnight guests. Special guests. People who've been thinking of buying or renovating an old house. People who are curious about the renovation experience. People who want to live this life - if only for two nights. Folks who want to help pick paint samples, root hydrangeas, plant fall bulbs and learn to restore old woodwork. People who want to learn to bake bread, knit, can or garden. Those who like to explore old attics and read old love letters. People who are curious about what it takes and how you go about finding, purchasing and renovating historic properties. (Of course, there will be plenty of starry nights, plates of warm cookies, kayaks, books, homemade dinners, line-dried sheets and library fires to keep things cozy in the meantime.) Yep, those sort of people will be extended an invitation to come and stay. It will be wonderful. I'm so excited to welcome new faces into the old place. We'll have a ball.

In the meantime I have much to do. Understandably. And in the middle of all this I have two excursions planned: one to Europe, the other to the Bahamas. (My life hasn't changed in one respect since I left news reporting: a bag is always, always packed, and I own two of everything... tooth brushes, hair dryers, bottles of vitamins, etc.) I don't call it my messy, thrilling life for nothing.

The point? I suppose it's this: I'm signing off for a bit. Not forever, just a bit. I'll pop in periodically with a "Look at this!" and a "What do you think?" and an "Ooooh... try this recipe!" Other than that I may be a little scarce on the world wide web for a bit. But don't worry. Please don't worry. I'll be happily busy, preparing a place that we all might, in some way, consider a little piece of home... even if it's only in our dreams.

Until we meet next, enjoy your summer. And know that somewhere out there, a busy, brown-haired girl thinks of you warmly and hopes for the day we can pull up some chairs and share a plate of homemade cookies.

Take good care. I'll see you soon. -Brin

(By the way, the Etsy shop will be updated Friday. See you there... see you then!)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rich, Millie and the Saturday Morning Spirit

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood...
-Ephesians 6:12

It was early this morning, the light a soft, golden glow behind the curtains. Millie woke me with a paw to the face. I rolled over and looked at the clock on the nightstand: almost six o'clock. I groaned.

We were at the back of the house, beginning to walk the long hall that splits Freeman House in half, when a voice stopped me still. "Brin, I'm in the bathroom." It was my brother, Rich. He's been staying here, on and off, for almost a year.

"I'm just taking Millie out," I said, looking at the puppy at my feet. Her tail was wagging.

"Um... hang on. I can take her out in a second." He sounded strange. Was he feeling well?

"I'm already up," I said.

"Wait, Brin, please wait a sec...". I ignored him and headed up the hall. He's not the one who has to clean up the dog's messes when I don't get her out in time.

We got to the door leading into the kitchen - at the exact place in the photo above - and I made a sharp right into the still-dark room. The kitchen's on the west side of the house - towards the center - and is one of the last places in the morning to wake up. I stumbled to the door. Instead of following me, Millie sat down in the hall, staring in at me.

"Come, Millie," I said, unlocking the sliding chain lock, the door knob, and easing the door open. "Let's go outside."

She didn't budge.

I was trying to decide whether to make coffee or ... could I go back to sleep?... when Rich appeared behind Millie in the door. "Come here," he hissed. I did.

"There is someone in the house. There was just someone in the house," he whispered.


"Just now. I heard them walking through the front of the house. They just went out the kitchen door, right before you and Millie came up the hall. Look, I have chill bumps," he said, stretching his left arm out in front of me.

He did. I laughed. "There's no one here," I said loudly, punching at his arm. "The chain was locked. No one went out that door."

Rich grabbed my shoulders and looked at me, hard. I looked down at the floor. "No, Brin," he repeated. "I. Heard. Someone. Here. They went out that door."

Slowly, I looked up. We locked eyes. He look scared. My brother, freaked out. Huh. "What exactly did you hear?"


"Heavy footsteps? Where did they go?"

"No. Light. House shoes. Socks, maybe. I don't know. They shuffled. They walked slowly through the dining room and library and then down the hall, through the kitchen and out that door. I heard it open and then I heard it close."

"Well, at least it left," I joked. Silence. My brother. Ever the tell-it-as-it-is, 'you can't pull one over on me' country man. He looked up the hall and back at me, eyes as big as tea cup saucers.

A cold shiver, and my spine was tingling. It's always the library. People always hear footsteps in the library in this house. I have, once. Only once. Christmas night. Last year. I consider myself rather fearless and bold, but that night I got so afraid I called my neighbor, JoAnne, and was shaking so hard I could scarcely open the door when she flew up the porch. We sat in front of the tree and drank hot chocolate and I held her a Christmas hostage for three hours. It was the only time I've ever been frightened to stay at Freeman House.

I was remembering that, Rich still looking at me... looking over my shoulder... when Millie began to growl. I've heard her growl twice before: once at another dog and once at someone in Colorado. She is the quietest dog I've ever been around. But suddenly Millie stood to all fours, took a step into the kitchen and growled the longest, lowest, most frightening growl I'd ever heard.

Nope. I wasn't going back to sleep. Might as well make coffee.

Can't be sure what Rich heard or what Millie saw, but it's been silent as a tomb all morning. I had to convince my brother- promise him twice - that the door was definitely locked from the inside when I reached it. I've never seen my brother so shaken. And Millie wouldn't go through the kitchen to go outside this morning, preferring to sit and wait by the front door instead.

Strange. Strange, but not terrifying. Because we know what the Bible says, anyway: we're not up against flesh and blood. The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and forces (all named in Ephesians 6:12) don't play by our rules. They're not limited to our spaces or times. We - you and I - are players in two realms... actors on two stages - a physical and a spiritual, but unfortunately for our human eyes, we can only see in the one.

Fortunately for our human hearts, though, we can still fight in the other.

In the meantime, maybe my Mom is right. Maybe I should get carpet. (wink)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow

A light wind swept over the corn,
and all nature laughed in the sunshine.
-Anne Bronte

Nothing says summer like an ear of fresh corn. In fact, I'm convinced that corn kernels are nothing more than sunshine broken into edible bits.

My corn growing scheme came up short this year. It was my first time trying to plant it in earnest, and I stubbornly refused the advice of all my gardening books and planted it in a long, crooked row. Foolish. The stalks grew straight and green but the ears of corn didn't pollinate. (They don't, since corn is wind pollinated and does better planted in 4' by 4' squares.) So I netted a total of five and a half ears of corn, each with missing and lazily lined-up kernels. Hardly a corn windfall, if you know what I mean. It was a disappointment; I love corn and it doesn't last long around here.

Oh well. I found fresh corn at the farmer's market - 5 ears for $1. Yeah. I blanched six and left them whole, hoping to enjoy them this winter. The rest I cut from the cobs, blanched, and bagged to freeze for winter soups and holiday corn casseroles. (And say what you will, but Rachael Ray's 2-bowl method for cutting corn from the cob is the best. Turn a small bowl upside down in a large bowl, stand the ear of corn upright on the small bowl, and turn the cob as you slice the kernels off, top to bottom. Easy as can be.)

I tossed all the husks and silks into a pail for composting. There's something about watching yesterday's corn waste become today's compost that feeds tomorrow's corn crop that makes me satisfied. Happy, almost. It's nice to see nothing go to waste; to waste not and want not.

Oh. And in case you were wondering, there are many uses for your naked corn cobs. Historically, they were used in outhouses for toilet paper. (Really.) Of course, you could also make corn cob pipes. You could have corn cob fights. You could burn the cobs for fuel, grind them up for feed, or leave them in the garden for organic compost.

Or you can give them to the puppy, who ran off with this one and mauled it so quickly that by the time I got my camera, there wasn't much left of it to snap.

We do love our corn here.

That said, the food preserving will be put on hold for a few days for a quick trip. (I have offers to go to Alaska, central Texas, and Wyoming. Where will I go next?) Enjoy your corn, nature, and sunshine this weekend. -Brin

(Update: advice in the comments says never give your dogs corn cobs as they can choke on them. Millie enjoyed chewing on the cob I gave her yesterday, but she is a puppy and cannot yet chew through it. To play it safe, it is probably best not to give your dogs corn cobs. Oh. And popular opinion is also that the bundt pan method for cutting corn off the cob is the best. I agree. It's just that I know most of my friends, and therefore many readers of this blog, don't own bundt pans. Nearly everyone owns two bowls, though. Use whichever is available and works for you.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cherry Tomato Heaven

Seduced by pretty pictures in the spring White Flower Farm catalogue, this over-zealous gardening girl planted 27 tomato plants. Softball-sized tomatoes... marble-sized tomatoes... I wanted them all.

And now I have them.

After giving scads away, freezing a good many others, making tomato sauce and salsa and curried ketchup with still others, I eyed my heavy-vined, organic cherry tomato plants with a sigh. What in the world will I do with all these? I wondered. I can only eat so many in salads. So this week has become a quest: find three delicious things to do with cherry tomatoes. Stat.

I spent a good deal of time on Google the other night. Gardeners and foodies alike had a hundred suggestions: Roast them! Chop and freeze them! Stuff them! Peel them! Blanch them! Grill them! There are thousands of methods for dealing with these abundant beauties. Fortunately for me, I only needed three. So. Method number one? Slice off their little tops and stuff them with pesto or squares of mozzarella for appetizers or snacks. Done.

Method number two? Cook them to death.

And finally, method number three: roast them.

Here's how: line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice tomatoes in half, scooping out seeds, and place cut-side up on pan. (Or leave them whole, as I did here. They'll burst easily and quickly in the oven.) Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt, black pepper, and fresh rosemary. (I added basil and 2 garlic cloves, as well.) Bake at 225 F for.. um... ever. About six to seven hours or until caramelized and dehydrated-looking.


Now what, you ask, do you do with a cherry tomato once it's roasted? Glad you asked. Keep them in a covered container to toss into omelets, bread dough, couscous, pasta, tacos, and salads. Mix them up with fresh cheese (stilton, mozzarella, etc.) and basil for a cool summery dish. Use them for toppings on bruschetta or pizza. Or whip this up: Epicurious' Penne with Chicken and Roasted Tomatoes. Yum.

Or, do as I did and float them in olive oil and herbs in pretty jars, stash in the refrigerator, and wait until further inspirations/cravings strike.

Gardening is a joy. Hauling in gallons of homegrown, organic, drop-of-sun cherry tomatoes is too. But next year, I'm planting ONE cherry tomato plant. Maybe even a yellow one. Remind me of this in February when the White Flower Farm catalogue arrives. (Cough) Please remind me. -Brin

(In case anyone should wonder, here's the Curried Ketchup recipe, courtesy of Food Network: 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, pinch ground cloves. Directions: Put the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, curry powder, salt, pepper and cloves into a saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and cook until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is slightly thick, about 10 minutes. Pour the mix into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating. Yield: 1 cup.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sights About Freeman House

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.

There's nothing like being home when you're sick. Although there may be things to do and things left undone, home is a cure, a treatment, and a comfort all in one dose. Since I'm on three medications this morning and unable to keep hold of many coherent thoughts, I thought I'd simply share a few of my favorite sights from a very comfortable weekend.

Above, a country bouquet and a favorite old painting on an antique radio cabinet in the Freeman House Library. Outside it was storming... one of those summer lightning storms that sends you deeper into the couch and further into your book.

A quiet, still morning in the Irvin Room, where a reclaimed old mantle has been handpicked to adorn the soon-to-be-restored wood fireplace. The Irvin Room is my bedroom for now, but will eventually be one of the rooms available to rent here at Freeman House. Featuring a garden-view sitting room (above the sky-and-sea-blue hydrangeas planted by Ms. Freeman herself) and, of course, a fireplace opposite the bed, I have no doubt it will be the most popular. I love to curl up here and re-read the bundle of old love letters found in the walls of the house.

A morning garden plate. Despite the gardener's neglect, the green patch manages to turn out tomatoes, purple hull and cream peas, pumpkins, okra, squash, potatoes, green beans and herbs on a daily basis. The corn did rather poorly and will be stirred into a Cheddar Corn Chowder tonight.

Peas and magazines. With an ever-loyal and adorable chocolate-colored puppy at my feet.

More of Ms. Freeman's hydrangeas and a tile-etched sign for the property. Freeman House. Since 1896, this place is medicine for the soul and a quiet haven of rest for weary girls: Mrs. Connor, Mrs. Irvin, a series of women tenants, Ms. Freeman, and now me. Cure, treat and comfort: that's what these halls are....

I'd like to stay and chat, but cranberry apple tea and a book in the library is calling. I'll return when I feel a bit better. Enjoy the new week. -Brin

Friday, July 11, 2008

Happiness and Thankfulness

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life
are something to do, something to love,
and something to hope for.
-Joseph Addison

I could add a good many things to that list: unyielding faith in an eternal God, spa pedicures, cold lemonade, tied-together-by-our-souls friends and flowers.

And better yet, friends with flowers. Buckets and buckets of flowers. Friends who, on the same day you're prescribed a course of antibiotics for whooping cough (whooping cough?!), instantly brighten up your day by filling your arms with an enormous bucket of zinnias, marigolds and bachelor buttons. Don't you just feel your own kind of happiness when you look at sights such as this?

I thought so. Me too.

Wish I had enough flowers to fill the arms of a few friends who've meant the world to me this week: Sall, Karin, Shelley, Jan and Sondra. Big blooming thanks to you all. Thank you for being such a blessing. -Brin

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Peas, Potatoes, and 500 Posts

A bumper crop of purple hull peas this year. I shelled a bushel when I was home last week and eyed the remaining swelling pods that clinged to the vine with satisfaction. A garden is such a reward. God is good; we need our gardens.

I love shelling peas. It's a strange thing to love, but there it is. When I was a girl - about nine or ten - my mother would take us to see my Granny and Papa who lived on O'Farrell Road. It was only a few miles away. Granny and Papa gardened, as everyone's grandparents seemed to do then. By July they'd have bushel baskets of peas waiting on us, their official pea shellers. We'd sit on the porch, on the cool concrete slab, and watch our thumbs turn purple from the slicing open the pods and scooping out the peas. We'd break frequently for iced teas or cold watermelon or a lunch of fried chicken, potatoes, green beans and cornbread. Pea shelling didn't seem like a chore then and doesn't seem like one now. Strange how that works.

While browsing at Central Market this week, I noticed a display of Ziploc bags of peas. They were labeled: Purple Hull Peas, $7.99. For a sandwich-sized bag! Note to self: plant enough peas next year to sell to Central Market. Mark them Organic Purple Hull Peas (because they are), $8.99. Get rich quick. Retire.

Purple hull peas are very earthy and mellow. Not anything like the green English pea. Perhaps they are most similar to black-eyed peas, only different. In the north, folks feed these crops to cattle. (Y'all are crazy.) In the south, we eat them with hot, buttered cornbread and fried potatoes. It is, hands down, my favorite meal. It is comfort on a plate. It is home in the mouth.

I'm headed back to Freeman House for the weekend. I intend to dig up all the garden's potatoes, shell more peas, and make the biggest cast iron pan of cornbread this world has ever seen. Then we'll sit underneath the ceiling fan and drain tall glasses of tea and taste home again. We'll be sure to remember what it's like to actually enjoy summer.

Today marks my 500th post on this blog. Five hundred. Wow. .. I've typed out 500 blog posts and still feel as though I haven't given this thing a fitting start. Why many of you have shown up to faithfully read and participate, I'll never know. But thanks anyway. This little place is an extension of me... of my home... and I've been proud to welcome each of you inside.

Here's to 500 more. -Brin

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Forgotten Magic

There's such magic here. At Freeman House. When you're away you forget, but then you come home and there it is. Oh, hello magic. I'd forgotten where I'd left you.

When I hurried away six weeks ago I wasn't excited about coming back. Millie wasn't house trained yet and utilized every corner of this old house as her dumping grounds. Couple that with the fact that this house is still, in fact, under major renovation, and what you get is the desire to get out. Quick. I couldn't pack and lock the doors fast enough.

I put off coming back as long as I could. Then I breezed into town yesterday, dropped Millie off, and headed immediately to the Copperleaf Spa for a back/neck massage and an organic "resurfacing peel". I love, love, love the Copperleaf Spa and all the women who work there. (I was talking to Vickie just before she did my massage and she immediately asked, "Have you read The Shack?!" Yep. That's the kind of place this is. If you ever come to Freeman House I'll insist you head there.)

So anyway, I finally get home and am just dreading going inside. Then I pushed open the door and... WOOOSH! There it was. The magic. The beautiful old rooms. The worn, crooked pine floors. The wavy-paned windows. The fireplaces and clawfoot tub. And that feeling again. That feeling of being wrapped up... that feeling of prayer and grace... that feeling of being home.

I adore this place. I'd forgotten how much I adore this place.

The sadly neglected garden thrived without me somehow. That God's gracey-magic stuff blankets the garden too, I suppose, so there's tomatoes, peas, squash, potatoes, pumpkins and herbs. I picked peas last night after the sun dropped below the crape myrtle... just in time for visitors to come knocking. We drank Cokes and shelled peas in the library and laughed and laughed. It's better than therapy. I'd forgotten how much I adore this place.

Speaking of which, I need to get those peas put up before I head back to the city later. Just wanted to pop in briefly with an "I am here", and wish you all a free and happy fourth. -Brin