Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chestnuts roasting

Neglected blog, getting dusty and cobwebbed. The house seems unnaturally quiet tonight. Just this morning, it was full of house guests, Austin friends who'd come for a too-short visit. Among the highlights, we stoically stood in line for Giacomo's in the freezing cold and were rewarded by tender calamari and delicious pasta. Maybe that's Giacomo's secret. Their dishes are liberally sauced with both anticipation and triumpth (one dines under the covetous stares of those still in line). We all survived our visit yesterday at the Museum of Science (apparently along with all families in the greater New England region). It was fun sharing Boston with friends (despite the sub-zero wind chills).

And now. Time to get back to the everyday. I'd meant to post this earlier, but didn't have a chance. Ever since first sighting them at Russo's, I'd wanted to roast chestnuts. For some reason, I'd never had them in Austin. I don't recall ever seeing them available, although I'm sure they must have been sold at Central Market. But roasted chestnuts. Ahhh...they're redolent of an old-fashioned winter. Buying them from vendors with carts. Wrapping your hands around their warmth in your coat pockets. And of course, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." What could be more vintage holiday?

So here they are. Thanks to Magdalena for the instructions.

How to Roast Chestnuts:
- Preheat the oven at 375F
- Cut an X on each chestnut. Place them on a cookie sheet. Do not add anything to them.
- Cook for approximately 25 minutes.
- Check one for doneness. They'll be done when they're soft, but not dry.
- VERY important step: when they are done, place them in a bowl, cover with a tea towel, and leave for 10 minutes. This step ensures that they will easily peel.

Verdict? The recipe worked perfectly. Unfortunately, no one liked them, but me. As for me, I didn't love them. Instead, they brought back some wispy memories of Korean roasted chestnuts. The moment felt positively Proustian with chestnuts playing the madeleine's role. Now in defense of roasted chestnuts, I admit that we ended up buying the chestnuts from Whole Foods, not from Russo's as instructed. I was too terrified of the frenzied pre-holiday crush at Russo's. Next year, I'll buy Russo's chestnuts and try again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In search of zinc

Don't you hate it when you have a vision for a space and are unable to source the specific item you need? Years ago, I was on the hunt for billowing dupioni curtains. Nothing to be had other than luxe couture items that were zip codes away from my budget. A couple of years later, dupioni curtains became ubiquitous, found in every mail-order catalogue and suburban mall in America.

Now, I'm on the hunt for zinc wall shelves. Or copper tray shelves. Or any shelves that would look at home in a potting shed. I did find this 19th-century bucket bench with zinc-covered center shelf. This goes a bit too country, and I think that it was an item that had already sold at auction.

Oh, and I need the shelves for the basement bathroom. Why does one want potting shed shelves in a bathroom? Well, it stems from our IKEA Domsjo farmhouse sink.

We'd bought it for our old kitchen. When we moved, I decided I needed a larger kitchen sink. So the Domsjo has been lugged from Austin to Boston and now resides in our attic. It struck me the other day that the Domsjo would be a perfect fit for the basement bathroom. The bathroom is steps away from the walkout door so the Domsjo could double as a mudroom sink, perfect for dirty or chemical-laden washups. With its orange seventies wallpaper (lavished on every surface including the ceiling) and budget motel vanity, the basement bathroom is overdue for a makeover.

The Domsjo sits on the sink cabinet so we won't have a traditional vanity. Instead, wall shelves, in particular zinc wall shelves, would be functional, fit the narrow space, and continue the outdoorsy, unexpected vibe. Because we're using a kitchen sink, I have to be careful of what else to put in the room. For example, stainless shelves might look as if we'd accidentally stuck part of the kitchen in the bath. Very traditional bath cabinetry might negatively accentuate the sink. So to harmonize with the farmhouse sink, I'd like a dark uniform slate floor and potting room shelving. The sink base will be painted an earthy green/putty color.

The one positive to my fruitless search are the wonderful web sites I've discovered.

zinc Pottery Barn lanterns on Katy Elliott's wonderful blog

zinc kitchen island/buffet at Mecox Gardens

Alas, though they referred to zinc-covered materials, none of them had what I need. So...zinc shelves anyone?

A steamy day after Christmas

I'm spending my day after Christmas in a swimsuit bottom and t-shirt. Not exactly the way I'd pictured myself clad on a New England winter day.

Ahhh...a post-Christmas holiday, you think. Or a day at a spa, courtesy of a generous gift-giver?

Not quite. I'm spending some private time with the newly found love of my life. And it's not a mid-life crisis fling. He's little and hard-bodied. He's quite a cheap date (only $55 at Costco). Yes, he does take some time to recharge now and again, but who doesn't? His name is Wagner. Wagner 905 power steamer. And boy, is he steamy. He sailed effortlessly through my first little test, easing off one wall of decades-old wallpaper (and a layer of plaster too...but the steamiest affairs all have unintended consequences).

So here I sit. On the floor of my shower. Steaming away years of old, beyond-hope caulk and grossness.

And all that steam isn't bad for my pores either. It's a spa vacation, DIY-style.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our first Boston Christmas

Our first Christmas here in the Boston burbs was a white Christmas. My very first. It was lovely. After the semi-controlled frenzy of present opening in the morning, we headed out to test our new snowshoes and sleds at a nearby golf course.

The snow on the main sledding hill was pretty worn down, but there was enough snow on a smaller hill to be fun for my sledding novices. They swooped down and clambered up over and over and over, cheeks rosy with cold, faces beaming. My husband, who has edged reluctantly into his forties, flew down the little hill like a child.

And I've discovered something wonderful. Snowshoeing. The rhythmic crunch in the cold hush, the smooth movement. I've missed running so much since my knee surgery. Running used to be my meditation, my heartbeat my mantra. This is the closest that I've come to that feeling of peace. And as a low-impact, no-torque activity, it's perfect for my crummy knees.

And after all of the snowshoeing and sledding and tramping about, the afternoon ended appropriately with a snowball fight. A snowball fight in which we demonstrated why none of us would ever make it to the major leagues. Heck...the minors...or even a competitive Little League team. But despite (or maybe because of) our incredibly terrible aim, it was fun all the same.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Problem of a canine kind

Did you know dog pee freezes?

Yeah. I guess I did too. But I never thought it would pose a potential issue.

The dog pee doesn't just seep into the ground and vanish. No. Not when it's always freezing. And when you have glittering, pristine expanses of white snow, those little frozen puddles and streaks of yellow really catch your eye. And not in a good way.

We'd shoveled our walkways and sidewalks like good citizens. We have enormous mounds of snow lining these walkways. Apparently, doggies do not enjoy plowing through the cold stuff to do their business. Because on our sidewalks and along some of the berms (from neighborhood male dogs), we now have frozen little ponds of pee. Lovely.

Further, we normally let our two shelties out in front. Our backyard is only accessible via the basement walkout or down the frozen deck steps. Since one dog is aged and crippled, it had been easier to let them out front. We're going to have to rethink this. Because now, we have yellow splotches right outside the front door. That just doesn't say "welcome in," does it?

The things I'm learning.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Better off dead

Not really. But you'll catch the reference. Or maybe you'll have to see the movie again. It stars John Cusack so it's not all bad. Or you can just take the shortcut and Google the movie.

Today, I snorted snow for the first time. It gave me quite a jolt, buzzing through my sinuses. Though I was a party monkey in my younger days, my partying was limited to more prosaic stuff. Coke may have been the glamour drug of the 80s, but this girl had never personally experienced its charms. And still hasn't. Because today, I actually snorted snow. Real snow. The light powdery stuff floating through the air. And really. Not so good.

It wasn't on purpose. I was madly shoveling out from under 7+ inches of snow. With my hair frosted in snow. (My husband lost our one and only adult-sized hat.) And with my sweatpants caked with the white stuff. (Somehow I haven't found the time to buy myself snow pants. My children have a couple of pairs each. Go figure.) And sniffling (from the virus that has hit our household). Hence the snow-snorting.

So. Straight from the source. Just say no to snow. Doesn't feel good.

P.S. The white stuff is still falling. It feels like we're living in a snow globe.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Short circuit

I see a theme emerging here. It must be "80s movies week" at Bluebonnet's blog.

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with a heartwarming tale of a robot who has come to life. More prosaically, this has to do with old homes, old electrical systems, and freezing pipes. Yep. A heartrending tale of homeowners' woe. I'm starting to become convinced that in order to own an older home, one must either be handy or married to someone handy. I'm in the latter category.

Those of you who're my Facebook friends may remember the trouble I had with my new Samsung washer a couple of weeks ago. (FYI, Samsung may manufacture well-priced, good quality appliances, but their warranty service stinks. Two plus weeks and no one has contacted me about service. If Will hadn't fixed the matter, I would be highly, highly pissed.) Will solved the mystery of the excessively chirping, non-working washer. The electrical outlet was the culprit. We ran a long extension cord to another outlet as a temporary fix. Problem solved.

Not so fast. I ran a load of laundry today. More chirping, and this time, an error code. I was starting to picture myself scrubbing clothes in the bathtub, hair piled under a babushka, singing laundry shanties. So...this is the deal. The broken electrical outlet wasn't the problem. It was a symptom of the problem. The electrical outlet was tied into a circuit that also fed the garden storage area underneath the mudroom. This was a very important circuit because it powered the heating elements that warmed the pipes in the storage/mudroom areas. The breaker for this circuit had failed. So the circuit failed. No electricity in that area. The temperatures had stayed below freezing (see blog below). With no warming elements, the pipes had begun to freeze. So little water was getting to the washer.

We're lucky the pipes didn't burst. Another temporary fix: space heater in the garden shed area to warm the pipes. Permanent fix: change out broken breaker. (See note about needing to be handy?)

Another glamorous episode in the day of a vintage house. We're very thankful we spent the money to upgrade the electricity in the house. Although they didn't (obviously) replace all of the breakers, they did a great job organizing and labeling. Makes it much easier to fix. Does it sound like I know what I'm talking about? Not a bit. It's all "blah...blah...blah...breaker...circuit...Home Depot run" to me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Less than zero

It's more than a Bret Easton Ellis novel and 80s movie. It's a forecast. According to the Globe, the National Weather Service predicts "temperatures will plunge tonight to near zero in the suburbs and maybe even dip a little below that."

See? Snarkiness always bites me on the ass.

We really are in Antarctica, Toto.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to test the freezing nostrils scenario tonight. Three out of five household members (including moi) have been felled by a virus. So I'm wrapped in blankets and eating saltines. Indoors. I have a funny feeling that there will be another "freezing nostril test" opportunity soon.

And Less Than Zero? Features personal favorites, Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr., and James Spader. I might have to Netflix it. Just for nostalgia's sake.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Riding the T

I love riding the T. The lives that you glimpse for a moment, share for a few stops. Lives that one can invent for people that you see, knitted from a scrap of conversation or a pair of scuffed, well-worn shoes. So many different lives: students, blue collar workers, professionals, young, elderly. Some sit as tightly wound as a spring, practically quivering with tension. Others read. Still others snooze. One very clean-cut young man used his train ride to nap, frankly snoring away. It's the same reason I love to sit by the window in a hotel late at night and watch the city pass by below.

Maybe I'm a fantasist. Perhaps I've watched too many movies. Still I love the idea that here on the T, the lives of complete strangers can intersect, even if only for a moment.

To be frank, my cynical side asserts, I've seen few exchanges between strangers. The two I remember involved very pretty young women...girls, really. One, whose crisply curling chestnut hair was pulled into a carefully careless updo, exuded a certain waifish, slightly bookish charm. The second channeled Alice in Wonderland Goes to College with her long, straight blonde hair held back with a headband. Both drew the attention of hopeful young men (and the eyes of still-hopeful, not-so-young men).

So the reality may be that on the T, as elsewhere, romance is reserved for the young and the attractive. Yes, the reality is that the T is an often crowded, frustrating system with (if reports are to be believed, unsafe) equipment and stations. I acknowledge this. My reality as an infrequent user is very different from those who rely on its caprices for daily transport. Yep. Call me an idiot romantic. It's also a place of infinite possibility.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Freezing nostrils

Now, this is the second time I've heard this. That indeed, it gets so impossibly cold here that your nostrils freeze. Actually, the moisture in one's nostrils freezes. This sounds really, really uncomfortable. The fact that an old college friend delivered this information just adds credence to the whole improbable statement. I say improbable because after all, this is New England and not Antarctica. We are no modern day Roald Amundsen. No one is going to say, "My God. She went to Boston and lived to tell the tale."

But then again, if you can't believe an old college friend, whom can you believe?

So a "happy holidays" from the Boston burbs. I'm hunkering down and readying myself for frozen nostrils and other assorted winter pains. It's a balmy 40 here today so the nostrils can breathe a sigh of relief.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"He's a lumberjack..."

"...And he's okay.
He sleeps all night and he works all day..."

Okay. No skipping, jumping, or hanging around in women's clothing at bars here. But my husband is doing his very best darned impression of a lumberjack, out there splitting logs from a felled tree. We don't have any andirons or fireplace screen yet. As soon as we get them, we'll have our very first fire in the fireplace.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."

All sorts of woodsy, nostalgic songs leap to mind.

Musical Tourette's, as a friend says.

It's darned cold, and we're embracing the New England lifestyle. Splitting logs. Plaid flannel shirts. Moose.

Just kidding. No moose here. Are there even moose in New England? And Will's wearing a Chuy's t-shirt, a shout-out to one of our favorite Austin restaurants. Oh well. One out of three. We're kinda New England-y.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My first snowman

Or snowman gone terribly wrong:

He wasn't supposed to look like this. Darn rain.

Survivor: Snowfall

If you were driving through my neighborhood this morning, you may have seen a woman clad in a magenta raincoat furiously shoveling snow. "Who is that crazy woman, and why in the world is she shoveling snow in the rain?" you may wonder as you carefully slid past.

Let me tell you. She is shoveling snow because she has heard the stories. If you don't shovel the snow immediately, it will melt and then refreeze into a sheet of ice. This last is always said with a verbal flourish implying all sorts of menace and doom. A sheet of ice! Yikes! Further, this sheet will last all winter because it will never completely thaw. If you make that first crucial mistake, you will be paying until springtime.

Well, this Texan wasn't going to make that mistake. Nosirree. This Texan was going to head out there no matter the weather and shovel that snow into submission.

As I started shoveling, I noticed irregular, very loud, dull thuds. Ahhhh...Large clumps of wet snow and ice were dropping from the very tall pines around me. Excellent. It was like playing a video game. Round 1: shovel snow before getting beaned by deadly snowballs. I felt like a Mario Kart character. All I needed was the tinny, synth music. If I got beaned by one of those snow/ice clods, would computer-generated stars circle around my concussed noggin?

Luckily, I never found out. Perhaps I should invest in a helmet? Now that would be a sight!

I noticed a couple of other things. One, I was the only person out there doing this. Two, where was I going to put the snow? It has to go somewhere. I started dumping the snow down the driveway, forming berms around the perimeter. Where my driveway met the snow, there were already little moguls of snow at the corners. Which begged another question: am I actually worsening the situation? Would these berms which would be more resistant to melting than a thinner layer of snow create future issues?

Well. No one to ask. And too late now.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I'm beginning to feel that that the stereotype is true. New Englanders are a rugged sort.

And one would have to be, wouldn't one? In my very short tenure here, I've already raked more leaves and shoveled more snow than I ever did during my nineteen years in Austin.

At least there's a certain romance to the leaf raking and snow shoveling. A sense of living in rhythm with the seasons. Plus there is the added benefit of a decent (and inexpensive) cardio workout. A rake and shovel are relatively cheap. The leaves and snow are free. After a few minutes of shoveling, I had shed my Nanook puffy coat in favor of just a sweatshirt layer. Afterwards, the effects could be felt everywhere from biceps to hamstrings.

Living with true seasons demands rigor and discipline. If you're not physically handling the tree detritus, you're scheduling their removal. You're taking out lawn furniture and bringing it in. Likewise with sporting equipment. You deal with gutters (or if you don't deal with gutters, then you deal with ice dams). You ready yourself with salt and scrapers and sand and blankets while your southern counterparts blithely stroll about in shorts.

Perhaps this is why I've seen more LLBean-clad septuagenarians hiking trails and walking to their daily errands here than I'd ever seen in Austin. Granted, Austin is a very youthful city. However, I was much more likely to see the 70+ set enjoying their early bird dining at Luby's than striding along Town Lake or SoCo.

So this is my new goal. I don't want to age into a scheduled regimen of Botox and discreet lifts. I aspire to be that lululemon-clad septuagenarian. Kidding! That LLBean-clad septuagenarian striding through a keen, frosty winter day, rugged and vital and vigorous, honed by years of living through seasons.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Usage #2 for Starbursts

The candy, that is. Not the shapes.

Excellent for dislodging a stubbornly loose tooth.

What do you expect from someone who has duct tape patches on her floor?

Forecast: snow

I should have seen it coming after those barrels of sand started appearing around my neighborhood. Of course I knew it all along. But now it's imminent and very real. It's December, and snow is coming. Three to five inches of snow. That sounds like a lot!

Yes, I know. What did I expect? But expectations differ from cold, hard reality (or cold, fluffy reality as the case may be). My children thought that the light dusting we received in October was awesome. My son carefully scraped up enough snow from all over the backyard to make two very lumpy and pine-needle-encrusted snowmen. And of course, I went crazy taking photos and posting them on Facebook to show my Texas friends the very odd sight of snow dusted pumpkins.

And now. Three to five inches. Wow.

We have salt. And a snowblower. And a snow shovel. (And two pink little kid snow shovels thanks to a kind neighbor, but I'm not seeing the two little girls making much of a dent on any sort of accumulation.) I'm having visions of being stranded in our house, unable to back our car up the driveway (which is a bit steep). Actually, my husband grew up in St. Louis so he should be fine. It's just me who has never driven in ice in her life. Except for that one time in Austin when I ventured out on iced roads in a Miata. I was young and very stupid.

We shall see...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brookline's 1st Light

Among my many worries about our move were holiday traditions. More specifically, losing our holiday traditions. In Austin, our family's holiday traditions included a walk through the Trail of Lights, a mile of 40+ lit scenes winding through Zilker Park. We'd come a bit early and wait by the Zilker Tree, an 155-foot-tall "tree" strung from the Moonlight Tower. We'd munch freshly popped kettle corn. When the Trail opened, we'd merge into the crowds. And every year at just about that time, I felt a surge of ridiculously sappy, sentimental, misty-eyed emotion.

This year, I was sad to see that the Trail of Lights barely survived the city's budget cutting to emerge as a shortened, half-mile trail re-christened "The Zilker Tree Holiday Festival." And maybe, secretly, I was a little bit relieved. Selfishly to be sure. But relieved to see that things don't stay the same even if one stays in the same place.

But what would we do in Boston? In my most anxious moments, I pictured a dreary month void of all holiday cheer and festivity.

Well, tonight, we went to 1st Light at Coolidge Corner in Brookline. The Coolidge Corner merchants and Brookline entities welcomed the holiday season in style, offering crafts, musical acts, fun freebies of every description, and food. Due to the big guy's guitar lesson, we arrived late and found ourselves tangled in a snarl of traffic. Lesson learned. 1st Light is apparently quite popular. We managed to find a parking spot a bit removed from the main action. The children were worried that all of the good stuff would be gone. They needn't have worried.

They dipped candles in wax, decorated photo frames with paint and glitter, made "gilt" walnut ornaments, and wrote with turkey feather quill pens. They received balloon animals and amazing flashlight/pens and cotton candy and snacks. We watched Indian dancers and listened to a few bands and chorale performances. The streets were full of families with beaming, bouncing, overexcited children and gaggles of exuberant teens. A fun, fun holiday street festival.

Thanks to Tanya for suggesting this outing. I feel a new holiday tradition taking shape.


Austin's forecast for Thursday, December 3, 2009:
High: 49
Low: 32

Boston's forecast for Thursday, December 3, 2009:
High: 68
Low: 40

Austin's forecast for Friday, December 4, 2009:
High: 38
Low: 26
Snow forecast

Boston's forecast for Friday, December 4, 2009:
High: 52
Low: 37