Thursday, October 28, 2010
The Bide-A-Wee Week That Was
At Bide-A-Wee, this is what we mean when we talk about an "open kitchen." I get a kick out of the ads for pricey kitchen equipment that you see in the glossy food magazines, the ones that more than imply that a $5,000 range or a $300 sauté pan will magically allow one to produce gourmet meals of incomparable scrumptiousness. Now, I believe in quality equipment--we've got Le Creuset, All-Clad, Magnalite, Global, etc., in our kitchen in Saint Paul--but I also believe that it's the cook who makes the dish, after the farmers make the food, and that's the important part.
Anyway, it's just a blast (sometimes resembling a blast furnace) cooking on a fire of oak, birch, and apple. You don't necessarily have pinpoint control over temperatures, but there's an undeniable thrill in working with windblown flame.
With that, and a little help from the Coleman stove, a cast iron skillet on top of the woodstove to pan-roast the duck breast, we enjoyed this:
Au Bon Canard magret with blackberry-whisky sauce on celery root-potato mash, rapini from the Bide-A-Wee garden (the rapini, cooked off in the duck drippings, was very nice, though I hadn't really meant to focus on it quite so much). Over the course of the long weekend last, we also had the chicken-chestnut dish I just wrote about, and an atypical Trout Caviar fish dish, deviled whitefish fried in potato chip crust, a one-and-a-half-martinis inspiration that was utterly delicious. But, I should probably try it again, without the gin prelude. We served that with an apple-turnip matchstick salad with buckwheat honey dressing--our way with coleslaw.
And then Sunday night we used a bit of whitefish we had left, and a mess of wonderful vegetables--leek, onion, celery root, tomato, carrot, potato--in a lovely soup, sprinkled with some Wisconsin "asiago." It was a memorable weekend of cooking and eating, the moreso because we also did this:
Introducing the Bide-A-Wee annex, or clubhouse, and when I say "we did this," I'm lying, because it was our friend Jean-Louis who did most of it, driving out from Minneapolis to Bide-A-Wee and back nearly every day over the course of three weeks. But coming down the stretch we helped shingle the roof, and we did the insulation and the interior paneling and most of the exterior siding. With no electricity at the cabin, this was labor intensive work--Jean-Louis had a small generator that he fired up for a few fine cuts, but most of it was done by hand. And that is why, since a couple of days ago, when I move my right arm in certain ways, my shoulder punishes me the way I punished it in pushing to get the buildling done before the weather turned. Which it did, the very afternoon we got the last of the siding and exterior trim in place. And it hasn't stopped turning, yet.
We're aware that the new addition doesn't quite match the original, but that's very typical of rural Wisconsin add-ons, we've noted. The new room is 10-by-12 feet, and it only looks so imposing because Bide-A-Wee proper is so small. When you consider the space that the Haggis woodstove and entry door take up, the new room effectively doubles our space. The first time we had to close up all the doors, back in late September, the sense of claustrophobia that instantly descended made us realize this was necessary if we were to enjoy another fall and winter at the cabin. The ceiling is low. It reminds me of a houseboat. And another interesting feature: When you stand in the addition and look through what were the double barn doors into the original cabin, you can see the whole layout of the place in a way we never could before, and the effect is like looking at a diorama in a museum--Here we see how pretend-homesteaders lived in west-central Wisconsin in the early part of the 21st century.... I'll do the inside Bide-A-Wee tour when we get a few loose ends tied up.
Since a few months back we'd planned a vacation for last week. The plans started out rather grand and far-flung--we were thinking about France, then considered Montreal. Portland, Maine, is somewhere we've long wanted to visit, so we looked in to going there. Plans contracted further to a circle tour of Wisconsin, staying at B & Bs, seeking out interesting restaurants and markets. Then as the annex construction progressed, we said, Hey, why don't we stay at the new and improved Bide-A-Wee, and do some day trips. Then, as construction continued, we said, Hey, why don't we get the insulation in before the snow flies, and, Hey, why don't we get this siding on, 'cause the Tyvek is really ugly.
So, on our vacation we visited the Menard's in Rice Lake a few times, the Woodlund's building center in Bloomer, the Lampert's in Ridgeland. We also got to have lunch in the gravel garden with Jean-Louis, hone our carpentry skills under expert guidance, and in the end luxuriate in all that space--Bide-A-Wee has grown to over 300 square feet! We're livin' like kings...!
And the season has turned, for sure. We finished up the exterior work, save for painting, Monday afternoon, as the skies darkened and the weather radio warned of record low pressure, impressive wind speeds, and indeed, it has been a blustery few days. Most of the leaves are down, and the woodstove is put to use each night at the cabin.
Throughout the summer we saw several broods of bluebirds matriculate from the houses we've put up around the land. In the last warm days they came in flocks to the birdbath. They don't eat seeds, apparently, so eschewed the feeders, but eagerly drank and splashed--one day I counted eight young bluebirds at once in the small birdbath. Now they've headed for warmer climes. We'll welcome them back in the spring.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw