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


Tom said...

The annex looks great!

el said...

Oh yay! I hate leaving home so I think you made a good choice for your week off.

The ceiling won't seem so low if all you do is sit in the addition, preferably reading and stoking that fire.

Interesting tidbit: we got those magret ducks here at a restaurant that did all-local-ish (RIP journeyman cafe) and I nearly died when I had that farm's pate. Ohgah. Makes me consider raising ducks again but they're so problematic!

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, Tom. You and the missus should come out and see it for yourselves.

Hey, El: Well, the effort expended will pay dividends directly, but I do hope our next stay-cation involves less toil...! I like the coziness the low ceiling gives, and it's paneled in birch plywood, which gives it quite a nautical feeling, for all that we are utterly landlocked--geographical center of N. America is just a few miles from our place.

Every time we have duck, I ask myself: Why don't we eat more duck? Love it. What's the problematic aspect of raising ducks? From my time in China, where they eat loads of it, more than chicken, I assumed they were pretty low maintenance.

All best~ Brett

el said...

I do wish I had an "away" place to go to...we keep threatening to build a bide a wee on the far side of our property. My experience with such sheds is, if not maintained, quickly become spider, earwig and mouse havens. (So I will stick to my greenhouses if I need away-space. No fire in there though!)

Ducks, geese: messy! We co-housed the ducks with the chickens and the geese with the turkeys. Though there was no interpoultry fighting, the turkeys and the chickens are far more dainty and clean, mainly with their drinking/pooping habits. All in all though you have heard right: they're low maintenance. Just can't deal with all that poop...especially since I can't get it picked up and into the compost where it would be useful. But indeed. Nothing beats the taste and speed of a quick-seared duck breast. Or the jar of fat in your fridge after you eat your roast.

Kate said...

Love THE ANNEX! I tried your recipe for delicata squash. Did not add apple but was wonderful! Keep up the great recipes. Kate

angie said...

Hi Brett,

The vacation comment of 'we visited the Menard's in Rice Lake a few times' made me laugh out loud! We talk about traveling sometimes, then we just point the truck west and do more work. Someday..... Or maybe not. I bet that 300 sq ft feels luxurious!

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Congratulation on a well-spent (in all the sense of the term) vacation and on your new palatial abodes, Brett!
Be careful though... pretty soon you'll be renovating that kitchen... :)

Question: don't you get lots of snow where you are? isn't therefore the roof a little flat for the snow load? or is the size small enough that it does not matter?

Trout Caviar said...

Hey, El: Our friend Renee (I've mentioned her in the blog, runs a cheese shop at the family dairy farm on highway 64 in Connorsville) has a cabin about two minutes away from home. She toodles down the shoulder on her four-wheeler for weekend getaways at her little house by a spring in a wood of maple and oak. Totally charming.

Hello Kate: We're lovin' the annex, too. Thanks for your note, and I'm glad the squash recipe worked out for you.

Hi Angie: Trips to the home improvement center seem more exotic if you use the pronunciation that we've picked up from Jean-Louis: may-NARR(!). I am sure that your dedication to working on the homestead will pay off in spades.

Nice to hear from you, Sylvie. The "kitchen" is perfect, I would never touch it! Re the pitch of the roof, it was more a matter of necessity rather than choice. If we do get a lot of snow (keeping my fingers crossed that we do), the add-on is low enough that we should be able to clear it easily. Also, the annex is built like a bomb shelter. Jean-Louis does not cut corners.

Salut~ Brett