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Friday, October 30, 2009

Cocktail Friday :)

I've decided to implement a new domestic tradition...Cocktail Friday! I figure it's a great way to usher in the weekend, try new things, and learn the art of mixing drinks.

So for the inaugural drink (drumroll, please)...

The Manhattan

Equal parts whiskey and sweet vermouth (for the sweet version), this cocktail is a classic--a favorite of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, as well as the ladies of Sex and the City (in addition to the Cosmopolitan, of course). But more importantly, it was the signature cocktail of my beloved grandfather, who would have celebrated his 99th birthday today. Every big holiday would find him mixing a pitcher of his Manhattans--measuring by eye, of course, and then by heart when his vision grew poor. One part alchemist, all parts gracious host, he'd supply us all with his specialty drink throughout cocktail hour. It's just one more thing I'm going to miss as our first holiday season without him approaches....but tonight, I'm raising my glass to a classic.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ham, Swiss, & Leek Roll

This Saturday, my grandmother showed me how she makes her DELICIOUS ham, swiss, & leek roll. It's such great recipe because it's elegant, yet simple. And did I mention that it's delicious?

1/4 pound thinly sliced ham
1/4 pound thinly sliced swiss cheese
3 leeks (washed and thinly sliced; whiter portion only)
black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 sheet puff pastry (approximately 12"x12")

Roll out the puff pastry sheet, to thin and even it out a bit. Layer ham across the middle third of the puff pastry, then the swiss cheese over the ham, and finally the sliced leeks. Sprinkle with a generous amount of ground black pepper.
Fold the puff pastry over the filling...
Then tuck in the ends, and brush the top with the egg wash.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes and viola!
The leeks become soft and sweet, which is perfectly complemented by the salt of the ham and the healthy dose of black pepper. I can't wait to try and make this myself, and I can definitely see it becoming a go-to recipe for me. Now if someone would just have a dinner party sometime soon...

Friday, October 23, 2009

If All Dogs Go To Heaven...

then this guy has a special spot up there.
I'm very sad to report that Buster had to be put to sleep on Tuesday, after a long and happy life. He was a sweetheart loved by all, a complete "people dog", and a great friend. His 14 years with our family consisted of everything from the rough and tumble farm dog life (courageously screening every woodpile in his territory for villainous mice) to the much-deserved life of leisure in his golden years...indoor living, full-time human companionship, and delicious treats from the kitchen. While Steven and I are sad to have never had him live with us, we know that the country life with my mom, grandmother, and brother was the best way for him to finish out his dog years.

Buster was there for many milestones, such as our engagement, where "going on a hike with Buster" was Steven's ruse to get me out to Long Pond, where he surprised me with champagne, roses, and a *diamond*...
And of course he was the adorable ring bearer at our 2007 wedding...
He was that once-in-a-lifetime dog, totally worth my crooked nose, and he'll be missed by all who loved him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh. Hey, Winter. We weren't expecting you so soon...

I was totally caught off guard this past week when winter decided to show up to the party a little early. (So rude.) I mean, with Halloween still a couple weeks away, I was NOT expecting snow! And since this is the first year ever that Steven & I will be paying for heat, I can't say I'm excited about it. We were hoping for a little more time to prepare--insulating, weatherproofing, sealing, etc.

Alas, we turned the heat on last night.

The good news is that it works. Really well. So well that I was roasting in a tank top and skivvies, had to turn the thermostat down to 50 degrees, and open a window. At 2 am. The bad news is that the heat is on. On October 18th.

That fact has bumped the bathroom renovation out of the top spot on the priority list, and replaced it with our winterizing campaign. Which brings to mind a Czech proverb often shared by my grandmother:

When winter comes, she will ask what you did in summer.

She generally uses it in a financial sense, but it obviously works in any context that requires thinking ahead and preparing for leaner/colder/harsher days. It's a favorite of mine, and has grown into a basic tenet for me, a key to living well, and it's Exhibit A of those little jewels of wisdom that are a true gift of grandparents. But I digress...

Here's the lowdown on our campaign to winterize and heat our home as economically as possible this year:

The Starting Line. According to Santoro Oil, the previous owner used ~1050 gallons of home heating oil last winter (from October 2008 to April 2009), which cost approximately $2600. The house was vacant (but still heated) from January to April. I'm not sure what the thermostat setting was during that time, but I suspect it's irrelevant, since the calibration seems to be way off. (It was set to 63 degrees last night and we were nearly steamed to death. Karma for all the Maine lobsters we've sent to the same fate???) Either way, we're considering 1050 gallons the number to beat.

The Status Quo. Oil-burning furnace, steam radiators. The furnace is also our hot water heater (tankless). All standard sized, double-hung windows in the house are newer vinyl replacement windows. Any nonstandard sized windows in the house, including several very large ones, are ancient and very drafty. Both exterior doors are original, and the accompanying aluminum storm doors are only slightly younger. As far as we know, the house itself is insulated by rigid foam insulation that was layered under the vinyl siding. We have no reason to believe that there is insulation within the exterior walls themselves.

The Game Plan.
  • Windows: Install the 2 Pella Thermastar replacement windows we purchased, asap. Caulk liberally. Use window insulation kits on the 5 large, ancient windows in the kitchen and sunroom. Replace these in the next 5 years.
  • Doors: Last weekend, Steven installed simple weatherstripping foam around the doors to combat some very serious drafts. It made a huge difference. He also switched out the screens in the storm doors, and put the glass panels in. I doubt these storm doors are doing much for us in the energy-efficiency department, but we've got 'em, so we'll use 'em. Next year, we'll get 2 new storm doors, and possibly a new exterior door for the side entrance. We love the original front door, so that's staying put. However, we'll definitely be using a door snake to help keep drafts at bay.
  • Furnace: We'll be getting this baby buffed and puffed this week as part of our service plan with our new oil company. My understanding is that it gets a tune up, a cleaning, and new filters. This should help it run more efficiently, and last longer.
  • Pipes: Insulate the 2 unwrapped heating pipes in the basement with fiberglass insulation. Insulate any visible hot water pipes, or water lines at risk of freezing, with black foam pipe wrapping. I already wrapped the pipes in the downstairs bathroom, as they run along a quasi-exterior wall, with minimal insulation. Turn off and drain the water line to the outdoor spigots.
  • Radiators: Clean with soap and water, to remove any dust/debris that may interfere with optimal radiation. Remove radiator covers, whose aesthetic purpose does not justify the obstruction to heat flow. Still not sure if we can simply close the radiator valves in rooms we don't use, will have to speak to a plumber about this.
  • Basement: Seal up any drafts with spray foam, then stuff squares of fiberglass insulation along the sill. Tack up a couple sheets of rigid foam insulation on the wall inside the bulkhead structure (currently only a 1/2" sheet of plywood between downstairs bathroom wall and the inside of the bulkhead shelter.) Install weatherstripping around the bulkhead door.
  • Sunroom: I spent last Sunday in the crawlspace under the sunroom, laying down a plastic vapor barrier and insulating the sunroom floor with R19 insulation. It's about 70% done, with just the most difficult section left to do. I'll have to climb over/behind the old cement stairs to insulate the farthest, darkest, smallest area of the crawlspace. I'm not really looking forward to that, but it doesn't really make sense to awesomely insulate 70% of a crawlspace, and leave the rest completely unprotected.
  • Gutters: Clean them out. I never want to experience ice damming again. Certainly not when I am the homeowner and have to deal with the damage.
  • Downstairs bathroom. As I mentioned, I wrapped the pipes last weekend. My FIL also came up and helped out with weatherproofing this room--namely, sealing up the old vent hole in the exterior wall (using spray foam and plywood), and caulking/adjusting the new vents Steven had constructed for the ceiling fan and newly-rerouted stove vent. Additionally, Steven's buddy Chad came up today and installed as much wall insulation as possible, considering the electrical inspection has not yet been resolved.
  • Get a programmable thermostat. Steven just ordered this one, after a characteristic amount of research. (read: LOTS) :)
  • Oil Company. We decided to stay with Santoro Oil, a local company that has serviced this house for the last 9 years. The world of home heating oil is a new one to us, so we found it a bit daunting to pick a company and payment program--it's a bit like gambling. However, we decided to go with the Price Cap program, where a maximum price is set for a gallon of oil. If the market price drops below that cap, you pay the lower price. If it rises above the cap price, you still pay the cap amount. We also signed up for the basic service program, so we'll have around-the-clock assistance if anything goes wrong.
  • Attic. We're not sure what the attic insulation status is right now, but I've read that insulating your attic is the #1 way to drastically cut your energy costs. That's simply too important to ignore, but we're not quite sure how to approach the project. Do we insulate the floor or the roof? Most things I've read say floor...but I'm not sure that makes sense when you have a walk-up 3rd floor that you may or may not want to utilize as living space someday. Also, we shy away from doing the floor because we love the old floorboards and are afraid they'll get ruined in the process. Either way, it's a great time to do this kind of home improvement...it's tax credit eligible!
Whew! Quite a list, huh?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Checking In

Haven't had any time or energy for updates recently, so here is a "getting up to speed" post...

Steven's ACL Surgery. Well, it's done, and I'm pleased to report that the procedure went as planned and the surgeon was very positive at Steven's first post-op appointment on Friday. (To be more specific--after shaking the just-operated-on knee all over the place, he declared "Oooh, yeah. That's a sturdy knee joint.") The first week after surgery was a doozy, highlighted by a modern torture device (aka: the CPM machine), nasty pain med side effects, and general misery. Eleven days post-op, things are looking much better. Steven is done with the CPM machine, putting considerable weight on his healing leg, and flexing to 95 degrees. According to the surgeon, it takes until about 3 months post-op to start feeling "like yourself", but things are definitely moving in the right direction...

PARIS! I'm heading to Paris in exactly 1 month for a girls' getaway weekend!
It all happened rather suddenly, and started with the following email from one of my girls:

"I have a couple extra vacation days this year..."

Things just snowballed from there, and three days later we had booked a great flight & hotel package through Orbitz. This is a first time destination for all 3 of us, and we're just super excited to see the sights, walk the city, and savor the flavors. In fact, the unofficial theme of our trip is DIY Foodie Tour. Very excited!

Home Improvement. As you might imagine, home improvement efforts came to a screeching halt after Steven's surgery. The downstairs bathroom is still priority #1, with winter preparation and insulating coming in as a close #2. We made some progress with that this weekend, which I'll post about in more detail soon.