Scones and the Scullery Maid

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For a short time during one of my stints living in  Great Britain, I worked for a duchess who held her late  husbands’ seat in the House of Lords.  I worked, naturally, on her rural estate doing many household jobs but primarily baking for her hearty country appetite when she came back from London each weekend. The head gardener and I had the same sense of humour, and he often called me the scullery maid when he came in to find me cleaning Lady M.’s silver, or ironing her clothes, or rolling dough.  This week I have found, on top of the regular renovations and all the planting, weeding and watering going on in the garden that I am becoming much like that scullery maid once again. Only it’s of course much more pleasant when it’s for oneself.

As we are trying hard to be as organic and natural as possible, as well as not spending money on unnecessary things, I had to research how to clean all the copper I have that shines in the kitchen, and my collection of horse brasses that hang on the mantle and from beams in the living room, just like a British pub. I discovered that the most natural, simplest and most effective for my desires (which is to say NOT as shiny and perfect as my mother might choose to have them) was to use simple catsup.  Other acidic, citrus fruits will work too in various forms (rub lemon and some salt on!) but as we’ll be eventually canning lots of tomatoes, the catsup seems like the best decision. The more you can glob on and leave for a minute on the surface, the better it will eat away at the tarnish. Then, just rinse it off and rub and buff it.  No need for gloves, or to ventilate the room or any of that nonsense, AND it’s much better for the environment as well.

 

I also made my favourite scones (another British favourite) this week, as I am no longer buying anything at all that can be made in my country kitchen from scratch.  This is a simple and quick recipe and while they aren’t as light and fluffy as the top chefs might produce in the u.k., they are dandy for a quick grab for a snack with butter/jam, or even sliced in half as a sandwich.

Preheat the oven to 400 (can’t wait to try these on my wood cookstove in winter!) and lightly grease a baking sheet. Then combine 3 cups flour, 1/2 cup white sugar, 5 tsp. baking powder (that’s the secret – use more b.p. than you’d think!)  and that generous pinch of salt to activate it.  Then cut in the butter 3/4 of a cup, mix 1 egg and 1 cup of milk together and blend it all until you can put it out in a lump on your bread board (lightly flour the surface first).  Knead for 3 or 4 minutes, and then roll the dough out (in my photo). Keep it about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut them into wedge-shapes, or triangles, and place them on the baking sheet, then cook for 15 min. Couldn’t be simpler and they are yummy, esp. right out of the oven!

The scullery maid worked her hands raw

While the gardener sat with his loose-hinged jaw.

He sipped his tea and gossiped aloud;

She cooked, cleaned and ironed as she was most house proud.

(I imagine the above to be true of most instances in any house of the gentry going back many centuries!)

 

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Recent Reno. Country Kitchen

 

The kitchen at Blue Belldon Farm was stuck in the 1970s, with heavily varnished plywood cupboards, dark painted shelves, panelling for the back. The fridge was on an outside wall where I eventually want to put our wood cookstove, so it had to be moved. And the walls were painted that pinkish-beige that was so popular decades ago, but does nothing to cheer or brighten a room.  Thinking open and airy, yet still 1800s primitive farmhouse kitchen, I designed around what I already owned and did all the work, including cutting cupboard doors on big power tools in the barn, ALL BY MYSELF.  Am I proud of the result? You bet!  Scroll down to see the changes that took 11 days straight of 8-10 hour days – the painting was a  nightmare, not just to get rid of the 1970s and all its lacquers and varnishes and possibly- cigarette-baked finishes, but to get the effect I wanted as well – all in all, most things had 4 coats, with some extra touches done on the doors.Still going to put in glass in those doors I cut out, just have plastic for now… The board on the stovetop is my great-grandmother’s bread board, upside down, made by my great-grandfather before electric stoves were invented – but it fits perfectly as a cover! AND I still use it to roll out dough, knead bread as well. (see my first loaf here at the farm, below).

Before:                               and    After:  *click to make bigger

There was a big island and built in cabinet in the middle of the ‘L’-shape, so I sledge-hammered that out to make room for the pine cabinet from the auction we attended a few years ago on New Year’s Day.  Filled with all my favourite artists’ pottery, some of Mom’s weaving, and other treasures…

Before: (built in island/cupboard at far right)  After:   *click to  make bigger

The pantry, which is where I’ve moved the fridge as well, is also lightened up and my bake table will be there as soon as Richard fixes the poor old rickety legs on it.

All the 1970s’ doors have been taken off to be used for other projects or for Rustic Revivals shabby chic (when painted white) shop displays. Nothing goes to waste, of course, but reconfiguring is the name of the game.  A quickly-accessed pantry now, that has brighter shelves, with the phone cubby and the fridge all tucked away there out of the main part of the kitchen. Love it! Everything bought in bulk and stored in canisters, or hung above, easy to grab when right there baking, mixing, blending, dreaming…

Eventually, we hope to change out the ceiling for more historical wood and beams, and rip all the many layers of vinyl/linoleum on the floor to get to original floorboards as well. Richard is going to make a concrete counter top for us and we’ll put in a butler’s sink. But for now, this is a very happy, bright, livable kitchen and will be an even cozier place when the cookstove is in the corner!

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If you’re interested in rural renovations, and historically accurate preservations,below are the steps to get the kind of ‘aged’ finish on the blue door-fronts, as well as the white chalk paint mix and the hinge trick I had to use – but it saved money and time!

The stores out here in boonesville don’t carry the heritage brands of paint that were designed to match the blends the pioneers made from various berries. I’ve always gone with some form of Colonial Blue – but usually of my own mixing to save money.  This replicates what the pioneers did with blueberries and blackberries, to ‘stain’ their wood.  To the left is the table leg of my bake table, which I actually DID as the pioneers would have. To the right I am going through the steps to achieve the same effect with paint:P6020002.JPG

Here are the steps: First,  I removed cupboard doors and stripped, sanded them, as well as shelves inside the cupboards.  I didn’t do these, however, like you would do a piece of fine antique furniture – I left holes and lumps (though I did fill the old hinge holes as they were too obviously hinge holes). Leaving the imperfections adds character when you are distressing and aging anyway.

Next, painted door-fronts a baby blue I hated, but used as a primer. Then made up a chalk paint with arts and crafts Colonial blue (helped stretch it further as well as making it more historically accurate).  Then I aged the doors by sponging on an oak stain, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then clean rag-rubbed it off, or buffed it in to holes, etc.

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I then painted the hinges and hardware  I was using – both the old ones to save money, and the new ones I bought from the feed store and with which I attached tiny hearts in my craft supplies to give the effect.  As copper is the primary colour of any metals in my kitchen (and I’ll eventually have a copper tap at the butler’s sink as well), I bought copper spray paint, sprayed it into a container and then hand-brushed it on the hardware so it all matches in colour, though has lots of diversity in the look! (which you want for ‘country’ – you don’t want everything matching, everything lined up, everything covered up…

 

This is how the doors look that AREN’T cut for glass:

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This is an inexpensive way to make ‘arrow strap hinges’.  The door to the right was my very first cutting on the radial arm saw, so while it fits the space, it DOES have that big crack and hangs a little unevenly – but again – it adds CHARACTER! And since the kitchen floors are far from level anyway, it’s just part of the charm for me. (especially given that it’s my OWN work – it means more!) The saw,  of my Montana log cabin incl. the horse I’d bred and trained, was done by lifelong friend Marg Moylan and has been in every kitchen I’ve had since she gave it to me. But this is the best spot!
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All the shelves were either sanded and painted white, or covered with white parchment paper or both. Many of the drawers or cupboard doors were removed to make room for crates and displays, as because of the pine hutch and the pantry, I have more than enough storage.
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and another historically accurate addition is the use of curtains, especially around the sink. Adds to the variety and character and takes away from that uniformed, boring ‘kitchen cupboard’ look.  So much more warmth and coziness, don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beaver Dam & Smitty the Ham

Sometimes of an evening

When we’ve been working all the day

And there’s been no time for Smitty

To walk, or run or play.

 

I put him in the pick-up

And we drive down to Back Lake Road

To listen to the peepers

Or watch a hopping brown-wart toad.

 

One night we watched a beaver

As he shoved a large black branch

Toward his log cabin abode

In his Mazzerole Lake ranch.

 

So many lakes and marshes

As well as ponds and brooks

Surround us on all sides

And Richard’s keen to get out hooks

 

And start catching our fresh fish

For supper every night

Perhaps our figures will shape up

As we try and just eat right.

 

But in the meantime, Smitty thinks

A dog treat is now called for

And he won’t let go of that ideal

– He’s waitin’ at the door!

 

 

June is Bustin’, at Blue Belldon

 

 

10 min Heaven
With  organic gardening in the morning and renos. all afternoon and into the evening, not to mention just regular household and animal chores, I only allow myself 10 minutes a day or so to collapse into the hammock, hung beneath the apple blossoms (truly Anne Shirley’s “White Way of Delight” here!) . But boy, what inspiration and motivation from those 10 minutes, delighting in the surrounding Appalachians springing alive with chirping song -birds, distant tractors across the valley, bees buzzing among the blossoms, and, in the evenings I take another 10 before bed and listen to the valley orchestra of spring peepers. Heaven!

 

 

When there’s planting to do, in the veg patch  but, but…

How about a wildflower trail

That winds down to grass uncut?

Or  how about some kitchen drawers that now grow herbs –

Call me a nut?

Why, yes, yes, of course I am – but the kind that worships birds and bees

And every whisper through the trees

That say “I’m glad to be alive

In a world where bees still rule their hive”

And I grow organic cilantro, balm and chive…

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A Salvage Artist never throws anything out. These kitchen cupboard doors and drawers are now an herb garden  right outside the kitchen door (soon to be a Dutch/stable door, thank you Richard!   Still working on making them look attractive, but I was excited to see today that the borage and cilantro are already sprouting up in neat little rows!  And many of the herbs and wildflowers I’m planting are PURELY to encourage the bees to pollinate, although the amount of them buzzing among the apple blossoms and dandelions suggest to me that they are off to a good start!

 

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More Moving Mayhem, and Pet Predicaments

Out of necessity, these blogs that I share with you all weekly, will now be, if under the Regular Rural Updates category, a week behind. It can’t be helped; I’m already exhausting myself with being alone for the next two months and doing all the gardening, errands, renovating and animal husbandry myself.  So, though I thought I could write on some of my back-rest, knee-nap moments, I find my fingers too sore to type and my mind too whirling with the next project.

However, there is SOOO much to tell from this past week’s move from Ontario that I don’t want to let it go any longer without sharing.  I hope you’ll enjoy the antics below – while there have been some frustrating and even frightening moments, they are certainly good for a chuckle now!

We set out last Monday as scheduled, the U-Haul fully loaded, 1/3 with Rustic Revivals pieces which I hope to sell either on Etsy again (as we’re so near the Maine border now and postage will be easy from there!) OR by opening a shop here eventually.  Simba sat in a box between us, looking excited and interested.  That only lasted 5 minutes, however, because once we were on the 401 and a few transports whizzed past us (yes, that’s right – Richard was driving the speed limit!) kitty decided he’d rather sleep under Richard’s seat on the cold floor with bolts sticking up around him. And he stayed there, traumatized, for two whole days of travel, incl. the night we spent in Quebec at friends’. (More on these in a moment!)

Two movies will come up frequently when I speak of our journey to Blue Belldon Farm. One is the 1970’s Adventures of the Wilderness Family. In similar mode, I copied Robert Logan’s “We’re getting OUT OF HERE!” victorious exclamation as soon as we left the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) behind us and had pretty much clear ‘sailing’ from then on.  I did the leaning out the window and hollering when we a) left Ontario behind and b) arrived in New Brunswick as well. High excitement from a life-time of ‘planning this dream’.

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Upon arriving at the Wrights’ house in Hudson, Quebec, where we planned to spend Monday night – a great half-way stop, we thought – their door was opened by poor Jane in a sling and limping in open-toed sandals. She’d had a bad fall and didn’t look up to company, bless her, and Peter had been necessarily waiting on her as well as some other guests they’d had over the weekend. Nevertheless, Richard found it imperative to insist on going right out with Peter and examining the contents of the U-Haul.  Of course, because we’d thrown many things on right at the end, they all fell out when the back was opened.  And then something was caught on the hinges higher up, and the door refused to roll closed again.  It took over an hour for both men to sort this out. At one point, sitting with Jane, I was aware of Richard flying horizontally through the air, parallel to the ground, as he had a ‘back-kick’ from the door.  Later, he came up for some tools with his nose bleeding – not the inside, but on the outside where a heavy basket had fallen on him. I don’t know why on earth he couldn’t have just waited until we got to our new farm to open that damn door, but men always have to FIDDLE, it seems to me!

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You will remember from my last blog posting (Mooning/Moving Mishaps One) that the entire Reich family are very accident prone.  This was not the last time these things would happen on our trip – and that is where the second movie comes in: 1988’s Funny Farm, starring Chevy Chase.  Sometimes it seemed that what could go wrong WOULD. Especially if Richard is around to influence it!

After we left Wrights we drove about 2.5 hours then stopped at a rest stop and took the cat out to sit in the grassy shade for a while.  He enjoyed this so much we felt compelled to do it every few hours, which drove Richard crazy, as he has inherited his father’s resolve to drive and drive with nary a bathroom break, never mind lolly-gagging about under a shade tree! But Simba was so unhappy in the truck, and so pleased to be petted outside with no movement or noise, it was obvious that we had to do it for his sake!  Thus, Tuesday’s trip was more like a 9 hour drive, rather than the 7.5 it should have been.

In Funny Farm, the couple are at their new farm waiting on the movers to arrive. Unbeknownst to them, the movers are lost, and trying to cross a covered bridge.  One mover says “That’s no bridge – that’s termites holding hands!”  While we had no movers and were driving ourselves, and whilst Richard DID research the route he wanted to take to Blue Belldon (ie :  NOT up the steep “Crocodile Hill” – real name: Klockedahl, and not through the treacherous Lucy’s Gulch, of which I’ve written previously in this blog) RICHARD FORGOT THAT THERE WERE MANY BRIDGES in New Brunswick.  Luckily, the one with which we found ourselves abruptly confronted was NOT one of the many covered bridges.  But it WAS full of holes and weak boards, and was only narrow enough for one vehicle to cross. This was on Brook’s Bridge Road. I think that might have been Richard’s first clue when he was researching, but there we were, pulled over to the side while I got out and walked tentatively out on to the bridge, with its iron stanchions running up and over top on both sides.  Would the truck fit under? Would the wooden bridge hold the big U-Haul? I helped direct R. across, feeling the weight of the bridge shudder and sigh as he white-knuckled it across.  When we got to the other side, he stopped again to change his pants (kidding) and catch his breath. I wanted to take a photo and compare it to the shot (above) from Funny Farm, but he was afraid we’d done even more damage to the bridge and wanted to high-tail it out of there before ‘someone’ caught us!

We chugged slowly up a few more hills and finally pulled into Blue Belldon Farm, all its radiant beauty, its apple blossoms, lilac bushes and meadows of dandelions taking my breath away in a whole different way than the bridge just had. Our new place is STUNNING!  The major renovations inside which will be primarily up to Rural Revivals (me)  to initiate did not worry me much as the outside was so incredible, especially at this glorious time of year. As we slowly pulled around the drive toward the barn I said “Oh, good – there IS a clothesline!” (because you can’t live off-grid and self-sufficiently without one!) whereupon my dear husband drove the U-Haul straight into it and pulled it all down.

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This is absolutely typical Reich behaviour.  You have to just ‘go with it’ as best you can… Of course he fixed it within the week (’cause I wouldn’t let him forget it, believe me!).

Poor Simba was SOOOOOOOOOO pleased to be out of that truck, with all the movement, noise, disruption to his diet and litter box visits. He was EXHAUSTED beyond belief.  But it would take him 3 more days to fully recover, and then something else would come into his life which set his old teeth on edge all over again:

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That something was “Smitty”.

I had agreed to foster Smitty for a few months to see if he was the right kind of dog for us here at the farm. I’ll write more about his poor life up to today in another blog, but suffice it to say, he needed us right now, and we looked forward to having him.  Simba, however, was NOT impressed.  He has been hiding behind – and IN –  U-Haul boxes all week, but at least he’s not in a moving vehicle and he can get away from the dog as much as he likes.

But Smitty is another reminder of the humour that was decadent in the movie Funny Farm. For Chevy Chase’s character decides to adopt a dog, an Irish Setter.  And the second the dog arrives at their new country property he takes off up into the hills, and at various points throughout the movie, you see the dog just running and running up hill and down dale, ears flopping, as Chevy calls “Here!  Dog!  Come back! ”

This was Richard and me the very morning after we acquired Smitty.  He took off on me as we walked to our brook for a drink, and I had to trudge all the way back to the house to get R. to help look for him.  We never found him. But after 20 tearful moments, he did return to US.  However, he’s done it 2 more times since. On the 2nd occasion he insisted we meet the neighbours.  He found 4 doggie friends up the hill at Eileen’s and her mother’s house, and he just helped himself to their home, letting himself in, eating the other dogs’ food, drinking their water, etc.  A sort-of backwards Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

He has also chewed through 4 ropes that he’s been tied to while I’ve gardened, thrust his nose under my arm while I was painting and splattered himself with white paint, cut himself on a rose bush I was pruning, and tangled TWICE with the skunks that were living under our side porch. Keep in mind we haven’t had him a week yet!

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But at least I and my cat and dog are HERE, in this amazing, stunning, most wondrous place. The first night we spent listening to the spring peepers from Toad Pond and looking out at the neighbours’ lights spread sparingly across the valley. Then I lay in bed looking through the big bay window at a completely clear sky positively SMEARED with starlight, the silhouettes of the mountains their backdrop, like dark sentinels protecting us from all sides.

The next morning, the sunrise was incredible and our red maple seemed the perfect frame to take a due-east photograph:

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Renovation and Gardening/Orcharding posts will follow in the weeks to come, with many before-and-after photos and how-tos if anyone is interested.  But for now, I’m very happy to be here safely, knowing my mother and husband will follow in July, and content, if exhausted, in the work that awaits me each day to prepare for this, our new life of simplicity and homesteadie-heaven at Blue Belldon Farm, Blue Bell Corner, N.B.