Back Story


Bast2One of my favorite days of my life was July 14, 1989.  I was a young man living in Salem, MA for that summer and decided to have a big party on the grounds of the historic home in which I lived. 

The fact that July 14, 1989 was the bicentennial of the French Republic and it falling on a Saturday was all the excuse I needed for a big party.

There are many things that make this day stand out all these years later, but there is one priceless artifact from that time that I treasure most.  My mother, who loved the vintage thirteen starred flag I flew on the house for July 4th that year, made me a large French flag when she heard about my plans for a Bastille Day party.

As a gifted seamstress, my mom chose just the right fabrics and colors and created a perfectly proportioned flag – complete with buttonhole grommets from which I could easily hang the flag on the house.

I was so touched by this.  The flag was a huge hit and made a pretty standard summer backyard cookout into what I wanted it to be – a festive commemoration of the bicentennial of the storming of the Bastille.

Well, I still have the flag.  I have brought it out most years ever since that special day in 1989.  This year, my mom is recovering from an illness in a rehab center outside of Boston.  I thought that a good way to cheer her up a bit was to hang that flag in all its glory over the barn of her beloved home here in New Hampshire for Bastille Day.  Although she can’t be here to see it – she will be thrilled to know I still cherish the flag she made when she sees the pictures.

Of course she will add “I gave up some of my best fabric to make that flag” – but that is why we love her.

The heirloom flag is a nice backdrop for my other Francophile treasures, a cast of one of the gargoyles of Notre Dame which adorns my front porch:

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Happy Bastille Day!

Container.7.12.1I know you have been wondering how my container garden is doing this year.  Well, I am pleased to say it is doing very well.  I have some good growth and no noticeable groundhog damage to speak of yet.

The warm sunny days have led to some great growth in my tomato plants.  The few plants I started early are either in bloom or have already started forming fruit (right).  I have a bunch of other younger tomato plants that are also doing well.

The big surprise so far is the success I have had with a green pepper plant (below).  A surprise because I have not had too much success with these peppers in the past.  You can also see a few green beans sprouting behind the pepper, I have had good success with the beans this year by spreading them out to other containers as opposed to keeping them all together.

I also how a bunch of summer squash blossoms (themselves a treat for some) which I hope will lead to some nice midsummer yields.

But my great success continues to be the basil – I have harvested some for various dishes already and have many more plants waiting to mature which will ensure I have a nice flow of basil well into the fall.

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AZ1This post would have much more impact had I the foresight to do a “before and after” thing, but you will have to use your imagination.

Recently, while sorting though more of the stuff packed away in the barn, I came across two ceramic bookends: an “A” and a “Z”.  I have seen A-Z bookends in the past and always thought they were kind of fun.  But these were white with a little bit of sparkle to them.  I thought that they could use a little sprucing up.

Earlier, I had come across a half-used can of spray paint that was part of a project I did a few years ago.  I thought that it might be fun to try to see if I could paint the bookends and make them more likely to be used in the house.

I wasn’t sure if it would work – as the bookends were made of a glazed ceramic and the paint was a textured “granite” type of thing.  However, after a couple of coats the paint stuck to the glaze and the texture of the paint added a nice finish.

They took a while to dry – but when they did – I had two “saved from the dumpster” treasures to grace my bookshelf – where they sit today.

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aaTPLast year I told the story of our family heirloom turkey platter that has been in my mother’s family for generations and now graces our Thanksgiving table every year.  That post was more about the lament of no longer celebrating the holiday at my parents country home in New Hampshire than about the platter itself.

Thanksgiving had been the one holiday when we would all gather at the house and enjoy an old fashioned holiday dinner.  Since moving our parents out to a more convenience living situation, a couple of years ago, my sister and her family have hosted dinner.

This year, with me as caretaker of the old family homestead in New Hampshire, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner here once again.  It was my mother’s first time at the house since moving out two years ago and although she was a bit emotional, she was happy to be back and thrilled to see the house alive again, especially with the whole family around her.

It was a challenge for me to host the whole family and prepare dinner by myself, but I was happy to do it.  I was well prepared and made detailed lists of everything I needed to do to prepare – from preparing the dinner to cleaning the house to last minute decorating projects.  I had everything perfectly timed to be ready for when guests arrived.  However, the day before Thanksgiving something unexpected happened… a snow storm passed through leaving 18 inches of heavy wet snow. 

This was a major setback, as there were a few tense moments waiting to be plowed out.  But the driveway was cleared in time and by Thanksgiving day the sun was out and the snow covered landscaped added to the festive atmosphere.

It was nice to have to whole family back to the house and we had a great time.  My oldest brother in his toast at dinner remarked: “lets give thanks to having the whole family together for one last Thanksgiving dinner in this house.”

No one knows for sure if it was indeed the last time for dinner here, but the sentiment was genuine and touching.  All I know is that the family tradition is that wherever the turkey platter lives is where dinner will be.  I am happy to report the platter has come home and I will keep it safe for at least another year.

Part two – my accidental success

Sun1I’ve talked about my failed vegetable garden and subsequent attempt at salvaging a container garden, but over the summer I also dabbled in flowers and plants in the house’s other gardens.

The house I have become the caretaker of is an old farmhouse with sprawling grounds.  I knew right away that I was not going to be able to take on the grounds keeping myself in my first season.  Not that I don’t want to do it, it is just that it would be ALL I did were I to take it on.

Thankfully I have a neighbor who has been taking care of the acres of lawn for my dad for years and he agreed to continue with that.  But the front gardens of the house were up to me.  With my parents out of the house for a couple of years and with their diminished capacity for gardening for a few years before that – I had my work cut out for me in bringing he gardens back.

I determined early on that I would clean out the gardens in the spring and wait to see what perennials showed up while adding a few annuals here and there to ensure some color.  Basically, I wanted to have a true country garden – with a mix a cultivated plants and wildflowers which grow in abundance here.  So I did a big clean up of the gardens – which was quite a task – removing years worth of dead brush and other organic matter.  It was great watching new things grow in all season and I enjoyed picking out some flowers at a local nursery to add to the mix.

My only real challenge was determining what were weeds and what were ultimately nice summer flowers.  I decided to forgo any real weeding and see what happened.  Well, I am glad I did, as some things that I would have pulled without any question turned out to be the nicest flowers.  In particularly were a few long stalks that didn’t seem to have any purpose.  I had to talk myself out of pulling them a few times.  Patience paid off and they turned out to be lovely late-season sunflowers which capped off a summer of pretty flowers (no thanks to me). 

Here is a small sampling of the various stages of the front gardens this summer.

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car1Long-time fans of Lost Cowboy know that yours truly – this blog’s curator – is an unabashed anglophile.  I love all things British and I take any opportunity to visit the British Isles or check out anything remotely English that lands on these Yankee shores.

This past weekend I was thrilled to stumble upon a whole field of like-minded people close to home in Wolfeboro, NH at the British Cars of New Hampshire’s 15th Annual Show of Dreams.

I was making my way to Wolfeboro, a lovely lakeside community not too far from my home base, to check out the annual Huggins Hospital Street Fair, when I started to notice a few classic cars out and about.  This is not an unusual sight on the roads around here as there is often a car show going on somewhere in the area in the summer.

However, as I passed by The Nick, a large recreation facility in Wolfeboro, I saw the sign for the Show of Dreams and I made a point of stopping in on my way back out of town – and I am glad I did.

car2When I arrived at the show in the early afternoon, I found a field full of the most beautifully restored automobiles from British makers such as Jaguar, MG, Austin Healey, and my personal favourite, Triumph.

I walked around soaking in the sights and checking out the cars all lined up for inspection.  It was a gorgeous day and looking at these great cars was a nice way to enjoy it.

There is something special about these types of events.  Even though I am not really a car person, seeing the love people have for their classic vehicles and having so many together in one place is really great.

I had flashbacks to my youth and my first real love… a 1972 forest green Triumph Spitfire that was parked next to our summer place.  The car was parked in the driveway of the people who had the place next to us, but they were never there.  To me, that car represented everything I ever wanted and as a young teen.  I would go over to look at it an dream about it being my first car.

One day, during the summer I turned 16, a “for sale” sign showed up on the car and I commenced a campaign to convince my parents it was the perfect car for me.

The kindly caretaker of the property was put in charge of helping the absentee owner to sell it.  He saw me admiring the car one day and asked if I wanted to ride in it.  I was thrilled.  With some effort, he got it started, popped off the hard top to convert it to an open roof and we took a spin.

I did not get to drive it as I did not have my license and had not driven a stick shift yet, but the short ride just confirmed that I needed that car.

A year or so later, license in hand, with real discussions going on that my parents would help me buy a first car, my father actually entertained the idea of buying the Spitfire, which was still sitting idle next to us with the for sale sign in the window.

It is a long story, but my dad called the owner, who turned out to be a woman in New York City.  When my dad asked about the car, she said “you mean my baby?”  My dad took this as a sign that she was not going to give us a deal.  She ended up coming up for a visit and after seeing the car again, decided to keep it.  With that, my dream of cruising around in that awesome car were dashed.

I ended up with a more reliable car – a very cool chartreuse Ford EXP – but I never forgot my first love.

There were plenty of Triumphs this weekend at the aptly named Show of Dreams, but thankfully, the only Spitfire from the era of my unrequited love was not forest green, but banana yellow.

Anyway, I endorse the idea of stopping in to check out shows like these to relive old dreams and create new fantasies of driving that perfect roadster.

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lem1I have loved farmers’ markets for years.  There was a nice urban market a couple of blocks away from the office where I worked for the past several years (before I took leave for the sabbatical I write about here).

Every Friday in season I would drag one or two of my colleagues over to check out the market and see what was happening.  Inevitably I would receive grumbles from a colleague who just wanted to grab a quick bite to eat at lunch time.  But soon I was winning converts for the unique pleasures or fresh locally grown produce and the community atmosphere these markets provide.

I liked going every week and seeing the season progress from those first early greens, to the abundance of late summer and the late arrivals right when the market packed up for another season in early November.

Now with more time, and living in an area where farming is still a major occupation, if I choose, I have the luxury of visiting a farmers’ market just about every day of the week within a reasonable distance of the house.

I will be blogging here and there about the various markets, the people I have met and the items I have found.

FOUND: the glorious Plum Lemon Tomato

Today, I would like to rave about the plum lemon tomatoes I discovered recently at the wonderful Farmers’ Market in Tamworth, NH.

I was attracted to the lovely display of tomatoes presented by a local grower, Mivida Gardens, and fell in love with the beauty of this small tomato that looks like a lemon.  I was curious about this beautiful fruit and was told that it had a “sweet and mild” flavor and was perfect for stuffing.

I had never had a plum lemon tomato before, nor had I ever stuffed a tomato, so of course I had to try them.

I was with my good friend Lynda who was up for a weekend visit and she encouraged me to try stuffing the tomatoes that very night for our dinner.  But what to stuff them with?  Enter the Big Love Mexican Diner food truck parked nearby at the market.  Big Love is worthy of their own post – which I promise to deliver soon – but for now they were the source of the unique stuffing for my tomatoes.

Lynda and I decided to try Big Love, a purveyor of Mexican-style food made with fresh local ingredients.  We purchased a burrito and a few sides, one of which was a chorizo/potato hash. Our plan was to order the food and save it for our dinner.  While discussing how to stuff the tomatoes, Lynda suggested using the chorizo hash.  It sounded perfect – so that’s what we did. 

I took the tomatoes and carefully sliced them in half lengthwise.  I cut out the middle section – the white-ish part with the seeds – and placed them open side up on a small roasting pan.  I brushed the tomatoes with a light dose of extra virgin olive oil and placed them under the broiler for about 5 minutes.

Next, I took small spoonfuls of the hash and placed it loosely into the tomatoes.  I pushed the stuffed tomatoes together and topped them with the remaining hash and placed them back under the broiler for another 5 minutes.

The result was awesome: the sweet and tender tomatoes mixed with the spicy chorizo hash was a perfect combination.  The tomatoes cooked this way were so delicate they melted in your mouth and allowed you to appreciate the complimentary flavors of the hash.

What did I learn?  Once again, if you are not afraid to try new things and experiment, you may discover your new favorite thing.

I highly recommend seeking out these plum lemon tomatoes, or any tomato that lends itself to stuffing and finding something fun to put into them.  Let your imagination fly!

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Buf.2I would never call myself a great cook – but I will say that I am a creative and adventurous chef, willing to try anything at least once.

One of the joys of summer for me is discovering new things to cook on the grill.  Just about every night this summer I have cooked on the grill – and when I haven’t – it was only because I had leftovers from the previous night.

I have explored various ways to grill chicken, burgers and pork – staples of the grilled meat world.  I have also grilled all manner of vegetables and have even mastered cooking pizza on the grill.

Nothing really too crazy.  However, just recently, I picked up some buffalo tenderloin steaks from The Healthy Buffalo, a Chichester, NH-based purveyor of exotic meats.

About The Healthy Buffalo: “The Healthy Buffalo has been distributing bison meat since 1993. We are pleased to offer the finest 100% pure South Dakota buffalo meat. Our supplier is a family owned company that raises, slaughters, and packages its buffalo. The meat is frozen and shipped to us weekly. In addition, we now carry the largest selection of specialty meats such as venison, elk, wild boar, ostrich and other game meats.”

First, I was really impressed by the selection of meat products The Healthy Buffalo offers, which by the way can be ordered online via their website.  I figured the best way to introduce myself to bison meat was with the steaks. 

I cooked the tenderloins on a charcoal grill with the understanding that due to the relatively lean meat (as compared to beef) buffalo meat cooks more quickly.  I cooked the tenderloins for about 9 minutes on one side then flipped them over.  I added some goat cheese to the cooked side, along with a little barbecue sauce and some red onion I had also grilled, and let them cook for another 9 minutes.

The result?  Yummy!

I added two sides: sautéed spinach and steamed broccoli – both purchased from a farmers’ market in Portsmouth, NH.

I have to say this was the perfect mid-summer meal.  The bison steaks were flavorful and tender and I was pleased to have taken the risk.

My pictures here do not do the meal justice, but I wanted to give you some idea of what the finish product looked like.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this was really not my first foray into bison meat.  Several years ago I picked up some frozen buffalo burger patties at Trader Joe’s with every intention of cooking them up.  But alas I never did.  Those poor frozen patties stayed in my freezer for years until they were no longer a viable option. 

After my recent experience with the bison steak I really wish I had tried it much earlier.

What’s next?  Maybe The Healthy Buffalo’s wild boar.  I am not quite ready for elk.

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In the coming days it will become quite evident how I have been spending my time since moving to New Hampshire.  The first few weeks, from Easter to Memorial Day, things were quite bleak, with spring taking its time showing up.  But when the season of renewal finally did arrive, it was glorious.

As I set myself to cleaning up the house that had been closed up for over a year, and dealing with issues like bad water pumps and failed oil tanks, I started to sort through the remnants of treasures left behind.  Around every corner, under every bed, in every closet, I uncovered items that were lost to time and needed to be seen and shared with people who would appreciate them.

The goal was to start bringing some of these finds to be sold at various antique/collectible markets, like the wonderful Todd Farm in Rowley, MA – which I have done a few times so fat this season.

However, I have one small problem… I keep buying more stuff as I go about selling the antiques and collectibles from my parents collections.

I can’t seem to pass by a yard sale, church fair or second-hand store without stopping and buying more stuff.

It seems around every corner as I ride around the back roads of New Hampshire I see cool signs like this…  how could I not stop?

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