Winter of discontent

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The last time I posted I was longing for the lazy, cozy quiet of a Northbrook winter.  I imagined two weeks of Christmas holidays and then calm, relaxed weekends.  The universe had other plans for us.

About a week before Christmas we learned that pipes had frozen and burst during the week.  We dropped everything and drove up to the farm mid week only to find this.

frozen toilet

No, that’s not an ice sculpture, that’s the toilet in our master bathroom – completely encapsulated in ice.  At the end of the day we had a main bathroom that needed gutting, a living room ceiling that needed to be ripped out and replaced and this lovely hole in the plaster wall of our hallway.

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The damage also meant that we didn’t spend the Christmas holidays at the farm – and the lovely tree that the kids decorated was enjoyed for a total of one evening.  Christmas in the city became a sort of utilitarian affair – the WorkHorse went to the office and I went to the gym.  In the midst of that routine we hosted the WorkHorse’s parents who were displaced by an ice storm.  I wouldn’t say it was a terrible Christmas, but it won’t go down as one of our favourites.

At the same time, the renovation that we were told would take no more than 60 days – we’d be sitting by the fire at Christmas, he said – drags on at a snail’s pace.  I’ve come to understand that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and I’ve adjusted my expectations on timing.  Now I just hope that by the time summer rolls around our renovation will be complete and  in use.

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It was all bound to happen.  These are the perils of owning a second home – and of renovating in general.

We’re coming to the end of our first full weekend at the farm since Christmas and we’re trying to enjoy despite its temporary shortcomings.  The upside is a new main bathroom, which should be finished soon – here’s a sneak peek:

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One day soon this place will feel like home again in the same way.  In the meantime, I’m faking it with a pot of soup on the stove and a cup of tea at my side.

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Christmakah

Long time no blog.  I’d feel regretful except that well, a) I’m not disappointing thousands of loyal readers 😉 and b) we haven’t been at Northbrook much.  We’ve been busy in the city, most recently with the Girl’s 8th birthday, which involved a gaggle of girls singing karaoke to Katy Perry in the basement and eating copious amounts of jelly beans.  It also involved this pink confection.

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This weekend at the farm we kicked off Christmakah.  Since we tend to do holidays from both of our traditions it means a whole lot of everything.  We had a Chanukah gathering in the city to prepare for, so the kids and I baked up some Chanukah themed shortbread and well as our usual gingerbread men. DSC_0354 DSC_0356

For me, some gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate cookies:

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We also put up the tree and lit the first candles of the season.

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Needless to say, I passed out cold at 9:30, but it was all worth it.

I don’t want to give you the impression it’s all baking around here.  Here are a few other things we’ve been eating at the farm lately.

First, decadent and ridiculously delicious Chicken Stew with Biscuits from Barefoot Contessa.  I made a triple batch as I’m working on my annual Christmas gift for the Fairy Grandmother (a freezer full of food) as well as dinner for the gluten and dairy eating members of my family.  If you have time I heartily recommend this dish.  It’s best not to think much about the ingredients when you’re actually eating it – just enjoy!

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We’ve been receiving brussel sprouts in our CSA from Culinarium and it’s been determined that everyone in the family will not only eat them, but actually pig out on them if they are cooked with some bacon.  Of course my kids would probably eat anything if I cooked it in bacon.DSC_0333

I made this bread from my new cookbook The Farm, when I realized we’d forgotten to bring any bread to Northbrook for the weekend and I was too lazy to get in the car and go to the store.  Looks a little…crispy..doesn’t it?!  The recipe appropriately warns that the dough will be wet, but then it directs the cook to bake the bread at 500 degrees for an hour.  I have to say, I did wonder about that.  Then at around 40 minutes the Workhorse asked, ‘is something burning?’ and I just got this bread out before all was lost.  It was a little charred, but the family really liked it.  I would definitely make it again, and the Boy keeps asking me to, but I’ll definitely adjust the timing on the recipe.

Finally, quinoa with mushrooms from the farm box with rosemary and onions.  A little bland if I’m being honest, but good for me and hearty with the pot roast we got in our monthly meat box.

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It’s not all food though.  Since the garden has been put to bed for now, I’m directing my obsessive qualities to the gym.  In short, I’m working out harder than ever and loving it.  And next year has a new goal/fixation/madness – check it out here.  Care to join me?

thankful

I know it’s late for a thanksgiving post.  A week late, to be exact.  But I’m still feeling pretty thankful for the wonderful holiday we enjoyed together last Sunday.

Last year the farm was new to us, but even then I knew this place was designed for celebrating Thanksgiving.  Since we’re in Canada, we do Thanksgiving the second week of October- so most years it’s incredibly beautiful outside.  The leaves are changing and it’s the perfect amount of crisp outside.  Plus, I believe that Thanksgiving is far superior to Christmas.  Think about it – family and fun, but no gifts to fret over, buy and wrap.  Great food, no pressure or fatigue from baking 15 dozen cookies.

I pitched hosting our extended family up here last year but couldn’t sell the idea.  This year I began my campaign earlier.  Immediately after last Thanksgiving, in fact.  I figured that I had better make the day something special if I wanted to drag all of those people to the farm, and then get them to come back each year.  So was born the Northbrook Farm Olympics.

We were 17 people in all this year, with a special guest appearance by Howard and Val, my dad’s oldest friends, visiting North America from their native Australia.  Our crew ranged from 2 years old to nearly 70.  The weather cooperated well.  I had thought at one point that I could set up lunch outside if it were warm enough, and it often is on Thanksgiving, but not this year.  However, it was dry and cool, with the leaves putting on a spectacular show.

We raced, pulled muscles, competed in trivia and paper airplane throwing, and finished off with a soccer game on the front lawn.  The teams were a little uneven and may require some adjustment next year, but no one really minded what the final score was.  This year’s spot on the trophy went to the Wild Turkeys, with a triumphant comeback by the Roos expected next year!

What really delighted me about the whole thing was that it had occurred to me that we had never really played together as a family before.  Here’s the abridged back story: After a lot of years of not getting along very well, about 10 years ago we all pulled it together and started really enjoying each other.  Since then, we’ve had tons of meals together, shared life cycle celebrations and cousin sleepovers, but we’ve never gotten up from the table and done anything together.  I’m not suggesting that we’ll all be taking weekly Zumba classes together going forward or anything, but it’s satisfying to think that once a year we can shake it up a little and have some fun outdoors.

The drawback of all the pre-lunch fun was that I wasn’t all that focused on the food.  I overcooked the turkey.  I was underwhelmed by the whole brine thing – but since so many people swear by it I’ll try it again.  The turkey was fine, I didn’t suck every ounce of moisture out of it in the overcooking, but I didn’t do it any favours either.  Also on deck were sweet potato soup, my favourite make-ahead mashed potatoes, roasted rainbow carrots from the garden and green beans sauteed in garlic.  The Master Gardener came to the rescue with stuffing, perfect pumpkin pie and berry crumble. My sisters in law brought veggies and salad, and a friend brought more stuffing, since there is never, ever enough.  Magically, 17 people fit in the dining room, and we fulfilled the worldwide Thanksgiving tradition of eating far too much.

I’m pretty sure it was the best Thanksgiving ever.  As a family, we created a new tradition, which always takes an open heart and a decent amount of work.  It was worth it.  I can’t wait for next year.