This weekend, my husband and I are going log cabin shopping in rural northern New Hampshire.
I can't wait.
It's always been my dream to live in a cozy, stout log house. A legacy of my Little House On The Prairie obsession, I suppose.
The addiction started early, with frequent trips to the library in search of any Laura Ingalls Wilder book I could find. Growing up in a sleepy, west-coast town, the library was my second home. Even as a small child, I was free to roam the winding roads of the area on my light blue, 3-speed Schwinn with the tidy brown wicker basket attached to the handlebars. Empty on the way into town, the wicker hamper was loaded with goodies on the return trip. Six books was library limit, so the rest of the space was taken up with junk food from the local 7-11. Cheetos, Chunky bars, Bit O Honey candies, and Big Gulps filled with Tab soda, were my go-to favorites.
That was before the fresh, local, seasonal, anti-corporate food, chapter of my life. But, I still crave an icy-cold Tab now and then, believe it or not.
Childhood in the 1970s was terrific- at least for everyone I knew. I'm sure there were some things about that decade better left in the dust, but that's a topic for another day. Of course, there were required household chores to do, and scratchy polyester clothing to endure, but for the most part, I was free to ramble and do as I pleased. Pedaling my blue Schwinn, I'd spend hours at our Hunt Club, grooming the school horses, cleaning tack, and training in the ring for future competitions. Closer to home, along with packs of neighborhood kids, we'd meander through each others homes, and traipse down to our local lake easement docks, where we'd spend entire days basking in the summer sun, plopping now and then into the green murky water to cool off.
Throughout those sunny, carefree days, I always had multiple books going. One I would leave on my night-side stand, while another stayed in my backpack, along with my Sea & Ski suntan lotion, my easement gate key (attached to it's puffy yellow float chain) and my brightly printed beach towel, neatly rolled into a log. There was another one next to the bathtub, which my mother tolerantly allowed, reminding me not to get it wet, it belonged to the library after all. I had a bright blue bookshelf crammed with Marguerite Henry books. King of the Wind, and Misty of Chincoteague were my favorites, dog-eared and worn, but with pride of place on the top shelf. Next to those, and equally loved was Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie, and On The Banks of Plum Creek.
When I opened a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, everything else melted away. I lived there between the covers, with the family, in the woods, prairie or farm, sharing their life, trials, victories, and joys. Even as an adult, the books give comfort; casting me back to a time when the future wasn't in doubt- outcomes already known. On brutally cold winter mornings, I mentally page back to the time the Ingalls cattle were frozen to the prairie turf, their moist breath locking them into an icy cage, until they could be chiseled free. Now that was cold.
When my first husband died, I dug my Little House books out of storage and stacked them next to me, on my night stand, reading each one slowly, soaking in chapter after chapter woven with hope, endurance and faith.
Those books were part of my healing. And they worked.
As I pack for our log cabin shopping weekend, my mind drifts back to those books, where I first learned a home could be made with nothing but tree trunks, an axe, and some mud. Of course, today's log homes can be downright luxurious, and nothing like early American huts. But still, the essence of those pioneers remains within the walls of a log house, tying us to the past while we forge our future.
Today's recipe speaks to the hardy food of the brave explorers who made the log cabin an American architectural icon. Although Beef Daube hails originally from France, it's still a stew, a dish common in humble households worldwide. Early pioneers and land-rushers of the mid 1800s wouldn't have had sherry, dijon mustard, or Worcestershire sauce, but those are just details in the stew-making world.
One day soon, I hope to have a big iron pot of stew bubbling away on the Franklin stove, under the stone mantle of my log cabin. I'm sure there will be a bookcase very nearby loaded with all my old friends, unpacked, dusted and returned to their old pride of place, ready to accompany into the next chapter of my life.
The Rediscovered Recipe Box # 34- Beef Daube
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 pound cubed boneless chuck steak
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups baby carrots (6 ounces)
2 pounds red new potatoes, quartered
1 package (10 ounces) fresh mushrooms, quartered
1 package (10 ounces) frozen creamed pearl onions
2 tablespoons cold water
1. Heat oven to 350. In plastic bag, shake 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and beef to coat.
2. Whisk remaining salt, broth, sherry, mustard, sugar, molasses, Worcestershire, garlic and seasoning in bowl.
3.Heat oil in large deep oven proof pot over high heat. Brown beef about 3 minutes. Stir in carrots; cook 4 minutes. Add potatoes, mushrooms, onions and beef broth mixture.
4. Bake, covered, in 350 oven 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Uncover; bake 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons flour and water in small bowl. Stir into pot. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes, to thicken.