The Pleasures of Cold Weather

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It is the first chilly weather we have had at Cowlick Cottage Farm this fall. Last night dropped down into the thirties, and Lulu, our little labradoodle, slipped into our bed and snuggled in the valley between us, stretched out full length, her fuzzy head on my shoulder. She snores.

Outside, the hens huddled together on their roost in the coop, sleeping in until the sun was fully up. I greeted them with a breakfast treat of yogurt and figs, and they gobbled it up, clucking appreciatively. As the days get shorter, the hens spend more time in the coop, going to roost early and napping in the sunshine during the day. We are still getting eggs, but fewer. To everything there is a season, and the girls deserve a resting period.

Eric and I will finish retiling the old fireplaces today. The surrounds were cracked and worn, covered in nothing but aging white paint. The hearths were covered in cheap red tile trimmed with poorly fitted pine edging. I want them to be restored to their graceful elegance in time for Thanksgiving, when the girls and their friends will be home.

Eric levelled the surrounds and mantles, and they look much prouder now, standing up straight and even. The natural slate tiles we chose are earthy and rustic, like the rest of the farm. The muted colors of the slate are a soft reflection of the wines, golds, greens and browns that dress our rooms. Once finished with dark grout and a coat of sealant to protect them, the new tiles look as if they have always been here, and the hearth is once again the heart of our home. To us, that is the signature of a successful renovation project.

Tonight, we will celebrate our hard work and the onset of cold weather with dinner in front of the fire. I made a hearty stew, which will simmer gently on the stovetop all afternoon. The savory aromas of pork, red wine, wild mushrooms, onions, garlic and carraway make the cottage a cozy haven and whet our appetites. The rich stew is served simply, with crusty rye bread and cold beer.

A salad from the garden will round out the evening meal. I love winter salads, composed from what is fresh and ready to harvest. I picked the first of the gorgeous Red Sails and Parris Island Cos lettuces. They are tender and sweet. Crispy white radishes add a hint of sharpness and heat. A few sprigs of thyme, and a shaving of aged blue cheese make the salad sing. A light vinaigrette made with walnut oil, fresh ripe figs and a dash of balsamic vinegar is all the dressing the salad needs. Being limited by what is fresh from the garden or the farmer’s market encourages creativity. Don’t be shy about combining unusual ingredients in your salads. If the vegetables and herbs ripen at the same time, they usually taste great together!

A simple meal by the fire with some beautiful music in the background and loved ones gathered around-what could be better?

Lulu lazing by the fireplace.