Biding My TimeJun 01, 2021 11:27AM ● By Cornelius O'Donnell
Have you been watching more television these past several months? I have. And I found myself enjoying HGTV even though I am longer interested in pulling up stakes and moving—anywhere. Specifically, I have tuned in to a program called Home Town. And I found there is more than one remodeling show that presents “before and after” solutions to making a house their home. In this variation, with the time frame shown at warp speed, a youngish couple have developed a construction business that focuses on remodeling houses in their Mississippi home town of Laurel. He’s a big burly guy named Ben Napier and his wife, Erin, is a cheerful, cheerleader type, and an artist with a real sense of style. I mostly agreed with her choices but with at least one glaring exception. Read on for an explanation below.
I found this program, in its fifth season, to be a real charmer thanks to the obvious affection between the two principles. Their interaction is believable and winning. In each segment, the house-hunting guests are presented with a small painting by Erin of what the house will look like if her and Ben’s ideas are implemented. Prices of the homes seem mighty reasonable, and Ben details the estimated refurbishment figure based on the work he feels needs to be done, with costs agreed to before Ben takes his axe to the places. He usually comes up with his own gift that adds to the joy as the happy new homeowners tour the remodel. In one episode, Erin found four antique, discarded, and bulbous table legs during an under-sink crawl, and Ben fashioned a unique coffee table out of them. It was such a sweet touch.
Over the years, I occasionally looked in on This Old House, since I’m familiar with the Boston locations of these fixer-uppers. Essentially the program is a primer on construction, with experts showing, over several weekly episodes, how and why they are upgrading the sites. Lots of time passes between the “before” and “after.” Home Town gets to all of this in a one-hour format. Instant gratification for the viewer!
Oh No, Not Those Tiles!
Unless you are well over sixty or have heard those wonderful yearly series of radio dramas that Gary Yoggy used to produce for Elmira Little Theatre, I doubt if most of you readers remember those radio announcers who were such a part of the comedic programs of yesteryear. “Don’t touch that dial!” they would say between programs, as it’s time for Fibber McGee and Molly, or Burns and Allen, etc. Each show had a personality-plus announcer. Watching Home Town, I found myself yelling, “Don’t touch that tile.” Why?
Many years ago, I worked on the Major Appliance program at Corning, so kitchen design utilizing smooth-top ranges were my life. I’d work with the ad agency’s art director and freelance kitchen designers to make sure the photos displayed our upscale products in upscale shelter magazines (think the now-vanished House & Garden).
For one ad, the agency’s art director suggested using a ceramic tile backsplash decorated with wonderful designs of fruit and vegetables. This would form an attractive background for the stove we called the Counterange. An easy to love design element for la cocina. I lusted after those. I vaguely remember that we rented the tiles from a firm called Country Floors, located on the upper east side of Manhattan and catering to the Park Avenue crowd. These squares were “installed” using double-faced tape above the range. They were pretty and pricey (and back to the store’s stock room the next day).
Anyway, I was happily binge-watching several Home Town segments. This one showed the kitchen in a Craftsman-style early twentieth century home, chosen by the happy new homeowners out of two that they toured (the usual scenario) and in their budget range. Ben explained that the place was first remodeled in the ’60s or ’70s, and, as the camera panned the room, I immediately recognized that favorite set of tiles—colorful and elegant fruit and vegetable motifs, nearly life-sized—centered over the cooking area. Smaller tiles with individual fruits and veggies were scattered over the surface to continue the garden theme over a larger area.
It was a quick shot, and neither Erin nor Ben mentioned this design feature. I did hear Ben say to his workmen something like “...we’ll move this over there, lose the tiles and make a new entry door here...blah, blah, blah, paint the wall...” Folks, to this viewer that was like as tossing an eighteenth century chair in the dumpster. Desecration!
I searched online and found there are now many branches of Country Floors throughout the country. But in none of their online catalogs were the “colorful ingredients” version. You won’t be surprised to learn that I still have laminated copies of the print ads.
But, back to cooking. I’ve already confessed to being a paper pack rat, and am amazed at the treasure trove of tested recipes that I have accumulated over the years. Here are a couple of good ones that are perfect for summer entertaining—now that we are vaccinated and can be (and longing for) spending time with friends. Here’s something different—a chilled soup that I first tasted at my friend Sylvia D’s. and subsequently made several times. It’s pretty to look at, too, far better than four walls. Sylvia got the recipe from a friend in Rochester who got it from... Regardless of its origin, I now present it for you, rescued from obscurity in my files.
- 1 apple peeled, cored, and chopped
- 3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. water
- 1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 2 c. defatted chicken stock, homemade or canned*
- 3 small or 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 ripe (not too ripe) banana, sliced (plus an additional one for garnish)
- 1 c. heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp. curry powder (preferably Madras) or to your taste
- 2 Tbsps. chopped green onion or chives
Drop apple pieces in a mixture of lemon juice and water, then refrigerate for 30 minutes or so. Place tomato pieces in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for the same time. In a 2.5-qt. stainless or non-stick saucepan, heat the broth to boiling. Add drained apple and tomato. Add the banana.
Reduce heat and simmer mixture about 25 minutes until the onion is tender. Increase heat and add cream mixed with the curry powder and bring just to the boil, stirring, then remove pan from the heat. Let cool and then chill in the refrigerator. Stir from time to time to speed chilling.
Serve topped with the chives and a slice of banana dipped in lemon juice.
Serves 4 and may be doubled.
*If using canned broth, refrigerate the cans for an hour and you can simply remove the little bit of hardened fat from the surface when you open the cans.
Ginger Wine Spritzer
Here’s a refreshing beverage perfect for a warm summer day.
- 6 c. of “good” water—bottled if your tap water has chlorine or off taste
- 6 oz. of peeled, chopped fresh ginger (I use a box grater or Microplane)
- 1⁄2 c. of granulated sugar
- 2 bottles (750 ml each) chilled New York State Sauvignon blanc
- 1 to 2 quarts chilled sparkling mineral water
Combine the water, ginger, and sugar in a 3-quart stainless pot. Boil over medium-high heat for 15 minutes without stirring. Cool and chill. Strain just before serving.
To serve, fill wine glasses with ice. Half fill each glass with wine, add 4 to 6 tablespoons of the ginger syrup to each glass, top with sparkling water. Stir and serve immediately.
Serves about 16.
A Favorite Snack
Crisp-tender green beans are a favorite of mine. Easy to do and easy to pass and eat while enjoying a wine, a spritzer, a beer, IPA, or a cocktail. Here’s what you do: bring a good-sized glass-ceramic or stainless pot of water (the afore-mentioned “good water”) to the boil. Snap off just the stem end of the fresh green bean, leaving the cute “curl.” Generously salt the boiling water and throw in a couple of handfuls of beans. Stir and allow water to return to the boil. After a couple of minutes, test a bean. It should be just tender. Snappy, y’know? Drain and run the beans under cold water for a second to stop cooking. Toss in a dry dishtowel and place in a serving bowl. Toss some kosher salt over them, or pass a small container of said salt for dunking.
Enjoy this treat and you’ll have room for that tasty shrimp, paté, or the cheese board.