Kevin and I are back. We were gone for almost six weeks, and we don’t have much to show for it. We’ve been seeing our friends, and when they ask us what we did, the best we can come up with is, “Well, we ate a lot.”
We ate a lot. If you’re going to eat a lot, Charleston is a great place to do it; it is a food town. Fortunately, because Charleston is also a city with actual sidewalks, we also did a lot of getting around on foot, so we have only a couple of extra pounds to shed.
We didn’t just eat. We visited local historic sites, listened to some live music, and golfed. We slept late. But mostly, we ate. We probably ate more restaurant meals in the last six weeks than in the last two years. And it was delightful.
Up until now, our noses had been in more or less continuous contact with the grindstone for a good four years. Taking a break and coming back, we see the grindstone’s charms afresh.
The grindstone, however, took a beating while we were gone. Cape Cod, and all the people on it who hadn’t left for Charleston at the end of January, got hit with storm after storm through February and into March. We knew the house had lost power for a couple of days at one point, but the temperatures were cold enough that our freezer contents weren’t at risk. We also knew the house hadn’t suffered any damage, but we didn’t know what state the property was in.
The property was fine, it turned out. Littered with arboreal debris, including one big branch that took out our hydroponic system, but mostly undamaged. Chickens were fine. Boats were fine. Structures were fine.
They oysters, though. We didn’t know about the oysters.
Normally, most Barnstable Harbor oyster farmers bring most of their equipment in over the winter. The ice that courses through the oyster flats destroys everything in its path, and it’s always a risk to leave trays out once temperatures drop.
It’s a risk we took, in a small way. We had about 10,000 oysters that hadn’t quite reached market size last season, and before we left we packed them into nine trays, grouped together tightly and covered with plastic mesh. We had no idea whether the trays would still be there, or whether the oysters in them would still be alive. After hearing the stories of the storms and the ice, we weren’t optimistic.
This morning, we went out to take a look. Wonder of wonders, all was well. The oysters were exactly as we’d left them, and there didn’t appear to be any death at all. Which is not to say we’re out of the woods – oysters have an annoying habit of dying off en masse, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason – but so far, so good.
While the oysters had been weathering the storms, some choice parts of our pigs had been hanging in the basement of our friends Al and Christl, where temperature and humidity happen to be just right for charcuterie. Although a prosciutto tasting is still a good year away, the guanciale we’d cured had been hanging long enough to be ready.
I know it’s my inexperience talking, but I can’t quite get used to hanging meat products out in the open air. Especially meat products from pigs Kevin and I raised from piglethood in our own back yard. We’re invested in that pork, and have an abiding sense that not a scrap of Doc, Spot, or Tiny should go to waste.
I can assure you, now, that the guanciale certainly won’t. It dried beautifully, and there will be a bucatini all’Amatriciana in the not-too-distant future.
Coming home to live oysters and perfect guanciale was particularly satisfying because, when we invite friends over to the house to share them with us, we won’t have to cringe whenever they have to use the bathroom. While we were gone, our friend Larry Egan, who is also the host of the Handyman Hotline show on local station WXTK, completely remade our one bathroom.
When we bought the house, way back in 2008, we knew we’d have to replace the original 1950’s fixtures and décor, but we waited until the tile literally started falling off the walls – which was back in the fall. Before we left, we picked out tile and fixtures, and we came home to a room that was unrecognizable. The only problem is that we now want to bring the rest of the house up to the new standard set by our bathroom. Which could be expensive.
While we were relieved by the oysters, encouraged by the guanciale, and delighted by the bathroom, we also took real pleasure in the same old stuff. There are eggs, right there for the taking, in the chicken coop’s nest boxes. There are clams out there in the harbor, accessible at every low tide. There are the first hints that the strawberry plants are going to come up again, as advertised.
There is the potential in the empty raised beds, and the promise of the spring striper run. Somewhere out there is a tuna we’re going to catch and – because this year is not going to be like the previous three – a deer we’re going to shoot. And there are meals to make out of all these things.
I’ve had vacations where the first day after I came home felt disappointingly similar to the last day before I left, but this wasn’t one of them. Both of us came back rested and refreshed, and what’s satisfying, constructive, and joyful in what we do here is back in focus.
It’s good to be home.