WRITTEN ON January 30th, 2012 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Salads, Side Dish, Spinach, Vegetables, Vegetarian

On the way home from the Apple store today, I found myself listening to the Miranda Lambert song, “The House that Built Me.

When this song came out two years ago, I got emotional every time it played, thinking of the house where I grew up. It was an 1800’s Victorian-style farmhouse, with brown shingles, white trim, red shutters, a wide red door, and a front porch with gingerbread eves and hanging baskets of geraniums in the summertime.¬†Outside, there was a line of dogwood trees which came alive every spring. The steep front walkway was made up of crumbly stone steps leading to a stone wall where our cats, Purr and Zeus, would sit and wait for us at the end of the day, pacing anxiously, only to act completely aloof and ignore us the moment we stepped out of the car.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a street filled with wacky neighbors. The Morrows, who lived in the big house on the corner, where we made cotton candy from a huge old circus contraption and where I could freely rummage through the Chanel lip stick of Ellen’s single mom, who was never really around anyway. The Hitchners across the street, by far the most normal of the bunch, and our good friends to this day. The Carlins, a Swedish/German family a couple houses down who didn’t own a TV and believed their garden to be populated by gnomes (let it be known that their kids would come over to our house to “play” and promptly park themselves in front of the telly until they heard their mother calling them home for supper). And next door, the intrepid Mrs Long, the neighborhood busy-body, a caterer by trade who loved us so much she would make us ice cream cones in the summer and send leftover shrimp to our cats (but who didn’t ever have one nice thing to say about the “Nazis” next door).

Ours wasn’t a big house, and it certainly wasn’t the most fancy house in the neighborhood. I grew up in Roland Park, a truly one of a kind place filled with rambling, turn of the century Victorian houses, originally built as summer homes for wealthy Baltimoreans living downtown. The houses were set on wide lanes with lots of hundred year trees and azalea bushes older than my grandmother. We lived on the back side of Roland Park, not as upscale as the more visible areas, but it suited us fine. The Friends School playgrounds were right down the street, we could walk to school, the library or to get candy at Tuxedo Pharmacy and sandwiches at Eddie’s, and in the summer we could hear the spring of the Roland Park Pool diving board from our front porch. It was an idyllic childhood, made more so by the drafty old house about which I heartily complained (no AC! Sharing a bathroom with my parents! No 80’s style wall-to-wall carpet!) but thoroughly loved.

My parents moved from there after I graduated from college, to a totally different neighborhood. Most people familiar with the area would say their “new” place is in an area that’s considered to be a bit tonier (though in my humble opinion a lot less fun). While I love where they live now, I still find myself taking a detour past the old place every time I go home. Much has changed, but my Grateful Dead sticker is still stuck to the bedroom window where I put it in 8th grade, the stone wall is still in tact and Mrs. Long, ever vigilant, still knows everything that’s happening on the block.

So this morning, imagine my surprise when Miranda Lambert got to the end of her song and I realized that I’d been thinking about an entirely different house. I’d been lost in thought and getting emotional about the house where the hubster and I now live, 200 some miles from the neighborhood of Roland Park, in Huntington, New York.

I’ve done a lot of growing up here too. We bought the house almost two years ago now, after having loved it from afar for a long time. We knew it would be an ongoing project. It celebrates it’s 100th birthday this year, and though the previous owners had taken great care of it, there was a lot we wanted to do right off the bat to make it “ours,” not to mention bring it into this century.

Over the past two years we’ve put tons of energy into the place. An overhaul of the heating systems, a new burner, a conversion from oil to gas, central air, a new patio, moving a line of trees, not to mention all the cosmetic updates that come with moving – ripping up carpets, refinishing floors, painting, wall papering, the list goes on. Most recently, we’ve undertaken the project of completely gutting and renovating the two bathrooms on the second floor, the small “master” bath and the Jack and Jill bath that will be the baby’s when he makes his appearance.

What I’ve learned throughout the process of making this house our home is that nothing is perfect. I have grand plans for this place, and it feels as though we’ve only just scratched the surface. I have to stop myself from thinking ahead to the next project while we are still in the middle of the current one. I think this is an inherently female trait – we tend to want to make the things we love better, forgetting that part of what we love about them is their imperfections. I’m working on it (turns out I’m a work in progress too).

What I loved about the house initially remains in tact. In fact, it’s mostly things that I couldn’t change even if I wanted to. The way the setting sun filters through the trees in our back yard at dusk, bathing everything in a soft pink glow just around dinner time. The light reflecting off the neighbors pool and into our upstairs bathroom window, making it feel as though I’m being bathed in a million tiny diamonds. The south facing exposure which ensures that even in darkest winter, our house will have some bright warmth most mornings. The neighborhood itself, which feels a bit similar to my beloved Roland Park: houses close to one another, neighbors you can see and wave to, crazy kids across the street who wear shorts year round and shoot the worst game of hoops I’ve ever seen but who never stop playing. Oh, and did I mention Boo Radley lives down the street? Yup, the ‘hood even comes with it’s own haunted house. All within walking distance to those very important necessities: ice cream, diner, library.

But I think what had me ruminating this morning over my beloved Dewey Street pad is that, while it’s perhaps not “The House that Built Me,” it is most definitely the house that saved me.

At the time of purchase, we were about a month past a miscarriage that left me completely shattered. At the time, I needed a project and a change of scenery, and I needed it bad. Little did I know what else was to follow: a year and a half of more fertility procedures and surgeries than I care to count, an apartment in New York City that refused to sell, and a mother-in-law fighting a losing battle with colon cancer. Sometimes, it’s a good thing we can’t see the future.

Through it all, I had a house and a husband that provided me with a safe haven where I could escape when things got tough – a failed IUI, yet another period that I had convinced myself wasn’t coming, bad news from Carol’s doctor, another offer fallen through on the apartment. I would often wake up in the middle of the night, anxious and terrified that I might never be able to conceive a child, and think to myself, if all I have for the rest of my life is this man and this house, I will still be ok.

I’ve posted pictures of our house to Facebook the way most of my friends post pictures of their kids, because at the time I needed it most, this house was my baby.

I would take myself out to the garden and dig for hours, or paint some old piece of furniture, or just sit on the screened porch, listening to the breeze coax a tune from my flying pig wind chime (his name is Bacon). When things got really bad I’d set off for a run through my new neighborhood and town, heading towards the harbor and the healing lap of the waves in the Sound. Always retuning home feeling better about things, because as soon as I walked into the door, the house enveloped me in its 100 year old embrace. A steadfast old friend, who had seen and known more than I ever would, and somehow had the ability to protect me and make everything ok again.

Who knows how long we’ll live here. As much as I love it, I also know that at some point we may decide we want more space, or a new adventure. I like to leave my options open. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, I am so thankful to have this place to come home to. It’s not anything crazy, but it’s ours and I love it. More than anything, I feel so blessed to be able to share it with our son, whose arrival creeps closer every day. I cannot wait to bring him home to the place that his mom and dad created expressly with him in mind, a place we hoped would help raise and shape him before he was even a possibility.

I realize what an incredible gift that is, not for the baby, but for us, knowing that we have a place that we love to provide shelter and stability for the tiny being who encompasses our biggest dreams. The house that saved me is the house that will build my son, and I will love it forever (must remind myself of this the next time the heat goes out and I find myself bleeding radiators in my 50 degree living room).

My plates runneth over

Dewey Street Garden Salad (serves 2)

This salad was made this fall with produce from my organic garden, but beets and spinach are readily available and still considered seasonal at this time of year!

5 small beets, whichever color you can find

1 small head freshly washed spinach

1 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped

2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1 handful walnuts, toasted lightly for about 10 minutes at 300

Walnut oil

Good quality sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Turn oven to 375. Wrap each beet individually in foil and place on a cookie sheet. Place in middle rack of oven, roast until soft and tender about 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven, cool completely. Unwrap beets. Using a kitchen towel, gently rub off the beet skins (if you are using red beets they will stain your fingers if you don’t use gloves or a towel). Chop beets roughly, season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside in a small bowl. Tear spinach into large pieces, toss together with beets, walnuts, chopped chives and crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle about 3 tbsp walnut oil over top, then drizzle about 1 tbsp sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately with crusty bread.

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