Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

We met with our builder today. I made extensive notes on a legal pad about county permits, footing and slab pourings, plumbing fixtures, roof trusses, wind load engineering, appliances, driveway configurations, windows,  and when to expect the bulldoziers.

Fixing dinner tonight, I found myself thinking about the culinary concept of mise en place. It means having all  your ingredients measured, chopped and ready before you start cooking.

Applying that concept to building a house helps me to understand it better. As I squeezed lemon juice into my favorite bowl — it’s a wide cream colored Italian pasta bowl — and whisked in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a pressed garlic clove, a sprinkle of kosher salt and some just ground black pepper, I began to think of the foundation, the plumbing, the electrical system, the roof, the framing, the cabinets and so on, as discrete elements, all in their own beautiful bowls, mise en place.

While the indoor grill heated, I brushed a chunk of salmon with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper, then put white wine, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and dark brown sugar into a small saucepan, reducing at a high heat for about 13 minutes, until it became a shiny glaze.

When Buck and I travel, we usually find a place to stay with a kitchen, so I have put together a traveling portfolio of herbs and spices. They are mise en place on the instant, assembled in a watch repairman’s kit, visible and aesthetically pleasing. The curiosity of small children is aroused by their sight and mingled fragrance, exotic and warmly inviting.

Buck and I are about to embark on the home-building project of a lifetime. In fact, when we say it is the house we will live in until we die, this is the way we have approached the planning of it. That sounds grim until you understand our perspective. This home is larger than we need, but it is a space for living in the present, dreaming of the future, and remembering the past. It is a launchpad for other adventures, and perhaps other satellite outposts in other magnificent spots in the world. It is a place for adults kids, grandchildren, and great-grands yet to be to assemble and talk about Big Ideas, to learn to go undaunted into the wider world. A place to watch over our longleaf forest, add a pond, more native trees, and see many sunsets.

And so, as we build this dream, it has practical aspects, too, in terms of universal design, which will make it possible for us to stay here in our own home no matter how old or possibly infirm we may get — many years down the road, one hopes.

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Mise en place: what a concept.

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