The view from Carol and Alan's porch in the heart of Watertown's Mount Auburn Street Historic District late yesterday afternoon. We love the zigzag play of light, shade and cast shadows on the Second Empire slate tiles of dormer and mansard roof.
"The purpose of the [Mount Auburn Street] Historic District is to preserve the distinctive architecture reflecting the character of Watertown’s rich cultural, social, economic and political history which began on the banks of the Charles River in the early 1600’s," says the District's website. If you happen to live within this neighborhood, densely packed with stately residential architecture of note, it's both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the spirit of the place. We felt its aura draw us in yesterday afternoon as we drove past Mount Auburn Cemetery on our way to Carol and Alan's. The curse is when you want to tear down your rusting old tin garage and rebuild, as the Wards plan to. The permitting process can be daunting.
Snowball bides her time beneath the clothes hanging near the door yesterday, waiting for her chance to spring.
The cat who came to dinner, the stunningly beautiful and articulate —she talks! — Snowball chose Carol and Alan's companionship over that of the neighbors who "owned" her. Above she lurks atop a large container beneath clothes hanging near the door to the back porch, unseen by the unwary, as we were yesterday when she chose the moment we opened the door to leap outside for the first of two daring escapes. Quick as a cat, Alan sprang into action, retrieving the straying feline.
"In this photograph, and in the dramatic seascapes that followed and that won him international renown, Le Gray used a new technique — the glass plate negative and the albumen silver print — to achieve a limpid atmosphere, extreme clarity of detail, and flawless surface." according to Timeline of Art History. "The Imperial Yacht La Reine Hortense," Le Havre, 1856.
Ever heard of Gustave Le Gray? Our host, Alan, had, of course. What else would you expect of the contemporary photographer whose breathtaking landscape architectural images are showcased in American Designed Landscapes: A Photographic Interpretion? Regular readers will recall the Wards presented us with a signed copy of that tome as a hostess gift in July when they were the cool cats who came to dinner. But back to the question of who's ever heard of Gustave Le Gray? We hadn't until yesterday morning, when googling revealed the now obscure 19th-century photographer had been the cat's pajamas of his day. Among his many accomplishments in pushing the envelope of photography as art and science, Le Gray is credited with having invented wax paper, the hot topic of our blog yesterday. A few fascinating tidbits from Timeline of Art History:
His real contributions — artistically and technically — however, came in the realm of paper photography, in which he first experimented in 1848. The first of his four treatises, published in 1850, boldly — and correctly — asserted that "the entire future of photography is on paper" …
In the 1852 edition of his treatise, Le Gray wrote: "It is my deepest wish that photography, instead of falling within the domain of industry, of commerce, will be included among the arts. That is its sole, true place, and it is in that direction that I shall always endeavor to guide it.
Beauty in expected places. Carol had cooked up an eye-catching menu of totally delicious sweet-and-savory veggies, some soft — the firm-but-fork-tender sweet-potato-and-regular-potato salad above left — and some crunchy — broccoli mix, right, and perfect corn on the cob. We gotta get those recipes! Note Corny Cornbread mini peeking out from behind the ear of corn, part of our own hostess gift, as blogged here.
After being grilled, the thick, juicy porkchops rested in a tent of foil. When did foil and plastic wrap displace wax paper among home cooks, and how has wax paper nevertheless managed to hold its own on your local supermarket shelf? Enquiring minds want to know.
As Carol worked her magic in the kitchen and Tuck and ourselves sipped wine outside on the back porch overlooking the garden below, Alan went to work in the lower forty near the garage, grilling up a storm. The conversation ranged from art and architecture through gardening and home heating to the zigzag pattern cast by the dormer of the neighbor's house (top photo, above). Something called The New Best Recipe moved center stage. As Carol and Alan explained with much enthusiasm, the authors present their findings on the best way to cook everything under the sun. In the case of pork chops, you soak them in brine a few hours, rub in some herbs and then throw onto a hot grill. Cook/sear briefly on both sides, turn down the heat and cook a few more minutes. Then everybody into the foil tent (above photo) to continue cooking and let the juices settle.
Update: Carol adds email meat to the bones of our New Best Recipe copy:
Alan gave it to me at Christmas several years ago, and after three months I pronounced it one of the top ten presents. I have a collection of cook books, and I have to say this one is the go-to book for how to make the best fill-in-the-blank (pork chops, grilled fish, etc.). I may not follow every recipe 100%, due to a missing ingredient here and there, or a desire not to measure, but I think it belongs on the wish list for presents.
The new furnace and associated copper tubing were a work of art in themselves. You know you've come to the right place when an elegant evening of good food, good wine and good company includes tours of both the basement — furnace, extensive wine cellar (below) and Alan's darkroom — AND the Wards' inspiring collection of black-and-white photographs by some of the best in the field.
At one point a perky, lime-green katydid decided Tuck's arm was the place to be of a Saturday night. We didn't manage a presentable photo so are borrowing this one we found online:
Greater Angle-winged Katydid/Broadwinged Katydid (Microcentrum rhombifolium), Quartz Mountain, Oklahoma © 2006 Rick Destree. We're guessing that our little friend was the Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia from the charmingly redundant Latin for "wing leaf camellia leaf)
Listen here. So fond of our company was the crispy critter that it rode inside, under the radar so to speak, on our own head, where Alan discovered and "rescued" the little fellow, gently plucking it up and returning it to the wild. Carol and Alan share an empathy for all things bright and beautiful as big as all outdoors.