Friday, March 21, 2014

Staging: Pumpkin Ginger Soup with Browned Butter

So we bought a house.

Yes, we already own a house, but this house is 20 minutes closer to work for me, which means that I can do more of the kid pickup and dropoff, and when S. is traveling, I will have 30 minutes more in the office before I start panicking that DYFS will come get my kids before I do.  It's big enough so that my son won't hit his head on the ceiling in the morning when he sits up in bed, and we could potentially have more than five people in our living room for book group.  I can bring kids back to campus for evening programs or dinners.  It's a win-win.

We've been looking passively for a while, and went to visit a house two weeks ago.  If you've ever been house-hunting, you know that it loses its luster pretty quickly, and remembering our experience last time, I said half-jokingly to S. as we were getting the kids back into the car, "ok, let's buy this one."  "OK," he agreed.  And somehow, two weeks later, we're out of attorney review.

Which means, of course, that we are also selling the house we live in now.

Putting aside for the moment all of the complicated things I've been feeling about leaving the place where we've made our home for nine years (because that deserves its own post), I've been thinking a lot about staging, especially as we went back yesterday for the home inspection, and I began to notice the nails on the walls where other things had hung, things that had been replaced by something more perfect, places where other furniture had been before, and had been moved to make space for ... space.  If you've ever bought or sold a house, you probably know something about how things works: staging makes a space feel like anyone could live in it, depersonalizing and getting rid of enough of the clutter and identity that a potential buyer could walk into the space and begin to imagine their things in it.  I wondered, as we walked around that house yesterday, eating the brownies that the owner had made for us, whether I'd been suckered in by the staging, the beautiful Pottery-Barn-like perfection of it all.

We don't have a very cluttered house, but when you live anywhere long enough with small children, you begin to accumulate things, careful as you might be to rid yourself periodically of items you no longer need.  And my seven year old has hoarding tendencies.  So over the past week, I've begun the process of cleaning, Freecycling, throwing away things we no longer need, trying to make our home feel as spacious as it did when we first moved in.  I can already appreciate how hard it's going to be to keep our house completely tidy until we sell it (CSA, if you're reading this: I've been awed the small miracle that you're managed to maintain in your house).

I'm no stranger to the concept of artful arrangement and minimalism.  There's a not-so-small obsessive compulsive part of me that demands feng shui, even in casually tossed together meals.  But as I take pictures from one wall and hang them on another, or hide them in a closet, or stash dishes away, or wonder where I can hide a piece of furniture for a few months, there's a wistfulness in the small loss from home to house.  I start to think about the things I should and shouldn't cook before someone comes to visit, knowing that our house has a way of retaining dinner in the air for a day or so.

We still have to tear apart our bathroom before we put this house on the market (hooray for leaky tile, not), though, and we don't close until July 1, so for the moment, I will continue to fill the air with spice and ginger and garlic and chocolate and maybe even bacon.  And I will try not to nag my children too much about imperfect cleanliness, putting my energies instead into feng shui for dinner.

How much staging would you have to do if you were going to move?  How much can you extract the "you" from your home?  Have you ever staged a house before?

Gingered Pumpkin Soup
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

One of the things I love about Heidi Swanson is her artful, but still casual, arrangement of food.  She tosses things together and makes them appear as if they've been that way always, casual but also beautiful.

2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 lbs pumpkin puree
2 t. fresh ginger, grated
cooked brown/wild rice, warm

1/4 c. unsalted butter
4-inch sprig of rosemary
zest of one lemon
1 t. grated ginger
pinch of salt

other toppings: plain yogurt, toasted pepitas (we used tamari spiced ones)

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, shallot, ginger, and a couple big pinches of salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes, then add the pumpkin and 6 cups of water (or less if you like a thicker soup). Bring just to a simmer until the flavors mingle, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender until smooth. If you like an even thinner soup, add more water, then stir in more salt to taste.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, long enough to let the butter start to brown a bit. Remove from heat and immediately stir in rosemary, lemon zest, grated ginger, and salt. Stir well and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Strain the butter, and reserve the pulp to serve separately.

Serve soup with a big scoop of rice and with a spoonful of yogurt, some pepitas, a drizzle of lemon ginger rosemary butter.

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  1. I loved the minimalism. I loved the clean feeling of a house with only the essentials in it. I only sort of felt bad about making my kids keep particularly tidy. The clutter has slowly made its way back (although many of the things we packed it the garage may just disappear because we clearly don't need them) when the house went off the market. I will delight in the required cleanliness when we put it back up in the next few excuse to let my inner type A free. I like knowing that everything around me has a purpose and no drawer is unknown. May you fing the process has some benefits too.

  2. Massive congratulations on the new house! So... still in the same area-ish? You know why I'm asking :-)

  3. Well, I kept this post in my reader for too long. I saw the recipe and marked it To Read Later because I knew I'd want to savor it (as I do with so many of your posts).

    We moved 8 years ago and the staging part was almost insurmountable. Of course, somehow we did it but there were stretches I thought it would break me.

    So. I hope that your resumed house hunt is going well and that your staging goes as smoothly as possible.


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