The pictures always come first. While the furniture is still askew, the lamps still in their bubble wrap, I pull their frames out and hold them against the walls, trading one for the other until they settle into alignment, as if nodding to each other like neighbors. I hate blank walls; pictures say I live here, they say this is me, this is the photo I took of the Paris eclipse, this is the exhibit I liked enough to buy the poster, this is a place I love. Bang, bang, the nails go into the walls. Welcome home.
After the pictures it's probably the kitchen things, installing hooks for pans, arranging spices on shelves. The essentials in the pantry and refrigerator, though my concept of essential might be slightly different than others. The kitchen is the center of the house and it won't feel like home until it's cooked in. The books in the library might sit in boxes for a while, and goodness knows my clothes could live out of a suitcase for months (don't worry- I have put them away now), but the kitchen has a certain immediacy.
I hope you'll excuse me as I'm still taking stock of all the newness around here. What to cook in a new kitchen is another question, a yeast bread perhaps, or a roast. Something fragrant, something inaugural. And if I'm still taking stock of new things, I'm making stock too, literally as well as figuratively. There are all sorts of types and ways to make stock, but I like to make mine from a leftover roast chicken carcass out of convenience. As with most stocks, the vegetables are quite flexible, but I do insist on adding a few leeks: I read recently that leeks add body to a stock, I don't know if that's true, but I do know that pretty much everything tastes better with leeks, so the same must go for stock. I also like to add a few giblets for richness, most chickens don't come with giblets these days (tragedy!) so I usually ask for them at the butcher's counter when I'm buying the chicken, then set them aside until I'm making the stock. A soup bone, easily attainable and very cheap, is another good alternative.
A good stock is a kitchen back bone, its smell another kind of welcome home, its presence in the freezer a sort of security. So now I've got pictures, and stock, a few new housewares, houseplants and groceries; some good old friends and some new ones, some favorite postcards to stick on the refrigerator and some familiar faces to smile back at me from their frames. If I'm taking stock, that looks like a pretty good place to start.
I like to make my stock with a leftover chicken carcass, and I usually scrape up the chicken fat and other yummy bits from the bottom of the roasting pan and add that as well. Play around with whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand but make sure to include the leeks. Someone gave me a set of mesh reusable tea bags for loose-leaf tea, but I find they make the perfect holders for sachets of spices and herbs. Yields about 4 cups, can easily be doubled.
leftover bones and skin from a large roast chicken
1 set of chicken giblets (can also use neck or a soup bone)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, sliced
2-3 carrots, roughly chopped
a few parsley and thyme stalks, 2 bay leaves, a few peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1. Place chicken carcass and giblets in a large pot. Add water to cover by one inch and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, so the water is quivering but not bubbling (it should be around 180 F is you're really obsessive). Skim the surface and leave to simmer for approximately four hours.
2. In the last hour, add the vegetables, salt, and herbs wrapped in a cheese cloth or mesh bag. When the stock is done, strain it through a cheesecloth or paper-towel lined mesh colander.
3. Return the strained stock to the pot and bring to a boil, let simmer (a little more actively this time), until the the stock is reduced a bit, about half an hour. This step is optional, but I find it produces a richer more flavorful stock. Store stock for up to 4 days in the refrigerator or in the freezer. I like the portion mine into 1 cup ziplock baggies in the freezer for easy access and quick defrosting.