Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 3

Rack of Lamb Recipe

As we approach the holidays our neighbors’ homes in the Fair Haven historic district really shine. Meanwhile, at Chez Nelson, the lights are barely on. Just past our first month’s anniversary at 28B Gillespie, an optimist would say wow, we’re nearly there. A pessimist might not.

It took us at least four weeks just to round up Kevin Slavin, the very busy owner of Frontier Tree, who, along with his mighty crew, skillfully removed the gargantuan maple tree that was growing through our roof–and–into the basement. 

But now, with the tree gone* a lot of other tasks are falling into place. We can finally access the basement through our Bilco door (that slanty thing on the back of old houses).  We’re planning on replacing the oil tank and furnace currently residing down there with a natural gas-powered heating and air conditioning system. It gets a little complicated because we have to install all new ductwork and that can be challenging in an older home (I really want to say it isn’t easy getting all our ducks in a row).

Anyway, once we switch out the heating system we won’t need an outside entrance so that wall gets closed up and the dreaded Bilco door removed. Right now it’s sitting outside the great room just where the veranda should, and eventually, will be. By then, all we’ll need to do is upgrade the electric and a bit of plumbing, add some insulation and sheetrock.

Meanwhile, I have been doing the rounds of kitchen cabinet vendors; big box stores, local building centers, and custom cabinet shops have all been on my itinerary. My plan is simple: the core of the kitchen will be on one wall. Eventually, we’ll have a custom island and hutch built at the factory that makes all of our furniture in Hungary. Here’s my inspiration kitchen courtesy of Joanna Gaines.Kitchen by Joanna GainesThis is the core plan.

And this is the reality.Sigh.

Dinner tonight:

Rack of Lamb with Mashed Potatoes–and Brussels Sprouts

Meanwhile, I need to keep Keith’s spirits up–I may be the plotter and planner but he is the guy on the spot: filling the dumpster, peeling old insulation and sheetrock off the ceiling and walls and removing the ten thousand nails used to secure same. Luckily for us, the way to this man’s heart is through his stomach. He needs to be fed and fed well.

I always pick up a rack or two of lamb every time I go to Costco and toss them into the freezer for when I need to up my dinner game.

Pull off most of the fatty bits but don’t worry too much about the gristle. Pour a few glugs of soy sauce and a bit of maple syrup into a shallow bowl and toss in the lamb. You can do this a few hours in advance, or a half hour depending on how organized you are. Turn at least once.

Cook in a preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes and then test to see if the lamb is done. The only way I know how to do this is to actually make a small incision. Although I suppose, if I could ever locate the meat thermometer, that would be a less invasive way to test for doneness.  Pink is okay, raw is not. So either take the rack out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before serving or put it back in the oven for a bit. Keep an eye on it though, because you can get to well done very quickly.

Serve with buttery, piping hot mashed potatoes and some freshly simmered Brussel sprouts. (Keith’s absolute, most favorite vegetable). Just spritz with lemon, add a bit of butter and salt and pepper and forget all about the bacon and cheese that make these hearty little gems injurious to one’s health–and a real pain in the neck to cook.**

Open a lovely bottle of Cote du Rhone, or your favorite red wine, and enjoy.


Image result for rack of lamb photos

Photo courtesy of HealthyRecipesBlogs.com

*In Fair Haven trees don’t just don’t go away. Removal requires a permit application, site visit by the town arborist, a fee, and a commitment to plant replacements for the trees that were removed.

**Note I did not mention mint or mint sauce once.

   RESOURCES

Arborist: Kevin Slavin    http://frontiertree.com/

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Lamb Ragu Recipe

This is the darkest hour when renovating a house. You’ve signed off on having any disposable income for the next thirty years and been given the keys to your dream home that is suddenly, woefully less than perfect…On television Chip gleefully bashes in a few walls, finds one problem with a no more than $3000 solution and from then on it is smooth sailing to Joanna’s staged finale.

In reality, demo is a really big, dirty job that uncovers issue after issue. The list is endless in an older home and no matter how prepared you think you are there is always something else to contend with. The good news is under the carpet upstairs we found the original wood floors largely intact. And it looks like we can save the windows.

Then we found what I call shiplap and Keith calls 1 x 6’s on the ceiling in the dining room that I would like to not only keep but extend to the kitchen–seeing as the plan is to combine the two rooms.

When doing a project like this it is really important to get the correct permits from the town. Right now we are working with a non-structural demo permit, which basically means we (by we I mean Keith of course) are removing decades-old sheetrock to see what is there–or not there–in terms of plumbing, heat, and electric. (Spoiler alert–in our case–not much.)

The next step is to have an architect, in this case, our friend and neighbor, Matt Cronin, draw up plans for the structural changes we are making–another step you rarely see on television but essential in real life. We are opening up the foyer, and the dining room to the kitchen (sadly the end to the little hobbit hallway but so much more functional for modern living).

The good news is I get to plan and replan kitchen layouts and ponder all kinds of design elements. Granite or marble? Upper cabinets or open shelves? Tile floors or continue with the wood that is in the dining room? Below is my preliminary sketch.  The kitchen is 19′ wide and just 10′ deep. I’ll enlarge the existing windows so I can peer over my neighbor’s hedge to see the Navesink River and remove the ones looking right into my other neighbor’s kitchen windows. I’d like to put all the appliances on one wall–but that is so subject to change after I visit a number of local kitchen cabinet builders over the next week or so. Once my basic plan is finalized I’ll add a custom island for storage and seating that will come from the factory in Hungary that builds a lot of our furniture and if there is room, a hutch.

Meanwhile, I’ve upped my cooking game. It’s the least I can do for the guy filling the dumpster. Nothing tastes better after a hard day’s work than a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and I think adding lamb takes it to another level. Fortunately, Keith agrees.

Lamb Ragu

Sprinkle with salt and pepper then sear 8 shoulder blade lamb chops in hot olive oil in a large sauce pot. Then chop up one 1/4 inch thick slice of pancetta and toss that in the pot. Add an onion coarsely chopped, a couple of cloves of garlic, a pinch of oregano, 1/2 can of tomato paste and two cans of whole tomatoes that you squish into bits. Let simmer until meat falls off the bone (about 90 minutes).

Take the meat off the bones, chop and return to the sauce. I like to serve this with fettuccine but any pasta works. Top with grated parmesan, add a tossed salad and a nice bottle of plonk and enjoy.

                          RESOURCES

Architect: Matt Cronin http://croninarch.com/

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Beans on Toast Recipe

It was in the middle of our interminably long, hot summer when a customer told me I should buy the cutest cottage she had ever seen. Located in the heart of the Fair Haven historic district, and priced well under a million dollars which these days she said,  in red hot Fair Haven, made it a steal.  Not really, but still closer to my price range if I was looking for a house–which I was not. But I couldn’t resist peeking at the listing the second she left, and this is what I saw.

Oh man. How cute is this?  I took the bait and called my realtor, who also happens to be my aunt (Keith’s mom’s sister) and manager of Heritage House Realtors in Shrewsbury, just to take a look.  A real estate all star, professional facilitator, and all around wiz,  Christine had us in the house that afternoon.

First thing you see is the adorable foyer, which is entrancing with all of its rounded hobbit doors and fretwork ceiling. (Which proved to be plastic, not plaster, and is coming down but I’ll save that for another chapter–the one about when the rose-colored glasses come off).

The best was when I glanced through the door on my right.I was sold. Forget that the rest of the house was a disaster: the basement indescribable, the filthy kitchen last updated in 1957, and the spartan one and a half  baths not long after that.  All I could think was how cool this room looks.  To be honest Keith was, and is underwhelmed, but in the end, after a bit of hard bargaining and some unhappy inspection results we were able to purchase the property for substantially less than the asking price.

Now the trick will be to turn all the negatives into positives–with a rather tight budget and a partner who is not convinced this is my best idea ever. I’ll let you know how it goes on this blog, which in the spirit of that dynamic duo from Waco,  we will dub the “Fair Haven Fixer Upper”. Wish us luck.

Since we are officially on a budget there is only one recipe I know that packs a punch and cost just pennies.  Beloved by Brits the world over–I need to get back into Keith’s good graces somehow–

Beans on Toast

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 slices bread (white is traditional)
  • 1 can of *Heinz Beanz as shown in the above photo  (DO NOT USE AMERICAN Pork & Beans or “Bush’s Beans” etc. ONLY Heinz)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Toast bread.
  2. In a saucepan, heat up the beans.
  3. Spoon onto toast.
  4. ENJOY!
Keith buys these at Sickles Market in Little Silver. Sadly not available everywhere.

                          ResourceS

Attorney: Brad Batcha, Batcha & Batcha

Mortgage Broker: Rene Stone, Homebridge

Realtor: Christine Doran, Heritage House Sotheby’s International Realty

Homing

Meat Pie Recipe

Homing refers to an animal’s ability to return to a place after traveling far away from it. While I know Keith loves living in the United States (he’s been here over 40 years for heaven’s sakes!) there will always be an England in his heart.  So it was brilliant to pop over the pond and soak up some real ale, visit with the relatives, and just be in that special British kind of groove for a couple of weeks this fall.First stop was in Surrey where we met up with Keith’s Auntie Pat.  No proper English home is without a garden and Pat always has one of the best. Love her hanging basket and bold use of color, so warm and welcoming.Next stop was arguably one of the most famous gardens in the United Kingdom: Sissinghurst, in nearby Kent. Originally owned by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson and now the National Trust, it is a must stop for garden lovers and English lit majors the world over. Vita was a Bloomsbury Group original, lover of Virginia Woolf, and gardener extraordinaire.

In her own words: “My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy. I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere. I hate to see things scrimp and scrubby. Even the smallest garden can be prodigal within its own limitations… Always exaggerate rather than stint. Masses are more effective than mingies.” Trust me there are no mingies at Sissinghurst!

It wasn’t huge, as English gardens go, but with allees and walls and hedges and borders, vistas, large and small abound. And the totally famous White Garden, even in fall, was a masterpiece of design with a lush fullness and texture that belied its ostensible lack of color. Green is a color after all. There was not a corner left untended–or unplanted and every turn brought another awesome vignette.I probably took two hundred more photos; everywhere I looked there was a better shot.  But, eventually cocktail hour approached and we were meeting a cousin at a fabulous pub and B & B in Tonbridge  so it was time to get a move on.

And time for a pint.Next we headed to Bognor Regis, a classic and classy seaside resort made famous by King George the V, and our home for the next few days while we enjoyed our niece Chantal’s wedding festivities.Between the seaside and the architecture Bognor Regis is a great place to stay so if you go to that part of the English coast give Brighton, the better known city just to the east, a miss–overcrowded and over-rated in my opinion–and stay in beautiful Bognor.  The wedding was a civil ceremony in the town hall in nearby Chichester. Here we are with Keith’s brother and his partner. (I decided against the fascinator; tempting as it was I felt it best to leave that look to the natives).  The reception was a double decker bus ride away at the groom’s parents nursery and garden center just outside of town.Sadly all good things must pass, even weddings with six surfboard salutes; it was time for us to get to work. First stop, Christies Auction House in London to see how master U.S. designer Michael S. Smith curated that week’s sale. The brief was to show how antiques can be incorporated into everyday design–a no brainer except it seems for everyone under 40 these days.For probably around $10,000. (if the auction estimates were to be believed) you could furnish a living room–and dining room! Granted they were not period antiques, but who cares? Everything in the salesroom, whether antique or merely vintage, was well made, decorative and well worth the cost. We would have and probably should have and may well do in the future.The other designer setting up the exhibition was Martin Brudnizki and his styling was to die for.Check this out.And this:There was just a mad assortment of things old and new and what a great treat to see how these two design Ninjas put this with that and altogether came up with a whole room you just wanted to take home. Kudos to Christie’s for coming up with the idea to show objects in situ.

Our next foray was to Kings Road. Home to iconic shop after iconic shop, it is a little bit of heaven for anyone with a penchant for interior design. Osborne and Little were showing Nina Campbell’s new line.The latest from George Smith was on display.Timothy Oulton (familiar to Americans through his RH connection) had just opened a new store called Bluebird. And clearly was channeling Michael S. Smith’s Christies vibe.Then we spent a long time at Trowbridge Galleries, the leading purveyors of art photography in England, and a vendor we are considering for the store.Next stop was the London  Design Centre,Chelsea Harbour .They were madly putting the finishing touches on many of the showrooms in preparation for the London Design Week. Loved the color of these sofas; clearly you can’t go wrong with pumpkin this fall.  It was a great way to wind up our trip and a fabulous opportunity to see the latest in home decor from a whole slew of world-class designers and renowned retailers.  But eventually all good things must end; it was time for us to go home.

Meat Pie

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal we had at Chantal’s wedding. Everyone was served a meat pie and then gravy, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots were placed on the tables family style. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!So I googled meat pies until I figured out how to do it.  Here’s the Nelson Family version.

Meat Pie

First make your favorite beef stew.  I delegated this to Keith and he made  a Beef Bourguignon, using his favorite recipe from The James Beard Cookbook.  The first night we had this in classic stew form, the next night we made meat pies.  All you need to do is buy some puff pastry–it comes in your freezer section and thaws in the microwave if you forget, like I did, to take it out of your own freezer.

Using an inverted glass, cut circles out of the dough and place in greased cupcake tins.  Fill with stew–a good trick I read and followed–is keep the filling on the dry side.  Next top with a pastry lid, using a fork to press the dough around the edges to seal the pies shut. Cut two small slits in the top, and brush on some egg white. Cook in a pre-heated 390 degree for 30 minutes.

Not bad for a first try–easy as pie! Keith was happy to have a taste of home and now you can too.

11:43:33

Maine Stay

Maine Home & Design Contest
Martha Stewart
Loi Thai

Skillet Cod with Clams, Corn and Parsley

We barely had time to unpack the New Shipment of antiques and custom furniture from our factory in Hungary in late July, when it was time to whoosh up to our Maine cottage for the best two weeks of the summer.August promises so much: warm water temperatures, delightful breezes, bright skies, and the tastiest fresh food from the farmer’s market and the local lobster and fish co-op. It’s the best time for family visits because the kids, and adults too, can be outside all day running around like lunatics and swimming like fishes–then sleeping like logs at night.

At least we did. A long time ago a customer with a vacation home he inherited from his father told me his dad’s secret to successful hosting: Never give up your own bedroom.  No matter what.

Ours is totally British Cottage Style, albeit with a bit of bling. The chandelier is an antique, and the sconces are from Currey and Company. The vintage white king size bed is by British Cottage, leaving just enough room for one of the robust antique pine chests of drawers we import from Hungary. Comfortable, serene and a perfect refuge for when the going gets tough– or the young ‘uns get going! 

We were also looking for a similar sense of comfort and style in our living room. Below is the photo I entered in the Maine Homes by Down East design contest in May. Judges include Martha Stewart and my Instagram favorite, Loi Thai, owner of Tone on Tone Antiques in D.C. and fellow summer Mainer. You can see all the entries here: Maine Homes Design Contest. (For the record I am not expecting a win–I just wanted to get a little skin in the game!)Our sofa is from Best Slipcover, the first upholstery company we carried. I love the concept of a slipcover,especially when pets and children are involved. Luckily I had a second slipcover made before we parted ways and the sofa got schlepped up to Maine.  When all our young guests departed we tried on the new look and I am happy to report it was an instant success. I’m so over the ruffles (what was I thinking?) and love the waterfall skirt and weltless seams. It looks less cottagey which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Note to self, buy a steamer.)

While some people believe a vacation means no cooking I think meals are much more fun to prepare when there is a crowd to enjoy them and help with all the prep–and clean up.  Al fresco is always the best. Lobster works anytime anywhere. But the best dinner I had all month was from the August  Bon Appetit and is a made for Maine summertime dish. I love clams and almost never cook them but this recipe will change that. Just make sure to double up on the ingredients because everyone will want seconds!

Skillet Cod, Clams, and Corn with Parsley

INGREDIENTS

1¼ lb. skinless cod fillet, cut into 4 pieces, patted dry
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 2 medium ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs (1–1¼ cups)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Lemon wedges (for serving)

    • Season cod all over with salt and pepper. (You can skip this step; I find the clams are salty enough.) Sprinkle flour over a large plate and, working one at a time, press side of fillet where skin used to be into flour to thoroughly coat. (Coating the cod with flour before cooking prevents the flaky fillets from tearing; any bits left in the pan will give body to the clam mixture.) Tap off excess and set on a platter, flour side up.

    • When buying a big portion of cod or other skinless fish, you’ll often end up with the skinny tail end. Keep it from overcooking by folding the tail end underneath itself to create a piece that’s closer in thickness to the rest of the fillets. Then proceed to cook it as you would any other piece.                  (This is a really good tip!)

    • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium. Cook cod, floured side down, shaking skillet occasionally to prevent sticking, until flesh is opaque and starting to flake around the sides and underside is golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Carefully turn cod over and reduce heat to low. Cook until cooked all the way through (flesh should be completely opaque), about 2 minutes (thinner pieces may go more quickly). Place on a platter, golden side up; take care not to break up the delicate fillets.

    • Turn heat back up to medium, pour remaining 2 Tbsp. oil into the skillet, and cook shallot, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 2 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add clams and cover skillet. Cook until clams open, about 5 minutes (some clams might take a few minutes longer). Uncover skillet and transfer clams, discarding any that didn’t open, to platter with cod.

    • Reduce heat to low and add corn and butter to skillet. Cook, stirring until butter is melted, the sauce is thick and glossy, and corn is tender about 3 minutes. Spoon corn mixture over fish and clams. Top with parsley; squeeze lemon wedges over. The end.

In the Works

Italian Sausage and Peppers Recipe

June swept by me and now July promises to do the same. However, right now I have a quiet moment so I can get to a few updates.

Let’s start at The Monmouth Museum – From June 1 to September 3 they have a timely exhibit for all of us home decor addicts. They are showing artwork with sofas and while the official stance is the art stands alone, the sofa is secondary, personally, I like it when it all matches. Here is what they paired with our British Cottage entry. Nice huh? Try to get there. The museum is in Lincroft on the Brookdale Community College Campus and there is a great children’s wing so maybe pop in on a rainy day.

Meanwhile, we are assisting with a mixed bag of design projects that showcase the variety of living situations in our two rivers area.  First, there is the Alderbrook update, where a very young at heart senior is curating a lifetime of possessions into a thoroughly up-to-date transitional interior. Then there is the Atlantic Highlands petite chateau where the owners have reclaimed their second story from their young son.  And are in the process of transforming it from a playground into a sophisticated master bedroom suite and home office for the work at home most days professional mom. This is the before. You are not going to believe the after but because this is a work in progress we all have to wait for the wallpaper to arrive…

Keep your fingers crossed. We’re counting on fabulous wallpaper from Thibaut and a to die for bed from Century to make this transformation a success.

Meanwhile who wouldn’t welcome an excuse to hang out at this updated Shingle Style home in Fair Haven, literally steps away from the Navesink River, where almost empty nesters are creating a sophisticated coastal haven?  Think the first-class berth on the QE2, no starfish and fishing nets here!

While we are not designers, after thirty years of shifting furniture around we’ve developed pretty good eyes and are usually happy to weigh in if asked.  At the store we marry the new with the old, casual with chic, and farmhouse with modern every single day so we are well aware of the challenges you face.  It is all about showing the things you love to their best advantage whether you are just starting out, or easing into retirement.

Speaking of taking things you love and mixing them up; try doing that with green, red. orange and yellow peppers. Add some hot Italian sausage and you have a fabulous, fresh dinner that tastes like summer.

The Wall Street Journal sometimes skews a little too right for my taste but their weekend features section is totally on the mark and my new recipe go to source.  This is from their “Slow Food Fast” column.

Comfort-Food Classic: Italian Sausage and Peppers

(Recipe by Chef Mashama Bailey of the Grey, in Savannah, Ga.)

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausages
  • 2 pounds hot Italian sausages
  • 6 bell peppers, a mix of red, yellow, orange and green, cored, seeded and julienned
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Crusty bread, for serving

1. Swirl 2 tablespoons olive oil into a heavy pot over medium heat. Add sausages, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, and cook until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove sausages from pot and set aside.

2. To the same pot, add peppers, onions and garlic. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, remaining oil and vinegar. Return sausages to pot and turn gently to coat. Braise until tomatoes reduce to a sauce that cloaks peppers, about 10 minutes, adding splashes of water if pot looks dry. Serve with crusty bread.

Kips Bay Showhouse

Quiche Lorraine Recipe

Philip Mitchell Design
Mark Sikes
Alexa Hampton
Barbara Ostrom
Bunny Williams

For a while I’ve been off showhouses not being a huge fan of modern, slick interiors in garish colors, or the reverse, all grey minimalism.  But this year’s Kips Bay Showhouse had three of my favorite interior designers:   Mark Sikes, Alexa Hampton and Bunny Williams / Elizabeth Swartz  on deck…so Keith and I motored into the city on a particularly bleak Sunday in late May.

Located on East 76th street between Park and Lex in a 51 million dollar townhouse that is the largest on the NYC market today (read all about it here:  (Upper Eastside Mansion for Sale),  this showhouse had seven floors and countless rooms featuring the talents of the creme de la creme in home decor today.  So for your forty dollars you basically got a master’s class in design–not bad.

We started in the foyer–you could have sworn you were in Paris–then stepped into a spacious elevator that zipped us to the top floor which was entirely dedicated to an in-home spa space. Crazy.

On the floor below that was our highlight of the day: the Drawing Room by Philip Mitchell Design. OMG  Just when I had practically convinced myself that my days as a retailer were numbered because the upcoming generations don’t collect things, don’t want things, don’t need stuff–Philip Mitchell’s Drawing Room was the bomb. Anchored by a massive navy blue sectional festooned with a plethora of toss pillows bordered by a seemingly random selection of art, it was love at first sight.Navy Blue Sectional in the Philip Mitchell Kips Bay ShowhouseAnd it kept getting better. Everywhere you looked there was more, and, impossibly better, accoutrement. I’ve always loved the Bunny Williams bar set up in her Connecticut house and this was to rival that. Then there were the overstuffed chairs, flanked by baskets filled with books and magazines, flanked by ottomans, flanked by tables, flanked by–you get the picture.  I could just see myself sitting in this chair, feet elevated, sipping a Gin Fizz, devouring a juicy novel.Bar Set Up in Philip Mitchell's Kips Bay Showhouse Drawing room Coffee tables were all piled high with collections (note to self– take all unpolished antique brass candlesticks out of purgatory stat), more books, even plants. Who said orchids were so over? Note too all the stools and benches encircling the coffee table practically begging you to put your feet up and enjoy the flow.
Coffee Table in Philip Mitchell's Kips Bay Showhouse Drawing Room

Coffee Table in Philip Mitchell's Kips Bay Showhouse Drawing RoomEverywhere you looked there was more to see and enjoy. Game table. Check.Cozy corner with wicker chairs. Check.Tall shelf  nestled in alcove filled with blue and white porcelain. Check. Vintage dog bed. Check.I could go have stayed there forever but there were seriously another twenty or thirty rooms left to peruse so off we toodled.

Mark Sikes was up next.

Part of Mark’s shtick is his adoration of iconic beauties and he rolls with the idea that one of those lovelies has this totally gorgeous bedroom. It worked for me, not an iconic beauty however, but still a lover of blue and white, fab wallpaper, incredibly detailed soft furnishings, vintage objets d’art and antique furniture.The four poster bed was gorgeous, and I love how the base is upholstered to match the headboard and footboard. Pops of royal blue abound, and just imagine sinking into this upholstered velvet armchair after a glam evening out on the town.  I’m not really a huge fan of complex window treatments but l was bowled over by this pinch pleat swag curtain that probably has a proper name–probably French–c’est tres jolie in any case.Mark used  a contrasting fabric as a shower curtain and skirt for the bathroom vanity which I gather is all part of his new fabric collection for Schumacher. Well done!

We hated to leave but Alexa Hampton was waiting–not really–but her room was the next on our A list. Alexa has been on our British Cottage radar ever since we fell in love with her collection for Hickory Chair last spring at the High Point Furniture Market. Rich in color and texture, sophisticated and inspiring; we couldn’t wait to see her Kips Bay living room.

Decorated to the nines and terribly chic, I get it; but sadly  it could not make my heart sing.

Definitely my fault because I am not very fond of red. And that is all I see here. So even though I love love love the secretary, and all the attention to detail…In the end it was all too fin de siecle for me–but I embraced the opportunity to see a master’s work.  I had to marvel at the artistry that created the tromp l’oeil painted tented walls–and ceiling!  And the vision and creativity of the designer to put this all together.

And that is the point of showhouses (beyond of course the charities they support).  You get to actually see and experience a variety of decorative options. Some may be out of your comfort zone or beyond your budget.  But you get to get the idea.

Take Barbara Ostrom’s dining/living room. Noted for her over-the-top decor she did not disappoint here. (We first met Barbara at the initial Stately Homes by the Sea Showhouse in Rumson. She was probably the best-known designer on the roster and created a most opulent and stylish dining room–think Versailles, while we poured our heart and soul into the decor of a minuscule bedroom upstairs in the servants’ wing.)

I loved the placement of furniture and all the objects in her room, which I think may have been intended as a formal dining room, but Barbara being Barbara threw in a living room as well. The dining section features a beautifully set table–another Barbara-ism. And note the Andrew Tedesco mural on the ceiling. Like many of the Kips Bay designers the ceiling was treated as a “fifth wall” and it was literally a highlight of the entire room.And speaking of stuff, Barbara is fearless when it comes to decorating a room. The paintings are from all periods, including one by John Mellencamp, while the bibelots range from the Han dynasty to the present day. As always the color palette is on the vibrant side; in this case high gloss peach from the Farrow and Ball archives.

But I am sure if you are still reading you are wondering if I am ever going to wrap this up. Let’s end with Bunny Williams, co-chairman of the 2018 Kips Bay Showhouse and designer par excellence.

Bunny and her partner Elizabeth Swartz designed a room that was not a fantastical representation of anything–it looked to me like what I think a real life mogul would have in their real life living room in their 51 million dollar mansion off Park. Sophisticated, sleek, expensive, but still relaxing. A place to loosen your tie, plop your feet up and wait for the butler to bring your slippers and serve you a martini made just the way you like it.

There were two comfortable seating areas, fabulous art on the walls, a mixture of antique and contemporary furniture and some pops of color but nothing too too.

Except maybe this. It was a showhouse after all.You can read about all the other fabulous Kips Bay Showhouse 2018 rooms here: Architectural Digest Gallery Tour  

Quiche Lorraine

Meanwhile I just have to tell you about our brunch. You simply cannot go to New York on a Sunday and not have brunch. We didn’t have plans and fortunately stumbled upon a Belgian Brasserie at 240 East 75th Street almost immediately. Honestly it did not look the most engaging of venues, but it was drizzling, we were parched and famished so in we went.

The good news: the interior was spotless, our server excellent and the food terrific. I had my own mini Quiche Lorraine while Keith had French Toast from heaven.

  B.Cafe (Belgian Brasserie)

Thanks to Nicole Holland, I can show you how the Quiche was served.
I always  include a recipe in my blogs and seeing as I already featured Challah French Toast I think it has to be the quiche.  My problem is although I love quiche I’m not very good at making it.  Here is a recipe from Epicurious that might change that. However, I would use ham instead of bacon, like they did at the B. Cafe.

Quiche Lorraine

    • 1 Pre-Made pie Pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
    • 12 slices bacon
    • 1 cup shredded Emmental cheese
    • 1/3 cup minced onion
    • 4 eggs, beaten
    • 2 cups light cream
    • salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Fry bacon until crispy.
  2. Chop bacon and combine with cheese and onions, then place mixture in pie shell.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, cream, salt and pepper then pour into pastry shell.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated 425 degree oven. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake for 30 more minutes.
  5. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting

Kentucky Derby Day

Herbed Orzo with Feta Recipe

Given the rotten  weather we’ve been having these days the only way I was sure spring was here was when I was drinking mint juleps and watching the Kentucky Derby. We were happy to be invited to a small gathering of friends, parents, children–and dogs at the Lindekin home in Shrewsbury–second generation British Cottage shoppers by the way.  Which is good  because it confirms that the love of decorating is genetic and sad because we are clearly getting up there.

Their house is painted a cheerful yellow with two bay windows flanking the front door; it may technically be a starter home, but I could easily see finishing up here. The yard is huge and the house is bigger than it looks because the previous owners were very careful not to let the large extension they put on in the back impact on the charm of the original structure.

When you walk in the living room is on the left. And on the right is what was the dining room but now is a kind of an enlarged foyer. There was a huge debate about what to put in this room–clearly they nailed it!

Now all the dining takes place in the extension, which also houses the flatscreen televison, and man cave elements like the huge leather couch –and the bar.  The cabinet anchoring the TV is a British Cottage find, as are the vintage French fish prints.Then there is a huge farm table (from British Cottage) that this evening was all set up for a glorious buffet supper.Which all the guests, and hosts, enjoyed immensely.


Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Steaks and salmon were cooked on the grill and served with a variety of fixings.  My absolute favorite was the orzo salad–

The recipe is from the always terrific Ina Garten aka “The Barefoot Contessa” and tasted amazing. I am so thrilled to have a flavorful  replacement for my former summer fave–that old-fashioned Potato Salad made with buckets of Hellmans mayo.  This was like winning an exacta–less calories and easier on the arteries!

Photo: James Merrell

  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound orzo
  • For the Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • To Assemble:
  • 4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
  • 1/4 cup pignolis, toasted
  • 3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
  • 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.

Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

Copyright 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, All Rights Reserved

Back to the Farm

Scottish Shortbread Recipe

Built by German immigrants in 1840, Tip Top Farm in Colts Neck started out as a relatively modest asparagus farm, but by the mid-1900s it had become the country manse of the Chairman and chief stock holder of the National Starch Company.  Now it is home to a thoroughly modern 21st century family.

Along the way there were additions; to the house, and property–at one point the farm was nearly 50 acres. Unfortunately there were subtractions too–in the 1980s the property was subdivided and all the farm-related buildings were razed to make way for the houses that sprouted up next.

Fortunately the main house stayed intact, albeit with a bit of tweaking; each of the owners has left their mark.  In lots of ways the story of Tip Top Farm is like a historical novel, the various occupants and their fortunes and misfortunes, mirrored the economic and historical events of their time–Downton Abbey here we come.

While walking through this house is like walking through a time machine; you would never mistake it for a museum. Even though they kept many of the original architectural details like thick crown molding, multiple fireplaces, hand-hewn beams and wide plank floors, over the the last 18 years the current owners painted, updated and transformed every single room– Happily stopping by British Cottage for furnishings and accessories each step of the way.  What a relief to finally visit this fabulous home I’d heard so much about. And trust me it did not disappoint!

I’ll start with the formal living room which is textbook ready for a lesson on how to make a room that is often all buttoned up and off limits–attractive–and cozy.  The overstuffed furniture,  working fireplace and centrally located flatscreen tv keep this room in play. There is no doubt it looks refined but comfort rules.

I liked how they anchored the television with an antique credenza, clustering the oft unlovely family photos below. These look great, and note how the vintage metal frames complement the tarnished brass feet and back railing of the sideboard.Next up is what was originally the library and now I would call it the family room.  I was happy to be reunited with the oversized clock face we bought ten years ago for our Potting Shed from heaven in the second Stately Homes by the Sea Showhouse.  Not many people would have thought to put it here, but you have to admit it does pack a punch. The pine bench to the left is nearly 10 feet long and neatly fills the space–as it did in our upstairs hallway until the homeowner spied it!Next up is the dining room.That is one of our fabulous flip top tables in the window. Closed it is the perfect console table but open it can sit eight.  Everybody wants a more informal style dining table these days–but with a leaf–and mostly they don’t exist. So the two or three times a year you need more dining space this extra table cracks it.  Note that tucked under the console table is a bench for–you guessed it–extra seating.
The red sideboard is another British Cottage find.  Really distressed and on the industrial side so I admit I to being a bit perplexed when this went on the truck, but as you can see it is perfect for the spot.

Adjacent to the dining room is the bar/lounge/sunroom.  Once a screened in porch, it is now a four season room with a wall of windows that really brighten up this part of the house. We bought the antique pine sideboard in England  years ago and it is massive. By now you may be sensing a common thread -these homeowners are absolutely fearless when it comes to decorating.

Another case in point is this most fabulous breakfront we found at Green Square Antiques in Copenhagen. It is an antique Scandinavian pine piece that the owners of Green Square had shipped to Poland to have lacquered. Then it was shipped back to Denmark and finally on to us in New Jersey; it is easily 8′ tall.

Finally I made it to the kitchen and the first piece of British Cottage furniture purchased for this home-the pine corner cupboard.  Although the kitchen was totally renovated a few years ago, the cabinet stayed. I love everything about this room: the porcelain tile “wood” floor, the gorgeous tin ceiling, and the swivel chairs in a bold fabric.On the other side of the kitchen there is a breakfast room with a barn door concealing the pantry on one side. And custom cabinets on the other.Instead of built ins for this breakfast nook/butlers pantry the owners had us make two cabinets to flank a painted pine chest with drawers. Note another decorating secret in action–you can be fearless with green because all greens go together. If you don’t believe me think of a forest.

In the middle sits the nuts and bolts of the kitchen. But note how they still made room for some decorative elements. I’d completely forgotten about the fabulous antique Mora clock in original paint from Sweden…and couldn’t believe I’d sold it. Darn. It is stunning.

But so was the rest of this kitchen. The stained glass window where a door once hung, the gorgeous marble countertop which is really Calcutta-Grey Quartz. (Information that makes reading to the bottom of this blog totally worth the effort.  There are pages and pages written about whether to not to use marble in  a kitchen…this is the answer.)

Recipe for Scottish Shortbread

While there was still so much to see and admire I couldn’t ignore the refreshments any longer.  Who would looking at this mouth-watering display?  Strawberries and scones and homemade Scottish Shortbread. Heaven.  Definitely time for a cuppa as my English mother-in-law would say.

The original recipe from the owner’s grandmother, in her handwriting.  Short and sweet and totally delicious.

1 Cup Butter (1/2 Lb)
1/2 Cup Very Fine Sugar
2 Cups Flour
Blend together thoroughly.
Bake 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Chez Bernadette

Roasted Chicken Legs with Potatoes and Kale Recipe

It is amazing how rarely I get to Rumson now that I live in Red Bank (which is sad because it is literally two miles yonder). So it was nice to be invited along on a delivery there the other day; our friend Bernadette got a spring refresh, and I got to visit the old neighborhood.

While you might think  Rumson is just one ritzy mansion after another, once you get off the main drags there are many unique homes on a much smaller, and you could argue more charming scale.  In this case what was once a fairly modest cape has, over the years, sprouted wings and els, and is now quite a robust beauty. I guessed Bernadette’s house was built sometime in the 1040’s but I guessed wrong. Like many homes along the Shrewsbury River shoreline, this house was barged over from Sea Bright over 100 years ago! There are so many things to love about this house but my favorite might be the Dutch door. I have wanted a Dutch door my entire life and Bernadette’s is absolutely the most perfect shade of blue.

  It turns out to be Blue Sea Foam by Benjamin Moore.

Fortunately, Bernadette is a much better housekeeper than I, because her house was camera ready when I ran through at 9:30 in the morning snapping photos of the various British Cottage items she’s purchased over the last couple of decades(!) while Keith did the heavy lifting on the delivery.

I started in the kitchen.  This table from British Cottage is at least 25 years old.  That is the good thing and the bad thing about selling great furniture; it never goes out of style, never breaks, and thus never needs replacing (sad for us, great for our customers). This kitchen has been remodeled two or three times and our classic pine farmhouse table always makes the cut.

In the dining room, I spied a white porcelain bowl from our Chinese export collection under a painting by Barbara Cocker—another former neighbor and longtime West Park resident.  She was quite famous locally and in Nantucket, her summer haunt, for her riveting coastal paintings.  Until I saw Bernadette’s I had forgotten I always wanted a Mrs. Cocker painting. Sigh.

The other thing I would like to point out in the dining room is the gray cabinet.  So often people own a mahogany or cherry breakfront, or china closet, that works like a dream but looks like it belongs at Winterthur—too ponderous and heavy for our laidback coastal décor.  Bernadette had hers painted gray; a brilliant move that keeps the dining room still formal, but not too. (Needless to say, you should NEVER do this to a period antique but it is quite acceptable to repurpose quality machine made pieces from the 20th century).

A quick stop in the living room for a snap of one of our orb chandeliers with the crystal centers. So many people talk about putting a chandelier over a coffee table—but it takes a certain amount of courage to do it.  And look.  What a pay off! Instant architecture with a focal point that literally brings light into play. Brilliant.

Next, I dashed upstairs to see how our paneled bed turned out. We normally only sell the whole bed, but in this case, just a headboard was required.  It’s bolted to a frame so it doesn’t flip or flap. And I must say quells the argument that you can’t but a bed in front of a window–of course you can.

All’s left is to see how the family room revamp worked out.  What do you think?

This is the den that was created when a master bedroom was added to the east side of the house.  We brought in the Gustavian style console table, painted a soft gray, for under the front window, added two square gourd lamps, and a couple of mirrors and side tables to give a little structure and depth to this serene space.

Even the dad corner looks pretty good!

The clock was ticking–we open at ten–but I couldn’t leave Bernadette’s without a recipe in hand.  She promises this is delicious–I haven’t had a chance to get to the kitchen to try it myself.  The kale worries me a bit; I want to embrace it but so far have failed. Bernadette assures me that will all change once I make this fabulous recipe from Food and Wine.

original-200812-r-roasted-chicken-kale.jpg

For this easy one-pan dish, Grace Parisi roasts chicken legs on a bed of potatoes and kale so the meaty juices keep the vegetables moist. Prep takes just 10 minutes and the resulting meal serves eight or makes for excellent leftovers. There’s very little clean-up as everything bakes up together and can be served straight from the pan. It’s super healthy from the kale and lemon, but also hearty because of the roasted potatoes.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds tender, young kale, stems and inner ribs removed

1 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

8 whole chicken legs (about 10 ounces each)

1 teaspoon paprika

Lemon wedges, for serving

How to Make It:

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 450°. In a very large roasting pan, toss the kale, potatoes, and onion with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer.

Step 2

Set the chicken on a cutting board, skin side down. Slice halfway through the joint between the drumsticks and thighs. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the paprika and set on top of the vegetables.

Step 3

Cover the pan with foil. Roast the chicken in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for 30 minutes longer, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Transfer the chicken to plates and spoon the vegetables alongside. Serve with lemon wedges.

Serve With:

Combining chicken, greens, and potatoes, this one-pan recipe is a meal in itself, but it would also be delicious with homemade hummus or other easy spreads like a cucumber-yogurt dip.