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.)

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.

Recipe for Scottish ShortbreadThe 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 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 long time 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).

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 cucumber-yogurt dip.

New Beginnings

Chicken With Shallots Recipe

For a while Keith and I have been asking ourselves, “What is the future of retail?”  Last year 23 huge stores went bankrupt—everything from Abercrombie and Fitch to Toys R Us. That same year Wayfair, the internet retail giant grossed 3 billion  dollars!

When we opened British Cottage 32 years ago,  people would get in their cars and drive to Red Bank to shop. Now they pour themselves a glass of wine and get out their mobile devices.

The original British Cottage at 124 W Front Street in Red Bank

We thought long and hard about what we should do. We needed to figure out how, as a mom and pop, brick and mortar store, to stay competitive as we entered our fourth decade in business. In the end,  we decided to go for that tried and true antidote to aging–a face lift!

We spoke to our neighbor, architect Matt Cronin, and he designed a stunning new façade for our store, along with a new addition with more, and better display space. This way we can place products in actual room settings, and feature items like couches and chairs and artwork–things that really need to be seen or touched before buying–something you can’t ever do on the internet.

Of course nothing happens overnight, but on Monday our plans were approved by the Red Bank Planning Board. At the same time we got Mayor Menna’s blessing; he said this is exactly the direction the powers that be want Shrewsbury Avenue to go.  Hopefully our customers agree!

But right now it is a cold, rainy March day and our new governor has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of heavy snowfall later.  However, there’s still time to dash to the store and grab the ingredients for this simply satisfying, totally delicious one pot meal. Trust me you won’t be sorry!

Read more about the British Cottage expansion on Red Bank Green:

Rishia Zimmern’s Chicken With Shallots

(Courtesy of Sam Sifton of the New York Times)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 to 15 whole medium shallots, peeled
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 sprigs tarragon
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half.

PREPARATION

  1. Rinse chicken thighs in water, and pat them very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle over them the flour, salt and pepper.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet set over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, cook the chicken, in batches if necessary, until well browned and crisp on all sides. Set aside.
  3. Add the whole shallots to the pot and sauté them in the butter and chicken fat until they begin to soften and caramelize, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, stir with a large spoon, then add the mustard and tarragon, then the chicken thighs. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid, and allow the sauce to reduce and thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Add the cherry tomatoes to the pot, stir lightly to combine and serve immediately.

I like to serve this over egg noodles; Sam recommends crusty bread to sop up the sauce–you couldn’t go wrong doing both.

Year End Wrap Up

Johanna Roselle’s Bolognese Sauce

Inspiration is everywhere.

 We began 2017 at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, happily wandering through room after room of priceless artwork, and decorative objects from all over the world. Often people remark on how beautiful our store looks, and are amazed that neither Keith nor I have a background in design.  Over the years we’ve gotten very good at selecting and presenting the objects we sell basically by just looking at everything, everywhere.  Most of the largest museums have several floors filled with completely furnished rooms from different periods and even other countries on exhibit–making it possible to soak up several centuries of interior decorating–in just one afternoon.

Next up in January was Atlanta and the America’s Mart, literally over a million square feet of the latest and greatest in Home Furnishings and Accessories, and we wandered around there for several days.  Besides thousands of vendors and products, America’s Mart featured a series of room-size vignettes styled by a half dozen leaders in American interior design.Everything old is new again.                                                                                          While the first interior is from 18th century England, on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the second by a very 21st century Austin Texas designer, you can see similarities.  Pattern, color and texture are blended, not matched.  And some objects are simply  timeless, like blue and white porcelain, or an architectural mirror. Which leads me to the next bit of wisdom.

Don’t be so quick to get onto the next trend.                                                      Sometimes a tweak, an addition or a subtraction is all you need.   Maybe adding a contemporary lamp, or a modern painting  will add a dash of spice to a room that is beginning to look dated.  In the photo above, the owners of a fabulous century home were over their formal, darkwood dining room, but they were not about to give up on elegance either.  The answer?  An oversized rustic table partnered with contemporary art and an antique crystal chandelier.  Who wouldn’t want to linger over coffee and dessert in this room?

It doesn’t hurt to try something new.                                                                          One of the happier moments at British Cottage has been the introduction of upholsteryWe started with Hickory White, a third generation, family-owned company from North Carolina and then in the spring added Century Furniture.  Also, family owned and based in North Carolina, Century offers us access to the new miracle fabric, Crypton and a whole host of different designs.

Listen to the experts.                                                                                                       When we get the chance, we buy the floor samples at the Century and Hickory White showrooms when we go to the furniture markets.  That way we get the latest fabrics (which may not be in stores for months) and the newest styles–put together by world-class designers for the next season’s looks in home furnishings.  Along the way, we get a free lesson in design. I mean, who ever thought you would find mid-century modern at British Cottage?  But we loved this sofa with chaise by Century Furniture so much we decided to give it a shot.

Don’t be afraid to take it up a notch.                                                                              We get why RH went all gray.  It takes some thought (and balls) to add in color, but the payoff is huge when you do. Lillian August used these ancestor portraits in her showroom and after thinking about them for a year we decided to get them.  That pop of color and the scale of this artwork makes the whole store look better.  Lastly, have some fun.                                                                                                                   Decorating is all about making your home, and by extension, your life more enjoyable.  It does not have to be perfect; it has to be welcoming.  When I grew up in Rumson 1000 years ago many of my friends lived in huge houses with huge rooms with matching carpets and couches and window treatments and guess what?  Nobody was allowed in them!

Meanwhile, our kid-centric, (there were six siblings plus innumerable chums) pet-friendly house was filled with mismatched, hand-me-down furniture and we had people everywhere. No rooms were off limits; the sunroom might house a ping pong table one year, a pool table might be in the dining room the next.  Trust me, the joint was always jumping.

Mealtimes were huge in our family.  Our happiest moments were when our mom  (of Anglo-German descent who, fortunately for us, grew up next to a large Italian family in Rhode Island) cooked up a Sunday Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs.  However, I think we might have enjoyed this Bolognese Sauce from the Roselle family just as much.  Gene, and his wife Johanna, live in Tinton Falls and have been British Cottage customers for years.  It took nearly a year of pestering, but I finally got the recipe!

Johanna Roselle’s Bolognese Sauce

Add a glug of olive oil to a large cast iron pot, and saute 1/4 pound of diced chopped pancetta until brown.  Then chop and add one  medium sized onion, one stalk of celery, half a red pepper, and four large garlic cloves then cook until soft–about eight minutes

Add one and a half pounds of ground pork or two pounds of ground sirloin (I mixed them together when I made this recipe because it is a known fact I am unable to follow directions). Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about ten minutes on low heat.

Raise the heat to medium and add one and a half cups of whole milk and a dash of grated nutmeg and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated–stirring frequently.  Then add one cup of dry white wine, and cook until that nearly evaporates.

Add two cans of plum tomatoes roughly chopped and one cup of chicken stock and gently simmer for at least one and a half hours.    Keep remembering to stir the pot and add more milk if the sauce gets too thick.  Add some fresh basil at the end.

Serve over pappardelle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

And don’t forget the Christmas Crackers.  Happy Holidays!

 

Into the Woods

Herbed Mozzarella Bread Recipe

Monmouth County never fails to deliver when it comes to home design.  There’s the eastern seashore with its mix of vintage and ultra-modern roosts built to embrace coastal living, and then out west lie the century old farms that made New Jersey the Garden State.

In between you can find everything from marvelous stately homes to garish McMansions, acres of subdivisions from every era, and finally, hidden in the hills and dales of Middletown, just forty miles from New York City, a slew of fabulous estates.  Over the years many of these properties were subdivided but, by and large, the wilderness was left intact.

When recent transplants from West Virginia had the chance to purchase a house in this section of Middletown, they were hesitant at first.  Empty nesters–they wondered–did they really need five bedrooms and four and a half acres?  Despite these initial misgivings they ultimately seized the opportunity to own an iconic home on a startlingly beautiful property.

Fortunately for us the new owners were in need of furniture and happened upon British Cottage…

Reflected in the mirror over an antique pine bench (from British Cottage) in the foyer of her new home is Angie Lambert.  Angie is a writer and a photographer,  Angie Lambert Photography.com and it was great fun to exchange notes. She and her husband, Eric, bought the house in March from the original owners who had lived there for nearly 60 years!

The Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home saw many additions over the years as that family grew.  From the original, fairly modest structure wings sprouted, hither and yon, inside and out.  There are multi-level decks, bedrooms, offices, suites, great rooms and a green house.  Amazingly, in a relatively short amount of time, the Lamberts have managed to corral all these various nooks and crannies into a cohesive and charming family home.From the foyer you are swept into the multi-story living room–which until a few weeks ago housed only the family pool table!  However, since the Lamberts were planning a Halloween/House Warming bash furnishing the living room became a priority.  And one we were happily able to help them with.  I love how the custom Hickory White Chesterfield sofa and Bergere chair, plus the two navy Century armchairs, all look like they were made for this room.

As I said earlier this is a house of many levels; and most of the rooms have multiple entrances and exits. The dining room is adjacent to the foyer and steps lead down into the kitchen.

The kitchen was renovated in the late eighties and was probably the cat’s meow at the time.  Although I am not quite sure about the green countertops–or even what material they are made of–they look nice with the terracotta floor and classic all-wood cherry cabinets.  And I mean really, how many all-white bespoke  kitchens with carrara marble will look this good after 30 years?

On the other side of the kitchen is the family room, which in case you were wondering, is where the pool table landed.  Angie repurposed a huge Pottery Barn hutch to make a fabulous work station, added a pub table and chairs from yours truly and made another great room for young and old to relax in and enjoy.

Beyond the pool table is the green house that made me–yes–green with envy.  Angie was kind enough to adopt four of my super-sized Boston ferns that were never going to survive the winter outside.

But wait.  There is more!   If you turn left, you can go back upstairs to another den/family room.  In fact, this is the room that first brought Angie into British Cottage.  She was searching for items to furnish this space, which her husband had claimed as his own.

I love how Angie (with a little help from a chum, Denise Dobken) was able to take our large heron print, an antique pine cabinet, a more transitional style coffee table and an armchair upholstered in herringbone and pull it all together. This is a teachable moment for anyone interested in home decor.  It doesn’t have to match–it just all needs to blend.  Don’t be afraid to go big and play around with scale.

But enough already.  Angie was baking and I needed to pay attention.


Herbed Mozzarella Round Recipe

Herbed Mozzarella Round
June Brown, Veneta Oregon

Served warm with soup or salad, this pretty bread is hearty enough to round out a quick meal during busy holidays.

4-1/4 to 4-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast.
1 tablespoon sugar.
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm mashed potatoes (prepared with milk and butter)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup warm milk (120 to 130 degrees)
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 to 3 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

TOPPING:
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups flour, yeast and salt. Add potatoes and butter. Beat in warm milk until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Beat for 2 minutes. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Punch dough down, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into an 18-in. circle Transfer to a lightly greased 14-in. pizza pan. Sprinkle cheese over center of dough to within 5 in. of edge. Sprinkle with thyme and rosemary. Bring edges of dough to center, twist to form a knot. Cover and let rise until doubled , about 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine egg and milk, brush over top. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Cook for 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm. Yield: 1 loaf

You cannot believe how good this smells and how wonderful it tastes.   It was like eating pizza from heaven, a perfect marriage of warm, melted cheese, and freshly cooked bread all enlivened by a dash of rosemary and thyme.  I don’t bake much but that is going to change!

The Maine Cottage

Mussels Marinara Recipe

We really do have a British cottage–it just lives on a lake in Maine.  The outdoor recreation there is fabulous but every so often you just have to put the paddle down.  Fortunately our next favorite thing is interior design so we are always tweaking the decor.  And now, at the end of our fourth season, it is really coming together.

Crammed or cozy–it is a fine line.  But painting the walls and ceilings a luscious BM Dove White makes the rooms seem twice as big and almost airy. Large windows and a super simple color scheme keeps your eyes on the view, which is right where it belongs.  Like living on a boat, it all works because there is a place for everything.  Instead of a console table there is bookcase (from our factory) behind the couch.  The vintage black velvet armchairs add some zip to the room without taking up too much floor space leaving room for an overstuffed slipcovered couch that is perfect for schmoozing–or snoozing.  And we just had to squeeze in a spool chair for balance. We knew we wanted a large, rustic dining table so we could play games, do puzzles, and fold wash there, as well as dine elegantly.  This one works because the wrought iron base, while decorative, is minimal, making it seem a lot smaller than it really is.  Upholstered chairs might seem an odd choice for cottage living, but I figured if we had a crowd they could do double duty as extra occasional seating.

The kitchen was made by the factory in Hungary that makes all of our bespoke furniture.  It is plain and simple and that is the way we wanted to roll.  Dining is important to us, especially when on holiday, but nobody wants to spend time cleaning and fussing.  The two inch thick oak counter tops and painted cabinets are basically spray and wipe which works for me!  The lack of upper cabinets and shelves makes the space feel more open and the fact that everything is put away always makes it look tidy.

We had just enough room to squeak in an island and a pine pantry cupboard–also from the British Cottage oeuvre.  It is nice to have the extra storage and seating, and space to put things away.  Clutter is the enemy of tight quarters!

The master bedroom is down below the main floor in space that was probably carved out of the basement.  It was paneled in floor to ceiling knotty pine, and it felt like you were living in a man cave from the  1980’s.  Once again BM’s White Dove came to the rescue.

A king sized British Cottage bed, flanked by brass sconces from Currey and Co along with an antique chandelier make for a cozy, light-filled retreat, which is all I want when I am on holiday.   The other furniture in the room is a large antique pine chest of drawers from Hungary–which is big enough to share–and a toile slipcovered armchair that came from Domain twenty years ago.  It is the perfect spot to repair to when the gang is in town.

They reside in the loft on the third floor where we have squeezed in a queen bed, a day bed and a regular twin.

The queen is a British Cottage reject–we were fooling around with changing the headboard shape and it did not come out right.  But all was not lost because it fits perfectly into this alcove with just enough space left for an antique pine nightstand.  We have been selling versions of this for over thirty years and they never fail to deliver.

Our British Cottage twin pine bed with the squared off headboard is tucked away to one side. It makes a fine little nesting place for our six year old grandson.

The metal day bed is for his little brother.

And there is still room for a little office space for me.  Some people don’t like to work on vacation but having the internet available 24/7 makes it possible for us to get away as often as we do.

Naturally when in Maine you want to be outside.  But sometimes the rain falls, or the snow drops or the fog rolls in.  Then it is nice to have places to curl up with a good book, sip a cup of strong, sweet tea, or cuddle a small child.  And that is what this cottage living is all about–making time for family, for reading, or even–heaven forbid–a nap!

But soon, always, it is time for dinner.

Mussels Marinara

This recipe is for two.  Buy one sack of the freshest mussels you can find.  Then make a marinara sauce–do not use jarred or canned sauce.  If you can buy a prepared sauce, you can make marinara sauce.

Chop up an onion and toss in a saute pan with a glug of olive oil.  Then put in three (or more) cloves of garlic–dice as desired.  Saute until the onion is translucent and add a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes.  You can chop these up before you put them in a pan but I think that makes a mess so I mostly just squish them with my fingers quickly in the saute pan–before they heat up too much.

If I remember I like to add some grated carrot–you really can’t taste it but I think it adds a bit of texture and extra nutrition to the dish.  Red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, basil–all or none of the above can go in your sauce.  Keep smooshing the tomatoes; I don’t mind if they are a bit lumpy.  I might add half a can of tomato paste now also because I want a fairly thick sauce to hang on the mussels. (And I can thin it out later with the liquid left over from steaming my mussels.)

And that is where I differ from many recipes for Mussels Marinara.  I don’t like to cook my mussels in my tomato sauce–instead I steam them in a separate pan in a half cup of white wine, a crushed garlic clove, and a knob of butter.  They only need to cook a couple of minutes until the mussels open up.  Strain your mussels, reserving the leftover liquid, and add them to your marinara sauce.

Serve over a warm bowl of hot linquine and garnish with chopped parsley and serve.   I like to add lots of freshly grated parmesan to my portion–but that is clearly a matter of taste–some say you should never sully seafood with cheese.  Either way enjoy!

 

Christina’s World

Lobster Roll Recipe

Possibly the most fascinating house I was in this year had hardly any furniture and nobody lived there.  It’s where Christina Olson, immortalized forever by Andrew Wyeth’s painting of her crawling up a windswept hill lived her entire life.

I never really liked the painting.  It always seemed creepy and sad but when you summer in coastal Maine it is hard to avoid the legendary Wyeth and I am bedazzled by many of his other works.  At least once a year I make a pilgrimage to The Farnsworth Museum in Rockland to soak up some Wyeth-ness and this year, for a few extra dollars purchased a ticket to visit The Olson House in nearby Cushing.

And boy, was I glad I did.  The house, along with the property it sits on, offers a breathtaking glimpse into the world of this iconic painter and his unlikely muse.  

Everywhere you look; through the windows, at the walls, out the doors, there is a story ready to unfold.  The light streaming through the leaded glass windows reflects, and makes you reflect on the rooms and the lives of the people who lived there. Were they unbearably long and hard or was there joy here too?  For every dark shadow there appears a bright spot, much like an Andrew Wyeth painting.  

If you get a chance, go.  And go soon because it is only a matter of time before the house is cleaned up, and the public partitioned off.  Right now every room is accessible and virtually untouched from the days the Olsons lived there.  You can see the rooms as Andrew Wyeth saw them and know how terrible, and how wonderful Christina’s world must have been.

Make sure to walk the grounds as well as tour the house.  We were early so we wandered through the field familiar to us from Christina’s World. As we approached the riverbank we discovered a small graveyard and were surprised to see that Andrew Wyeth had joined the Olsons in perpetuity.

I didn’t want to leave either.

However, it was past lunch time and those of us still of this world were getting hungry. The good news was we were only twenty or so minutes away from  McLoon’s Lobster Shack.   In the isn’t this a small world after all vein, McLoons is actually owned by a branch of the Douty family, as in our very own Lusty Lobster in Highlands and offer what Yankee Magazine reckons is the number one Lobster Roll in Maine.  Maybe.It was really good, but if you can’t get to Maine anytime soon don’t fret, my recipe may just be better.


Best Lobster Roll Recipe

Lobster Rolls are a cinch to make–all you need are a few key ingredients.

  1. Freshly cooked lobster.  When ever I put lobster on the menu I always get a few extra for lobster rolls the next day.  In Maine we use soft shells because they are easier to crack open, but probably hard shells will be the only option elsewhere.
  2. Hellman’s Mayonaise, yup, it has to be Hellman’s.
  3. Hot Dog Rolls.  And this gets tricky out of Maine because you want them sliced down the middle–not sideways.
  4. Celery (optional)
  5. Butter (essential)

First chop your lobster meat into bite sized chunks and finely chop up a small amount of celery.  (This is where I depart from The Yankee Magazine reviewer; this is how my mother from Rhode Island did it and I like the little bit of crunch–it breaks up the chewiness of the lobster).

Then melt some butter in a frying pan and cook your hot dog rolls inside and out until golden brown.

Add a dollop of Hellman’s to your lobster and celery mixture and insert into your freshly toasted hot dog roll.

That’s it.  Serve with your favorite potato chip.

Carriage House Marina

Grilled Salmon Recipe

A hundred years ago Sea Bright was just a small fishing village nestled on the sand spit separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Shrewsbury River. The humbleness of the town was in direct contrast to the grandeur of the large vacation homes surrounding it.  Mainly owned by wealthy New Yorkers, they employed architects, like the renowned Stanford White, to design intricate, multi-storied shingle style houses so they could enjoy the Jersey Shore’s ample sunshine and refreshing sea breezes in comfort.

Over the years a combination of high tides, arson, and developers, eager to cash in on the easy charms of salt air and sparkling sand, wiped out most of those original mansions.  In their stead, a motley crew of townhomes, garden apartments and condominiums sprouted along the beach and river fronts.   Fortunately, hidden from the main drag behind a pair of those nondescript multifamily units, one of the original structures is still standing, a lovely carriage house that is now home to the owners of the aptly named, Carriage House Marina.

This beautiful building is a survivor–no mean feat considering it sits barely above sea level a stone’s throw from the river.  Nor’easters, and of course hurricanes are a constant threat–the latest was Sandy in 2012.

Then, several feet of water flooded the multi-level interior, but you would never know it looking at it today.  All the original paneling and woodwork, which had to be created by master boat builders, has the lustrous patina of furniture cared for by generations of fastidious housekeepers.  In fact, the interior makes you feel like you are aboard ship, sailing on a vintage schooner down the Shrewsbury River, not just sitting next to it!

Seated at the massive dining room table you feel like the room should be rocking–although truthfully, given the owners’ penchant for entertaining I understand sometimes it does.

The living room captures the feeling of a sea captain’s private quarters.While the side yard is a parking lot–this is a working marina after all–there is a large front lawn that ends where the river starts.   Flanked by daylilies and hydrangeas, and a huge border of what looks to be ornamentals, but is, in reality, a massive vegetable garden, it is the perfect spot for plunking down with a book on a sunny day–or to have a party!

While any excuse for a party is a good one, one particular occasion is near and dear to me.  Every five years or so the owners (see photo below) host a reunion get-together for the husband’s Rumson Fair Haven High School class, of which, full disclosure, I am a member. (And no way am I giving up the year).  The party, which also serves as a fundraising dinner to support scholarships for college bound RFH seniors, is a team effort and our cohorts from all over the country make the journey back home to join in the fun.

The tent belongs to the marina so they take care of putting that up.  Then a gang of us always pitch in to set up the tables and pull it all together.  This year was slightly more daunting as all our prep work took place during a nor’easter so high tides and strong winds made it a bit more challenging than usual.

It certainly helps that another classmate and her husband own Guaranteed Plants & Florist in nearby Navesink.  Their delightful nursery has been a must stop for garden lovers for more than forty years.  With over 8500 square feet of greenhouse space, these horticultural wizards work magic every day.  Our party would not be the same without them.

Their experienced floral designers always make sure we have gorgeous flower arrangements on all the tables (we always do a sit-down dinner).  And they also schlep over these  huge palms that we use to decorate the inside of the tent.

Somehow it all comes together.  It doesn’t hurt that one of the owners of the fabulous Lusty Lobster–the wholesale and retail fish store in Highlands–was also in my class so he, thankfully, is in charge of catering.  The food is always, simply, delicious.

 This year he served a grilled salmon that belied any thought of the Salmon Fatigue Syndrome I have been suffering lately.


The fabulous sunset was a bonus and then it was time for a little old fashioned rock and roll with the Thom White Band.   For us children of the seventies, a party is just not a party without live music.  Thom also went to RFH–albeit a few years before us (although you would never know it by looking at him) and he and his fellow musicians are simply terrific!

So about that Grilled Salmon…

According to Doug (from Lusty Lobster), the only thing on the salmon that evening was salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.  Just apply all of the former liberally, then place on the grill skin side down. When grill marks appear and the skin gets crisp, turn over very carefully. Continue cooking until the salmon is opaque in the center.  Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley and serve.

I am definitely going to try this at home and will report back to you–it can’t be that easy!

My sister Laurie made a fabulous baked salmon earlier this summer.  She just put a whole salmon filet in a baking dish; topped it with a generous amount of sea salt, a substantial amount of brown sugar and lots of pats of butter, then cooked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. It was fabulous but the clean up was a bit intense because all the brown sugar ends up crusted to the baking pan.  But I bet you could do this on the grill in a disposable baking pan.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Sam Sifton swears by a Dijon mustard brown sugar mix.  And wisely lines his baking sheet with foil and uses portion sized salmon fillets that cook at 400 for about 12 minutes.  This too could be done on the grill I bet.

The good news is I am motivated to start cooking salmon again.

Meanwhile, I can’t end this post without acknowledging Elise Hughes aka Lisey Baker on the far right,  who took all these fabulous photos and Carol “Martha Stewart” Baird, (center) for pulling the decor together and keeping us on task.  You guys are the best!

Special thanks to everyone who took part in this event–we could not do it without you–and make sure you pencil in July 2022 for the next one!

Classics are Forever

Pickled Shrimp with Fennel recipe

When a customer from North Jersey called last week to check on the status of her classic farm table from our factory in Hungary–meant to arrive in May but now coming in June, sadly–she told us the same table she was waiting for was featured in a Rumson home in this month’s HGTV Magazine!

So naturally, we immediately ran out to buy a copy to see whose table she was talking about…

And sure enough, there was our British Cottage table!  But it didn’t start out with this Rumson family.  About 15 years ago a couple from Spring Lake had had it with the traditional layout of their perfectly located home. He cooked, she loved to entertain, the sequestered formal dining room and barely adequate kitchen were not working for their lifestyle.  So they blew out the back of the house, and the wall separating the dining room and the kitchen and made a fabulous room overlooking their fabulous garden. They added new cabinets and state of the art appliances then anchored the whole shebang with a custom British Cottage farm table.

And lived happily ever after, until she wanted a pool and more yard, and a house with more robust proportions.  So they bought some acreage a bit further south and built their dream home, again with a dream kitchen, again anchored by their British Cottage table.  But when retirement loomed, the idea of moving to Charleston, South Carolina, and enjoying all the accompanying amenities of that beautiful city outweighed their happiness in their New Jersey abode.   So off they went–really south this time–and bought a vintage townhome in that vibrant city.

Sadly the British Cottage table did not make the trip.  Too big for even the proposed renovated kitchen in Charleston, they pondered its fate. Fortunately, there was a nephew moving to Rumson who volunteered to take the table.  

And this, by the way, may be the best thing about British Cottage tables–they never go out of style.  Maybe, like our customer, you move on and opt for a new look but someone, somewhere will want your farmhouse table.  Trust me.



PS.  Happily we were able to find a fabulous distressed walnut table from a bespoke furniture company in England to make the trip to Charleston. Along with a photo of that table in situ my friend sent this recipe which evidently is Charleston’s favorite hors d’oeuvre.

Pickled Shrimp with Fennel

Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

Ingredients

  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 small serrano or bird pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup thinly sliced white onions
  1. Slice fennel bulb thinly, reserving fronds. Chop fronds to equal 1 Tbsp. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water.

  2. Bring 1 Tbsp. kosher salt and 2 qt. water to a boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Remove from heat; add shrimp, and let stand, stirring once, 1 minute or just until shrimp turn pink.

  3. Transfer shrimp to ice water, using a slotted spoon. Reserve 2 cups hot cooking liquid in a medium bowl. Let shrimp stand 10 minutes, stirring once. Transfer shrimp to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving ice water in bowl.

  4. Whisk lemon juice and next 4 ingredients into reserved hot cooking liquid until salt and sugar dissolve. Place bowl in reserved ice water, and whisk lemon juice mixture until cooled to room temperature (about 10 minutes).

  5. Remove lemon juice mixture from ice water; discard ice water, reserving chilled bowl for shrimp. Stir together onion, fennel slices, chopped fennel fronds, and shrimp in chilled bowl. Pour cooled lemon juice mixture over shrimp mixture. Cover and chill 1 hour to 2 days. Serve with a slotted spoon.

    The recipe ends here and I have no idea what you do next.  Just eat the
    shrimp?  Serve it on toast?  Salad?
     To be continued…

Home Again

Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad Recipe

Basically, we have been on the road all spring, finding inspiration and beauty everywhere we go.  Nothing, however, tops young Charlotte here. Our newest grandchild, and look, at just seven months, already a lady who does lunch!We started out in April in North Carolina at the  High Point Spring Furniture Market where thousands of furniture manufacturers from all over the globe presented their wares to retail buyers–also from all over the globe.  One of the many highlights was at Hickory White, the company that makes most of our custom upholstery.  (Don’t worry; Keith is only looking so glum because he has just figured out exactly how much we spent there!)

Although I always say never paint your walls dark blue, this Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore really was stunning.  The rug is from Fiezy, all wool and surprisingly affordable.  See how it ties the whole room together and softens the intensity of the wall color?  We did not buy the rug (only because it was not for sale), but we did buy this fabulous ecru velvet Chesterfield sofa along with the two coordinating armchairs. Classic, elegant, vintage, but with a smattering of modernity, that is our British Cottage story.

But I digress, back to little Charlotte.  After High Point we flew to Omaha to visit with the littlest Nelsons; we’re up to three now!  Naturally, we had to check out the local furniture scene.  Which was easy because there is basically only one player in town–maybe even the state–and that is the Nebraska Furniture Mart.  Owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, it is a colossal 420,000 square feet on a 77-acre site.  It’s huge.

Sadly, big was not better.  I think Warren needs to hire me.  While I get that a store of this magnitude has to appeal to a variety of tastes and budgets, I refuse to believe that the Midwest really deserves furniture this, I hesitate to say ugly, let’s go with design challenged–and it wasn’t inexpensive!  After walking one million miles at the High Point Spring Furniture Market I can personally attest there is no shortage of well-made, attractive, and affordable furniture.  Looking at this vignette, you have to wonder;  is this really the best a billion dollar company can do?  Crank it up.  Go get those Fiezy rugs and a coffee table that doesn’t clash with everything.  While you’re at it, rethink your artwork.  And accessories.  Come on Warren, it’s definitely time to up your game; hire some new buyers, and show Nebraska some style.

But time to move on.  Next stop was Seattle to visit with our daughter, and of course, we had to go to University Village to see the latest Restoration Hardware extravaganza.  Hopefully, they had a billion dollars because that is what this four story, 60,000 square foot structure must have cost.It was architecturally awesome; I loved the polished concrete floors, the M.C. Esher-esque seemingly never-ending series of arched doorways, symmetrical room settings, and the high-reaching ceilings.  Sadly the products were every bit as lacking, in their own way, as the items at Warren’s Nebraska Furniture Mart.  Not that they were ugly or poorly designed but, after you’ve seen one crystal chandelier, one upholstered linen chair, and one low-slung couch, there’s fifty more to look at.  Enough already!

In the RH world, we all live in grey hued palazzos, with fragmented light, dispelled by 1000 watt crystal chandeliers that look like their last home was Versailles.  We spend our days lolling on oversized sofas and dining like lords on massive plank topped tables.  It’s all too Brobdingnagian and blah for my taste, even with all that bling.But we had other fish to fry:

Sights to see:

And beers to drink:Nordstrom’s to shop:And Farmer’s Markets to frequent.  

And lest we forget, dinners to eat and family to visit.

Peter Morse’s Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad

No matter where you are, or what is on the menu, you can never go wrong with Peter’s Salad.  When you were married, like Peter was, to a fabulous chef, it is not easy to get some play at the table.  Yet with this salad, rest assured, he got game.

I always made sure when inviting the Morse family over to dine, that Peter would be in charge of the salad.  Invariably he would arrive laden down with supplies, including several heads of romaine lettuce, and start rummaging around the kitchen for my non-existent salad spinner.  He was ever hopeful, but it never appeared, so he would sigh and then, finally get down to washing, then hand drying, all that lettuce.

Next up was the dressing.  In a large wooden salad bowl, he would take a fork and smush up a nice hunk of gorgonzola cheese.  (Peter always measured precisely but I just toss in chunks depending on how many I am serving–figure about a quarter of a pound per head of lettuce.)  What does really matter is the quality of the cheese–don’t use supermarket brand or pre-crumbled in a plastic container cheese.  And don’t use blue cheese either.  Spend the money and get some decent gorgonzola and your guests will love it–and you.

After smushing the cheese, add enough olive oil to turn it into a soft paste. Figure 4 or 5 tablespoons or so per quarter pound of cheese.  You want it to be almost like peanut butter in consistency.  Then add a tablespoon (or two–you will have to do this to taste) of red wine vinegar to make it more liquid, but make sure not too liquid; this is a pretty thick dressing.

Next, add about 1/2 cup of pecans–chopped finely.  (And you can substitute walnuts or other nuts but really pecans taste the best). Stir into your mixture and let sit until you are ready to dine.  Then just tear up your lettuce leaves into a bit larger than bite size pieces, add to the bowl, toss and serve.

There are lots of ways to enhance this recipe.  You can toast or caramelize the nuts; add some ripe pear, or toss in a few cranberries.  But I like Peter’s way best; it’s simple and delicious and that always works for me.