Canyon Cool–in New Jersey

Coconut-Almond French Toast

Originally from New Jersey but living west of Chicago and suddenly (it just seems to happen) empty nesters, a nearer-to-retirement couple was faced with a major housing dilemma. Clearly, their home with its thousands of square feet and multitude of rooms was too big for two (heads up: you can get a lot more bang for your buck in the middle of America).

They had tried Florida but that was not floating their boat, and with all their kids happily settled across the heartland–been there, done that– they happened to hear the siren call–of the Jersey shore. Let’s face it; it’s why we all still live here. There’s easy access to the beach, golf enough if you do, only 45 minutes from Newark Airport, an hour from the city, with a temperate climate (especially when compared to Chicago) and with siblings galore already in situ they decided yes, you can go home again.

Making this kind of move mid-Covid was not the easiest but they lucked upon a 60-ish cape on a large corner lot on a little hill in Little Silver and pounced. It needed work–I believe the term is gut renovation–but with the help of their architect, local hero Steve Gassert and the team at Continental Construction, they have a lovely new home in just under a year.

First off they jettisoned the formal living room, combining it with what was a congested kitchen and adjoining laundry room to make one open, unified space. He’s the cook with an Italian pedigree so space for family dinners, breakfasts, lunch–you name it–was not negotiable–there had to be room at the table for everyone.  And I admit to feeling a bit skeptical when they said this ten-foot table would work in the space but clearly there was nothing to worry about.

It’s tempting to bring the kitchen cabinetry into the dining area for additional storage, but if you can find furniture (like these pine cabinets from British Cottage) you get a decorative boost without sacrificing function.

The kitchen was stunning, with a massive island and gorgeous appliances and I apologize for so few photos of it but my eyes were on this generously sized sofa/console from our store.  No one wanted to look at the back of the sofa, which is all you saw upon entering what I believe to be a newly added great room, but what size and sort of table would be best in the space?  As part of the discussion, it was great to see the solution. There’s nothing like a bit of distressed paint to add some charm to a newly built, light-filled room.

Kitchen Glimpse

I couldn’t stop marveling over this gorgeous pantry/wet bar area. Not that fabulous, state of the art kitchens aren’t to die for, but seriously I have never seen anything like this generous space, located right next to the kitchen, just a stone’s throw from the dining room, and open to the back veranda.  Genius. Not only is it a killer bar, (love that mirrored subway tile) but it also serves as a way station to make entertaining al fresco a breeze!

Through the doorway you see to the left is the primary bedroom. While stairs are nary a problem now–it just makes sense to build with an eye toward the future.

Also vaulting the ceiling here was another great idea–the extra height gives the space room to breathe and adds a spa-like vibe.


Note how they made the shower accessible–this is just smart. I’ll never forget the hurdles Keith’s mom had to go through to take a shower when her knees were shot. She was living in senior housing in England, built for seniors, but the shower was in a bathtub. What were they thinking?

Often I am underwhelmed by the space that is dedicated to laundry rooms these days. I mean the wash goes in the washer, over to the dryer, and back in your drawers. Here the equipment is neatly tucked away in a closet adjacent to the primary bedroom–and home of the primary laundry doers. Perfect.

Yet another good idea is this media room/den. Sometimes someone wants to watch football and someone else wants to sip scotch, read a book, or drink tea-toute seul. It’s nice to have separate, adult spaces for adults.

It’s even better to have a whole, walk-out basement for when the young adults visit and all the cousins come over. Not to mention it’s a handy space to have with a drummer in the house; it’s the perfect place to practice without rattling your spouse–too much.

With two more en suite bedrooms upstairs, it’s amazing how large this house lives in its deceptively small footprint. In terms of square footage, it might be a big downsize from their old house in Illinois, but in terms of amenities, it gets five stars.

Although the true test of any blog is the recipe I always ask for, a selfish play to enlarge my repertoire as I grow older and tired of almost everything I already know how to make. This could be just the thing for Easter morning. (Via the Food Network Kitchen.)

Coconut-Almond French Toast

The buttery coconut-almond crust makes this French toast casserole truly special and offsets the creamy, fluffy texture of the bread. You’ll want to assemble the dish the day before to give the bread time to soak in the custard.


French Toast: 

Unsalted butter, for greasing dish

9 slices Texas Toast or other thick-sliced bread

6 large eggs

3 1/2 cups half-and-half

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Coconut-Almond Crust:

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sliced almonds

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk

Confectioners’ sugar and berries, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
  2. For the French toast: Lay the bread slices in one layer (it’s OK if they overlap a little) on a baking sheet. Bake the slices (to dry them out a little) for 6 minutes, then flip and bake for 6 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Dunk each bread slice in the egg mixture to coat thoroughly and shingle the slices in the buttered casserole dish. Pour any remaining egg mixture over the bread. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  4. For the coconut-almond crust: Put 1/2 cup of the coconut, 1/3 cup of the almonds, granulated sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the butter, egg, and egg yolk and process well to form a smooth paste.
  5. To assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the coconut-almond mixture evenly over the soaked bread slices. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup sliced almonds and 3 tablespoons coconut and bake until puffed and lightly golden and the custard is set (the center of the casserole will no longer jiggle when shaken), 45 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 1 hour before serving, or serve at room temperature.
  6. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and berries if using.

From Sickles Farm to our Table

Best Pot Roast Recipe

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_3255-1280x721-1-1024x577.jpgWhen I was growing up in Rumson there were a couple of rituals that made summer even more wonderful.  One started on the last day of school and lasted all summer long–going to the beach. Every single day it was not raining my mom would load our old station wagon with three, four, five, and finally, six kids and head over the Sea Bright Bridge.

We played in the waves for hours on end, our fingers wrinkling and our lips turning blue, swallowing water and eating sand until we became expert wave riders.  Our sandcastles were legendary, fantastic creations with moats and turrets which we topped with the shells, beach pebbles and colorful sea glass we found roaming the shoreline.

Eventually even the most perfect day would come to an end and she’d herd us back into the wagon, but often we didn’t go straight home.  At least two or three times a week our mother would stay on Ridge Road and drive all the way to Sickles Farm just over the Rumson border in Little Silver.

Seatbelt free (they hadn’t been invented yet I guess) we would bounce along the rutted gravel road through the fields and orchards that led to a makeshift farm stand. Barefoot, sunburned and sandy we ‘d navigate bushels and bushels of freshly picked corn, and devour on the spot peaches that melted into your mouth, down your shirt–all the way to your toes. And always we’d get lots of those little boxes of blueberries that with a splash of lemon and barely a hint of sugar made the world’s most delicious pie.

Fast forward fifty plus years and the old Sickles Farm is no more. Although I will always be nostalgic for the olden days, its successor–Sickles Market–is a year-round enterprise completely in tune to the needs of the modern family.  Working mom?  Staying at home dad?  Just a little kid?

Who does not love having the freshest fruit and veg, the convenience of quality prepared foods, a butcher selling wholesome meat, a separate cheese department plus a great bakery right on the premises?  The road may be paved now, and some of the fields sprout townhomes, but the heart of Sickles Farm lives on.

Sickles Market

So it is still a long way to go until summer.  Not sure what to make for dinner on one of these cold, wintry nights? Pop into Sickles Market and buy a nice hunk of beef, some great fresh veggies, a beautiful loaf of french bread and in a couple of hours you will have a meal fit for a king–or a carload of kids.  And don’t forget to pick up a fresh fruit pie for dessert!

From Sickles Market to a British Cottage table–perfect!

The Best Pot Roast

Buy a well marbled four pound-ish chuck roast.  Season with salt and pepper, then dredge the whole roast in flour. Brown in an oven proof pan in a few glugs of olive oil.  Try not to fuss with it too much–brown means brown–leave it alone turning only once until you have it nicely seared. Remove from pot.

Then add some more olive oil to the pan and basically whatever vegetables, chopped, that you like. I used two leeks, two carrots, two celery stalks, one onion and five cloves of garlic.  If you happen to have some pancetta in the fridge dice it and put it in the pot.  Cook for about ten minutes until tender and then add 2 cups of decent red wine, a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes (squish these) and thyme and rosemary and one bay leaf. Put the roast back in and add about one cup of chicken stock so the roast is mostly submerged.

Cook in a 350-degree oven. After three and one-half hours or so partially cook some fresh baby carrots (leave them whole with a bit of green at the top), pearl onions and baby potatoes, then saute in butter until lightly browned.  (If you are lazy you can skip both these steps and just toss them in your pot roast adding more liquid if necessary, but it makes a nicer presentation if the veggies look pretty and colorful).

After you do this take the roast out of the oven, skim off as much fat as possible and most of the cooked vegetables (you can transfer to a blender and puree the sauce or just make a slurry with some flour and sauce and thicken it that way). Surround with your beautiful carrots, potatoes, and onions on a large platter and spoon the sauce over it.  I like to serve the extra sauce on the side in a gravy boat.

Add a loaf of freshly baked french bread, a tossed salad and a nice bottle of red wine and your meal is complete.

And don’t forget the pie!