Friday, August 15, 2014

The Piano Man, and other musical notes

The one antique at A Butler's Manor to which I can trace the entire provenance is our 1912 Chase & Baker player piano, which has been in my mother's family since the year it was built. It spent its first forty years in the Chicago area where my mother grew up, journeyed to Los Angeles when she married and dominated our family room there for the next forty years before coming to me in 1999. I worried originally that its elderly parts, perhaps desiccated by arid California climate, would crumble amidst the seasonal changes and frequent humidity of the East End. Instead, I found to my delight that the old girl obviously relished the change of scenery; her tone only grew rounder and more mellow once transplanted to the Hamptons.

As anyone who has visited A Butler's Manor knows, the upright piano with its original black walnut case anchors the two parts of our living room (once two separate rooms, a front parlor and back parlor). Guests are invited to play if they know how (please, no Chopsticks!). Once in a while someone takes us up on it and its plummy notes pour forth, the acoustics of the wood balanced by the brick-over-wood floor and the large, open space. The music will draw me from my office in the back of the house as surely as a bee to pollen (or--a timely analogy--as a wasp to orange juice).

Once, we were thrilled to be hosting a professional classical pianist who was in town to perform at a benefit. I was almost afraid to offer her my little old upright piano, but she was happy to have a piano available and practiced one of her numbers that afternoon prior to her recital. It was magical. 

Occasionally, guests take an interest in the old player and either Chris or I pull forth a piano roll (I have about 100 of them) and demonstrate. The player piano is activated by pedals that you pump, sort of like an eliptical machine. (And oy, is it a workout! Once upon a time, I could pedal that piano all night, but now? Hah. If I played a roll or two every day I'd probably be in much better shape.)

So even though I don't (yet) play myself, it is important to me that the piano remain as tuned as a 100+ year old piano can, and that task we entrust to Mike Scianetti, owner of the Piano Barn in Water Mill. In addition to being a business owner, Mike is  a professional musician, singer and songwriter.

Watching Mike tune the piano is fascinating. First, he lifts the top lid which allows him to gently pull the faceplace away, exposing the tuning pins and string (wires), dampers and hammers. You can see below the box in the middle where the player piano roll is inserted, and below it, the brass tracker duct, cut with 88 tiny diagonal holes, each representing a key on the piano keyboard. Behind the box is a pneumatic that feeds the bellows that somehow (engineering not being my strong suit) transfers the impetus caused by a roll of paper pricked with thousands of holes (that represent notes) into action which depresses the keys and produces... music. It still amazes me.


What the pictures don't show here is that he also pulls away the face frame located below the keyboard, which exposes the bellows necessary to transfer the pedal action to the spool box. My engineer father mended one of these bellows when I was an adolescent, but otherwise they, like the rest of the piano's works and case, are completely untouched and original. On a recent visit, Mike told us the bellows could use a little attention...an operation that will require flipping the piano onto its back and hence won't be done until winter, when the quiet season allows us the possibility of turning the entire front parlor into a piano operating theater.

My favorite aspect of getting the piano tuned is that Mike plays it as he works to check his machinations. He uses all or as much of the keyboard as possible, to check the veracity of both the low and high ends of the sound spectrum. To this end, he'll play a selection of pieces ranging from classical to ragtime (my request always) to popular works. His tuning sessions feel like a mini-concert. I know today's modern keyboards are phenomenal pieces of musical engineering, but to my ears, the sound of a hand-crafted wooden piano has a richness and depth incomparable to its modern counterparts. Listening to the pure, sonorous notes reignites my desire to learn to play other than with my feet.

And speaking of concerts and of classical music, we are in the midst of the annual month-long Bridgehampton Music Festival. This series is about as different from the casual Concerts in the Park series or weekly live entertainment at the Wine Stand at Wolffer Estates as one can get in the Hamptons, proving that, especially in the summer, there are opportunities for everyone's musical tastes. Most of the Bridgehampton Music Festival concerts are held at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church (wonderful acoustics!) and all events are ticketed in advance. (Act fast! Only a few dates left!) I've been to a couple of the concerts, and they are masterful.I've always found that classical music has a special ability to soothe the soul.

On that note (ha!), maybe I'll pull out one of the classical piano rolls and get a physical workout along with a mental de-stress....maybe Franz von Suppe's Light Calvary Overture...

Quote of the Day: “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein



Thursday, July 31, 2014

What's missing at the beach in the Hamptons

One of the things that sets the Hamptons' ocean beaches apart is the fact that, from Southampton to Amagansett, there is nothing commercial on or adjacent to them. No on-the-pier oceanfront restaurants where the waves splash against the pylons (sigh). No t-shirt shops. Nowhere to purchase suntan lotion or a hat or flip flops or sand toys. No free-standing burger joints with sand on the floor, no to-go windows to grab a slice of pizza, no place to pick up a six pack of beer. 

This gives our beaches a different feel from those further west on Long Island, or the Jersey Shore, or for that matter, the Southern Californian beaches of my youth. It also tends to keep them cleaner, because unless you pre-planned your sundry and culinary needs prior to your beach excursion (perhaps grabbing a sandwich at Schmidt's Market, or the Village Cheese Shop, or the Golden Pear), your only dining option is the snack bar at Southampton's Coopers Beach or East Hampton's Main Beach, and there are plenty of trash cans nearby them.

Instead, you get lots of this:

 (The owners of that "cottage" would REALLY like you to believe that it's their private beach...but it's not. ALL the beach is public. Yay!)

 And, if you walk a few hundred feet down from the main public beach, maybe even this:


Now that's what I call a pristine beach.

And this is what I call a relaxing summers' day at the beach.

So, what's missing: the trash, the traffic, the hecticness of a continual line of vehicles driving past (hey, they're all on Montauk Highway), the tiki bar with what sounds like a frat party being enacted around it...

Doesn't that sound like a loss you can live with?

What else is missing? You.

Wanna come join us?

Quote of the Day:  Beach Rules: Soak up the sun. Ride the waves. Breathe the salty air. Feel the breeze. Build sandcastles. Rest, relax, reflect. Collect seashells. Bare feet required.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Recipe: Hawaiian French Toast

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

For ten years (!), I've been trying to improve upon a version of French Toast I first tasted while staying at Howard House Bed and Breakfast in New Bern, NC. The owner, Kim Wynn, served a French toast dish with pineapples which I devoured and begged the recipe for. As always, regional variation in groceries mean that some things just can't be duplicated, and for starters, we can't get "Texas Toast" in our supermarkets. I've been experimenting on and off with various iterations of the dish ever since.

When you're a five-room bed and breakfast and you are putting together menus to feed ten or twelve guests per day without additional help in the kitchen, you do all you can to make sure that the entree can feed all of the guests without anyone feeling "cheated." Yes, we always have cereals and yogurts on hand (and if I do say so myself, I make a nice yogurt parfait with a sprinkle of vanilla granola), but it's a little personal victory for me when I can prepare a recipe taking into account dietary restrictions that accommodates everyone in one try.

Last week, we had dairy-free guests who were staying four days, and I really didn't want them to feel like pariahs with a daily parade of "special" meals. Our "sweet" days are generally the more challenging, for the two most common dietary restrictions are gluten and lactose intolerance. (Translation, no wheat for the former, no milk or cow's milk cheese for the latter.) On the dairy-free side, most recipes are workable with soy and almond milks, though because they are thinner, sometimes there's a slight texture difference. Coconut milk is also dairy-free, but unlike soy and almond, it adds a distinctive flavor to the meal.

Flipping through my binder of recipes, I came across Kim Wynn's recipe for her pineapple french toast, and something clicked. Pineapple...coconut.... rum...marachino cherries on little umbrellas...piña colada!
Actually, piña coladas originated in Puerto Rico, but when I think of pineapple, I think of Hawaii. And...King's Hawaiian Bread, a soft, slightly sweet loaf I can find easily in California, but until recently (that regional variation again), not here in the Hamptons. 

And coconut milk. Yummy, lactose-free coconut milk. Used purposefully for the taste as well as to accommodate the lactose intolerance.

Voilá! The result is reminiscent of a pineapple upside-down cake (though I left out the marachino cherry in the middle of the pineapple ring).

HAWAIIAN FRENCH TOAST
350 oven
8 servings

12 King’s Hawaiian bread dinner rolls, roughly torn 
1 13.5 oz can  light or regular coconut milk
5 eggs     
1/2 tsp EACH cinnamon and nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
stick butter
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 15 oz. can crushed pineapple in syrup, well drained, or ½ fresh pineapple, coarsely chopped in food processor
1 15 oz. can pineapple rings, well drained
Dash  rum (optional)
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted in microwave (here's how to do this)
3 Tbsp. crystalized ginger

The night before:
Grease a 9” x 13” baking dish. Tear rolls roughly in half and scatter evenly in bottom of pan. Mix milk, eggs, spices and vanilla in bowl. Pour over bread in pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning:
Remove pan from fridge and let come to room temp (approx. 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in skillet, add 3/4 cup brown sugar, crushed pineapple and a dash of salt. Cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Add rum (optional) and cook an additional minute. Pour over bread mixture. Arrange pineapple rings on top. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar, toasted coconut and crystallized ginger over top.

Bake 35 minutes until lightly browned. Cut and garnish with a sliced strawberry.

Taste of the Islands! 

I should have added the paper umbrella.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Soothing the stressed soul, part 1

Picture this: A warm afternoon. A shaded deck overlooking a vanishing perspective of grapevine rows. The sun, softened by afternoon sky, warming the cascaded fruit tucked beneath the copious green leaves. An occasional warm sigh of breeze stirring your hair. A comfortable deck chair. The smooth slender stem of a cool glass of wine in hand. The fat doughnut notes of a mellow saxophone grounded by a rumbling standing bass.
Relaxed yet?

This is one of my most favorite ways to end a summer day. 


I love that many of our local wineries have developed an experience more likely to engage all of your senses than simply a wine tasting, and that tasting rooms are increasingly open later on weekend nights. Here on the South Fork, weather permitting, Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill features live music on the back patio Friday night 5-8 PM, where you can catch a sunset over the vineyard (!!) and toast the end of the work week, as well as on Saturday and Sunday afternoons 1-5 PM. Chris and I often suggest Duck Walk's weekend jazz afternoons as a great option for the end of a day spent rambling round the Hamptons, since it's a scant 3 miles from A Butler's Manor. Bring your new favorite wine back to enjoy on the patio around the pool before changing for dinner.

Wolffer Estate Vineyard features two venues: their gorgous main tasting room on Sagg Main Road in Sagaponack, where Twilight Thursdays are held each Thursday 5-8 PM, and the Wine Stand, around the corner on Montauk Highway, for Sunset Friday and Saturdays, 5-8 PM. Both locations feature the option to purchase wines by the glass or bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie plates. Live music is featured at both locations. Thursdays hew closer to a jazz format whereas the weekends feature a more eclectic blend.

Hey, but I'm visiting midweek! you cry. What's going on when I'm there?

Through the end of June (so far!) Wollfer also has extracuricular events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Main Tasting Room. On Tuesdays, become a local at Locals Night, when 4-8 PM, glasses of wine are half price and for a small fee between 6-8 PM you can participate in the following activity:
  • June 10:  Chocolate Paired and Made with Wine 
  • June 17: Wine-Themed Poetry Night
  • June 24: ROSÉ WEEK: Rosé in the Raw--Wolffer rosé wines paired with shellfish, at the Wine Stand. ($25 per person in advance, $30 at the door)
On Wednesdays between 6-7 PM, educate yourself on all things oenophilian. For a small fee, enjoy a themed tasting led by knowledgeable experts:
  • June 4: The Wines of Alsace and the Loire Valley
  • June 11: Sparkling Wines
  • June 18: Tasting Techniques
  • June 25: Special Edition: Big Rosé World ($25 in advance, $30 at the door)

And lastly, a summer weekend offering that teams wine tasting with bicycling through the beauty of the back country between these two South Fork vineyards:  Pour and Pedal offers a 4-5 hour tour (and they supply the bikes!) which begins at Wolffer and ends with lunch at Duck Walk. How virtuous would you feel after that tour?

steady stick wine holders From RedEnvelope.comOkay, for those of you who'd prefer to unwind at little farther from the madding crowd, here's a variation to picture: Beachside in a sand chair with a mansion at your back and the surf before your toes. A cold bottle of wine in these cool holders. Your fave chill out tunes on your iPod...

So aren't you just THERE, already, in your mind? I sure am.

Quote of the Day: There's never enough time to do all the nothing that you want. --Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Getting Ready for Our Close Up!

It's May, Mother's Day weekend as I write this, and all the villages in the Hamptons are getting ready for their close up, to paraphrase the immortal words of Norma Desmond in Sunset Strip. Nature, in the form of blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs, and humankind, in the form of home remodels and spring spruce ups, are putting their prettiest faces on to turn towards the arriving sun and sun-worshippers due to arrive in a couple of weeks.

Produce should always look this good!
The upscale gourmet market Citarella's opened this past Thursday here on Hampton Road in Southampton. I shopped there today and managed to salivate over almost everything. Parking is not going to be pretty, but thankfully, A Butler's Manor is easy walking distance of only 1/2 mile away. With beautiful produce, prepared food, sushi, a salad bar, and much more, I predict this will be the go-to place to pick up a picnic lunch for the beach for guests who are looking for a wider variety than burgers, hotdogs, or wraps (all of which will be available at the Cooper's Beach Pavillion once it opens for the season). And let's not even mention the pastry selection....drool....


Saw an article today that indicates that Southampton may not have to put up with the Kardashians this summer after all, as apparently they are finding it difficult to rent a mansion for the summer in which to stay and shoot "Kourtney and Khloe Take The Hamptons." According to TMZ, the wealthy in the Estate District fear the swarming of paparazzi and other disruptions to their quiet enclaves; that the family and their entourage will be less neighbors than neighBOORs. From the standpoint of those of us who live and work here even without "south of the highway" addresses, the disruption will extend far further than just the street where they might rent. Since more craziness is not something we need in the summer, my fingers are crossed that the E! series will be derailed, and that their pop-up boutique store Dash will pop up elsewhere (like Montauk). Check out the article here.

Speaking of articles, we get asked quite a bit about the differences between the villages in the Hamptons and the surrounding areas west of us. The classic real estate office designation is that, regardless of whether the word "Hampton" in the name or not, "the Hamptons" comprise the villages found east of the Shinnecock Canal; that is, Southampton Village, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack, East Hampton Village, Amagansett. For those who don't know or disdain the villages west of the Shinnecock Canal, an article in the New York Times Real Estate section this week titled "The Hamptons-In-Waiting" may be an eye opener. Hampton Bays and Westhampton, once thought of as party towns--home to late night clubs and group rentals--have been mellowed by stricter town regulations. (The party has moved to Montauk.) Real estate prices, while still not inexpensive, are far more reasonable on the other side of the canal. Says Patrick Galway of Town & Country Real  Estate, "Insetad of the day-trippers we used to get, families with young kids are choosing to summer west of the canal...You probably won't see the Kardashians opening a boutique in our area."

Well, that can't be a bad thing....

Quote of the DayThere was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his motor-boats slid the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. --F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Heartwarmer

I write occassionally about the special occasions that bring guests to A Butler's Manor, such as Matt's proposal to Nicole. Weddings in the area are of course a key attraction, as are class reunions and milestone birthdays. Once we had a week-long family reunion where the family (who occupied all five rooms) all left their shoes in a neat row by the staircase and slept with their doors open. In this latter circumstance Chris's training as a butler stood him in good stead as he tiptoed upstairs each day with early morning coffee.

The other day, we had another family reunion, much smaller. Three siblings....and the youngest sister was meeting her brother and sister in person for the first time in her memory. 

When Little Sister called to make the reservations, she told us about the planned reunion. She had been a toddler when their father left her mother, taking the older children, who were in their early teens, with him. 

Older Sister had pined for the baby sister she remembered and, as an adult, had tried with little success to track her down. Father had forbidden the older kids to even mention their sister's name. After he died, she found among his papers information that helped her track the younger sister.

Little Sister, upon initial contact, needed time to process things, and promised to arrange a meeting by Spring. This was that meeting. She wanted neutral territory, somewhere comfortable and homey and...safe. She thought A Butler's Manor would be perfect.

Each sibling lives in a different state. The sisters each lived within driving distance. Brother flew in, and Older Sister picked him up. 

Little Sister arrived early (we'd authorized the use of the garden for a pre-check in meeting) and asked us to put a memento she'd created for her siblings in their rooms once we had them ready. It was, luckily, a beautiful Spring day, the garden full of daffodils. We set up a pot of coffee and waters for them to enjoy while we prepared their rooms. 

To say she was nervous understates her emotional state. It was somewhere between excited and terrified.

The older siblings arrived on schedule, and as requested, Chris and I met them at the front door and escorted them back to where Little Sister sat (actually, paced) at a table before the fountain. Brother brought roses, champagne, and glasses. We brought loads of Kleenex.

It was an emotional meeting, to be sure. From the doorway, we watched for a moment as there was a wordless, five minute group hug. Over the afternoon, evening, and late into the night, there were many, many tears, much laughter, and thousands upon thousands of words, building the bridge that will span a 35 year absence.

When they checked out the following day, we had tears in our eyes too. Life will be certainly be different for this now-reunited family. We wish them long, happy years of exploring their similarities and differences, of get-togethers, holidays, phone calls and visits.

Chris and I are thrilled to have witnessed their joy, and feel so honored to have been a small part in helping facilitate it.

Seriously, who wouldn't want to be in our business!?

Quote of the Day: Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you'll ever have. --Jeffrey Kluger

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring cleaning

Okay, here's my dirty (clean?) little secret: I love spring cleaning. 

Like the onset of autumn, which reminds me of the beginning of a new school year, spring -- and spring cleaning-- signify a new, sparkling beginning of the year. And since A Butler's Manor reopens in early Spring, it's literally the start of our new year.

So Chris, Kristen and I have been busy. We repainted the bathroom in Eton Court and installed new track lights, shampooed all the carpets and rugs, replaced the skylight in Villefranche's bathroom and the carpeting on the stairs. 

In addition, when Chris and I journeyed to Italy last November to celebrate our 25th anniversary, I bought one thing only, but it was a biggie: a crystal chandelier from Murano Glassblowers in Venice. As scheduled, the chandelier arrived the first week we reopened, and last week, we installed it in the upstairs hallway. WOW! We now gotta whole lotta bling going on...!

Now it's time to start the spring clean up of the garden, where croci are all in bloom and the daffodils are getting ready to pop.

Spring cleaning to me also means going through the piles of recipes that I compulsively clip for ideas. And trying some. This weekend we sampled a french toast with a toasted walnut/orange/cranberry compound butter, and a frittata with broccoli and cheddar with a crust of shredded potatoes. The latter was a particular hit because it is also gluten-free. I continue to develop menus that can accommodate both those who follow a gluten-free lifestyle and those who don't, without sacrificing taste or texture. 

In other news...word on the street is that the self-absorbed Kardashians are filming one of their "Take" series out here this summer: Kourtney and Khloe Take The Hamptons. Ugh; just what we don't need on a summer week--more potential traffic caused by folks hoping to see a celebrity in their midst. (Can you tell that I am not a fan!!) I devoutly hope that their pop-up store "Dash" will pop up in Montauk, not Southampton.

It is now a bright Spring day, perfect for working in the garden. In this case, though, we plan to visit one: Bridge Garden opens for the season this weekend. Bridge Garden is a five-acre property in Bridgehampton now maintained by the Peconic Land Trust, to which it was deeded some twenty years ago. It's always fun to get ideas from other gardeners. I've already got several ideas for our pots saved on Pinterest...

Quote of the Day: "Reshaping life! People who can say that have never understood a thing about life--they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat--however much they have seen or done. They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch. But life is never a material, a substance to be molded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is coonstantlt renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infintely beyond you or my obtuse theories about it." --Boris Pasternak, "Doctor Zhivago"