Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving Sandy

Thank you to the many guests who have emailed us, concerned at how A Butler's Manor fared in the "Frankenstorm" called Sandy. I want to let everyone know we are safe and the Manor is intact. We were very blessed to have been struck only a glancing blow by the storm, losing only one large tree in the area behind the pool. Our power went down for a few hours before the hurricane made landfall near Atlantic City, NJ, but was back up before nightfall.

As often happens following a horrific storm, Tuesday, October 30 dawned clear and sunny here in Southampton, with only a light breeze. Chris and I started at 8 AM to take down the fallen tree, a 30' Leyland Cypress that had, alas, fallen atop our favorite tree, the specimen Japanese Maple that graces the back of the pool. This little warrior took a hit about six years back when we had a Nor'easter blow through in late April, taking down five trees. That same Leyland Cypress, and the slightly smaller Arborvitae in front of it, dominoed down on top the Japanese Maple, amazingly breaking only the top of its crown. We were able to save and cable both the Leyland and the Arborvitae...until Sandy. It took Chris about four hours with a chainsaw to free the little tree. It will be one funny shaped Japanese Maple for a few years, but we hold out hope that it will recover and continue to add its beauty to the landscape for years to come.

We've been driving around the village of Southampton to assess damage. As expected, our south facing Atlantic beaches took a major hit, scouring the dunes from most of the beaches. The pictures and video here that show rocks and revetments were photographed on Tuesday evening. In our twenty years in the Hamptons, we've never before seen the hardscape, as they were completely covered by dunes. Meadow Lane, which services the ocean front mansions, was flooded and impassable on our reconnoiter, but it was nothing like the photos we saw online of Dune Road in Hampton Bays. (Dune Road and Meadow Road were once the same road; the 1938 hurricane that created the Shinnecock Canal split the barrier beach into two parts, separated by access from the ocean into Shinnecock Bay.) The easternmost end of Dune Road, where Oaklands and Sundays on the Bay are located, have lost ALL of the dune that separated the Atlantic beach from the road, the parking lots, and the marina on the bay. The road disappeared entirely under sand, and the entire spit is flat as...well, as a beach.

But Southampton village is fine, has power, and is open for business. Restaurants are serving meals to those either without power or just consumed with cabin fever (the Southampton Publick House was PACKED last night!) Road crews have cleared broken tree branches to the road verges and the town and village trucks are busy collecting debris, while LIPA is in evidence restoring power to those who still are out.

I apologize for sounding banal, with our tiny little losses, when so many, many others have suffered far worse fates and will be putting their lives together for weeks, maybe months. Our hearts, prayers and positive thoughts go out to our friends and guests west of us on Long Island, and especially coastal New Jersey who have suffered catastrophic losses.

On a positive note: We just had our first EVER trick or treaters knock at the door of A Butler's Manor! (When the street parallel to you is called Elm Street, and many of the houses on it decorate accordingly, no one usually ventures beyond to our humble front door.) Bless kids -- no hurricane damage is going to keep them from Halloween candy!

May we learn from their resilience!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gearing up for Frankenstorm

The weather predictors are in their element; according to them, we've got a massive confluence of weather events coming together to create a monster storm that is supposed to impact just about everybody east of the Mississippi (and a fair amount of folks west of there, too). Hurricane Sandy is currently tracking up the Mid-Atlantic and is supposed to make landfall on the Jersey Shore sometime Monday night. Long Island, on the northeast side of the counterclockwise winds, could be walloped with sustained winds of 50 MPH or more for several days.

However the Frankenstorm playes out, what is assured is that the storms, which coincide with a full moon on Monday, will wreak havoc on our beaches, with storm surges expected to be at eight feet or more. This picture was taken early Sunday morning at high tide at Southampton's Gin Lane beach. There is only about fifty feet of sand from the pool of water mid-frame to the parking lot. It's my guess that the waterfront "cottages" will see some flooding -- the town has ordered manditory evacuation of homes and businesses on Dune Road (especially in Hampton Bays). Two of our favorite lobster houses, Oaklands (which closes for the season today) and Sundays on the Bay, will be battening down the hatches for the next few days!

Thankfully, we have no guests scheduled at A Butler's Manor for the duration of the storm. Instead, Chris and I are preparing to hunker down and watch it blow the rest of the leaves out of the trees. No storm shutters this time, and I do have some concerns about the giant Sycamore Maple tree that anchors our back yard, but otherwise, we've assessed our food/water/battery/back up systems and are as ready as we can be. But the funny things you think of (well, I think of, and admittedly I've got a weird mind): Since I expect Frankenstorm will decimate the remainder of the autumn garden, at least for awhile, I made sure to collect scads of brightly colored maple leaves this morning on my walk to refrigerate so that I have some material for plate decorations. And I picked all the flowers I could find in Chris's garden to make a Sandy bouquet, before the rain washes their petals away. 

We're going to light the fire, have the coffee and wine at hand, get out our books and have a "hurrication," and hope that Sandy blows herself into oblivion elsewhere!

Stay safe, everyone!


Quote of the Day: “It’s not a bad lesson to learn in the bleaker months: how you view a storm is a question of perspective; provided you find the right rock to watch it from, it could be the most incredible thing you’ll ever witness.”  ― Dan Stevens

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Playcation


Last week, we shut down A Butler's Manor for a few days for our first days off since March 15, to enjoy a "playcation" here on the East End with my cousins from the West Coast. Their visit gave us a chance to check in with many of the activities we often recommend to guests but haven't been able to experience for a while. Among the highlights: We visited Fairviews Farm's Corn Ma[i]ze, open through November 4, where you select a "passport" of trivia clues based on different topics that help you negotiate the maze. Each of us had a different topic, so each intersection was a group vote. I'm not sure if we did it the most expedient or elegant way, but we did manage to come out at an exit after about an hour, so we deemed that a success.

We also had a chance to spend some time over on the North Fork, exploring a couple of the many wineries that have opened in the last few years. In the twenty years that Chris and I have been on the East End, the amount of wineries on the North Fork has nearly tripled, and we feel an obligation to our guests to try and keep on top of who's who and who is bottling what. (Well, that's our excuse and we're sticking to it.)

Winemaking has become such a booming industry worldwide that I'm sure a lot of thought goes into what to name your winery in order to help it stand out from the crowd on the wine store shelves. (How could you resist the South African wine called Goats Do Roam?) I've been intrigued by the name of the newer wineries on the North Fork called One Woman Wines so we had to visit the tiny, rustic tasting room. One Woman primarily makes whites, and we particularly enjoyed their Gewurtztraminer, which had a lot of fruit and spice to it. We also stopped in at Shinn Estates, which has been on our list since they opened. They are known especially for their merlot, but we found all their reds distinctive, and also enjoyed their Brut sparkling wine.

Of course, we introduced Deb and Jim to Hamptons cuisine via several of our area restaurants, including Cowfish, Le Chef, World Pie, and Plaza Cafe. Hey, since it was our playcation, I was taking the opportunity to eat out! YUM!

It definitely felt like a getaway...and we never left home!

Quote of the Day: To people outside, they think, Gee, that's great. You get to go here and there. The other side of that is our expression, This is location, not vacation. -- Tom Berenger

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

La-La Land

Born and raised in Southern California,  I know well the moniker "La-La Land" to describe Los Angeles (also the old joke about California being the granola capital of the country: home of flakes, fruits and nuts, which somehow, hmmm,  I've never found too funny).

And then I moved to the Hamptons.

Chris and I joke with guests of A Butler's Manor that when it comes to real estate, LA has nothing on the Hamptons: THIS is "la-la land," the land of unreal estate. I call the full color, perfect-bound magazines of listings that the real estate companies slather all over town "the funny pages," because it's not your market unless you happen to be in that 0.01 percentile we all keep hearing about.

Now granted, the real estate market here in the Hamptons also took a bit of a hit during the Great Recession of 2008-2009...it actually looked like we wouldn't again see deals like the 2005 sale of Burnt Point in Wainscott ($45 million, cash) or the 2007 sale to financier Ron Baron of the 40-acre De Menil Carpenter estate on Further Lane in East Hampton ($103 million, a national record) ever again.

The local housing market for the rest of us may be resetting itself into more realistic territory, though I admit that much of the country would still experience sticker shock to know that there isn't a cabin to be had east of the Shinnecock Canal for under $400,000. But as this article points out, unreal estate is still out there in case this is the week you win the lottery.

What boggles the mind is that in many cases, the new owner who shells out close to $30 million for his manse by the sea will probably throw another few mil into it to make it "livable." Or even knock it down and rebuild it completely. That's what Calvin Klein is doing with the property he bought on Meadow Lane in 2003 (though in his case, I believe whatever he builds on his oceanfront property will be an improvement on the house he tore down, which could be described as a castle built by a committee).

It just goes to show, there's enough money in the world...just really poor distribution.

But it is sure fun to see!

Quote of the day: It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness. --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 24, 2012

September!

First day of Autumn -- hooray!! Not that the weather necessarily tells the story. Four of our guests are at the beach today, and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 70's. Though that it slated to change tomorrow, with slightly cooler temps scheduled for the rest of the week.

A little chill in the early morning air? Dark skies at 5:30 AM? Pink clouds as the sun comes up? I love it. I love fall, and all the trappings...and I love the sense of calm that pervades the Hamptons as Fall settles in. Gone is the frenetic summer crowd, desperate to pack every second of fun into their weekend, worried about whether the party is starting somewhere without them. It is so much easier to relax when you apprceciate that the hours when you can wear shorts are more limited. I've decorated the mantle for fall; I'll add pumpkins in October. I just can't let Halloween encroach on fall just yet...

And there is still so much to do. Up next weekend, Sept 28 & 29, is SEPTEMBERFEST, a celebration of arts and music and history and food in Southampton Village, beginning with a kickoff party on Friday night featuring the band New Life Crisis. Beginning at 10 AM on Saturday, there will be street musicians at various spots on Main Street, Job's Lane, and Agawam Park, Taste of the Hamptons and a chowder contest in the park, a farmer's market on the grounds of the Parrish Art Museum, arts and crafts activities, historical demonstrations, hay rides, rides in Wells Fargo's iconic stagecoach, concerts, art shows, and much more. The village will be HOPPING! Come visit and enjoy it!

Actually, the Parrish Art Museum has vacated the property on Job's Lane, and will celebrate its grand opening in its brand new quarters in Water Mill the weekend of November 11.  Owned by the village, the grand old building that housed the art museum for over 110 years will continue to be a cultural hub for Southampton. And speaking of new tenants, the old Rogers Memorial Library was sold late this summer. It's rumored that, following restorations to the historic Queen Anne structure, it will reopen possibly as retail space. And, drum roll....Pottery Barn has signed a lease on the grand corner building on Main Street and Hampton Road that housed Saks Fifth Avenue for 60 years. It will be great to have the beautiful building that anchors the village occupied once more!

We've had some fun shops come to town this year, and with a little more room to breathe this week, I wandered downtown to check them out. There's a decided British note in the air in Southampton with shops such as Jack Wills and Grahame Fowler joining Ralph Lauren downtown. (Me, being an Anglophile, very much likes this, of course.) It looks like Ralph's current line is very equestrian, always a great look, but for the real deal, look for your barn coat at Horse Haven on Hampton Road. And of course, there's lots of end-of-season sale action happening.

September is definitely the best time to be in the Hamptons!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Breakfast à trois, and other thoughts

Only three!
It's the week before Labor Day, historically one of our busiest weeks of the year, and yet this morning I have only three for breakfast. Four of our guests were out early this morning to participate in the Hampton Classic Horse Show, and another two were heading to Montauk to go whale watching. It seems so funny to have made more "care packages" than full breakfasts, especially during high season. As we are serving Grand Marnier French Toast, which is prepped the night before and then baked off in the morning, I feel like I am rattling around this morning with almost nothing to do other than prepare a fresh fruit starter and fry some bacon! I am positively discombobulated!

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, counting ourselves lucky to been dealt only a glancing blow. Today, we're experiencing a perfect beach day, with one eye on the TV to track Isaac's progress over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast... communities that, after Katrina, know better than anywhere never to underestimate a hurricane. My heart goes out to them as they wait for the storm.

Lots of fun these past weeks, as old friends and new stayed at A Butler's Manor. It's just not summer without some of our great repeat guests! And they keep my creativity flowing, as it relates to breakfasts. I've mentioned before that I keep notes of what I serve each day, as I try not to repeat a breakfast entree (unless specifically requested!). In the past week, we have had three of our most frequent repeat guests visiting us...had their visits overlapped, planning breakfast REALLY would have been challenging!  (Okay, I admit: For Walter, whose business out here has made him our most frequent guest --over 30 visits, totalling just about 60 nights-- I've given up trying not to duplicate a recipe. He's had everything in my cookbook, and then some. Bless him, he's up for anything I might try, too!)

As summer winds to a close this year, I've noticed less people avoiding gluten, but more who profess not to be egg lovers. Usually when folks tell me this and I follow up on it, I discover that they just don't like "obvious" eggs, such as fried eggs, but that eggs baked into a strata, for example, are fine. Recently, we had two of of ten guests who were "not egg fans," and thus I made a new (to me), easy non-egg savory breakfast; my version of baked ham and cheese croissants using Pillsbury crescent rolls. Simple, easy, and so tasty! Chris was fighting me for the extras!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Art Appreciation

I'm so excited. We have a very cool Aussie designer and master blogger staying with us at A Butler's Manor right now. She is here because she loves all things Hamptons/Cape Cod, and she has a design business in Queensland where she sells a lot of things that look like they grow here. I already follow her blog. I aspire to her daily blog activity for either Chatter From the Manor, or In My Words, my writer-persona blog. (In my spare time!) In point of fact, she's in New York to attend a blogging conference. Until she told me that, I had no idea there was such a thing!

It's a lot of fun to see visitors enjoy their exporation of the area, and Anne-Maree is so exuberant that I want to share her impressions (and all the photos!) by attaching her blog here. If you've not yet been to the Hamptons, between our blog and What to Do page and Anne-Maree's, this will give you a good feeling for our little town. If you've been here before, it will bring back happy memories!

Anne-Maree's blog: The House That A-M Built

It's been a big month for art events. The second weekend of July was the massive ArtHamptons fair, and last weekend was art Southampton , both held in separate locations inside a huge, air conditioned luxury "tent" (well, it qualified as a tent because it wasn't there last week and won't be there tomorrow, but this structure had glass fire doors, a bar and a snack bar). I dropped by to see what was on offer at the second show, which was modern art from dealers from all over the world, and was impressed by the scope of the show. What was particularly nice was that, unlike most art or antiques events held out in the Hamptons, both events offered extended gallery hours, the latter until 10 PM most of the four nights it was open. This is a novel concept, as most events force visitors to choose: Beach? Shopping? Special Event? during daylight hours. It's nice to be able to fit it all in!

On a smaller, more local scale, Art in the Park was held the third weekend of July in Agawam Park over Saturday and Sunday. Art in the Park is sponsored by the Southampton Artists' Association, who also hold a number of shows each year at the Southampton Cultural Center. No bar or air conditioning here; just a true village art festival featuring some extensive local talent. And there's plenty of it.

Just in case you thought the Hamptons were just all about the beach!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Restaurant comments: LT Burger (Sag Harbor)

Pardon me for being obtuse, but I just don't get the trend in many fine dining establishments to put a hamburger on the menu. (Especially at $18.) If I'm going to a restaurant that boasts a decent wine list and doesn't offer fries as an optional vegetable (at additional price!), I don't expect the chef to put something as pedestrian as a burger on the menu. Especially when the the point of having it there seems to be just in case you underestimated what $$$ meant in your Zagat's guide. At a certain level of restaurant, and at a certain price point, a "hamburger"  better come with a pedigree. Example: Chris and I once dined at DB Bistro Moderne, Daniel Boulud's  more "casual" restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, where the signature dish is a hamburger made of sirloin filled with braised short ribs, stuffed with foie gras and black truffle, served on a parmesan bun...for $32. (Please note, the french fries--"pommes frites," of course--were included.) It was a heart attack on a plate, but it WAS wonderful, but it's an experience I don't need to repeat.

When we crave a hamburger, we go to a place where  hamburgers comprise at least 50% of the menu and you can get just about anything you can imagine on them. Such a place probably doesn't have stellar service, it definitely doesn't have Chateau Margaux on the wine list (if there IS a wine list) and I expect to see at least one and usually several televisions hanging in the joint. One of the best places for a really good gooey hamburger, in my opinion, is Fellingham's in Southampton. There is nothing trendy or elegant about Fellingham's, nor is that their intent. They are unabashedly a sports bar with a local following, but their burger is probably one of the best values in the Hamptons.

A couple of burger joints have opened in Sag Harbor over the past year or two, one on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, and one in a storefront right on Main Street. This latter one is called LT Burger and it mightily resembles the sort of soda fountain that used to be the norm for a burger and a milk shake, without quite the 1950's kitsch of a Johnny Rocket's chain. Oh yes, LT Burgers does the milkshakes too, yum yum yum, including a handful of options you must be over 21 to enjoy. The menu is short on options other than burgers (though they do have veggie, turkey and tuna burgers), with a few salads, half a dozen apps and several choices of fries (extra charge), including the best sweet potato fries I've had in years. Burgers ranged from the signature at $11 and went up to about $16 depending on accoutrements. I had one on special called a "farm burger" that came with onions and local Mecox Bay cheese and a fried egg, and Chris opted for the one with grilled onions and applewood smoked bacon.  We split a salad made with local heirloom tomatoes, grilled bacon and ricotta cheese that had a wonderful spicy dressing with maybe a hint of curry to it. The place is very casual, perfect for kids, and does take out which we'd probably enjoy if we lived in Sag Harbor. And we happened to score one of the tables in the window so we could watch the always-active foot traffic on Sag Harbor's Main Street (which, by the way, is the only village in the Hamptons that "gets it" when it comes to being open for late night shopping, but that's a topic for another day). It's a pricier burger than you'd find in a soda fountain anywhere else except here in the Hamptons, but the atmosphere was right and it was tasty. We'll be back.

Speaking of shopping, summer brings the usual batch of new stores to the Hamptons, including a few "pop-up" stores that expect to stay long enough to interest only our summer visitors. I hate this concept because it ignores our year-round population, but that too is a topic for another day. Still, occasionally we get a pop-up that is such a good fit that the store signs a year-round lease and becomes part of our village landscape. One such store that I hope will make the transistion is a fun little shop on the corner of Main Street and Job's Lane in Southampton called C Wonder. This is a shop that sells all things summertime: bright clothes and summer shoes, bags you'd take to the beach or to a pool party, household supplies and hostess gifts for said party, even beach cruiser bicycles. The prices aren't outrageous, and the management knows how to generate excitement: Every weekend since Memorial Day when they opened, they've held fun store events with lots of excitement for the whole family. Today, for example, among the activities is a village-wide scavenger hunt that offers the chance to win a $500 gift cvertificate to the store. As soon as I drop off our guests at Cooper's Beach, I'm stopping by to play!

Sunshine, sweet potato fries, a scavenger hunt...ahhhh, summer. Maybe I'll find a mayonnaise jar and collect some fireflies tonight...

Quote of the Day: A hamburger by any other name, costs twice as much. --Evan Esar

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Simple and free!

Sometimes the best things to do truly are the simplest. Last night, after all the guests at A Butler's Manor had left for their respective evening plans, Chris and I packed a  bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers and went to the beach to watch the sun go down. True, on Southampton's beaches you won't see a sunset over the water, nor--since our air quality is so good--will you get the brilliant oranges and reds of a Southern California sunset (which is, alas, caused by smog). Instead, the colors are pure blues and pinks, in wispy clouds over a steely ocean.

And almost nobody else is there. After the need for sunscreen diminishes, the beach is the quietest place in the Hamptons.

And the best part is that it's free, because after 5:00 PM, beach parking regulations don't apply. And at Cooper's Beach, the snack bar stays open until at least 6:00, so you can grab a burger or a wrap there.

Speaking of free, a visit to a farmers market is a great treat on a summer day. From late spring until fall, there are farmers markets somewhere in the Hamptons daily from Wednesdays through Sundays. Hamptons.com has a pretty comprehensive article that outlines who, what, when and where here: http://www.hamptons.com/Food-And-Wine/Food-News/17200/For-The-Freshest-Produce-In-The-Hamptons-Try-A.html

Of course, the farmstands out here are numerous and divine, and they're (mostly!) open every day. Closest to us, right around the corner on land that was once owned by the same family (Jagger) that also owned the property we now call A Butler's Manor is tiny Hank's Farm Stand, selling primarily berries...strawberries are just finishing up, and raspberries are coming up. At a farmstand you can't miss the connection beween the fertile land and the farmer who cultivates it. A good comprehensive list of area farmstands can be found here. Often, visitors to the Hamptons tend to forget its farming and fishing origins and are often only vaguely aware that both livelihoods are still very much in existence. (BSP [Blatant Self Promotion!] alert: It is precisely in that setting that my novel Blood Exposure is set, available now on Kindle. "Oh really, what's it about," you say? Check it out here.)

In fact, having made myself hungry, I'm off to pick up some fresh veggies for tomorrow morning's frittata.  And I'm planning another picnic on the beach...

Quote of the Day: They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. --Ronald Reagan

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One man's trash?

Many people enjoy ogling the "summer cottages" (read: mansions) in the Hamptons, and one of the most popular way to fund-raise out here is to offer house tours that allow the rest of us to view the interior of some of these houses up close and personal. (Two such house tours coming up this summer are the Westhampton Garden Club House Tour on July 10 and St. Ann's Episcopal Church House Tour on August 2.) 

Sometimes you might not be able to tour the estates, but you can own something that used to live on one. There are a couple of annual sales that highlight exactly this, namely Parrish Presents in late November that benefits the Parrish Art Museum, and the Decorators/ Designers/ Dealers Sale in June that benefits the Southampton Fresh Air Home. There are also a number of cool thrift or consignment shops here in the Hamptons, some of which we highlight on our suggested itinerary. Much of the merchandise, especially in the benefit shops such as LVIS (Ladies Village Improvement Society), ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) and the Southampton Hospital Thrift Shop is especially fine. The reason? When the wealthy summer population of Southampton and East Hampton clean out their closets or redecorate their homes, they don't post a curb alert on Craig's List. They tell their staff to donate the stuff or get rid of it.

Chris and I have found literally hundreds of our treasures at A Butler's Manor through such resources.

One of the perks of Chris's former profession as a butler are his connections with others who serve or otherwise service the estate district (i.e., contractors, landscape designers). More than once, he's gotten a head's up over stuff being discarded from someone's mansion or the grounds surrounding them. (Just ask him about the various trees and shrubs that he's rescued when various people decide to re-landscape!) Recently we scored a windfall when one of our friends, the estate manager for a large property here, was asked to broker the sale of some garden statuary since his principal was redesigning her landscape. Here are two of the three "girls" --full-sized bronze statues, signed and numbered --who now grace our garden! From the same estate, a set of four musical cherubs on plinths, a little more classical in style, will also find a new home at A Butler's Manor, as soon as we can figure our where they will live.
Another recent find was due to the sharp eyes of my friend Joyce, who volunteers at LVIS in East Hampton. Joyce spotted a gorgeous roll of upholstery fabric that had been donated that is going to be perfect for our dining room chairs later this summer! I've found great vases at Elsa's Ark Thrift Shop in Southampton, and cool clothes at Around Again, on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Colette Consignments, in Southampton and Sag Harbor, features designer clothes, shoes and accessories.  And when they say "gently used," they mean it. I've seen dresses in the shop with the original price tags still attached. I guess their original owners decided to wear something else to the benefit.

Chris and I figure we're doing our part to go green and keep excess stuff out of our landfills. It's a very satisfying way to reduce-reuse-recycle!

Quote of the Day: We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly. -- Clement of Alexandria


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Restaurant comments: CowFish (Hampton Bays)

A cowfish. Not generally found in the waters off Shinnecock Bay.
Chris and I consider it our duty to try to keep abreast of the restaurants here in the Hamptons so that we can recommend them with some accuracy. One of our latest forays was to CowFish, the newest addition to Hampton Bay's culinary scene. Owned by Chef David Hersh and his wife Rachel who also own the wildly popular (but way too small!) Rumba Rum Bar right down the street, CowFish is located right on the Shinnecock Canal where the venerable Indian Cove has been a fixture for decades. The large, airy space with multiple outdoor decks and patios now has a slightly cowboy decor, which works because as a chef, David is definitely a cowboy. We loved that most of the items on the menu you wouldn't find anywhere else in the Hamptons...like blackened shrimp over fried green tomatoes, or lobster and crab sushi with asparagus, avocado, a slice of strawberry, and a strawberry sauce. And yeah, that actually works. That's why it's shown half eaten in the photo!

Lobster sushi!
Like Rumba, there is a signature dessert at CowFish, and it is well worth saving a little room for it. Okay, a lot of room for it. It's Banana Cream Pie, and omigod is it yummy. I think the crust is made with walnuts. Then they drizzle it with a little caramel sauce and sprinkle it with a little grated chocolate. Grandma never made it this good, I promise!

Unlike Rumba, Cowfish is a big place -- there is a large dining room, a patio, and two outdoor decks as well as a bar, and they've put up a wooden "pirate ship " outdoor playset for the kids to play on while waiting for their dinner reservation (the parents can watch from the bar deck above). And it's waterfront on the canal. Good food, good views, good buzz...how can you lose?

Not sure if they'll take rezzies (Rumba doesn't), but at A Butler's Manor, we'll have the map ready for anyone who wants to go!

Friday, May 25, 2012

We've got the beaches!

Little Plains Beach, Southampton
In 2010, Dr. Stephen Leatherman (a.k.a. Dr. Beach) named Southampton's Coopers Beach the #1 beach in America, making all us residents very proud. And now, the venerable National Geographic has seconded Dr. Beach's recommendation: In a recent article, National Geographic listed the beaches of the Hamptons as #4 in the WORLD, and the best in America, beating out even Hawaii!! (See the complete article here.)

Okay, you ask, where in the world are there better beaches? According to NatGeo:

1) Seychelles
2) Maldives
3) Bora Bora (Tahiti)

Okay, I can live with that.

Speaking of the beach, we sure hope the clouds clear out for this weekend, the official start of summer, as so many visitors to the Hamptons hope to start their summer tans on Memorial Day. (Check out the live webcam of Coopers Beach here to see if you need your bathing suit or a hoodie!) But whether the sun is shining or not, one event on Cooper's Beach promises to draw a crowd. More than 1,000 people are anticipated on Saturday afternoon at Kites For A Cure, the annual family kite fly sponsored by the nonprofit organization Uniting Against Lung Cancer to benefit lung cancer research. For $30 donation, participants receive a high-quality kite that can be decorated on-site with drawings, names of loved ones, perhaps wishes or messages to be flown over the ocean. All proceeds go to Uniting Against Lung Cancer's national lung cancer research program. How much fun is this, and you're benefiting a worthy cause?

(By the way, this native Californian tips her hat to Dr. Beach's 2012 winner of the best beach in America: Coronado Beach, in sunny San Diego...Congratulations!)

Quote of the Day: Everyone can reach back to one summer and lay a finger to it, finding the exact point when everything changed. That summer was mine.”   ― Sarah Dessen, That Summer

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Balloons

One of the things Chris and I ask guests when they book here at A Butler's Manor is whether they are celebrating a special occasion while visiting. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a proposal. Interestingly, we have had two proposals since then, the most recent involving two guests who visited last weekend from Sweden! (Guess this is termed a Destination Proposal?) It gives a certain kind of joy to be able to witness these happy little episodes in peoples' lives.


Given that we only have five rooms, I guess it shouldn't surprise me when we have multiple celebrations in house, as we often do. But today we hit a new record: We have a bridal couple who will spend their first night as man and wife here...an anniversary...two birthdays...and a babymoon! This is what my flower arrangements for the rooms looked like this morning, before I took them to their respective rooms. Lots of happiness in house here!

And, speaking of flowers...I spotted the first rose of the season this morning, a bright pink "Queen Elizabeth" next to the fountain on the patio. A rose for Mother's Day!...a month earlier than usual!

Out on the town, a.k.a. our foodie report: Chris and I have been doing our bit to sample some of the new restaurant crop here in the Hamptons. Last week we journeyed to Three Mile Harbor to Andrra, the harborside property formerly occupied by the Boathouse (and, for years before that, Bostwick's on the Harbor). Far from the funky/casual fish house over the marina the restaurant used to be, the owners of Andrra have renovated the second-story spot to create a sleek, stylish lounge and dining room that can be utilized year round. The food highlights a Meditteranean take on seafood and chops redolent of owners Sami and Noti Krasniqi's heritage - this is not your Hamptons' Usual. The Toskan BBQ shrimp was beyond yummy!  You need the finger bowl they provide because it is finger licking good! And the atmosphere...even without the second-to-none East Hampton sunset...is sublime. Gorgeous steel blue walls and white trim, a lounge seats and even a fireplace...I predict that this will become a major late night hangout for the club set. Alas, that won't include Chris and me, because we're long abed by the time the entertainment warms up, but we'll be there for sunsets and "Stars of the Sea!"

Speaking of Meditteranean, we had lunch at in Southampton this week at Nammo's Estiatoria. Whole fish is a specialty here, and obligingly, I had the dorade, which was beautifully sauteed in a light lemon sauce. The staff was happy to serve it already filleted so as to save the less dexterous of us the trouble of  dealing with all those tiny bones. Chris had a steak salad done over warm spaghetti. Wonderful, warm Mediterranean flavors and spices in the scungilli and fried zucchini and eggplant appetitzers too. I can see enjoying these treats on a warm summer night, out on Nammo's extensive patio.

Word is just out that our friend Tim Burke (230 Elm) has signed the lease to take over the Lobster Inn, the venerable fish house on the inlet at the top of County Road 39, just as you come off Sunrise Highway. Will it still be called Lobster Inn, or something else...? Stay tuned. One thing we know or sure is that Chef Randy is going to keep those lobster specials intact...Bring on the steamed corn on the cob, melted butter, nutcrackers and the bibs...Is it summer yet??? I'm ready for lobster!!

Quote of the Day:  Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive – Howard Thurman.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A better way to stay

A Butler's Manor is a proud member of PAII, the Professional Association of International Innkeepers, an industry group that has lately launched a series of video ads touting bed and breakfasts as "A Better Way To Stay." (Check out one of their videos below.) Yes, bed and breakfasts are a special type of experience, and this week we were reminded again of yet another way staying at a bed and breakfast such as A Butler's Manor is not your average hotel experience. If I sound like we're tooting our own horn, please believe me, we can take no particular credit for the stories below.

Early May, and while the flowers and trees are all in bloom (early! --we had lilacs the last week of April!), the weather can be iffy. Much of this past week has been drizzly. While there are lots of things to do here in the Hamptons and beyond that don't require the sunshine (wine tasting comes to mind), some definitely do require transportation. And among our five rooms of guests this week was a pair of  German girls who had arrived by train and weren't planning on hiring a car during their three-day visit.

Now, if you've followed this blog for awhile you'll recall that late last Fall, Chris and I made a pilgrimage to both East Hampton and the North Fork via our public bus just so we could direct such guests. And actually, these girls had done their homework and already had researched the bus and train schedules. But over breakfast -- one of those fabulous mornings where the entire table of guests enjoyed hanging out and conversing long past the time we'd cleared their plates -- one of the discussions for a rainy day option was a visit to the Tanger Outlet Mall in Riverhead, about a 25 minute drive from Southampton. And the upshot was that another couple, visiting from Australia, offered the German girls a ride up to the outlet mall with them. Sweet!

Throughout this entire week our guests seemed particularly simpatico. A few nights later, several were enjoying some wine before the fire and discussing options for dinner. When two of the couples learned they were both planning on dining at red bar brasserie, they decided to dine together.

We've had instances where we drop off a carload of guests at the beach at the same time, and they decide to set up their towels and hang out together. I love things like this.

Granted, that's not always what you're looking for when you get away. Often, you just want a little downtime away from the madding crowd. But to unexpectedly meet others whom you enjoy enough to extend your conversation beyond our communal breakfast...well, it takes a certain kind of place. And, if I may say so, one Chris and I are very proud to offer.

Quote of the Day: A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints.--Wilfred Peterson

Friday, May 4, 2012

Not one of my better recipe ideas

For all of my loyal guests who have come to believe that I can't put a foot wrong while cooking breakfast, today would be the day that I dispell those illusions.

I love to create new entrees for our breakfast guests, and I get ideas everywhere. And I'm continually thinking of how to present these entrees for maximum "pretty." Today, we had four guests for breakfast. Asparagus is in season in the garden, and I'd found a yummy-looking recipe for asparagus frittata which included sauteed onions and artichoke hearts. To my mind, however, this combination would have very little color, all of it pale grey-green. So I decided to add some roasted red peppers, some ham, some feta, and a little grated Parmesan to the frittata.

The problem is that frittatas are usually made in a pie plate or a sauté pan, and the smallest diameter of either that I own is 9" which would result in a pretty flat frittata--even, I thought, with all those ingredients. Then I had a brainstorm: I have a 7" Springform pan I rarely use. Why not bake the frittata in that? That way, I could just release the exterior of the pan, and cut the resultant puffed concoction into four lovely pieces, et voilà! The recipe called for a baking time of 15-20 minutes, but because I know frittatas hold well and actually are a little better if rested once baked, I put the dish in 40 minutes in advance of our 9:30 breakfast.

Well. This is an example of why you should try out such experiments on yourself before you try them for company. One does not make a frittata in a cake pan. First of all, some of the egg mixture ran out under the springform sides of the pan. (Fortunately, I'd anticipated this possibility by putting a cookie sheet under the pan.) Then, the high sides blocked the heat necessary to bake it evenly. When the alarm went off at the 20 minute mark, the frittata was still uncooked in the middle. I baked it for the full forty minutes, and still it wasn't completely done.

So at 9:25, we had a game change, and I made a Tuscany omelette on the stove with all the above ingredients except the asparagus (no time to harvest, clean, and steam it). Why I didn't just do this in the first place is a mystery. The guests loved it, and never knew it wasn't what I'd originally planned.

I baked the frittata in the oven another five minutes and let it rest ten minutes. The result, freed from the springform pan, is what you see in the picture here. Chris and I ate it for breakfast and it was very tasty but, cooked or not, the result looked like a mishmash. Chris described it thusly: "Tastes great, but it looks like the dog threw up."  (!!!!! See what I put up with!?!)

So, lesson learned: Cake pans really are only for cakes. Next time, I'll use a square Pyrex dish.

But I'm still going to keep trying new things...


Quote of the Day: Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?? -- Curly Howard

Friday, April 6, 2012

Special occasions and seasonal rebirths

One of the truly joyous things about owning a bed and breakfast is when we get to participate, in a small way, in a special life event of our guests. Such is the case today. Matt and Nicole are visiting from Canada, and somewhere in our fair village (or--chances are--the beach), Matt is planning to propose. So, in anticipation of a positive response, we've set up in their room a celebratory display of champagne, roses, and our seasonal favorite daffodils to welcome the newly affianced couple back. We'll have the fire going just in case they feel like enjoying their champagne in front of it...We love days like this!

Speaking of the village, Spring is springing wonderfully here in the Hamptons. Here in Southampton, lots of stores and a couple restaurants are undergoing facelifts in anticipation of the summer season, including BookHampton, 75 Main, and Plaza Cafe. We visited with Chef Doug Gujila over dinner and love the cool new blue look of the main dining room...With handmade fish art by local wine merchant John Rist, it feels a little like the Caribbean.

Relocating from Water Mill, Muse has sailed over to moor on Main Street in Sag Harbor, and is now Muse In The Harbor. Chris and I went with friends to visit with Chef Matt Guffrieda and check ot his shiny new digs, complete with a huge fish tank acting as a central room divider. I love Matt's creative takes on food: my Tilapia Wienerschnitzel was scrumptuous, and do not miss the Zeppole for dessert. Yum!

As usual, spring heralds the arrival of some new faces to our restaurant scene. In the old Post House location that housed Nello's Summertimes is now Nammo's, reportedly owned/operated by the folks who have run Trata in Water Mill these past few years. And over the canal in Hampton Bays, Chef David Hersh of Rumba fame plans to open a second, larger restaurant reportedly called Cowfish in the large, canalfront location that has housed Indian Cove for decades. I expect we'll be one of the first in line to visit and sample his new menu.

So...waiting eagerly for the return of our young couple...will she say yes??

Quote of the Day: April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. ~William Shakespeare


UPDATE!!! Matt writes: "Everything went great ... she said yes!  Thanks so much for all you did to make it so special for us,  We've had a great stay here to say the least."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Enjoying the hospitality of others

Chris and I are in our last carefree vacation days before we drive home to Southampton (A Butler's Manor reopens for the season on Friday, March 16). As many of you know, we drove to California to enjoy family, friends, and lots of sunshine (!!) in balmy Southern California. As with any trip we take, it is an opportunity to enjoy the hospitality and to garner new ideas at other establishments, both bed and breakfast and hotel. Two experiences during our sojourn stand out: Casa Laguna, a boutique inn in Laguna Beach, and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
"Casa," where every square inch in the terraced gardens was planted in a riot of color, made Chris drool with envy. We loved, loved, loved their big lush beds, soft as a dream, and our couples massage on premises was divine. But our favorite feature was their outdoor soaking tub, a Jacuzzi for two, under its own little pergola on a terrace above the pool. You must reserve the tub, available for 45-minute sessions, as it is carefully cleaned and filled for each booking. We reserved it for late afternoon and enjoyed a bottle of champagne overlooking the Pacific as the sun set! The experience was truly a vacation within a vacation. We'll be back--and will recommend!

And...service at the Bellagio? Worth every one of those five diamonds that AAA has awarded it. In a time where accountability, responsibility, and pride taken in a job seems sadly lacking, the Bellagio renews my faith in customer service. This is an employer who has TRAINED their staff, every one of them, from the housekeepers to the front desk, to concierge-worthy service. To use a term I used to champion in Corporate America back in the 1980's, they are obviously empowered to do what it takes to create a superior experience for their clientele. Even the housekeeper on duty on the floor we stayed greeted us when we passed in the hall, asking each time she saw us how we were doing and if everything was satisfactory in our room. Needless to say, it was--more than satisfactory. It was fabulous!

(And hey, who would have guessed that you can play penny slot machines at the Bellagio...?)

Exemplary service is, of course, a passion of ours...it is such a pleasure to find it alive and well!

Okay--back to Southampton to create our own brand of exemplary service! The 2012 season begins!

Quote of the day: Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. -- Walt Disney