Monday, November 28, 2011

Alternative wheels

Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect time to spend an hour in the shoes of another.

During the summer here at A Butler's Manor, we offer complimentary shuttle service to Cooper's Beach in our roomy Buick Roadmaster (a.k.a. the Butlermobile), which saves our guests the price of parking ($40 per day). And as many of our guests come from Manhattan and don't have a car, we also pick up and deliver from the Hampton Jitney terminal and the Southampton train station. Because we are an easy walk into the center of Southampton Village, for a weekend visitor from the city this is probably all the transportation they need. For a longer stay, or if they wish to wander farther afield, they generally rent a car.

But a distinct segment of our visitors from abroad, particularly the UK or Australia, come for several days and may not be comfortable renting a car and driving on the "wrong" side of the road. In most cases, this trip to the Hamptons will be their only one, and as much as I love Southampton village, I want our visitors to see all of the Hamptons and really experience the entire area. And therein lies the rub. Unlike NYC, we don't have a large, well-integrated public transport system. We have the Long Island Railroad, but there are only three or four trains per day. And the train stops in Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Amagansett and Montauk, but you'll never see Sag Harbor that way. Taxis are expensive and not necessarily geared to a general tour of the area. Limo services such as East End Limosine, which can provide a general tour, are lovely but even more expensive. There are a couple of van/limo tours geared specifically to the North Fork wineries, and we particularly like Vintage Tours, but it is often difficult to get them to come over to the South Fork to pick up only two guests. And not all of our clientele want to spend their money this way. We do have a public bus, which currently runs every day except Sunday. Needless to say, Chris and I have never ridden it.

Until last Tuesday. After our guests checked out that day, we had the entire afternoon and evening free. So we decided to see how our wheel-less guests would experience the East End's public transportation.

It was a grey, dank day, with showers threatening when we picked up the S92 bus near Roger's Memorial Library in Southampton. You need exact change, but it doesn't have to be coins -- there is a bill inserter, which on our adventure, I saw that everyone used except me. My first impression was favorable: busses are new, clean, and well-maintained. Okay, so the seat could use a little more padding. But hey, for $2, you're not likely to get the Hampton Luxury Liner's posh leather seats.

We rode through Bridgehampton, then north on the turnpike to Sag Harbor, then southeast down Rte. 114 to East Hampton and disembarked near the train station there, a journey of about 35 minutes--not bad for probably a 20 mile trip. After wandering in town and enjoying a coffee at Starbuck's, we boarded again, retracing our same route, then continuing through Hampton Bays, up through the county seat of Riverhead, and out to the North Fork. You can't get to Tanger Outlet Mall directly (though you could with a transfer) and it's not a particularly impressive tour of Riverhead. But once beyond the county seat, the bus journeys straight up Rte 25 through the Long Island Wine Trail, all the way to Orient Point. With the many wineries side by side especially in Cutchogue, you could actually go wine tasting on the bus. Hmmmm.

The journey to Greenport from East Hampton totaled about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and we decided to hop off there and have an early dinner before heading back home. Upon reboarding, we found a photographer from Long Island's Newsday newspaper on the bus, working on a story, though she didn't say what it was about. She was enchanted with our little adventure to ride the bus from one end of the route to the other in order to be able to advise our guests, and snapped a few dozen photographs of me and of most of the others who subsequently boarded the bus for points east.

The following morning, a friend called us up. "Kim, is that your picture in Newsday today?" Sure enough, there I was...headlining an article about a potential fare hike and its impact on those who rode the bus, quote, "often, the poorest of the poor."

So I just became the poster child for the poorest of the poor? Well. I guess we need a second job! Too bad. We think ours was the far better story!

Our adventure taught us that we could safely recommend the bus for wheel-less guests looking to head farther afield than our can easily journey to any of the points mentioned above, and with little effort, transfer to other lines that will go all the way to Montauk or other places. Busses run about an hour apart, which seems dreadfully infrequent when compared to NYC busses (or, yikes, the subway!), but when compared to three trains per day, is a veritable abundance of easy, clean, safe and inexpensive option for sightseeing when you don't have your own car. And the people watching is definitely interesting. Students going to class, people taking their laundry to the laudromat, mothers with small (remarkably quiet!) children, people en route to work, or to the store...regulars who knew the bus driver and chatted with him as he drove, others plugged into their iPods and enjoying downtime. It was a truly interesting day.

But oh, how Chris and I gave thanks that evening for the blessing of having our own transportation!

Quote of the Day: A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it. -- Unknown

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Walk in the Woods, Hamptons Style

November, and things are slowing down. Chris and I actually had a day off a week or so ago. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we decided to do a little sightseeing in our own backyard, for the dual purpose of enjoying ourselves outdoors and to be better able to advise our guests. In the nearly twenty years that we've lived on the East End, we've never been hiking at any of the three most popular locations out here, namely Mashomack, Hidden Hills, or the Elizabeth Morton Wildlike Refuge.  We decided to start our exploration with Mashomack, just across the bay on Shelter Island.

The Mashomack Preserve, operated by the Nature Conservancy, occupies nearly 1/3 of Shelter Island, and is open year round. We went on a Wednesday in November, so I'm sure there were far fewer people on the trails than one would meet if hiking in July; however, such was the serene nature of the place and the layout of the trails that I expect there could be hundreds of fellow hikers in the preserve and you wouldn't know it.
There are four well-defined and marked trails of varying lengths, from a one-mile wheelchair-accessible trail to a ten-mile hike that overlooks Gardiner's Bay. Chris and I chose the six-mile Green Trail, marked by the emblem of the osprey. The osprey is one of the East End's most celebrated examples of the power of environmental concern: the breeding population, once decimated by the thinning of their eggs caused by widespread use of DDT, has rebounded from 150 breeding pairs in 1969 to well over 230 pairs today, taking the breed from the Endangered list to that of Special Concern.  Osprey nests are visible along many coastal wetlands, but Mashomack is home to one the largest concentration of nesting ospreys in the area. The nests are remarkable as they resemble chimney-sweep brushes of the sort you remember from the movie Mary Poppins; birds create large nests in the tops of dead trees or, more commonly, on human-created upright structures resembling telephone poles.

The ospreys have flown south for the winter now, but lots of birds and other wildlife remain to be seen on the trails. One of the more remarkable sights we saw was a red-tailed hawk eating his lunch on a trail-side post in an open field.

Fields, wetlands, coves seeded with oyster and scallop beds, pine swamps...the variety of ecosystems within such a relatively small area was incredible.

In addition to being a wonderful place to breathe and appreciate nature, the Nature Conservancy has on-site a charming visitors center with interactive displays on all aspects of the flora and fauna. We spent quite a bit of time there, playing with the displays and discussing what we'd seen with the very knowledgable and friendly Nature Conservancy staff member.

The entire East End is a respite from busy city and suburban living, and we realize how very lucky we are to live and work in such a beautiful corner of the world. Even so, as we drove away late in the afternoon, bound for the South Ferry back to A Butler's Manor, Chris commented that our afternoon walk in the woods truly felt like we'd been on vacation!

Quote of the Day: We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down. ~Robert Sweetgall

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taking a breath

Chris and I just returned from a four-day hiatus in Savannah GA with some friends. Our first day off since mid-April of this year, it was a chance to draw a breath, slow down, and sleep in a little. (!!!) This was our first trip to Savannah, and we loved all of it: the peaceful, tree-filled squares that so nicely define the downtown, the wonderful architecture, the slower pace of life of the Deep South. Savannah is reputedly replete with ghosts, so visiting so near Halloween was quite the ticket. Weather was beautiful for most of our stay, and we had fun wandering the historic neighborhoods, touring some wonderful houses and exploring antique shops and walking the riverfront. And oh yes, enjoying Low Country cooking, including taking a cooking class by local celebrity Chef Joe Randall, where I got some great ideas (whoever thought of using grits as a spread, much like hummus...?), though nothing I anticipate incorporating into breakfast. Of course, we stayed at a B&B -- the Eliza Thompson House on Jones Street. It is said that there is even a ghost of a Confederate soldier in the house who haunts the room we'd chosen (the R. Bruce room, one of the original bedrooms of the 1847 house) -- but if he dropped by while we were there, Chris and I were too exhausted to meet him.

Back home now and back in the groove at A Butler's Manor. It's a great time of year. People smile around here as they don their sweaters. Last weekend we had a full house of anniversary celebrants -- all five rooms! Though it shouldn't surprise me; because we so often enjoy perfect autumn weather this time of year, it's a prime time to get married. Over the past couple of weeks we've had well over a dozen couples celebrating their anniversaries. In fact, we were among them. Chris and I celebrated our twenty-third anniversary in September.

Fall means that the farm stands are hopping, as are the pumpkin patches like Hank's Pumpkintown and the corn mazes. (And if those popular attractions were NOT what drew you out for a visit this time of year, Chris and I can show you routes around them.) One particularly good corn maze -- called a "maize" -- is at Fairview Farm in Bridgehampton. More than just entertainment for the kids, upon entering the maize at Fairview Farm, you choose a card with your favorite trivia category. Thereafter, when you reach a point that requires a choice of directions, your answer to your trivia question will determine whether you make a right or a left turn.

Fall also means the wineries are beginning to harvest their grapes, and their tasting rooms are extra busy, especially over on the North Fork, and often feature live entertainment on weekends. Local restaurants take advantage of the bountiful harvest to season their menus with fall fares like butternut squash ravioli and all sorts of yummy soups...yikes, I'm getting hungry!

With fall in the air, and a more relaxed pace to the Hamptons, it's a chance to tidy and spruce things up before winter sets in. As I write, foliage is still green and temperatures are in the 60's during the day...typically, the East End doesn't experience full fall color until after Halloween. So over the next few weeks, we'll be painting woodwork and trim in the upstairs hallway, as well as tidying up the garden where the annuals are fading, though our prolific dahlias and roses continue to bloom merrily, providing lovely color. The fire is laid in the afternoons to guests returning after a day enjoying the season.

We welcome fall as it gives us a chance to breathe a little, gear down from the frenetic pace of summer!

Quote of the Day: There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been! -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Sunday, September 25, 2011

RECIPE: Gruyere & Prosciutto Strata

Creativity was not a word in my mother's kitchen. Though she made meals nearly every night when I was growing up, my mother did not like to cook. She herself had been raised on a bland Norwegian-based Midwestern diet which, when incorporated into my father's meat-and-potatoes mentality, meant that seasonings and color -- especially any form of fresh vegetable! -- were seriously missing from the dinner table in our house. Her eight menus rotated with predictable regularity (Monday, meatloaf; Tuesday, Swiss steak) through our dinner hours. If I never have any of them again the rest of my life, that's just fine with me.

Some kids, like Chris, for example, react to indifferent food by learning to create something more palatable. But while I made whatever meals it took to pass my Girl Scout cooking merit badge, and later, Home Ec, I had no interest in becoming the next Galloping Gourmet. What I did like to do was bake. Cakes, cookies, desserts. Anything sweet. I knew I'd be hard-pressed to ruin a cookie recipe so thoroughly I wouldn't eat the results anyway.

Such a background comes as a surprise to many guests who assume I grew up loving to cook, that my flair for the creative, in cooking and in presentation, must be a lifelong skill. Or even better, that I've attended culinary school. Ha! What I am is a foodie who is learning continuously how ingredients play off one another, and who has found that cooking and baking offer opportunities for another form of creativity. And creativity in all forms makes my heart sing.

Which is why I am so very gratified when someone visiting A Butler's Manor asks for one of my recipes. Wow, me?!?

This is adapted from a recipe I originally found at Williams-Sonoma, and is fairly new to my repertoire --which, for the record, is continually being added to and adapted when necessary. Never let it be said that if it's Tuesday, it must be Banana French Toast!



350 oven

10 servings
1-2                    large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped
2          tsp.       olive oil           
1                      bag seasoned croutons
15                     eggs (or two cartons Egg Beaters)
2          cups     milk
4          cups     grated Gruyere cheese
4          oz.        prosciutto, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350.  Coat a 15” x 10” Pyrex dish with olive oil cooking spray. Toss croutons with olive oil and scatter in prepared pan. 

Whisk together flour, milk, butter, salt and eggs and pour over croutons in prepared pan. Let soak for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, steam leeks for about three minutes; drain. Sprinkle cheese and leeks over egg and bread mixture and stir in. Sprinkle chopped prosciutto on top.

Bake until casserole is set and light golden brown, 35-40 minutes.

Bon app├ętit!

Quote of the Day: I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. ---Julia Child

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Party out of bounds?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Chris, as I've said often, has a spectacular green thumb, so nearly everything he plants thrives here in the garden at A Butler's Manor. And we have this pergola over the porch which seemed just perfect for a climbing something. So we planted a grapevine.

The first year, it just settled itself in the soil and began to carve out its path. By year two, we already had a crop to harvest, and I got out Grandma's recipe for jelly and made my first attempt at grape jelly. (It was...interesting. I didn't serve it to guests.)

By year three, we had a substantial amount of grapes, and the leaves and vines had formed a pretty extensive canopy over the top of the porch. But we discovered something: The fauna knew better than we did when those grapes were ready to be harvested. The night we said "Yep, they should be ready about tomorrow," the squirrels and raccoons moved in for a munchfest.

And they're not even polite about it. They pull the grapes from the bunch, chew the soft inside, and spit seeds and skins all over the porch. Discovering the mess the next day, we hurriedly harvested the remainder of the grapes. (Second attempt at grape jelly? Let's just say Welch's needn't fear any competition from me.)

I've been watching this year's bumper crop of grapes mature, thinking that we really ought to make a pre-emptive strike and cut the grapes before the critters get them. Then, with the hurricane and Labor Day weekend, we got forgot all about it.

Last night, the raccoons broke into the grapes and had themselves a party. From our bedroom, we could hear the grapes plunking down onto the wooden deck. And then, after they'd gotten good and drunk on the grapes, they ran around most of the rest of the night, chasing each other and playing on the roof adjacent to the grapevine...right over the top of our bed. I swear it was like listening to a teenage party, lacking only the loud music.

Today that grapevine came down. All the way down. I don't make good grape jelly anyway, and as for making wine....well, I KNOW I can't make wine I'd like better than the stuff I buy!

I expect there is going to be confusion here tonight...a bunch of critters wandering around wondering where the party went. May they go far away in order to find it!

Next year, I'm thinking a clematis...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Butler's Manor: 1. Hurricane Irene: 0.

"Storm? What storm?"
Remember the old song? "What a difference a day makes / twenty-four little hours..."

A week ago we were battening down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane in twenty years to seriously threaten Long Island. (The last one was Hurricane Bob which struck in August 1991, twenty years almost to the day.) While there is never a good time for a hurricane, the end of August is particularly problematic, because so many people are trying to get their final vacation time in before Labor Day signals school and the beginning of fall. Hence we had a full house to cancel in anticipation of the lady's wrath.

This, of course, was a Big News Event, with All Hurricane All The Time coverage on the local networks. Call me cynical, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the fact that Irene looked likely to wallop New York City increased the news value. In any case, we all watched her progress with dread.

Even with the most advanced meteorological equipment, everyone knows that in the end storms are never 100% predictable, so making decisions in anticipation of them is a crapshoot. Chris and I had never experienced a hurricane -- we moved to the South Fork in early 1992, and the two storms that have made it up the East Coast in our memory both fizzled out. But Irene was a hefty lady, with shoulders some 500 miles wide. So Chris arranged help to make shutters for all the windows, and got our trusty tree guy over to thin out our massive Sycamore Maple and trim any other likely large trees in order to lessen their drag in a heavy windstorm. Out came the generator, fired up and tested, out came the extension cords, the flashlights, the candles, the radios...

We bid adieu to all our guests midday Saturday, and started packing everything away and shuttering up the first floor of the house. My sister Lisa, visiting from California, rebooked her flight home, started packing up bags of ice and filling the bathtubs and prepared to experience a weather event that can at least be watched and prepared for (unlike an earthquake).

Southampton Town officials ordered evacuation of waterfront and low-lying properties, and closed the beach to the public at 2 PM...which did not stop hundreds of us from going down to watch the waves, which were angry and quickening. For us, the rain began late afternoon Saturday and worsened overnight, just as predicted. Winds picked up speed after midnight and there were bursts of heavy rain, sounding like hail, in the wee hours. We lost power, telephone and cable about 8 AM on Sunday. Fortunately, the stove runs on propane gas, and with the refrigerator plugged into the generator, food wasn't an issue. With the windows boarded up, it was a weird feeling!!!. About 11 AM, unable to stand it, Chris took down the shutters blocking the kitchen, so we could at least see out.

We heard on the emergency radio that Irene had weakened to a tropical storm and made landfall in NYC around 9 AM. Outside, the wind was blowing, but there was little to no rain. Up and down the street we could see tree damage on most properties, but Chris's pre-emptive strike seemed to save us from the same fate. Early afternoon, with the storm now north of us, we drove around town to assess the damage, which seemed to be limited to tree loss and power line damages. We joined the crowd of lookie-loos at the beach. Winds there were much more intense than at A Butler's Manor. It was nearly impossible to gaze northwestward, into the wind, and all exposed skin got a sandblasting. Beaches were considerably shallower than they had been 36 hours previously, but still there. While our block had no power, friends a mile to the west of us did, as did areas in the village and all around it. Several restaurants were even open, including Fellingham's, so we ordered take out burgers and settled in for an evening of games.

In cleaning up the yard the following day, we didn't have a branch down any bigger around than a finger, no more than the effects of a good nor'easter. The biggest task was cleaning the pool of the fallen leaves, and resetting the outdoor furniture. And of course, post-Irene, the weather was picture perfect, not a cloud in the sky or speck of humidity in the air. By the time power was restored on Monday evening, the house and garden looked better than it had looked before the storm, and guests who arrived on Tuesday couldn't believe a storm had actually passed over the property.

In fact, the garden seemed to love Irene's kiss: clean up the following day allowed for some late-season pruning and raking, and all the roses went into bloom again!

My poor sister went home on Tuesday afternoon. Some vacation!

A Butler's Manor, Southampton, and all of the villages of the Hamptons are open for business this sunny, lovely Labor Day weekend...and we feel very blessed that Irene only backhanded us!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

People make the difference

I'm mentioned before how wonderful it is for us, as bed and breakfast owners, to see our guests not only enjoying their meal, but enjoying each other around the breakfast table. What's particularly wonderful to see is when people end up exchanging email or phone numbers in order to connect again, whether for business or pleasure. Not too long ago, we had two sets of guests who have each come out several times a year apiece, never at the same time. We have so enjoyed each couple, and were pretty certain they'd have a lot in common. So we sort of "set them up" over a glass of wine around the fireplace. Such fun!  Chris and I finally cut out to make ourselves dinner, but we heard them all laughing and talking in the living room for a long time afterwards.

I have to believe that such connections happen in places that feel like home. A bed and breakfast such as A Butler's Manor fosters a vibe that I'd like to believe attracts people who also care about others. This weekend, we had a couple of women traveling on business, attending a big charity shopping extravanganza called Super Saturday whose proceeds benefit the fight against ovarian cancer. They had flown in from Florida, and alas, one of the gal's luggage was lost in transit. The airline had promised delivery by 11:30 PM, and documents were taped on both front and back doors to make sure a delivery person wouldn't fail to leave the bag due to any missing paperwork. But at midnight, when two other guests came home from their evening out, Victoria was still pacing the living room, frantic that none of her clothing had arrived.  Hearing the story,Wendy --who had never met Victoria before -- volunteered to loan her a T-shirt to sleep in, and sat up chatting with her awhile to wait. The luggage still hadn't arrived by the time Wendy went to bed.

When when we found the release paperwork still in place on the back door the next morning, Chris and I too were concerned. And when Victoria wasn't down for breakfast by 9:45, Wendy and the entire breakfast table were worried: If the luggage hadn't arrived, how was Victoria going to attend the benefit? She needed her clothes and makeup. Everyone was comparing lost luggage horror stories and waiting for the answer.

And then Victoria came out to the patio, dressed in a lovely, freshly-pressed summer dress and gave the waiting table a thumb's up.

The whole table erupted in cheers.

I love that kind of interplay. It's a simple little drama, grueling to go through; thankfully, your stress level drops immediately after the issue has been resolved. But it's just kind of neat when suddenly you have a whole house of strangers pulling for you, offering to loan you supplies.

That's the difference between staying in a B and B and staying in a hotel. (Okay, if it were someplace like the Pierre, perhaps you could summon a concierge to go shopping for you. Maybe.)

By the way, Super Saturday was deemed quite a success...lots of shopping and celebrity-sighting. See a video of it here.

But for us in our little world, the fact that Victoria got her luggage and was able to enjoy her weekend was equally a success.

A small world? Maybe. I guess it's all in what makes up your perspective.

Quote of the Day:  “One thing I’ve learned: Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.” -- Bob Kerrey, former Governor, Senator

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Who needs the beach?

Who needs the beach???
One of the services we offer here at A Butler's Manor is to take guests to Cooper's Beach, saving them the ($40!!) cost of parking there. As the south shore Long Island beaches are beautiful (and those on the East End especially pristine), most of our guests takes us up on the offer. But for those who aren't a fan of sand or waves, an afternoon in the garden or by the pool beckons, as evidenced by one of our recent guests shown here.

Speaking of the garden, it's been especially gorgeous this year -- Chris has been working hard at it, of course, but credit is also due to our newest team member, Tim, who joined us in March and has been instrumental in keeping the grounds looking the way they should. Tim's a friendly guy, and a true local; if you happen to be perambulating the garden on one of his workdays, he's a wealth of information.

Out and about in town: The Hamptons get a lot of press as a site for high-level benefits and elaborate catered parties when our summer population is in residence, but there are a lot of fun events that you don't have to make six figures a year to enjoy. Case in point: The Southampton Chamber of Commerce is now in its third summer of running drive-in movies on Monday nights in the Cooper's Beach parking lot. Cost is $40 for a carload, and it's tons of a tailgate party at a ballgame, with kids on lawn chairs arranged around the family SUV, and people wearing glow sticks after dark, and the big collective gasps/cheers/boos when something happens onscreen. This Monday they're screening The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. And hey, our Buick Roadmaster wagon (a.k.a. the Butlermobile) is the perfect vehicle for the event. Wonder if I can bring my pillow and come in my jammies, like in the old days...?

Quote of the Day: "Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air and a blanket of color before me, who could ask for more?" ---- Bev Adams, Mountain Gardening

Monday, July 4, 2011

A sparkler for the Fourth of July

I grew up in Southern California within earshot of Disneyland's famous summer fireworks display (at 9:35 sharp; you could set your watch by it). During college, I worked at the Park, and in the summer, I volunteered to help with crowd control so I could watch the show, which began after speakers all over the Park announced "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Wherever you are in Disneyland, direct your attention to the sky over Sleeping Beauty's castle as Disneyland presents FANTASY IN THE SKY!"

I recited that announcement to Chris on Friday night, when we were at Cooper's Beach watching the annual Grucci fireworks show put on by the Southampton Fresh Air Home, a camp for physically challenged children. Hundreds of families were similarly ensconced in sand chairs with the remnants of their picnic dinners. Folks were selling glow sticks and a really cool version that looked more like a multicolored Star Wars weapon and had the capability of being turned off.

And then I saw, off to a far side of the darkening dunes, a sparkler. And oh, how it brought back memories. Remember Catherine Wheels, that your dad mounted to a fence? The fountains that changed colors? Or the whistling Piccolo Petes? Back when I was a kid, you could buy the fireworks by the each or in a number of different sized assortments. In my neighborhood, everyone brought their assortments out and set up at the end of the driveway, and we had an impromptu neighborhood fireworks display. I'd like to believe that this benign red-white-and-blue scene was enacted without incident all over America, but of course, it wasn't. Fireworks can be dangerous, and today, they are banned for sale in more than half of the states of the Union -- New York included. Which is why the presence of a sparkler on Cooper's Beach on Friday was so surprising...and wonderful.

Chris and I compared notes, and found that though we'd grown in up two different countries 5500 miles apart, fireworks were universal to us both, if not used for the same event. (Naturally, no one in the UK celebrates our Independence Day with a sparkler or a Piccolo Pete. But they DO break out the bottle rockets and fountains for November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, aka Bonfire Night .)

I never get tired of a good fireworks show, and Grucci's presentation for the Fresh Air Home was first class all the way. (As good as Disneyland's? Well...)

A couple more fireworks shows are on the calendar here in the Hamptons -- tonight, July 4, is the big show in Montauk on Umbrella Beach, always a great spectacle, as well as one in Westhampton Beach. A favorite "off holiday" show is the 31st annual Great Bonac Fireworks Show in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton -- especially cool if you have access to a boat -- which takes place on Saturday, July 16. I hear the jury's still out on whether the East Hampton presentation will happen on Labor Day or not. This hugely popular July 4 show has been sidelined to Labor Day for the past few years due to the presence of nesting Piping Plovers on the dunes. (Piping plovers are endangered birds who lay their eggs in depressions in the sand.)

So tonight, we're giving our guests the inside scoop on where to go (and where to park!) in order to enjoy some sparklers in the sky.

But I'd still love some sparklers on the Fourth of July...maybe just one box?

Quote of the Day: I always have the most fun on the Fourth of July. You don't have to exchange any gifts. You just go to the beach and watch fireworks. It's always fun. -- James Lafferty

Friday, July 1, 2011

Music and More Music

This Wednesday night, June 29, began the series of summer Concerts in the Park, a free series of concerts coordinated by the Southampton Cultural Center. I've written about the concerts before; it's a summer night out that Chris and I try never to miss, and that we encourage our guests to enjoy as well. Bring a beach chair, a picnic, your bevvie of choice, the kids, the dog (on a leash) and a couple of bucks to contribute to the SCC when they pass the hat at's a great deal of simple small-town summer fun.

Wednesday's band was a wonderful young jazz trio called Michael Jazz Trio: the Godfrey brothers from Central Islip, NY, who share a middle name of Michael. Matthew, on keyboard, is the eldest at the ripe old age of 17; David, on bass and sax, is 15, and little brother Jordan, on drums is all of ten years old. And these kids write most of their own material. I'm a talent junkie -- gifted with a little artistic talent, but not enough to make a living at it -- I so appreciate talent in others. I was blown away by these kids. Check out their website. They're going far!

Regarding the Concerts in the Park: This year we are really putting our money where our mouth is. In conjunction with Southampton Building Services, owned by our friend Steve Lemanski, we are sponsoring the concert on July 6 featuring one of our all-time favorite bands: The Lone Sharks. The concert will be held at Cooper's Beach. Dancing in the sand as the sun sets -- I am already planning the picnic menu!!!

Dropped into red bar brasserie's newest sibling, called little/red -- a slightly more casual rendition of its big brother, located just off Agawam Park. "Slightly more casual" means that there are a couple of more pub-like options on its otherwise elegant menu, and that it does not take reservations. They have a large patio which should be open for dining in the next week or so. We enjoyed our meal (I had some yummy monkfish with sauteed summer squash, and Chris had mussels) but found wine options a little pricey and lacking in selection. However, I'm sure little/red will soon be as popular as the other siblings in the "chain" which include Fresno in East Hampton and The Beacon in Sag Harbor. I know we'll be back.

Speaking of new additions, it's always fun to check out some of the new shops in Southampton village that are in full swing by Fourth of July weekend. Not too surprisingly, we have a growing crop of preppie clothes shops in town, including Vineyard Vines, that perennial Cape Cod favorite that took over the large shop on Main Street where Villeroy & Boch had held court for so many years. Women's clothing shops are always plentiful, so it's nice to see a new shop for the guys: Peter Millar is perfect for the golf course. One shop I positively love is MacKenzie-Childs, whose fun painted enamelware and colorful accent pieces -- reminiscent somehow of Alice in Wonderland -- I first saw showcased in London Jeweler's East Hampton store. Someday I am going to figure out exactly where I can add some of their creative pieces to A Butler's Manor's decor...

Quote of the Day: "And the night shall be filled with music,/And the cares that infest the day/Shall fold their tents like the Arabs/And as silently steal away." --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Day Is Done

Friday, June 17, 2011

International flavor

Yes, technically the summer solstice is next Tuesday, and today thunderstorms are rattling through the area, but it seems like the season is already well underway. June has been a thoroughly international month so far. We've had visitors from Buenos Aires, Santiago, Chile, Paris, three cities in Germany, four cities in England as well as Northern Ireland, Canada and Australia! It is wonderful to meet so many visitors new to our country, and even nicer to know that we could be a small part of their experience. And gratifying to learn that our web presence is wide enough to ensure they find us online, as most of them tell us that "the Hamptons" is not a well-known destination in their country.

(Okay, true confession: When Chris accepted a butler position here in early 1992, I had never heard of "the Hamptons" either.)

And yet, in the midst of all this international traffic, we have welcomed back a number of repeat guests in the last couple of weeks. These lovely people don't realize it, but their continued custom keeps my creative juices flowing. You could say that having published A Butler's Manor: The Cookbook, I would have my menus pretty much set, yes? Well...yes, but...! When you stay with us, I make note of what we served you for breakfast, so that if you come again, I don't make the same entree unless you've specifically requested it. (Banana French Toast and Southwest Souffle are always on the menu for Hamptons Classic week because Zach and Deborah, who have stayed with us 9 out of our 10 years, ask for these entrees when they book in January!) Therefore, in between introducing new guests to proven favorites, when we have guests like Jerry and Gay who have spent long weekends with us going back six years...or Walter, who travels to the area so often on business that he has "his" room (and a permanent code to the door!)...or Ron and Alice, who come out several times over the season to enjoy a round of golf...this inspires me to change things up, surprise and hopefully delight with food. Recent additions to A Butler's Manor's repertoire include a strata made with prosciutto, seasoned croutons, and gruyere cheese..."creme brulee" French toast garnished with fresh raspberries...a meatless Italian-inspired frittata with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and lots of fresh herbs from the garden...and a muffin stuffed with so many great things (shredded carrots, raisins, coconut, grated apple) I simply call it a Good Things Muffin. I'm not sure there will be an ABM Cookbook, vol. 2, anytime soon, but cooking is the most immediate of my outlets for creativity, and the documentor in me ensures that these recipes get written down for future use!

Quote of the Day: "Food can look beautiful, taste exquisite, smell wonderful, make people feel good, bring them together, inspire romantic feelings....At its most basic, it is fuel for a hungry machine. --Rosamond Richardson

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Butler's Manor has won a 2011 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence!

It was VERY COOL to learn that A Butler's Manor has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor! TripAdvisor awards this certificate to properties "who consistently receive excellent ratings from their members." We give thanks to all our guests whose reviews have contributed to this award!

It's Memorial Day weekend as I write this; the sun is out, and the weather is warm and steamy. Iced peach tea is available out by the saltwater pool, which is warming up in the sun. Still a bit chilly for me, but we have had guests enjoying a dip this weekend. The warm weather has also led guests to inaugurate the new central air conditioning we had installed in the rooms last fall. No more window units to block the view or create white noise! Each room has individual controls, too.

We've been working with Bill Cusick Productions to make over the virtual tours of our guest rooms and turn them into easily-accessible videos. Look for them very soon on our website. In the meantime, Bill also created a video overview of A Butler's Manor which features Chris and me telling a bit about what we try to create for our guests. Chris did just fine (remember, he cut his television teeth recently appearing with Scott Ross to review the remake of  the movie "Arthur"), but me? Let's just say I am waaay out of practice when dealing with anything involving audio. Still, we are very pleased with the final product (Bill is a great editor!). Here's a sneak preview of the overview. Tell us what you think!
A Butler's Manor Bed and Breakfast Inn Southampton from Bill Cusick Productions on Vimeo.

Quote of the Day: A cloudy day or a little sunshine have as great an influence on many constitutions as the most recent blessings or misfortunes. ---Joseph Addison

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Greening our blue pool

It seems like it's been busier this Spring than ever, as Nature, and Chris and I, work to get everything in place before the "official" start of the summer season this weekend. One of our biggest accomplishments: Giving our beautiful pool a makeover, and converting it to saltwater!!!

Why is this a good thing? First of all, saltwater is softer and kinder to your skin than chlorine. It won't dry skin and hair as chlorine often does. Second, using salt rather than chemicals is far more environmentally friendly. So we all win.

So the pool is open, but until we get some sunshine it won't be very warm. Which was why, when one of guests last weekend went out in his swim togs, we were a little surprised. Okay, so he's from England and is used to swimming in the North Sea... So Simon was our official "christener" of our new and improved pool, and he pronounced it a wonderful dip. It may be a while before I dive in myself though...

But sunshine is anticipated for this weekend, and to those of us who live here on the East End, it can't get here soon enough. Showers have been making our plants and flowers happy, but the rest of us?  -- not so much. Get your sunscreen -- summer really is almost here!

The advent of the Season means that shops and restaurants and everyone else in town are also putting a final coat of polish on their establishments. Chris and I have been, ahem, doing our due diligence on the restaurants to see what's up with some of the newcomers. (Oh yes -- it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.) One we recently sampled is Race Lane, in East Hampton, where the original Laundry Restaurant held court for many years. Rowaida and Jay Jackson have really brought a new, lighter look to the space, while retaining much-loved features like the huge fireplace. I really enjoyed their Tuna Tabbouleh. We look forward to visiting again soon.

Quote of the Day: "Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today." -- Seneca

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Butler's Manor - House History, Part 3

Houses are adapted to suit the needs of their owners. Wings or second stories are added to accommodate burgeoning families; basements finished to accommodate the privacy needs of teenagers or to function as recreational space. In houses as old as ours (150 years), it's sometimes difficult to know where the original bones are.

Unless someone decides to uncover them.

Chris and I had been told that at one stage in the many iterations of the house here at 244 North Main Street, the dining room's walls were two stories high and that the center of the house was vaulted to the ridge peak. To relate that to the layout of how A Butler's Manor appears today, this translates to two rooms missing: Cliffside (over the dining room) and Oak Knoll. I'm usually pretty good at visualizing things, but this one escaped me...until Mike sent his pictures.

As you see from the photo on the left, once it was possible to stand in the upstairs hall and look down into the dining room...or up and see the clouds through the round window up in the very top of the house's face. In the picture on the right, what is now the room Goose Creek opens off the doorway on the left, and the stairs go down to the front door.

I wish I knew how the owners used the space in the left foreground. Was it a sitting room? A library?
Was there perhaps a circular staircase in one corner, leading up to the loft above? And what was that space used for? For me, getting a taste of history whets the appetite for more answers, many of which can perhaps never be answered.

A later owner (re?) enclosed the space and added the two guest rooms, but in this case, what was literally uncovered were all the original beams, many of which are still visible today...incorporated into the walls in the rooms Oak Knoll and Villefranche as well as the living rooms and halls. Our guests invariably comment on them with appreciation.  History has a way of doing that to you, I guess.
the dining room today

Though never on the scale of the renovation pictured here, Chris and I have remodeled all of the houses we've ever lived in. While none was as historic as A Butler's Manor, we've always been conscious that others might find clues of the lives lived prior to their occupancy as interesting as we do. To that end, we've left little "time capsules" with a dated photo shut up in walls, for someone in the future to find...for it's certain that humans will continue to remake their abodes to reflect their needs and wants.

Quote of the Day: "He who loves an old house never loves in vain." -- Isabel LaHowe Conant

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chris's Debut on the Small (and Smaller) Screen

High tea
As most folks know, before there was A Butler's Manor, there was a butler...Chris spent some twenty-plus years "in service." It isn't a common way to make a living, and until the Internet, most of those who did so worked in relative isolation from one another. (This, by the way, was the employers' preference, to prevent their butlers from both comparing notes on issues like compensation, and being poached.) It is, I think, an interesting way to make a living, which is why I wrote A Butler's Life: Scenes from The Other Side of the Silver Salver a number of years back. The confluence of these two disparate points is that when someone Googles "butler" for some reason, between that book, Chris's memberships in the few butler/household management/domestic staff [groups] and connections with the few schools worldwide, and A Butler's Manor, chances are good that the name Christopher Allen comes up.

Which is what happened when Scott Ross, an entertainment reviewer for NBC, decided that it would be an interesting idea to have a real butler comment on the recently released remake of the 1981 classic "Arthur," now starring Russell Brand. Tracking Chris down through A Butler's Manor's, he invited him (us!) to join him at a pre-release screening of the new film in New York City. What fun!

The original of course starred Dudley Moore in the title role. Sir John Gielgud, as Arthur's butler Hobson, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the role. I found this particularly apropos because, when Chris and I first met back in 1986, one of the things that captivated me was that he looked rather like a cross between Davy Jones and Dudley Moore, and he could (and can still) do a perfect "Arthur" imitation.

So two weeks ago this Tuesday, we met Scott near Rockefeller Center and walked over to the Warner Bros. screening room where we joined some 50 other viewers, mostly journalists. Scott had said in his email that it would be especially appropriate to go out afterwards and discuss Chris's reactions over afternoon tea. (Chris joked that, the movie in question being Arthur, we should really discuss it at the nearest bar.) "Tea and a shoot," Scott had written, which Chris interpreted as maybe a photo to accompany Scott's blog. Hah!

Following the movie, we took a cab to Lady Mendl's Tea Salon  in Gramercy Park area, a lovely old residential building that is also an inn, and were shown to a small private dining room where a table was set for two...surrounded by a camera, lights, and a videographer. Eeeek!!! Scott interviewed Chris for perhaps forty minutes, which like anything in television was slated to be edited down to a few good sound bites. You'd never know by the video clip here that Chris didn't dare sip his tea during the interview, for fear of exposing his shaking hands!
Afterwards, we all had the wonderful high tea: salmon, egg salad, cucumber, and cream cheese sandwiches, mini scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a yummy cake made with what seemed like two dozen layers of crepes spread with Bavarian cream. They brought the latter out with a candle in it, as it had been Chris's birthday the day before. It was everything Hobson would have approved of; a class act.
Believe me, we had a more Arthur-appropriate beverage once we got home, as Chris was still shaking!
Oh, and is the new Arthur worth seeing? The short answer? Nah -- wait for it on Netfliks. However, the original version is available in our video library, for your enjoyment on your next visit...

Quote of the Day: "I've taken the liberty of anticipating your condition. I have brought you orange juice, coffee, and aspirins. Or do you need to throw up?" -- Sir John Gielgud as Hobson, Arthur, 1981)

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Butler's Manor - House History, Part 2

244 North Main Street, rear, circa 1970
An old house is like a mystery, and old photos provide invaluable clues. I am like Sherlock Holmes with my magnifying glass poised over snapshots, looking for details.

I think the reason I am so drawn to discovering the origins of our house has much to do with the fact that my own upbringing was so decisively modern. Raised in southern California, I make jokes that if it's 50 years old, we Californians knock it down (or an earthquake does) and rebuild! I watched the tract house I grew up in being built in the early '60's under my father's watchful eyes. (It still gives me a distant shock to hear realtors describe my old neighborhood as "established.") Palm Springs and Laguna Beach both have historic preservation committees to honor their structures that date back to the 1920's and 30's. By contrast, here in Southampton there are houses like the Halsey House on South Main Street that date from the mid to late 1600's!

So once upon a time, before there was an amazing garden, there was this piece of property with a great big house on it that had orginally been part of a greater piece of land where the Jagger family farmed.

If you've ever visited us at A Butler's Manor, you'll especially appreciate the vast difference between the yard then and the garden today. On the right side of the top picture you can see the old (!!) barn, demolished sometime during this renovation. I'm not sure how the property lines were drawn back then, but today the foundation upon which that barn sat is located just on the other side of our northern fence. The grande dame centerpiece of our garden, the Sycamore Maple tree under which we serve breakfast in summer morns, looks so young!

What fascinates me is the back porch...or is it the entrance to another apartment within the house? The porch is located almost exactly where I am writing today in our sunroom/office; the doorway is where the kitchen meets the office, and the blank wall just above it is now contains a window so that Eton Court's occupants can look out at the garden and pool.

In the second picture, taken partway through the remodel, the porch is gone, and some new windows have been added.  The barn has been removed, and some grooming of the grounds is evident. In fact, if you'll look closely beneath the tree, you'll see the original planting of the pink Queen Elizabeth rose garden that now surround our fountain on the patio. Forty years ago...guess that would qualify them as "old growth" roses?

While we've certainly made additions and enhancements to the property since we bought it in January of 2002 -- especially to the garden -- we didn't start with the blank slate the yard appears here. Each of the many occupants of the house that William Jagger built back in 1860 has left their own stamp. Like animals, we mark our territory, figuratively carving our names into the doorframes of that which we call home.

To be continued!

Quote of the Day: "The past actually happened. History is what someone took the time to write down." -- A. Whitney Brown

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Butler's Manor -- House History, Part 1

Property at 244 No. Main St., ca 1970
I've said frequently that one of the advantages of living in a 150-year old house is that people knock on your door and tell you they used to live in it. Through these visits, we've learned of many of the iterations of the house at 244 North Main Street now known as A Butler's Manor.

Late last fall, we had another one of those visits. Mike Spencer and his wife Jodi from Upstate NY were passing through, and came to the door late in the afternoon. Mike's uncle had owned the house when he was a child, and he remembered helping to lay our iconic brick floor back in the early 1970's when he was ten years old. His family, as it turned out, was responsible for many of the changes we have marvelled at hearing about. A few weeks later, Mike and Jodi sent us a wonderful Christmas surprise: a packet of snapshots taken during the renovation. They couldn't know how much it means to Chris and me to have access to such history. I plan to share some of these discoveries over the next few weeks, in hopes that others find it as fascinating as we do.

We are blessed to have -- as a baseline, if you will -- information on the house's origins provided by our next door neighbor, Glena Jagger, whose grandfather built the house in 1860. Glena still lives on the balance of the original Jagger property just north of us. Her ancestors were early settlers in Southampton, originally tanners, later farmers, and she has ledgers dating back 350 years detailing accounts of their trade. It will make a neat addition to the Southampton Historical Museum's archives some day.
One thing we learned from Glena is that at one stage ours was a three-family home. Visible in the top picture is where a second front entrance once existed, entering into what is now our dining room. The second photo shows work in progress, where the door has been removed and the outside wall shingled. Also, the dark line above the front door is evidence of the removal of an original covered porch. Note the brick stairs into our house are not yet there.

A Butler's Manor today
Another thing we were thrilled to see in the photo was evidence of the original barn which sits on Glena's side of the property. The barn was decrepit back then, and apparently was either knocked down or removed...but the existing basement and foundations still remain, and are visible from the north side of our garden. Today, there are half a dozen full-sized trees growing out of the bottom of that basement. Amazing how fast Nature reclaims her own!

Next installment to follow soon!

Quote of the Day: "We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us."  --Winston Churchill