Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving at Darlington House

I have much to be thankful for, Dear Reader.  Every moment of every day.

Sometimes in the rushed and frenzied world of obligations and deadlines that I live in, though, I forget to take a moment to pause and ponder just how fortunate and blessed I am, and to be grateful for it.

Today I shall endeavour to do so, throughout the day.

I've never been to a Thanksgiving service at the church I sometimes attend, but I'm planning on going today.  One of the things I enjoy about our little congregation is that it draws people from all walks of life, some of whom live in very different circumstances than my own.  I have much to learn from them.  Attending services there helps me keep things in perspective, and I am thankful for that.

A tradition I observe at every Thanksgiving meal I attend, whether in my own house or another's, is to ask each person at the table to share what it is they are most thankful for this year.  I'm always intrigued with the window this provides into my table companions' lives.  More often than not, what people share provokes murmurs of agreement from those of us at the table.  Sometimes we respond with laughter, and sometimes we respond with tears.

So, what am I most thankful for this year, you may ask?  That my dear sister Camilla, who has lived in pain for many years, is now mending.  I am grateful that modern healthcare is making that possible for her.  I do so love my darling Sister.

This year it is just the two of us at Darlington for Thanksgiving, by choice.  I've been on a mad dash for much of the autumn, and the prospect of four days of quiet home life is something I have looked forward to, if not yearned for.

Times of unhurried reflection are some of the most regenerative and nourishing ones, I find.

Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader.

photograph by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reggie Throws a Dinner Party, Part I

Today's post, the first of two, discusses the planning and preparations for a dinner party that Boy and I hosted at Darlington House last weekend.  I thought it might be of interest—at least to one or two of my Dear Readers—for me to share just how we do it here at Darlington.

One afternoon a month or so ago I said to Boy that I was itching to have a dinner party to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and to entertain a group of friends—some of whom we knew well and others we'd like to know better—to an evening of pleasant conversation, flowing libations, and delicious, hearty fare of the season.

Boy and Basil at the Hudson Farmers Market in Hudson, N.Y., the week
before our party, to meet with our beloved caterer and also our flower lady

Throwing a successful party, in Reggie's view, requires planning, forethought, teamwork, and effort.  Although a party can be a casual affair, where guests freely mingle and help themselves to drink and food laid out at a buffet, one must never confuse "casual" with "effortless."  The term "effortless entertaining" is a particular pet peeve of Reggie's, and it sets his jaw on edge whenever he all too frequently comes across it in magazines breathlessly describing the entertaining styles of certain social animals.  Believe me, Dear Reader, "effortless entertaining" is a fantasy concept, indeed.  For a party worth attending doesn't just happen.  It requires work.  And why shouldn't it?  Anything worthwhile requires effort to achieve.  Fortunately Reggie enjoys all the preparations and planning that go into a creating a successful party.  He finds it fun.

One's enjoyment in undertaking such efforts is helped, though, when one is able to share said labors with others, at minimum with one's spouse, and—when possible—with one or more professionals employed to assist in making said event a well-run affair.

Christine Jones of the Red Barn
at her stand at the Hudson Farmers Market
Baker, caterer, restaurateur, and friend

When Boy and I entertain at Darlington House, we gauge the level of assistance we require by the number of guests invited and the type of entertainment provided.  When we have another couple over for cozy supper of four, we take care of it entirely by ourselves, setting the table, cooking and serving the meal, and washing up afterwards.  When there are six of us, though, we hire someone to help us out with the final food preparations in the kitchen, serve at table, and clean up afterwards.  When there are eight or more we surrender the cooking entirely to a chef, who is usually supported by an assistant and where the guests are attended to by at least one, and sometimes more, servers.

That way we get to enjoy our own party, rather than be enslaved by it.

The Cedar Farm stand at the Hudson Farmers Market
I ask you, who needs Manhattan's flower district when the good ladies
of Cedar Farm are so close to home?

Since we determined that there would be a total of ten of us at table for this dinner party, our first step was to contact our beloved caterers, Christine Jones and Bert Goldfinger of the Red Barn, who've helped us out with many parties, to see if they were available (and willing) to cook for us.  Once we determined that they were (Hooray!), we enlisted the help of a woman who helps us serving at parties, to see if she was available to attend to our guests, and were delighted that she was.

Marilyn Cederoth of Cedar Farm Wholesale
Plants-woman extraordinaire

Once we had the staffing of the evening in hand, we turned to assembling our guest list.  We invited a number of people who had entertained us who we liked and wished to return the favor to (see Reggie's Rules of Social Reciprocity), and we also invited some people we had never entertained before (two recent arrivals in the area, one of whom I first met twenty or more years ago), with the end result being a mix of singles and couples.

With guest list in hand, I picked up the telephone and started calling my hoped-for guests to invite them.  Please note, Dear Reader, I did not impersonally email or text my invitations, I telephoned them.  For when throwing a dinner party one should always strive to invite one's guests telephonically, in order to personalize said invitation.  Of course when throwing larger parties, say cocktails for fifty, it is understood that one sends out invitations via the post office (or, increasingly these days, by Paperless Post).

Olde Hudson on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y.,
is a regular stop for us for specialty foods, and
where we stocked up on last-minute treats for our party

Once our guests had accepted, I then sent them reminder cards (in the mail) one week ahead of the party with the requested arrival time noted, as well as the dress.  For this dinner party we asked the men to wear jacket and tie.  It seemed a bit too early in the season to force ask our guests to haul out their formal wear for a country dinner party.

The marvelous Hudson Wine Merchants
on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y.,
was the source of all of our party potables

On a parallel path with assembling our guest list we met with and had any number of telephone and email exchanges with our caterer to come up with a menu for the evening that was appropriately autumnal, and decidedly delicious.  As I've written elsewhere, Boy and I are of the school of entertainers who shy away from serving over-handled and fancified food at dinner parties.  We and our friends eat out in restaurants all the time, to the point that it really isn't all that special.  But it is special to be invited into someone's home for a dinner party these days, since so few people have them anymore (or at least invite us to them when they do!).  When I either give or go to a dinner party, what I really want to eat is what has come to be known as "comfort food."  And that's what we serve at Darlington House dinner parties—unfussified "home-style" cooking made with care and from the best available (ideally local) ingredients.  Not one's mother's plain, everyday get-it-on-the-table cooking, mind you, Dear Reader, but rather dressed up comfort food.

While we were planning the menu with our caterers we also contacted Marilyn Cederoth of Cedar Farm Wholesale.  Marilyn helps us with flowers at Darlington House.  We arranged for her to come by the house the day of the party to fill the Chinese urns in our drawing room with autumnal branches and to provide arrangements for the dining room table and the table in our entry.

Rural Residence on Warren Street in Hudson, N.Y., is an
invaluable source for candles for parties, among other things

The day before the party our groundsman/handyman/all-around godsend, Rich, brought in a crew and did a thorough leaf clean up and tidying of the property, so it would be in tip-top, manicured shape for the party.  We also contacted our favorite wine merchant in the area, Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants, to put aside cases of white and red wine, and also one of champagne, and a replenishment of the bottled liquor we like to have on hand at parties.  Reggie also stopped by a specialty food court near his office in midtown Manhattan to pick up some before-and-after-dinner treats to augment the already planned food and drink.

Cases of champagne and wine, delivered and ready to be chilled for the party

With these and other advanced arrangements taken care of, we then drove up to Darlington from the city on Friday night, ready to embark on the preparations the next morning in order to be ready for our guests when they arrived on Saturday evening.

Next: It's Show Time!

All photographs by Reggie Darling

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reggie Out & About: Brian McCarthy Book Signing Party and the Irish Georgian Society Dinner

Reggie is a social animal.  He likes gadding about town and country, meeting up with friends and making new acquaintances.  He finds it stimulating and, more often than not, amusing.  And it is a pleasing diversion from the more mundane daily rhythm of one's workaday life.  "All work and no play . . ." as the old saying goes.

New York's Fuller Building, lit up at night

We have been on rather a whirlwind of social activity of late.  It is now the "season" here in Manhattan, and there are parties, openings, and benefits galore every evening of the week.  We generally try to limit our running about to no more than two nights during the week, and certainly never more than three.  For, Dear Reader, a too-steady diet of parties and dinners out can be like anything else when overindulged—too much of a good thing.  Several quiet evenings a week at home with the company of a good book or a little bit of television is a requirement of mine for recharging my batteries.

The crowd at the Brian McCarthy
book-signing party

This week is one of those out-three-nights-of-the-week weeks that we rarely find ourselves indulging in.  But we had compelling reasons to agree to such a frenzied social schedule, Dear Reader, including the wish to celebrate friends' accomplishments and also meet up with out-of-town pals visiting the city.  On Tuesday we attended two parties, and I took my trusty Canon point-and-shoot camera along with me to snap some pictures for this post.

Mr. Brian J. McCarthy, hard at work

Our first stop was the city's magnificent Art Deco Fuller Building where Beauvais Carpets was hosting a book-signing party for Mr. Brian J. McCarthy's hot-off-the-presses first book, Luminous Interiors, published by Stewart, Taboori & Chang.  As many of you know, Mr. McCarthy is the principal of the celebrated, eponymously named interior design firm Brian J. McCarthy, Inc.  I've known Mr. McCarthy's partner, Danny Sager, for many years, and Boy and I wanted to attend the party to help celebrate Brian's accomplishment.

Brian had his work cut out for him . . .

The party was an absolute madhouse crush, with over five hundred people crowding Beauvais' showrooms, all having what appeared to be a lovely time.  And why not?  Even though it was, at times, difficult to navigate one's way across the floor, there were many familiar faces among the crowd to jabber with by simply turning around (including the lovely Lyle Vivolo of Beauvais, Boy's longtime and most-adored rep).  The party was beautifully supplied with what seemed to be an endless army of waiters carrying trays of well-filled wine glasses and platters loaded with yummy hors d'oeuvres.  Reggie particularly liked the mini latkes with crème fraîche and salmon roe that were among the many nibbles offered—they reminded him of one of his favorite appetizers at Swifty's.

A brief respite from inscribing books

What with the long line of attendees queued up to have Mr. McCarthy sign copies of Luminous Interiors, Reggie decided to wait for another day to have his own copy autographed.  I did get to say a quick "Hello" to Brian (only by elbowing my way through the scrum of admirers clustering around him, though) and snap his picture before Boy and I scooted out the door for our next engagement.  I look forward to having Brian inscribe my copy of his book soon, under more leisurely circumstances.

The cocktail hour at the Irish Georgian Society party

Our next stop was one of New York's legendary private clubs, where Reggie was once a member but gave it up because the food and drink there is so delicious and plentiful that he gained five pounds every time he darkened its doors.  For those of us with a tendency to put on weight, such as dear old Reggie, ready access to such temptation is a dangerous proposition indeed.

Boy looking around the room to find our host . . .

The party was held in honor of the very worthy Irish Georgian Society, and we were the guests of Mr. Steven Stolman, man about town extraordinaire and president of Scalamandre.

. . . Ah, there he is!  Mr. Steven Stolman!

Unlike the book-signing party we had just come from, one was able to maneuver one's way around the Irish Georgian Society party with ease and stop and chat with the numerous friends and acquaintances that one pleasantly came across there.

Lots of face kissing was to be observed

Among the party guests were Mr. Mitch Owens of Architectural Digest, who wrote the article about our house that appeared in the magazine's June issue.  I like him immensely.  Mr. Angus Wilkie of Cove Landing and his charming partner, Mr. Len Morgan, were also there.  Reggie had an amusing conversation with Mr. James Andrew of What Is James Wearing, who was there with his partner, Mr. Scott McBee.

Dinner is served!

The party's dinner was held in a handsome, wood-paneled room.  One of the speakers during the meal was the actor Jeremy Irons, who spoke at length about the restoration of his castle in West Cork, Ireland.  The castle's restoration was a huge undertaking, we learned, as it was a near ruin when Mr. Irons acquired it.

Mr. Jeremy Irons at the podium

Although one's mind did wander during the speeches at dinner, it didn't really matter to me that Mr. Irons went on as long as he did because he has one of the most beautiful speaking voices imaginable, and I could happily listen to him recite the pages of a telephone book.

Besides, there was lots to look at during the speeches, including the tables' pretty flowers and decorations.

The place card of our host and dinner partner

Adding to the fun was that I was seated next to Mr. Stolman, an amusing bon vivant who had me in stitches for much of the evening.

Mr. Richard Wilkie

Mr. Stolman was joined by his partner, Mr. Richard Wilkie, who was also seated at our table.  Also at the table were a number of their Palm Beach friends, who were jolly good company.  After spending the evening with this lively crew I'm thinking that Boy and I just may need to schedule a return trip to the home of The Shiny Sheet sometime this winter.

It was difficult to tear one's self away from this, believe me!

After dinner we returned to the room where cocktails had been served to find it generously laid out with tables covered with silver platters of exquisite petit fours, and the full bar still open.  While I'm not exactly sure, I think I had to be pulled away from it all by Boy, who claims that I was gobbling pastries and demanding more drink when it was obvious to him (and most likely others, too) that I had been thoroughly, if not over, served by that point in the evening.

Ah well.  My hangover the next morning, Dear Reader, was but a small price for me to pay for all the merriment I had that evening.  Thank you Messers McCarthy and Sager, and Stolman and Wilkie, for including us in the fun!

All photographs by Reggie Darling

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Salted Butter, Please!

Yes, Dear Reader, I use salted butter.  Because I like it.

When I was growing up we didn't use unsalted butter in the Darling household.  It would have never occurred to MD to use anything but salted butter.

Then Julia Child came on the scene and woke up the American upper middle classes to the joys of French cooking, and people started to replace salted butter with unsalted.  If you needed salt to flavor food—either when preparing it or eating it—the thought was that you could always add it.  Besides, unsalted butter was so European, so it had to be better!

Well, that's fine, but that's not where it stopped . . .

Because in some culinary circles people lost sight of the fact that there are times when the use of salted butter is actually preferable to unsalted butter.  And it became verboten to even consider using salted butter. For anything!  Only cretins used salted butter!

Reggie, being a gullible chap, and with an admitted tendency to snobbery—whether it be social or culinary—got swept up in the anti-salted-butter hysteria, and he stopped buying or using salted butter at home.  That's because he thought he wasn't supposed to like salted butter.

But he never could quite understand why it was that the toast he buttered in the morning just wasn't as yummy as he remembered it as being when he was a boy.  Nor could he understand why the contents of the bread baskets that arrived in (most of) the restaurants he frequented tasted so delicious when he liberally spread said bread with the butter that accompanied it.  He assumed it was because he was a bad, willpowerless person who couldn't stop eating bread (also vilified in certain circles these days—but that's a story for another day).  Why was it so good, he wondered?

Because, Dear Reader, he has finally figured it out that it is far preferable to butter one's bread with salted butter—which is what most restaurants serve with bread (with the exception of Italian ones, which provide olive oil).  If you haven't done so, Dear Reader, I suggest you try this little butter taste test:  Buy a package of salted butter and one of unsalted butter, and see which tastes better on your morning toast, or English muffin, or whatever bread you choose to spread it on.

Not only is Reggie convinced that you will find the salted-buttered bread tastes better, but he believes you'll be surprised that the unsalted-buttered bread, in comparison, tastes as if it is has been coated with a mildly sweet, practically tasteless shortening spread.

Salted butter tastes better!

Now, I have a confession to make.  Dear old Reggie didn't figure this out all on his very own.  He owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Alex Hitz, who debunks the salted-versus-unsalted-butter myth in his highly entertaining, chock-full-of-mouth-watering-recipes cookbook My Beverly Hills Kitchen.  Reading what Mr. Hitz writes on the matter was a Eureka! moment for Reggie:
"Always use salted butter . . . sneering purists will have you believe that if you use salted butter you might, perhaps, better control the salt in a dish by putting it in yourself.  The result inevitably ends up tasteless.  I have never yet tasted a dish whose salty taste came from salted butter."
And that applies to when one butters one's bread, too!

I now exclusively use salted butter when I butter my morning toast, or when buttering other breakfast treats such as pancakes, french toast, or waffles (which I eat only very rarely).  I do, though, still (mostly) use unsalted butter when I'm cooking.  I may come around to Mr. Hitz's admonition on that score, but I'm not there . . . yet.

Tell me, Dear Reader, what kind of butter do you use?

Please note: While the photogenic packages of butter that illustrate this post do appear regularly in our kitchen at Darlington House, you would not be surprised also to find packages of Land O'Lakes butter in our refrigerator, should you chance to peek inside it.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick
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