30 March 2010

Cocktails at the Burn Pit --Root

As spring is sprunging, the yard has become filled with twigs and branches of every description. You know what that means... lots of fires and lots of drinking.

For Christmas, I received a couple of bottles of Root. In Philadelphia, ad man and history buff Steven Grasse
decided to revive an age old "root tea" a precursor of sweetened, non-alcoholic root beer. Since out government has ruled that sassafras, a leading ingredient in root beer is now bad for us, Grasse had to concoct his way around the missing sassafras. He came up with Root, a musky, slightly medicinal drink that would have made early settlers as proud as punch. Check out his web site, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Meanwhile, farther up north in Vermont, the folks at Vermont Spirits said screw those potatoes, we are going to make a vodka out of milk sugars. Bless their little hearts. Their Vermont White is a stunning vodka with just the slightest rich milky aftertaste.

So there I was -- fire! Spirits! What's a girl to do. I doffed my mixologists chapeau and went to work... and now we have in our latest "cocktail at the burn pit", the...

Root Root Beer Floating

2 ounces Root
1 1/2 ounce Vermont White
4 ounces good root beer

Stir, pour over ice in a nice big tumbler.

Please, find a nice, rich, not too sweet root beer. In a pinch you can use plain old vodka, but do try desperately to find Vermont White. Finally, if you must, you can double the root beer to make the drink less potent, but any more than 8 ounces of root beer and you are just a big ol' wuss.

We call it the "Root Root Beer Floating" because it has Root, root beer and more than one and you will be floating.

Remember: No drinking alone around the burn pit!! Enjoy!

29 March 2010

Slow Love Life

Dominique Browning has started a blog called Slow Love Life. The blog harkens back (or perhaps forward) to the title of her new memoir, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness which drops in early May.

I find Dominique Browning to be a fine writer. Her collection of essays, Around the House and in the Garden, is one of my favorites.

She is also a fine editor (despite that incident with House & Garden). I am totally enamoured of church architecture and Houses of Worship: Sacred Spaces in America is another fave of mine.

While closing House & Garden SUCKED, I am looking forward to reading more from Browning on her blog. You should, too.

27 March 2010


Serendipity is a wonderful word. It was coined by Horace Walpole who formed it from the title of the fairy tale, '’The Three Princes of Serendip”. The princes make discoveries not by questing but by accident. “Serendipity”, for Walpole, was the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.

Robert King Merton (not to be confused with his son, Robert C. Merton, who won a Nobel for economics) wrote a history of serendipity (with a bit of help from Elinor Barber) which he stuck in a drawer for 45 years before is saw the light of day as The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Merton’s history began with a bit of serendipity when the young Merton was sitting around reading his beloved 13-volume 1933 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and happens upon an odd noun "serendipity.” (Let me just say now how much I adore dictionary readers… but I digress…)

Merton, besides writing about serendipity, coined the oft over-used phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy."
Why, you may ask as a self-fulfilling prophecy, am I blathering on about “serendipity” when there is a picture of a big old house on the page? Well, serendipity, of course.

On Tuesday, I had company in Shirley, West Virginia from Vermont including, Barbara Carter.

Barbara Carter’s father was Shirley Carter, a painter.

Shirley Carter painted a nude entitled, Lucinda. (Though not of this Lucinda.)

On Thursday, Barbara Carter left after mailing a note from the Shirley, Post Office.

She told the postmistress that her father was named Shirley.

Shirley Carter was named for Shirley Plantation.

Shirley Plantation is Virginia's first plantation named for Sir Thomas West’s wife, Lady Cessalye Shirley.

Shirley, West Virginia was named for Shirley Plantation as family members moved north.

Shirley Plantation was inherited by Elizabeth Hill, who married John Carter in October 1723.

Barbara’s brother is named John Carter.

When I turned on my computer, I had an e-mail from Garden & Gun about a new book, Great Houses of the South and the photo that was featured was of Shirley Plantation.

Serendipity at its finest!

26 March 2010

Famous Food Friday --Len Deighton

As you know, I love the incredible, edible egg. I was flipping through an omelette book the other day and this clipping from London's The Observer fell out. I love finding things in old books. Well, Len Deighton, the famous mystery writer was also a bit of a cooking expert and a mighty fine illustrator. So, long before there were "graphic novels" Deighton did a graphic cookbook. Well, two actually, based on his cook strips for The Observer.

That's it.

Wait, actually, his most famous of these "cook strip" collection, Action Cook Book, has been reprinted in England. Perhaps it will soon be available in the U.S.

22 March 2010

Lots of Lucindas

I am the seventh "Lucinda" in my family. It is not the most unusual name out there. It is a bit more popular in England. But as a "Lucinda" I know where many of the other "Lucinda's" are.

Probably the most well known "Lucinda" is singer Lucinda Williams.

There is cookbook author and Martha Stewart editor, Lucinda Scala Quinn.

Dancer extraordinaire, Lucinda Childs.

I find that "Lucinda" is often a popular movie name. Lucinda's on the screen tend to be dowager doyenne's or hookers. (For the record, I am neither.)

There are two actress named "Lucinda." One is Lucinda Dickey who at a much younger and plumper point in her career stared in a break dancing movie. I was in Africa and when my driver arrived at the hotel he seemed crestfallen. The only "Lucinda" he ever heard of was Lucinda Dickey and he got me. He had so wanted to see the other Lucinda break dance.

Lucinda Dickey

Lucinda Jenny often plays a cop or a bad mother.

Lucinda Lambton is British and a bit eccentric.

Lucinda Lambton has written books on toilets and animal architecture. So very "Lucinda" of her.

So there are a lot of "Lucinda's" out there. The other day I ordered a CD for a place called "Rockit Scientist" and I received my CD nicely packaged and promptly sent to me -- well not exactly to me.

In the end, great service though perhaps NOT rocket scientists!

19 March 2010

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants

I am very fond of writings about domesticity. I also love those scamps at Bloomsbury. So when Alison Light published a book about Virginia Woolf AND her servants, well I was simply beside myself.
Mrs. Woolf and the Servants shines a light at the “downstairs “ of Bloomsbury’s “upstairs.”

As a child, I longed to live at Bloomsbury, well more pointedly Sissinghurst Castle with summers at Charleston. Virginia was always a bit too dour for me. As with most childhood fantasy, I longed for the imaginary Bloomsbury, where everyone slept with everyone else, children were raised communally, wine flowed and talk was of books, painting, and gardens. Tea was served promptly at 4 o’clock or perhaps 3:30 if we were idle or maybe 5 if we were planning a late supper.

In my fantasy, life was idyllic and all was right with universe. In my dreams I never saw the faces of the people who brought the tea, weeded the gardens, or ran out to fetch painting supplies. They never spoke, they never appeared, they were the ghosts of my story. In a way, they were ghosts in the Bloomsbury story.

Alison Light tells a striking story of life between the wars and the profound difference between “them” and “us.”

Nellie Boxall, Lottie Hope, Nelly Brittain, with Angelica Bell, 1922

Of her servant, Nellie Boxall, Virginia Woolf wrote:

“She is in a state nature; untrained; uneducated, to me almost incredibly without the power of analysis or logic; so that one sees a human mind wriggling undressed.”

Virginia Stephen, Julian Bell and Mabel Selwood at Studland Beach

Woolf and Boxall had a long and tumultuous relationship marked by fighting, firing, quitting and in the end a strange affection for each other. With all their liberalism in politics and lifestyles, the Bloomsbury set loved their live-in servants. The fact that they were paid sub-par wages, that they were treated much like chattel, that their lives were deemed somehow insignificant, never seemed to matter.

Thank-you note to Grace Higgens from Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf once got the idea of replacing Nellie Boxall with Grace Higgens, the maid and cook at Charleston. Instead, she sent Boxall to study with the famed French chef, Marcel Boulestin. You know my attachment to cookbooks and I would love to have a "Bloomsbury" edition, but alas, there exists no Nellie Boxall cookbook. It was often said that her ice creams and crème brûlées kept Virginia Woolf going.

Though Light's main focus is on Virginia Woolf, she gives a glimpse of other’s in the circle. Grace Higgens spent fifty years with Vanessa Bell’s family, often accompanying them to France. When Vanessa found herself alone, she often broke with strict etiquette and sat down to dinner with Grace. She told Virginia that Grace was “extraordinarily nice” but went on to say:

"She is, like all the uneducated, completely empty-headed really, and after a bit gets terribly on one’s nerves. …One has practically no common ground in common.”

Grace Higgens did keep a collection of recipes. The small booklet features her recipes and a nice introduction by Quentin Bell. Grace at Charleston is featured at Cookbook Of The Day.

It is ironic with Virginia Woolf's desire to have a "room of one's own" that she never envisioned such a room for the women who worked and lived with her. It is hard to imagine an era where such total disregard is practiced while preaching something entirely different. Well, not too hard to imagine, but still a bit disconcerting. The era between the wars fundamentally changed Britain. Education become more readily available and young women who in previous centuries were headed off to become the chattel of grand houses now saw the possibility of expanding work opportunities.

If you are fan of Virginia Woolf or domesticity or both, do give this book a read.

17 March 2010

An Irish Favorite

This is my favorite cake, and given it is made with Guinness, we are declaring it an Irish cake. I make it in my famous Lucinda's Wood Cake Boxes, but you can make it in a baking tin, but you still have to line it.

Guinness Peel Cake

1 bottle (12 oz.) Guinness stout
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
1 cup mixed fruit peel

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour + dredging flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon quatre-épices or allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak fruit and peel in the stout at least 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line the cake box with parchment paper, and lightly oil the paper.

Drain the mixture through a colander or strainer with a wide mesh, reserving the stout.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Mix dry ingredients together and add to the butter and eggs in small batches until the batter is smooth.

Add the reserved stout.

Dredge the drained fruit and peel, boldly. Coat fruit completely with flour but don’t add extra, loose flour.

Fold the dredged fruit gently into the batter.

Pour into lined cake box and bake for 1 hour 45 minutes, until firm in the center.


go brách!

12 March 2010

Famous Food Friday -- Beverley Nichols

Famous Food Friday has a good bit of gardening involved as we are featuring Beverley Nichols. This is also a bit of a departure as Beverley Nichols didn't actually write his cookbook, he merely found it. Still we are giving him a pass because we like him. (Also we have been working on a gigantic "Brideshead" post and Beverly Nichols knew Evelyn Waugh whom he often refered to as "The Waugh of the Poses" because he believed Waugh to be a bigger poseur than he was!. Seriously, how can you not like someone that funny, but I digress...)

Beverly Nichols is often thought of as a “garden writer” but he was so much more. Nichols was a prolific writer, a novelist, a composer and yes, a gardener. Osbert Sitwell described Beverley Nichols as the original "bright young thing." He “ghosted’ the famous diva Nellie Melba’s memoirs. He wrote a series of detective novels, several books about cats, and even some children’s books. Still, he is best know for his book Down The Garden Path which has been in print for over 75 years.

Beverly Nichols believed he had found a dream garden at a Tudor cottage in Glatton, Cambridgeshire. He knew of his reputation as an urbane and witty aesthete and he calculated that writing a book on gardening would appeal to the masses. Ironically, this calculation would begin his reign as a “garden” writer.

Nichol's "dream" garden before...

Nichols dream garden was a nightmare, but his vision remained in tact and as he wrote about his adventures, which he found as easy to write as years of readers have found it easy to read.

...and after

Down the Garden Path would be followed by A Thatched Roof and finally A Village in a Valley.

The Thatched Cottage

He changed the name of Glatton to Allways, a play on the popular Irving Berlin song, Always. In A Thatched Roof, Nichols writes of finding a cookbook tucked in a cupboard:

“Eagerly we leant over that book in the fading light – a golden October sunset that flooded onto the yellowing paper – yellow to yellow, with the grave black letters dancing before our eyes, as thought they were overjoyed to be read again. As we tuned the pages it seemed that there was a scent in the old room of ghastly sweetmeats; there drifted back to us the perfume of curious country wines, the aroma of forgotten preserves, the bitter-sweet flavor of kitchens which have long crumbled to dust.”

Nichols kept the book for thirty years before turning it over to Dr. Dennis Rhodes who meticulously researched the cookbook. The manuscript was printed on paper watermarked with a coat of arms and sometimes the word “Company”. That would suggest the paper itself came fro the Company of White Paper Makers whose main activity was between 1686 and 1698. In 1968, Cecil and Amelia Woolf published the manuscript. In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen featured illustrations by Duncan Grant.

To Preserve Damsons

Take a pound of sugar & Clarifie it & boy it to a full syrup & put a pound of yo Damsons into it & lett them boyl very leasurely till they are very tender yn set them to coole & 3 day after pour ye sirrup from them and put half a pint of Apple water into it & boyl it’s self till it is boyled to a quacking jelly & take ye scum off from it yn put it to yor Dansoms again boyling hot & so keep them for your use.

Spring is in the air and it is a great time to drag out your Beverley Nichol's books and give them a second look. Not to mention that there have recently been several nice reprints of his works. Read this post a second time at Cookbook Of The Day.

10 March 2010

Etiquette Wednesday

It’s Wednesday and therefore, time to point you in the direction of mannerly living. Recently, I got a little tome entitled Parlor Amusements and Social Etiquette. It was perfect because I had been wondering where I might find a book that would not only provide instructions on how to behave in church but also provide instructions on how to play a game of bouquet. I also wanted to know how to make New Years Day calls as well a bit of sleight of hand. And I desperately needed to know what causes deformed feet and how to put on a "Punch and Judy" play. Here was everything I needed to know in one little book.

Behavior In Church

As a preliminary, it should be assumed that the right spirit has drawn the worshiper thither and that a reverent attention will be given to the service.

1. If possible, be in time. You need at least five minutes after coming to get warm or cool: to compose your body and mind, and to whisper prayers before the service.
2. Never pass up the aisle during prayer.
3. Be devout in every attitude; all whispering should be seriously avoided …

7. Never put on your coat, overshoes or wraps during the closing hymn.
8. There should be no loud talking and jesting after the service is concluded.
And after a well behaved visit to church a rousing game of Bouquet!

The Game of Bouquet

Each player composes in turn a bouquet of three different flowers, that he names aloud to the person conducting the play. The leader then writes the names of the flowers, and after them the names of three persons in the room. He then demands of the player who has composed the bouquet, what he intends to g do with the flowers, and upon their proposed disposition being declared, the names of the three persons they represent are read aloud.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my copy of the Wii version of the Game of Bouquet.

08 March 2010

Y'all Get Your Ass Out Of Bed...

I'm not much of breakfast eater, but on the weekends I indulge. One of my favorite breakfast dishes is the Y'all Get Your Ass Out Of Bed & Grab A... Breakfast Burrito. It is a fusion of Old South and Nuevo Tex-Mex cuisine that I am trying valiantly to pioneer.

If you read recipes over at Cookbook Of The Day (which has lately been more like Cookbook Of The Week) you will notice that I love early 20th century cookbooks that give a list of ingredients and little else. Well, that's just the kind of cook I am. Much like Eudora Welty's mother who never included directions. When Welty questioned this method, her mother replied, "any cook worth her salt would know, given a list of ingredients, what to do with them."

So without further ado, and with both literal and technical instructions here is how you too, can make my favorite Y'all Get Your Ass Out Of Bed & Grab A... Breakfast Burritos.

The first step requires a bit of a planned over. A Planned Over is an ingredient that one cooks during their time in the kitchen with no plan for eating it that meal, but with the expressed intention of using it later in life. Grits are the perfect Planned Over. You can make a big bunch of them while you are cooking anyway. When you are done cooking them, simply spread them in a nice container to use later. The uses are endless. The nice thing about cooking grits for later use is their remarkable ability to hold their shape, which makes cutting them into unique and decorative shapes a joy.

Planned Over Grits

4 cups water
1 cups "quick" grits
1 teaspoon salt

Bring the water to a furious boil in a saucepan with a cover.

Add the salt.

Pour the grits into the water slowly and stir until the water returns to a boil.

Immediately turn down the heat*, cover, and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Allow the grits to cool for about 5 minutes, then pour them into a container. While they are still warm, take a sheet of cling film or plastic wrap and lay directly on top of the grits to prevent a "crust" from forming. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

* if you have an electric stove, remove the grits from the hot heating element and set on a different element set to low. On a gas stove, turn the gas down so that there is barely a flame.

When you are ready to use them, simply unmold and slice.

Y'all Get Your Ass Out Of Bed & Grab A... Breakfast Burrito

Literally, heat up the sliced grits in the stove or microwave, scramble some sausage and eggs, warm up the tortilla spread with some cheese, add the grits, add the scramble, roll it up and eat.

More technically to serve 4:

4 flour tortilla, preferably, tomato or spinach or pepper which vicariously fulfills the need for a vegetable

4 slices of Planned Over grits, cut about 1 X 1 inch slices

4 ounces breakfast sausage

5 eggs, mixed slightly

1 cup grated cheese

On a slightly oil baking sheet, arrange the grits slices and heat in a 375 F oven for 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, fry the sausage until done, about 5 minutes.

On another baking sheet, spread the four tortillas and sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese on each tortilla and put in the oven until the cheese melts, about 2- 3 minutes.

Add the eggs to the sausage and scramble until set, about 2 minutes.

Remove the grits and tortillas from the oven.

To Assemble:

Add a slice of grits to the warmed tortilla

Top with some scrambled sausage eggs

Roll up and serve

Feel free to add some chow-chow or salsa if you are so inclined, it's another vegetable, you know.


06 March 2010

Norah Lindsay

Norah Lindsay by Harrington Mann

Spring is in the air and I am pouring over gardening books. One of my favorite all-time English garden designers from the early 20th century is Norah Lindsay.

The most beautiful description of her work came from Russell Page, himself a garden designer (Actually Russell Page is often spoken of as a “landscape architect” which I find amusing. It seems as long as women were designing gardens the term “garden designer” was an appropriate title, but the second men decided to design gardens they became…. Landscape Architects. Men are such…but I digress…)

Russell Page wrote of her:
“Norah Lindsay could by her planting evoke all the pleasures of a flower garden. She captured the essence of midsummer…or gave the pith of autumn…. She lifted herbaceous planting into a poetic category and gave it an air of rapture and spontaneity.”
Her work is indeed rapturous. In fact, when I set out to write about her, I began looking at pictures to post and two hours later I had not one picture or a single word written! I finally decided to scan three random gardens to post. Including this public commission for a parterre garden at Rhodes House, Oxford University.

Parterre garden at Rhodes House, Oxford University, replanted from Norah Lindsay’s notes
Blickling Hall

One of Lindsay’s greatest supported was Sir Philip Sassoon. The pair became great friends and Lindsay did a series of gardens for him including the pool house at his Trent Park estate. Sassoon used Trent Park to entertain between May and July so a pool was a must.

Pool Garden at Trent Park

Her roster of clients reads like a Who’s Who, including various prince and princesses of defunct European countries as well as the Duke of Windsor. Her little black gardening book included names like Guinness, Tree, Mosley, Churchill, Maugham and Astor. Nancy Astor hired Norah to design the gardens at Cliveden, including the Main Formal Garden (below) with its boxwood boarders.

Lindsay was a frequent guest of Edith Wharton where the two women shared gardening ideas and love of books. Another close friend and gardener was Vita Sackville-West.

Allyson Hayward recently published the definitive book on Lindsay, Norah Lindsay: The Life and Art of a Garden Designer. Frances Lincoln, one of the great purveyors of garden tomes, published the book.

If you love gardens and England between the wars and great houses and juicy gossip, do check out Norah Lindsay.

05 March 2010

Famous Food Friday --Alfred Lunt

"Every time I was visiting with the Lunts in
Genesee Depot I was in a sort of daze of
wonder...the dining room, the table, the
china, the silver, the food,the
extraordinary care and beauty and taste...
a sort of dream, a vision."

Katherine Hepburn

Today's Famous Food Friday belongs to none other than that famous Broadway star, Alfred Lunt. When Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne retired from the stage they moved to an estate in Wisconsin to become gentlepeople farmers.

Lunt and Fontanne were married for 55 years. Alfred died in 1977 at age 84 and six years later Lynn died at age 95. Their estate Ten Chimneys was dangerously close to being bulldozed and developed when a group of civic leaders gathered together and saved Ten Chimneys and set up a foundation to restore the property. (Bless their hearts!)

In the process of restoration they found Alfred Lunt's hand-typed cookbook pages tucked in a closet. After writing several Famous Food Fridays, I can assure you that Famous Foodies fall into basically three categories:

The Famous who produce a cookbook with recipes they EATS, but the cook cooks

The Famous who are talented amateur cooks


The Famous who are famous and also trained cooks

Alfred Lunt falls into the last category. At age 65 and needing a new career path, Lunt enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and graduated as Lynn Fontanne would say, "with flying saucepans."

Lunt seriously considered writing a cookbook but it never saw the light of day until the recipes were discovered and the Ten Chimneys Foundation published them. This edition is artfully titled the "tester's" edition as the recipes were published as found. The Foundation encourages anyone who gives the recipes a try to sent them feedback. In the meantime, it is worth checking out their site and if you are in the Wisconsin area, tours of the property are available. You can also purchase a copy of the cookbook on the website to add to your collection.

Recently, my friend Harry Lowe and I were talking about eating salmon croquettes when we were little. Harry Lowe decided he was going to try and recreate his mother's recipe. I was thinking of those salmon croquettes when I saw this recipe. It is for a salmon mousse. I still have my mother's goofy fish mold that saw more than its share of fishy mousses. I always remember them as being graciously complicated and fussy. Alfred Lunt seems to have eliminated such fuss.

Alfred's Canned Salmon Mousse

1 pound tin salmon, drained, skinned, and boned
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 heaping Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 heaping Tbsp, heavy cream
1 packet plain gelatin, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
fresh dill, minced, to taste

Put all ingredients in blender. Mix well, pour into serving dish, refrigerate at least four hours. It is better made the day before. This recipe, doubled, feeds six.

If my mother had used this recipe, she could have spent more time indulging in cocktails!

I am definitely dragging out the fish tin.

02 March 2010

Requiescat In Pace -- Rose Gray

I was traveling this week and checked my e-mail to find a note from a friend in England. Rose Gray, the founder of The River Cafe, died on 28 February.

It felt like losing a friend. When you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, you begin to feel close to the people who write those cookbooks you are always dragging off the shelf. The River Cafe cookbooks are like that for me. Not to mention that Rose Gray trained many of my favorite chefs, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Allegra McEvedy, Sam and Sam Clark, and April Bloomfield.

Check out our post at Cookbook Of The Day for more including a link to my favorite Chocolate Nemesis cake from The River Cafe.
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