Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Failure to Follow

I was on the Upper East Side at 4:30 today, trying to squeeze in one more stop, the Decorative Arts building on E. 61st St.  Traffic was at a complete stop.  With every through street blocked, I decided to call it a day and head back to Greenwich.  Being a fan of the west side during rush hours, I worked my way to E. 72nd St  and Fifth Ave. with the idea of using the Central Park cut-through.

I am the first to admit, directions and navigation are NOT my thing.  I thought 72nd St. was a clear east-west kind of shot.  Apparently not.  I found myself weaving through parts of the park that I had never seen before, passing scores of bikers, runners and folks doing exercise contortions the like of which I had never witnessed--- but that would be the subject of a whole other blog.  Unclear as to where the park was going to dump me, I turned on the GPS and hit my home address as destination. 

Get back to the East Side!” GPS insisted, trying to scare me with yellow blocks on my current route, indicating traffic jams were to become a part of my near future.  It promised that I would be home in just 64 minutes if I followed its plan.

Every time GPS suggested a right turn to wind me back towards the FDR Drive, I ignored it and plowed forward, keeping a mental picture of the park’s shape in my mind as an assurance that I was generally going in the correct direction.  GPS and I went back and forth in this tug of war for a few turns, it suggesting I take a right to exit the park on the east side and me ignoring it’s suggestion and doing my own thing.

GPS got fed up with my behavior before too long and turned off its arrival time promise.  You could nearly hear the disgust, “Taking matters into your own hands?  Fine, have it your way.  But I’m not promising WHAT time you’ll get home with this madcap approach.”
Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Without the stop clock to keep me paced, I decided to turn the misstep into a discovery.  Though I had seen the wonderful Broadway play, “Morningside Heights” I had never actually been to that section of New York City.  

Up I travelled on Morningside Drive past The Cathedral of St John of the Cross, through the streets of Columbia University and Teachers College.  Fantastical gargoyles winked at me off buildings on side streets.

Columbia University
  Even the underbelly of the suspended subway train system had reason to demand attention.

Hmmm.. I saw valet parking sign
for Hudson River Cafe .....

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My fellow automobile drivers were not as enthralled as I, at what I was seeing, taking the time to be an observer.  They were even less thrilled when I jumped out of the car at red lights to catch what I saw on my iphone.  Hey, I’m one of the worst offenders of being driven to distraction with the emergency of the now.  But I have to say, changing my tune, failing to follow the insistence of GPS brought some sweet surprises.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Foodies Unite

Christmas Eve found me still unsettled on a Christmas Day menu.  Having grown up at the feet of “Orphan Annie” (as my mom, Anne Lorraine was called) who thought nothing of discussing what the dinner meal would consist of while eating lunch, claiming that our home revolved around meals is no understatement.

Mom was going to be with us for Christmas dinner and since I don’t subscribe to her seven course feast concept, I had to make sure that every dish served was something she would enjoy.

I headed to Portchester just for bread.  Kneaded Bread at 181 N. Main St had all sorts of savory things including pumpkin bread, chocolate bread, homemade soups for the in-between snacking.  I noticed Tarry Market across the street (www.tarrymarket.com).  Tarry Market is part of Tarry Lodge owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and, if you haven’t been, a treat.  Just be sure not to go on a Friday or Saturday night if you are sensitive to noisy places.  Tarry Market is a mecca for foodies.  It has  stellar European and local artisanal products, including hand-made pasta, house-made sausage, fresh and local produce, cured meats from the Batali family's ranch in Seattle, Grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic-free meats at the Butcher, daily-baked bread, focaccia and pastry, imported and domestic cheeses and salumi in abundance.

Chef Chris, is as warm and caring a person as you could find anywhere.  Despite frantic shoppers nipping at his heels, he listened to my confession of zero preparation and took me under his wing.  “Filet mignon on Christmas?  Absolutely not!” he said as he heaved a strapping prime rib roast out from the case.  A short time later I was out the door, covered for the holiday meal from antipasto to biscotti.

Needless to say, the meal was incredible.  That is, until we got to the prime rib.  It smelled incredible with a Tarry Market porcini rub slathered on it and I mean slathered.  Sarah, my 22 year old, had insisted that unless it had a ¼” crust on it I was missing the point of the thing.  But when we carved it, it looked way beyond “marbled” and was tough to cut.  After wrestling with the meat we abandoned ship to a second  helping of manicotti.

A couple of days later I went back to Chef Chris, roast in hand.  He heard my tale and as he listened, his face got redder and redder.  He asked if he could take the meat to the back room, actually he might have said the “Surgery Center”.  He came back with the meat neatly sliced down the center.  No big fat deposits.  Looked like a beauty.

“You cut it the wrong way”, he explained, showing me how I should have sliced the meat behind the bones.

“You are absolutely right”, I replied seeing how it looked, “It wasn’t your fault at all.  I blew it!”

“Look, I take my products very seriously”, Chris said.  “It took me a minute just to calm down after I heard your story and that’s why I needed to take the meat to the back and look at it for myself.  But the bottom line is that your dinner, one of the most important meals of the year, didn’t go too well.  And that bothers me.  So, let’s start again..”

With that he reached into the case and pulled out another prime rib.  “This time I am going to cut the bones off and then tie them back on.  Cook it like that but when you go to cut it, untie the string and the bones will fall away.  Then you can carve it easily.”

“Do you like lobster and shrimp?” he went on.  I gave him the thumbs up.  Walked out ten minutes later loaded down with the roast and a lobster and shrimp cocktail to beat the band.  Gratis.

Now don’t go buying a roast and then miscooking it in an attempt to wiggle another piece of meat out of Mr. Soft Hearted Chef Chris.  The owners of Tarry Market would kill me if I were suggesting that.  Nope.  Just go see the amazing foods, cooked and ready to be cooked, that Chris Chef and his team have available.  And give Chef Chris a big hello for me.  He is the consummate example of customer service.

P.S.  I dare you to leave without trying the thick cut Challah french toast in the front cafĂ©.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My blog is now available on facebook and twitter!

It had to happen.  I thought it was a good day to torture my tech guru.  So we've been connecting the dots, playing in web lego land.  I'll be blogging about real estate, decorating/design and things in life that matter. Like snowcones.  Snow angels.  Whatever.

Sign in.  Follow me and see where we land.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taking the Mystery Out

There are a number of things that are practical mysteries in my life.  I tackled two of them recently.   Creating a floral centerpiece is one of them.

Before you click off this blog, let me just say that it’s intimating.  We have several very fine florists in Greenwich, CT, including two of my long time favorites, Greenwich Orchids and McArdles.  When the door bell rings and one of their trucks is seen outside it is a definite pulse increaser.  You should know something luxurious, beautiful and opulent is about to be received.

At any rate, this past Saturday was a snow day in Greenwich.  I had planned to host an intimate dinner party with good friends who used to live in Belle Haven but now live in Dallas, and friends from backcountry Greenwich.  Whether they could even make it on the roads was a question in my mind. 

I had managed to slip and slide on a tour of Greenwich in the early afternoon, showing off the many amenities and gorgeous countryside for a family who will be relocating here from London, England.  Dropping the advance team—the professional/husband/father who is the reason for the relocation,  off at the  Greenwich train station, I wanted to limit the driving needed to get the dinner party together. 

The theme was staring at me from my foggy car windows.  A winter wonderland!  Why not?  I had beautiful porcelain dinner plates with woodland animals on them, a collection of Asprey horn and sterling flatware, my St. Louis Apollo crystal, placemats that are blankets of “leaves” and gold trimmed linen napkins from Hoglands, another favored retailer in Greenwich.

What to do for a centerpiece?  I popped into McArdles. (www.mcardles.com) Denise, the sales assistant/floral designer could not have been more helpful.  I began slowly, getting a sense for what flowers and greenery would suit both the them and my tablesetting.  Denise and I settled on flowering Kale, spider mums and curly twig branches.  My design colleague, Carlene Safdie, reminded me that keeping to one or two flower types makes for a dramatic look.

Keeping one or two flower types makes for a dramatic look

Of course the key to a centerpiece is how the flowers are arranged and Denise took the fear of that right out.  She cut a piece of oasis to fit the glass rectangular container and soaked it by gently placing it in a tub of water and letting the water seap up through it.  Keeps the flowers fed and in place.  She offered some greens that I could use for fillers.

From there, it was anchors away.  My thought was to approach the arrangement like house construction, from the bottom up.  I stuck the Kale in at the two ends, anchoring the piece and then used the remaining flowers to create an outline of the overall shape.  From there it was rounding out with spider mums and using the greens to hide any existing oasis.  It was so much fun for just $57!

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Being silent and invisible can be a very good thing - in home design that is.


One of my buyer clients and I went to look at a new construction house today.  It is in an excellent location and in the mid-range ($4-7 million) of Greenwich home prices.  The quality of the home was well done and for those who don’t know me, my experience is deep and my standards are high.  Known as being “fearless” in house renovation/building spending (reference: the husband, and he knows for whence he speaks), I rarely give building or design accolades.

This house, had It in spades on the build front.  Smallbone Kitchen, hefty hardware and very special custom windows.  Nice.  First floor was looking promising.  A tad tight in the public rooms but the kitchen opened nicely into a family room and library that had real tooth in the paneling and not the dimensionless wood paneling that is lifeless and too often a hallmark of new construction.

Enter the second floor.  We get to the landing and look down one long hall to ….. huh????? Could that be a tub staring us smack in the face?  It could indeed.  The master suite consisted of a hub of five rooms off a center arrival space.  At the end directly facing where you entered the suite was the bathroom.

Honest to Pete.  WHY does anyone want to see a bathroom at the end of a public hall?  And the master bath at that?  Need I say that the tour ended shortly thereafter?  The client just couldn’t wrap her head around coming up to the graceful second floor and entering a master suite greeting from a tub. 

Let this be a lesson to all of us.  Should bathrooms ever be THAT noticeable?  And particularly in the master bedroom area?

Contact Robin Kencel for help locating and acquiring a home or rental.