Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photos from Butternut Farm

Okay - so I had enormous problems with the second Butternut Farm post, so I decided to create a little album of pictures separately.


Don Reid, me and Irving Hopkins.

Happy hens make delicious eggs

"Breakfast is at 8:30 in the morning," Don said as we were telling him goodnight. Hmmm. 8:30. That might be a bit of a stretch for me considering I'd been waking up routinely at 10-10:30 every day since the start of our holiday. But I resolved to try my best.

It was a cold morning with a bright blue sky. Because we'd arrived in the dark, it was the first chance for me and Richard to take a look around. He got dressed, put on his boots and headed out into the garden early. We were both excited. The snow lay on the grounds of the farm, white and glistening in the sunshine. I could hear people moving around through the wooden house, which creaked and groaned with every step.

The house, the living quarters of Butternut Farm, was built in 1720 by Jonathon Hale. Don Reid bought the property in the early 1970s and immediately set about restoring the building. Reid, a graduate of Harvard, had previously worked for years in banking and then as a school teacher. But it quickly became obvious to me that Don was born to run a period bed and breakfast. He has a passion for collecting antiques - more like an obsession, he admits over breakfast - which he places in each room of the inn. The doors all hang on period hammered hinges; all the rooms are furnished with ancient rugs and beds, sliver and brass objets, antique books, drawings and paintings, and a decanter of sherry, two glasses and little pile of chocolates. Two Abysinnian cats wander freely through the house, and there's a huge variety of stuffed animals and fox pelts leaping off of walls and strewn over the backs of chairs.

I went downstairs to the dining room for breakfast. Richard had come back in, and we were joined by Don and Irving and two other guests - a mother and her toddler. The table was set beautifully with silver cutlery, home made raspberry jam, toast, yogurt, cheese and an enormous yellow omelette.

"Happy hens make the best eggs!" declared Don, and so I tucked in to test his theory myself. There's something truly special about a fresh egg - I mean one that's been gathered and cooked in the same day, as our eggs had been. Their colour is magnificent; taste rich and decadent.

Don - like me - was a bit of a foodie. He'd even cooked for the famous Jullia Child and her husband, Paul, in the mid-70s. When I asked him about it, he was sufficiently vague. "You run a bed and breakfast for long enough and all kinds of people will come through your door." I liked his quiet humility. Both he and Iriving had a grace about them that made it easy to spend time with them. They spoke easily and without guile about their lives. They were curious about me and what I did and where I came from, but somehow managed, without any apparent effort, to not seem intrusive or prying.

Over the next couple of days, Richard and I would explore Glastonbury and go to Real Art Ways. Whenever we returned to the farm, we were greeted by Don or Irving or both. We ate fresh eggs every morning for breakfast and noted that the snow on the lawn had started to melt. We were at the end of our holiday, and on our final day we packed our things into the jeep and readied to leave for the airport. Don gave me a jar of home made jam. I said I'd better pay you now, lest I forget. "I feel so comfortable here, I might just walk out the door and forget all about money. Don felt similarly - that it was strange to be accepting money from friends. I was happy to pay him, though. It had been such a special few days, due in no small part, to the place itself and to its gracious proprietors.

Don't judge a place by its website

"You decide where we stay and make the arrangements," Richard said when I started to get excited about our trip to New York. We were going to be heading to Connecticut for a screening of my film at the Rockstone and Bootheel exhibition and I'd decided that it would be a gentle denouement to our New York trip, if we spent some time at a cozy inn or bed and breakfast. I got to searching on the internet - Bed and Breakfasts, Connecticut - and almost immediately came upon Butternut Farm. Here's one example of not judging a place by its website! The site was fairly dreadful - low-res photos, badly laid out. But I read through the entire site, realising that it was still run by owner, Don Reid; it was full of antiques, had been lovingly restored, was affordable and within 15 minutes drive of Hartford.

There wasn't an e mail address for making contact, so I called instead. Don answered the phone - the quiet voice of an older man. I told him who I was and where I was calling from. I gave him the dates I'd like to come. He asked why I was coming and I explained my film was going to be screened etc. I told him my boyfriend was a designer whose work was part of the exhibition. He seemed interested to learn more about us, but explained that he hadn't decided if he was going to be in the US in January, so could I call back in mid-December? I have to admit: I was a bit irritated by his request. Didn't he want my business? Why did I have to call him back, why couldn't he call me? Didn't he know there were a million other places I could stay instead of his?

"Okay," I said. "But could you make a note of my name and the dates?"

"Sure," he said. I gave him my information and decided I would wait till December to call him back, rather than search out other accommodations. I can be very impatient when I feel like it, so accepting the delay was a leap for me. But there was something about the dated website, the grainy photos and the reticent Don on the other end of the phone that made me decide - paradoxically - that this was the place for us.

And let me tell you - I was absolutely right! When I called back in December, Don answered the phone with, "Hello Mariel!" He'd remembered me and kept my number. He'd decided not to go anywhere in January (by this time it had become abundantly clear that it was going to be a hard winter) and he'd be delighted to welcome Richard and I on the 15th. Every time I called him after that, he spoke to me with a gentle familiarity, as though we'd known each other for years. So much so, that when Richard and I ended up staying longer in Salem than I'd expected, I called Don to let him know we'd be late - just in case he had errands he wanted to do.

It was cold and dark when we arrived at the farm. The settled snow was a strange pale blue in the night, and it muffled the sounds of Main Street just beyond the garden. Don and Irving greeted us warmly at the door, and we walked into probably the loveliest guest house I've ever had the pleasure to visit.

Photos taken by Richard Rawlins and Mariel Brown, with the permission of Don Reid.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Drive

It was perhaps the perfect drive.

When Richard and I arrived at the Hertz centre in Manhattan, it was with the understanding that we were to collect a Hyundai accent for our trip to Boston and Connecticut. I'd made the booking on line, and being the budget traveller that I am, had decided we should go for the economy car. Imagine our surprise and delight when instead of the tiny accent, we were offered a comfortable (and very stable-looking) Jeep.

Richard and I had searched our route on google maps and written out a 28-point list of directions that would take us from Rachel's apartment in Harlem, to Christina's house in Roslindale - just outside of Boston. We were heading up there for a Memorial in honour of my father. The university at which he used to teach - Lesley - would be celebrating his contributions as a writer and teacher of writing.

Leaving Manhattan was simple enough. It only took a minute or two to get used to driving on the right side of the road. And our directions seemed to be spot-on.

Within a few minutes, we were heading north along the banks of the Hudson River - miles of bare trees to our right, the cold and quiet Hudson on our left. White snow glistened and sparkled on the banks and fields, and we drove past frozen lakes that were like magic to me. Although I've lived through many winters in England, I've never really experienced the expanses of frozen water that we drove past.

I threatened to start singing, and Richard turned on the radio! He found exactly the right music - mellow and easy to listen to: familiar but not distracting. And we sang, or sometimes just sat in a sort of quiet elation at this perfect moment that lasted for hours. Until we got to Boston and got lost! Alas... such is life. But I'm certain to never forget that drive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Decadent hot chocolate on a wintry night!

If you look closely at the menu, you'll see one of the hot chocolates is made with cocoa from Trinidad!

The mug is called a 'hug' - you're meant to cup it in both of your hands and get comfy - which Richard and I did!

Talk about indulgence!!! Have you ever seen a chocolate pizza?

We just happened upon the place after we left the Strand and bought tickets to see AVATAR in 3d (that was something!). We had about an hour to kill and it was freezing cold - the kind of cold that makes your teeth hurt! The restaurant was glowing gold and yellow and was irresistible.

What we drank was easily the most indulgent thing we've had so far - the most decadent hot chocolate you could possibly imagine! Richard's was a thick Italian hot chocolate with hints of vanilla. I promise you you could almost stand a spoon in it, it was that thick!

I had a simpler, dark hot chocolate that was quite perfect - with the heart-shaped design in my froth.

It's on Broadway and 13th Street, and I suspect we're gonna go back!

Let's start at the very beginning...

I realise I went about this the wrong way - starting with my little review of the Strand, without first explaining that Richard and I are on holiday (yay!) in New York for the next two weeks. It's as cold as hell, but really wonderful. With the year I've had, I desperately needed a break, and he's been working flat out too, so the timing is perfect.

Anyhoo, I'll be sharing some food experiences and other New York gems while I'm here.

One of my favourite things to do in a new place is go to the supermarket. I try to do this wherever I go. I remember being completely bowled over by a supermarket in Salamanca, Spain. The seafood counter was out of this world - every kind of thing you could imagine. I love a Whole Foods - even though I find it quite overwhelming! And don't talk for Zabar's! Supermarkets, markets and delis give you a first-hand introduction to the food culture of a place, and, if you're adventurous about food, they give you the opportunity to try new ingredients too.

So as I mentioned, I'm in New York. Staying with my friend Rachel in Harlem. On my 2nd day here, Richard and I braved the icy wind to trek over to the local supermarket. It had a wonderful vegetable s
ection, and I couldn't resist a dazzling bunch of chard - all magenta stems and green leaves! I've never cooked chard before, so I looked on the internet for inspiration, and here's what I came up with:

You'll need a fresh bunch of chard (chop off and discard the bottom third of the stems as they're tough and fibrous, and then give everything else a 1-inch chop); 4 or 5 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped; an onion, diced; 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced; salt and pepper.

Cook the bacon for a minute or two on a medium heat in a large frying pan (one that has a lid). (By the way, you don't need to put any oil in the pan, as the bacon will spring its own fat.) Once the bacon has cooked for a couple of minutes, add your onions and garlic and cook them until the onions are translucent. Throw in the chard with a little salt and pepper. Give everything a stir and put the lid on. Continue to cook on a medium heat for another 2 or 3 minutes, and serve immediately.


(Photo by Richard Rawlins)
18 miles of books.

This is just about my favourite bookstore in Manhattan. And I was very excited to share it with Richard. It's on the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, and like the caption says, it boasts 18 miles of books! The books are all discounted (some, heavily) and there's an incredible range of subjects and genres. However (and it was our second such encounter of the day) the staff are that particular breed of snooty Manhattan intelligentsia - no-doubt very knowledgeable about books, but covetous of their knowledge and ridiculously condescending. But the books are worth the staff minefield!