Of golfers and gardens

Half of our lovely guests this week have been members of the US Senior Golf Tournament, an event that is held here in the Hamptons each year at this time. These guys are awesome golfers playing awesome courses: Shinnecock, National, Maidstone and the newer Sebonack Golf Course. It is an especially well-organized event; the organizers have private dinner events planned for each night of the tournament, they know where each of the players are staying, and they even go to some trouble to coordinate the tee times of players staying in the same place, so to encourage carpooling. This is especially helpful when the members’ wives also golf, as they have a separate tournament for the ladies…and when he’s to play Shinnecock (in Southampton) and she’s to play Maidstone (in East Hampton), somebody is going to be without a car!

Golf events, like business travel, mean early bird breakfasts, so we’ve been doing a double breakfast seating all week. Our leisure guests this week have included a couple from Switzerland and a couple from England. Alas, the weather this week hasn’t been nice enough to serve breakfast in the garden.

The flowers are the only things loving the drizzle. Columbines are new to the garden here at A Butler’s Manor this year, and do we ever love the pretty flowers. They’re not a flower we can necessarily cut for the bedrooms, but they do, as you can see, make for great plate decorations. (Sunshine French Toast and sausage was the menu today — yum!)
Quote of the Day: I’m not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they’d come up sliced. — attributed to both Miller Barber and Lee Trevino

Is there a doctor in the house?

There sure is! In fact, we have a doctor in each one of our five rooms this weekend. What are the odds? No, there isn’t a medical convention somewhere. Just Memorial Day weekend.

It’s a busy weekend, too — the official kick off to Summer 2009. Ran into town to pick up a few things, and it took me longer to find a parking space than it did to run my errand. It certainly looked like a summer weekend in the Hamptons! Everyone has broken out their white clothes (does anyone remember that old adage that you weren’t supposed to wear white until Memorial Day?), sleeveless tops, and flip flops. Every outdoor table was full outside the restaurants, the Golden Pear, and the Village Cheese Shop, and the streets were thronged with window shoppers. There were three people in line before me at the cash register in Bookhampton. Nice to see!

Speaking of doctors, which makes me think “health:” This past week we had a guest who was part of a golf club outing, playing National and Maidstone courses. Golfers, like business guests, are generally on a schedule with early tee times, so we accommodate them separately from our leisure guests, who breakfast later. Dan was really watching his diet — no carbs, tons of protein, and told me his usual breakfast was egg whites and turkey bacon, plain yogurt and blueberries. Of course, yogurt and fruit are no problem — we have nonfat Fage yogurt that has the best texture of any yogurt I’ve ever had! But I’d never tried turkey bacon, so I bought some for him. I tried some too…not bad at all, especially if you like bacon crisp, as I do. But egg white omelettes are challenging because by themselves, egg whites have absolutely no flavor, and I want each breakfast served at A Butler’s Manor to make a great impression. So I chopped a tomato and some fresh herbs from the garden and added it to the omelette. Dan was a happy camper.

The other golfer, Jeff, was staying an extra day. He was so intrigued by his friend’s meal that he wondered if he could have something similar for breakfast on his last morning. I was making our Manor House Omelette (a baked omelette with Canadian bacon, fresh spinach, and Gruyere cheese) for our leisure guests, so I made Jeff (and me!) a version with egg whites, scallions, crumbled turkey bacon, and about a tablespoon of grated Jarlsberg (a light Swiss cheese). Hey, it was some kind of yummy! Proves that eating healthy can be tasty too.

Truly, necessity is the mother of invention!

Quote of the Day: To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art. — La Rouchefoucauld

Operation Shed Rescue

Chris and I come by our inability to see anything wasted genetically. Chris was born in an England still under rationing (did you know? — until 1954! His parents were still dealing with it in the late 1950’s!) and my parents came of age during the Great Depression which, I have learned, marks those who have been through it (and the generation beyond!) for life.

What this has translated into for us is a propensity for rescuing things, repurposing things, and recycling things. Our latest endeavor involves our newest neighbors — a lovely couple who have become friends. They’ve done an incredible job restoring the period house up the street from A Butler’s Manor. Now they’re working on the back yard, in which they’re planning to put a pool. The existing backyard was designed by a landscape gardener, and Chris had seen it prior to the house being sold. When our new neighbors told us they planned to clear most of the yard and offered us anything we could use, Chris jumped at the chance.
So we are now proud new owners of dozens of shrubs, perennials, and even an ornamental tree or two (–!!!), but the thing Chris is most thrilled with is that we rescued a garden shed from demolition. It took some doing to figure out how to move it, but in the end, he took down the fencing at the back of the property, hired a friend with a big forklift, and the pair of them muscled that little potting shed down a narrow driveway, down the street, up behind our house, and plop! into the very back of our garden, behind the pool (about 20 feet straight back behind the Japanese maple). We spent most of last Saturday evening reinstalling the stockade fence at the back of the property. The little shed will be perfect for summer storage of winter essentials, such as a snowblower, a generator, a chipper shredder, etc., and come winter, will house what is now essential to Chris’s summer gardening efforts so that the latter items can be housed closer to.
Our neighbors now have a clean slate on which to dig their new pool, and we have even more of a lush garden…and a place to pot those lush plants up…and we are grateful!!

Quote of the Day: There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. —Mirabel Osler

Lilacs in bloom, and counting blessings

I tell, you, I love this business. Guests are the gift that keeps on giving.

Any time we have guests who’ve never been to the Hamptons, we give them a copy of our itinerary (unless, very cool, they’ve already downloaded it off our website). The itinerary isn’t formal; rather, it’s what we take our visiting families to see in each of the villages. Last fall, a delightful family of three from Germany stayed with us, as part of a New York trip to celebrate the daughter Nina’s eighteenth birthday, and of course, we went over the itinerary with them. They had a great time with it, and afterwards, Nina offered to translate our itinerary into German. As we’ve tried (with sometimes comical results) to do this before using Babelfish.com, we were very happy to take her up on it.

This week, coincidentally, we had two sets of German guests a couple of days apart. While they all spoke very good English, when I prepared a “what to do” package for each of them, I remembered to give them a copy of both our English and Nina’s German itinerary. They were so pleased to have something like this in their own language! It just made my day!

It’s getting very green around here…what a glorious time late Spring is. The lilacs are out already. It seems early somehow, because I remember a couple of years ago I was cutting lilacs for the guest rooms for Memorial Day Weekend. But maybe, like this year, my memories are of one of the years when Memorial Day fell relatively early. In any case, ahhh, the dreamy, heady smell of lilacs in bloom! We’ve got them in each of the guest rooms this weekend. As we happen to have three sets of guests here to celebrate an anniversary, I suspect there is a good chance that lilacs (perhaps the white version) may even have been in their wedding bouquets…
Quote of the Day: Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love but only with distaste, it is better than you should leave your work and sit at the gates of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy. — Kahlil Gibran

RECIPE: Asparagus & Swiss Cheese Omelette

In the three months between the time that we bought the property that would become A Butler’s Manor and our official opening in late April, 2002, I was eager to develop a variety of breakfast entrees to introduce to our guests. To that end, I would scour through cookbooks and online sources, try recipes, tweak them if necessary, until eventually I developed my own repertoire of breakfast recipes.

Problem was, Chris comes from the school that states Thou Shalt Not Serve Thy Guest Something You Haven’t Perfected First…he was very nervous about my trying things for the first time on guests. Ergo, I practiced on us. For three months, every dinner I made was actually a breakfast until he started saying, “Oh no, not French Toast for dinner AGAIN!”

Now, I love breakfast, and could eat it any time of the day or night. (Thank goodness for diners and coffee shops.) Anyway, the upshot of this episode was that a) We opened for business with a good stable of recipes to start off, b) Chris has learned to trust my cooking (our guests have always been appreciative), and c) if I even mention that I’ve got a good breakfast recipe I want to try out at dinnertime, I instantly have an offer for a dinner date out. 🙂

Chris had to have one of those periodic preventative medical procedures this AM that meant he couldn’t have any dinner last night, so — whoo hoo! — last night, I made myself breakfast for dinner. We’ve been cutting fresh asparagus and chives from the garden, and so those became the featured ingredients in my omelette. I didn’t think to take a picture of it, but here’s what I made:


2 eggs*

1/8 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tsp canola oil

2 Tbsp. shredded Swiss cheese*

2 stalks asparagus, cut diagonally into 1″ pieces and blanched in the microwave (about 40 seconds on high)

a small handful of frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives or scallions

Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper until frothy. Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and cook just until softened, perhaps two minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add eggs, swirling to coat pan, and cook, lifting sides to allow uncooked egg to run underneath until underside is set, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle the asparagus peppers, peas, and half of the cheese over one half of the omelette; fold the unfilled half over to enclose filling. Sprinkle with remainder of cheese. Cook until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Slide onto a plate, sprinkle with chives, and enjoy!

* BONUS: I’ve adapted this from the new Weight Watcher’s Momentum Cookbook — replace eggs with 1/2 cup Egg Beaters, and use a low-fat version of the cheese, and this very filling meal is only 3 points!

Chris may not agree with his fellow countryman here in Southampton, but Somerset Maugham and I are definitely on the same page:
Quote of the Day: If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts. — W. Somerset Maugham

Kim Allen


Minis Rally at the Manor

The Long Island Mini Enthusiasts (LIME) annual Road Rally descended upon A Butler’s Manor like a flock of starlings yesterday…swooped in for a pit stop (cookies and lemonade in the garden), then journeyed on to lunch at the Southampton Publick House. How fun it was to see a long line of little cars all the way up the street! About 15 of the Minis pulled into our car park…and, had any of our guests arrived during their brief visit, there STILL would have been room to park! ha!
Organizer and chief photog Tom Abbe will doubtlessly be forwarding his “real” photos soon, but here are a few I took as the club arrived and enjoyed a break from their drive.
You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. -H.L. Mencken
Kim Allen

A taste of summer!

(Chris is guest blogging today.)

Yesterday saw an end to several days of rain and a glorious morning was served up just as we were making breakfast. Our business guests ate early and left for work around 8:00 AM, but our other two guests, Lynn and Leo, were more than happy to partake out on the patio.

After breakfast, I went out into the garden to weed and I planted the rest of the herbs: Italian/Flat and Curly Parsley, Basil, and Cilantro as well as the Roma and Beefsteak tomato plants. I also harvested more asparagus and salad greens which we had last night for dinner.

The grass is mowed and we are ready for the arrival of the Mini Rally participants around 3PM today! It should be a busy time as we also have 3 rooms checking in today:-) The Hamptons are heating up! Raspberry French toast for breakfast at the B&B today! AND SUNSHINE TOO!!!!

Wine & Whine (of the automobile sort)

Yesterday was Attempt #2 to spring the Mini from its winter home. Two Saturdays ago, Chris discovered a whining in the wheel area of our 1961 Mini Cooper while trying to drive it back to A Butler’s Manor. So Tom Abbe, our wonderful traveling (-!!) mechanic (and incidentally, talented professional photographer), came out East to work on the wheel bearings. But alas, though he and Chris fiddled with it all afternoon, Tom decided during the final road test back to A Butler’s Manor that more fiddling is needed. So…Chris won’t be participating in the Spring Fling Mini Rally this year, but the other 27 drivers will be making a quick pit stop here on Saturday afternoon for tea and cookies. Here is one of Tom’s photos!

Last night we joined several of our fellow Hamptons innkeepers at a special tour and tasting at Wolffer Vineyards, one of the beautiful (and yummy!) wineries here on the East End. Wolffer has a weekly Twilight Thursday event which we recommend highly to guests — a lovely happy “hour” (actually, 5:00 – 7:30 PM) in their tasting room overlooking their rolling fields of grapevines. Live jazz, free cheese and crackers and the ability to buy their wines by the glass — a great way to wind down after your day. In fact, two of our guests attended, and this morning, they were planning on encouraging their daughter to check out the winery as her wedding location. Chris and I, in our previous life, moonlighted with a caterer here in the Hamptons (Brent Newsom Caterer — yummy!) so consequently did many weddings at Wolffer, and it is a divine location for weddings and parties. It was nice to catch up with several of our friends from other B and Bs before the season really gets busy.
Quote of the Day: Con pan y vino se anda el camino [With bread and wine you can walk your road]. — Spanish Proverb
Kim Allen

Where’s the menu?

Bed and breakfasts can differ widely, as those who love this form of accommodation well know. I was reminded of this recently when I happened upon a review of A Butler’s Manor online. The poster had given us 5 stars and itemized many details he loved about his stay with us. He began the post by stating he was usually a “hotel guy,” and was therefore a little leery of staying in a B and B because he thought of them as fussy, cluttered and overly cutesy (a style we call here in the trade “Death by Doily”). He was pleased to find we were none of these things, but said that if there was one thing he wished were different, it was breakfast. While the meal was wonderful, he said, there was no choice of entrees, nor was there a choice of breakfast times. What would make us perfect, he wrote, was if we would offer a choice of meal times and menus from which guests could choose.

I hope the gentleman will continue to try B and Bs when he travels, because that feature is offered in some bed and breakfasts. On our own travels, we have stayed at B and Bs that have a full dining room, waitstaff, and a menu of breakfast options from which to choose. (Notably, these are all much larger establishments than A Butler’s Manor.) On the other hand, we are aware that other B and Bs of all sizes (including many here in the Hamptons) choose to offer a continental breakfast, served buffet style. These, and many other variations, are just some of the many differences to be enjoyed when choosing a B and B experience.

Wishing to maximize what we did best, Chris and I considered many variables when we began A Butler’s Manor, and one of the things we most wanted to do was create memorable, beautiful breakfasts served communally, so that guests could interact over their meal. And we wanted to do it on Lenox china and Waterford crystal (even when served in the garden). With five rooms (a maximum of eleven guests), only me in the kitchen and Chris serving, we chose to create a breakfast experience with a single hot entree. Because it’s critical to us that guests are able to enjoy their meal, we are vigilant in asking about dietary restrictions, food allergies, and things that people just plain don’t care for, and I plan the menus around these needs. For those who prefer a lighter breakfast, a variety of cereals and yogurts is always available by request, and of course, fresh fruit, fresh OJ, and homemade baked goods are a feature at every breakfast.

We believe the main course should be fresh and hot, not kept warm in an oven (or–horrors!– reheated in a microwave). The way we can ensure this is to set a fixed time for breakfast. As the majority of our guests are here for relaxation, this is usually no problem: early risers enjoy the early-bird coffee outside their room from 7AM on, then perhaps take a walk on the beach or a run through the village streets before breakfast, while others revel in the opportunity to sleep in a little. (We accommodate our midweek business guests, who usually have early morning meetings, with a somewhat simpler menu.)

Though we pride ourselves on our personal service, we’ve realized we are too small to be all things to all guests, and in this case, while we’ve both had lots of experience in the kitchen, neither of us is a short order cook (nor aspires to be one). 🙂 Alas, a daily choice of menu at A Butler’s Manor is not our style.

I’m grateful for that gentleman’s comments, and for caring enough to post a review. I hope he continues his explorations of bed and breakfasts, as each of us have a unique approach…and that’s what sets us apart from hotels.

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. — Luciano Pavarotti

Kim Allen