Notes From Swan's Nest

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Guest Room Makeover Starts With A Blank Slate

There’s something exciting to me about starting with a blank slate when decorating a room. When the room contains nothing more than windows, the floor, and four white walls, the possibilities are endless. I can choose a contemporary, traditional, country, Victorian, mountain-casual, or any other style, and together with colors and textures, create a room that reflects my personality and makes family and guests feel welcome.

In this case, the room in question is Swan’s Nest’s upstairs south bedroom. It’s my final large-scale interior project in the years-long restoration of our 1898 historic home. The room required extensive ceiling repair during our initial restoration, and since we had to remove all the upstairs lathe and plaster walls, which had considerable damage, to install updated wiring, heating, plumbing, and insulation, the guest room was sheetrocked.

The remaining guest rooms were mudded, textured with a beautiful, free-handed swirl, and painted a soft buttercream, but from the start, I envisioned that this particular guest room would be wallpapered. The walls feature a lovely cove, a small nook with a window overlooking the mountain peaks, and a window seat I designed to take advantage of the gorgeous view. While the room would have been perfectly lovely with painted walls, I knew papering them would be in keeping with the Victorian era of our home, and it would accentuate the room’s architectural design.

So, come along with me during these next weeks as I transform this blank slate into a light and airy, but cozy guest room. I’ll begin by lightly sanding any rough spots on the sheetrock, carefully wiping down the dust, and then applying a thin layer of wallpaper primer to the walls. Once it dries, I’ll be able to apply the wallpaper. Then the really fun part begins – adding my decorative touches and personal style to this very special room. I’ll photograph the process and share highlights with you in my blog as I make progress. Let’s get started!

-Christy

This 'N That For Summer

I’ve been back and forth between Dallas, Breckenridge, and Freeport, Illinois so far this summer. My allergies can hardly keep up with my whereabouts, much less my family. For now, Randy and I have traded in the pleasant temperatures and pine pollen (aa- choo!) of the mountains for the Texas heat so we can celebrate his mother’s 90th Birthday. A casual take-out pizza dinner with her Wednesday night after our flight, and a strictly spontaneous get-together for coffee, cake, and an hour of “girl talk” yesterday morning are but a small prelude to the weekend family festivities and next week’s all-important Birthday Dinner in our home.

During the past several weeks, I’ve assisted my own Mother in preparing for a major move from Illinois to Texas (she’s now all moved into her “cottage” in The Woodlands); hosted a luncheon and spirits tasting at Swan’s Nest for female whiskey distiller Troy Ball (Troy & Sons, Asheville, NC); created summertime tablescapes for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot and article, transformed our 1898 cabin into an autumn dining destination for an interview with Log Home Living magazine (look for the story in their November 2014 issue); cooked on Aspen television’s “The Lift” on Aspen 82; participated as a celebrity chef in the 5th annual Snowmass Culinary Festival (www.gosnowmass.com); interviewed with The Summit Daily News about cool summer salads; attended to final details for my upcoming October 2 – 12, 2014 Mediterranean Culinary Cruise in partnership with Oceania Cruises and Cruising with the Chefs (www.cruisingwiththechefs.com); and spent every spare moment in my Swan’s Nest gardens planting flowers and trying to keep up with the weeds. And in the midst of all this, my computer crashed, so my apologies to those of you who’ve not heard from me recently.

Each year around this time, I fondly recall summer days spent on Cape Cod when I was growing up, and I guess I had visions of those idyllic, lazy days when Randy and I purchased Swans’ Nest seven years ago, but the reality is that summer days are now as busy as the remainder of the year, with one exception. In the evenings, as the sun begins to lower toward the mountain tops, Randy and I share dinner on Swan’s Nest’s veranda – a relaxing, quiet ritual when time slows down and we celebrate our day over a simple, fresh meal. We open a bottle of wine, watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hanging basket to basket filled with bright pink and purple petunias, enjoy the cool evening breezes, and marvel at nature’s colorful light show when puffy white clouds change into pale orange and pink puffs of cotton candy as the sun dips behind the mountain peaks. We linger over dinner and savor the peace of it all until we get chilled and rush inside to get warm. Even then, we sometimes just grab jackets and head back onto the porch – reluctant to allow those peaceful moments to slip away.

This is why I love uncomplicated summer meals that are quick and easy to assemble, feature fresh, seasonal flavors, and have a “picnic feel” to them. Summer is for sitting on the porch, not standing in the kitchen. For that reason, I’m happy to share one of my summer salad recipes with you. I hope you’ll enjoy it on the porch with your family and friends!

-Christy

White Beans, Arugula and Dill with Tarragon Dressing

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
3 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 small bunch fresh arugula, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 to 3 drops white wine Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the beans, dill, arugula, and onion. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mini-food processor, combine the tarragon vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the olive oil and process until the dressing is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss well, transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and serve. If desired, cover and chill 2 hours until cold.

Yield: 6 servings

This 'N That For Summer

I’ve been back and forth between Dallas, Breckenridge, and Freeport, Illinois so far this summer. My allergies can hardly keep up with my whereabouts, much less my family. For now, Randy and I have traded in the pleasant temperatures and pine pollen (aa- choo!) of the mountains for the Texas heat so we can celebrate his mother’s 90th Birthday. A casual take-out pizza dinner with her Wednesday night after our flight, and a strictly spontaneous get-together for coffee, cake, and an hour of “girl talk” yesterday morning are but a small prelude to the weekend family festivities and next week’s all-important Birthday Dinner in our home.

During the past several weeks, I’ve assisted my own Mother in preparing for a major move from Illinois to Texas (she’s now all moved into her “cottage” in The Woodlands); hosted a luncheon and spirits tasting at Swan’s Nest for female whiskey distiller Troy Ball (Troy & Sons, Asheville, NC); created summertime tablescapes for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot and article, transformed our 1898 cabin into an autumn dining destination for an interview with Log Home Living magazine (look for the story in their November 2014 issue); cooked on Aspen television’s “The Lift” on Aspen 82; participated as a celebrity chef in the 5th annual Snowmass Culinary Festival (www.gosnowmass.com); interviewed with The Summit Daily News about cool summer salads; attended to final details for my upcoming October 2 – 12, 2014 Mediterranean Culinary Cruise in partnership with Oceania Cruises and Cruising with the Chefs (www.cruisingwiththechefs.com); and spent every spare moment in my Swan’s Nest gardens planting flowers and trying to keep up with the weeds. And in the midst of all this, my computer crashed, so my apologies to those of you who’ve not heard from me recently.

Each year around this time, I fondly recall summer days spent on Cape Cod when I was growing up, and I guess I had visions of those idyllic, lazy days when Randy and I purchased Swans’ Nest seven years ago, but the reality is that summer days are now as busy as the remainder of the year, with one exception. In the evenings, as the sun begins to lower toward the mountain tops, Randy and I share dinner on Swan’s Nest’s veranda – a relaxing, quiet ritual when time slows down and we celebrate our day over a simple, fresh meal. We open a bottle of wine, watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hanging basket to basket filled with bright pink and purple petunias, enjoy the cool evening breezes, and marvel at nature’s colorful light show when puffy white clouds change into pale orange and pink puffs of cotton candy as the sun dips behind the mountain peaks. We linger over dinner and savor the peace of it all until we get chilled and rush inside to get warm. Even then, we sometimes just grab jackets and head back onto the porch – reluctant to allow those peaceful moments to slip away.

This is why I love uncomplicated summer meals that are quick and easy to assemble, feature fresh, seasonal flavors, and have a “picnic feel” to them. Summer is for sitting on the porch, not standing in the kitchen. For that reason, I’m happy to share one of my summer salad recipes with you. I hope you’ll enjoy it on the porch with your family and friends!

-Christy

White Beans, Arugula and Dill with Tarragon Dressing

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
3 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 small bunch fresh arugula, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 to 3 drops white wine Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the beans, dill, arugula, and onion. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mini-food processor, combine the tarragon vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the olive oil and process until the dressing is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss well, transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and serve. If desired, cover and chill 2 hours until cold.

Yield: 6 servings

A Summer Gathering

Summer arrived rather abruptly this year when Randy and I drove from our Breckenridge, Colorado home to Dallas a couple of weeks ago. It was 27 degrees with patches of snow still on the ground at 5:45 am as we left Breckenridge. By the time we reached the Texas Panhandle, our car thermometer registered 105 degrees, and still a warm 88 degrees that night when we pulled into Dallas. We went from jackets and gloves to shorts and bathing suits in one day.

One of the advantages of being in warmer weather is the ease of gathering friends together for a casual night of grilling, and that’s what Randy and I did over the weekend. We had invited our good friends Susan and Mark – next door neighbors for 25 years until we sold our Dallas house and moved into a nearby condo last fall – to join us for a relaxed dinner-from-the-grill.

The weather was perfect down by the pool where the grills are located – warm, with a refreshing breeze as we sat in the shade. The four of us sipped margaritas while Randy grilled beef skirt steak and chicken breasts I had pounded and seasoned with a dry rub, plus a metal basket brimming with a colorful mixture of sliced sweet onions, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and slivers of jalapeno.

Upstairs, the table was set with a pale yellow cloth, hot pink chargers, colorful striped napkins, two large candles and multiple votives so we could enjoy candlelight at different levels, and a beautiful floral ice bucket our friends had given us as a Christmas gift – the inspiration for my tablescape and now filled with fragrant tea roses. Flour tortillas were heating in the oven, fresh pico de gallo and all the fixin’s for a black bean salad waited in the fridge, as did a bowl of sliced mango and berries to garnish my homemade pound cake, and the kitchen island was ready for duty as a serving area, complete with sticky notes I commonly use as little cheat sheets so I can pre-plan the serving vessels and ensure I don’t forget something on the menu.

We arrived back from the grill and spent a few minutes assembling the black bean and guacamole salads, slicing the meat, topping off our margarita glasses, and filling our plates. As we settled into our chairs, the sun was beginning to set outside the dining room window – proof that timing is everything!

A Mardi Gras Table Setting

In New Orleans, they’ve been celebrating Mardi Gras with parades and festivals for weeks, but while I’m not quite that zealous – wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks ago? – I DO have my table set. My table features layers of gorgeous, traditional Mardi Gras colors – emerald green, royal purple, and shiny gold – achieved through the use of fabrics, accessories, glassware, and beads.

A white, cutwork linen tablecloth sets a somewhat sedate foundation, but that’s where the classic style ends. I swirled yards of satiny, deep-purple fabric in the center of the table to provide texture, height, and an instant focal point, and topped it with tall candlesticks and hefty, violet pillar candles. Next, I interwove a brilliantly-hued length of shiny Mardi Gras garland, available in most party stores, over the swirls of purple fabric and among the candlesticks to add sparkle and set the theme for my tablescape. I draped multiple strands of purple, green and gold beads over the fabric, allowing some to tumble onto the white tablecloth for added contrast, and as encouragement for our guests to place them around their necks.

A set of amethyst champagne flutes, given to me by a dear friend, repeat the color theme while guiding the eye upward, adding an additional vertical dimension to this festive tablescape. An easy, inexpensive accent - purple cotton napkins - repeat the celebratory theme, while plates and glassware edged in gold add a bit of glam to my Mardi Gras celebration.

For a step-by-step overview of how I created this Mardi Gras table setting, please check out my newly-launched YouTube video series, Christy Rost Cooks: Celebrating Life & Home. http://www.youtube.com/user/ChristyRostCooks.

-Christy