Notes From Swan's Nest

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Just Around The Corner

Can it be true? Is autumn just around the corner? For the millions suffering through record-breaking triple digit heat around the nation, autumn must seem like a far-off dream, but at our home in Breckenridge, Colorado, I see the signs everywhere.

Although it's a beautiful August day with temperatures in the mid-70's, we've experienced a multitude of frosty mornings intermittently since mid-July. That's early even for those of us residing at 9,300 ft elevation. One of our mature aspen trees has lost its upper tier of leaves and its tiny, west-facing green leaves are beginning to fade – a sure sign they'll turn to gold before long.

While shopping at the Dillon, Colorado farmers market yesterday, surrounded by majestic mountains and boxes of juicy, ripe Palisade peaches and an abundance of tomatoes whose garden-fresh aroma made my mouth water, I discovered a box of early-Jonathan apples. I use early-Jonathans when I make apple butter in the fall, so spying them when we're barely into mid-August was a wake-up call that autumn is indeed nearly here.

Early last week, I decorated Swan’s Nest's front entry for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot, destined for their September/October issue. As I unpacked boxes of autumn garland, Indian corn, pinecones, and pumpkins in every color, shape, and size, I couldn't help but notice that the colors were reflective of what was beginning to happen in nature all around me – tall, purple lupines going to seed; meadow grasses lighter in color than the week prior; and willows in our wetlands showing the first hints of gold.

But, before it completely disappears, we'll enjoy summer's final weeks as we cook thick steaks, juicy bison burgers, sweet Olathe corn, and garden-fresh vegetables on the grill, sip glasses of rosé with friends in the sunshine, savor leisurely dinners on the front veranda while gazing at the Tenmile Range, and I'll bake luscious fruit tarts and cobblers with the berries and stone fruits I find in my markets. With that in mind, here's my recipe for the Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart I baked last week after a trip to the farmers market. You'll love that there’s no need to skin the fruit before baking!

- Christy

Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart

 

  Pastry
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4-5 tablespoons ice water

 

  Filling
1 pound pluots, about 6 medium, rinsed and sliced
1 1/4 pounds peaches, about 4 large, rinsed and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, for egg wash
1 tablespoon clear sparkling sugar or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 8-inch-by-11-inch tart pan with removable bottom

Place flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until it is pea-size.

Add 4 tablespoons ice water and process at low speed until the pastry is crumbly. If the mixture feels dry, add the remaining ice water and process just until the pastry comes together and forms a ball. Remove the pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes or until it is cold.

In a large bowl, gently stir together the pluots, peaches, sugar, and flour; set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the pastry into a large rectangle. Fold the pastry in half and transfer it to the tart pan. Unfold the pastry, fit it into the pan, and trim the excess pastry by running a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Gather the trimmings together into a ball, roll it out, and cut the pastry into ¾-inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel or knife. Place 6 strips at a diagonal across the top of the tart; then turn the tart one-quarter turn and place the remaining pastry strips across in a diagonal to form a basket-weave pattern.

In a small bowl, whip the egg and water together with a fork. Brush some of the egg wash over the pastry strips and along the edges of the tart and sprinkle them with sparkling sugar. Place the tart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove the tart from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.

Yield: 1 11-inch tart

Is It Spring Yet?

It’s snowing outside – again. But, after all, it IS mid-February and the calendar assures me it’s still officially winter. Much of the nation is weary from wave after wave of mega snow and ice storms. In the Colorado mountains, we expect and embrace this kind of weather and are generally less-than-happy when the snow machine takes a hiatus, as it did during the past several weeks. While I enjoyed being outdoors without freezing my you-know-what off, each snowfall is vital for the moisture it brings to our forests, streams, and rivers, and the overall economic health of our mountain community. Plus, the sight of every surface outside my window, covered in new-fallen fluffy snow, is exceedingly beautiful.

Nevertheless, I feel a yearning for spring starting to develop. My eye is drawn to springtime colors, whether browsing in my favorite clothing shops or selecting flowers and blooming plants in the floral department of my grocery store. So, when I had the opportunity to create a table setting this week in conjunction with a newspaper interview, I decided to set the table for a springtime gathering.

Bright yellow placemats and a mint green table runner, fashioned from a 3-yard length of fabric, anchor the table and set the theme for my spring décor. Decorative gold chargers, gold-rimmed white china plates given to me recently by my mother, my favorite green and white, scalloped-edge bunny salad plates, and inexpensive stem-less wine glasses filled with simple arrangements of yellow and pink cut flowers, add another layer of seasonal color and visual interest.

Cut-work linen napkins are gathered into painted, wooden napkin rings that resemble flower pots – each sporting a single tulip in a variety of springtime colors. When I purchased them over 25 years ago in a decorators warehouse, I certainly never dreamed I’d still be using them years later, but it just goes to show that a bit of unexpected whimsy in an otherwise somewhat formal setting, can lend the ideal finishing touch to carry out the theme and prevent a table from appearing stuffy.

Springtime colors can be just the remedy for late-winter blues, so lift your spirits, surprise your family or guests, and create a little magic with a fast-forward to another season for your next gathering around the table.

-Christy

2014 Election - Time To Vote!

It’s almost national Election Day, and I’ve just returned from early voting at my Dallas, Texas precinct. It’s a gorgeous, cool, sunny morning, and the voter turnout was steady as folks took advantage of beautiful weather and shorter waiting lines in order to cast ballots. Now comes the wait until the ballots are counted and results begin to stream in Tuesday evening November 4.

Today’s voting got me thinking about the concept of favorites – favorite books and music, favorite color, and favorite recipes. At this time of year when the days and nights are cooler, my favorite recipes are hot and fragrant from the oven. Roasted chicken, 4-layer lasagna, roasted glazed root vegetables, pumpkin ‘n’ spice bread, butternut squash pie….

So, I thought in honor of Election Day 2014, I would share two of my favorite autumn recipes and let YOU vote for your favorite on my Facebook Fan page. Or share one of your own favorites! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christy-Rost/194284390585965

-Christy

THREE-CHEESE MANICOTTI

From Celebrating Home: A Handbook For Gracious Living by Christy Rost (Bright Sky Press, 2012)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried sweet basil
  Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
8 manicotti shells
2 ounces cream Havarti cheese, shredded
6 ounces fresh Mozzarella
3/4 cup part-skim Ricotta

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the manicotti shells according to package directions just until they are al dente. Drain and cool slightly. Fill each shell with Havarti, mozzarella, and ricotta. Spoon a small amount of sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish, arrange the filled manicotti on top of the sauce, and pour the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover and bake 45 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the filling is hot. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano just before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

SWEET POTATO and APPLE GRATIN

From Celebrating Home: A Handbook For Gracious Living by Christy Rost (Bright Sky Press, 2012)

Ingredients:
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thickness
2 Granny Smith or other firm apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Panko crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a single layer of sweet potatoes in a large baking dish, overlapping the slices. Add a layer of sliced apple and top with the remaining sweet potatoes.

In a small bowl, stir together the heavy cream, chicken broth, salt, nutmeg, and white pepper. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with Panko crumbs, and bake 15 minutes more, or until the sweet potatoes and apples are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Columbus Day

We could not have planned this trip better. My husband and I are in Barcelona, Spain in time for Columbus Day, which is tomorrow, October 13, 2014. As we disembarked from Oceania’s “Riviera” cruise ship after hosting a 10-day culinary cruise, and our taxi drove out of the city’s port area, we passed a tall, impressive statue of Christopher Columbus, standing in the center of a busy traffic circle at Mirador de Colom.

As Randy and I walked through the city today, exploring major thoroughfares and ancient, narrow streets, there was an air of celebration everywhere – in town squares crowded with busy outdoor cafes, in front of Barcelona’s 13th century gothic Cathedral, and from residents’ balconies, many of which were draped with flags.

I spent a lot of time peeking through café, restaurant, and shop windows as we walked, many of which featured pizzas, gorgeous sandwiches with thin slices of locally produced ham, and freezer cases heaped with a colorful array of frozen gelato. For lunch, Randy and I decided to skip the oh-so-appealing cafes in favor of a shop that featured racks of Iberian cured hams. The proprietor was slicing paper-thin pieces of meat from the bone as we walked in, and the aroma of freshly-baked bread filled the air. We chose one of the few remaining empty tables, glanced through the menu, trying to decipher the descriptions when neither of us speaks Spanish, and ordered ham sandwiches with brie and Havarti cheese. They arrived warm and toasty from the oven – a little slice of culinary heaven in Barcelona.

-Christy

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