Lazy Days in Chestertown

We are still in the middle of cornfields, which, oddly, I love. My husband, Mark, and I always describe ourselves as the Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert pair from the 1960s oldie-but-goodie television show, “Green Acres” (remember that?). For those of you too young to know this gem, Oliver opens with:

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

To which his wife, Lisa, responds:

New York is where I’d rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue….

These lyrics sum up our differences on urban life, but when I’m in Chestertown on the Eastern shore of Maryland and we make a right on to Route 290 and head into the cornfields, this feeling of complete relaxation comes over me. I also somehow stop worrying about things like whether we’ll have a leaky roof when we get home, or whether I forgot to pay the gas bill (which, come to think of it, I probably did!).

Part of the joy of coming here is staying with our favorite American innkeepers. We love Tracy and Jim Stone of The Inn at Mitchell House in nearby Tolchester. Their house is immaculate but has that wonderful old house smell.

Tracy makes the most scrumptious and hearty country breakfasts, such as homemade waffles with local blueberries and thick French toast with strawberries and perfectly crisp bacon. They are truly living an envious country life, with a balance of wit and hard work.  I often wish I could be Tracy mowing all 12 acres singlehandedly, or Jim who enjoys fixing the tree swing for the millionth time after working all day as captain of a skipjack at the Echo Hill Outdoor School in nearby Worton.

We love going to the Dixon Furniture auction in Crumpton on Wednesdays, eating delicious crab dishes, playing croquet, and buying trinkets at Twigs and Teacups in town. But I what I really like the most about Maryland’s Eastern Shore is that I don’t feel like I have to do anything and that clears my head to do some of the things I love, like looking through my favorite magazines. We have piles of The New Yorker, Bon Appetit and Saveur on – I hate to admit it – the staircase leading to the second floor at home. I sometimes clear the deck for company and they get shoved in a lonely pile in the attic. I feel defeated every time I see them; the only time I can justify this kind of pure joy is here in Chestertown.

I also started a new indulgence when I opened the Fig Cooking School – Cookbooks.  I love taking brightly colored stickies and marking pages of recipe inspirations for classes. The girls always run to get a glimpse of a newly acquired cookbook before it gets “mom-afied” – the point in a book’s life where it has so many post-its, the page perimeters looks like they’ve grown feathers. Over the course of the week, Mitchell House becomes my Mom-ification workshop.

The girls and Mark are ready to be picked up from kayaking. I’m sure they’re feeling baked from the sun and ready for lunch at the Fish Whistle, a great local place that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay. I’ll be back soon… In the meantime, enjoy these end-of-summer images from our trip.

We’re All Mad Here

 

We take parties way too seriously at our house, so when Francesca came to us and said she wanted her fifth birthday to be an Alice in Wonderland party it was almost too much excitement for us to take. We wasted no time in beginning plans for desserts and decorations. And this was in January.

 

 

Alice in Wonderland happens to be my second favorite book, and so (since I don’t see a Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh party on the horizon anytime soon) I knew the Mad Tea Party had to be absolutely perfect. Making that happen meant handing off all decorating responsibilities to Mom and Isabella, who in recent weeks has blossomed into quite the artist. Isabella painted white roses red, Mom ordered 24 pink flamingos and a dozen hedgehogs for croquet, and together they set up a tea table that would have made the Mad Hatter and March Hare very proud. They tied ribbons to the (unlit) candles, and Bella made a beautiful runner out of butcher paper, featuring 20 or so quotes from the books. And, of course, they gave every kid got his or her own little tea cup for their iced tea.

 

 

But of course, if we’re being honest with ourselves, really what is a tea birthday party if not just an excellent opportunity to eat dessert?

 

 

To celebrate the black, white and red color scheme we made a red velvet trifle with the Lee Brothers’ perfect red velvet cake (but without the orange zest), cut into cubes and layered with a white chocolate mascarpone mousse (without the pear brandy for the kids) from Bon Appétit, vanilla bean whipped cream (2 cups heavy cream, 3 tbsp sugar and seeds from one vanilla bean, beaten until stiff peaks form) and chocolate chips.

 

 

We found the Lee Brothers’ red velvet cake completely by luck. It’s the most flavorful red velvet cake we’d ever tried, with a vanilla-cocoa flavor that’s deepened by lots of buttermilk. It’s light, tender, moist and completely perfect. We liked it so much, we remade it in the form of “Eat Me” cupcakes. We wrote “Eat Me” on everything – in icing on the cupcakes, and in chocolate chip cookies on the trifle and oversized brown sugar cookies.

 

 

For drinks we took the labels off of Izze bottles and glass Coca-Cola bottles and tied “Drink Me” tags on them…

 

 

…and we rounded off the desserts with a candy table inspired by the graduation.

 

 

We played croquet, had a freeze dance “caucus race,” and finished with a white rabbit-inspired bunny hop red light-green light. And of course, everybody won everything and they all got prizes!

Francesca felt so special in her Alice costume and that night over her celebratory “Chicken Terinaki” she said she had “the best day ever.” And seriously, with trifle, croquet and pink flamingos, what day could possibly be more frabjous?