It was 9:30 p.m., I think, when the phone rang. I had taken a break from my computer and was sitting in a wrought iron chair on my Malabar, Fla., patio, sipping limoncello. Debbie called to let me know she had just hung up the phone with Rico. An hour earlier, I had hung up the phone with Rico. Our circle of conversation occurs at least once a year, when we three old friends have to check in with one another, catch up, make sure each is doing all right.

We reminisced about the 70s, the good ole days in West Rockport, at the Foundry and at my 1800s cape-style house on Mill Street where Debbie, Susan and Rico lived for about two months with Bill, me, our two children, our three large dogs, three Maine Coon cats, Debbie’s large dog, Rico’s two large dogs and Susan’s medium dog. Total: Seven dogs, three cats, two small children, five adults. All very different living beings. All unique. All dovetailed into the small cape. All with additional friends dropping by for a day or weekend. Live music played. Good food was shared. Conversations about art and design bounced off the old walls and out onto the wooden deck, perched high above the slanting fields, upon which my sheep and my large donkey grazed. I collected animals as well as people.

The house itself begged for this energy of hustle and bustle, for this interaction of fun, good and supportive friends in a shared proprietorship of home, food and warmth. Several years earlier, I had longed for this house after visiting it for a dinner party with Nate and Lillian Berliawsky, the former owners. The enormous country kitchen with a wood-burning cook stove, wide, old wooden floor boards, exposed ceiling beams, a large bay-window overlooking miles of undeveloped woods and wetlands framing the dining table. All this attracted me to the point of obsession. The house was not for sale. It didn’t matter. I dreamed of owning the house. I belonged there, cooking in that kitchen. I wasn’t going to give up. I pestered Lillian for a year about buying it if they ever wanted to sell.

“Not now. Maybe in the future,” Lillian said. “Nate loves this farm.”

I alerted a real estate friend that if she ever heard that it was for sale, to call me immediately, any day, any time. She kept her word. One night at midnight she called. She had been at a dinner party where she encountered Lillian, who casually mentioned to her, “Nate and I are thinking of selling the house and moving into the Thorndike.” The Thorndike was an old hotel in Rockland that Nate owned. He had a restaurant on the main floor. Lillian planned to remodel the top floor into a large penthouse apartment, “… now that they were getting too old to take care of the country house.”

I could hardly wait until the next morning when my friend would contact Lillian and pursue the matter. Lillian could be equivocal about the sale of just one book in her downtown business, ABCD Antiques Books, and she demonstrated this same trait with the sale of her house. Nearly a year passed before she finally put to paper their desire to sell. Another six months to determine price. After the agreement was signed, her business-like nature turned to generosity, as she told us stories about their love of the place, guests whom they had entertained in that kitchen, what they had done to refurbish it, the history of the house and its 35 acres. She left me a few antique books, serving dishes and pieces of old furniture in the basement. When we moved in, I knew my soul had been living there for a very long time and I was just catching up to it.

Another attractive feature of the house was at the entrance: steep and narrow stairs converged at the top to a small platform with three more steps, up and off to either side, leading to each bedroom. Lillian said, “It’s called a Good Morning Staircase.” Our kids loved depicting this, stepping out of their bedrooms, greeting one another with what was told to them. “Good morning, Jeff.” “Good morning, Genie.”

Being artistic young people, Debbie, Susan and Rico gravitated to Bill and ended up working at our company, Moss Tents. Debbie and Rico continued creating their art at the Foundry, where artists had studio space and worked. At the same time, the three needed a place to stay, so we invited them in.

Debbie carved out her area in the tiny living room and slept on the couch, with Yakshi, her large golden retriever, at her side. Debbie’s laugh, instantly recognizable, erupting like a jackhammer, ricocheted throughout the old cape house, engaging all of us. Debbie, the stain-glass artist, was our dessert queen. Birthday cakes were pieces of sculpture, unusual shapes, flourishing multicolor icing, wild flowers, peacock, hawk, and pheasant feathers sticking out of the top, and myriad plastic miniatures of any chosen theme. She was my kids’ birthday party executive director. Jeff and Genie’s birthdays were one day and four years apart, so Debbie would have a joint party. Imagine the scene of six 10-year-old boys and six 6-year-old girls, each given a spray can of whipping cream by Debbie. Whipped cream hung from the walls, on the windowpanes, on chairs, stuck on the sheep’s wool, and on the black nose of Charlie, my donkey.

Rico, the metal sculptor, was our erudite thinker and musician. He could keep us educated, informed, rushing to our dictionary, and entertained, day and night with humor, stories and guitar. He slept under my baby grand piano, clothes stuffed in a backpack, with his two giant, black Newfoundland-mix dogs, Noah and Hammer, dwarfing him, one on each side of his sleeping bag.

In Rico’s, Debbie’s and my recent phone discussion, I made the comment that these three guests were good sports, living under such uncomfortable conditions back then in the crowded house. And I asked Rico if he remembered sleeping under my piano.

“Are you kiddin’? We had it as good as it gets. So live and learn, or sleep on top of the un-tunable piano in the next life.”

Susan. How do I describe Susan. A quiet beauty. Our Grace Kelly. Seen roller-skating or biking around town because she didn’t own a car. Tall, blond, slim, elegant, graceful, with short, straight hair, who, when donning her clothes purchased at Goodwill for $12, looked like she had just been outfitted at a Fifth Avenue Armani store. She became a key prototype maker and designer at our Moss Tents Company. Susan made her claim on a spot in the attic-loft, in the attached shed. She swept and mopped the area spotless. She created a bed with cinder blocks and a door with a piece of foam. She hammered nails into two roof beams, on which to hang her bike. Her few clothes were neatly folded in plastic milk crates, one used as a bedside table, holding a small lamp, extension cord running down the wall to my kitchen. To this place, she would climb the ladder every night, carrying her medium size dog.

Bill and I occupied the only bedroom, other than the two kids’ tiny upstairs rooms.

Bill designed tents, smoked his pipe, told endless funny stories. I ran the operations of the company, took kids back and forth to school and activities, fed the sheep and donkey and dogs and cats, and cooked the evening dinner on the wood-burning cook stove, filling the spacious kitchen with delightful fragrance-smells of garlic, onions, peppers, spices and herbs mostly for one-pot meals, to serve a minimum of seven diners, sometimes more with the addition of friends, who, if staying, found another corner in which to put a sleeping bag, or they slept in a tent in the yard.

Ragoût, a one-pot dish, is great to serve a large group, night after night. First, one-pot dishes are generally easy and quick to prepare. Simmering for a long time the second time around makes them great leftovers. Second, there is always an ingredient or two in the dish that each person likes to eat.

Chicken Bouillabaisse, Beef Stew, Lamb Curry, Pot-au-feu, New England Fish Chowder, Coq au Vin, Lasagna, Spaghetti Carbonaro, Chicken Marbella, Matelotes with haddock, hake, mussels, clams (made with whatever the fresh fish of the day), Mussels in White Wine and Herbs, and many more I can’t seem to remember.

But what I do remember well was carrying my largest Le Creuset iron pot, filled with the evening ragoût, weighing about 25 to 30 pounds while dodging and stepping cautiously, as one would in a mine field, over a carpet of seven, big sleeping dogs, across the kitchen, from stove to the center of the dining table. A feat that kept my biceps primed for any arm wrestle challenge, and left me with memories I hope never to forget.

 


 

Chicken Bouillabaisse with pesto

Serves 6-8


6 medium onions, coarsely chopped

½ cup olive oil

2 28 ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon basil

1 teaspoon tarragon

1 teaspoon sage

1 teaspoon rosemary (fresh herbs if available)

4 gloves garlic, finely chopped

2 chickens cut up, or favorite pieces

2 cups pesto sauce (following recipe)

2 cups chicken broth (homemade is best)

4 cups white wine

1½ pounds small potatoes

2 cups carrots, sliced

In a Dutch oven, sauté onions for approximately five minutes in the olive oil. Add tomatoes with their juice. Add all the herbs, garlic, chicken, pesto, broth, and wine. Cover and transfer to oven, baking at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Add potatoes and continue baking for another 15 minutes. If preferred, you can simmer, covered, on stove top.

 


 

Curried Lamb

Serves 4-5

1 glove garlic, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 cups cubed cooked lamb

1 apple, peeled and cubed

2 cloves

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon coriander

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon curry powder

pepper and salt

½ cup red wine

1 cup finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoon sour cream

1½ cups shredded coconut

½ cup peanuts

3 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

chutney

In a Dutch oven, sauté garlic and half the onions in the oil until brown. Add meat, apple, cloves, cumin, coriander, chili, curry, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in wine. Add half the parsley. Cover and cook over a low flame for one hour. (If you choose, you can transfer the pot to the oven, same length of time, at 350 degrees.) Put the coconut, peanuts, parsley, onions, bacon and chutney in individual condiment dishes. Twenty minutes before your curry is cooked, boil enough rice for the number of guests. Stir sour cream into the meat mixture. The curry can now be served on the rice and pass the condiments.