Monday, January 17, 2011

Our Home's Heart

Photograph courtesy of Amanda Sudimack of Artisan Events

There's a room in my home that I love above all others. No, it's not my kitchen, which is far too miniscule to inspire adoration. Nor is it the rustic screened in porch, which kindled my initial desire to make an offer on the house. It also is not our bedroom, comfortably finished with a burnt umber patina and filled with light. Instead, it's the golden room at the very heart of our home.

When Mike and I house hunted back in 2002, I had one major request: I wanted a formal dining room. New houses don't have them, many old homes have been reconfigured to exclude them. The dining room is unfortunately dying breed. It makes sense - people these days rarely have company and those who do tend to entertain in a very casual fashion. I was, however, determined and when we toured our future home on a cold, snowy February day, we were pleased to find an oddly shaped, graciously sized dining room walled away from the three rooms it bordered.

It required some imagination. The home's former owners had a thing for pink and the dining room walls were decorated with kelly green paint separated from pink bunny toile wallpaper by a chair rail. Also, the walls are by no means linear. There's a coal shoot that juts out of one wall. On another, the powder room's wall intrudes rectangularly. Because these walls are molded from 1896 plaster, there's was no straightening them. Instead, we brought in the experts to create a diamond from the misshapen rock.

With our dual big firm attorney salaries, we'd saved enough to hire our designer friends at Kaufman-Segal. Inspired by the quirky golden chandelier with its tassle bejeweled with fake pearls, they set about to create a little "jewel box." Gold paint, striped golden silk drapes that echoed the golden stripes on the fabric covering the walls atop the chair rail. They added a crown molding and bought a mirror that weighs as much as Mike. Our table is mahogany with an inset of golden fruitwood. The chairs are lined with a custom Italian fabric for which we had to wait eight weeks because the firm was on their August holiday. I completed the room with a painting inherited from my ex-husband's dad and an Oriental rug that cost me $1.99 on eBay ($99.00 shipping).

My big firm salary is a thing of the past, and there are a number of purchases made during those days for which I wish I could return to supplement my meager non-profit income. But not this, not this room. During most of the year, it serves multiple purposes including Purple Asparagus board room and staging area for summer's preserving (did I mention that my kitchen is tiny?), but in the winter, it fulfills its true purpose and is filled with good food, wine, and conversation.

When I was younger and our son was not yet part of the equation, I would cook fancy, multi-course meals, pulling out all the stops and most of the wedding wares - with two of them, weddings that is, I have a LOT of wares. I actually made Veal Wellington once (ah the pretentiousness of youth). Nowadays, my meals are much simpler and the kids are at the table with us.

Since we weren't here for Christmas and New Year's Eve, we inaugurated our table for the winter season on Saturday with our good friends Amanda and Tod and their two children, Emmet and Zoe. Macaroni and Cheese, Parmesan Rolls, and a rich French chicken stew called Garbure, graced our table. Nothing formal, just good family food. Our cushy chairs, low dimmable chandelier, and gracious dimensions, the room is the epitome of comfort, encouraging lingering, an action that we took on Saturday night.

DEC 006

Serves 4 to 6

3 chicken halves
3 pounds chicken backs or wings
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 heads garlic, halved horizontally
3 quarts of chicken stock, preferably homemade
¼ pound white beans
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small dice
3 small leeks or 2 medium leeks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot or 2 small carrots, cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 turnips, preferably golden, cut into small dice
1 sprig thyme
1 bunch dandelion greens, heavy stems removed and thinly sliced.
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

Up to five days before you plan on serving the Garbure and at least a day before, preheat the oven to 450° F. Oil two sheet pans with rimmed sides. Place the chicken halves and garlic halves on one pan and the chicken parts on the other. Sprinkle both with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. Let the chicken cool slightly. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the softened cloves into a small bowl. Place the squeezed out garlic halves, onion, carrot, celery, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, garlic, and chicken in a large stock pot or the bowl of a slow cooker. Cover with the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook on low for 3 hours. Remove the chicken halves to a large pan. Refrigerate when cool. Strain the stock and remove the vegetables and chicken parts. Cool quickly by placing the bowl of strained stock in a large ice bath. Refrigerate overnight.

Soak the white beans in water to cover by 2 inches overnight or for at least seven hours.

Remove the chicken meat from the skin and bones. Cut into small pieces. Discard skin and bones. Puree the roasted garlic.

About 1-1/2 hours before you plan on serving the soup, cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the leeks, carrot, celery, and turnips and cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened slightly. Pour in reserved broth and add the thyme and drained white beans. Cook for about an hour or until the white beans are softened. Add garlic puree and dandelion greens and cook for about 10 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls sprinkled with parsley.


  1. I can very much relate. I love my dining room for the same reasons, its where I share great food with great people.

  2. Thanks everyone. More entertaining also means more recipes.

    Yet another advantage to not catering as much is that I can actually cook for my friends and family as opposed to someone else's friends and family. With Thor's birthday and a going away party scheduled, my dining room will get lots of use these coming weeks!


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