We were aware of Simon and Lisa long before we met them. We’d pop in for a snack at our local coffee shop and there they’d be, enjoying a quiet lunch, Simon always dressed in some chic country gentleman jacket or coat, Lisa in a cozy cashmere sweater and black ski pants that fit her perfectly, and their son Julian behaving better than any ten-year-old had a right to. Who are they? I’d think. They’re kind of perfect…But why are they so quiet…?
Boy, was I wrong! Lisa has a wicked sense of humor and Simon, an avid race car driver (and collector) is equally playful, as well as the first to offer a hand in the kitchen. And their son Julian, now 12, always joins his parents when invited to dinner here (we’ve learned he can be quite the discerning guest in his dinner invitations). His parents, both architects, transformed their revival home in northern Litchfield County into a sprawling maze of inviting rooms, full of mid-century modern pieces, older antiques and terrific art. Personally, I am obsessed with their mustard velvet sofa. Bertrand, on the other hand, covets Simon’s vintage Jaguar resting in their garage. While we search around for his car keys, Simon graciously agreed to answer my House Votes questions.
Favorite paint color: Having always had pure white spaces, we recently painted our new living room in Manhattan Farrow & Ball French Grey and I am loving it. Their paint has such depth and luminosity; I find that it lends a room a sense of dignity and permanence that is deeply satisfying.
Herb of choice: Lisa just found a Yottam Ottolenghi recipe for cauliflower steaks that are seared in caramelized sage butter – they’re perfect for a snowy evening meal. Since then, sage has been our herb of choice.
The secret ingredient to a meal: Lemon zest is magic. It’s yet another tip I found through Yottam. I also believe in the very best quality butter and cream. When I grew up in England, it was during the age of margarine, which I think is just vile. Quality English cream and butter however, is heavenly. Sadly, it is hard to find anything really comparable here in Connecticut, but I do like everything from Arethusa, a beautiful local dairy here in Litchfield county.
Kitchen appliance you’re most fond of: We put a lot of thought into our appliances when we renovated our kitchen, and have thoroughly enjoyed using our Viking range and Viking Fridge every day. I think that we have become quite spoiled now, as I find it hard to contemplate life without them!
Favorite napkin, china and cutlery? I like to use whatever vintage thing catches my eye – all the auction houses such as Doyle’s and Christies now have great online auctions and I buy a lot from them.
Pasta of choice: An Italian friend once told me that his family always ate DeCecco, so I’ve bought that brand ever since. When I first got into cooking I used to watch a lot of Jamie Oliver and he was always making fresh pasta really quickly and efficiently, so I bought a past machine for the kitchen…that was ten years ago and it has never been used! Now that I’m older I think my pasta eating days might be behind me…
Our pantry is never without: Hot chocolate mix. The best is from Jacque Torres, but we also have Swissmix and marshmallows for the kids (and wife).
Favorite room in the house: The library. Anytime there’s books and an open fire, that’s my favorite place. We also have a projector in the living room; on rainy days, it is lovely to have light a fire and watch an old movie–anything from the Fifties or Sixties.
A perfect weekend at the house: In the summer, it usually includes a chamber music concert at Yale (whose summer music program is in our village), a swim at the local lake, and a walk with our dog Jasper. In the winter, we cross-country ski. The snow we get is just one of the advantages of living in the coldest and highest town in Connecticut!
How do you spend the last 15 minutes of each day? I do yoga for the first and last 15 min of the day. I started because I was recovering from a mountain biking injury, and now I do it every day, no matter where I am. I really enjoy the meditative quality of the breathing, and I need to stay supple and fit so that I can enjoy skiing, biking and surfing with my 12 year old son.
Speaking of that 12-year-old son, what’s a quick go-to meal you make for Julian?
We frequently find ourselves in a rush with a hungry twelve year old to feed, so I always have good cheese, crackers and apples on hand to assemble a ‘picnic dinner.’ If he’s really lucky ,we will have gone to the bakery for a fresh baguette!
Finally, got a favorite recipe you’d care to share? The recipe that I always come back to at this time of year is boeuf Bourguignon. I’ve tried many versions, but my definite favorite is also the simplest and most authentic – from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. It has the fewest ingredients and yet the richest flavor.
- 2 pounds of beef shoulder or neck, cut into 1 1/2–inch pieces
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup red Burgundy
- 6 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 bouquet garni
- A little chopped flat parsley
Season the meat with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat, in batches, and sear on all sides until it is well browned. When all the meat is a nice, dark brown color and has been set aside, add the onions to the pot. Lower the heat to a medium high until the onions are soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over them. Continue to cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine. Naturally, you want to scrape up all the really good fond from the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon. Bring the wine to a boil.
Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots, garlic, and bouquet garni. Add just enough water so that the liquid covers the meat by one third—meaning you want a ratio of 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Check the dish every 15 to 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the meat is not sticking or scorching. You should also skim off any foam or sum or oil collecting on the surface. When done, removed and discard the bouquet garni, add the chopped parsley to the pot, and serve.