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"There's No Place Like Home (And By That I Mean Yours)" for May VIE

Suzanne Pollak

biscuit rolling Rainbow Row.jpg

“The houses I’ve lived in — and there have been many — meant everything to me. They’ve alternated between a calm oasis I refused to leave in the midst of chaos to party palaces where I couldn’t get anyone to exit on time. Growing up, my dipolmatic family met everyone through our homes in Afria. For eighteen years, we threw weekly dinners with every nationality seated at the table; our biannual parties for hundreds lasted all night. As an adult, my houses have been my most valuable assets. I used them to design the life I wanted at different times. My taste developed by organizing interiors and gardens. I used our rooms to add value, conjure joy, and help create more meaningful lives. I want every cubic inch to give its all….” - Suzanne Pollak

Read more about the Charleston Academy — what we do, how we do it, and why exactly — according the Dean herself, in the May issue of VIE Magazine HERE!

The Modern-Day Mary Poppins for April VIE

Suzanne Pollak

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“Meet Dennise Church — part modern-day Mary Poppins, part house whisperer, part intuitive soul seer who knows when someone needs their hand held spiritually. She flies around the country organizing, advising, and even putting clients to work as she sees fit, transforming and working her magic in ways that a life or business coach does not. Her specialty is making people feel differently about their living spaces, helping them to find stability in the midst of the turmoil in the world….”

Read more about the Dean’s personal M.P. in the latest issue of VIE HERE.

Wine + Food Q&A: Insider Edition

Suzanne Pollak

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

Living with JBFA Winning Chef Jason Stanhope

Q&A with A. K. Lister

Q: Who does the cooking at home?

A: Jason makes our 1.5-year-old son Leo an omelette almost every morning while I have my coffee and get ready, as leisurely as possible. Otherwise I am the home cook, relying on “one pot wonders” like soups, stews, or curries that can be stretched to feed us all for a couple days. I really do look to so many of Suzanne’s tried and true recipes for hearty meals that will fill up hungry people.

When friends are coming over for dinner, I tend to start with an idea then ask J a million questions until he finally takes over and makes it look and taste more amazing than I ever could.

What time does Jason come home at night?

He’s usually home by midnight but I try to be fast asleep by then. Leo, on the other hand…

How often do you eat at FIG?

I would say once or twice per month, but at least half of those meals are “take out” after our pre-service visits with J and mainly include Carolina Gold Rice and vegetables for Leo and something I’m supposed to taste test. #Blessed !

What is your favorite food to eat at FIG?

Oh man, I love the pate. It’s not something I order every time because I think it’s better suited for sharing with a table, yet too many people I’ve met have been burned by bad pate. Even if you do love it, pate for one seems like an intense order. FIG’s is the very best anyway, made with such carefully sourced ingredients and practiced technique, then served with gently toasted brioche! Piquant dijon! Perfect pickles, a little salad, fruity mustard according to whatever is at the height of its season. Fun fact: it’s the only recipe FIG doesn’t seem to share, maybe because nobody’s homemade version turns out quite like theirs.

I could go on...

How does a chef’s life (hours, physical strain, food expertise) impact a partner?

As with any partnership, the lifestyle comes with ups and downs. J’s hours at the restaurant are so long but I’ve learned to appreciate having time to do my own thing. I’m never disappointed to see him, that’s for sure, and we search for little ways to carve out some QT here and there. Learning how to balance our parental duties is a bit more complicated but I think we are calibrating as best we can.

Has Jason ever given you cooking lessons?

Not exactly, but he has given me a million indispensable tips over the years. I wouldn’t know how to hold a knife correctly if it weren’t for him. I would probably still be overcooking my eggs.

What have you learned from Jason, in terms of food? Have your culinary tastes changed since you have met?

We actually met when I worked at FIG as a host while in college, so I think we were both already on the trail of good food and followed our mutual interests from there. J’s style of cooking is all about finding the purest expression of an ingredient, and he works so hard to source only the best product. The motto goes something like, “Don’t F it up!” That’s pretty inspirational for a girl who grew up eating nothing but well-done meat and canned vegetable casseroles at all of our family get-togethers. Now my goal is to make J proud when I cook all my fave soul food dishes with righteous ingredients and as much integrity as I can muster.

Does Jason have pet peeves in regards to food prep or serving or meal times?

Yes! When he does cook at home, he likes to sit down and enjoy the food at exactly the right moment, temperature, place, etc. In a perfect world, I do too. But I am so bad about trying to do one last thing before I eat, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen or situating Leo for maximum food (and wine) enjoyment. Mom probs! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What do you cook for Jason?

Again, I’m always whipping up a big soup or stew. We seldom eat dinner together but I like to know he has a respectable midnight snack option when he gets home -- even if he ends up making a turkey sandwich instead.

What are your culinary rituals at home?

Breakfast is our family meal. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I end up feeding Leo popcorn and yogurt on the couch for dinner. The days are long and can feel lonely at the end; I lose start to lose my fight for civility. But I know that no matter what the night holds, we can look forward to being together in the morning, sitting (mostly) at the kitchen table while we eat our eggs, toast, coffee, cereal, juice, fruit, etc., musing on the the day or week ahead. It’s so ordinary but can be a beautiful ballet through a certain lens, i.e. if we’ve all had enough sleep.

What do you serve guests?

Tagine has historically been one of my favorite party foods! J gave me a beautiful pot for it couple years back and it makes for such a spectacular, and yet so secretly simple, feast.

Lately though, we serve guests a “party size” version of whatever we are having for breakfast or brunch (including XL omelettes) because it’s a much easier meal to host when you have a toddler who needs to go to bed on time.

What Charleston restaurants do the two of you like to go to, or do you go out? Any favorites elsewhere?

The only honest answer here is Bagel Nation on James Island for a breakfast sandwich. That might sound kitschy but we truly love it and almost always make a bagel run for guests staying with us. They cook the eggs just right every time.

We like to try something new when we have the chance to go out for a real date, and Charleston is never short on recently opened restaurants. Last great meal happened at Chubby Fish. And Renzo is still on my list of places to try...

Is Leo tasting odd, advanced, or unusual foods for a toddler?

His first real food was gravy two Thanksgivings ago. He had truffles on his omelette yesterday and liked it. He will try most things really, although rice is his most favorite so far. Hands down.

Does Leo hang out in FIG’s kitchen?

Yes, he loves to visit Papi at work! And his Uncle JoJo, and the rest of the wonderful FIG crew. Plus, he is spoon-fed all the rice he can eat while there. It’s like his personal heaven.

What is your motherly or Jason’s fatherly advice on getting kids to try a new food?

My advice is to avoid making a big fuss over eating any one thing. If a kid tries something and refuses, don’t bat an eye. But also don’t be afraid to serve it to them again, because I’m learning that tastes do change. I like to put a new food on Leo’s plate whenever possible, right next to a reliable standby. I’m sure the days of him demanding nothing but buttered noodles will come for us, too. I just hope I can stick to my guns and keep serving up greens.

I think J would say here: take your time, do use your hands, and don’t forget to chew.

How much of your conversation revolves around food?

Food is the greatest common denominator. Everything revolves around food!

Wine + Food Q&A: Graft Wine Shop

Suzanne Pollak

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Academy Q: How does one start a collection?

Femi Oyediran’s A: There are two or more approaches to the idea of starting a collection. The conversations starts by looking at the intent. Is the intent to have a wide selection of wines you are going to drink occasionally, or is the intent to save a collection of wines available at your disposal? [Are you] looking for wines to build an inventory over time and say, “I’ve collected all these vintages of this wine and this wine.” The pedigree to which you are looking to build your collection is another question.

I think the easiest way from a novice perspective is to have a conversation with a person you will be buying wines from. If you don’t have a lot of experience buying fine wine, the best place to start is with a retailer you can trust, who can give you valuable information. A lot of collections [happen] on a social scale so people have friends doing the same thing [and] they have conversations on what they are buying. Some of them will find outlets [for buying] wines. Sometimes they will collectively purchase together. “Oh there is a case available. You, you, you, and I can split that that case.” That’s the best way to do it.

There are people who do that for a living; they literally curate wines for collectors. Find those people to do it for you. First step: find a retailer you can trust, [who] can give you great advice. Then second step is the social part -- finding people who can share information, a shared hobby of sorts. It becomes communal. After that it’s getting more information: studying, reading, magazine articles. Books need to have context on what you are doing. Decanter magazine would be great. Find a critic whose opinion falls in line with yours. Antonio Galloni is a great critic and is respected by sommeliers. Another thing you can do to add to that social perspective is download apps. Galloni owns an app called Delectable, embraced by sommeliers. Most consumers use Vivino. See what other people are recommending, what other people are drinking. [This] helps you gain some idea of what you are doing. Start a collection [with a] great point of contact and people who can help you.

If you are trying to build a serious collection and don’t have experience, [it’s] easier to find people you have a sense of camaraderie with. Buying retail if you have a team of people doing it with you it becomes more interesting, and you have more buying power. Grow over time.

What about storing?

If you want to get really gutter with it -- not gutter, low brow -- just find a cool, dark space where your wines can sit on their side. I know people who have developed systems where their wines, nice wines, are in cabinets, under their beds, under their couches. The temperature is cooler and its darker, depending on what temperature you keep your house at. It’s kind of like the best place to put it.

What is the ideal temperature for keeping wines?  

Ideal temperature for maintaining all wines, I would say, is around 55. Best case scenario. If you don’t have the means to store wines then these are the best places in your house to put them. If you want to invest in a wine fridge, you can do that, or if you want to go crazy you can build out a wine cellar in the house. That’s another whole look...

Some people have a wine collection of 20 bottles. They might have five super nice bottles and the rest they drink over the course of the year or two years. It depends on what you want. If you want a big collection then so be it. If you want no more than 50 wines at a time then so be it. I am sure there are apps to help people organize or you can just kind of build an Excel sheet [to] manage your wines [and] tasting notes, etc. If it’s 50 wines, it’s not really a lot. We have probably around 300 here, including wines by the glass. It’s still growing too.

How do you know what to drink now, and what to keep?

We do research but I also have the experience to know when something is [ready to drink] and when something isn’t. You don’t start a music collection just by listening to music; you go to a record store where somebody knows what they are doing, you ask them questions, and you learn. It’s the same thing in wine.

Does it make you sad when you drink a treasured bottle of wine?

No, not at all. I do it all the time. Crack it open! If you want to, let’s have a party. You know, if someone wants to open up a bottle of wine, that is their choice. It’s not my bottle. Who am I to say “Hey, no, don’t do that!” There are certain times when you are around people, buzzed and having a good time, [who say] “I’m going to open this!” [I tell them,] “No no no, seriously stop, you are going to regret this in the morning.” That happens.

Some people like to document their experiences. Some people like to save the labels of the wines they drink, which I respect. They have binders of all the wine they’ve had, maybe photos of the times they drank it. That’s pretty intimate. I just remember -- a wine memory bank, but it’s not perfect.

What is one of the best memories?

They are all different. Experience overall: I had a really great time at Miles’ mother’s house five years ago, where we got a bunch of wine and bunch of friends over and we had a ridiculously good time. It had nothing to do with the wines; it had to do with the company. The wine was good but the company was better. The combination [made] it a legendary night.

There are times when I had legendary wines. I went out to Napa last year and I was in the [company] of sommeliers [at a] round table which is a really coveted experience to be invited to. We opened insane wines, vintages going from the 20s. That was the most surreal wine experience I’ve been part of. I’ve never had wines of that pedigree and that age before. That was really exciting.

Was that a vertical tasting?

No, that was like this wine, this wine, this wine...

Worst experience?

Buying fraudulent wines. Watch that documentary Sour Grapes on Netflix, about the guy who defrauded the Koch brothers and all these millionaires. He went to prison.

Or buying bad wine, when you buy wine from the gray market, meaning you buy from people who have connections. [Maybe] this guy in NY has all these wines in his warehouse. [You] go and pick them up, you don’t know where he got them from, or the person he got them from. The chain of how the wines arrived is always really important, because you don’t know if something was stored in someone’s 70-degree house for years [with] the bottle sitting up; then they sold it when they moved out of their house and it shipped up to Toronto in a car; then the guy in NY bought it from that person. You buy that bottle for five grand, then you open it and you know it’s vinegar. It’s risky. You have to learn how to be smart about spending your money.

A lot of people who buy who are very serious collectors. A lot of them have figured out a way to verify and learn what they are looking for. Sometimes it’s just a crap shoot. I really have no idea. I just have to figure it out. I’ll take a case of this wine and open it up and see what happens.

Corked -- things happen. I’ve seen it in restaurants. Sometimes it’s not anyone’s fault [and] could have been the bottle itself. There are so many variables. That’s why it’s such a gamble. That’s the thrill for a lot of people. They are willing to roll the dice and see what happens. It’s like parachuting.

How long should a red wine be open before drinking?

There are no hard and fast rules. I like to decant most of my reds as a rule because it looks good; and because a lot of wines, especially if they are youthful, need air. It really depends on the wine.

How do you learn -- eyes, nose, or palate?

I think when I began, a lot of it was my eyes. I did a lot of reading, a lot of listening. When I gained more experience, I started to learn more from my nose and my palate. Those are the most important things now because the information, the knowledge is a part of me now. It’s like knowing how to read music and then playing it, the difference between the two. You could read Charlie Parker but can you play him? You can understand burgundy but can you differentiate between what is good, what’s classic, and what’s not good?

I’m not talking about blind tasting, just tasting wine and, “Wow!” I’ve had these wines before and it’s delicious having that contextual knowledge. It’s something you learn from tasting and listening to people and understanding, versus when you read it in a book and [it] still doesn’t mean you understand the wine.

How long have you been doing this?

I decided wine was the career in 2012. I had been studying wine prior to that for a year or two but I decided in 2012 that I was going to make it my primary interest.

Oldest wine you’ve ever tasted?

1921 Chateau d’Yqueum. I’ve had port from 1908, madeira from 1908, but those are readily available. I am sure there is 1908 Madeira by the glass at Charleston Grill.

What’s your take on speciality glasses?

If you are drinking nice wine, you should drink out of a nice vessel. You can have a universal glass. The glasses we use are a universal. You can use it for everything. Red, white, Champagne. We use Gabriel Glas which is really great. If you want to spend a lot of money, those are the best for your dollar, their standard glass. But if you want to spend a lot of money on superior glasses, you can get Sophienwald, Zalto, Mark Thomas. If you want to spend money, [those are] the top three. Gabriel has a Golden edition that is pretty nice too. These glasses are going to cost $70 per glass.

Would you get a red glass, a white, and a Champagne?

I have Zalto at home. I have a Sophienwald Champagne set. I have Mark Thomas decanters here. Beautiful! We use the Gabriel. I have all of them. I would probably get a white and a red. Honestly, I’d go for a universal for all of them. If I didn’t know, they all make a universal glass.

Do people come to Graft mostly to shop, to socialize, or to just to drink wine?

It’s become one and the same. [When] buying wine, going to a retail store is like one of the most mundane experiences for a lot of people, so we created a social room. It doesn’t make fine wines Disney World, but when you walk in here and you see people, it changes the energy. You are not bored anymore. People are hanging. It feels conducive to whatever you want to do. You can walk in here and get a bottle and leave, or you might run into me here and [say], “Hey, I was just going to come in for a bottle, but let me have a glass of wine and let’s catch up.” Who knows? You might grab more because you are sitting down for a while.

There is something to be said about doing retail, wine especially, in a social room. Completely different! I would never want to do retail any other way. This is conducive to Miles’ and my spirit. If we were just behind a counter all the time, we would not get a lot of fulfillment in life. We would probably hate ourselves. It’s a very different experience. Unless you are the type of store that opens up wines and you hand a glass to your customer when they walk in -- which is cool. But if your relationship is, “Hey, trust me on this bottle to take home,” then the next time you see that person is when they give you feedback.

For us, we get to see immediate feedback from people. A lot of people who come in for retail [build] relationships and I met them because they sat at the bar and they talked to me about wines. They are like, “You know what? I am going to come in tomorrow and buy some bottles.” It’s one hell of a way to gain a customer. They have to like you. If you are a very anti-social but brilliant wine person, a traditional wine store is for you. Since we are very social people, this gave us ability to do more.

Is there any kind of food that is terrible with wine?

There is a wine for everything.

What’s the wine for romance?

Depends on the person. I would never make any assumptions about what a woman wants to drink in general. So I mean as a sommelier, I ask questions and then I find what I think would be appropriate for that person.

What questions do you ask customers?

What do you like to drink? What was the last great bottle of wine you had? For me, if I hear a couple of things I am like, “Okay.” That’s my job. I make a bet. I bet this person would love this wine. That’s the game, right? A good sommelier knows how to ask people questions and find out what they want. It’s like music, the same thing. If you like Fela Kuti, you will probably love Ebo Taylor. It’s an easy bet.

Thanks Femi O. & Graft Wine Shop!

Wine + Food Q&A : Counter Cheese Caves

Suzanne Pollak

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What are your best tips for arranging a cheese plate, in terms of beauty, taste, and color? What the most important aspects in your opinion? [Use a] variety of textures and milk types. Otherwise bright colors are vital: citrus, radishes (watermelon radishes are great), tomatoes, etc. The other essential aspect is pattern/symmetry. Using inspiration from nature, art, or some of your favorite aesthetically pleasing [objects] always helps!

 Do you have a particular balance you prefer regarding hard cheese and soft? I always like to include [one or two] soft cheeses and vary the texture from there. From semi-soft cheeses like washed rinds (i.e. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson) that are "soft" but will hold their shape, to super hard cheeses like gouda (i.e. Forx Farm 12 Month Gouda) that you can leave whole or portion into bite-sized pieces for easy snacking.

 What extras do you like to include on the cheese boards? We try to stay as seasonal as possible but will also skirt the line a bit for beauty's sake, using hydroponic tomatoes for color. Olives, various nuts, dried cherries and citrus are other favorites. When I am making a cheese board at home, it is often as simple as three different cheeses, sliced baguette and olives. Bright, full, patterned boards look great, but simplicity on a beautiful board can look just as good.

 What are your rules/ideas about cutting vegetables like radishes and cucumbers in slices or wedges? Do you cut for looks or taste? You have to cut for both. No matter how good something looks, if it's difficult to eat, you've lost the plot.  Again, symmetry is key so you want all of the pieces to have an identical shape and be placed in a symmetrical manner. With radishes, cucumbers, citrus, etc., we will often slice quite thin for layering. Mandolins can be very handy.

 What are your favorite crackers or breads on a cheese board? Roots & Branches Sesame Crackers (from Asheville) and Tiller Baking Co. baguette or sesamo loaf!

 What are your favorite olives and meats on a cheese board? Castelvetrano olives and liverwurst or pate.

 Do you have particular go-to boards or trays (wood, porcelain, metal, certain makes)? We use high-quality but still disposable (or reusable) square wooden boards for our business, but I like any heavy cutting board. We have one we got as a wedding gift that is a super heavy handmade butcher block with a psychedelic wood pattern across it. Marble slabs also look great!

 When do most of your customers use cheese boards -- an appetizer before a dinner party, on a buffet for a cocktail party, for a picnic? I would say most of them are for cocktail parties where the appetizers are the main event, but many use them for an easy way to greet guests or begin a dinner party. We've also made several for wedding-related snacking, whether at [a] bachelorette party or to have out while the reception dance party rages on.

 When a cheese board starts getting picked over, do you as a host rearrange the cheeses on the board? Add more? Bring out another board? I tend to put out everything I intend to offer on the board at once, so once it's done, it's done...but there are no rules! This is part and parcel with always making sure you have more than you think you need. There's a cheese-hound at every party. I like to have it ready ahead of time which is handy for being able to socialize, but also for allowing the cheeses get up to room temperature.

 What is the proper way for a guest to cut into a wedge of cheese? If everyone knew about rind to paste distribution, the world would be a better place; but an overbearing host is no fun. Most rinds are edible and delicious (besides those that are waxed or clothbound), so the idea is to get rind and paste in each "slice.”  I'll typically portion a bit of the chunk while leaving the rest whole to provide guidance to the uneducated.

 How do you get a non-foodie to taste an unusual or stinky cheese? Truthfully, I prefer not to force anyone to try something if they are simply not a cheese lover. Some folks just don't like trying new things, and that is okay.

 What was your most unusual request? Cheese without salt! Salt is an essential ingredient to cheese making. No salt = no taste.

 What is the best way to store cheeses? If the cheese was wrapped in paper when you bought it, you can rewrap it in that same paper and secure it with a piece of scotch tape. Store in the drawer or devoted bin in your fridge. Otherwise, wrap the cheese in parchment paper and then in saran wrap. This will keep the cheese from drying out but not let it take on the "plastic-y" gross flavor that can happen if the plastic is directly touching the cheese.

 How did you become interested in cheese? Just out of sheer love for it! A fortuitous internship at Vermont Creamery got me into the cheese world and I never looked back!

Where did you get your exceptional visual sense from? I would say both Eric and I have an artistic background but his visual sense mainly guides us. Luckily, our aesthetics coincide nicely.

 Was yours and Eric's wedding cake a cheese tower? Yes! We drove up to New York from Charleston for our wedding with a trunk full of cheese. We had a bunch of cheesemonger friends in attendance, so immediately after the ceremony we called all of them up to portion the cake so that everyone could snack on it throughout the rest of the party. It was one of our favorite aspects of the day.

 Could we do an all cheese dinner party together? I have ideas… Certainly! With such a range of textures, flavors and colors, we feel like there is no reason cheese can't be part of every dish on the table!

Do you eat cheese every day? I certainly do eat cheese every day. I have found that the more I work with something the more I crave it. At the end of the day, whether coming home late from FIG or finishing our deliveries, I set some cheese out, let it come to temp, and open a beer or pour a glass of wine. It's a nice unwinding ritual.

Thanks Counter Cheese Caves!

XO, the Dean

C2C for March issue of VIE

Suzanne Pollak

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“The Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival (C2C) is a collaboration between the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England — home to the the thirty-year-old Charleston Festival — which is well known all over Europe — and the Charleston Library Society (CLS) in Charleston, South Carolina. The latter hosts two dozen well-known speakers and authors over fourteen days every November in two historic landmark locations downtown: the elegant Charleston Library Society (the oldest cultural institution in the South the second oldest lending library in the country) and our nation’s oldest theater, the Dock Street Theatre….”

Read more about C2C in The Literati Salon: A Festival for Intellects, Great Minds, and Engaging Conversation, by Suzanne Pollak, VIE March 2019, HERE!

Taking on #Towelgate for Town & Country

Suzanne Pollak

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“All humor and Twitter one-upmanship aside, how many towels does one need to own? Is the count influenced by how many times you use them before washing? And what of the guest towel vs hand towel debate?

For answers, we turned to a doyenne of the domestic arts—Suzanne Pollak, who runs the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits—and asked for her thoughts on Ali’s bathroom arithmetic…”

Read the article by Liz Krieger regarding #Towelgate and the Dean’s final word on the subject, via T&C HERE

Self Love Series: Psychic Home

Suzanne Pollak

There could be a yard sale in your future…

There could be a yard sale in your future…

Getting rid of stuff liberates you. You are left feeling fresh and more in tune with your psychic home.

There are myriad reasons to release items that have no more use in your life, possessions that others can use, objects that just take up space. The most important is you must own your personal style and relinquish anything that doesn’t represent YOU. We want to see people expressing themselves fully...

An empty shelf, a bare wall, a pared down interior feels good! A refreshing breeze rushes into your soul, bringing with it a brand new energy. You become lighter. For those of us who favor minimalism, empty space is essential. For others, letting go is a good exercise. You can always fill in an empty space but it is a fact that everyone owns too much stuff. Who needs dozens of black pants, ten computer plugs, 50,000 jars of cosmetics, 150 cowboy boots?

Unless you are a collector — that’s a different story entirely, a discussion for another day. (Stay tuned for our next post if you are into collecting wine!) Collections are interesting, meaningful, even educational. They bring us beauty and infinite rewards.

Hoarding, however, does not. Even if you are not a hoarder, hanging on to things takes energy. It drains you of your power to access your innermost self. Keeping stuff just in case you may need it one day has no meaning for today. Take the plunge and purge.

Self Love Series: Start with Someone Else

Suzanne Pollak

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

We all want to know: Who will be there for me?  But sometimes you must get out of your own head. Be there for others (not in a phony way) and they will be there for you.

As we look around at all our friends and loved ones, we might notice that everyone seems a bit low in the water. There is only one remedy to correct this state of mind, and it begins with you. Figure out which problems in your life are actionable and which ones there is nothing you can do to solve. When the in-actionable problems take over your brain, it’s time to start thinking of things other than yourself. Be there for someone else.

Charity doesn’t have to change the world. It’s enough if you can change a few moments for another. Little changes bring about big shifts over time. Here is a running list of Little Actions:

  • Bring dinner. Flu is rampant. Sick people need to eat but cannot get to the store or stand in front of the stove. You could do it for them, delivering a dinner of chicken noodle soup already in zip lock freeze bags so they can have two or three dinners.

  • Be an active listener. Try not saying the word “I” for twenty minutes in your next conversation with an acquaintance. Your friendship will dive deeper as a result.

  • Spread joy. No matter how terrible you feel, pretend you feel joy, if only for a few minutes. Call a friend in need and ask how they are. Do not discuss any of your problems on the call. 

  • Give someone a happy surprise. Pay for someone’s small purchase but don’t tell them. At One Broad in December, a young man I hardly know asked the cashier to put my cookie and tea on his card. When my turn came to pay I was flabbergasted! When I needed a lift, there it was. And for the last eight weeks, I haven’t forgotten this generous gesture, nor will I forget.

  • Share your expertise. One of my closest friends who died recently always had words of encouragement, wisdom, business advice, empathy — never wanting anything in return except friendship. As I mourn his loss and importance in my life, it is my turn to take my wisdom and empathy to another. We all hold each other up one moment at a time. 

Self Love Series: Basic Beauty 101

Suzanne Pollak

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Did you know many household beauty and health remedies are already in your refrigerator and pantry to help you nurture yourself without spending a dime? Here are the Dean’s favorite at-home treatments…

  • Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, for the body and the brain, may be all the rage these days; but I’ve been a believer since 2010 when two of my sons went to Afghanistan at the same time. Overnight, nine of my fingers became immobile with arthritis.  All appendages recovered completely within two weeks after starting the cider vinegar regime, which is this: Pour a splash of vinegar in every glass of water all day long. In no time at all, the vinegar-flavored water will taste so good that plain old water will become a bore. The only change in lifestyle was the vinegar water — a secret weapon to combat my own wartime stress. 

    Make sure the vinegar has the ‘mother’ in the bottle; so much has been written lately on this subject that we will not waste your time explaining. But a physiatrist once told me the vinegar may balance the serotonin levels in the brain. I am a believer because of the amount of stress I survived, in addition to never getting sick since 2010. I even use it as a tonic on my skin.  Cider Vinegar forever!

  • Give yourself a facial in the privacy of your home. The best-ever facial trick is to use full fat yoghurt with active cultures. Add a few drops of Ylang Ylang pure essential oil and leave on until mask drys. The acid in the yoghurt firms and softens the skin and brings out a glow, all for pennies. The best part is you can multi-task and still concentrate.

  • Smoosh virgin coconut oil through your hair, use an old pillowcase, and sleep! In the morning, simply rinse. This is great for scalp and hair, not to mention moisturizing and all natural! Use as often as needed. The ever-useful apple cider vinegar works as a hair rinse as well. It’s PH levels are going to help shut down the hair cuticle and will create more reflection, leaving your hair looking shiny as new. 

  • Try making your own sugar scrub! Use the big sugar granules and mix with canola oil for an exfoliant. Just rub on and get into a hot shower to wash off. 

  • Put epson salt, lavender essential oil and hot water into a big bowl or tub. Mix and soak hands or feet. This helps your muscle and tendons when you find yourself on your feet all day long. To soften rough edges, rub a healthy dose of Vaseline or Aquaphor over your hands and feet. Wear socks or gloves to keep your skin from turning red and cracking, especially in Winter.

Ironing is about Attitude

Suzanne Pollak

One day, a very long time ago, one of the top magazine editors in the country, along with his family, happened to be staying with me. He wanted to know where I kept our iron and ironing board, telling me unashamedly that he enjoyed ironing his shirts (or at least he did then.) He shared his ironing tricks; explaining that there was nothing to it: just pay attention to the collar, cuffs, and strip with the buttons. No one saw the rest of the shirt anyway. This man — a haughty, brilliant, intellectual with his finger on the pulse of everything everywhere — did not turn his nose up at ironing. 

So why did I? I am ashamed to confess that I believed ironing was a waste of time. For years I collected antique linens but paid others to iron. Now, I iron myself, and I enjoy it. My ironing sessions are for afternoons when I am doing heavy brain lifting, and need a distancing mechanism. Sherlock Holmes used his pipe smoking and violin playing. A knotty problem for Holmes was a 'three pipe problem'. My equivalent is two dozen linen napkins.

I plug in the iron; remove the linens from the refrigerator (more on that trick in the video below) and find the back and forth of ironing soothing, contemplative, and surprisingly rewarding. In no time at all, my mind disengages enough to solve the weighty problem, plus I have a pile of lovely linen napkins ready and waiting. Like a Battalion Commander planning an exercise, I feel that one detail is completed for a dinner party in the future.

There is something so satisfying seeing the pieces of cloth go from wrinkly to smooth. Near-instant gratification!

XO The Dean

Polar Vortex Stew

Suzanne Pollak

Bundle up! No need to lose your cool…

Bundle up! No need to lose your cool…

Want to warm everyone around you, make the house smell amazing, and have something useful (but still easy) to do when you cannot leave the house? Providing you have the ingredients on hand, this stew is soul-satisfying because the flavor is more than just meat . We use a smoked ham hock and bones from the meat to extract even more deliciousness. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds beef shank with bone

  • 1 - 1.5 pound smoked pork hock 

  • 2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil 

  • 2 cups wine - white, red or a mixture

  • 3 cups water or stock

  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half

  • 8 whole cloves

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

  • a sprig of bay, or 6 to 8 leaves

  • a couple sprigs fresh thyme

  • 4 carrots, cut in chunks 

  • 4 celery stalks, cut into 3“ pieces

  • kosher salt

  • black peppercorns 

Directions:

  1. Cut the beef into large pieces, trimming off some of the fat. 

  2. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or casserole and cook the pork hock until lightly brown. Remove the hock. Put the beef pieces into the hot oil, searing on two sides. Add the bones from the meat and brown. 

  3. Deglaze the pot with a little wine. Add the rest of the wine, the meat, ham hock and meat bones and enough water or stock to cover the meat. 

  4. Stick the onion haves with cloves and put in the pot along with the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and celery. Season with salt — not too much because the ham hock will add salt to the stew. 

  5. Bring to a simmer and cook on stove top over low heat for four hours.  Alternatively cook in a 250 F oven. 

  6. Taste for salt and pepper. Remove ham hock and take off any bits of pork and add to the stew. 

  7. Serve with mashed potatoes, thick slices of toasted bread, or a pasta stirred into the sauce before serving. 

Ask the Dean: Life is Too Short for Perfection!

The Deans

June

Dear Dean, 

I am giving my husband a 40th birthday party. I inherited antique china from my mother-in-law but don't have enough soup plates for our many guests.  We are serving three courses and only have enough china for main course and dessert. Do you know the make of the china (photo and details included in letter) and where I could order some more soup plates?

-Mrs. P.

Dear Mrs. P.,

I suggest serving the men the antique rim soups (because they look super large) and going to a totally different look for the ladies soup bowls. Why don't you look at Pier 1 for a crazy alternative regarding color and choose a different shape (e.g. a true bowl instead of a large shallow bowl)? Two different soup plates on a long beautifully set table will add an element of surprise. Elements of surprise are smart for many reasons; you are seen as a chic and original, plus they can spark a conversation. 

Dear Dean, 

I am a working mom of two daughters. My husband and I travel all the time for work and have no time for a social life. We have gotten to be friends with our neighbors and want to have them over. What is a super easy but fun way to have a dinner party? No one wants to get babysitters. All the kids are in elementary school.

-Ms. M.

Dear Ms. M., 

Why don't you serve a one-pot meal that you can put in your oven in the morning and then not think about for the rest of the day? Your daughters can set the table (under your direction) and make place cards. Maybe they could create a centerpiece using fruit or bunches of herbs from the grocery store. The children can sit at their own table and then watch a movie, or sit at the dining room table and then be excused when they get restless. One pot choices that take a few hours to cook and always a hit include a classic pot roast, chili, or pork butt. Alternatively, you can put together a zesty fish stew in front of your guests while they sip their wine or cocktail in your kitchen.  The children could have grilled cheese sandwiches if they turn their noses up at anything fishy. 

Dear Dean, 

I love to entertain — cooking, socializing, etc. However, the thing that stresses me out is the feeling that I need my home in tip-top shape, cleaned from top to bottom. I have an 8-year-old son, and he does a wonderful job keeping his room up and picking up after himself. Most of my entertaining is hosting other couples that have children. How can I get out of this "perfectionism" mindset regarding my house? My husband says we must have the cleanest home on the block.

-CNM

Dean CNM,

Waiting for your house to be perfect is akin to waiting for the perfect time to have a baby. There is no true state of perfection. You just have to commit to a party at your house and follow through with it. Guests are not judging. They will be glad for a night out and they don't want to criticize, they want to have fun. We will make a bet that you are not nearly as harsh about other's houses as you are about your own. Go a bit easier on yourself. And have a great party. After the first one or two, you will get in the groove.

Be sure to let us know how it goes.

XX the DEAN

The Ancient Art of Sweeping

Suzanne Pollak

Joseph Solman 1909 The Broom

Sweeping is the oldest form of housework. Dean Pollak remembers seeing West African girls sweep hard packed dirt floors in mud huts throughout her childhood.   

Every house, from a one room mud hut to a mansion with many rooms, needs a broom and a dustpan. Keep in mind, if you are setting up a new house, that wood floors and Persian rugs are more forgiving surfaces than white rugs and light tiled floors.  The dirt simply does not show up as much on the former surfaces.  And remember that the Japanese are really on to something,  82% of dirt is left outside if shoes are removed before entering the house.

Regardless if you ever wear shoes in the house, you are going to have to sweep your floors. Sweeping is quick, easy and efficient, and often, less trouble than dragging out a heavy vacuum cleaner. Using a broom can even be relaxing. The rhythmic sound of a sweeping broom relaxes, inside or out.  The violent noise from a backpack blower or vacuum does nothing but jar and addle listeners. The Deans prefer natural fiber brooms with an angled edge that are not too heavy to manage.

In 1908, Mrs. Curtis, in her book Household Discoveries, maintains that to sweep well with a broom is an art that calls for quite a little skill and intelligence. According to Mrs. Curtis there are wrong ways in sweeping as well as the right away. 

For those of you new to brooming, here's the right way as per the Dean:

  • Sweep dirt into a pile.

  • Sweep that pile into a dustpan.

  • Deposit into the garbage.

  • Voila! Clean floors.

Great artists see the beauty in brooming. 

Edouard Vuillard 1940 Woman Sweeping

MT. VERNON XMAS PUNCH (& other Homemade Gifts)

A. K. Lister

There is no good reason not to have an arsenal of homemade gifts on hand this time of year, whether to give to hosts of the many Christmas (and Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, etc.) parties you are sure to attend, or to reciprocate when a neighbor shows up with a little surcee for you and yours.  

Homemade gifts, like the Washington family's famed punch, can be simultaneously simple to prepare and yet still spectacular to behold, not to mention imbibe.  For as velvet-y as this punch may seem, it is a nonetheless quite potent mixture of bourbon, rum, Chartreuse, sherry, vermouth, and tea, cured for a week in tightly-sealed mason jars.  

Who knew George was such a party animal?!  You can find the recipe for Washington's Punch in our Archive.  Each jar may be individually labeled and tied up in a cheery ribbon, with serving instructions alongside for the recipient to enjoy at another occasion.

Now, there are a few ways to serve a jar of Mt. Vernon Christmas Punch.  For a small gathering of 5 or less, stick with cocktails.  Simply pour a couple ounces of the base over ice, top with either champagne or soda, and garnish with a cherry.  Why not present a plate of Cheese Coins alongside?

For 6 or more, get out the punch bowl -- we're having a party!  But first, you'll need an Ice Ring.  Simply fill a bundt pan halfway with cranberries, cherries, or any other festive fruit to garnish your punch.  Then run hot water over the pan to loosen the ice, flip it into the bowl, and top with 2-3 bottles of champagne to put it to action.  Like so:

There you have it, Mt. Vernon Christmas Punch, the gift that keeps on giving.  There are plenty of other goodies you can whip up and portion for casual gifting, whether alongside the punch or no.  Try biscotti, bourbon cake, or Raisin Scones.

But, if your kitchen is already sanctioned for other grandiose projects -- we're making Prime Rib for Christmas Eve dinner (more on that a little later this week) -- build your Holiday credit with promises for the New Year: offer to make a series of meals, complete with menu suggestions, for someone extra special, or plan to throw a dinner party in their honor.  Or, simply take all your girlfriends out for a nice lunch and hand out a few fabulous party favors.

Regardless, 'tis the season to let the people you love know exactly how you feel...and to drink lots of punch!

XO, the Academy

 

The Art of Gift Giving for VIE December

Suzanne Pollak

Three Wise Men at Strassbourg Cathedral, Germany (c. 1940)

Three Wise Men at Strassbourg Cathedral, Germany (c. 1940)

“The Three Wise Men Understand the Art of Gift Giving…”

Suzanne asks three experts — a world-class chef, one renowned jewelry designer, and a stylist to the stars — to share their wisdom on what to get your loved ones (knives, anyone?), when to give it (surprise them!), what to do when you forget (it happens), and how to give the really big one (diamonds, of course.)

Read the full article in the latest issue of Vie Magazine HERE.

No One Can Enjoy Delicious Food through Gritted Teeth

Suzanne Pollak

Unless your oven conks out, your Thanksgiving meal will get cooked. Everyone puts so much thought and effort into the food that we just know that the flavor of your meal will be wonderful, wherever you eat it. 

What causes our annual breakout of holiday hives is that Thanksgiving food is endlessly thought about but the entirety of the day can be overlooked. Children need to be entertained, elderly people need to be comfortable, lonely neighbors and acquaintances need to be invited, not to mention you yourself must be taken care of! If you are in charge of the day and you break down, well then, everyone is in trouble. No one will mind if there is no creamed cauliflower, but they will mind if no one is getting along and the children are screaming and the sister-in-laws are bickering and the table is rushed to and and then abandoned in a total of fifteen minutes. No one can enjoy delicious food through gritted teeth. 

  • Start grocery shopping days before and be sure to get to the store first thing in the morning. Do not try to accomplish all your shopping in one fell swoop.

  • Make sure everyone has a task to do. This is no time to be a hero. People like to help. Let them.

  • Set the table the day before if you can. If not, be sure to delegate it to people not actively involved in cooking.

  • Assign the turkey carving to a person of competence as early as possible.

  • When someone asks what they can bring assign bottles of wine, or to bakers, a homemade pie.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two days you have people over who may be difficult whether you want them to or not. Although sometimes easier to bite your tongue when someone says something truly offensive, it’s not always best to remain silent. Remember your example to the younger generations, and that some things we should not simply let go. It is possible to respectfully present an opposing view, and then pivot to another subject so the tense moment dissipates. Or better yet, save your discourse for a private moment. Thanksgiving dinner is no place for politics after all, but a time to be thankful for friends, family, and good food!

The Simple Art of Stew III: Oyster Stew

Suzanne Pollak

Stews are something simmered in a closed vessel with a little liquid. The liquid can be wine, beer, water or stock. But don’t forget cream! An oyster stew is one of the most luxurious winter stews known to man. In the stew category, oyster is the quickest and easiest to make. Instead of searing and long-simmering, this one is finished in a matter of minutes. All you need is cream, butter, salt, pepper, and of course oysters.

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Oysters are romantic. A little bit of this stew goes a long way — an elegant beginning to a three course meal, or a luxurious lunch when paired with a simple side. Legend has it that Jackie O. would meet Aristotle Onassis at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station for a midday oyster stew. It is a very old-fashioned way to start a romance; so old-fashioned that the time has come to revive this tradition. Pair with a dry champagne. Serve in silver cups or porringers if you have them.

Afterwards, your palate might crave something crispy like oyster crackers or a bright salad. Or, what the hell? Go for richness all the way through: beef tenderloin and poached pears! But no creamy sauce or whipped cream on the poached fruit.  Your heart might not survive, especially if it's romance you are kindling with those oysters. You will need that heart ready!