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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!

"Setting New Traditions" for November issue of VIE

Suzanne Pollak

Rita Hayworth carves the bird.

Rita Hayworth carves the bird.

Expecting a crowd? Extended family or perhaps friends for a long Thanksgiving weekend? This may be the season to take the torch from those who have gone before you, to branch out and begin traditions of your very own. In case you are looking for a few great ideas on how to implement your personal style — from frying turkeys to divy-ing up dish duty, plus what to serve beyond the feast — (or if you just need a pep talk…)

Find the Dean’s latest piece for VIE Magazine HERE on their site!

The Simple Art of Stew II: Carbonnade

Suzanne Pollak

Beer & Beef Stew

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Carbonnade of Beef is of French origin but was adopted by the Belgians, so now even the French call it a Flemish beef stew. At first glance, the list of ingredients might seem like a weird combo — a lot of onions, a lot of beer — but whatever you might expect, the stew is delicate and distinctive. A strong dark Belgian beer is an ideal choice for the liquid and of course to drink while eating.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. chuck roast, cubed

  • 6 large onions, sliced

  • 4 tbsp. butter, plus more

  • 3 tbsp. AP flour

  • 2 12-oz. bottles of beer

  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

  • 3 thick slices of smoked bacon, such as Nueske's Applewood

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Cook the bacon in a frying pan until medium crisp. Remove the bacon and leave the fat in the pan. You will use this to sear the meat.

  3. In a large pot, slowly sauté the sliced onions in butter. Cook over low to medium heat for about 20 minutes to color lightly.

  4. While the onions are cooking, reheat the frying pan with the bacon fat. When it is almost smoking, start browning the meat a few pieces at a time. Brown the meat on all sides using tongs. When they are done, remove them to a Dutch oven. (The less fat you use the more quickly the meat will brown.)

  5. When the last piece of meat is in the Dutch oven, turn the heat to low and add a little more butter? if needed (to make about 3 tablespoons of fat) and flour. Stir the fat and flour together with a whisk. This is called making a roux. Cook the roux very slowly until it turns darker brown and smells nutty. Now it is ready for the liquid. Pour the beer into the roux and keep whisking until the roux and beer have combined into a smooth sauce. Add vinegar, thyme and bay leaf. Put the meat and onion mixture into the roux and stir with a wooden spoon. The sauce should barely cover the meat.

  6. Cover the Dutch oven and put it into the oven for 2 and a half to 3 hours until the meat is falling apart. When the carbonnade is done, sprinkle the cooked bacon on top. This is delicious served with boiled little potatoes or buttered noodles.

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A Note on Slicing Onions…

Slicing six onions takes a little bit of time. For the Dean, it takes even longer because a hands-on task relaxes the brain so creative thoughts spring up. The ideas are ephemeral so one must stop, wash their hands, and write the idea down before it vanishes. The creative brain unlocks when you are busy doing something else and not thinking too hard. And stopping in the middle of what you are doing for a minute or two gives the cooking a better pace. You won’t rush the browning of the meat or melting of the onions.

Six onions seems like a lot of onions but they melt away. If you are new to longer cooking techniques, what happens to six raw sliced onions slowly cooking in butter is sort of a science miracle. They reduce and transform into soft, silken, shreds, and their aromas change from raw and strong to perfume. This is the ancient art of cooking, before your very eyes.

Frequently Asked Wedding Etiquette Questions for NYT (!!!)

Suzanne Pollak

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In the excellent company of top etiquette experts from along the East Coast, Dean Pollak answers our burning wedding FAQ’s for the New York Times this week. Among other tips for how to proceed, Pollak advises against micro-managing in-laws who may be paying for a rehearsal dinner (although sharing your preferences is certainly allowed), explains the “no phone policy” trend, and instructs attendees on how much to spend on gifts when they have been invited to multiple events. This article is a must-read for anyone planning a wedding or even simply planning to attend one! Read the full piece via NYT HERE on their site…

The Simple Art of Stew I: Braised Short Ribs

Suzanne Pollak

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As Summer turns to Fall — or rather to Hurricane Season as we know it in the Lowcountry — so we shift from our Salad routine to making Stews of all kinds. In our newest recipe series, the Dean shares the art of preparing one-pot wonders that will feed a crowd and streamline suppers on busy school nights. Though most stews require some prep. time, the rest is just keeping an eye out as they simmer on the stove. They always taste better the next day and freeze beautifully. Even if you are only cooking for one or two, stews are smart! Simply divide the large batch into individual portions. What could be better after a long day of work?

Stews make for a healthy, delicious dinner; comfort for the stomach and spirit. And don’t forget the aromas funneling from the kitchen and making their way into every nook & cranny of your house. To kick off our Stew series: Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs! But first, let’s talk about browning your meat. The searing process takes place in a hot pan with a little oil, and relies on patience as you must work in batches, careful not the crowd the pan. The purpose is to release fat, caramelize the outside of the meat, and deepen the flavor. Don’t be afraid to go dark; extra dark means extra flavor.

For Short Ribs, you will need:

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  • 2 tablespoons oil

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 5 pounds short ribs

  • 2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 1-2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

  • Head of garlic, sliced through

  • 1 bottle red wine

  • Some branches of thyme

  • A bay leaf or two

Here’s what to do:

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  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Put oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven and turn heat to high. Brown the ribs well on all sides. This will take about 20 or 25 minutes. Salt and pepper as you cook. As the ribs finish searing, remove them to a plate.

  3. While the ribs are searing, put 2 tablespoons of butter into another pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.

  4. Remove the fat from the Dutch oven. Add the meat and onion mixture back into the pot, then pour in the wine and thyme and bay leaves. Cover and put into the oven for about 3 hours, until the meat is falling from the bone. Stir every hour.

  5. Transfer to a platter. Strain the liquid, put into another bowl and refrigerate. The following day skim the fat from the liquid. Reheat, bring to a boil and add the ribs. When ribs are warm, stew is ready to serve.

"An Enlightened Affair" for VIE Magazine

Suzanne Pollak

Behold, the Charleston Library Society, home of many a salon...

Behold, the Charleston Library Society, home of many a salon...

The Dean is no stranger to a proper literary salon, having grown up in a diplomatic family who regularly entertained such events at their African home. To this day, she continues the tradition as director of the Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival, held annually at the local Library Society. Learn more about Suzanne's love of salons, her post and the impressive roster at this year's C2C (plus how to attend) in the latest issue of VIE Magazine: HERE.

Tea Party Class

Suzanne Pollak

How does one even think of an afternoon tea party during the dog days of Summer in Charleston? Creatively, with new eyes!

Anyone, anytime, can learn to enjoy a proper tea time and the accompanying spread.

Anyone, anytime, can learn to enjoy a proper tea time and the accompanying spread.

One of the Dean’s favorite men, a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Mr. Rogers, organizes a week long camp for his grandchildren. His camp includes a range of lessons and activities from tennis, sailing, art history, and even how to flip an omelette, which he teaches himself. He recruits all kinds of teachers for his grandchildren's summer visits. This year he asked the Charleston Academy to teach a tea party class to two smart granddaughters, aged nine and twelve. 

First order of business, and perhaps why the Academy of Domestic Pursuits is more fun than any other school in the country, was getting Granddad situated, satisfied, amused, and interested in tea parties. The Dean had her two charges learning how to make an Old Fashioned cocktail for their grandfather while the Granddad sat spellbound. Two young girls learning bartender tips! Why not? The Dean learned how to make an extraordinary Old Fashioned from FIG’s very hip bartender, Andrew King. Tricks Andrew uses include not one but two cocktail glasses, two different kinds of ice, and stirring for 35 seconds. (Disclaimer: of course the Dean explained to the girls that this was an adult drink made of brown liquor they would no doubt find repulsive.)

Next up, three "mocktails" sans rye: soda water, a dash of peach bitters, balloon ice, and a garnish of orange slices plus Luxardo cherries stabbed with a toothpick. Once armed and ready to tackle the tea tasks that lay ahead, the girls reviewed and thankfully approved the menu of cream scones and cucumber tea sandwiches.

For the cream scones, the girls had to decide on two important issues. Yellow raisins or none? Triangles or round? Even though the Dean called the raisins ‘golden’ instead of yellow, both girls shook their heads to say no raisins of any color. The shape choice was easier, although one chose round and the other, triangles. Then the fine arts of measuring, mixing, rolling and cutting; these sisters came well-versed in many baking techniques. One has already invented a recipe involving a marshmallow injected with colored frosting to get her school friends sugared up at birthday parties. 

Scones in the oven, cucumbers out of fridge! But before tea sandwiches, one essential truth: when you are making a simple recipe, each ingredient needs to be of the very best quality because you cannot hide taste. In this case, the bread, butter, salt, and even the cucumber need to be super delicious. Nothing got past the older sister; she said she tastes the difference between the butters her mom buys. But luckily both could vouch Pepperidge Farm which sells very thin white and wheat breads. The company must have started in the tea sandwich business, so perfect are those breads for that purpose. 

A tip: ensure the bread does not get too soggy by placing paper-thin disks of cucumber on a paper towel and sprinkling lightly with salt. Allow them to weep gently into the paper towel while you butter the bread and trim the crusts. After a good cry, the cucumbers will not slime up your sandwiches and the delicate cucumber flavor is intensified.

Scones out of the oven -- a lesson in using an oven mitt and rack! The girls set a table on their grandparent’s screened porch, arranged scones on one platter and sandwiches on another, then filled ice buckets with ice cubes. The hot weather problem was brilliantly solved by these two young ladies. Instead of hot tea, they decided that we would enjoy ice cold water from their their grandmothers porcelain tea cups. 

Even the Dean was amazed how a pile of scones disappeared before teatime was half over. Each girl filled her tiny stomach with at least a dozen scones first, then cucumber sandwiches while sipping ice water, pinkies raised. The party discussed the weighty matters of birthday parties -- invitations, venues, and what to do about hurt feelings when you are left off of the guestlist. 

If your tea party is at any other time of the year than July or August, or indoors with the air conditioner working overtime, then you should know that the tea we take at the Academy comes from the UK: Resolution Tea from Botham’s of Whitby. In fact, we are addicted. Yes, overseas postage nowadays tends to make one’s eyes water. But we did the math and six boxes of one hundred tea bags plus shipping comes to less than nineteen cents per bag -- well worth it for such an enduring and enjoyable tradition.

A Dinner Party in Twenty Minutes

Suzanne Pollak

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie : the opposite of a twenty minute dinner party.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: the opposite of a twenty minute dinner party.

What happens when you invite guests for 6:00 PM, but then you get so involved at work that when you look at the time on your computer, it says 5:35? Can you get dressed & made up, set the table and cook dinner in just twenty minutes? The answer is, YES. (The Dean learned this by accident one recent Monday night.)

Here’s what to do:

Resist the urge to immediately call guests and say all of a sudden, you're not feeling well. The Dean knew her menu included seafood stew, a salad, roasted peach halves with bourbon for dessert. What she didn’t know was what to wear or where everyone should sit...

5:35. Turn the oven on broil, put a dutch oven over medium heat and add a slug of olive oil. 

5.37. Slice two large peaches in half, fill them with a spoonful of sugar and a slug of bourbon, and put the four peach halves in a sauté pan over high heat. 

5:37. Roughly slice a large red onion and place in hot Dutch oven with a few whole garlic cloves, peeled.

5:41. Place sauté pan of peaches under broiler. Put timer on ten minutes. Stir onions.

5:43. Exit kitchen, with onions on medium heat and peaches under broiler. Run three flights upstairs while deciding what to wear.

5:44. Put on one outfit. Decide that looks wrong and put on another shirt. Try to do some quick make up. Whatever!  

5:50. Race downstairs to the smell of caramelizing onions (another way of saying they are on their way to burning, but haven't quite. Instead, just perfectly caramelized which means extra flavor.) Stir onions and add a jar of tomato sauce. 

5:52. Take out bag of defrosted shrimp and bag of calamari from refrigerator. Realize that even though they have been in the fridge since morning (because you are so organized and an excellent planner) no actual defrosting has taken place...

5:53. Put bags of frozen shrimp and calamari in a bowl and run warm water over bags, saying a little prayer that by 6:25 they will actually thaw!

5:55. Take out four silver forks, knives, spoons, shallow bowls, dessert plates, olives, two different kinds of bourbon and cocktail glasses. 

6:00. READY TO ROLL! Doorbell rings, guests arrive.

The Dean then explained the situation, garnering laughs and offers to pitch in. Cocktails? One guy choose bourbon, one guy soda water, one woman white wine. High-alcohol beer for the host. While cocktails were being organized and poured, the Dean threw together the famous Academy croutons while tomatoes and onions simmered on low, the peaches came down to room temperature, and seafood (still) thawed in the sink. Finally, where to eat? Decision: a movable feast. One small garden table for Stew. Another small garden table for salad. By the time the mosquitos started biting, everyone moved inside for dessert of roasted peaches and chocolate bars at the dining table.

Perfect!