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Whether it's taking a daily ritual from expected to extraordinary or discovering the wonderment and beauty of anew travel destination, J.R. McCabe elevates the everyday with timeless taste and comfortable confidence.
“I just missed my train,” I say, trying to catch my breath. “The next one home doesn’t leave for thirty minutes but if I take the one leaving for Greenwich in five minutes I can be to you by one-thirty.”
I hear him take an inhale and then . . .
“Let’s do it,” he replies.
One of my favorite things about my husband is that nothing rattles him. Last minute changes, blown-up plans, having to shower, scramble and get to where he’s going thirty minutes further, an hour earlier than expected — he’s all in. He’s been ready to leave since five a.m. but I’m not one to cut class — especially when I’ve only got three months until I earn my law degree — so I hop on the train to meet him up in Connecticut, carving forty minutes off from our planned excursion.
We arrive in the Berkshires by half past four and the sun is already making its way behind the mountains. We’re shown to our room, The Paterson Suite, by the general manager who offers us a brief history of our accommodations. Blantyre likes to call itself a “luxury country house hotel,” and that moniker is fitting if we are talking about a Downton Abbey type country house. The mansion’s heritage dates back to the early 19th century when Robert Paterson set about to build himself a New England Tudor-style mansion modeled after his mother’s ancestral home in Scotland. During the Gilded Age it was the home of grand and lavish parties and served as a summer and fall retreat for his family. Nearly a century later it’s a Relais & Châteaux five star property with elegant accommodations for the discerning traveler.
I’ve been watching one discerning traveler, namely my husband, go from room to room inspecting his surroundings while I politely indulged our host’s tales. When the GM leaves I inquire as to whether there’s an issue.
“Is everything okay? Is something wrong?”
“Just getting acquainted with my surroundings,” he replies.
We’re staying in the largest suite on the property, where the owners themselves once slept. The room is decorated in hues of lavender and cream with accents of cherry wood and includes a grand main room with a king canopy and a generous sitting area nestled by windows that serve as the eyes to the gorgeous mountain vistas.
There are his/hers bathrooms — one with a clawfoot tub, a separate sitting room with a writing desk, a sofa covered in vintage fabric, and a wood-burning fireplace.
It’s grand to say the least, but exquisitely comfortable and intimate. Forever the Sergeant he always recons a room the second we arrive. He opens drawers, flips switches, looks in closets. He doesn’t do this in a Bomb Squad kind of way, more of in a I like to know what I’m working with manner. Once he’s satisfied, as it seems so here, he immediately transitions into the plush robe and slippers and makes himself at home. Meanwhile I unpack, put classical music on the Bose Bluetooth portable speaker, and set my sights on making a fire.
Two hours later, curled up in front of a roaring fire, the coziness of our new home is inviting us to stay raptured, but our bellies have other interests. I decided not to make a reservation in advance, albeit that it is Valentine’s Day, because we’re not the type to eat by the clock. We much prefer to honor the messaging from our bodies on when it’s best to meet our meals. So we arrive at Bistro Zinc by seven hoping we can squeeze in.
“We’re hoping someone had a fight and canceled,” jokes the Sergeant to the maître d.
“You’re in luck. I don’t know if it’s the cold or relationship troubles but we’ve got you covered,” he responds.
Bistro Zinc is the kind of place where you walk in and immediately feel at home. The restaurant has modern Parisian charm — lovely and inviting — nestled in the trappings of New England coziness.
The entire staff from host to servers to bartender have smiles on their faces, there’s an energy to this place that says, “come in, stay awhile, you’ll leave happy.” Our waitress bounces over beaming. Since it’s our first time here we ask her what the most popular dishes are and she recommends the fried oysters to start. Nearly fifteen minutes later as we both bite into the scrumptious creatures of the sea we can see why. Fresh oysters floating in fluffy and crisp batter topped with a slightly spicy crème. To die for.
We add to the appetizer mix burrata with roasted cherry tomatoes and pesto and are salivating as we await the main course. Billy Joel plays subtlety in the background and I gaze across the restaurant appreciating the interplay of fine linens mixed with familiar conversation by locals at the bar. My crab cakes arrive placed on a bed of fried veggie rice and tarragon aioli. The Sergeant stays traditional with an order of steak frites — a prime New York strip, accompanied by shoestring fries, haricots verts, and herb butter.
“Those are the best haricots verts I’ve ever had,” I comment after stealing a bite from the Sergeant’s plate.
“The green beans. They’re amazing.”
They’re the best haricot verts I’ve ever had. I know what you are thinking, “green beans, Jennifer, really?” Yes, they are perfection. They are crisp and tender, with a robust flavor and a touch of salt, lemon and butter. It’s rare that you get great ambiance, top-notch cuisine, and stellar service all in one, but Bistro Zinc has got it.
The Sergeant must’ve pulled the drapes before he went out this morning because I roll over and open my eyes to a room full of breathtaking natural light.
The kind of light that only comes from the reflection of freshly fallen snow. I arise from my heavenly duvet and catch a glimpse of the stunning winter landscape — the cascades of white sprinkling the evergreens with the mountains in the distance. Last night I fell asleep in a dark and quiet fortress in the forest. I’ve awakened to a magical castle bursting to share its secrets. As if on cue I hear the key turn in the door. There are so many little luxuries I love about Blantyre — the M embroidered bed throw pillow for “McCabe,” the tower of firewood for the taking downstairs, the pleasant and at the ready demeanor of every staff member — but having an old fashioned key to open the heavy wood door to the suite is a welcome nostalgic touch.
“Did you know breakfast is free here,” he states.
“Good morning, well it’s not exactly free.”
The secret to a good marriage — keep the hotel bills out of your husband’s purview. He’ll enjoy it so much more.
“Well it’s included and it’s delicious. Does my honey want her tea?”
“That would be wonderful.”
The Sergeant makes his way to the adjoining sitting room and turns on the water for my tea. He’s already got the fire roaring when I arrive to settle on the sofa. To say having my morning tea by a crackling fire with my husband sitting next to me makes me happy is an understatement. I live for these small, quiet moments filled with little luxuries.
“I told the waitress I was going to wake you up and we’d be back for breakfast.”
“We? You just ate,” I joke.
“I may eat again, it was so good. They have fresh orange juice. Mmm so good.”
By ten o’clock we’re headed out for the day, although I don’t know how far we’ll get because it is ten degrees and when you’re staying at Blantyre there is no reason to leave.
After a few hours driving through the towns — with a pit stop so the Sergeant could investigate the local guys ice fishing — I’m ready to get some yummy treats and go back to my castle. We pop into Guido’s, the local gourmet market. On the first or second day of travel I always check out the local market or general store for regional provisions and speciality snacks. Perusing through the local food store is an adventure all its own, ripe for discovery of new finds to delight the palette.
By five o’clock I’m happily back in front of my fire in the suite and have decided it will be room service tonight. The Sergeant makes a trip downstairs for more firewood while I order through the in-room iPad. Tonight’s fare will be a New England artisanal fruit and cheese plate, the Blantyre signature chopped Cobb salad drizzled with Jansel Valley blue cheese and herb-crème fraiche dressing, and the North East Family Farms hamburger with Vermont cheddar, served gluten-free style wrapped in lettuce for the hubby.
To be wrapped in the splendor of this mystical, intimate mansion is to be surrounded by a long-lost spirit of a vanished way of life — when ladies were ladies and gentlemen were gentlemen, when people were properly dressed for dinner, delighted in the art of conversation, enjoyed fresh blooms and vintage fabrics, and relished the simple luxuries of a leisurely breakfast, receiving a letter in the afternoon post, and inviting a friend over for the ritual of tea. For a small moment, as the Sergeant tends to the fire ensuring a continuous roaring flame and the staff delivers our dinner, I’m transported to that divine slice of time. That time when life was savored in ordinary moments elevated to the extraordinary.
I’m used to waking up alone. I lived alone for twenty years before I met my husband. My mornings have always been the part of my day that is still, quiet, and mine alone. Typically, I wake, make my tea, let it steep while I do a ten minute meditation and then ease into my day with a lovely breakfast and a leisurely review of emails and my to-do list. Mornings have a sweet spot in my heart for their enchantment. Mornings are mythical in their power, in their ability to cast a hue on the entire day before it even begins.
The Sergeant had his own steady morning routine in the decades before we married. Most days he was up by five and straight out the door. He’d take a quick walk in the neighborhood park, a cruise through the blocks he frequented as a boy, pick up an Irish breakfast on the run, and be at the precinct by six. When we got together it was as if the forces above were determined to make accommodations for our respective morning rituals.
Marriage is a sweet and lovely dance and that dance is in sync when both people follow their individual rhythm. For us that means the Sergeant is up and out doing his morning walks, “patrolling” our surroundings by 5:30 a.m.. I remain in bed, wake up by seven and have about thirty to forty minutes before my husband comes bounding through the door. So it is of no surprise to me that as I wake I catch a glimpse of him doing a perimeter check around the property. The sight melts my heart. My guy can always be counted on, even hundreds of miles from home.
“I’ve decided I’m going to pilot school. I want to learn how to fly,” he announces the minute he comes through the door.
Morning meditation always has its gifts and today the Sergeant has set his sights high.
By half past eight we’re packed up and ready to roll. I will miss Blantyre desperately as its intimate nature and five star service make you feel truly at home.
Our twenty minute wait is over and we are happily ordering breakfast at Haven amidst the lively crowd of families, couples, and regulars. I order the gluten free French toast and it’s Huevos Rancheros for the hubby. Breakfast can be downright delectable when done with a bit of imagination and ingenious skill — and this is the case at Haven. Scrumptious to the last bite.
The last thing we always do before hitting the road is make a stop at the local general market for regional culinary treats. When you bring home food from your travels — no matter whether it’s chocolates, biscotti, chips, beverages, hummus, sandwiches or homemade meals — you discover things you never knew you liked and smile every time you eat it. It also saves that dreaded there’s no food in the fridge dilemma once you arrive home. So a quick stop at Guido’s in Pittsfield for some provisions and we’re on our way — keeping the spirit going all the way back to New York with a taste of our vacation.
Be sure to watch my Instagram Berkshires story highlight as the visual companion to this post.