Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Hand of Friendship, the Art of Breakfast

A framed, counted cross-stitch sampler hangs in the foyer of the Foster Harris House. It depicts a whimsical country cottage with the words, “Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”

The sampler is partially hidden by a large hat tree, but if you manage to spot it, it tells you a great deal about the owners of this bed and breakfast by the side of the road in Little Washington, Virginia.

The first time I stayed at the Foster Harris House I had a feeling of déjà vu, as if I’d met innkeepers Diane and John MacPherson before. Perhaps it’s their natural warmth and generosity that embraces you from the moment you enter the inn, creating the feeling that you’ve known them forever.

Diane and John are my heroes. Several years ago, they quit their day jobs in California and now live, work and cook in a town of 186 people where exquisite food is the lifeblood of the community – from a renowned five-star restaurant just a block away, to local vineyards and surrounding organic farms.

Diane orchestrates ambiance and amenities. Each room at the Foster Harris House is elegantly furnished yet supremely comfortable. John is the chef who sees artistry in simple ingredients like eggs and bacon.

Diane greets me with a smile and a hug upon my arrival. Within minutes, she presents a glass of chilled Pouilly Fuisse on a silver tray. I unwind on the deck reviewing hiking options for the days ahead. Shortly, John is at the side door and we are chatting about my career journey and his efforts to preserve the abundance of yellow heirloom tomatoes available at the nearby organic farm where they have a share. No sooner is it mentioned, when he offers me a creamy, golden tomato soup with a smoky adobo base and garnished with a perfectly pert basil leaf from the kitchen garden. John then offers bowls to two other guests. The soup is delectable after a long day of travel and practically glistens in the late afternoon sun.

Virginia has been blessed with a series of perfect days, and breakfast is set on the deck beneath a large, green market umbrella. While John works in the kitchen, Diane serves the four-course menu to guests. Each meal opens with an elegant parfait of fresh fruit with vanilla custard yogurt and granola, and there is always a basket of warm scones direct from the oven:

The main entrées are towering, imaginative designs of flavor and texture. Ingredients are impossibly fresh and bursting with color. Can one possibly select a favorite among such creations?

Each morning is better than the day before. New guests whisper to me, “Have you gotten this kind of breakfast everyday?” They can’t quite believe that such exquisite works have been prepared especially for them. When they think they can’t eat another bite, Diane takes special pleasure in announcing a “sweet finish,” perhaps a Lemon Liebchen with Blueberry Coulis, a miniature stack of pancakes sprinkled with slivers of luscious chocolate, a Cream of Wheat brulee or a Strawberry Cheesecake Crepe:

On the night before my departure – over an excellent glass of Bordeaux-style wine – I question John about the sense of place the MacPhersons have created in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His answers reflect a genuine delight in the guests who visit their establishment and the ability to connect with them for a brief moment in time.

“You get to see them in a place where they are happy and come to celebrate something,” John reflects. “They leave, and they are appreciative and satisfied. It’s a job well done.”

On my final morning, I am reluctantly preparing to return home. I am sitting in the kitchen, as John checks a couple out. I am just within earshot and can hear their conversation.

“Just one night, and we feel restored,” the woman says gratefully.

John responds with an ebullient and spontaneous, “Fantastic!”

The woman will likely pass the counted-cross stitch sampler in the foyer as she departs, but whether she notices it or not doesn’t really matter. Intuitively she knows that the art of friendship is more than just a clever saying, but a way of life at the Foster Harris House.

Recently I traveled through the Virginia countryside, discovering the local food, history and hospitality of what is called “the birthplace of the nation.” I visited the Foster Harris House in Little Washington, Virginia August 18 through 25, 2008.

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


veron said...

Hubby and I really need to get back up there. I'm definitely going to stay at the Foster Harris house...everything looks delectable!

Kathy said...

Welcome back! Those breakfasts look scrumptious. Sounds like a wonderful place to stay.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

We often think of a B&B as the place where we sleep while we're doing other things on our travels. This inn sounds like a destination on its own merits. I can feel myself unwinding as I read your post.

Tiffany said...

What a lovely sounding B&B! The food looks beautiful and delicious!

Maryann said...

Excellent writing, as always, TW! You can see the care and passion in every dish the innkeepers prepare. Wow!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Veron - I'm expecting you to go - you will love it (and wait until you hear the rest of my adventures there!)

Kathy - it was very hard to come home to cold cereal!

Lydia - I think the MacPhersons do it right - it's really one of the best places I've stayed.

Tiffany - The breakfasts are simply amazing - I am so impressed with their menu.

Maryann - Thank you so much - I always appreciate your comments. Hope your summer break was great!

Rochelle R. said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. The food looks delicious. I will admit at first glance I thought the soup was some type of fried egg. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

You have utterly charmed me with this post, TW. And kudos to John and Diane for pursuing their dream.

SolitaireMare said...

I just wanted to let you know that I passed the Arte Y Pico blog award onto you. Your blog is one of the best culinary ones I have read. Please come to my blog and pick it up whenever you can.

Best regards,

veron said...

T.W., I am waiting patiently for the rest of your adventures...

Zen Chef said...

This is one of the most beautiful breakfast i ever see. Wow.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Rochelle - I can see the resemblance :-)

Susan - you would love the MacPhersons.

Solitairemare - Thanks so much for the award - I am honored!

Veron - Just two more days for the story you've been waiting for! :-)

Zen - Put the Foster Harris House on your "must visit" list.

Carol said...

Although it has been snowing for two days here in western Massachusetts, your vivid writing and the photos of our lovely breakfasts brought me back in time to our stay at the lovely Foster Harris House last August. You were a delightful dining companion. Happy holidays, and best of luck on your blog.