celebrating a sense of place

“Pass the Nuts” 


A Delightful Dinner Recalls the Perils of Country Entertaining and the Pitfalls of the Disposable Aluminum Pan
 

By Larry Ross / Photos by George Allport and Sandy Ross
 

It was an early spring day in March, when Grania and George Allport welcomed us into their riverside home in Greenheart Country to discuss how their gardens inspire great cooking and great gatherings.

Picketed gates open onto a circular drive where a human-sized oxidized copper frog, with his legs crossed, relaxes on a bench and welcomes visitors to the Allport home and gardens. It’s a preview of the gentle humor and love of life that lies within.

GARDENS & GATHERINGS

Lush shrubbery softens the lines of the house and barns. Beyond, a meadow, dotted with great, old trees, and a pond, gently slopes to the meandering river. The soul of the gardens is Grania’s “potager” or kitchen garden designed by Brian Bosenberg. A white picket fence, alternating in height, frames the garden. Grania wanted raised beds to sit on, allowing her to reach across to the other side. Each bed is shaped in the form of a petal that radiates from a circular bed at ground level. The affect is that of an ebullient Aster.

Additional playful features include four obelisks and a moon gate. The white, latticed tripods are capped with a sphere, and strategically placed in four raised beds. In winter, the obelisks turn the bare, raised beds into vectors on a compass. When the garden is green, they function as elegant trellises for climbing flowers and vegetables. The gate is also constructed of alternating pickets cut to reveal the bottom a half of circle.  The gate posts are crowned by a curved, double arbor, completing the circle, or  “moon.” 

 “I love planting what I started from seed, then setting it out when it’s warm enough,” says Grania. As for perennials, “When Spring starts, and something didn’t survive, it’s oops, but it’s a chance to start something new.”

“Of course, there are the tomatoes that reseed themselves every year with the help of the birds. They grow so well, fertilized by the birds.”

Asked when Spring starts for someone who grows her plants from scratch, Grania replied, “January.”  George added in an admiring tone, “There is no beginning or end to gardening when you have a greenhouse.”

Next to the potager is the pool. Entered through a covered portico with benches that double as lockers, it’s surrounded by a flagstone patio, and anchored by a charming stone bathhouse at the far end. A trio of human-sized copper frogs, a fiddler, flutist and bassist, “jam” in a corner.  Another reclines at water’s edge. Part of the filtration system, his role is to spew a long, thin arc of water into the pool.

A pergola covered by wisteria runs the length of the pool. Latticed fencing completes the enclosure. With the exception of the stonework and sculpture, everything is brilliant white. The woodwork is by Walpole, and so stunning, the installation is featured in their catalog.

Why frogs? Grania says they like frogs because they’re a healthy sign of the environment. “They breathe through their skin,” she explains. “If you have lots of frogs, you have good air. If you don’t have lots of frogs where you’re supposed to, you don’t have good air.” The copper frogs were a lucky discovery when the couple visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden, then located the artist, Charles “Frog Smith,” of Charleston. 

The stonewalled terrace rounds out the gardens.  Perfectly situated, it connects with the pool to the kitchen, and overlooks the meadow and river below for gracious entertaining. And a very entertaining story. 

“The stonewall was supposed to be ‘wet set’,” Grania began, “Well, a huge snake comes out of the stones to see who our guests are. So as not to endanger the species, we had to wait until the fall to plug the wall with cement.”

“Then we asked ourselves, ‘Do we say anything to our guests or not?’ Things could get a little disruptive if a guest is startled by the sight of a big snake. Well, we kept our eyes peeled for him, then talked louder or stamped our feet until he went way!” Grania did not recall any disruptions, but her expression conveyed her amusement with idea that guests might think she and George were a bit daft for raising their voices and stamping their feet without explanation.

The kitchen, designed by Julie Aronson Design, with cabinets made by ACA Contracting, exudes functionality with quiet, good taste. Cabinets go to the ceiling to accommodate Grania’s collection of tableware; the center island is large enough to accommodate a second dishwasher that blends with paneling that matches the cabinets, as well as the island’s base. The gray and white marble counters in matte finish make the work surfaces less slippery. The wood work is bright white with a high gloss finish. Wolf stainless steel appliances provide a handsome contrast.

Grania clearly believes we taste with our eyes, as well as our mouths. Just before dinner, our eyes were captivated by the food that was framed by white porcelain serving pieces.  The green pea soup was topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and chopped fresh parsley. The salmon George grilled was decorated with slices of variegated lemon, propagated in the greenhouse. Bright green asparagus, with roasted red and yellow peppers at their base, was another colorful side dish, as were the new potatoes with shallots. The salad, however, was the show stopper. A wooden bowl was lined with upright endive leaves, and filled with mixed greens over avocado pieces marinated in oil and balsamic vinegar. When Grania topped the salad with pansy flowers, fresh from her garden, the salad became an edible sunflower. When she tossed the greens, bringing up the marinated avocado from the bottom, they were laced with a heavenly dressing. Dessert was sinful, bittersweet chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries. Not only was dinner delicious, it was all the more miraculous, in that it was both dairy and gluten free. To watch Grania and George serve this menu, was to watch a well-coordinated team, who have been married for more than forty years.

Grania’s gift for presentation extends to her dining table, a glass topped cistern her mother bought in Thailand. At the center was a double orchid surround by two ceramic sheaves of asparagus and two porcelain lions. Her place settings brought together interesting pieces from various sources, then stacked for use in each of three courses: lettuce-shaped soup bowl for the first course; a square, green charger for the main course; and a leaf plate for dessert. The stag horn cutlery, Grania told us, “was a gift to George’s bachelor uncle, from his sister and brother-in-law. A little tongue and cheek as he never ate at home.”

Grania and George made it all look so effortless; it was hard to think of anything going wrong. However, when asked if it ever did, Grania, recalled,

“I made vegetable lasagna. It’s a great, freezable dish. So, I made several in recycled aluminum foil pans. Well, we invited people over for dinner, and I put one in the oven.  However, I forgot to put it on a cookie sheet. When I took it out of the oven, the pan wasn’t sturdy enough, and the lasagna went splat all over the floor. There was nothing we could do. It was a salad ‘dinner.’” Then, with a twinkle in her eye, and a look that said Grania was replaying the scene in her head, she said, “There wasn’t much we could say to our dinner guests, except, “Pass the nuts?!”