THE MEMORIES THAT STAND OUT MOST, looking back over time, are often not the triumphs or crises of our careers, the far-off travels, the sights of great people or places, but something quieter, the moments with people we love around the table.
Through meals shared we can feel reflected the rhythm of the seasons, the marking of the holidays, the rites of passage from one stage of life to another.
And it's just this play of time that Mary Emmerling celebrates in her latest book, "Mary Emmerling's At Home in the Country" (Clarkson Potter, hardcover, $30).
"I think a lot of us live very hectic lives," she says, speaking from a car phone as she takes a break from moving back into her weekend house on eastern Long Island. "And my sort of wonderful time is the weekends when I can finally stay home and be with the kids and have friends over. Those are always the really good times you remember and talk about. And that's why I decided to do a book about them."
Her book is part cookbook, part scrapbook and part evocation of a way of life she has made popular through her nine previous books on country design and cooking.
As an author, designer, consultant and lecturer, Ms. Emmerling travels almost constantly from autumn through spring. "I would hate remembering sitting in airports and airplanes -- which I do most of my life," she says. "So it's the weekends that are so important. Being with family and friends."
Although she lives most of the time in New York City and vacations frequently in Key West, it is the weekend home in Sagaponack that is most dear to her heart.
She describes her life in the house:
My year-round retreat in the country is a shingle-style house with open rooms, a big screened porch, and cupboards spilling over with treasures collected across the country over the years. It's a place where I can take in views of garden, sky, and water at every turn, views that change dramatically in every season.
My kids Samantha and Jonathan and I always camp here every summer, and we invite guests of all ages to become part of our summer family. During the fall, winter, and spring, we return for as many weekends as we can, and especially on holidays. Somehow holidays in the country mean so much that even when we stay in the city, we try to re-create the country feeling.
Her love of place may be rooted in her childhood, which was marked by impermanence. He father, a career Navy officer, moved the family to all parts of the country. "From this experience I learned firsthand the importance of making a home wherever you happen to be for as long as you happen to be there," she explains.
"I also learned the essentials of my entertaining style today: flexibility, informality and organization."
For decorating and for entertaining, she makes use of all the antiques, folk art, china and textiles that she has collected through the years. "I like to be able to see all of these wonderful collections, so I use them to change the scenery in a room or set a special stage for entertaining," she adds.
She also tries to make the most of the different spaces in her
house. Instead of just using the dining room or the deck, she likes to fund unusual places for meals, maybe a picnic in the garden or a formal dinner on the porch.
Convenience and ease of preparation are her favorite words when it comes to entertaining, she explains. "If every meal I cooked were a major production, I would never invite my friends to visit. So I avoid complicated menus and choose dishes that rely for their success on a combination of good fresh ingredients and wonderful seasonings."
The kitchen is the hub of her entertaining. "I find that nobody ever wants to leave the kitchen. Everyone just hangs out in it, to watch you cook or talk to you. I think it is just a sort of a homey place that everyone feels comfortable in, where you can
break down and be more chatty. They either pitch in and help or stand and talk to you while you're cooking."
The book, which is filled with full-color photographs by Joshua Greene and embellished with a text by Carol and Larry Sheehan, goes through the seasons month by month, with two different menus for each month.
Mary Emmerling calls September the month of change, when the look of her house changes from the light furnishings of summer to the heavier fabrics of winter. "That's when I start putting on my heavier blankets. I get the kids organized and off to school and then I organize the house, put heavier clothes on the bed," she says.
It's also the time when her cooking shifts from the lighter summer foods to more substantial fare. "It's my favorite time because all the fresh vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are here . . . the wonderful yams and squashes and all the turnips and beets and stuff. I do a lot more pastas and more turkeys and hams. We make more stews and more soups, especially mushroom soup.