In Praise Of Inns


January 08, 1995|By ROB KASPER

On a winter day when the horizon was as gray as overcooked oatmeal, I found myself thinking about running away to a luxurious inn to be fed and coddled.

I buoyed my sinking spirits by daydreaming about dining on glazed lamb shanks with sun-dried tomato sauce in the overstuffed surroundings of the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, and feasting on Lady Baltimore cake in the stately rooms of Antrim 1844, a 17-room Taneytown inn. I fed my reverie by paging through two books about country inns written by Maryland authors.

The first was a new book, "Donna Hamilton's Gracious Country Inns & Favorite Recipes" ($24.95, the Mockingbird Co.). The Inn at Perry Cabin, where rooms range from $175 to $500 a night, is the one Maryland inn among the 33 plush places in the United States and Canada that Ms. Hamilton included in the book. She stayed there while filming the television series "Great Country Inns," shown on the Learning Channel. The book, which sprang from the television series and was published in November, contains recipes from each of the inns.

The other book, "Great Cooking With Country Inn Chefs" ($24.95, Rutledge Hill Press), was written in 1992 by Gail Greco. She and her husband, photographer Tom Bagley, gathered recipes from 31 inns throughout the United States. Two Maryland inns, Antrim 1844 in Taneytown and the Inn at Buckeystown, are in the book.

RTC I met Ms. Hamilton a few years ago during her tenure as co-host of "Evening Magazine" on Baltimore's WJZ-TV (Channel 13). I felt I knew her well enough to call her up at her Baltimore-area home and ask how living in the lap of country-inn luxury had changed her life. I wanted to hear all about how she and her husband, broadcaster and independent producer David Paulson, had frolicked in the Jacuzzis and snapped each other with heated towels.

Ms. Hamilton told me her husband had never been able to go with her to any of the inns. The couple have two children, a boy, 14, and a girl, 8. And, as with many couples with children, "escaping" for a few days requires an immense amount of planning. So, while Ms. Hamilton was posing in front of crackling fireplaces, her husband stayed home, "ran the car pool and made sure everyone got to the sports events."

Did either of the kids get to accompany her? I asked. Surely it was fun for them to tag along with Mom as she explored the pampered life? Not exactly, Ms. Hamilton said. When she visited the inns she was interviewing innkeepers, filming rooms, scribbling notes about the color of the wallpaper. Her time was not her own.

Her son accompanied her on one trip, she said, but only because he was big enough to work as an equipment carrier, and mature enough to keep himself amused while Mom was working.

This kind of real-world talk was not firing up my fantasy life. But when Ms. Hamilton began to talk about the food at the inns, I

perked up. It sounded as if country-inn food was a pleasure that could be enjoyed at home by people with kids, car pools and spouses.

Ms. Hamilton said, for example, that thanks to her stay at the Inn at Perry Cabin she now makes glazed lamb shanks with sun-dried tomatoes, a recipe that came from the chef of the inn. "Mine don't come out looking as pretty as his, but it tastes really good," she said.

And then there's the John Wayne casserole from the RiverSong Inn in Estes Park, Colo. This mixture of eggs, jalapeno peppers, cheese and tortillas has become a family favorite for breakfast, Ms. Hamilton said.

After her son became acquainted with the blueberry banana bread recipe from the Marquesa Hotel in Key West, Fla., he began lobbying his mother to bake more of it. Now whenever the household banana supply turns soft, her son takes it as a sign that a loaf of blueberry banana bread should be produced, Ms. Hamilton said.

Over in Rockville, Ms. Greco said she has adopted much of the country-inn lifestyle described in her book. Visitors to her home sign a guest book. A landscape mural decorates her dining room wall, an idea she got from a country inn. And when she cooks at home she makes dishes served at the inns named in her book.

The spiced apple and pepper chutney from Antrim 1844, she said, is a good appetizer served with cream cheese on crackers.

But Ms. Greco added a couple of caveats to my fantasy of imitating the country-inn lifestyle that she and her husband enjoy. First of all, she pointed out that she and her husband do not have children. While drawing on the dining room walls may be considered art in some homes, it is usually considered trouble in homes with kids. Second, she said she and her husband aren't home very often. Mostly they visit inns and publish books about their travels.

So on these winter mornings, I may fantasize about tossing off car-pool duties and heading for a country inn. But more than likely I settle for eating a lamb shank.

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