At 8 a.m., a tray with just-baked scones, ripe-red raspberry jam and hot coffee is set by your door to help ease the hour before the breakfast bell beckons guests to the dining room at 9.
Each morning, breakfast begins in much the same way. Usually it is fresh fruit and coffee, followed by the farm's own porridge, a mixture of rolled oats, Grape Nuts and multi-grain cereal, studded with walnuts, fluffed with whipped cream and finished with an edible blossom (too cute to eat) from the garden. Then there might be scrambled eggs served with mushrooms in a sauce left over from the beef tenderloin served at dinner the night before. Or there could be a frittata with fresh farm-grown spinach or local seafood such as Hood Canal shrimp. But always alongside there are fried potatoes zapped with basil vinegar.
Tucked into the hillside, deep in the interior of Washington state's Kitsap Peninsula, Manor Farm Inn is one of a few farms scattered along Big Valley Road, less than an hour by ferry and car from the Seattle waterfront.
The pristine white farmhouse saw its 100th anniversary several years ago, but it was only five years ago that Jill and Robin Hughes turned their well- weathered home - and a few new outbuildings constructed to extend their living quarters and accommodate Robin's veterinary practice - into a country inn.
"By the time we finished building, there were so many new veterinarians beginning practices on the peninsula, I didn't want to compete," said Robin Hughes, an Englishman who arrived in the United States by way of Australia and Canada. Next, they nixed Jill's idea of turning the property into a child- study center when they got tied up in too much red tape.
"Then a former associate suggested turning the place into a country inn," said Robin, "and our life has never been the same. If I could track that chap down today, I'd tear his legs off for what we went through the first few years. . . . My cooking was pretty frightful."
But he must have had the right recipe overall. And then, too, a professional chef has, at times, helped out. Now, one needs to call months ahead to book one of the 14 rooms for a weekend.
Each has a private bath and high-vaulted ceilings - and a few have fireplaces. The spacious Carriage Room had been intended for large-animal surgery. The Pig Room was to have been Robin's office and the Drawing Room would have been the recovery building. Across the road are a two-bedroom guest house and a conference center.
In place of X-ray machines and hydraulic examination tables are French pine antiques. Where Robin's veterinary certificates might have hung are watercolors depicting farm life. Robin painted them.
Robin and Jill, who now have two children, have vacated their quarters in the farmhouse for a spacious beach house a mile or so down the road, thus opening two more farmhouse rooms over the kitchen for guests.
Next to the Hughes' new house is a smaller house (well, three large bedrooms, full kitchen and a library loft) overlooking the misty Hood Canal. Guests who stay there can cook their own meals or arrange for Robin to drop by and prepare a special meal. Beach-house guests are invited for the big breakfast at the farm.
After breakfast, you can select a fly rod from a rack on the veranda and pull on a pair of tall rubber boots to wade out into the trout pond for some fly casting. If you are lucky, your catch will be fried to make tomorrow's breakfast even bigger.
If you want to leave the farm, you can drive north across the Hood Canal bridge to Port Ludlow to play golf, or you can go to Port Townsend to see the Victorian houses or the old Jefferson County Courthouse, or just to have an excellent cup of coffee and a big oatmeal cookie at the Bread and Roses Bakery on Quincy Street.
A short drive south from Manor Farm takes you to Poulsbo, a Danish-inspired village where you can visit the Bookstop to browse or pet Tiger the cat who may be Washington's fattest feline. You can sample Poulsbo bread or one of more than 12 flavors of fudge cones at the Slay bakery.
Even closer to the farm, on Foss Road, is the Thomas Kemper Brew Pub and Garden. There you can arrange for Will Kemper, the brewmaster, to tour you through his micro-brewery (one of the smallest in Washington). You can sample his German-style lagers or buy a quart of Helles, Dunkel or Bock beer brewed
from Pacific Northwest hops and deep-well water. If you are hungry, Will's wife, Mari, will serve you a basket of knock-, bock-, brat- and beef wursts, herring and crackers, or her homemade salty pretzels (boiled in six cups of lager) to make you thirsty for another brew.
But back at the farm it's teatime. Time to take your place under a tree: There is the maple in the main yard that is the first to show its crimson and gold colors in early fall; there are umbrellalike apple trees outside the kitchen that, at teatime on a sunny day, glitter with strands of spider webs. Or take your tea in the hot tub sheltered by a graceful oak, or carry your cup with you on a walk down one of the long driveways lined with poplars. And don't forget to help yourself to one of the teatime treats: cakelike brownies, finger sandwiches using more dinner leftovers (such as salmon), fruitcake, Grand Marnier cheesecake, shortbread, Dundee cake or banana bread.
It doesn't matter. It's time to just sit on the veranda with a book or your favorite person until dinnertime. The restless can wander into the ample friendly farm kitchen to see what's cooking for dinner, or even help Robin with the preparations.
On weekends, preparations are complex. A menu might include sole mousse with shrimp and truffle sauce, green salad with parsley and fennel, poached oysters, scallops and shrimp with truffles in wine sauce, grilled snapper with lovage leaves, or garlic and rosemary roasted chicken, vegetable puree, peas with mint sauce, julienned carrots and fettuccine with walnuts and Parmesan cream sauce.
On another night, the meal may start with a creamy carrot and cauliflower soup, a salad (studded with pine nuts, melon and local huckleberries), beef tenderloin with mushrooms in a wine sauce, assorted fresh vegetables and steamed red potatoes.
For dessert there might be bananas Foster, mocha cheesecake with hazelnut crust and chocolate sauce, a chocolate-lined orange shell with citrus mousse and meringue or a lemon mousse with fresh raspberries.
A weekday meal is comparatively simple. It starts with a green salad punctuated with Roquefort, raspberries and avocado. Next, fettuccine comes to the table topped with local mussels, shrimp, scallops and whitefish. Dessert is simply strawberries and a plate of minted sheet chocolate shattered into barklike bits.
Yet Robin has no formal training in the kitchen. "I think part of the reason I've been so successful with food here is because my parents were extensive travelers and they dragged the kids along as part of the baggage. I was exposed to extraordinary food all over the world," Robin said.
"I never follow a recipe. You see cookbooks in kitchen, but they aren't used. It's not something you can do day to day, Julia Child one day and Craig Claiborne the next. But I've developed a good palate, and I keep fresh produce and good sources of other ingredients."
Each night at 6:30, farm guests (and, often on weekends, a dozen or so of the locals) gather in the drawing room for sherry and conversation. In place of a wine list, a massive pine cabinet is opened to display sample bottles of wines and beers that are on hand. At 7, Robin dashes in from the kitchen to explain the menu, take wine orders and share his near-future dreams for the farm (a polo field, coffeehouse with after-dinner music, winery, cooking classes and maybe even 10 more private cottages with hot tubs).
He leads guests to their tables in the two dining rooms, each with fireplace. He or Jill light the candles, open the wine and take time to chat. The wine may arrive late if there are more than just farm guests dining, but it doesn't matter. The warm and grainy farm-baked bread on the table is intoxicating enough. There's time.
After dinner, Robin may offer some prized Cheshire cheese and leave a bottle of port on your table or stay to talk about what matters to him - the polo field, the pigs or sharing his bread recipe. Here it is, along with one for the porridge and a teatime banana bread.
MANOR FARM INN BREAD
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 3/4 cups hot (110 degrees) water
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup seven-grain cereal
1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in one-quarter cup of the hot water. In a large bowl, combine remaining 2 1/2 cups hot water, the whole- wheat flour, three cups of the all-purpose flour, cereal, oil, honey, salt, walnuts and yeast mixture. Mix to form soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured board, and knead, adding more all-purpose flour as necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 to 15 minutes. Shape into a ball, and place in a large oiled bowl. Turn dough to oil all over. Cover with plastic wrap, and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down. Shape dough into two round loaves. Place on greased baking sheets. Using a sharp knife, cut a large X about three- quarters of an inch deep in the tops of both loaves.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Turn oven off, and let loaves stand in oven for five minutes. Remove from oven, and cool on wire racks. Makes two loaves.
MANOR FARM INN PORRIDGE
1 cup water
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup Grape Nuts
1/3 cup seven-grain cereal
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar (optional)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Brown sugar (optional)
Additional Grape Nuts (optional)
Fresh flowers (optional)
In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil. Stir in oats and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Add Grape Nuts and seven-grain cereal. Stir in half-and-half, and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, whip cream with sugar, if using, until soft peaks form. Fold into cereal along with walnuts. Heat gently, just until warmed through. Serve sprinkled with brown sugar or Grape Nuts, if desired. Garnish with fresh flowers, if desired. Makes four servings.
BANANA TEA BREAD
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3 very ripe large bananas, pureed
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) melted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
In bowl of electric mixer, combine brown sugar, bananas and eggs. Beat until frothy. Beat in flour, baking soda and salt. Add melted butter, and beat to blend. Stir in walnuts, if using. Pour batter into buttered 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wood pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes one loaf.