Cindy had dreamed of a house (and a life) like this—"a place in the woods with a pool was always the fantasy," she says, taking me outside to the saltwater pool where she, John, and the dogs swim on warm mornings under Douglas firs. But the house and the setting weren't always so idyllic. Cindy bought the property in 1989 at a time when she was so consumed with the business of being a chef that the joy had gone out of her cooking. "I was working so many hours, I had no life," she says, but adds that she now understands the reason: "I was trying to escape my marriage."
Leading me along a curving path through her one-and-a-half-acre garden, passing baseball-size red onions, shimmering English peas, and the plumpest figs I've ever seen, Cindy admits her first decade in the house "was an absolute nightmare. My first husband was very antisocial, and a pack rat on top of it," she says, plucking a Meyer lemon from a tree for me to sniff. "When we bought the house, it was essentially a weekend home with one big room, and it remained like that for a long time. The closets were narrow, the lighting was horrendous, and the bathroom was so tiny she would "sit on the toilet and bump my knees against the shower." But the kitchen was the biggest disaster. "All we had were two electric burners and an electric griddle," Cindy says. "If I wanted to do any serious cooking, I'd have to go outside and fire up the barbecue—even in winter."
The makeover of the entire house that she commissioned in 2000 fixed all that. The kitchen, now larger than any other room in the house, is the centerpiece that exemplifies Cindy's plainspoken sophistication. Under high, angled ceilings of exposed timber, it's one of those spaces that invite you to participate. The countertops—in cherry, stainless steel, zinc, and Carrera marble— are set low to accommodate Cindy's small frame, and there's plenty of room for friends. "Parties tend to start and end in the kitchen," she says. "The trick is to put people to work as they walk in the door. Someone's sautéing olives, someone's taking bread out of the oven, someone's pouring wine. I get their hands busy, and the conversation flows from there."
Cindy's parties are all about the flow. "People start to fidget if they're stuck at a table all night," she says. She'll roll a wooden buffet cart onto the deck overlooking the pool to serve favorite appetizers. In spring, she might dress up grilled asparagus with soft-boiled eggs, oil-cured black olives, and shaved Vella dry Jack cheese . "The cheese is from right up the coast, and I'm very much about keeping food simple, local, and happy. Plus, when the asparagus is warm, the cheese melts and…mmm."
As dusk sets in, Cindy will call her guests into the living room, with its panoramic views of Mount Veeder and Mount St. John, across the valley. There's more food, of course: perhaps a terrine of Roaring 40s blue cheese alongside homemade walnut bread and honey-nut sauce ("It's like picnic food for cocktail hour," she says with a laugh), and local halibut with new potatoes, leeks, and spring garlic aioli . A fittingly seasonal coda might be a buttermilk pudding cake with fresh strawberry sauce.
We Hear You!