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A pampering in Vermont

Food and comfort con brio

Email|Print| Text size + By Sheryl Julian
Globe Staff / November 5, 2006

WOODSTOCK, Vt. -- Around the moment you begin to hear the birds, you start to smell the bacon. There are no other sounds in the old house. Innkeepers Dora Foschi and David Livesley have given all guests slippers, so you hear no footsteps on the stair treads or the old floors.

After you're awake, stumble out into the lively dining room at The Woodstocker Inn, and folk music is playing, newspapers are spread out on tables, and the British-born Livesley is probably trilling his way through the breakfast offerings. You can make French roast organic coffee in individual presses, he explains, help yourself to English tea, scoop homemade granola onto local yogurt, or feast on his specialty -- "the full monty." This means lots of meat (even kidneys!), golden-yolked eggs, pork sausages, Canadian bacon, broiled tomato halves, and mushrooms. Nearly everything is grown, harvested, or collected on neighboring farms. The innkeepers have gone to considerable expense to have it this way. "Hot breakfasts cooked to order," reads the information sheet in the rooms. If you sleep in and want breakfast right when the kitchen is closing, you'll probably get it without fuss.

Foschi and Livesley are so new to the bed-and-breakfast business that you have to wonder if they're still in the honeymoon phase. They've just celebrated their first year in operation. But they say they wouldn't have done it if they thought they couldn't do it well. Before they came to this country -- and went to the trouble of securing business investment visas to buy the Woodstocker (no small task) -- they did their homework and talked about it at length. Their special circumstances, explains Livesley, mean "that as long as the business entity is trading, you can stay and renew your visa." In other words, they don't have to make money right away.

The two decided they needed all the zeal they could muster. Enthusiasm, says Livesley, 46, who was born in Leeds , in north central England , is what distinguishes every successful innkeeper he and Foschi, 47, visited before buying their own place. And enthusiasm is what these innkeepers have in spades. Especially about food, about sustainable agriculture and local farms, and about the green movement. Running a business and keeping all this in mind is a tall order. But, says Livesley, "We've become very adept at juggling 47 balls."

What they imagined when they opened the inn, he says, is that it would be "like going back to your parents' house, but your parents aren't there." Of course, they would have to have contemporary taste. One room has a red toilet and frosted glass walls. What you may notice, he adds, "is not one single inch of floral wallpaper."

There are many things that make you feel good. Bowls of small candy bars, a little like the contents of a Halloween goodie bag, are all over the inn. The music might be French jazz or Afro pop. An impressive book collection is shelved in a library of the 1830 house, and next to it is a self-serve snacking kitchen.

Both knew that good food and comfort were a winning combination. They had worked in publishing in London, in the sales end of the business, which meant expense-account lunches in posh restaurants, entertaining clients. They had traveled widely, too, to Europe (Foschi's family is Italian), the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa.

Before the couple moved to Vermont, Livesley had given up working at the children's publisher Walker Books , but Foschi was still at Penguin Books. In 2004, they took long weekends and flew to the United States four or five times. "We would get into Boston, drive, see all these places, and on the first flight Monday morning flew out," she says. They had already been around the country and narrowed their search to the Green Mountain State.

"Vermont seems to represent everything New England is about," says Livesley.

The Woodstocker was an established inn, which they bought as a "turnkey" sale, meaning they could open for business at once. They knew they would renovate; they had already redone several homes, including a 17th-century thatched-roof English cottage.

Once they settled in, they began searching for breakfast items. He came with a crumbly scone recipe from Nigella Lawson. Foschi makes a beautiful fresh fruit compote. She learned to make crunchy granola, something she had never heard of before . Maple syrup was also new. Now, she says, "Porridge and maple syrup is a dish made in heaven."

He found sausages at On the Edge Farm in Woodstock, along with Canadian-style bacon, and lamb kidneys at Shepherd's Hill Farm , also in town, which he devils in mustard, Worcestershire, and mild curry. Fresh mozzarella comes from South Woodstock, and they shop regularly at the farmers market down the road or the nearby Hanover, N.H., co-op. French baguettes from Red Hen Baking Co. up in Duxbury are served , as are heartier loaves from When Pigs Fly in Kittery, Maine. Eggs are free range, and sometimes wild Arctic smoked salmon is on the menu.

"What surprised me," says Livesley, "is the diversity and quality of what's here." Neither learned about the organic movement in Vermont; they were already thoroughly committed.

"Britain is five to eight years ahead of North America," says Foschi, who was raised in Chester , southwest of Leeds, near Liverpool. Every soap, cleaning material, and duvet bed cover she has bought for the inn is ecological, she says. "We put it out there, and if people notice, that's fine."

Both are in the dining room for breakfast, which is served from 8:30 to 10 , but they're "flexible on either side," Livesley says, meaning they'll start earlier and go later. What they will not do is reheat.

They recently rescued a female soft- coated Wheaten terrier they call Stanley. Foschi had always wanted a dog with that name, so she wasn't deterred by the gender.

After a year, says Livesley, the experience has been "as tiring as we expected, it's been as exciting as we expected, and as frustrating as we expected. But they're the standard frustrations of life -- supplies not arriving, guests getting stuck in traffic. One has to be accommodating."

They certainly are at the breakfast table. If you'd like a tiny taste of deviled kidneys, they enthusiastically offer it. Same for bacon. Or sausages. Perhaps a taste of everything.

But then you'd have to go right back to bed.

Contact Sheryl Julian at julian@ globe.com.

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