Music, wine, good food and the hosts make this Texas City kitchen a popular gathering place
Texas City resident Mary Dickson and renowned French chef Jacques Pépin have very similar ideas about what makes a perfect kitchen.
In a recent interview, Pépin said his list of essential elements included good light, good music, good wine, a good view and a comfortable place for guests to sit and watch the cooking magic take place.
Dickson’s kitchen, looking out over scenic Moses Lake, has all that and more. With its tall ceilings, well-stocked wine center and comfortably cushioned high-raised chairs surrounding a spacious food preparation center — plus a nearby baby grand piano — the room’s invitation is unmistakable: “Relax, sit and stay.”
“When people come to my house, they automatically gravitate to the kitchen and then never seem to move on,” Dickson said. “They just stay put, and, as a result, the kitchen is where we do most of our entertaining. I also love to cook, so it seemed logical when we remodeled to follow what had evolved over time as our natural lifestyle.”
With its rich earth tones, Dickson’s culinary center of today is a far cry from the bright white and green kitchen that came with the house when she and her husband, Clear Lake area attorney Kyle Dickson, purchased it a decade ago.
“Although it was perfectly functional, it was not the kitchen I envisioned for our future,” she said. “But with two children in college at the time, that dream had to be put on hold for a few years.”
When the time finally came to move forward, however, Dickson — by that time retired from her profession as a licensed school therapist and counselor — could sum up her vision in one word:
“Warm,” she said to her friend and interior designer Wanda Dinklage of House of Interiors in La Marque. “I want it warm.”
Today, welcoming earth tones and rich, spicy accents fill the space from floor to ceiling. From the custom designed ceramic and glass tile backsplash and counter base to the rich swirls of gold, brown, black and white veining that flow through the granite counter tops, Dickson’s kitchen feels like a friendly hug.
In a delightful mix of old and new, Dickson has combined new, state-of-the-art Fisher & Paykel appliances with much-treasured items from her past, including the Capresso brand coffee center she and her husband gave to one another to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
“This coffee maker is my favorite thing in the kitchen,” Dickson said. “We’ve now been married 29 years, so it has been a part of our lives for almost two decades. It is no longer produced, but was one of the first ‘full-service’ programmable coffee makers, and as of this morning, the built-in digital counter showing the number of cups processed reads 18,258.”
Other special items in Dickson’s kitchen and dining areas include a wrought iron and amber glass chandelier she purchased a number of years ago on a “girls weekend” outing to New Orleans. Amber glass also is featured in the tea lights that festoon a wrought iron seaweed sculpture, a new treasure from her friend Georgia Meyer’s recently opened Texas City shop Urban Gypsies on 6th.
Original art fills the walls throughout the area and includes paintings by Darren Waterston, plus a commissioned portrait by Eric Michael Jones that shows Dickson with her two now-grown children as youngsters.
In addition to family get-togethers, wine and cheese gatherings and other dinner parties, Dickson and her husband host a weekly religious study group for which she usually prepares a comfort food main course such as gumbo, pasta or chili, accompanied by an “interesting salad” and dessert. She also enjoys experimenting with unusual food combinations, such as seasoning roasted sweet potatoes with cumin. Dickson’s love of sharing her home and hospitality even inspired her husband to set up a just-for-fun Facebook page titled “Mary E’s Fine Dining” that scored a surprising number of hits.
Creativity in the Dickson home isn’t limited to the preparation of food and Facebook pages, however. In addition to their gift for hospitality and fun, the Dicksons also share a talent for music. He plays bass guitar and jazz trombone, and visitors to her kitchen may find such challenging pieces as a Rachmaninoff concerto propped up on the nearby piano.
Even the view from her kitchen can provide a surprise departure from that of most coastal homes. Looking out past her home’s pool, hot tub and fire pit and directing her gaze over Lake Moses and toward the Galveston Bay flood gate, Dickson described the picturesque scene that occurs once a year when oyster boats are allowed to come into the area during the season.
“We usually hear the boats before we see them, but it is quite exciting to watch, and certainly more entertaining than what most people get to see from their kitchen windows,” she said.
With so much to offer, it is not surprising that the Dicksons’ home — like that of Jacque Pépin — has become the go-to hub for family and friends.
“Mine is the house that everyone comes to, and I love it that way,” Dickson said. “Warm and welcoming — that was our kitchen design goal, and it seems to be working out perfectly.”
Although Mary Dickson’s recipe for this traditional Mexican seafood dish calls for no salt, she serves it with “dipper style” corn chips that provide the perfect touch of additional seasoning.
Servings: About 12 appetizer-size helpings
1 pound peeled, deveined raw shrimp, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
1⁄2 cup lime juice or enough to completely cover shrimp
1⁄2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 (5-ounce) jar pre-chopped olives with pimentos
3 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon each: ground black pepper, cumin and oregano
1 to 2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped
Dipper-style corn chips
Combine shrimp and lime in shallow dish. The lime juice will “cook” the shrimp, so be sure that enough juice has been used to cover shrimp adequately.
Stir lightly to thoroughly coat all sides of each piece of shrimp with juice. Cover and chill for 6 to 8 hours. Drain shrimp, then layer with onion, tomatoes, cilantro, olives and jalapeños.
Combine oil, vinegar, black pepper, cumin and oregano. Pour over layers, but do not stir. Cover and chill for an additional 2 hours.
Stir to combine ingredients about 1 hour before serving, then just before serving, gently fold in avocado. Serve with dipper-style corn chips.