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Bon appetit!

Lifelong foodie continues his cooking traditions at Wind Crest

Created date

July 6th, 2016
Wind Crest resident Merlin Neff.

Unlike most of his neighbors who eat at Wind Crest’s restaurants, Merlin Neff makes dinner nearly every night at home. He and his wife Pauline use their meal plan to enjoy lunches in Wind Crest’s dining venues.

When most people move to Wind Crest, the maintenance-free Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., they relish the luxury of not having to cook dinner every night. 

In fact, Fern Bechtel says, “I haven’t cooked one meal since I’ve been here.” 

Along with utilities, home maintenance, professional landscaping, property taxes, and 24/7 security, each resident’s monthly service package includes a flexible meal plan for use in Wind Crest’s on-site restaurants like Windows, Timberline Tavern, the Fireside, and Blue Sky Bistro. 

But here and there are those who have had a passion for cooking and baking all their lives.  

That’s entertainment

Like Merlin Neff, for example. 

A true foodie, Merlin learned to cook growing up in Indiana. “I came home every day from school for lunch, and I had to make my own lunch. I started experimenting with things,” he says. “After high school, I joined the Navy. When I got out, I was single and had to fend for myself, so I just started cooking.”

When he did finally meet his wife Pauline, his love for cooking was ingrained. As a couple, they incorporated cooking and entertaining into their married life. 

At their biggest annual event, they would host 70 people around New Year’s Day to celebrate the holidays, their anniversary, and Beethoven’s birthday. And they loved inviting other couples over for a full five-course meal. 

When they moved to Wind Crest from Virginia, they never considered giving it up. They’ve continued to host their holiday party and have started other traditions as well.

“We have a party on New Year’s Day for about 30 people here in our apartment. It allows me to cook to my heart’s content,” says Merlin.

In addition to the holiday parties, they began hosting wine-tasting parties with a group of neighbors. “Every few months, the host furnishes the wines and a light meal to go with it,” Merlin says. 

In December, they featured Michigan wines such as Leelanau Baco Noir, which, in a blind taste test, won out against a California pinot noir at the party.

When he’s entertaining, Merlin combines his love of art with his love of cooking. He creates chicken liver pates decorated with a design made from thinly sliced turnips and other edibles. He creates pastry designs to adorn his Swedish meatloaf. And he makes a beautiful Normandy pear tart. 

Delectable dinners

When they’re not entertaining, Merlin makes dinner nearly every night. “We use our meal credits for lunch,” he says. 

When he does make lunch, it’s not always as elaborate as his dinners, which might include roasted Cornish hens marinated in liquid smoke and Madeira, served with roasted carrots and scalloped potatoes.

“I make a more elaborate dinner at least once a week, sometimes twice,” Merlin says.

Lunch might be a simple soup, like potato leek made by boiling a whole rotisserie chicken in a pot with water and vegetables to make the broth, then adding the potatoes, leeks, and seasoning.

“Using the prepared rotisserie chicken gives you a lot of seasoning, but the fat has already been baked out. Plus, it’s more convenient than using a raw chicken,” he says.

Merlin plans his menus in a small, brown, leather-bound notebook. “I come up with the entrée, then I fit things around it,” he says.

Accolades for Wind Crest dining

As a cook, Merlin gives two thumbs up to Wind Crest’s restaurants. “I think the food here is very good, especially since Windows is open. We love to go there and eat,” he says, giving props to Chef Anthony Falco. “He does a really good job.”

They also enjoy lunch at the Blue Sky Bistro, where they can watch their food being prepared. 

Aside from enjoying the food at Wind Crest, Merlin says he likes the community overall. 

He and Pauline live in Wind Crest’s first neighborhood, which opened in 2007.  While new buildings have continued to open and offer new floor plans with larger, more open kitchens, Merlin says his kitchen suits his needs. In fact, he uses it so much that he jokes he’ll be the first resident to need a new oven.

Sales Director Jason Atwell says apartment homes in the first neighborhood are the community’s best value. “They offer all the comfort and amenities of the Wind Crest lifestyle at a lower price point than most of our newer homes,” he says.

Merlin says he and Pauline have no regrets about moving to Wind Crest. “I think Wind Crest is great,” he says. “I love Colorado weather. I like the fact that we have EMTs 24/7; they’re here in your apartment home within three or four minutes [if you need them]. We have far more friends than we every had in Virginia, and there’s so much to do.”

When he’s not cooking or entertaining, Merlin participates in the Wind Crest Writers and Readers Theater groups, and he enjoys creating mixed-media digital artwork on his computer. 

In fact, he finds inspiration among his fellow neighbors, like photographer and poet Bill Carlson. 

And like many of their neighbors, Merlin and Pauline appreciate the financial simplicity of Wind Crest. “We don’t have anything to worry about. We don’t have water bills, electric bills, tax bills—to me it’s worth the cost,” he says. “Wind Crest is a great place to be.”