Create: Pie Party

Pie party / Good House GUestMy clever friend Sue invited us over last week for a party with a motive so simple and compelling that it was positively brilliant: to eat pie. As you can see, people took the pie pot-luck directive very seriously.

People brought their A-game. I contributed a savory tomato and zucchini pie (a recipe I’d share, but it needs some perfecting). My offering was no match for the rhubarb beauty with ribbons of doughy latticework; a thick egg and kale quiche; a wild blueberry with a buttery crumble top; a delicate apple galette, a bacon, egg and onion dish and a layered coconut number that I sadly didn’t even have room for after sampling most of the others.

It was an excellent way to spend the first official chill-in-the-air fall day here in New York, and I’ll be practicing my technique for the winter session.

Wander: Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, RI / Good House Guest

In late May, Kate Thorman, my fantastic Mr & Mrs Smith co-editor, and I embarked on a quick New England road trip blitz. Our Chevy Impala rental car had us rolling way more like Cagney & Lacey than Thelma & Louise, as we’d imagined, but we managed.

In just five days we made our way up to Portland, Maine, followed by a quick stop in Cape Cod and ferried out to Nantucket before barreling down to Newport, Rhode Island. We snapped shots along the way for the savvy travel site, Fathom, and with that is our first dispatch for them about our finds in Newport. Among our other discoveries: turns out I like rum.

Wander: Austin, Texas

Wedding/ Good House Gues

The excellent excuse of a wedding brought many of my relatives together for a fabulous family reunion this spring in Austin. Above is a shot from the main event, which was authentically Austin in its laid-back, endearingly DIY way, with an emphasis on creative food and copious cold drinks. Even if you can’t swing an invite to a stylish outdoor wedding at the Zilker Clubhouse high above the twinkling city below, leafy Zilker Park itself is still worth a visit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.30.11 PM

Bonus: Todd has family there too, so it was all cousins, all the time.

East Side House/ Good House Guest

Vintage Eastide house/ Good House GuestScreen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.26.25 PMStay: We rented this desert-inspired domicile on the city’s Eastside, a quiet residential part of town that still had plenty of cafes and colorful piñata shops (purchases were made; a candy-stuffed Darth Vader was pummeled). This thoughtfully restored 100-year-old home with wide-plank hardwood floors, a claw-foot tub and back garden made it easy to slip into Austin and feel like a local. And, as with any good sanctuary, there were plenty of amusements between the bookshelves stacked with compelling reads, a piano and the record player with a handful of albums.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.29.50 PM

Eat: We quickly became regulars at Cenote, a casual cafe and coffeehouse just a few blocks from the house.The super friendly folks there made us feel right at home when we showed up every morning in need of their strong brew. It also proved to be a spot-on place for a mound of greens or a hearty sandwich. The superb taco truck, Veracruz All Natural –  the migas breakfast taco is a must after a night out –  was also a short walk away. The mess of smothered fries goodness above is complements of Banger’s Sausage House, a German-inspired beer garden that takes license with tradition. Sausage varieties include: goat cheese and beet, a trio of duck, bacon and fig and dak bulgogi, just to keep it, you know, weird. The generous outdoor space with communal picnic tables is tucked within a row of former bungalow homes that now make up the bars and restaurants of Rainey Street.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.25.38 PM

Do: Paddle on Ladybird Lake. This reservoir on the Colorado River is ringed by 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, but escape the relentless heat by renting a boat from one of several outfitters along the lake.

Wander: Hudson Valley

Falling Waters Preserve / Good House Guest

We recently fled to Red Hook for a long weekend. No, not that Red Hook in Brooklyn with the Fairway Market, lobster restaurant and somewhat made-up maritime bars. Rather, the small town a two hour drive up the Hudson River and into the woods of the Hudson Valley and Catskills region.

Hudson River / Good House GuestBecause we can’t manage to pull off a normal spring break on a beach like everyone else, we tend to run in other less-populated directions. This trip it meant we had snowy paths of the just-waking-to-spring woods practically to ourselves – an incredible contrast to our daily life. And with over 60 parks protected and maintained by the Scenic Hudson conservancy group, you could easily fill the days following birdsong and the trickle of ice-melt streams in a maze of pines. We tracked critters, poked at the lip of the still-frozen Hudson and even passed a few stoic saints (the path is part of a Dominican Sisters retreat center) as we crunched through the snow at the Falling Waters Preserve.

Sawkill Farm/ Good House GuestWe spent Saturday morning sampling pickled green tomatoes, stinky cheese and jams at the Hudson Valley Farmers Market at Grieg Farm. Later, we stopped off of Route 9 and met Michael and Callie, the couple (along with their chickens, pigs, cows and sheep) behind the bounty of gorgeous steaks, chops, sausages and just-collected eggs for sale at Sawkill Farm. A little daydreamy window shopping is always in order wherever we wander, and for that we spent time running our hands along the expertly planed tables and trying out chairs Goldilocks-style at Sawkille, a beautiful furniture and goods store in Rhinebeck.

Chicken coop/ Good House Guest

Not entirely removed from civilization though, we did venture into Rhinebeck and snacked on crispy wood oven-fired pizzas and a towering salad of shredded greens at Market St. In Red Hook, we were welcomed as regulars by the fine folks at Mercato. Warm reception aside (a woman from the kitchen picked Soren up and took him over to the chef for a special treat) the house made pastas – in particular, the toothsome tagilatelle bolognese – were the true reason to stick around.

hot tub / Good House Guest

Friends tipped us off to a simple, tastefully decorated two-bedroom rental house. Large windows maximized the views of the deep woods where we’d catch deer loping early in the morning. As an added bonus, it also had what Todd considers to be cherry on top of any vacation rental: a hot tub. Who needs the beach, anyway?

We are chronic weekend escape house renters. Here are a few other finds a pleasant drive from the city:

Overlook Nook Plenty of bedrooms, an inviting living room, a killer record collection, a sprawling garden and a pleasant blue stone pond.

Floating Farmhouse We were lucky enough to spend a glorious long weekend at this sublime space with some of the loveliest people we know (and a black bear, too!).

Woodstock Cottage We tucked away in this little cottage one snowy January weekend. It’s compact and cozy, but it was just right for a last minute off-season escape.

Create: Things in batches

limoncello/ good house guest

Exchanging a dozen of your fresh eggs for a jar of your neighbor’s honey was once standard practice in small towns and rural communities. This friendly and practical barter of goods is now experiencing a revival in cities across the country by like-minded food enthusiasts through highly organized food swaps. BK Swappers, founded in 2010, is one such group that my dear friend and fearless-home-cook, Jane Lerner is behind.

signup

I got in on the action last month, and discovered how this pantry-stocking-swap works. First, you have to show up with something to trade, and everyone brings up to 10 jars, bags, bottles or tins of whatever they’ve preserved, pickled, baked or stirred up. This being my first swap, I went with a safe bet and just made a giant batch of spiced nuts. However, this event is not for those shy around the kitchen – there was kimchi stuffed sausage, Meyer lemon limoncello and orange bitters in amber-hued tincture bottles, to name a few items.

goods

Everyone snags a space to display their wares. They also fill out a swap sheet with a description of their goodies, and then others can write in a proposed trade for your treat (for example: My jar of Sichuan chili pepper oil for your bacon-infused vodka). Trick of the trade: having a little tasting sample set out to entice fellow swappers.

checkitout

It’s a very social affair. In addition to all the nibbles on the swap table, people bring pot-luck style dishes to share, and one swapper had even set up a knife-sharpening station. Just as if you were at the most delicious (and ambitious) cocktail party ever, folks stand around chatting and clinking beer bottles in-between bites of lavender shortbread or a scoop of pepper-infused jelly. All is casual and friendly… until the call to swap.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 9.22.13 AM

This is where things get serious, and a bit hectic. Seasoned swappers circulate quickly to pounce on those chocolate-covered pretzels or tangy pickled Brussels sprouts they’ve been eyeing. The uninitiated (ok, me) hung back and tried their luck after the initial rush. No matter your swap style though, no one walks away empty-handed or without something new and different to try. After all, who couldn’t use a jar of peppery giardiniera or homemade butternut squash butter?

Does your pantry need a spring re-stock? The next BK Swappers event is Thursday, April 24 at the West in Williamsburg. Spaces can be reserved starting this Friday, April 4. Join their mailing list for the full scoop. Happy swapping!

Create: Summer in a jar

Summer in a jar/ Good House Guest

With whipping wind, sideways-falling snow and ice slicks on every block, it’s been important to keep in mind that there will be life after winter. In New York, that also means remembering a tidier time – before sidewalks were hedged with diminutive mount trashmores (complete with Christmas tree husks) covered in snow, ice and slush.

Right now a little bit of sunshine goes a long way, blue sky days are that much better and best of all is when the forecast calls for a chance to leave the house in something other than clunky snow boots. So I’m even more appreciate than ever of the friends who preserved, canned and bottled summer’s sweetness and shared it with us. Our pantry is stocked with bright marmalades and dark fruit jellies that give us hope for the possibility of budding trees, picnics in the park and far less trash on the sidewalk.

Here is my friend Sarah’s recipe for her red currant jelly so you can have your own spot of brightness on a cold day. We’ve been slathering it on toast and mixing it into plain yogurt.

2 pounds currants (washed and stems removed – can be frozen until ready to use)
1 cup sugar

Place the currants in a large pot, add the water (about 1/4-1/2 cup) and sugar (1 cup + to taste, some people so equal parts but I like it more tart than sweet). Cook over medium heat. The currants will start to release all their juice and pop out of their skins. Once you have a more liquified consistency, about 20 minutes, drain the currants over a bowl. I did this using cheesecloth and the help of a mesh strainer. Be careful not to squeeze the cheesecloth or you’ll get more of a cloudy jelly. Once all the liquid has been drained, you can pour into canning jars and process in a water bath (water bath canning instructions here).

Wander: Portland, OR

Last year, our dear friends, Joe, Jill and Luca took a chance on carving out a more creative life for themselves and made a break for Portland, Oregon. They have since settled in a tree house perched among the pines, landed dream animation gigs, found work with interesting clients and Jill completed and staged a rock musical aptly titled DREAM. It more than seems to be working out.

All this, and they’re steps from 30-lush miles of hiking trails that are pine-scented and rich with treasures their son adores, like plump, slimy banana slugs.

We had an ambitious list of things to do during our visit. But lingering over endless cups of coffee in their living room, watching our boys delight in their insta-playmate status and sliding into our familiar places at their dining room table, with wine in hand, as we had so many nights over our years together in Chicago, slowed us down. Which was exactly what we needed. 

We did however, manage to connect with other friends in Portland, sample silky charcuterie at Olympic Provisions and meditate on the turning maples at the Japanese Garden. And headed out on the gaping open road (no traffic snarls, or towering buildings and ‘buy this!’ billboards polluting sight lines) to Cannon Beach.

Dining at Le Pigeon or Bar Avignon and a tour of the World Forestry Museum will have to wait until next trip… as if we needed any more incentive to return.

Create: Raise a glass to 2014!

Our pals Sara and Andrew never roll up to any event empty-handed. In fact, they are too generous with their gifts of homemade marmalade, sugary cakes and my favorite of their specialties – cranberry shrub. It’s a refreshing way to toast the new year, and here are five ways they suggest to mix up your shrub.

* Pour over ice and top with club soda.
* Mix with sparkling white wine.
* Muddle with an orange slice Then add ice, bourbon and top with club soda.
* Mix equal parts orange juice, tequila and shrub.
* Shake with ice and equal parts shrub, gin, sweet vermouth and strain into a glass.

Oh, and cheers!

Create: Holiday cheer

We’re having ourselves a busy little Christmas season here. How about you? But we did get in a visit with the man in red, and returned to Santa’s Village in Brooklyn, put on by the very crafty elves at My Brooklyn Baby. At three, Soren is at that sweet age where Christmas is still all about magic and fantastic tales of elves and flying reindeer, and not yet tied to stuff (well, save for candy canes).

Wishing all peace and a good bit of magic, too.

Gift: Post-feast treats

Last year, a friend who had hosted a giant Thanksgiving dinner tipped me off to the most thoughtful hostess gift: breakfast for the next morning. As a host, what could be better following the days of cooking and hours of cleaning involved in these epic holiday feasts than having someone else plan a meal for you?

And as a guest, it’s pretty simple to pick up a dozen bagels, bake muffins, make a quiche, whip up a batch of Jane Lerner’s granola or, if staying overnight, wake the house up with a pan of Adam Miller’s chilaquiles. You will surely score yourself a return invite every holiday. And that’s certainly something to be grateful for. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Pass the stuffing… tip the turkey to me… and wishing heaping helpings of love and gratitude to all.