Create: A little magic

Fireworks Prospect Park/ Good House Guest

As it’s been our tradition the last few years, we gathered with dear friends, neighbors and perfect strangers to watch the explosions in the sky over Prospect Park – Brooklyn’s version of the ball drop. It was a fine show on a cold and clear end-of-year night, but it wasn’t punctuated with that powerful punch of chaotic bursts.

Slightly disappointed, the chilly onlookers began heading back to their homes, but just as we’d turned our backs on the park, the sky erupted with a burst of pops and flares – a delayed, but no less daring grand finale to the year. Just when we thought it was over it wasn’t – there was still some magic left to be had. I thought that a fitting way to end 2104, a year heavy with loss, a year which reminded me to be more conscious about remaining open the good surprises and unexpected delights, too.

Wishing all clarity, brightness and magic when you least expect it in 2015.

Create: Extended family

Holiday lights/ Good House Guest

Crackers/ Good House Guest

For the past two years we’ve lived in the garden apartment of a sturdy, thoughtfully restored brownstone on one of those quintessential Brooklyn blocks. A leafy stretch where a perfect kick-line of brawny brick homes crowned in regal cornices lead to the park. It’s been a charmed run, and we know it.

We’ve been lucky enough to have more than landlords living above us, but friends, too. Even if we are an unlikely match. Us: hailing from the Midwest, writers and vaguely Christian. Them: Russian-born immigrants who are doctors and Jewish. There’s a sitcom in there somewhere, complete with an episode where the parents come downstairs to raid the honey baked ham and shrimp cocktail we had on offer at our Christmas Eve party.

We share the usual neighborly provisions of sugar or eggs, and we watch one another’s children in a pinch. Having doctors on call was helpful when our toddler took a temple-leading leap into a coffee table. And they appreciated help from an in-house editor to review speeches for their oldest son’s bar mitzvah.

Beyond that though, the above shots are a glimpse at just how much we’ve blended lives and learned from one another’s stories, traditions and cultures. One holiday evening we lit the Christmas pyramid and two menorahs in the window as we discussed the significance behind those stories and the importance of light. We popped open Christmas crackers (a UK tradition) and swapped the silly jokes inside as we passed around plates of latkes (three glorious kinds), pickles, Russian herring salad and my new favorite: pirozhki.

And despite the fact that the house is being sold and we’ll all be moving, I hope that we can make this gathering a holiday tradition for years to come….

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.


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.


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.


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: Insta-NYE Party

We’ve lived in Brooklyn for five years and never once spent a New Year’s Eve in town. So this year we stuck around and gathered with a few friends who also weren’t traveling or otherwise engaged to greet 2013 with a lucky pot-luck. I’ve gotten into the communal  spirit of the pot-luck as of late, plus the collaborative effort makes pulling off a last-minute bash possible.

Having just interviewed Tori Hendrix of Sitting in a Tree Events about throwing a sparkling NYE event, I was brimming with ideas. However, I was short on time so unfortunately there were no sparklers (they are banned in NYC), wish paper ordered ahead of time or spray painted branches here. Instead I picked up gold and white balloons, paper crowns, glittery tiaras, black and gold noise makers and metallic confetti to give our place a NYE feel.

The spread and infamous cranberry shrub.

We had an abundance of incredible food: the eensiest roasted Brussels sprouts; a gorgeous onion and goat cheese tart; ginger cake; delicate mushroom pinwheels, potatoes gratin and savory puffed pastries to name a few. And everyone contributed something thoughtful to the bar too. Including a batch of cranberry shrub, a fruit and vinegar syrup which mixes well with everything from tequila to vodka. Too well, actually was my thought the next day as I nursed my aching head.

We live a block away from the Grand Army Plaza end of Prospect Park which is Brooklyn’s answer to Times Square for ringing in the new year. Moments before midnight our little group of revelers (two toddlers too) bundled up and, with bubbly in hand, joined the procession of neighbors gathering for the fireworks countdown.

At the start of 2013 we were all a-glow beneath the twinkling, popping bursts overhead. We returned to our place for the one night cap which led to talking, listening to music and laughing-unitl-we-cried on a repeat loop into the wee hours. Uncontrollable laughter is an auspicious start to the year ahead. And when this next year gets tough, amazing, dark, scary or too-good-to-believe, I’ll remember that night and know where to turn.

Happy New Year! Where did you welcome 2013? Wishing all peace when you need it, joy where you can find it, lots of wonder and plenty of comic relief in the year ahead.

Welcome to Brooklyn: Believe the Hype! Borough President Marty Markowitz pouring the champs at Prospect Park. Photo Credit:Angie Chait.


Gift: Buy Local

My sister, Susie, packaged up the most thoughtful assortment of east coast treats in a simple brown paper lunch sack as a Christmas hostess gift this year. It was the sweetest modern day general store goody bag.

She included local favorites like a gorgeously wrapped Mast Brothers Chocolate bar and old-timey Brooklyn Hard Candy, both made in New York. Plus, the creamy (and super addictive) goat milk caramels from Big Picture Farm. You can even follow the goats who supply the milk online, like Fern and Gertrude, of this Willy Wonka gone locavore farm and confectionery in Vermont. Talk about knowing your source.

Local treats are an excellent theme for a gift for all sorts of occasions, especially if visiting someone out of town. It doesn’t need to be much either––a candy bar, jar of pickles, bottle of hot sauce––is all it takes to transport a little taste of your home to theirs.


Gift: Tiny Bubbles

Big announcements. Small victories. Long-awaited reunions. Family drama. Whatever the season brings, break out the bubbles. Leigh Thurber and Melissa Apfelbaum, owners of Picada y Vino, a wine shop specializing in smaller-production wines from around the world, shared their expert sparkling picks. They travel in search of great finds from lesser known regions, up-and-coming winemakers, unique estates, and off-the-beaten-path producers, so I knew they’d have some festive Champagne alternatives.

Leigh notes that sparkling wines are a natural cleanser for the palate, making them perfect for any course or in-between. Cool fact: all wine starts out as sparkling, and then the gas is released to make it still. Ok, enough small talk, now for Leigh’s selects and wine notes…..

Gruet, Brut, New Mexico: Yes, a sparkling wine from New Mexico. Made with Chardonnay grapes in the Champagne style, it’s brilliant with ultra fine bubbles. A wonderful fine bouquet dominated by green apple and grapefruit flavors.

Gruet, Brut, New Mexico

 N.V. Frédéric Lornet Crémant du Jura Brut Blanc, France: A biodynamic sparkling wine with a lovely pink tint—pink is the big thing this year. It’s fruit driven with wild strawberries, raspberries, a bright fruit profile and bubbles that tickle the palate.

N.V. Frédéric Lornet Crémant du Jura Brut Blanc, France

Le Vigne di Alice Prosecco Sparkling: Made from the Prosecco grape, this is how Italians do sparkling. Super elegant and on the dry side with mix of apple acidity with pear notes. The pink is fun for the holidays too.

Le Vigne di Alice Prosecco Sparkling NV

Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosato, Emilia-Romagna, Italy: Lambrusco is the grape, and this style of wine can range from very sweet to very dry. The dark red color is kinda masculine, so good for guys who don’t typically go for a lighter sparkling wine. This wine has pleasantly brisk bubbles and a fresh, ripe berry flavor-wine detail.

Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosato, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Castellroig Reserva Brut Naturi, Spain: Spanish take on bubbles from the Cava region. This cava is made following traditional methods. The resulting sparkler is festive and elegant. It has delicate but persistent bubbles, hints of bananas, fresh fruit, brioche and a fresh, dry, balanced palate. A great choice for cocktail parties and other holiday occasions.

Castellroig Reserva Brut Naturi, Spain

Thanks Leigh! Stop by Picada y Vino in Brooklyn and shop their hand selected wines.

Gift: Coral & Tusk

Bunny with Arrows

My devotion to the fairy tales and nautical yarns spun by Brooklyn-based Coral & Tusk started with a bunny. Not just any little fuzzy rabbit either. But one who had recently earned his scout badge by making a set of bows and arrows by hand that he slung (along with some carrots) in a woven basket over his shoulder.

This endearing character was perfect for my son’s room. More than just a cute creature, he’s a resourceful and curious little adventurer. Just the sort of someone I hope my son will grow to admire.

As I explored the Coral & Tusk site I realized that the artist, Stephanie Housley, lived right next door to me. What incredible luck! Especially since I kept finding things just right for different occasions from baby gifts to weddings from her line.

Better yet still, Stephanie is just as lovely as the fantastic scenes she sketches and stitches into existence. She recently took some time away from her woodland and high seas worlds to tell me a little more about the company she started with her husband Chris in 2007. There are four other members of the C&T team (Alija, Maya, Chelsea, Atsuko) and their dog, Paco, who serves as a pretty excellent mascot.

How did Coral & Tusk begin? The seed from which the whole company and product range grew from was my memory game, Sea & Match. I actually began it when I had insomnia one night in India. I embarked on making a hand embroidered, entirely nautical themed memory game, one letter for the whole alphabet. About halfway through I realized I had to make two of every piece––52 pieces total––plus a container! Then one day, I was looking through Martha Stewart magazine drooling over a pic of one of her sewing rooms when it hit me: they must make a machine that would allow me to do what I am trying to achieve.

The embroidery process is pretty cool. Can you explain how it works? I begin by drawing the original artwork on paper and then make an embroidery file based on that drawing. There is software that comes with the machine where I redraw the artwork, literally stitch by stitch, so that it completely harnesses the hand and mark making of my drawing. Once I have created the embroidery file, I make the design on my embroidery machine.

 Is there a story behind the name? I wanted to choose a name that had wonderful visual components. I selected Coral & Tusk specifically because they are both very auspicious natural materials that bring good luck and carry a lot of symbolism. I also appreciate that these materials exist both on land and in the sea.

Your characters––a bird-watching owl, bunny with a sack of arrows, sledding hedgehog––have distinct personalities and pretty rich lives. How do these characters and stories come to you? I do all my best thinking on the subway or chatting at home over coffee with my husband, Chris. Storytelling is the defining component that drives me to create these critters. As childish as it sounds, I do not really see animals as different from  people. So it’s a pretty easy bridge to cross when I am thinking about a bunny who is going out for a little archery knowing that he is going to get a touch hungry and would need a snack, so he’s put a carrot in with his arrows. Wouldn’t you? The stories and accessories seem to just develop really naturally

Any new characters in development? Yes–– many new things on the horizon! More pocket dolls for sure, and panda and tiger from my design “high five” are coming to life.

What are your top C&T gifts to bring to a host? Being that it is holiday season, the tea towels are an excellent multi-purpose gift. The pocket dolls are also really great gifts since they are very much ageless and appeal to kids and adults alike. The embroidered stationery is also a great idea since you can leave your hostess a hand written thank you note on what becomes a keepsake for them.

Find retailers, the web store and the full line of Coral&Tuck creations here.

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