Category Archives: Hospitality

Georgia on my Mind

Back in June, the Mr. and I headed to Savannah with our 3 month old in tow to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. It was the first time we flew as a family and although we had some reservations, we had the perfect weekend. We checked the super light, highly recommended bjorn baby travel crib and our brand new, enormous wheely suitcase containing the familial wardrobe,  breast pump and formula supply and off we went.   I was born and raised 30 minutes from Manhattan and often find that I am way too NYC centric. What a nice surprise it was to discover the charming city of Savannah with its hipster art students, and picturesque town squares.  I experienced my first dose of southern hospitality in a celebratory weekend  filled with long walks with the stroller, southern comfort food, and perfectly garnished Bloody Marys!  Here are some of our favorite spots…be sure to check out the NYT’s 36 Hours in Savannah before you go too!

Sleep

Pulling a classic move, the Mr. promptly checked out of the 4 Points Sheraton,  minutes after entering ourdingy room that overlooked a scary parking lot (the sweet bellhops were dumbfounded).   Starwood points be damned, we took a 2 minute cab ride to the Bohemian (102 W Bay St) where the concierge warmly welcomed our “lil miss” and showed us through an art filled hallway to our well appointed room. I was so happy to see a spotless marble bathroom, a crushed velvet (!) tufted headboard, and a British campaign style desk,  the perfect makeshift spot for mixing bottles! Traveling with a baby meant hanging out in our room more often than we used to, so the money was well spent. The room was clean and cozy and the hotel bar was the perfect spot to hang.  Our lil miss is a fancy hotel kind of gal, she slept through the whole night for the first time at the Bohemian!

photo(6)

baby in the bed!

Shop

 Don’t miss Savannah College of Arts & Design shop, ShopSCAD (340 Bull St‎). Its filled with clever stationary, clothing and home designs by students and alum. We picked up a colorful, waterproof, graphic rug for our kitchen which is a great souvenir from our family weekend.  The jewelery selection had me drooling as did the effortless gypsy style and bold lips of the shop girls manning the counter.

graphic mat

Eat

Peak your head in to Gryphon Tea Room (across the street from the ShopSCAD or stop for lunch or tea.  I adored the colorful bookshelves, mid century chairs and leopard print carpet.

photo via wisdomholiesttreasures.com

Upon the recommendation of the hotel clerk, we hit up local joint, J. Christopher’s (122 E Liberty St) for our first brunch. We grabbed a seat outside next to graduating SCAD students and their proud parents and indulged in our southern brunch fantasies: skillets full of eggs, meats and potatoes and my favorite, pecan pie french toast.  We also loved the restaurant at our hotel, Rocks on the River/on the Roof where we could kick back and take in the views.   Had to go back twice for the fried green tomatoes smothered in goat cheese and jalapeno buttermilk dressing. Each time I washed this excellent dish down with a southern style Bloody Mary topped with shrimp and pickled okra.

There’s no shortage of great food in Savannah, in addition to buttery desserts and ice cream everywhere you go, particularly in the historic district.  At Byrd’s Famous Cookies, we sampled jalapeno, chedder, and vidalia onion biscuits .  I fell in love with the shop’s old timey feel and wanted to buy a dozen tins to take home.

via Byrd’s Famous Cookies

Nearby, we laughed every time we passed the line outside of Paul Deen’s The Lady and Son’s restaurant, which reminded us of this SNL skit. Hot butter and oil!

On the eve of our anniversary, we set off for the The Olde Pink House, (Reynolds Square 23 Abercorn Street) with our lil miss. I’m a sucker for ‘olde’ mansions and this one was just perfect, right down to the bubble gum pink facade.  Each room had a little bit of a different vibe to it but the common denominator was gorgeous wide plank wood floors, fireplaces and crystal chandeliers! We sat a bright And contemporary room at a table with plenty of room for the car seat, and I was very tempted by the adjacent empty balcony and the dark candlelight tables I spotted en route to the ladies room.  Cornbread in the bread basket made up for the lack of romantic lighting as did mac and cheese poppers, fried fish, green tomatoes and collard greens.

Do

Savannah is the perfect walking city which made it ideal for our new family.  Downtown Savannah was designed in 1733 by James Oglethorpe and retains much of its original town planning.  Gorgeous candy colored mansions, lush secret gardens and historic squares shaded by sweeping branches are the perfect setting for ambling along after one too many Bloody Marys! We fed the lil miss on a bottle on many a square bench as she stared up at the  Oaks, Magnolias, Crepe Myrtles and Palms trees in wonder!  While the riverfront was quaint but a bit too touristy, we adored the vast Forsyth Park with its statues, fountains and tree lined walkways.  We passed many a hearst carrying ghost tours through town and debated doing a paranormal mansion experience but in the end opted to take the tour at the Owens Thomas House for a peak into the beautiful English style garden and  ‘one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South.’

Check out Savannah, ya’ll! You won’t be disappointed.

Diner en Noir

DD is back with a vengeance. After a long dry spell on the entertaining front, we held a fabulous (if i do say so myself) ‘diner en noir’, a riff on the Parisienne pop up picnic ‘diner en blanc’, in honor of my old college roomate and BFF’s new book: How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia. I love a theme party and the moody ambiance of the evening was the perfect compliment to the title of Kelsey’s book.  From the inside cover:

“…Kelsey Osgood unpacks the modern myths of anorexia, examining the cult-like underbelly of eating disorders in the young as she chronicles her own rehabilitation.”

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Buy the book, people!

I’m almost done with the book and highly recommend it, particularly for women (or guys) who have gone through an eating disorder or any type of mental illness, and especially for their loved ones. Check out my cameo on page 141, holler!  The book is very well researched, intellectually challenging, dark, funny and overall, uplifting as the author describes her path to recovery.

Diner en Noir was a fabulous ladies night with college friends, and fellow Brooklyn bloggers and artists.  I couldn’t find a black table cloth so I hit up $0.99 Dreams and DIYed a black table runner with shelf lining material, added some velvety textured florals ( brain flowers according to the guests) in small vases,  houseplants, and of course tons of candlelight!

As guests arrived, I tried to create a shadowy and hushed environment ( sleeping baby helped).  We drank dark & stormy’s and nibbled on apps with Fiona on in the background. Dinner was lively, followed by a chills inducing reading by the author and a decadent (dark) chocolate dessert.  The few remaining party girls and this hostess polished off the last bottle of red on the roof with the pitch dark sky above us and the ominous rumble of the train below.

Appetizers
Sauveur’s Black Olives with Rosemary and Orange Zest
Sliced Black Radishes with Rose Salt
Pumpernickel Toasts with Goat Cheese & Smoked Salmon
Mains
Black Kale Salad with Apples and Maple Mustard Vinaigrette ( inspired by Tiny’s NYC)
Miso Eggplant (great two step technique of roasting and broiling here)
Roasted purple Romanesco Califlower and Potatoes with Black Truffle
& the piece de resistance: Deb’s Harvest Chicken with Black Olives and Black Grapes
Dessert
Dark Chocolate Tart
Chocolate covered espresso beans, black licorice & grapes
 

Long Live the Dinner Party!

Much to my domestic delight, I just finished reading the NYT’s article Guess Whose Not Coming to Dinner.  Like Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers, I grew up in a home where every Friday night the whole family, friends and neighbors sat around the dinner table for a delicious home cooked meal.  Every Shabbat, before the sun set my mom rushed around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a soup, salad, fish and main course. Once we lit the candles, there was nothing left to do (no electricity, no gadgets, no TV) but eat and enjoy each others company.

Back in my studio, I would host little cocktail parties, balancing an assortment of hor d’ouerves on my street scavenged faux marble card table.  Here in Dumbo, my mid century dining table can seat up to 10+ people with the extension leaves inserted and I have enjoyed playing hostess to an assortment of friends and new acquaintances throughout the last several years.   Having people over to dine, lounge and get some fresh air while on the roof sure beats screaming over loud music and mediocre entries at a restaurant.  Like meatloaf which is popping up all over menus in Brooklyn,  hosting a dinner party is the epitome of throw back cool!

While I’ve certainly had my fair share of hosting practice and often try to prepare in advance, I still find myself rushing around to get everything ready before sunset; my mother’s weekly frenzy sure set a great example!   Her salad course, a colorful assortment of delicate Moroccan inspired mezze which now makes perfect use of my CSA carrots, beets and swiss chard, is quite labor intensive but never ceases to impress my guests.  For a dinner party, you can’t go wrong with simple home cooking.  Interesting vegetable and grain side dishes, roast chicken or slow cooked brisket are all great options for a big crowd.

In a departure from mom’s traditional mode of  serving, I like to put out edamame, popcorn, or olives before dinner as my contemporaries can be counted on to arrive (more than) fashionably late.  While the Mr. mans the bar and takes drink orders, I put the finishing touches on dinner and get ready for game time.   One tip that came highly recommended by my Aunt L is setting the table the night before  so there is one less thing to worry about before the guests arrive.  I love when my husband walks in with a fresh bouquet for the perfect touch!

I know they say you aren’t supposed to experiment with new recipes on your guests but sometimes I get overzealous and in over my head!  Last Shabbat, I tried a roasted beet and pomegranate seed salad from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur. The colors were beautiful, but thankfully I did not pour the dressing on as it was inedible and easily replaced with a simple balsamic one! Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman’s recipes are always foul proof though and last Shabbat Acorn Squash with Lime-Chili Vinaigrette was a hit alongside a roast chicken with braised onions and peppers,  crispy lemon potatoes, a surprisingly easy recipe that packed a punch from prissy Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter, and a simple salad. For dessert, I was lucky to have my sister over early and micromanaged her as she baked Deb’s Mom’s Applecake, which has an addictive bread pudding type texture and is remarkably similar to our own mom’s oral recipe!

This week we are having a few friends over and I am already planning my menu.  I think lamb chops will make their first ever appearance in my kitchen. Let’s hope I don’t overcook them!

Palacia De Villapanes

Our trip to Spain was filled with many memorable accomodations.  Our first stop from the Madrid airport was the Atocha train station where we boarded a comfortable, high speed train to Seville.  We arrived in Seville two hours later and went straight to the beautiful  Alma Hotel Sevilla.  Originally built as a private mansion for the Marques of Villapanes in the 18th century,  the property has been restored into a modern boutique hotel with 50 guest rooms. 

A tropical garden in the middle of Madrid’s Atocha train station.

The cab dropped us off in front of the hotel’s majestic entrance and I could hardly believe that a mere 8 hours prior, we were hailing a cab to JFK over the roar of the subway in Dumbo!

The archways led into a beautiful open air courtyard with black and white marble floors (check out the awesome chevron pattern on the top floor) , a soothing fountain and lush greenery.

The hotel had some very unique and beautiful floral arrangements scattered around the front desk that I photographed as I would love to replicate them back home. I think some of Brooklyn’s finest florists would appreciate the color and texture combinations.

The Andalusian flavor of Seville was apparent in the many Moorish and Moroccan style design elements featured throughout the hotel which made me feel quite at home! Off the side of the lobby was a pretty sitting room with an enormous wooden door with grommets leading to a small garden. I love the old terra cotta moroccan style floring  juxtaposed with the huge black and white printed rice paper lanterns.

  

The hotel’s restaurant had an eclectic and unexpected asthetic. Black walls, Wrought iron chairs, brocade upholstered banquets and simple white cloth place settings adorned with colorful bud vase arrangements reminded me of some of the quaint hipster haunts back home!

Beyond the restaurant was a cozy library featuring backlit Moroccan style tiles and modern seating. The warm blue shelves  brings out the gorgeous wood floors.

And finally, although only a limited shot (see the website for more) our room!  The crisp white duvets (his and hers so no fighting over covers!)  and moody purple velvet wingback bed was exactly what I needed after a long day of traveling and the Spanish heat.  The deep purple and gray color scheme was both rich and soothing, and the clean, dark furniture was a great contrast to the gossimar curtains where sunlight streamed through until 11pm!  

The stunning bathroom, sadly not pictured, featured an incredible 360 degree shower, adjacent bathtub, and moroccan  mosaic in deep jewel tones. Bath products by Malin and Goetz so you know I requested extra cilantro conditioner to take home!  One of the most delightful parts of our room was the mini bar, stocked with FREE delicious, mini Spanish juices!   I had my fair share of tomato, pineapple and apple each day of our stay.

Don’t laugh, I am a sucker for free stuff, particularly when you are at a luxury hotel and paying top dollar. Why not throw in a few gratis perks? It will make even the classiest of guests so happy. Needless to say, after a fabulous shower and my first official Spanish siesta, I awoke feeling like a new woman who desperately needed some tapas!  More on this coming soon…

Bed, Bath & Beyond!

Its been too long since I last posted but I will try to make it up to you, dear readers with a few back to back posts! Today, I extoll the virtues of airbnb.com, a fabulous site that allows users to rent a room, apartment or an entire home from the site’s community members.  At first, I was a bit skeptical about the idea. A couch surfer I am not and I tend to be a bit OCD about cleanliness when I sleep in a bed that isn’t my own.  However, given the grime factor in even the nicest of hotels–my first action upon entering any hotel room is to move the decorative bedspread and throw pillows as far away as possible– I decided to have a peak around the site to see what I came across.

But let me back up.  About a month ago, on the verge of accepting a new position, my husband decided we absolutely needed to  take a vacation during his one week hiatus between positions as we would not have the chance to travel much during his next several months on the job.  Well that was just fine by me! He spent several late nights researching destinations that could welcome us for a week. Nicaragua was too remote, Big Sur was too close, Brazil did not leave us with enough time to get required travel visas. And so I found myself waking up one morning and learning I had 48 hours to go before departing to Spain! There is nothing like a bit of spontaneity to get your blood flowing and as we debated the merits of planning ahead and having months to look forward to a trip versus booking a last minute flight and jetting off, we both agreed that while the buildup is lovely, its so not necessary!

I fell in love with my husband in Barcelona back when we were just friends.  It was his mastery of the Spanish language and tour guide prowess that led me to believe he could take charge in any adventure.  This time, our travels led us to the south of Spain: Seville, Madrid (where he had studied abroad) and Cadiz (where he spent a summer in high school). As he planned and coordinated the entire itinerary of our trip in less than 48 hours, I took it upon myself to browse Airbnb.com which I stumbled across via Hollister Hovey’s Blog. Her experience of staying at a Catskill’s cabin designed by a Danish Modern style furniture designer had me swooning! So, when the Mr. mentioned that there weren’t really any decent hotels in his old home-stay haunts, I typed Cadiz into the Airbnb search and something wonderful caught my eye! A few emails back and forth with the proprietor and we booked what looked like a gorgeous, modern apartment at a great price, hoping it would work out.

After a memorable stay in a beautiful hotel in Seville (stay tuned for my next post), we drove for an hour down a perfectly paved Spanish highway, overgrown with fuchsia bougainvillea and an endless view of sky and entered the ancient gates of Cadiz, the oldest standing city in Western Europe.

We pulled up to our accommodations right inside the walled city and were met by a friendly local who gave us the keys to our new residence. Upon entering the plant filled, open air courtyard (Moorish architecture is superb!)  I was in apartment heaven! I could have walked up the two flights of black and white checkered stairs forever to live in this apartment, it was the most perfect blend of old and new.

The Courtyard

The Front Door

We wasted no time, getting ourselves acquainted with the two bedroom apartment as if we were its proud new owners. We dropped our luggage off in the glass walled, zen master bedroom and marveled at the low Japanese style bed and gorgeous wood beams that surrounded us. There was a large, very old wooden door opening into the kitchen, 30 foot high ceilings everywhere, ancient archways leading from the hallway to the living room and wrought iron windows that allowed you to peak into the 2nd bedroom (see all details I’m talking about on the airbnb post here). Smooth ebony wood flooring, funky shelving, ikea chaise lounges,  Flotaki rugs, and a built in loft for TV watching transformed the old bones of this residence  into a modern, ultra relaxing pad.

taken from living room (master bedroom in the left of the frame)

We opened the big doors to the balcony and felt the cool bay breeze.

view from the balcony

sunset from the balcony

But after snooping around a bit and coming across many whimsical, spiritual and otherworldly touches,  we decided to get out of the house and do what we came to do!

mushrooms & gnomes on the shelf

the living room

The top of the frame is the built in loft for TV watching!

Wander the  streets of Cadiz and hit up the beach!

our new neighborhood

Cadiz Cathedral

Old City Beach

I am so happy I tried Airbnb and very grateful for our wonderful hostess Christina, who left the most thoughtful welcome basket of sweet and savory snacks and provided the best possible base from which to experience Cadiz.  It was really special to have the Mr. show me around a town where he gained his first taste of independence! Unlike other European beach towns, Cadiz is super low key (no naked Germans on these beaches!).  Dining on tapas in front of the ocean and strolling the cobblestone streets covered in salt and sand made for the most relaxing vacation. We’re already planning our next trip and we know the perfect place to stay!

A taste of Brazil

Several years back, long before I became domesticated, I took the trip of a lifetime to visit a dear friend of mine who was working at a law firm in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Our small but rambunctious crew of four former college roommates spent New Year’s Eve on the beaches of Rio wearing white dresses, eating copious amounts of street corn, and dodging errant fireworks. It was a glorious week marked by adventure! I vividly remember the desolate bus station where we missed the last bus back to Sao Paulo and the sleezy motel room we stayed overnight.  We played geography on a long ferry ride to a beautiful island, learned tropical fruit names in Portuguese, watched our friend get a sweet goodbye kiss at sunset, danced at an impromptu forro performance and swam naked in the ocean way past midnight.

Sunset in Ilha Grande

Sunset in Ilha Grande

During our time in Ilha Grande (translation: Big Island) off the coast of Rio, a tiny slice of  paradise filled with  pristine beaches, we truly got a sense of Brazilian hospitality. Upon our arrival, a gorgeous local porter met us at the shore of the island, loaded a wheelbarrow with our oversized American luggage and pushed our belongings up a long and winding hill. If this scene sounds like the perfect setting for the next chick lit bestseller, you are picturing it correctly.

Monica's House!

We made our way up the hill and found Monica’s House, a colorful residence with a lush tropical garden,  many cats and a hammock in the suite we were lucky to call home.  After a few days of mediocre urban street food in Rio, and an unfortunate lunch of fried ‘tiny fish’ which came with their heads and tails intact, I was thrilled when we finally agreed on what appeared to be a decent restaurant for dinner. And so it was that I found myself for the very first time, dining on Moqueca, a delicious, traditional Brazilian seafood stew on a moonlit beach in Ilha Grande.

Moqueca or as I like to call it, Brazillian fish stew is made with fish, (seafood really, but I stay away from crustaceans!), onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro carefully simmered over a low flame.  My friend Chef Monsta, posted this recipe a long time ago, but after getting rave reviews from the Mr. upon my 3rd time preparing it, this dish has entered the official Dumbo Domestic roster.  I know, fish stew may have an unpleasant ring to it, but I dare you to try it! I assure you, you will be blown away by the simplicity of the preparation and the boldness of the flavors.  If you’re feeling the pescatrian spirit, in the mood for an exotic meal but tired of thai takeout, trust DD, put on some Sergio Mendes and make Moqueca!

Recipe (adopted from Simply Recipes)

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod; you can also use salmon,  rinsed in cold water, deboned, cut into large but bite sized pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped spring onion, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
  • 1/4 cup green onion greens, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
  • 2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp paprika (Hungarian sweet)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk

To prepare:

1. Place fish pieces in a bowl, add the minced garlic and lime juice so that the pieces are well coated. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Keep chilled while preparing the rest of the soup.

Some of the veggies you'll need...

2. In a large covered pan (somewhat deep as you will add liquid), coat the bottom with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. (At least a teaspoon of salt.) Cook for a few minutes longer, until the bell pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and onion greens. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

The colorful stew in its first round of simmering...

3. Use a large spoon to push aside about half of the vegetables (or remove momentarily if pan is crowding). Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the fish. Arrange the fish pieces on the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.   (** If you prefer more citrus in your dish, or to water down the coconut flavor, don’t discard the reaminder of the marinade, add it to the stew).  Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the fish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

After you add in the coconut milk...

4.Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes or longer if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may need to add more salt (likely), lime or lemon juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste.

5. Serve with crusty bread or rice (for even more flavor, mix lime juice and chopped cilantro into your prepared rice).