Cocktail Friday | Halloween Witch's Brew

It's finally October, and that means Halloween cocktails! My favorite. Today's is my own personal witch's brew.

Witch's Brew Ingredients:
3 oz vodka
3 oz blue curaçao
2 oz cranberry juice
2 oz grenadine
a splash to 1 oz pineapple juice
black sugar for glass rims

Dip 2 glasses into karo syrup or simple syrup. Dip glasses into black sugar until syrup is covered. Pour vodka, blue curaçao, cranberry juice, grenadine, and pineapple juice into shaker and shake until well blended. Pour into 2 glasses and fill with ice.

Enjoy your purple Halloween Witch's Brew! Cheers!


Boston | A Day of Beacon Hill, John Hodgman, and Vacationland

Iconic Acorn Street, and nearly just as iconic dog, in Beacon Hill

Forgive me in advance if I overly gush, become melodramatic, or fan-out. Trust me, this will be weird for me too. Living in Park City, Utah for a few years, I routinely ran into celebrities at Sundance or on their ski vacations. And I never approached them; not even when I was seated only a couple feet from Tracey Ullman at an exclusive, Norwegian restaurant. It didn't occur to me to burden her with my anecdotes of breaking bedtime every Sunday night, as a little girl, to watch her on tv. That would have been undignified and possibly awkward (obviously, I spent a past life in Victorian England amongst the etiquette-obsessed elite). And when I was only inches from Conan O'Brien - a teenage crush - backstage at his tv show in New York? No, didn't open my mouth then either. But dignity and Victorian sensibilities be damned, I'm going to gush a little over John Hodgman! Not only is he one of my favorite funny people and, yes, I'll say it, my favorite Yalie, but he's also a New Englander. Due to the misfortune of my birth in California, I'll always be considered "from away." No matter how many years I live here, I cannot be called a New Englander. Hodgman, however, gets to claim native status. Something my weird, little heart envies. He's a child of the Commonwealth, raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, and I recently had the pleasure of seeing him perform his new, comedy show, Vacationland, in Boston.

First of all, have you heard of the Judge John Hodgman podcast? I listen to a lot of podcasts, and his remains my favorite. He's witty and quick, and though the disputes on his show are low stakes (e.g., the time one spouse attempted to temporarily ban her spouse from wearing crocs), there's a natural storyteller quality to Hodgman's presentation that is utterly charming and entertaining. His observations are insightful, intelligent, and most important, hilarious. And I never fail to be amused at his oft-used words "monster"and "gross."*

Before the show, I spent some time with another object of my affection - historic architecture. I am frequently in the city, and more often than not, my feet point me to the paths, streets, and cobblestones of Beacon Hill. Unlike some west-coasters, who grumble at New England's weird, little roads and non-sensical city layouts and street signage, after a decade here, I'm still charmed by it all. The appeal of the efficient wide, open roads and tidy, easily-accessed strip malls of the west has evidently gone over my head. (And really, doesn't the ill-logic of preferring the difficult drives and tight, centuries old construction simply because that's the way it's always been done, make me an honorary New Englander?)

(On my favorite street) Shirt: Anthropologie | Jeans: AG Jeans | Shoes: Jack Rogers

But honestly, who cares about efficiency when you're walking through the streets of Beacon Hill. Even if I twist an ankle on those cobblestones (hasn't happened yet) or stub a toe on an upheaved brick (happened more times than I can count), I will never stop visiting it nearly every time I'm in the city.

Hidden gardens are a big thing in Beacon Hill. So big, in fact, there is tour of them every May.

Not far from Beacon Hill, a walk through the common was all that was required to get to The Wilbur Theater. Luckily, I was there in plenty of time to purchase a couple posters, a Canadian House of Pizza and Garbage t-shirt**, and sit down with a glass of wine in the theater before the show started.

If the man on the side of The Wilbur looks familiar, you may know him as the Deranged Millionaire and resident expert on The Daily Show or as a PC personified in the old Apple Mac commercials (you may even recognize his voice as the dad in Coraline), and I've enjoyed all of it, but what I love the most is John Hodgman just being himself on his podcast. And that's who he was in his show, Vacationland. Just himself. His wry, witty, intelligent, morbid self. And I say morbid with great affection, as I am one who is also touched with a bit of the melancholy.

Taking its name from Maine's state motto, Vacationland is a journey through Hodgman's life. It begins with his childhood outside of Boston where, due to his status as an only child, he became part of the "super smart, afraid of conflict, narcissists club." (It's a club to which I feel I also belong. Though growing up in a Mormon family of six kids, I'm not sure how I got my membership card. Clearly, I am a monster.***) He takes us through each stage of his life with his own brand of honest, perceptive, humorous storytelling. The anchor story throughout centers on his recent summers spent in Maine, where he and his wife purchased a vacation home. Maine, with its harsh climate and jagged rocks, becomes a metaphor for mortality, as his time there coincides with reaching middle-age and facing thoughts of death. I know that sounds depressing, but it wasn't. Each observation was witty, his honesty and self-deprecation was endearing, and he had the audience laughing all night.

It is Hodgman's unique way of acknowledging the often disconcerting realities and ambiguities of life in a light-hearted, humorous way that helped me through a difficult time recently. Dealing with some past childhood issues and leaving behind my lifelong belief system, I was sent into an existential tailspin. I mourned the certainty with which I used to view life. On the days I wanted to escape my own dark thoughts, I would listen to the Judge John Hodgman podcast. Even though the cases brought to the podcast are trivial, his funny and perceptive remarks about the universal human condition, even in small things, helped pull me out of my funk and laugh about it. He helped me realize that we're all just going through the same thing, no one really knows what's going on, and really, it's kind of funny.

When I met John Hodgman after the show, I wanted to tell him that bringing levity to the ambiguities I had wrestled with brought me invaluable moments of reprieve during that struggle. But did I? Well, you remember Tracey Ullmen and Conan, right?

So, I'll say it now. Thank you, John Hodgman, and to repay you I made you take a picture.****

*Inside podcast references. I apologize for leaving out those who are unaquainted. Gross. I'm a monster.
**Another podcast reference. Episode 38 - Pepperoni Pauper. Listen to it, guys. Trust me.
***Did you catch that Hodgman oft-used word reference? Good for you! Now you're getting it.
****A reference to Hodgman's thoughts on picture taking. Just go listen to the podcast already!


Halloween House Tour | Haunted Dining Room

My dining room is a mid to late 19th century addition to the house. It sort of has a more Victorian feel than the rest of my home, and I consider that prime spooky era. Often referred to as the Cult of Mourning or Cult of Death, the Victorian era was death obsessed. There was a morbid fascination with death rituals and superstitions. Black mourning wear, with strict rules, became the practice. Death hair art and other artistic expressions of mourning became the trend, and spiritualism - the practice of attempting to communicate with the dead, often through seances - was on the rise. I've always been fascinated with the morbidity of the Victorian Era, and have spent many hours reading about what brought this open and celebrated mourning to society. It truly was a unique time, and I think we can all agree that the Victorian style and decor is perhaps the creepiest of all. Isn't the alleged haunted house in any neighborhood almost invariably an old Victorian?

So, I wanted to set up a little Victorian seance feel to my 19th century dining room, and since I grew up in California, spending many years visiting the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, in gleeful awe and terror, Madame Leota was who I wanted conducting my seances. I made my own crystal ball, with her famous face, and she now is always ready to call the spirits from my dining room.

This is the first year I've had a bar cart to decorate for my favorite time of year, and it proved to be a delight to fill with Halloween spookiness!

And though I do love a charming Halloween, I also appreciate a little creepiness and blood. The charming Halloween decor has filled the front room and kitchen, where casual guests are most likely to visit. However, I let my creep flag fly in more hidden corners of the house. REDRUM and a little blood on a mirror never hurt anyone!

I filled my decanter with some home brewed blood.

Drink up, Witches! And, also, loving my new glass skull that holds my cocktail straws.

And through the mirror, we see my 19th century gentleman, sitting satisfied in his portrait, with his bat (or vampire?) familiars.

Adding spiderwebs, a skull, and creepy, shifting Victorian portraits to the bookshelves helps put me in the seance mood. And to top it all off, ripped cheesecloth and spiders hang from the windows and drapes.

Thank you for joining me on a little tour of my haunted, Victorian dining room. I look forward to continuing the Halloween house tour in the coming days. Happy, morbid Halloween, everyone!


Cocktail Friday | Autumn Cider Sangria

I'm so excited that autumn is nearly upon us! Not only is it the most gorgeous time of year in New England, it's also one of the most yummy times for flavor. Apples, pumpkins, and spices are among my favorites. Those flavors make me think of comfy sweaters, cool nights, and changing leaves. And after some experimenting, I'm thrilled with this autumn cider sangria!

Autumn Cider Sangria:
1 bottle sparkling wine
2 cans hard apple cider (my personal favorite is Downeast Cider)
1 cup sugar
3 apples of different variations (I chose granny smith, red delicious, and gala)
1 orange
1 lemon

Pour sparkling wine and hard cider into a pitcher. Add sugar and stir.

Cut up fruit and add to the pitcher.

Refrigerate for at least an hour. Pour and enjoy! Cheers!


The Streets of Downtown Nantucket

Downtown Nantucket is the hub of activity for the island. Restaurants, shops, museums, and tidy, old homes line the streets. It's always nice to get away to one of the beaches or smaller villages, like 'Sconset, while on the island, but downtown offers a true taste of this once bustling whaling town. There's always something to do or indulge in there.

Like most of the island, flowers feature prominently on the streets of downtown. They drape over fences and arbors and fill window boxes with bright color. Their vibrancy boosts the already energetic flow to the summer streets.

The shingle homes, so iconic to the island, and 19th century clapboards of downtown Nantucket ornament each street in perfectly lined, meticulous architecture.

And no visit to downtown Nantucket would be complete without admiring the famous cobblestone streets. The main street was first paved with cobblestones in 1837, and there is some debate as to their origin. The main theory spouted is that they were brought over as ballast on ships coming home from Europe. It is also said they were purchased from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Whatever their provenance, they add to the unique, historic character of downtown.

Murray's is a must-stop while shopping along the cobblestones

As a descendent of the Coffin and Starbuck families, the founders and whalers of Nantucket, walking through the streets of downtown brings into focus the legacy of the whaling days. Their echo is felt in the cobblestones and commerce, in the taste of oysters and rum, and in all of activity that is downtown Nantucket.

A view from above of the streets and harbor of downtown Nantucket