Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Room Essentials

Hosting houseguests can be scary and daunting. Questions will undoubtedly run through your head; questions like Are the sheets soft enough? Does it smell funny in here? How will they find the bathroom light switch? Will they be hungry when they arrive? I ask myself these questions (somewhat obsessively) when friends and family come to stay with me. I've found that by keeping a few simple guidelines in place and having a ready-to-go stash of goodies makes the process that much easier. Here are a few guest room essentials to have on hand (ps - this isn't exclusive for a guest room... these items work great for any "room" you share with your guests!)

1. Milk Bottle Jar Candle $20
2. BEELUX Mandarin and Clove Candle, $11
3. Chesapeake Bay Candle Organic Cotton Candle, $6.50
4. Vintage Quilt, $295
5. Organic Cotton Throw, $44
6. Directional Incandescent Spot Light 2-Pack, $5.50
7. LED Automatic Nightlight, 2-pack, $12.50
8. Organic Cotton Pointelle Throw, $22
9. Snowflake Nightlight, $9.50
10. Vintage Sconce Nightlight, $8
11. Organic Cotton Sheet Set, $28-$54
12. Avalon Grapefruit and Geranium Hand and Body Lotion, $9.50
13. Divine Chocolate Salt Fudge, $9.50
14. Ceramic Bud Vase, $7

Have any other essentials? Let me know about them in the comments!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hosting Houseguests

WAAAY back in September I had the marvelous pleasure of hosting Liz (from Octavia and Brown) and Tara (of The Prippy Handbook) at Silly Goose Farm for a few days. I absolutely adore both ladies and I'm so lucky that I get to call them my friends. While both gals are the easiest house guests ever, I still wanted to make them feel welcome and especially special. Here are some helpful, sustainable tips for hosting overnighters at your home that prove useful for me!

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1. Make sure your space is clean. This is probably a given, but eliminating the dust bunnies from under the bed shows you care about your guests' comfort. It also helps deter any allergic reactions that your guest might have (no one wants to be sneezy from dust and dander). To that point...

2. Use neutral cleaning products. Make a concerted effort to use natural, eco-friendly agents when tidying up your home and doing laundry. Some detergents and products rely on harsh chemicals and overwhelming scents to create the "clean" feeling. You can clean just about anything with a little borax, salt, vinegar, water and/or essential oils. The fabulous Kate Payne has some great suggestions on her website. I'll be posting my own all-nautral, homemade cleaning remedies soon!

3. Find ways to brighten up your space. Fresh flowers and soft candlelight are great ways to do this. If guests have a problem with the flowers, it's easy to remove them. Invest is long lasting, lightly-scented or non-scented candles that are soy- or natural/beeswax-based.

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4. Don't let your guests get bored at night. Visit your local library and check out some magazines that suit your guests interests or highlight local places and spaces. Some libraries even have bins of magazines they are looking to unload, so grab some for yourself, as well. (bonus - it's free!) You could even check out some DVDs or music for your guests' enjoyment.

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5. Anticipate your guests needs. I'm not saying suddenly become clarvoyant and read their minds. But think about what they might need while at your home. I like to keep a basket with toiletries (extra toothbrushes, lotion, asprin), a few snacks, and a bottle of water or two in the guest room (I also throw in other little things, like lint rollers, for "just in case" situations). What a relief it will be for your guests when they can turn to that basket for a forgotten necessity after a long day of travel! Another helpful trick - leave a basket of blankets, quilts or pillows available for your guests in case of a chilly night. These things make all the different, I promise you.

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6. Keep local information handy. Have a few maps of your area in the above basket, or turn to Dr. Google to print off some maps and highlight local eateries and attractions. Go paperless and suggest that your friends download some smartphone apps like OpenTable, UrbanSpoon or Foodspotting to use while they explore your neck of the woods.

7. Think of the small touches. Isn't is always nice when you go to a new hotel or inn and you find mints on the pillow, or a chilled bottle of wine, or a simple note? Create that same experience for your guests. Leave a little card letting them know how happy you are for their visit. Present a simple gift (I sent Tara and Liz home with some jam. Try including a little box of chocolate or bar of soap from a local establishment to remind your guests of their time at your house). One night, I left some chocolate-chip cookies on the nightstand as a midnight snack. Think of something sweet and simple you could do to make your friends feel extra-welcomed.

9. Be sure to leave a light on. Or at least a nightlight. You don't want guests stumbling around in the middle of the night trying to find the bathroom, so put nightlights (or electric candles) out strategically to help night owls find their way.

Any other tips you can suggest? What to do you do to prepare for houseguests and weary travelers? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below, continue the conversation on Twitter, or shoot me a note on Facebook!

Images courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, Nicola Laird's Pinterest, Janey Pugh's Pinterest, and Mariah Hermsmeyer's Pinterest

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tomato-Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Parmesan Polenta... And A Giveaway!

Here in Upstate New York, fall has certainly arrived. The leaves are stunning this year (some of the most vibrant reds and oranges I have seen in years) and when the sun goes down, the house begs for the warmth of a wood stove. Autumn is also the time when slow cookers come out of the cupboard and the smells of stews and braised meat waft through the house (I'm getting hungry just thinking about it). How about some delicious braised short ribs? I posted my Tomato-Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Parmesan Polenta recipe over on the Eat Local blog... I hope you'll check it out. While the meat cooks away in the oven for a few hours, this dish really only takes about 15 minutes of hands-on time, perfect for a lazy Sunday or casual dinner with friends (you can watch a movie or take the dog for a walk while it hangs out in the oven). 

But wait! There's more!

I've entered this recipe in the Calling All Cooks recipe contest, and I've been selected as a semi-finalist! But I need your help to make it to the finals. If you could, please head over to Facebook and vote for my recipe by "liking" it. The top five make it to the finals. Voting ends Wednesday, October 19th at 1pm, so you don't have long! I'd really appreciate your help.

As a thank you for your vote, please let me know in this post's comments that you voted for me, and you will be entered to win a gift basket full of tasty treats from Silly Goose Farm! Just leave a way to contact you, as well (like your email address). Already voted? That's okay. Get your friends to vote and leave me a note in the comments telling me you voted. A winner will be announced on Friday!

Thanks again for your help! PS - While you are on Facebook, stop over and "like" Silly Goose Farm, too!

Thanks everyone for your support. I was the runner-up in the competition (but I still netted some great prizes and amazing exposure). As a thank you, all three commenters (Tara, Christine, and Becky) will be receiving a special gift from Silly Goose Farm -- thanks for your sweet notes, ladies!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where Did September Go?

Hi everybody! Thanks for hanging in there with me while I took a hiatus in September. It certainly wasn't a planned blogging break, but sometimes life just throws you curve balls and you have to do your best to hit a homerun and not strike out. How is everyone doing? I'd love to hear about your September and what fun, exciting things happened for you (or even the not-so-fun, if you'd like to share). Here's a quick recap of my September:

First, we dealt with storm clean up. Not fun. Dave (with the help of Edith... kind of) chopped down some of the trees that fell. We will chop up the down apple trees once they have stopped producing fruit (that is going to be a very, very sad day). Good news is that some of the fallen trees can be used as timber to make beams for the barn renovation.

About a week after Irene came through, we had Tropical Storm Lee make an appearance, dumping more rain on the farm (and in the basement). Of course, during that time, we had house guests, so instead of the rounds of bocce and cocktails on the lawn, the farm tours, and chit-chatting on the porch I had hoped for, my poor guests were subject to freezing rain and yucky weather. Bummer.

Speaking of house guests... the wonderful Tara (from The Prippy Handbook) and Liz (from Octavia and Brown) were here at Silly Goose Farm for a few days while they scoped-out the Brimfield Antiques Show. It was such a pleasure to host them, catch up with them, and show them around both the farm and the city of Albany. Fun times! I can't wait to spend more time with those two bundles of fun (both in my city and theirs!). More to come on their visit...

September was mainly spent harvesting. I'll still picking at least a half-bushel of tomatoes a week (that's about 25-27 pounds!), as well as carrots, rainbow chard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, hot peppers and lots and lots of herbs. Corn is pretty much put-up for the season, so that's done. Don't get me started on apples... I could easily pick two dozen bushels a week and still have more picking to do. Grapes are coming in, and pears will be ready to pick soon.

With all the apples, I've made LOTS of applesauce, apple butter, apple relish (delicious with corn fritters) and of course, apple cider! My parents came out last weekend for our first pressing, and I did a small pressing just this week. Many, many more gallons to come. I'm making hard cider this year and I'm VERY excited to share that process with you!

Of course, there is the every day, non-farm stuff, as well. Always plenty of work to do, lots going on with the charitable boards I serve on, and whatnot. Edie is making no progress on potty training (any tips appreciated!) and Eric is more mobile and talkative every day. It's such a pleasure to watch them grow, but their very active imaginations drive me bonkers sometimes (like last week when they got all the wine glasses and champagne flutes out of the china cabinet, poured their cereal in them, and were toasting each other. Funny, but what a mess). I'm scaling back on client/consulting work, and I am continuing to launch and start-up my new business (I can't WAIT to share that with you!). We also celebrated my mom's birthday and my parents' 25th wedding anniversary in September. Yay parents!

I've had some fun posts go live in the blogging world (just not here.. haha!). September brought two posts with From Scratch Club - one being a Locavore's Guide to Booze and the other a DIY Apple Cider how-to with two fun cider recipes. I hope you'll check them out! I've also become the new Eat Local blogger over at the Times Union. I'd love it if you hopped over there and left me a comment (a very special thank you to Michael Huber for giving me the gig!).

I said goodbye to September and hello to October by doing my very first food demo! I participated in Honest Weight Food Co-Op's Third Annual Harvest Festival with From Scratch Club. We had a lovely tent and great food samples and demos throughout the day. I showed attendees how to make apple cider at home. It was a great turnout and I think everyone (including me!) learned a lot that day. Here's a great recap of the day. Can I get some finger-snaps for the lovely gals at FSC, especially Chris, for all the hard work they did to pull this event off? Brava, ladies!

So, that's my September in a nutshell. How was your month? What exciting things does October have in store for you? Thank you again for hanging in there with me in the turbulent month... more yummy sustainable living posts coming your way!