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What A Swell Party This Turned Out To Be

When you live in a big city, you get lots of houseguests.  It’s just something that happens when you rent an apartment in a place where hotel rooms cost as much as kidney transplants.

People were always crashing on my couch in New York.  Two of my friends even honeymooned in my apartment.  While I was there.

If you’re thinking that a group honeymoon situation sounds awkward, cramped, stressful, or otherwise not ideal, you are correct.  My friends were perfectly well-behaved and lovely, but my apartment wasn’t exactly a 30-acre Sandals resort.  I had a mini-fridge, a hot plate, one extra pillow, a shower that didn’t drain all the way, and a mouse who lived behind the radiator.  The mouse’s name was Stan.  Stan eventually perished and I will never, ever tell you if he died naturally or if I killed him with a broom after he pooped in a box of my favorite granola.

Now that I live in Alabama with Scott, I didn’t expect to get many visitors– especially since the whole internet knows we eat burpy cucumbers and decorate our house with gourd art.

I was shocked when our friend Dave said he was flying in for the weekend.

I warned him that the mosquitoes had started biting.

I told him that the pollen was so thick I could write my name on the front porch with my finger.

And I reminded him that our microwave might make him infertile.

But he came anyway.  We were so glad.

We put him in the honeymoon suite.

We ate huge bowls of homemade granola for breakfast and walked down to the town square.

I had a beer at lunch, in the sun, and it made me so sleepy that I could have taken a nap right there on the picnic table where someone had written:

~What a swell party this turned out to be~

We read books.  Scott and Dave played Connect Four competitively over the old barrel in the back yard while I made chickpea salad.  When night fell, we grilled.  We grilled heaps of vegetables and piled them on toasted bread.  We devoured a rum cake that I’ll never know how to make because Scott got it at a bake sale.

And then Dave left, and now I have that disappointed feeling I get when something good is over.

The house feels quieter.

The rooms feel emptier.

But what a swell party that turned out to be!


Balsamic Reduction To Drizzle Over Everything

{We put this stuff on almost everything we ate this weekend: grilled hearts of romaine sprinkled with salt, grilled zucchini and asparagus, toasted bread topped with goat cheese. . .}

There are a couple of ways to make it.  Either way, you’ll end up with less than 1/4 of what you started with, so choose your starting amount of vinegar accordingly.  You’ll probably want to turn on a kitchen fan, because the smell as it reduces can be quite pungent.

1) You can simmer balsamic vinegar by itself for a long time (like over an hour) until it reduces to a syrup.

2) You can speed the process up by adding sugars of some kind.  We simplified a Beekman Boys recipe and used 2/3 c. balsamic vinegar, 1/4 c. orange juice and 1 tbsp. honey.  We only had to simmer for about 5 minutes.

64 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a lovely post! And the balsamic reduction sounds yummy.

    April 25, 2012
    • Sandy, I put it on everything! Even pizza.

      April 25, 2012
  2. These Beekman Boys, who are they? I’ve never been to Alabama. Someday. You and Scott sound like wonderful hosts. This whole post made my heart happy. Anytime you’re in the Seattle area, shoot me an email. We don’t have many mosquitoes….and no lightening bugs 😦
    We do have muddy sea air and lots of homeless people. Hills and mountains and whatnots as well.

    April 25, 2012
    • Aw, thank you for saying that. And I definitely will shoot you an email before we go to Seattle some day. We went a few times last year and I loved it, so hopefully we’ll go back sometime. I do like my lightening bugs, though. In New York, I saw them in Central Park, and once in Harlem I came out of the subway and looked across the street at a park at night and spotted some and it took my breath away–just so, so unexpected. It was the kind of thing that feels so good that you’re sure it added a few days onto your life, you know?

      The Beekman Boys are these two guys who live in upstate new york and own goats. They make goat soaps and things, and they cook. Their cookbook is good. (The amazon link is here: I think one is a writer and one is some kind of doctor, and they bought a farm. There was a tv show about them, too. (I never saw it but I heard good things.) Here’s their website:

      April 28, 2012
  3. I want to come to Alabama. When I can find it on a map.

    April 25, 2012
    • You can just get in the car and drive toward the scent of failure. It’ll be me and Scott baking our Bake My Cake 2012 entries. SIGH.

      April 25, 2012
  4. You really captured a feeling with your words and photos. When we lived on Orcas Island, our house was the go to place. For a party. For brunch. Out of towners. Drop ins from friends on a walk. I use to complain at times but it was really wonderful. I miss those days now being in a new city and country.
    A lovely post indeed.

    April 25, 2012
    • Wendy, I just looked up Orcas Island–it looks beautiful. What fun that must have been to have everyone popping over. I miss that too, and you put it perfectly in your comment. Thanks for the kind words.

      April 25, 2012
  5. Dave #

    a good hostess always lets her guest win at connect four. but– few know this part– a gracious guest always lets the host win if the host is a rocket scientist. it’s a tricky dance but we danced it nimbly.

    thanks for the great weekend. when word gets out that visitors leave with a carry-on bag full of baked goods, strangers will beat a path to your door.

    April 25, 2012
  6. I wish someone would come visit me. They’d have to sleep on the porch but I promise we’d have a good time. But then I’d miss them when they left too (unless it was family, then I’d be relieved.)

    April 25, 2012
    • Heather, I just have to believe that since you live right next to Disney World and you seem to be making delicious Salisbury steak dinners followed by pink lemonade cupcakes, it is only a matter of time before EVERYONE YOU KNOW descends on your porch and refuses to leave.

      April 25, 2012
      • You would think, right?! I think they fear leaving 10lbs heavier. It’s a valid fear. I like to use real butter. A lot. (But not as much as Paula Deen).

        April 26, 2012
  7. sounds like a lovely weekend – send me some baked goods LOL

    April 25, 2012
    • As soon as I figure out how to make that rum cake. . . THAT’s the stuff.

      April 25, 2012
  8. Nothing makes me happy like having visitors in my home, you captured that feeling perfectly. Thanks for the reminder.

    April 25, 2012
    • Having visitors in your house is a special sort of adventure, isn’t it? A subtle one, but an adventure nonetheless.

      April 25, 2012
  9. Think I’ll ask Her to skip the sugars and just simmer the vinegar forever. We Scotties like to watch pots that boil. Or simmer. We simply stare at them until whatever’s supposed to happen happens. Now you know.

    Arooo Roooo, Stuart

    April 25, 2012
    • Ah, I admit that I wish Thunder would sit transfixed sometimes. She only does that for apples. If I munch on an apple she sits there patiently watching every single bite because she loves them so much, and knows that she’ll get some eventually.

      April 25, 2012
  10. It’s so nice when house guests leave you more refreshed than before they got there. Sometimes ol’ Ben is right with the whole fish/house guest analogy. But sometimes the magic is there and everyone gets to eat rum cake. Those are the good times…

    April 25, 2012
    • Brooke, I had to look that analogy up! I had never heard that “Fish and visitors and fish stink after three days.” That’s funny– Dave stayed for two, so we avoided testing the point entirely. 🙂

      April 28, 2012
  11. Bryan P #

    I remember discussing this recipe with you once at a UVALS party — so ultimately no water need be added to the balsamic before reduction? Love the blog btw!

    April 25, 2012
    • Bryan, ah yes! I do remember that! I remember having very strong feelings about balsamic reduction years ago, and now I can’t remember which side I came down on. Was I the purist or was that you? (Or Brent. I remember fighting with Brent about this, too.) I don’t add water, but I am a fan of adding some kind of sugar. I used to not, but it takes so damn long otherwise. I don’t like cooking it for an hour because I can barely hear anything over the kitchen fan and I start coughing from the fumes!

      I hope you’re well, and so thrilled that you read the site. I’m not going to the reunion, but if you go I hope you have fun.

      April 28, 2012
  12. Amy #

    RIP Stan 😦 He prob wouldn’t have pooped in your granola if you’d put out a mouse-sized toilet in what was obviously his apartment before you so rudely moved in.

    Oh wow, grilled veggies, Balsamic, friends visiting…can’t get much better than that!

    April 25, 2012
    • Amy, your comment is so visual– I love it. I cracked up when I read it, just thinking of a wee little toilet behind the radiator.

      April 28, 2012
  13. I think I would put balsamic reduction on everything too! Possibly even the guests that outstayed their welcome.

    April 25, 2012
    • Stacy, that would be such a good tactic. The guests would get SO sticky, which around here would be a serious problem for them because of the mosquitoes! I’ll keep that in mind. 🙂

      April 28, 2012
  14. Nice post.

    April 25, 2012
    • Thank you so much. I love the name of your blog. “Garnish” is such a good word. And that lasagne you got there looks awesome. I’ve never made it (either with boil or no-boil noodles).

      April 28, 2012
  15. Thunder looks perfectly content to fill the guest room all by herself.

    April 25, 2012
    • Thunder has a special relationship with the guest bedroom. When we first moved in, we didn’t have a grate for the fireplace in there. It’s a gas fireplace, but it has soot all over it. She LOVED sticking her head back there. She’d get charcoal all over her face and it took forever (weeks) to get off. Now that we have a grate, she’s allowed back in there and she acts like she owns the place.

      April 28, 2012
  16. Sounds like fun! No one is allowed to stay at our house until my husband gets the leftover pile of hardwood out of our upstairs hallway. I do not want to be responsible for sending guests to their demise down the stairs (because the wood causes everyone to walk way out of their way). Guess what? My father-in-law is coming for a visit in June. I’m betting the wood will be out of the hallway. And we will grill and drink in the sun and be sad when they leave. Your post makes me miss guests!

    April 25, 2012
  17. What a swell post this turned out to be!

    April 25, 2012
  18. Two words: YUM. O.

    This type of reduction is also good on chicken (baked or grilled) when it’s just about done cooking.

    April 25, 2012
    • That sounds delicious. I used to sautee chicken in balsamic vinegar. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was kind of my go-to, instead of ramen noodles, back in the day when I was straight out of college. So I bet I’d absolutely love pairing balsamic reduction with chicken–that’s definitely the better way to go. Good call.

      May 1, 2012
  19. What a great recipe. I actually roasted some veggies last night, but just tossed the vinegar straight in with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Came out yummy – but the redux sounds better.

    April 25, 2012
    • Your way sounds great too. I love doing vinaigrettes like yours on green beans, especially. And recently I put pesto on some blanched green beans– that was delicious too. Ah, so many lovely ways to eat roasted veggies!

      May 1, 2012
  20. juanitascocina #

    Seriously, I would drizzle balsamic on my shoe. Fo’ real.

    We once went to this oil and vinegar company up in the Dallas area. They had little bowls of bread that you got to dip in whatever vinegar or oil you wanted…like strawberry balsamic, or pomegranate, or chocolate balsamic.

    Girl, they were kicking us out of that place. No shizzle.

    April 25, 2012
    • Wow–chocolate balsamic. Dang. I went to a mustard store like that once. I tried rose mustard and Moroccan spice mustard and chocolate mustard. It was amazing. The chocolate mustard was supposed to be good on chicken.

      I worked at a cheese shop that put out samples of cheese and spreads every day. And you know what the awesome thing was? The owners didn’t care if the employees stood around the sampling station ALL DAY and ate the cheese. That’s how much they loved food and wanted others to love food. Good people, those ones. Good people.

      May 1, 2012
  21. What a lovely post. The photos are so evocative of mood, especially the empty feeling that can befall you when a charming houseguest leaves. Or when a child leaves home. When my oldest moved out I was weepy for days. Then I got over it and reclaimed her room. Yay, I had an office again! Start the party! Wish I’d read about your balsamic reduction earlier today – it would have added extra dazzle to the pizza that I made for dinner tonight!

    April 25, 2012
    • I honestly can’t fathom what it must be like to have a child leave home. I get ridiculously nostalgic about smells and music and whatnot, so I’d be a wreck. But there is something great about having an office. I don’t even use ours here very much– I sit elsewhere when I’m at the computer, but it’s just so nice to be able to keep bills and files and pens and businessy things in a separate place so it doesn’t bleed into the living room and stress me out!

      May 1, 2012
  22. Balsamic reduction for the win! Houseguest reduction for the lose, though. (At least temporarily: It always feels a bit lonely after a visitor leaves, but then the quiet life starts up again…)

    Anyway, back to the balsamic — man do I love that stuff. Put it on peaches & grill ’em! Stir it into Greek yogurt (I KNOW) and chop strawberries in there! Dump it on abuncha salad! HECK YES, balsamic!

    April 25, 2012
    • WOW–grilled peaches sound so good. I’ve been wanting to grill apricots but now they’re out of season. Peaches will be coming up, though, so I’ll definitely give that a try. Have you ever tried grilling avocado? I assume it doesn’t work, but I’m curious.

      Last week, I went to a cooking class and we had a chocolate goat cheese cake with balsamic strawberries on the side. It was awesome.

      May 1, 2012
  23. I love the way you write, Eggton! How happy I am to connect with you. 🙂 Looking forward to reading more.

    April 25, 2012
    • How was your day off, my dear? I’m lovin’ that Dolly Parton outfit. Wowee.

      Thanks for the kind words–I’m so glad we learned of each other’s existence as well!

      May 1, 2012
      • Hehe, if only I still had that wig! 🙂 My day off was lovely, thank you for asking! I must say, the day after was even better: I got to see a meteorite and interview a space treasure hunter at the California gold discovery site!

        By the way, your photography is fantastic. Your dog is an especially captivating subject. Looking forward to reading more!

        May 9, 2012
  24. a #

    Mmmmm – balsamic reduction!

    We did away with our guest room. Now we don’t have any visitors. Of course, we didn’t have any before either!

    Honeymooning in your apartment…well, I’m sure you saved them lots of money!

    April 25, 2012
  25. You wrote my fantasy. I am so jealous. You can walk to your town square from your house? We can walk to a park filled with vagrants. They watch us play tennis against each other and tell me I’m good lookin’.

    One of them even complemented my form. But he meant my actual tennis form. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

    April 26, 2012
  26. Assuming you didn’t put balsamic reduction on the rum cake? Love me some houseguests – perfect reason to clean the house! (Before and after…) Nice post!

    April 26, 2012
    • I am so ready to make the rum cake! I got the recipe from the lady who made it (miraculously) and I have all the ingredients ready to go. I think tomorrow’s the day. And there will be no balsamic reduction involved, to my knowledge. Can’t wait to tell you all about it!

      May 1, 2012
  27. Lovely roses. But isn’t gourd art much sought after and considered quite exclusive? Much more so than my bottle tree or statue of a sleeping Mexican wearing a sombrero with an empty Dos XX bottle at his hip. And having company guarantees my house gets cleaned at least once a year. Keep ’em comin’.

    April 26, 2012
  28. If you have this same sense of appreciation for your houseguests while they’re visiting, no wonder they want to come to Alabama.

    April 26, 2012
  29. A fabulous post! I grew up not far from Alabama, in Arkansas. Haven’t been there years now but the south is a magical place. With lovely people. Love your balsamic reduction, but I must admit… I love your dog even more! I have discovered I have a love for Frenchies. So darn cute!

    April 27, 2012
  30. eliotthecat #

    Loved reading your post. So relaxing sounding. I want to spend the day reading, napping, and grilling heaps of veggies (and have a beer).

    April 27, 2012
  31. This post made me a little emotional… I’m not sure why, but I’m just a little sad your house is a bit emptier! Competitive Connect Four eh? I’ll have to get that one out of the closet and enjoy it again!

    April 27, 2012
  32. Sigh, I hate the feeling after guests leave too. It’s like the crash after a sugar rush and you don’t know what to do with yourself. And now that you mentioned rum cake, I am sure my weekend’s going to be spent hunting for the best rum cake recipe because it is now stuck in my head!

    April 28, 2012
    • Hi Amrita! I got the recipe from the bake sale, believe it or not. I’ll post it soon!

      April 28, 2012
  33. That was a great post – set such a good mood; and a wonderful recipe. Nicely done.

    April 28, 2012
  34. I just voted for your awesome cake at Movita’s blog… I tried to vote several times, but they have a very sophisticated cheater-stopper…. 😦

    April 30, 2012
    • Janet, you are wonderful. I think it’s HILARIOUS that we lost to a 13-year-old and I think it’s amazing that the cake Shannon over at A Periodic Table made (the one that actually looked like a 3-D bakery) ALSO lost to the wee ballerina’s heartstring cake. But go her, right? I mean, the kid is 13 and clearly knows what she’s doing already.

      May 1, 2012
  35. Carol #

    I am loving your blog! I just found it yesterday and now I’m compulsively reading past posts. I have a few minutes while my child finishes an after-school activity, so here’s a rum cake recipe that one of my super student’s mom’s gave me after bringing this SUPER rum cake to a school event. All the teachers wanted a copy of her recipe, and she obliged. If you are into recipes from “scratch”, you may want to ignore this. However,since you are in Alabama, as a Tennessean, I know that we Southerners do not mind dumping open some boxes as short cuts. So chances are the rum cake you fell in love with was not from scratch either. Therefore, without further ado….

    The cake:
    1 box yellow cake mix
    1 box instant Jello French vanilla pudding
    4 eggs
    1/2 c water
    1/2 c oil
    1/2 cup rum
    1 c. chopped pecans

    Rum sauce:
    1 stick of butter
    1c. of sugar
    1/4 c. rum
    1/4 c. water

    Preheat oven to 325. Spray bundt pan with Pam and sprinkly in pecans. Mix the the rest of the cake ingredients. Pour batter over the pecans. Bake for 45 mins.

    As the cake cools, put sauce ingredients together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour rum sauce all around the edges of the warm cake so that it almost floats. Let cake absorb sauce about hour-hour and a half or MORE. Flip out of bundt pan and enjoy.

    May 7, 2012
  36. I love this series of photos. It’s really a nice and varied format for your blog.

    May 8, 2012

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