Friday, December 29, 2006

Committee returns from hippie Christmas; probably totally smells of patchouli

Our Christmas wasn’t what I’d had in mind, for several reasons:

I didn’t count on taking off without wishing all of you happy holidays, but the advertised “high speed internet” at our rented cabin eluded me.

The “fireplace” was a wood stove with glass doors that hadn’t been cleaned since ever, and because the catalytic converter was broken we had to feed it hunks of wood every two hours rather than every twelve.

The “fully equipped kitchen” consisted of four propane-fueled burners and the saddest little toaster oven I’d ever seen. Four burners sounds promising, but they were feeble, they might as well have been powered by Fred Flintstone’s feet; it took an hour to boil water for pasta.

The “terrific claw-foot bathtub” had a shower-head attachment, but only persons 4' tall or less would be able to wash while standing; we are a little taller and it was like bathing in a bucket.

The “work of numerous local artisans” touted by the owner is best represented by the unique piece below, which was hung in the pantry (apparently on account of her curious sense of modesty).

uhhhhh . . .

What do you mean you're not familiar with the mythic vajayjay bird?

Then there was this, which I call "Minge Panic."

minge panic

There was also a deer pelt room divider (four deer skins!) that freaked us out a little bit.

a corner of the cabin we rented

We nonetheless managed to have a pleasant holiday. It was far too warm and unsnowy for cross-country skiing so we went for a hike at the Tivoli Bays nature preserve.

Christmas Eve hike at Tivoli Bays

We accidentally wandered off the trail — it was covered with leaves — and exited the preserve at Bard College rather than at the entrance where we'd parked the car. Below is the college's rather spectacular Fisher Performing Arts Center, designed by Frank Gehry.

Fisher Performing Arts Center, Bard College

You can see more of the building here.

We found our way back to the car without any help from the locals; thanks again Mr. Runs-back-in-his-house-at-sight-of-unarmed-strangers-in-driveway.

Our Christmas Eve truffled chicken could not be cooked in the toaster oven; some of them are large enough to roast a small chicken but the one at the cabin was suitable only for toast for two. I suppose it's just as well; my planned menu had already been scratched due to capricious last-minute shopping. We decided to simply pack up the car and stop by Gourmet Garage to fill our cooler on our way out of town, and they didn't have truffles; I picked up a nice-looking chicken and a small tub of D'Artagnan's white truffle butter instead, plus a few other staples. (More on this tomorrow; I think it's important to bring a few basics when you'll be cooking elsewhere for a few days).

Fortunately we were able to secure a reservation for Christmas Eve dinner at Madalin's Table, the restaurant at the Madalin Hotel in downtown Tivoli, or as close as one can get to "downtown" in a town too small for traffic lights. I did not realize until a bit of googling just now that the hotel was featured in a recent article in T, the New York Times travel magazine, although it hadn't yet opened at the time. The restaurant has since been reviewed in the paper as well.

Madalin Hotel, Tivoli NY

Madalin Hotel, Tivoli NY

Dinner was very good, notwithstanding that one of the owners was very cranky and didn't like the fact that we'd even been given a reservation; the policy apparently is reservations only for parties of 6 or more, and he wasted no time in letting us know about it. The other owner cheerfully brushed him aside and made sure we were seated promptly, and all was well.

The amuse-bouche of braised pheasant with a cranberry relish and finely-chopped almond could have used a bit more moisture, but our appetizer of cornmeal-dusted fried calamari was just right. I had a grilled shell steak and my friend had lovely crisp-skinned and juicy roasted chicken. We'd had champagne before we got there so I don't have further details about the food, sorry. I do remember that the coffee we had afterward was superb, the best I'd had in a long while; there were three or four choices on the menu, all single-origin beans roasted by Monkey Joe Roasting Co. of Kingston, NY. It was served in a french press and it was just perfect.

On our way home a couple days later we stopped at the Red Hook Village Diner, where a sign above the counter proclaims that the coffee is "Eight O'Clock brand." I remembered eating at this diner once years and years ago while visiting a friend at Bard; the breakfast isn't remarkable — at least, mine wasn't — but the diner itself, built in 1927, is charming.

Red Hook Diner

Red Hook Diner plaque

My scrambled eggs and bacon weren't memorable, but it is nice to be given a choice between homefries and hashbrowns, and to be served toast that's already buttered; I wish more restaurants did the same. Lunch or dinner here would at least be worth trying, and maybe dessert too; I noticed a big, homemade-looking cake under glass.


  1. Hilarious! I hope your new year was completely hippie-free. I'll have to check out that new hotel, sounds divine!

  2. I'm still laughing, 10 minutes later, especially over the part about asking , or wanting to ask, for directions. Still, I'm glad you didn't start bickering amongst yourselves; this kind of thing always puts my husband and me at each other's throats for some reason...