Flannel sheets, cashmere socks, crackling fires.
Turtlenecks, tights, chunky scarves.
Toasted marshmallows, hot cider, caramel apples.
Pumpkin patches, piles of leaves.
Cozy. Crisp. Colorful.
I love fall.
And it's hard to think of a better way to spend a fall weekend than being holed up together in a cozy little cottage deep in the woods.
Well, unless that weekend includes lots of food and wine. Which, you know, my weekends sometimes do.
We decided to return to New York's Hudson Valley, which has been named one of National Geographic Traveler's Top 20 Must-See Places on its "Best of the World" list for its scenic beauty, artsy vibe, and trendy, transplanted-from-NYC restaurant scene. Yes, you might still see folks in flannel and overalls here, but don't panic: They're just hipsters from Brooklyn who've moved to Hudson to make artisanal goat cheese and small-batch pickles.
Our autumnal adventure began, as it did the last time around, at the Culinary Institute of America, which is home to one of this country's best cooking schools, along with several student-run restaurants.
The most elegant of these is Bocuse, a $3 million classroom where students recreate the quality and ambiance of a Michelin-starred French restaurant, at half the price with twice the nice.
The restaurant is named after the French gastronomic giant Paul Bocuse, who has held trois étoiles, the highest accolade from the Michelin Guide, continuously since 1965, and in 2011 was honored as “the chef of the century.”
I was barely inside the front door, and already I knew I was going to like this place.
We were seated at a comfortable banquette with a view of the spacious, bustling kitchen, which is always fun for us, since our own kitchen in the city has exactly enough room for one stove, one refrigerator, and one fork that we are forced to share.
While we waited for our drinks -- a glass of Pinot Noir for Angel, and a classic Hemingway daiquiri with bitter orange for me -- we played around with the electronic wine list and cheeky cards left on the table for our amusement.
Or our embarrassment, as the case may be.
I started with a classic 1975 recipe from Paul Bocuse himself, a decadent black truffle soup topped with a mound of puff pastry so buttery that it literally melted into the soup when I poked it with my spoon.
It is of course impossible to top a soup made from the world's most expensive mushrooms and pot-pie crust, but the Arctic char with garlic scapes and shishito-pepper vinaigrette was a good runner-up.
Angel decided to try the butter-poached lobster with sweet corn puree and chorizo broth, followed by the olive-oil poached halibut with zucchini blossoms.
Yes, that's two dishes poached in fat. Next time, he'll save the kitchen the trouble and just have a bowl of whale blubber.
While our entrees at Bocuse were classic French preparations, the desserts were anything but. Angel went all molecular with the rum cake with chestnut vermicelli and tangerine ice milk. Oh, and liquid nitrogen, bien sûr.
I chose the "modernist lemon bar" with lemon curd, coconut ice cream, and tamarind sauce, which was downright boring by comparison. Maybe next time they can light it on fire?
Finally, out came an assortment of macarons and other miniature delicacies, perfect for tucking away in your pocket for later.
After lunch we took a look around campus before rolling ourselves out to the car.
We then headed north to the tiny hamlet of Elizaville, where the house we'd rented for the weekend was hidden in the woods and accessed by a private, unpaved road. That probably sounds great to most people, but to New Yorkers like ourselves, it sounded like a cross between "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" and "The Hills Have Eyes."
But any reservations we had quickly faded away when we stepped inside the front door. The house was bright, airy, chic, and comfortable.
And, we happily noted, it was rustic without being too rustic. Glass doorknobs and claw-foot tubs, we can do. Mounted moose heads, and we have to check out early.
Best of all, huge, wrap-around windows allowed us to enjoy the view without having to actually go outside, which greatly reduces one's risk of being mauled by bears or punctured by deer antlers or whatever else happens when you leave the city for a weekend.
We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so we spent the time acquainting ourselves with the house and unpacking. Angel claimed the second master suite for his own, hoarding all the coat hangers for himself and hanging a sign on the door which read, "NO GIRLS ALLOWED."
Before dinner we took a short detour to Rhinebeck, a charming little village dating back to 1686. Originally called Kipsbergen by its Dutch settlers, Henry and Jacob Kip, today Rhinebeck boasts interesting shops, upscale restaurants, and an underground -- literally -- wine bar called the Shelter.
Tucked away below street level underneath the town's former hardware store, the Shelter is a speakeasy-style bar offering "spirits, tapas, and refuge."
All three sounded good to us, so we cozied up on one of the oversized leather couches near the fireplace and ordered up my new favorite cocktail, the "5-finger" milk punch with applejack, allspice dram, Chinese 5-spice, mole bitters and, of course, milk.
The drink was perfect for an October evening, with fall spices, bitter chocolate, and apple brandy mingling in the glass and warming our bellies.
After finishing our milk punch, we headed north to the tiny town of Saugerties for dinner at Miss Lucy's Kitchen.
Although it was 8:30 on a Saturday night, the town was practically deserted, and as we exited the car I suspiciously eyed a small pack of teenagers coming down the sidewalk.
As they drew closer, I whispered to Angel, "Do you think it's safe here?" But before he could answer, the group had come upon us, with one of the little urchins calling out to me, "Oh! I love your shoes!" Fine. I guess our hubcaps will be safe for another night.
As soon as we entered the restaurant, we understood why Saugerties was deserted: The entire town was apparently gathered at Miss Lucy's for dinner. Or at least that's how it felt when 50 pairs of eyes simultaneously turned to look when we walked in. "City slickers," I could tell they were thinking. "You can always tell by their fancy shoes."
Miss Lucy's might look like a simple country restaurant, but what came out of the kitchen was anything but simple: Everything from a martini made with house-infused persimmon vodka, to pan-seared scallops with butternut squash risotto, to a perfectly roasted pork chop with Sriracha-honey glaze, to a bracingly spicy ginger margarita, was sophisticated, well-thought-out, and, most importantly, absolutely delicious.
After swooning over every bite of our first two courses, we knew we couldn't pass on dessert. So we decided to share the harvest crisp, which was bubbling over with apples, pears, and quince and topped with a decadent brown-sugar ice cream.
The next day we planned to bike a section of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail to make up for the crimes against moderation we'd committed at Miss Lucy's. A paved trail reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, the Rail Trail was built over the New York and Harlem Railroad, which ran from New York City to Chatham, NY in the mid-1800s. Eventually all 46 miles of the railroad track will be paved, but for now it's just 16 miles, accessed at the various abandoned railroad stations that once served the railroad commuters. We'd biked one of the shorter sections on our last visit to the Hudson Valley, and were excited to take on a longer stretch this time around.
But first we had to fuel up . . . and at least one of still had to wake up.
Although it took us a bit out of our way to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Milan, I insisted that we fuel up for the ride at Another Fork in the Road. Owned by chef Jamie Parry, who cooked at NYC's Tribeca Grill and Montrachet before heading north, Another Fork is a "finer diner" known for sourcing virtually all of the ingredients for its carefully prepared dishes from the local farms surrounding the restaurant.
The sun-drenched room is quaint and cozy, with a chalkboard menu, mismatched chairs and pillows, and simple votive candles serving as decor.
We started with an order of the patatas bravas, which were slathered with a spicy, mayo-based Sriracha sauce. Now Angel's awake!
Next it was on to the biscuits with mushroom gravy (and a couple of eggs thrown on top for good measure) for me, while Angel kept things spicy with the curry scramble with caramelized onions and cilantro yogurt.
After breakfast we headed over to Taconic State Park, where we picked up our bikes and took in the glorious day.
The only thing scarier than a field of sunflowers is a field of dead sunflowers.
Soon we were ready to tackle the trail, so we wrangled the bikes into the back of our SUV and drove 10 minutes south to the tiny town of Millerton, which serves as one of the trailheads for the Rail Trail.
Our plan was to start at Millerton Station and bike 10.7 miles south to Wassaic Station, then ride back to Millerton, for a total of just over 21 miles roundtrip.
The ride started off innocently enough, as we pedaled easily past woods and hills and ponds, the sun warming our faces as we rode.
It turns out, though, that biking is a lot like exercise, to which I am allergic. And so my narrative of the 21-mile ride went something like this:
Mile 5: This is really fun!
Mile 10: I have to pee.
Mile 15: I can't believe we've biked 25 miles!
Mile 17: I really have to pee.
Mile 18: I can't feel my legs.
Mile 19: I'm going to need a donut cushion for the rest of my life.
Mile 20: I'm just going to lie down in this pile of leaves now.
Mile 21: I can't believe we biked 29 miles!
That evening we showered, slathered ourselves in Ben-Gay, then headed off to dinner at Mercato, a comfy, candlelit spot in Red Hook.
After biking 33 miles roundtrip, I'd clearly earned a bowl of gnocchi . . . and a bowl of penne.
Or, more precisely, goat cheese gnudi with local Lacinata kale pesto and penne with smoked pancetta, spicy tomatoes, and fresh cream from Ronnybrook Farm in nearby Ancramdale. And maybe a few bites of Angel's homemade fettucine Bolognese.
Mercato is warm and welcoming, which is probably no surprise given that the chef is Francesco Buitoni, a seventh-generation member of the Buitoni pasta-making and Perugina chocolate-making families.
After three bowls of pasta, it was time for dessert. Someone had to make sure the chocolate was good, too.
We also ordered the cheese plate. I'm telling you, that 39-mile bike ride really took it out of us.
As we enjoyed our desserts, the chef came by to say hello and share some amaro on the house.
As you can imagine, we slept like logs that night. That's what happens when you go on a 44-mile bike ride.
The next day was on the cloudy side and a bit chillier than the warm temps we'd enjoyed the day before, so it was time for snuggly sweaters.
I am sure Angel intended this photo as an homage to all those times I've belted out, "Wagon wheel, watermelon" in a bar somewhere. It works surprisingly well when you don't know the words.
With the skies holding the possibility of rain, we scrapped our plans for a walk along the Hudson and instead decided to return to Rhinebeck, since we were too busy downing milk punches on Saturday night to do any shopping.
On our way to Rhinebeck we stopped at Migliorelli's picturesque farm stand to buy some pumpkins.
Along with mini-pears, apples, cider, and a couple of jars of Migliorelli's homemade tomato sauce.
(Later, after I'd harvested all the seeds for roasting, Angel surprised me by carving up the largest pumpkin of the bunch in honor of Chloe, my beloved kitty who passed away last year. And yes, that's a power drill.)
After the pumpkin patch it was on to lunch at Terrapin, which is housed in the gorgeous old First Baptist Church, built in 1825.
Terrapin's bartender is a master mixologist, shaking and stirring ingredients like house-made cherry liqueur, ginger-infused moonshine, and fig-infused cognac into perfect-for-fall creations, like this sour-cherry bourbon Manhattan for Angel and the spiced caramel apple martini for me.
I started with the beer and cheese soup, made with India pale ale and aged cheddar, while Angel decided on the macadamia nut tempura calamari, which was served with a spicy-sweet pineapple dipping sauce.
For the main course, I decided on the mizuna salad with teriyaki sockeye salmon, crispy leeks, and a fantastic sweet onion-soy vinaigrette, the recipe for which is probably more closely guarded (and contains just as many addictive substances) as the one for Coca-Cola.
Angel went with the shredded flank steak quesadillas with huitlacoche, which are delicious little fungi that grow on ears of corn. Think of them as corn truffles.
After lunch we explored the town a bit.
By which I mean, "scoped out restaurants to try on our next visit."
Rhinebeck is home to the Beekman Arms, which is America's oldest continuously operated hotel. The Beekman was built in 1766 and hosted troops during the American Revolution (the 4th Regiment of the Continental Army conducted drills on its front lawn).
Aside from renovating the rooms in the 1980s, little has changed here since the 1700s. Well, except that guests are no longer required to list the number of horses they brought when they check in.
Next, we made a scary stop at Oliver Kita Chocolates.
The hand-made confections here are gorgeous, and come in inventive flavors like lavender and lime, banana and bee pollen, and honeycrisp apple.
Even the chocolate-covered Oreos were decked out for the season.
Soon it was Happy Hour, or close enough. Several local spots looked enticing, but the drinks we'd enjoyed over lunch at Terrapin had been so good that we decided to return to the adjacent bar, called Red Bistro.
This time, though, we each tried something different, which turned out to be the gooseberry mojito for Angel, and the tart-but-sweet pomegranate passion martini for me.
We'd planned to stay in that evening with a bottle of wine, a couple of pizzas, and a nice, long soak in the hot tub. I wasn't willing to pick up at just any pizza joint, though. Tucked away in a courtyard behind Rhinebeck's main street is Pizzeria Posto, which is known for its Neapolitan-style pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven imported from Modena, Italy.
We ordered up two pies and got to chatting with the owner. For future reference, it is maybe not the best idea to distract someone whose head is inside a 600-degree oven.
When we told the owner we had a 25-minute ride back to the house with the pizzas, he wisely recommended that we order a spare to eat on the way home. I'm just going to assume that's because the pies smell so enticing, and not because my reputation precedes me.
The pizzas were perfect, with a puffy, blistered crust, garden-fresh herbs, and local fennel sausage, then finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil while still hot from the oven.
We'd brought along one of our favorite bottles from our trip to Napa, the Freemark Abbey Bootleg, a delicious blending "mistake" only available at the winery, and redolent of fall with its black cherry, black currant, and blackberry aromas.
We devoured the pizzas, then hopped into the tub for a moonlight soak, helped along by an assortment of candles we'd found scattered about the house.
As we sipped and soaked and chatted, we agreed that it had been a pretty perfect weekend: Good weather, great food, fun cocktails, and fuzzy sweaters.
And no one got mauled by a bear.