photo home-57.png photo meet-kelly.png photo press-16.png photo collaborate-3.png photo jane-recommends.png

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Card

Christmas cards are supposed to be sent out before the actual holiday so I'm a day late but hopefully not a dollar short. I've been a little behind with most things this holiday season, partially because I had trouble getting into the spirit until about a week ago. But one thing that I always do early is plan my Christmas cards. Why? Well it actually starts with a pretty crappy story. My family never really sent out cards growing up and I always wished that we had. So when I got my own house I wanted to start that tradition myself. One day a few years ago I was mentioning to someone before Thanksgiving that I had to get moving and send my Christmas cards out. I will never forget her reply.....why are you sending out a Christmas card you don't have a family?

I won't lie I let this bother me for a while. But then I realized she could go and shove it because what I did have was a home. A home that I like to fill with love and laughter and food and good times and people that mean a hell of a lot to me. I also have the best dog in the world, Miss Austen, who keeps me company, gives me kisses every morning and loves me no matter what stupid thing I ended up doing that day. I may not have anyone to share it with right now but I hope to one day. Until that day, I'm going to look forward every year to planning my Christmas card and sending it with love to the people who matter most. Just because my life isn't wrapped up in a bow that someone else thinks is right I won't let that hold me back from creating traditions of my own.

Here are some great shots that my friend Jeff took for this year's card. You can see which one made the cut above. I'm taking the rest of the year off to relax and recover from the craziness of the holidays, but I'll be back on January 1, 2014 with an all new 2013 wrap-up post and my hopes for the new year! Finally, I want to say thank you to all of my readers for your support of Austen Hill. It means the world to me. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are planning a rockin New Years!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Berry

I've had a bit of a prejudice against Cranberry Sauce for most of my life. Until one day I realized I just hadn't had real Cranberry Sauce, just the horrifyingly bad stuff from a can. Real Cranberry Sauce is rich and sweet and bright and yummy! It also couldn't be easier to make. I hope this year you'll take a chance and make your own for your holiday table! I added a few shots from Vespers, one of our many wonderful Church Hill holiday traditions. I hope you enjoy!

Cranberry Sauce

1 bag (12 oz.) Cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon and orange zest
1 cup water
splash of Grand Marnier

Bring all the ingredients to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Love makes us do things we never imagined. It challenges our beliefs, comfort zones and imagination. I think because, until you've experienced it, you cannot possibly fathom how overwhelming and magical it can be. You cannot imagine what it feels like to become a part of someone else and they you. In theory, something like this should make you feel tethered and suffocated, but I have found quite the opposite to be true. Personally, I have never felt more free to fly than when in love. 

The other side of the coin is that you also cannot imagine the hollowness that descends when you cannot be with that person. It is as though a piece of you is missing. Do I begin this way to scare you or caution you against love? Absolutely not! Because in my humble opinion, although the dark times can be all-encompassing, the amazing times are worth any pain that may come. 

I wanted to begin with the truth about love because I think it is portrayed so beautifully in my friend Andrew's new book, Revontuli ("northern lights"). It tells the story of Marit, a Sami girl living in the Norwegian village of Karasjok during the German occupation of World War II. I will admit I was unfamiliar with the Sami and their nomadic culture when I first met Andrew and heard about the real-life love story behind his first novel. A spaceman, farmer and now author, Andrew is somewhat larger than life. Seriously, he's really tall! I met him at a dinner many months ago and was fascinated by the personal story that led he and his family to restore a farmhouse in France and the professional journey that led him to become an author. 

With Revontuli, Andrew paints a very vivid picture of life in the Finnmark during this crucial time in history and forces us to look at the inhumanity of war through the eyes of a heroine that is already torn between two worlds. Marit's maternal Sami roots are always at odds with her paternal Norwegian heritage, but these conflicted feelings soon begin to pale in comparison to the fresh struggles that come with falling in love with a German soldier. The atrocities of war play out in this little village while Andrew's characters do their best to navigate a new heightened reality that forces them to cling to anything still human, like love. Love is sometimes inconvenient and scary but it's never a waste, and when set against the backdrop of war the humanity and necessity of it becomes even more clear.

Life, family, love.....war. I wanted to know more about the man and the story behind this wonderful novel. Luckily, Andrew was kind enough to answer my questions. 

1. How did a spaceman and a farmer decide to become a writer?

Actually, I don't believe you ever decide to become a writer. In my case, I ran away from it for a long time. I have always had a passion for telling stories. I did not feel it would be an easy choice for those close to me to be a writer- its a very demanding profession. A few years ago, I realized I was not truly happy unless I was writing. After that, I started putting the pen to paper again, and eventually moved to the keyboard because it was faster, I've never regretted that "decision". A word of caution though, if you have any other passion in life, follow that first. The life of a writer is hard work.

2. What inspired you to write Revontuli?

A few years ago, I met by chance someone whose family lived in Karasjok during the war, and whose grandparents had lived a love story like the one in the book. I was fascinated by this unsung story of WWII, especially given the dramatic events that unfold as the war evolves. After this meeting, I researched the history of relationships between German soldiers and Norwegian girls and discovered that there may be as many as 12,000 children born of these relationships. The topic remains to a great extent taboo in Norway today, and I felt someone should tell the human side of these stories. 

3. What is your writing process?

A lot of readers are surprised to know how much time and effort goes into research. I estimate that the ratio of hours of research to hours of writing to be about 50 or 60 to 1. For many months, I am researching the little details, trying to imbue myself with every detail that might be relevant to the story. I do most of my research, whether online or in books, in the evenings or on weekends. I chart out the story line, and write key chapters or passages, but not in any sort of order. Eventually, I come to the point where the story is "mature" in my head, and the research is mostly complete. At that point, it is time to write. I get up very early (I won't say how early or you will be shocked) and write for several hours- two or three typically, sometimes four but rarely more. I must do this every single day. After writing, I do what I would normally do in a business day, but I have to admit my mind is elsewhere. In the evening I review what I wrote and do complementary research to improve it. The next day I start again. This process lasts several months and is hard on family life. Then, one day, the manuscript is done. Life goes back to normal, and editing can take place a day or two at a time all day long, instead of every single morning. 

4. What was the most interesting thing you found while researching the book?

I don't think I can point to one thing. The story itself was unknown to me when I began- the village, the camp, the Blood Road, the burning of the Finnmark, everything....I guess what will stick with me the most is the fascinating Sami culture, a beautiful culture that suffered greatly during WWII and in many ways is still recovering. I am happy that people are discovering more about the Sami by reading the book.

5. Your protagonist, Marit, is a female. Was it difficult as a man writing from a woman's perspective?

I think with this question you are hitting on one of the most challenging things about writing Revontuli in my mind. I put a lot of effort into shaping that unique perspective. I was very discouraged when an early reader told me she could tell from one or two key scenes it was written by a man. I was relieved a few days later when another reader said with amazement that the loves scenes were so completely told from a woman's perspective that she wondered if I hadn't had help writing them. Ultimately, appreciation of a book is subjective. So yes, it was difficult. I hope readers in general find I was successful.

6. War is horrific and under these circumstances people do things they would never normally do. Do you think what people do under stressful circumstances reveals their true nature or are they just responding to the world around them and doing their best to survive?

I don't know if I am comfortable saying we have a "true nature" that is hidden deep within us. I believe we make choices. Every day we make choices. Sometimes in war those choices are starker or have more consequences, but every day we choose. Certainly, circumstances shape us, and our morals and values bring us to shape circumstances. In terms of horror and atrocities, I believe all humans are capable of them, and all humans can choose not to do them. Which side of that equation any one of us lands on is a question we face a little bit every day. Do you help those you know to be in need, or do you turn a blind eye hoping no one will notice? Do you seek out difficult choices, or try to put them off and sweep things under carpets?

7. In many ways I felt the book was about closure; from war and a past we can't run from. Do you think we can ever achieve closure or do we simply incorporate the loss into our daily lives?

I think Revontuli is very much about closure, and Marit does find it in the end. She needs to go to the end of her journey to understand what Hans felt too. When she does, she can accept his love unconditionally and find closure, even if they will never be together. What is that cliche quote? "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"? I guess my message is that love is beautiful, however it ends, and there is no shame in having loved.

8. How can heartbreak be hopeful?

We all live through heartbreak of one form or another in our lives. There are no mountains without valleys. Heartbreak is only sad if you are unable to embrace the experience for what it was-  a love lost, but love nonetheless. You must risk heartbreak if you are to truly love. There is no love without at least the risk of heartbreak. Marit's hope stems from within her. She gives herself to Hans, and that cannot come without conditions. But I do not see Marit as having lived a miserable life. I think she was happy for a long time, loving others, like her daughter. In the end however, she does seek closure with Hans. She finds her hope again when she finds the truth behind Hans' actions.

9. I alluded to the fact that writing wasn't your first profession. Tell us about your other pursuits and your life in France.

My wife and I made the decision to move to France three years ago. It's been an incredible adventure. We still run our space consultancy business, and in fact are working on some of the coolest projects we've ever done. Have a look at my blog post "Rasor" from earlier this summer if you're curious. Buying a farm brought us into farming and the discovery of an ancient grain called einkorn. And then of course, there are renovations. My wife would like a holiday, but I think she secretly loves to run off madly in all directions like we seem to do. I really wish there were more hours in the day, and renovations and farming have taken a back seat to writing and the space business of late, but that's life. There will always be an ebb and a flow.

10. If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would it be?

Don't be afraid to follow your dream. If you don't, it will haunt you until you listen!

Thanks for taking the time to find out a little more about the story behind Revontuli. If you liked the answers to the questions, you can find the book here!

Revontuli means "fox's fire" or "northern lights". It was released November 1, 2013. Revontuli is Andrew's first book.

Andrew was born in Vancouver, Canada. He grew up in Western Quebec and in the Gulf Islands, where he developed an appreciation for nature and became hooked on a rural lifestyle. He also lived in Paris, Burgundy, Montreal, Knowlton, and Leiden. In 2010 he found a home with his family in Simiane-la-Rotonde, in the hills of Provence, where he farms an ancient grain called einkorn, indulges his passion for history, and prepares his next travels.

Andrew is married and has five children. Revontuli is his first novel. 
Read more about Andrew at and on his blog, Serendipity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

COMMONS Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the Charlottesville COMMONS Giveaway! Without further ado the winner is.........Eliza! She shared the awesome cookie recipe below and I'm excited to give it a try. Eliza please email me at and we will send you your signed copy of COMMONS!

Cookie Pie

2 sticks butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2c flour
1/2-1 c oats (optional- at 1 c oats reduce the flour by 1/4 c)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
chocolate chips (we like to mix dark, milk and semi-sweet)

Mix all the first ingredients, creaming the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and vanilla. Add all the dry ingredients until combined. Add chocolate chips. Press into a pie pan (we like to use the kind with a removable bottom). Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes or until firm. You can under cook a little if you like a softer cookie. Serve warm with ice cream for best results!

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Friday, Love

I'm really trying I promise. I've put up my Christmas decorations, sung carols and sent out Christmas Cards. I've been to great parties and spent time with awesome friends. But if I'm being honest I'm having trouble getting into the spirit this year. Maybe it's because Thanksgiving was late and everything  feels rushed. Maybe it's because I've had a ton of work trips lately and I'm exhausted. Maybe it's because as you get older the holidays change and you think about all the people who won't be with you this year. Or maybe, and this is the real reason, it's because the one thing I want for Christmas this year I can't have. The lights just aren't as bright as they normally are. But that's life and every year can't be amazing. Every Christmas won't be exactly what I want. But here's hoping my Christmas wish gets heard by someone upstairs and if I'm very good all next year I'll get it. Don't worry, I'll have a rest and feel better. In the mean time here's some Christmas photos to cheer you up in case you have the holiday blues as well:).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pepere's Tarts

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday my friend Kristen invited me to her house to make her grandfather's famous tarts. Her grandfather, or Pepere as they called him, was an amazing pastry chef who I wish I'd had the privilage to meet. He taught for most of his life and spent summers wowing the guests at hotels throughout the Northeast. As we sipped our Prosecco her grandmother regailed us with stories of their summer adventures and I was so touched by the love she clearly still feels for him. Some people are lucky enough to marry the love of their life. 

On to the cooking before I start crying! I'll be honest I was a little intimidated at first because although I make a pretty damn good apple pie, this level of baking is way out of my league. We had a great time though and things even got slightly competitive when we started decorating the tarts. To mold marzipan takes the patience of Mother Theresa and the hands of a brain surgeon. I have neither so my best tart ended up being a starfish that looked a little hung over. At least I tried! Luckily Kristen and her family are experts so their beautiful creations can be found below. 

The recipe from Pepere's cookbook is delicious so I hope you'll give it a try this holiday season. And if you find yourself in Florida and in need of lessons let me know because Kristen's mom offers classes. What a wonderful way to start the holiday season. Thank you to Kristen and her family for including me.

Franchipanne Tarts

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1/4 lb. butter
pinch of salt

Let butter stand at room temperature until medium soft. Sift flour, sugar and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. With your hands or a pastry cutter, work all ingredients together, mixing well. Then turn dough onto a lightly floured board and work a few seconds until dough is formed. Pinch off small pieces of dough the size of a hazelnut and place in greased 2-inch tart shells. With your thumb, even out and press dough on bottom and sides of shells. Be careful not to let dough extend above edge of the tart shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Commons + A Holiday Giveaway

I remember many months ago having a fabulous chat with my friend Karen about an idea I had for a new blog series, She's Becoming Gold. I wanted to profile women who had made a change for the better and subsequently were coming into their own both personally and professionally. These women ended up being from all walks of life, but the one thing they had in common was a recognition that they were on the wrong path and a willingness to take a big leap to find the right one. No sooner had I explained the concept of the series when Karen immediately recommended her friend Andrea Hubbell, co-founder of Charlottesville-based website Beyond the Flavor

"We reach beyond the flavor to capture the stories behind the meals shared at the tables of local chefs, growers, bakers, craftspeople and food enthusiasts, because we believe that recipes are richer than the ingredients used to prepare them."

Andrea, along with co-founder Sarah Cramer Shields, has taken the Charlottesville food scene by storm with Beyond the Flavor's unique mix of storytelling. Both talented photographers in their own right, Andrea and Sarah found themselves on a plane with their hunky husbands (trust me I've seen pics) bound for New Orleans many years ago asking themselves the question we all ask at some point in our lives. 

If you could be doing anything that you aren't doing what would it be?

And so....Beyond the Flavor was born. Combining their photography skills and passion for food, they've grown their website into a showcase for the who's who of the eclectic Charlottesville culinary scene. After decades of processed food consumption, their stories also subtly encourage us to ask ourselves very timely questions. Where does my food come from? What am I putting in my body? Why did the chef choose those ingredients to pair? What is the story behind this dish? These questions, and the unique aspects of the farm-to-table movement, also lend themselves to a greater feeling of community that both Andrea and Sarah embrace whole-heartedly. 

{ From L-R: Andrea Hubbell, Charlottesville Commons editor Jenny Paurys, Sarah Cramer Shields }

I recently had the chance to interview these two fabulous ladies about their website, partnership and latest project, their first publication Charlottesville Commons. We met for breakfast on a cloudy morning at the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville and I was immediately struck by two things; what good friends they are and their absolutely adorable two boys Albert and Clyde. There is an organic flow of ideas between them as we sip our coffee and devour everything on our plates. We should do a children's book series! Commons Volume 2! Done. I am both charmed and envious of their connection and work ethic.

The word that kept resurfacing in my mind as they talked about the challenges of self-publishing and creating the content was community. They mention the names of those who helped with every aspect of the book from moral support to sponsorship. It is clear that they are immeasurably grateful for the support they received from their "community" and each other. They are also currently grateful and thrilled with their new studio in downtown Charlottesville which comes complete with not only shooting space, but a fully functioning kitchen for recipe testing. Did I already mention I'm envious?

I hope that you'll stop by their website and check out their book, which incidentally would make a fabulous gift for the holiday season. You can order your own copy here. Taking Beyond the Flavor to the next level with a publication like Charlottesville Commons was a goal from the creation of their partnership. By focusing on history, heritage and tradition, they've created a wonderful book that celebrates great local food and recipes and the passion of the people who create it.

Charlottesville Commons Giveaway

In fact, I loved the book so much I asked if they'd mind giving away an autographed copy to one lucky Austen Hill reader. They happily agreed (thanks ladies!) so here's what you'll need to do to enter.

1. Like Austen Hill on Facebook
2. Like Beyond the Flavor on Facebook.
3, Leave a comment in the comment section of this post with your favorite cookie recipe. This can be a link or written recipe.

The winner will be chosen at random and announced next Monday! You have until this Friday to enter.

I hope you enjoy a few pictures of Andrea and Sarah in the field and also a sneak-peek of their new book. Cheers!

Friday, December 6, 2013

It's Friday, Love

Feels like I've been here, there and everywhere this week. Here's the rundown.....

  • Got to work on some great blog projects in Charlottesville early in the week. First one will be up Monday so stay tuned!
  • DC for work a couple days which has become the norm lately. 
  • Had some free time in DC and took a run on the mall so I could hang out with Abe. He's a good thinking spot.
  • After 6 years our book club is no more. We'll still try and get together for champagne and gossip when we can but definitely the end of an era. 
  • The organization I work for is turning 25 next year and we're throwing a gala to celebrate! Baltimore is officially "the middle" for most who will be traveling in so we headed up there for a couple days to scout venues and have some planning meetings. I only have about 11 months to find a dress so I gotta get on it:).
  • The fact that a goddess like Julie Andrews was followed by Carrie Underwood makes my heart hurt.
  • Church Hill Holiday Weekend begins this evening with Vespers and ends Sunday with our Annual House Tour. We hope you'll join us for all the fun. 
  • I'm sleeping in tomorrow in my own bed and the level of excitement I have about that is ridiculous!