upstate for the holidays

december 2021


what happens when california transplants try to spend the holidays on the east coast

Since moving to California in 2004, I’ve spent nearly every single Christmas in a sunny place with moderate temperatures and palm trees. Existing in New York City in November and December already felt more festive than any other holiday in recent memory.

December was a frenzy. The bustle of the holidays overshadowed by a new variant, canceling holiday parties, holiday travels. This year, with no “home” to return to, and feeling stifled anchored in the city for so long, I decided to do a lazy getaway with a couple friends, also from California, also new to the city, also unfamiliar with this coast.

Our search for the perfect Airbnb was hilarious. Not for lack of effort but we couldn’t pronounce a thing. Upstate seems fine and good when other people casually bring it up in conversation, but when you really start digging into it, there are a lot of foreign sounding names involved. Most of the planning was spent looking at accommodations. Given Omicron, we weren’t planning on doing much, so the plan was to find an aesthetically pleasing, spacious place where we could do as little as possible. Maybe an outdoor activity at some point. But mostly cooking, TV and just spreading out in a space larger than our city boxes.

So we ended up in this little town called Wappingers Falls. Just a couple hours drive up from the city (and half of it was just spent sitting through traffic to get out of the city). Pretty sleepy, even compared to other towns in the Hudson Valley. Pretty suburban, in an unfamiliar way. It felt like going home for the holidays, except we were kids without a home taking over a house for a few days. 

The house was unique, filled with custom furniture built by our host from recycled materials. The windows on each side of the house casting dramatic shadows in the space and offering a sense of escape with views of the trees surrounding. A fireplace anchored right by the kitchen and large dining table adding to the coziness. It was exactly the kind of place you’d want to curl up with a cup of coffee and fresh baked cookies. Exactly what we were looking for. 

day one

We left midday on the first day. I spent the morning making rounds around my favorite neighborhood spots, grabbing bread and pastries at La Bicyclette and some Italian cookies and panettone from Fortunato Brothers. We stopped by to get some groceries before driving up, arriving at the house in the late afternoon. The first day was mostly spent settling in. Making dinner, planning out meals and activities, trying to start the fireplace and barely getting a spark.

day two

The next morning, after breakfast at home, we set out for some activities, driving up to do a brisk walk and catch some views on the walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park.

With days of holing up inside and cooking ahead, we had to stop by to pick up more ingredients. Almost as a joke, we decided to go to the most highly reviewed supermarket, Adams Fairacre Farms. I mean, what kind of suburban grocery store has 4.6 stars and nearly 2000 reviews on Google?

I gotta say though, it lived up to its hype. This super store had a section for everything and was bustling with pre-holiday energy as people bumped carts through the packed aisles. There was a greenhouse space dedicated to Christmas trees and decor. There was even a gift shop (who asked for this??). It was overwhelming in a good way, and substantial enough to feel like an activity, not an errand.

Then it was back to the house, cooking dinner, doing a virtual birthday party over zoom with friends across timezones and binge watching Only Murders in the Building.

day three

Over the night there was just barely enough snow to cover the ground with the thinnest layer of white powder. But listen, as Californians, we’ll take it as the closest thing to a white Christmas as we can get.

We set out for a hike, driving over to the Hudson Highlands State Park in the late morning to hike up to the Cornish Estate Ruins, an early 20th century structure that was destroyed in a fire decades ago. It was an easy hike, mostly on a clear trail, and pretty quiet, just a few other people trekking in the cold morning. We probably spent less than 2 hours including some time wandering the various sections of the estate, enough time to feel like we got out, but not too long to be spending outdoors on a chilly winter day.

The rest of the day was spent at home continuing to binge watch and leisurely take on cooking projects. For dinner, we made a baked tahchin filled with tender saffron and spice infused chicken, and roasted cauliflower with briny olives, sweet and succulent turkish apricots, and toasted walnuts on a bed of savory and bright muhammara. Note to self: this makes a stunning vegetarian main for a dinner party.

day four

Christmas wasn’t quite cold enough to be snowy. So we got a rainy Christmas. But with zero plans of leaving the house, it made for great ambience for baking cookies and watching Christmas movies. 

To be honest I’m not one for classic Christmas movies (though I do love a nostalgic Harry Potter marathon during the holidays). So we ended up binge watching Money Heist. Nothing like high stress TV on a relaxing Christmas day with a side of salted tahini chocolate chip cookies.


We went all out for dinner:

a colorful cheese and charcuterie board

puff pastry baked truffle and honey brie

caramalized brussel sprout and burrata toast

potato gratin in crispy stack form

savory carbonara in risotto form (bc let’s be real, we had plenty of time to stir the risotto)

day five

On the last day, after one last morning coffee, we packed up, checked out and headed back southwards to the city, making one last stop at Dia Beacon.

The museum was pretty full considering it was the morning after Christmas and it seemed the streets were pretty quiet. But the simultaneously lofty and cavernous space made it easy to maintain social distancing from all the other visitors walking around the large installations.

I was surprised by how expansive it was, and by how much I enjoyed it. It’s easy to understand why it’s such a popular day trip from the city. An easy way to spend a few hours and lose yourself in contemporary art in a way that Chelsea galleries just can’t quite do.

Maybe I spend too much time watching crime dramas and murder mysteries because the deeper we went the more I thought this would be the perfect setting for a creepy crime. The basement was a little too dark for my liking.

All in all it was the perfect leisurely end to a leisurely getaway. The city was quiet when we got back, though you could feel that people were starting to trickle back in. I had enough leftovers to last me to the new year. It was nice to be home.

see also

a spontaneous trip to seattle