squash, sweet & savoury

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetIt’s that time of year when our household comes into more apples and squashes than we can immediately enjoy (see above photo, week after week…), so we get to work incorporating them into preparations we will enjoy through the fall and winter.

Both of these recipes (one sweet, one savoury) use up a good amount of apples and firm, meaty squash (think: pie pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash). They also are perfect to freeze for later enjoyment.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetSweet: Apple-Cranberry-Pumpkin Breakfast Muffins

Makes 12 large muffins

These little muffins are deep, dense and kept moist with pockets of apple and cranberry. The pumpkin seeds and raw sugar add great textural contrast. They’re hearty and chockfull of wholesome ingredients for a weekday breakfast — this isn’t cake (not that cake for breakfast is ever wrong…!).

The muffins keep well covered at room temperature or in the fridge. Or, wrap them tightly in clingfilm to freeze for later enjoyment.


  • 1.5 c whole wheat flour
  • 0.5 c allpurpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, brought to room temp
  • 1/4 c raw sugar
  • 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 c canned or fresh cooked squash flesh (think: pie pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash)
  • 1 large apple, peeled and cored, cubed (to the same size as cranberries)
  • 1 c cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 c raw pumpkin seeds


Preheat the oven to 450° Fahrenheit. Prepare your muffin tins, either with liners or butter and flour.

In a large bowl, prep dry ingredients: whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

In a smaller blow, prep wet ingredients: Cream together butter and raw sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and maple syrup. Fold in pumpkin.

Add wet ingredients to dry (don’t over-mix!). Fold in the apple chunks and cranberries.

Fill prepared muffin tins two-thirds, and liberally sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and raw sugar.

Bake for 10 minutes at 450° Fahrenheit*, turn down the heat to 400° Fahrenheit and bake for a further 7 minutes or so, until golden and a toothpick inserted in several places comes clean.

Cool the muffins in tin for about five minutes, then transfer to a rack.

*I use this method of high temperature coupled with a quick cook time to ensure a fluffy, tall muffin, even with 75% whole wheat flour at its base. Cooked at lower temperatures, whole wheat-flour dominant muffin and loaf recipes tend to fall flat as they cool and look a bit sad.

img_1307Savoury: Roasted Apple, Sweet Onion & Acorn Squash Soup with Apple Relish

Makes six 1.5 cup portions

This soup is a bit more special than your everyday squash soup thanks to the addition of apples and high-heat roasting of all the vegetables before they take a swim in the broth base. The relish is totally optional, but a spoonful adds a bit of crunch and zing to liven up the rich soup.

The soup portions and freezes beautifully for up to six months.


For the soup

  • 2 medium acorn squash, halved and seeded
  • 2 large apples, cored and cubed (skin is okay)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • about 20 sage leaves
  • ~4 Tbsp olive oil (for roasting)
  • 1 litre stock (we use homemade chicken stock, but any ol’ stock works)
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • Allspice, nutmeg, pepper and salt, to taste

For the relish

  • 1 medium apple, cored and finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4c cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 6 sage leaves, chiffonaded
  • salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 4o0° Fahrenheit.

On a lined sheet pan, coat the squash halves with oil, prick with a fork and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, allspice and nutmeg.

On a separate lined sheet pan or baking dish, toss the apples, onion and sage with oil and salt, and arrange tightly.

Bake both pans at once until vegetables are golden and meltingly tender, about 40 minutes (watch closely, as ovens vary!)

Meanwhile, gently heat stock in a large saucepan (suitable size for the entire soup recipe).

To the soup stock, add all the roasted vegetables, including the sage and residual juices (peel the acorn squash from its skin first — apple skins are okay).

Let mixture come to a simmer — the vegetables will break down after about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make relish by combining all ingredients in an acid-safe bowl, testing for salt. Set aside.

Remove soup from heat and let cool slightly before blitzing with an immersion blender to your desired texture — I like a smooth soup, but this is delicious chunky as well.

Taste (and taste again!) for salt levels. It probably will need a good pinch!

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with spoonfuls of relish.



apples & honey


For as long as memory persists, I have welcomed the season with a salted honey apple cake.

It most likely started back in 2008, when I stumbled on a gorgeous Smitten Kitchen recipe, Deb’s now-famous Mom’s Apple Cake, which she acknowledges is not her mom’s alone, but the cake of many moms and many kitchens, a simple recipe passed down over time on grease-spotted index cards from mother to daughter.

My tradition took on new meaning when I met my would-be husband. The apple cake is also a frequent part of the Rosh Hashanah table, using oil in place of butter, plus (in my version, honey and) apples, important symbols of the holiday. Austin was raised Jewish, and while we don’t observe religion as a family, it’s been meaningful to incorporate the cultural traditions of his childhood alongside my own growing up in a Greek Orthodox home, to make our own misfit (but nonetheless meaningful) family rituals.



Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

This cake uses the simplest of pantry staples—flour, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, eggs… made tender by pounds (and pounds!) of apples—so many apples you’re certain the cake will never bake. But indeed it does, a whole 80 minutes later, and you’re left with a dense, moist, apple-studded cake with so much heft that it feeds dozens for days.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked and fussed with Deb’s recipe and have come to a version of my own, unique enough to be renamed as Salted Honey Apple Cake. Deb doesn’t use honey, whereas I toss the apples in honey instead of sugar, with a good pinch of sea salt (thus the salted); add lots of fresh nutmeg (the Greek in me can never resist—traditions merging!); substitute apple cider for the orange juice; and bake the cake for about 80 minutes in a 9×13-inch pan for easy slicing and eating (the original recipe uses a bundt, but I am most fond of sheet cakes…)


The cake is fantastic in a number of ways—it’s deeply forgiving, so you don’t have to be precise with measurements or quantities; it uses up all the apples you picked when you were overzealous at the pick-your-own orchard; it’s a hit at the office, as it slices and eats like a dream; and since it makes so much darn cake, you can easily freeze hunks in tinfoil for later snacking (it freezes and defrosts perfectly). A piece (or two) also makes a pretty great breakfast alongside a strong cup of tea.

I can’t imagine Octobers without this cake on our table, sweetly welcoming a new season and a new year.


Salted Honey Apple Cake

Makes a heavy, dense 9×13-inch cake (about two inches deep). Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake.


For the apples

  • 6 large apples, cored, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (I like honeycrisp or McIntosh)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 5 Tbsp honey

For the cake

  • 2 3/4 cups allpurpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c apple cider
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large or 5 regular eggs


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and line with parchment a 9×13′ pan.

Toss apple chunks in a large bowl with cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and a pinch of sea salt. Set aside to do their thing.

Mix dry ingredients: in your largest mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mix wet ingredients: in a smaller bowl, whisk together oil, apple cider, sugar, vanilla and eggs.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, scraping and getting to the bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is well incorporated.

Prepare the batter: Spread half of batter into your prepared pan. Arrange half of apples over it, pressing gently into the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the rest of the apples on top, along with any juices that have pooled off.

Bake the cake for about 80 minutes. The cake will be deeply golden and a toothpick inserted into several places (make sure you test several areas, as raw batter likes to hide in this cake!) should come out clean.

Cool the cake completely before gently lifting from the pan using the parchment and slicing into squares.

Just to point out how foolproof this cake is—the photos above are all from different years, and you can see it bakes up reliably each time! (Though each year, I manage to cram in a few more apples…)


that glut of zucchini

Here it comes. That glut of zucchini. It’s finally midsummer when the farmshare box tumbles over with the stuff and it arrives in great heaps to the market.

Zucchini overabundance can feel like a challenge — how to eat it all up before it spoils, without resorting to tossing slices on the grill every single night. Over the years, we’ve come to a few reliable and surprising ways to use up excess zucchini that are delicious and offer variety.

I’m sharing three of those recipes here — two savoury and one sweet — in case you’re elbow-deep in summer squashes and debating how you’ll possibly eat another.
stewed zucchini with golden raisins

Stewed zucchini with golden raisins

Serves four as a side, or a generous portion of pasta sauce. 

I’ve been making this sauce for nearly a decade. It’s the perfect summer side: sweet and salty, savoury, creamy and adaptable. It’s also versatile — use it as a pasta sauce with a dusting of cheese, straight from the pan as a side to chicken or pork, or cold and spooned over crostini as an easy appetizer. It’s a great recipe for when you really do have an excess of zucchini as it allows you to use a whole lot in one go.


  • 4 c zucchini, grated
  • 1/3 c golden raisins
  • 3-4 medium cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ample salt and pepper, to taste
  • Parmigiano-Regianno, for grating, to taste


Cook the zucchini: Heat olive oil over medium in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add zucchini and garlic and cook about five minutes, until the zucchini starts to break down. Add the raisins and a generous amount of salt and pepper, tasting as you go.

Let it do its thing: Continue cooking about 10 minutes total, until the zucchini is soft, the raisins plump and a lot of the excess liquid evaporated. The mixture should be tender and almost creamy (as in the photo).

Serve: Over pasta, alone, on toasts or as a side. Top generously with grated Parmigiano-Regianno, or another hard cheese.

Tip: If your zucchini has let out a lot of water, making the mixture too liquidy, quickly turn up the burner heat to high and stir constantly to evaporate the excess liquid. This happens with some larger squashes with high water content.

IMG_8656Savoury zucchini fritters

Makes six 3-inch diameter fritters. 

These little fritters (pancakes) have crunchy outsides and a creamy interior. They’re addictive alone or with a big dollop of Greek yogurt.

The biggest error I’ve seen with recipes for vegetable-based fritters or pancakes is not expelling enough water content. Whether you’re making latkes or sweet potato pancakes or these delicate zucchini fritters, it’s important to ensure a significant portion of water is removed through salting and draining. If the batter is too watery, the finished product is loose, comes apart in the pan and doesn’t brown.

This recipe doubles and triples beautifully, if you’re feeding a crowd or want to make extras to reheat for weekday breakfasts.


  • 2 c shredded zucchini
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1/3 c white onion, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp herbs, finely chopped (I most often use tarragon and mint)
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes or cayenne pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/3 c allpurpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • black pepper and salt, to taste
  • vegetable oil, for frying


Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the zucchini: Over a colander, shred the zucchini. Mix in 1/2 tsp salt and let stand for about 10 minutes. Over the sink, grab handfuls of zucchini and wring out in paper towels until dry. You will remove about half of the liquid from the zucchini and it will feel dry to the touch. 

Prepare the batter: In a large bowl, combine prepared zucchini, grated garlic, white onion, herbs, chili flakes, egg, flour and baking powder. Season generously with black pepper and salt.

Fry the fritters: In a shallow nonstick pan, heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat until shimmering. Place 3 Tbsp mounds of batter into pan (don’t crowd) and cook three minutes per side until golden. As the fritters fry, rest them in your preheated oven on parchment-lined tray allowing them to cook through — about 10 minutes. Repeat in batches until all fritters are cooked.

Serve the fritters: Serve stacks of fritters solo or garnished with sour cream or Greek yogurt. 

IMG_8682Cocoa espresso zucchini bread

Makes 1 standard-size loaf tin; recipe adapted from Simply Recipes

Zucchini and cocoa are one of those magical pairings. Add a shot of espresso and it takes the combination over the top.

This lightly-sweet quick bread uses a whole two cups of zucchini for one standard loaf, giving it incredible tenderness. I use about half whole wheat flour, as I love the density it provides. Sometimes I add chopped walnuts for textural contrast and resinous nuttiness that offsets the cocoa and grassy zucchini.

Because this bread is so moist, it keeps well wrapped in the fridge to slice off hunks through the week — for breakfast or snacks. I love it cold. Individual slices wrapped tightly in cling film also freeze well for defrosting and eating later on.


  • 3/4 c allpurpose flour
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2c unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 shot espresso
  • 2 c zucchini, grated
  • Optional: 1/4 c chopped walnuts


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line a 9×5′ standard loaf pan with parchment.

Prepare dry ingredients: Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, nutmeg and salt (and, optionally, the walnuts).

Prepare wet ingredients: In a stand-mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs, until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the melted butter, espresso and vanilla extract. Fold in the shredded zucchini.

Make batter: Add dry ingredients to wet in three additions, stirring to combine after each addition. Don’t over-mix! Turn batter into prepared loaf pan. If desired, top with more chopped walnuts.

Bake: Bake for approx. 50 minutes to one hour until a toothpick inserted into the densest part of the loaf comes out with very little batter residue and the top of the loaf is springy. Remove from the oven and cool in pan for about five minutes. Tug gently at parchment paper to lift out the loaf and cool completely on a wire rack.

Note: Let the bread cool completely before slicing, to maintain its structural integrity. It slices best with a serrated knife.


A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farmshare (CSA) service

Three plum cakes (and a plum bbq sauce!)

Two perfect summer fruit desserts

My favourite way to use garlic scapes

An archive of meals from the Lovey Kitchen

See what we’re cooking this week

a big tapsi

20598957370_af65ae7d89_bOn the island, during the summers, YiaYia (my paternal grandmother) would always have a big tapsi (pan) of something stewing, braising or simmering over the low flame of her gas stove. Maybe it was gemista (stuffed vegetables) or faki (braised lentils) or gigantes (tomato-ey broad beans). Dozens of dishes from that stove live in my memory and heart and hands.

Hers is the epitome of peasant cooking, the kind that cross-cuts the villages that dot the southern European continent, and especially my Greek island home. Cook something, eat a little today, pack it away, then eat a bit more tomorrow. Stretch that dinner with some good bread and feta, and serve the next day’s over rice pilaf, then eat the dregs cold from the fridge with horta (braised dandelion greens) doused in as much lemon juice and olive oil and flaky salt as you can muster.

These endless dishes, when I was a girl, were an oddity. Here: the midday meal, a procession of half-full pans parading from the fridge, accompanied by whatever new addition graced the stove that day. Always, the bits and bobs matched with a big horiatiki (village salad — never lettuce!) and bowls of olives and a slab of feta and a jug of hyper-peppery olive oil that my Uncle Kleanthe pressed at his grove on the mainland. Hunks of bread dotted the flowered vinyl tablecloth wherever they landed. We’d tuck in — a dozen different plates for as many people — a choose-your-own-adventure sort of lunch.

This summer, my dad has sent a few snippets of these everlasting meals. He’s a boy back on the island at his family table — the yiouvetsi (beef and orzo, scented with cinnamon and clove) and spanakopitas (spinach pies) and bamiyes (stewed okra) of his childhood coming forth from the kitchen, by his mother’s loving hands. It’s my long-distance taste of faraway summer afternoons and a reminder of how I want to feed myself; to feed my family.

Grown and responsible for my own cooking, I’ve come to appreciate YiaYia’s sourdough starter approach to the daily meal, the style of cooking my ancestral islanders embrace as quotidien. Austin and I love to cook for now and for our future selves, dreaming up what dinners will become leftovers, what we will make tomorrow into something new. I’m sometimes weary of people who unequivocally dislike leftovers, especially as I consider all the foods so much tastier tomorrow — tomato-based dishes and long braises and stews and soups… food that rests and evolves into something greater.

Beyond lunch and dinner, this is how we may choose to live: piecing together the already-good bits to make something changed and more delicious. It’s the principle that underlines resoling old shoes and bringing together disparate friends for a communal dinner and reshaping a tradition. Life is tastier when you take the best bits from today and carry them re-imagined into tomorrow. We too are better as we evolve, come together and apart, and are reinvented… like at the island table.


A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farmshare (CSA) service

Three plum cakes (and a plum bbq sauce!)

Two perfect summer fruit desserts

My favourite way to use garlic scapes

An archive of meals from the Lovey Kitchen

See what we’re cooking this week

for the love of summer red fruits

blackberry-tarragon galette recipe on Some Infinite ThingMy fleeting love affairs with fruits and vegetables are well known. I proclaim loudly that this here season is the best season ever, over and again, hyperbole be damned.

Red fruit season has arrived in Ontario, to my loud acclaim. First with tiny gem strawberries… then raspberries… then sweet cherries as big as walnuts… and now sour cherries. Soon we’ll have plums and blackberries and currants. It’s a good time of year.

When red fruit arrives, my reluctant inner baker comes forth to take advantage of this abundance. Below are two gorgeous, flexible recipes for whatever fruits you have on hand — swap in 1:1 whatever tart-sweet fruit you fancy and prepare to have your creations devoured.

sour cherry buttermilk crumble cake on Some Infinite Thing

Sour cherry and vanilla bean buttermilk cake with brown butter crumble

Makes one 9×9-inch square cake, about 2 inches high. Cooking time: 1 hour. 

Sour cherries (also labeled as Montmorency cherries) are my kryptonite: in galettes, tarts, milkshakes, cakes, sauces, jams… they’re the perfect foil of sour and sweet, like nature’s sour patch kid.

I love sour cherries most in a tender buttermilk-based cake that comes together in a snap. I’ve made this recipe through the years, riffing on a classic Lottie + Doof recipe, who riffed on a Martha Stewart recipe. It’s equally fantastic with red currants, plums or similarly piquant fruit that can stand up to its sweet batter and crumble topping.


For the crumble

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 c allpurpose flour
  • 1/4c granulated sugar
  • 1/4c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

For the batter

  • 1.5 c allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp, ~100g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, or scraped insides of 1 bean
  • 1/4 c buttermilk
  • 2 c sour cherries, pitted (or other sour fruit: rhubarb, red currants, diced plums)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the crumble: In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine into a sand-like crumble. Reserve to side.

Make the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer using a paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Incorporate eggs and vanilla. Incorporate flour mixture and buttermilk, in alternate additions, scraping down sides of the bowl as you go. The batter will be paste like and smooth.

Assemble the cake: Spread batter into a parchment-lined 9×9-inch square pan. Top evenly with cherries. Top evenly with reserved crumble mixture.

Bake the cake: On the middle rack, for about 1 hour, until a pick inserted in the cake’s middle comes out clean. Check the cake after 45 minutes, as ovens vary.

Cool for at least 30 minutes, turn out, slice and serve. This keeps well in the fridge, tightly wrapped in saran.

blackberry-tarragon galette recipe on Some Infinite Thing

Herbed Fruit Galettes

Makes two 10-inch galettes. Cooking time: 30 minutes. 

Galettes are my answer to pie. I don’t like making pies — fussy, unforgiving and less visually impressive than the simple galette (or crostata, if you’re in Italy). This galette recipe riffs on a brilliant Smitten Kitchen creation, substituting sour cream for Deb’s ricotta and adding lemon zest in the tart dough, and intensifying the fruits with fresh herbs. A slice is the perfect vehicle — alongside lots of fresh vanilla ice cream — for consuming as much summer fruit as possible in one bite.

For these galettes, I opted for cherry/rosemary and blackberry/blueberry/tarragon fillings. Here are a few solid fruit/herb pairings:

  • blackberry + tarragon
  • black cherry + rosemary
  • strawberry + basil
  • plum + thyme


For the tart dough

  • 2.5 c allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine kosher/sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 4 Tbsp ice-cold water

For the filling

  • 4 c fruit of your choice (or, 2 cups each of different fruits for each tart)
  • 1 Tbsp herb of your choice, finely chopped
  • 8 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the glaze

  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
  • lashings of turbinado sugar, for a crunchy crust


Make dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and lemon zest. With your fingers, incorporate the butter until the mixture looks sandy. Combine sour cream and 3 Tbsp cold water and add to the flour mixture. Stir to incorporate and knead until a rough ball (don’t overwork the dough). Split into two equal portions, flatten into discs and wrap in cling film. Chill for at least one hour, but ideally overnight.

Make filling: Combine all filling ingredients and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. This will give the cornstarch time to do its thing.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Assemble galette: On a large floured surface, roll the dough balls into two round-ish shapes. They will be about 15 inches in diameter. Transfer each round to its parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon galette filling into centre of each round, leaving about 3 inches of border. Fold up the corners into a rough shape, pinching the folds lightly to ensure everything is sealed.

Glaze the galette: Whisk egg yolk with water. Brush over crust. Sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Bake the galette: On the middle rack, for about 30 minutes, or until beautifully golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes, slice and serve.

This keeps on the counter for a couple days in a container, but the crust will soften slightly. You can reheat the tart in a 200 degree F oven for 15 minutes to re-crisp without compromising the fruit.

Related Resources

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farmshare (CSA) service

Three plum cakes (and a plum bbq sauce!)

My favourite way to use garlic scapes

An archive of meals from the Lovey Kitchen

See what we’re cooking this week!

12 airbnb rentals later: 12 things we’ve learned

12 Airbnb tips from insidersAt the time of writing, Austin and I have stayed in Airbnbs in a dozen cities — from Paris to Atlanta to Costa Rica to Amsterdam to Milan to Ocho Rios to everything in between. We’d estimate Airbnb stays make up about half of our travel accommodations, with hotels filling out the rest.

We’ve gotten pretty good at using Airbnb in the past couple years and developed a few hacks, so to speak, through a lot of trial and just as much error. Finding an awesome Airbnb — and the corresponding value for money and charm that come with these properties — is entirely possible if you know where and how to look, and what to avoid.

Below are 12 things we’ve learned that have led us to better Airbnb rentals each time we rent.

16115143570_5427df029c_b Costa Rica Airbnb Rental16300735301_6b437cdc45_b Costa Rica Airbnb Rental

A caveat to begin…

We only ever rent entire apartments/houses — we’ve never ventured into shared space or a private room within a home. The below advice pertains to standalone, private apartment/house rentals.

Cost compare

In some cities, choosing an Airbnb over a hotel will save you a ton of cash — the price differential is just that big. In other cities, the marginal price difference between a hotel and Airbnb of comparable quality is nil. In those cases, we often opt for a hotel.

Hotel prices also fluctuate more than Airbnbs based on seasonality — so in high season, stay in an Airbnb and in low season, splurge for a really nice hotel, which will be price competitive.

We also LOVE Airbnbs for family vacations. As a rule, the more rooms, the cheaper cost per person. When you have a large number of people, suddenly luxurious multi-room Airbnb options become a more affordable option on a per-person basis — as with our Costa Rican house pictured above, which five of us stayed in. As a rule, we would rarely choose a hotel over an Airbnb when more than just Austin and I are travelling.

Decide on a ‘hood

It’s easier to get sucked into a cheap Airbnb rental in a not-so-great area than with a hotel. Hotels just aren’t built in areas away from amenities! So, figure out a few neighbourhoods that interest you in a city BEFORE booking an Airbnb. Failing that, ensure the place you choose is close to good transit options. In Amsterdam, we picked a little cottage off the beaten path in a residential neighborhood that was a great deal — but it was just a 5-minute walk from the central subway line to all the neighbourhoods we wanted to visit, making it worthwhile.

It’s also beneficial to check the transit times and options between the Airbnb and airport and in some cities, the central train station.

Photos will lie

A picture is worth a thousand words, and Airbnb hosts are masters at taking photos to show the best angles and features of their apartments. Just like a hotel, your Airbnb is never going to look better than its pro photos, so consider them closely. Some things to look for:

  • Type of unit: Is this a renter’s actual apartment, or a dedicated short-term rental property? Austin and I have realized we greatly prefer Airbnbs that are dedicated rental properties — we feel uncomfortable staying among someone else’s things. So we suss this out in the photos, looking for tell-tale signs of long-term occupancy — like loaded bookshelves, lots of appliances, desktop computers and in general, greater clutter. We avoid these places.
  • What story do the photos tell? Are there a dozen photos of the surrounding neighbourhood, but only one photo of the kitchen? Do you see rooms from multiple angles or just one selective fish-eye shot? Ideally, you want a large enough variety of photos (think: 20-30) to get a full sense of the space.
  • If there’s no photo of a key amenity, take pause. If a host isn’t showing you a single photo of the bathroom, don’t even bother. It’s missing for a reason.

20598976588_c3fa623d1f_b Prince Edward County Airbnb RentalRead guest comments

Guest comments are a treasure trove. We won’t outright ignore a property because it has few comments, but so many times, the comments section has either assured us a rental is right for us, or turned us off. A few things to look for:

  • Cleanliness: If more than one person questions the cleanliness of a place, don’t consider it. The collective is usually right (and generous) on this front.
  • Perks: Comments are a great way to suss out the intangibles — the awesome hosts who leave a bottle of Champagne, have a personal guide to their favourite places in the neighbourhood, serve a beautiful breakfast (as in the above photo!) or are flexible with checkout times. These little anecdotes often are the deciding factor for us when we’ve shortlisted multiple rental options.
  • Cancellations: Airbnb publicly documents every time a host cancels a stay on a guest and how far in advance. If a host has multiple last-minute cancellations, don’t consider the property. It’s not worth the risk of finding a new place late in your planning when places are booked up. We learned this the hard way in Montreal, where a last-minute host cancellation sent us scrambling to find new digs.

Use a thoughtful eye. While comments matter, they are not the be-all-end-all. One critical comment may not equal a bad host. You may be seeking something entirely different from your stay, or the incident may have been a one-time blip. Consider the critical mass of comments versus an outlier. Also: while we tend to skip rentals without any reviews, there often isn’t much difference between seven and 70 reviews in terms of a global perspective.

Lastly, read between the lines. Most decent people aren’t going to leave outright nasty comments — so reviews can sometimes be written in code-like prose… “lived in” could mean dirty, “clean but tiny” means it’s probably really tiny, and “a place to sleep” is likely a bare-bones rental.

Consider added fees

Don’t look at the “per night” sticker price on an Airbnb rental, which doesn’t include 1) the cleaning fee and 2) the service fee. These two charges vary WIDELY from rental to rental, which can mean a relative steal becomes expensive thanks to a $150 cleaning fee, whereas a slightly more expensive rental is suddenly within reach. We always take the gross cost and divide it by the nights in our stay to get a true picture of our per-night price tag.25617559684_c8c7cacced_b Reims France Airbnb Rental

Book long-ish stays

We’ve learned that Airbnbs are less useful than hotels in two situations:

  1. For short stays (i.e., two nights or fewer) because of the added logistical complexity of arranging key exchanges.
  2. For stays when our departure is late in the day/evening, as it’s sometimes hard to figure out where to store luggage for the day. With a hotel, you just leave it at the front desk, which isn’t possible with most Airbnbs.

On top of this, most Airbnbs offer weekly/monthly discounts over daily rates, so you can save a significant amount (10-30%) by booking for longer periods.

Look closely at the amenities

The amenities section in an Airbnb rental is also a treasure trove of the random things an apartment offers — washer and dryer, dishwasher, real bed, hair dryer, air conditioning. If the amenity is offered, it’s likely listed here. Some things to look for:

  • Is the bed an actual bed, or a pull-out/trundle? So important — you want a good, real bed!
  • What floor/level is the apartment on? I don’t like staying on the ground floor, so will look for this information or ask. 
  • Is there a washing machine? Austin and I strategically book Aibnbs on long trips (think: 2+ weeks) to ensure we have a washer and dryer in the middle of our journey for laundry. It’s how we pack for long trips in just a carry-on.
  • Will you be cooking? We love to cook simple meals (especially near-daily wine/cheese — as in the photo below from Paris!) while on holiday. This offers a few benefits: it makes us feel at home, takes advantage of amazing local markets and saves our money to splurge on special restaurants. A simple Airbnb kitchen with some knives, dishware and glassware is all you need to assemble meals.

Bring toiletries

This isn’t a hotel, so be sure to pack toiletries like shampoo, soap and a small hair dryer. You may not need them, but sometimes you do.

15351962779_4f9c072c3a_b Paris France AirbnbFriendliness matters

In many cases, you’re staying in someone’s home! It goes without saying, but be friendly and tell your story. When I request a rental, I always take the time to introduce our family, where we’re from (nice Canadians here, eh!) and why we are visiting a city. It’s a small step to forge a first connection and assure the host you will be a genuine, thoughtful guest in their home — sell yourself and your travel story!

Be a good guest

Again, you’re staying in someone’s home! Austin and I always take care to leave our rental in good standing. I’m not saying you should make the bed or sweep the floors (!) but just exercise general courtesy by leaving a rental close to how you found it, ready for its cleaning and the next guests.

Give it a try!

That first Airbnb booking can be scary — ours was — but taking the plunge is so worth it for the value of these rentals and ability to live a bit more like a local, even as a tourist. If you do try it out, use my link — you get a $30 credit, I get a $30 credit — we both get a cheaper holiday!

If you have questions, let me know. We’ve helped vet and hunt down Airbnb rentals for friends and family alike, and can help you decide if a space is worth renting.

Above: a few photos from our Airbnb rentals through the years — Costa Rica (1-4); Prince Edward County, Ontario (5-6); Reims, France (7-8); Paris, France (9-10)

good reads | 42

giovanna-battaglias-wedding-capri-alexander-mcqueen-giambattista-valli-azzedine-alaia-sarah-burton-peter-dundas-anna-dello-russo-celebrityI love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. To that end, here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

A fascinating piece about the four quadrants of introversion, based on emerging research. Another good reminder that, just like extroversion, introversion is not one-size-fits-all.

Feminist emojis.

My longtime sartorial icon, Giovanna Battaglia, was married in Capri. HEAD EXPLODES at the awesomeness of it all.

Wolfgang Buttress’ Hive — the central installation of the UK pavilion at last year’s World Expo in Milan — was one of our favourites. It’s getting a second life back home in London.

Choir! Choir! Choir! is such a happy part of Toronto’s social fabric and I’m thrilled they’re receiving international acclaim.

Brilliant writer Edward Readicker-Henderson passed away this week. I’m keeping him in memory through his words and this TED talk, which is full of so many poignant, stirring passages. He will be missed.

giovanna battaglia wedding

Other Roundups to Love

Fathom’s Links We Love (updated Saturdays)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2016/02/25)

[images: the wedding of Giovanna Battaglia]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday or Sunday) morning.