Magic is a word that comes up a lot when you talk to people about Rancho Pillow, a creative guesthouse compound just outside Round Top, Texas. The 20-acre property features a variety of eclectic lodging options, including a private teepee lined with hand-painted murals, a storage shed-turned-casita called the Love Shack, and an 18th-century barn that was relocated from upstate New York.
But what really adds to the funky vibes and kaleidoscopic style is the fact that several of the pieces, from the bedroom furniture to the artwork to the name (which was scrawled on a 1940s neon sign), come from the Round Top antiques fair, a twice-yearly extravaganza that turns a 17-mile stretch of Texas Highway 237 into a vintage lover’s dream.
Rancho Pillow is the work of Sheila Youngblood, a wildly colorful soul who is the walking embodiment of the property: “What I wear, what my spaces look and feel like—these are expressions of my own heart,” she says.
Owner Sheila Youngblood. Photography by WYNN MYERS
The compound, which was formerly Youngblood’s family’s second home (they’re based in Austin, just over an hour’s drive west), has hosted dozens of events in high style over the years—300-person weddings, grand birthday parties, and raucous high school reunions—but family-style dinners held outside in the ﬁelds have become a signature of sorts.
A ticketed feast is open to the public during each Round Top season, and Youngblood also throws intimate gatherings for friends in town—such as Austin-based designer Claire Zinnecker, a Rancho regular who brought a few new recruits during her last trip.
A guest room at Rancho Pillow. Photography by WYNN MYERS
Youngblood and Zinnecker decided to welcome them with a “Rancho Pillow–style shindig” featuring an Indian-inspired menu by chef Rachel Lomas, who created The Daphne, a supper club in Austin. (“She is my best friend in the world,” says Youngblood of Lomas. “We have really different design sensibilities, but we unite on two things: We never, ever wear pants, and we believe in the importance of color.”)
With ﬂorals prepared by another friend, Virginia Lyons, and a tablescape curated from Youngblood’s vast collection of Round Top pieces, the special evening was a natural marriage of Zinnecker’s bright, bohemian aesthetic and Youngblood’s unique brand of whimsical maximalism. Here’s how the meal came together.
The secret to the Belgian endive dip is spiking the feta mousse with Indian spices and turmeric for its healing powers, earthy taste, and extraordinary color. (The pickled radish gets its brilliant hue from the Ume plum vinegar reacting with the radish skin.) Photography by WYNN MYERS
by Rachel Lomas
- Belgian endive with turmeric sheep’s milk feta mousse and pickled radish
- Chilled saffron corn soup with Ume plum vinegar, beet, and chili oil emulsion
- Local yellow tomato and pickled vegetable salad
- Yellow chana dalLamb with Kerala curry sauce
- Indian-spiced rose pots de crème with corn cookies
Fig Platter & Fig-Hibiscus Sauce
For the Fig-Hibiscus Sauce
- 2 pints of mixed berries
- A dozen figs (5 to 6 figs per pint of berries)
- 1/2 cup brown butter
- 1/2 cup brewed hibiscus tea
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup of fig jam
- pinch of salt
For the fig hibiscus sauce blend ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve poured over the figs and sprinkle with olive oil and flake salt.
Tomato, Watermelon Radish & Pickled Purple Cauliflower
For the pickled purple cauliflower:
- 1 watermelon radish
- 1 cup pickled purple cauliflower (recipe below)
- 1 pint (about 2 cups) small tomatoes, yellow or orange variety is best, each halved
For the vinaigrette:
- 1 head purple cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 1 10-oz bottle Ume vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed in mortar and pestle to a paste; add salt to taste
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup good-quality olive oil
- 1 to 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped or crushed in mortar and pestle to a paste (use kosher salt as abrasive in mortar and pestle)
1. Shave watermelon radish thinly on a mandoline. Set in a glass of ice water to keep radish fresh and to curl edges.
2. For the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in a blender, or whisk together until emulsified.
3. Pickle the cauliflower the day (or at least a few hours) before using this method: Fill a large Mason jar with the cauliflower florets. Add garlic and miso, and cover with Ume vinegar (use as much as you need).
4. To serve, place the cauliflower and watermelon radish on top of the tomatoes and garnish with Maldon or Jacobsen salt.
Lomas coats the frenched racks of lamb with avocado oil and her own spice mix—cumin seeds; fenugreek; Aleppo pepper; brown mustard seeds; pink peppercorns; coriander seeds; chile de árbol; dried chipotle; and a bit of cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg—then places the meat in cast-iron skillets in the wood-fired oven (full of seasoned live oak from Rancho Pillow). Drizzled with the Kerala curry and coconut cream sauce, “it’s completely divine,” says Youngblood. Photography by WYNN MYERS
“People might often look at a Pinterest image and think they have to have that exact thing, but it’s not about that,” says Zinnecker. “It’s about self-expression and having fun with it.”
Every item used for dinners at Rancho Pillow comes from Round Top. Since meals are held outside, florals are often foraged shortly beforehand. For this gathering, strands of coral vine, a fast-growing Texas weed with bright pink blooms, acted as a table runner. Photography by WYNN MYERS
If you have rich colors in the food, don’t fight it. “You don’t want your plates or flowers to compete with that,” notes Zinnecker. “We built this meal with everything in shades of deep pink and yellow—from the radishes to the chilled corn soup,” says Youngblood. Zinnecker balances the more-is-more look by paring down as the table comes to life. “You throw all those things in, then take a step back and say, ‘Oh, this color is competing too much’ or ‘That glassware feels too heavy.’ Edit at the end with fresh eyes,” she says. Photography by WYNN MYERS
Published on March 20, 2018 - 5:10am EDT
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