Monday, December 15, 2014

Surviving The City, Holiday Edition

For the past three years we've headed to NYC for the winter break, staying at the very budget friendly Hotel Grandparents. They have the best cocktail bar in town and the most charming silver haired bartender. Mr. C&G definitely inherited his skills from his father (along with a full head of thick hair) and Papa C&G makes the best vodka martinis.

We just spent a week in Aruba with the C&G Grandparents and I think we'll give them a break this year. But I've learned a lot by visiting the city at the busiest time of the year and I'm going to share some tips and ideas for fun activities all while keeping your sanity. And finding cocktails.

High on your list of sights might be the Museum of Natural History, but with the Night At The Museum sequel coming out I would save this for another time. We had membership admission a few years ago and were able to skip the line that snaked down the stairs, up Central Park West and over West 81st Street (no exaggeration). Once inside the crowds made it impossible to see anything so we beelined for the Columbus Avenue exit and made it to Sarabeth's (Amsterdam between 80th & 81st) for food and Bloody Marys.

If you're up for braving the Metropolitan Museum of Art read my review from our visit last spring, the museum is so big (and admission price is only a suggestion, a little known fact) that it's easy to pick out a few things and then head out for snacks. The Temple of Dendur is a favorite and with the light streaming in from the wall of windows it never feels overwhelming. Plus there's plenty of spots to rest tired little legs (or yours) after some hieroglyphics deciphering.

Overlooking Madison Square Park (and convenient to Eataly) is the incredibly interactive Museum of Mathematics. Check out the past posts here and here for reasons why you need to spend a day amongst the polygons and tessellations (plus you'll sound extra smart). The boys love MoMath and with so many stations to check out it never really feels claustrophobic. Eataly can get just as crowded as the Natural History Museum so either stop there first and carb up or go after the lunch crowd for pizza and a glass or two of vino. La Pizza & La Pasta (a kid favorite) opens at 11:00 and it's at the opposite end from the 5th Avenue entrance. (fyi Shake Shack in the park is closed for renovations)

If your brood insists on checking out the lights and insanity of Times Square know that some calm and cocktails are only an elevator ride away. Just maybe not on December 31st. The Renaissance Hotel (48th St. at 7th Ave) has a 2nd floor lounge with cozy couches and floor to ceiling windows. Yes the cocktails start at $15, but I promise you ten minutes in Times Square and you'll be ready to pay double that for a quiet place to sit down. Order some pretzels and chips for the kiddos and everybody will be happy.

No trip to the city is complete (according to Big & Little C&G) without a trip to FAO Schwartz. I'm not sure why because the boys rarely buy anything (I guess it's the equivalent of my window shopping along Madison Avenue) but I don't argue because the bar at the Four Seasons is only two blocks away.

The line in front of FAO Schwartz moves fast and soon you'll be surrounded by life-sized stuffed animals. Lego fans should head right for the escalator to the 2nd floor and keep walking to the north eastern most corner. I always give the kiddos a 15 minute limit and a $10 budget before we escape to the bar at the Four Seasons. They'll stay occupied in the cushy banquets (sneak in the 58th St. entrance) with whatever cheap trinket they've bought while you enjoy the free snacks and overpriced (but always delicious and they leave you the shaker) cocktails.

Stay tuned for part two of Surviving The City, with four great adventures just a train ride away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Weatherproofing Your Cocktails

Warm your cockles with Cognac and Chambord
Yes, the weather outside is frightful but even a fire inside can't make it delightful. Normally I love a good heavy Scottish style rain, if only it weren't sitting on the several inches of ice covering our driveway.

I came back from Aruba fully intending to take a break after all those frozen cocktails one must drink when one is in the Caribbean. No more drinks for me, at least until the weekend (save the detoxing for January). My plan lasted only 20 minutes, coming home from the airport we found our driveway unplowed and our heat not working. Mr. C&G silently handed me a wee dram of whisky after the boys were tucked into bed (buried under mountains of down blankets) and hasn't mentioned my lack of willpower since.

The forecast calls for a Nor'Easter
We're still having some ongoing heat issues but at the moment all is warm and toasty Chez C&G, if a bit stormy outside. I've got four cocktail recipes to post tonight, all with weather related titles, to ward off any chill as we swing into the holiday season. With a nor'easter howling outside it's only fitting that my cocktail glass is filled with Irish whisky, some Cherry Heering, and a splash of ginger beer, also known as The Nor'Easter.

I'm also researching a possible trip in the near future to France (for C&G or a friend, I won't divulge) so next up in the brandy snifter will be the Chilly Parisian. For something a little more tropical grab the Grand Marnier (flavored with oranges from the Caribbean) and mix it with coconut vodka for a Stormy Coconut. Or if you're more in the mood for a taste of the Highlands add some blended whisky to the Grand Marnier for a Stormy Scot.

Nor'easter: 1 1/2 oz Irish whisky, 1/2 oz cherry Heering, splash of fresh lime juice, ginger beer. Mix the first three in a glass filled with ice, stir and top with ginger beer.

Chilly Parisian: 2 1/2 oz brandy, 1/2 oz Chambord, mix in a glass filled with ice and strain into a brandy glass.

Stormy Coconut: 2 oz coconut vodka, 2 oz Grand Marnier, 1/2 oz pineapple juice, 1/4 oz fresh lime juice. Add all to a cocktail glass filled with ice, stir and enjoy.

Stormy Scot: 2 oz blended whisky, 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino), dash of orange bitters. Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake and strain into a martini glass and garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Feeling Thankful

We have just returned from a week away in Aruba and I'm having
a very hard time adjusting to the sudden arrival of winter. No more
dinners on the beach with our toes in the sand or frosty cocktails
delivered just in time to watch the sun set over the ocean. It's back
to reality, shoveling, and making dinner. I'll be posting some great 
getaways and tasty cocktails in the upcoming weeks, so cheers
and all the best to you and your family this holiday season! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

On Sunday I Ran the City

With the howling winds and the deafening cheers from thousands of spectators and volunteers I finished my second New York City Marathon on Sunday. My three boys and their grandparents deserve their own medals for covering more miles than I did as they zipped around the city to hand off power bars, gels, and give much needed hugs and high-fives.

Runners from all over the globe descended on NYC last weekend in their matching tracksuits (yes, you Italians) and their crazy costumes (super heroes and a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup) to run the world's largest marathon. 50,564 of us crossed the finish line in Central Park, powered through the five boroughs by the energy and enthusiasm of total strangers shouting our names and encouraging us from the sidelines.

Volunteers braved the cold and blustery conditions (without the benefit of running to stay warm) to hand out countless little green cups of water and gatorade, bananas, and power bars all with the biggest smiles on their faces. New York's Bravest and Finest were in full force ensuring the safety of the 26.2 mile long street party from Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island to the grandstands of Central Park.

From the gospel choirs in Brooklyn to the crowds five deep along Fifth Avenue there is truly nothing like running through the streets of New York City. My deepest gratitude goes out to all the volunteers and support crew, they are the reason why more than 150,000 people apply every year to be one of the lucky few.

In the past 14 weeks I've run more than 500 miles, gone through three pairs of my beloved Saucony Kinvaras, and declined countless cocktails all in preparation for running NYC. Now that it's over I'm happily re-hydrating properly, martini glass in hand with my still sore marathon feet propped up on the couch. We have some very big trips coming up in the next year and Mr. C&G has reminded me I can't use the "gone running" or "gone napping" excuse anymore. It's time to get back to research, planning, blogging, and cocktailing. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cocktail du jour: The Royal Apple

Chances are this time of year you've got baskets full of apples and a fridge stocked with a jug or two of apple cider. So why not make a cocktail out of your fall bounty? I always get caught up in my enthusiasm for fall and forget I'm the only one in the house who likes to drink apple cider. Mr. C&G is tired of finding the ballooned-out jugs in the back of the fridge so this is a great way to use up your cider before it turns to vinegar.

Apple cider syrup is easy to make, just boil a cup of cider until its reduced by half (or cheat and stop by local favorite Vena's Fizz House for a bottle of their house made syrup). Store it in the fridge until cocktail hour and then use it to add some fall flavor and sweetness to your favorite blended whisky.

Royal Apple 
1 oz blended Canadian Whisky
1 oz apple cider syrup
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
dash orange bitters

Add all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini or coupe glass
Garnish with an apple slice

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cocktails at 9,744ft.*

James Bond is the current Halloween costume of choice for Big C&G, and as I was doing my 007 research (martini in hand, of course) I was reminded of our trip to the top of the Alps for a drink in Blofelds hideaway. Enjoy this past post while I figure out how to make Big C&G look like 007 in his tuxedo and not just a character from Men in Black. Cheers!

Yes, those are real clouds out the window
* But who's counting . . .
Notorious playboy spy and serial cocktailer James Bond may have enjoyed martinis all over the globe but there's only one place in the world you can order yours "shaken and not stirred" in the lair of an evil villain.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed at the top of Schilthorn, the mountain a few thousand feet above the alpine village of Mürren. Bad guy Blofeld and his lovely lady killers used the newly constructed (1968) restaurant Piz Gloria as their secret hideaway high up in the Alps. Spectacular chase scenes have George Lazenbys' James Bond skiing full speed down the mountain, with avalanches and snipers nipping at his heels. The movie was filmed on location around the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Piz Gloria remains a favorite tourist attraction of Bond fans from around the world.

The tiny little dots above the blonde head? Murren.
Once you've conquered your fear of heights (or not, as in my case), what's a few thousand more feet in the interest of cocktails? Piz Gloria is open to the public year round with food and drinks for tourists and brave hikers, from 8:00 to 5:00. For the truly insane, Schilthorn is open to daredevil skiers during the winter months and it's the finish line of the grueling Inferno Triathlon in early August.

It takes two additional cable car rides from Mürren (elev. 5,413 ft.) to get to 9,744 ft. The little C&Gs were so excited about the ride up into the clouds and their enthusiasm is the only thing that got me into the cable car. That and the promise of a very large martini glass filled with vodka at the top. Honestly they should set up a drinks cart at the ticket booth, I would have handed over thousands of euros just for a little liquid courage.

Little C&G not liking the sudden drop in temp
We watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service with the boys before we left home (it's pretty harmless, just long) and they loved seeing the movie location in real life. There's no Joanna Lumley hanging around the lounge but the interior is still pretty groovy. A new interactive Bond exhibit opened last summer and a 360º theater shows Bond clips and aerial shots of the mountain, just in case you kept your eyes closed when you got out of the cable car.

The restaurant rotates (thankfully very slowly) so no matter where you're sitting you'll get a spectacular view. The cocktail menu is filled with Bond references, so it's no surprise Mr. C&G went with a classic martini. I had to order the Bond Girl, a bubbly Prosecco tribute to the lovely Diana Rigg and the only Mrs. Bond in fictional history. The little C&Gs ordered ridiculously expensive orange sodas to go with their fancy Swiss desserts, and after a swing through the Bond themed gift shop we were ready to head back down the mountain.

The name's Gelato. Cocktails and Gelato.
The cable car station is located right in the center of Mürren and you'll want to check the weather forecast and the webcam at the ticket booth before your ascent. If you're going to be up that high you'll want to have clear skies, and wear as many layers as possible. It's cold.

Once the clouds clear you really can see forever, and it's absolutely beautiful. Had we been a little braver we could have walked out on the ridge of the summit. The little C&Gs loved their trip to the top of the world and begged us to go back up again the next day. I am massively acrophobic, so I certainly was not up for a repeat performance. As the cable car descended to Mürren I started feeling much better and 6,000 ft didn't seem so scary. Or possibly my cocktails were finally kicking in.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On The Road To Peace In Oslo

We are just back from a trip to Charlotte, NC where we celebrated the wedding of a very dear friend and his lovely bride. Congrats A&W! Over the weekend the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were announced and I was so excited to hear Malala Yousufzai and Kailash Satyarthi will be heading to Oslo to collect their awards in December. I'm rerunning this post from last October, where I had my fingers crossed for the incredible Malala. I'm so thankful this young lady has been recognized for her courage and for the work of Mr. Satyarthi in protecting the rights of children in India. Cheers to them both.   

Oslo City Hall
Tomorrow the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Norway, and I hope with all my heart that it goes to the amazing and courageous Malala Yousufzai. She would be the youngest winner in the 112 year history of the award, and her message of peace and education is inspiring to us all.

The award ceremony will take place on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death, in Oslo City Hall. It's a very austere building, built in the first half of the 20th century. From the outside it looks like an abandoned brick power station from the 1930s, but inside the elaborate and colorful murals brighten up what could otherwise be a very serious and dour government building.

Oslo City Hall is open to the public at no charge and worth a stop for its vibrant Socialist style murals and cavernous rooms. Let the kids stand in the awe inspiring main hall and tell them who has been there before them. Barak Obama in 2009 and Nelson Mandela in 1993 are just a few recipients to have accepted their Nobel Peace Prize here.

The upstairs rooms are also open to the public and the kiddos will love climbing the long staircase and poking their heads through the window openings to wave at you down below. Follow them up and check out the display of dinner menus and place settings from past Nobel Peace Prize award banquets.

The colorful murals everywhere depict the struggles and triumphs of the Norwegian people. Norway is virtually a classless society, and the paintings all illustrate the glory of the working people. Agriculture is also a big part of Norwegian life, and there are many murals showing the struggle against the harsh land. We certainly were not up on our Norwegian history, so we kept the boys entertained by making up stories to go along with the pictures.

The murals in the great hall are a bit more serious in nature. They tell the story of World War II in Scandinavia, and some of the images are very powerful (but not scary). Certainly a fitting decor for the room where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place. Free guided tours in English are available daily, check the schedule at the information desk.

Perfect couches for cocktails with a view
When you get hungry head out of City Hall towards the trendy waterfront neighborhood Aker Brygge (go towards the water and bear right). We took advantage of the gorgeous summer day and ate lunch on the floating tugboat restaurant Lekter'n.

The food wasn't great, but the view was spectacular. Most of the crowd was practically horizontal on the comfy lounge chairs around the bar, but we had two hungry kiddos so we opted for a traditional table and four chairs. After lunch stroll along the waterfront, and you can't get too far without bumping into a busy Mövenpick ice cream truck. I'm sure they do a good business year round, Norwegians seem to love their ice cream.