Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Adventures in Art at Grounds for Sculpture

Chamber of Internal Dialogue, Seward Johnson
Where can you step into Edvard Munch's famous The Scream? Or get between courting couples in a scene straight out of a Monet painting? Or join the Depression Era men on the bread line? The unique Grounds for Sculpture is 42 acres of rolling gardens and outdoor artworks just perfect for exploring with your kiddos.

Located halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, the Grounds for Sculpture is in Hamilton, New Jersey on the site of the old New Jersey Fairgrounds. A visit here is a totally interactive experience and almost everything is designed to be touched and explored. If you're staycationing in the New York area or headed south from Maine and Massachusetts, definitely add it to your list for an afternoon of fresh air, exercise, and artwork come to life.

Seward Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson family) created this unique outdoor museum in 1992 and has contributed more than twenty sculptures to the grounds. He's most known for recreating famous Impressionist paintings as life sized bronze statues and you can join Matisse's dancers as they twirl on top of a hill. Or pull up a chair and dine in Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party come to life as the sculpture titled Were You Invited? The little C&Gs thought this was the most brilliant way to experience paintings and you can imagine how disappointed they were on our next trip to a museum.

The Bathers, Issac Witkin
Abstract sculptures will engage your kiddos as you stroll through the beautiful gardens and everything is labeled to let them know if the art is hands on. Be sure to stop at the musical chairs and let them bang away to create their own symphony.

There's no climbing on the sculptures but they can play on and around almost everything and you'll need to be on the lookout for peacocks. The stunningly plumed birds wander freely throughout the grounds and keep an eye out for the rare white peacocks.

The grounds are ideal for picnicking, especially if you've ever wanted to step inside Manet's Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe, but you'll have to get your supplies from the Peacock Cafe. No outside food is allowed into the gardens although they'll happily pack your lunch to go (for a small fee) and you can go off on your Impressionist way. We grabbed a quick lunch at the Peacock Cafe (not fabulous but easy) and then headed out for adventure.

Lunch in a cozy French style cottage
For more of a treat make a reservation at Rat's Restaurant, a country style French restaurant named for Ratty, the cultured rat in Seward Johnson's favorite book, The Wind in the Willows. Outdoor tables overlook Monet's bridge and it's the perfect place to sit back with a glass of bubbly.

I wish we could have spent a leisurely afternoon amongst the willows and water lilies but we were headed south to vacation in Philadelphia. There was to be no bubbly for me, although I'm sure it would have made the New Jersey Turnpike much more enjoyable.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Maine Monday: Mocktails With A View

Top of the East was a Maine Monday feature back in February, but I've got a few new things about this hot spot to share with you which is why it's making a second appearance here on C&G. In the bleak mid-winter you can sip your cocktails while watching the sun set over the snow covered rooftops. But now the view at 5:00 is very different and you'll need to keep your sunglasses handy. And maybe even some sunscreen.

The most important piece of information you need to know about the Top of the East at the Westin Harborview Hotel is they are now open at 4:00. Which might seem a bit early for cocktails (obviously, I'm fine with it) but if you can get there before 5:00 you're almost guaranteed your choice of seats.

We were the first ones in last Saturday and I think the word hasn't gotten out yet (or nobody is as anxious for cocktail hour as we are) because the crowds didn't show up until 5:00. As we head into high tourist season (and high hotel occupancy rates) this is a good thing to know. Waiting and kids don't go together well, and even less so if it involves waiting for your beverages.

Also new on this visit to Top of the East was a special kid friendly (or designated driver friendly) cocktail list. Even though the little C&Gs usually don't branch out from their Shirley Temple or lemonade orders it was nice to have some new fizzy and festive options. I'm thinking next time I draw the short straw I'm going to order a blueberry mojito. Fresh blueberries, mint, lime, and some bubbles sound like a lovely combination, and I probably wouldn't even miss the alcohol.

After you've picked your prime viewing seats (the tall tables next to the window are always first to go) a bowl of snacks will be delivered to your table along with some carafes of water. Warn your little ones the popcorn is mixed in with wasabi peas and will not be the sweet treat they were expecting. Also unexpected is the cucumber water, it's delicious and refreshing but might take your thirsty kiddos by surprise.

Cocktails at the Top of the East are a must and it's nice to know you don't have to leave the kids at home. Be sure to follow it up with dinner either downstairs (we haven't tried it yet) or somewhere in the neighborhood (read my past review of nearby Grace). There's not much for young palates on the lounge menu, unless your young foodies like lobster rolls and smoked swordfish bellies. The little C&Gs are adventurous but I think that's where they'd draw the line.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cocktail du jour: L'Orange L'Oren

This beautiful cocktail is the color of persimmons, a gorgeous shade of pinkish orange that just says spring to me. Once the weather turns nice I always ask Mr. C&G to bring out the bottle of Aperol. It makes me long for a lazy afternoon lounging around an outdoor cafe table in some European seaside town. This drink would be the perfect accessory to match my giant sunglasses and silk scarf head wrap. Very Sophia Loren. Cheers!

L'Orange L'Oren
1 oz Grey Goose L'Orange
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Aperol
1 oz orange juice

Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass, add ice

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tips for the Tower

Just how I like my jewels, all to myself
Everybody in the world wants to see the Crown Jewels, and if you're visiting London with kiddos you don't want to be waiting in line behind all those everybodys. I've got a few tips to share to get you in, get you to the goods, see some swords and battle armor along the way, and then be off for cocktails. Yes the Cullinan diamond is magnificent, but you're going to need a glass of bubbly to cheer yourself up when the guard doesn't let you take it home.

The Tower of London lets you buy your tickets in advance and gives you a seven day window in which to use them. Which is awesome (and rare) because when you're traveling as a family you need a bit of flexibility in your schedule. Print out your tickets from home or use the hotel printer (there's always a station for printing out boarding passes) before heading out the door and you will be so much happier when you see the masses outside the Tower Hill tube station.

Like a jewel thief planning a heist you've got to grab a map (free at the info and ticket booths), plot your course, and stay focused. Try to get to the Tower as soon as they open, 9:00am Tues - Sat, 10:00am Sun & Mon. Head straight through the entrance gates, make a left at the Bloody Tower and straight back to the Waterloo Block and home to the jewels. Don't let the kiddos (or you) get distracted, the Beefeaters have been there for more than 600 years and they'll still be there after you tour the Crown Jewels.

A Lego version at Hamley's (no pics allowed)
You can see in the first photo (at 10:10am) we didn't have to elbow our way through the displays with hundreds of tourists from around the world. And let me assure you it was not the case as we exited the building 20 minutes later. Crowds were already winding their way through the barriers as the hot sun beat down (there's no shelter, no matter what the weather) and the boys were thankful I made them rush.

A moving conveyer belt whisks you past the greatest treasures of the British Empire. I lost count of how many times I rode it, while the little C&Gs (and Mr. C&G) waited patiently by the exit. The diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, crowns, scepters, orbs, rings, swords and diadems were dazzling. There's no nose pressing or photos allowed so the best I could do is share with you the Lego version of St. Edwards crown. I think the boys found this one much more fascinating than the real thing.

We grabbed a quick snack and some drinks from the cafe (raspberry tarts with powdered sugar crowns should be the official C&G dessert) and then made our way to the White Tower. If you see a Yeoman Warder (the dark blue and red coated Beefeaters) giving a tour, they're free and you can come and go with the group as you please.

The White Tower is much more entertaining than the sparkly bling of the Crown Jewels (for the kiddos, not me) with the endless displays of arms, armors, and life-sized carved wooden horses. Check out the many different versions of armor made for Henry the VIII to accommodate his changing size.

On the top floor you'll find a giant dragon made from old weapons and lots of hands on activities for the kids. Move the kids out of the way and channel your inner Braveheart (or Brave) with the arrow shooting challenge. Those tiny eye slits make it virtually impossible to hit your mark.

By the time you've worked your way around the rest of the Tower of London it will be time for a drink. And maybe some food. Escape the crowds (after taking the requisite photo in front of Tower Bridge, aka London Bridge) by heading for the St. Katherine Docks where you'll find the very popular chains Strada, Zizzi, and Côte Brasserie. Chains in the UK are nothing like what we have at home, they're all very good, fresh, delicious and fast. With a full wine list. And cocktails. Yet another reason I want to move to the UK. . .

Monday, April 7, 2014

Maine Monday: Farm to Flanagan's Table

Flanagan's Table is an under the radar dinner series held in a beautifully restored barn in rural Buxton, just 30 minutes west of Portland. The soaring space hosts one event a month, featuring a well known Maine chef and a five course dinner elegantly presented at Flanagan's Farm. Maine has a long farm to table history (check out this article from the Portland Press Herald) and there's no better way to experience it than under the twinkling lights that hang from the rafters over the rustic Flannagan's table.

We left the little C&Gs at home last night to attend the dinner helmed by one of our favorite local chefs, Steve Corry of Petite Jacqueline and 555. Both restaurants are favorites of the little C&Gs so they weren't too happy about being left out of the fun but we assured them it was a grown ups only evening affair.

Petite Jacqueline serves up cozy French comfort food and is a great way to introduce your kiddos to something new, plus the authentic decor lets you pretend you've crossed an ocean for dinner. The boys loved their kid friendly movie night recently and we've taken them on regular nights too and they've really enjoyed it. 555 is a bit more formal for dinner but the boys beg to go there for weekend brunches. It could be because the cinnamon rolls come bigger than their heads.

The menu last night showcased the best of the two restaurants with local and seasonal ingredients. Ginger foam topped a vibrant rutabaga and pear soup and Mr. C&G managed to get the foam recipe on our way out. Our neighbors at the communal table agreed it would be perfect floating on top of a cocktail and I think we've got some experimenting to do.

We had the pleasure of sitting next to a couple who have attended every dinner in the series so they gave us the inside scoop on past events. They told us each dinner truly reflects the skills and personalities of the chefs and the dinner with Masa Miyake was their favorite with Melissa Kelly of Primo a very close runner up.

An excuse to visit the restroom (not a problem with the generous servings of wine) is the perfect opportunity to walk through the kitchen and watch the courses coming together. Everyone remarked how calm and organized it was back there (amazing when you realize they're sending out 40 plus plates at each course) and it's a testament to the talents of Chef Steve and his wife Michelle. After the meal the entire staff came out and we got a chance to thank them personally for the lovely experience.

Reservations for upcoming dinners go quickly, usually within 10-15 minutes of going on sale. I realize that by sharing this I'm lowering our chances of attending another one but it's a wonderful cause (proceeds go to support the Maine Farmland Trust) and a not to be missed experience. If Maine is in your travel plans this summer I hope to see you at the farm. I'll be the one going up to the bar for seconds on the Prosecco.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Shane's Whiskers

There's only one cocktail to be toasting with today, and that's our tribute to the 2013 World Champion Red Sox, a twist on the classic Satan's Whiskers we renamed Shane's Whiskers. I posted this drink back in January but today is the big day at Fenway Park so a repeat post is called for. The boys are already in front of the game, gloves in hand and Red Sox hats on heads and I'm just waiting on my beverage delivery from Mr. C&G during the next commercial break.

Shane Victorino is known as "The Flyin' Hawaiian", and the entire Red Sox lineup was very whiskery during the playoffs last spring. His grand slam in the bottom of the seventh in game 6 of the ALCS cleared the way for the Red Sox to go on to the World Series. Satan's Whiskers is a bit of a grand slam cocktail, made with four equal parts alcohol to one part juice and I'm guessing that's where this classic cocktail gets it's devilish moniker from.

We substituted pineapple in place of the orange juice traditionally called for, which meant it needed a new name. Little C&G suggested we name it after our favorite Hawaiian outfielder and this tasty mix of gin and citrus is just what Shane Victorino will want to be drinking after todays game.

Shane's Whiskers
1 oz gin
1 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz pineapple juice
dash of orange bitters

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass
Raise your glass to the Red Sox

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Martinis in Mayfair

Drinking in London could be an Olympic sport, which means it's a bit of a challenge to find a family friendly spot for a few cocktails. Pubs and bars are off my list for two reasons, I haven't really been able to drink beer since turning 40 a few years ago, and it's against the law for underage kids to enter some pubs in the UK.

Poor Little C&G found this out the hard way when he dashed through an open pub door to see the football (soccer) score on the telly and the bartender almost jumped over the bar yelling at him to get out. Rules are different from pub to pub but I can assure you we didn't bother taking any chances after that.

Drinking in London should be a more civilized activity, kind of like afternoon tea but with cocktails. And crumpets. Which is why Flemings Mayfair hotel is the perfect spot to escape the sensory overload of sightseeing. Six elegant town homes have been combined to create a swanky boutique hotel in one of London's most distinguished neighborhoods.

You might think such luxury would be as off limits to the kiddos as the local corner pub, but Flemings Mayfair welcomes your young charges with stylish family rooms, pint-sized amenities, and most important, a super chic cocktail lounge. I was devastated to find out they didn't have any rooms available during our stay in London (email them for family room accommodations) but decided it would be the perfect place to bring the little C&Gs for some relaxing afternoon cocktails.

Uniformed doormen welcome you into the lobby and will direct you towards the subterranean bar. The lighting is low, the decor is bright, and the afternoon tea service is perfection and totally kid friendly. Of course we had to have the requisite tea before we could move on to the main event of cocktails. The boys devoured three tiers of sandwiches, scones, and sweet treats while Mr. C&G enjoyed his perfectly made Flemings Negroni and I ordered a glass of bubbly (of course).

The little C&Gs left us with their scone crumbs and went off to explore the other rooms in the cocktail lounge. Be sure to send your kiddos to the mirror room and you'll easily get 20 solid minutes of alone time. It's also an adventure sending them off to find the loo (they can't get lost) so there's plenty of things to keep them busy while you order up another round of cocktails.

Another reason to love Flemings Mayfair for cocktails is its perfect location for family shopping. And by family shopping I mean it's a short walk for your other half to take the kiddos to toy superstore Hamley's while you finish off your cocktail and head out to swan up New Bond Street. Depending on how many martinis you've had, you might find yourself doing more than window shopping. I did a little shoe shopping but I hear Graff has lovely souvenirs . . .