Monday, March 23, 2015

Maine Monday: Coffee & Gelato

There were no visits to Gelato Fiasco in Portland this past winter, which is absolutely unheard of here at C&G. Nobody could be coaxed out of the house unless it was for soccer, school, or groceries (in that order) when the thermometer barely registered in the double digits for most of January and February. But a winter without gelato is almost as depressing as a January without alcohol (and we know I'm not very good at that) so I was very happy to find the elegantly designed Gelato Fiasco pints in the freezer case at my nearest grocery store.

Just because the snowbanks have taken all the good parking spots in town doesn't mean you have to wait until May (or June, or July. . . ) to get your caramel sea salt fix. Or a dose of some much needed cookie therapy. Maine favorites like "Maple Sap Tap" and "Maine Wild Blueberry Crisp" (beloved by the editors of Bon Appetit magazine) can be found up and down the East Coast, and even as far away as the "other" Portland. I adore the packaging and the plastic tubs have all been recycled corralling the Little C&G Lego collections.

A few of the gelato containers have made it onto my countertop (a daily reminder to swing by Hannfords and get another pint!) to store the other necessary C in my C&G, coffee. The flagship store of Coffee By Design on Diamond Street is one of my favorite spots on the rare occasions I've left my couch to get some writing done. The industrial East Bayside neighborhood does a great job of clearing the snow and a cup of Alonzo's Double Dark can cure any writers block.

But no matter what Mother Nature has in store for us next week (clearly the calendar means nothing to her because it was 16 degrees this morning) nothing can stop us from returning to Gelato Fiasco. It's that time of year where the Peeps come out and get turned into gelato. Peeps. Gelato. Cheers to spring indeed!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cheers To Spring!

Clearly this is not a view out my front door.
The calendar may say "First Day of Spring" but we are months away from seeing anything green peek through all that snow. Oh well, a girl can dream. And drink, because it's Friday. It's time to dust off the bottle of Aperol and toast to warmer and more colorful days ahead. Tonight at exactly 6:45pm EDT I will be raising my Aperol Spritz (3 parts prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, splash of club soda) to the end of 13 miserable weeks of winter. Happy weekend & happy spring!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Maine Monday Returns With Tiqa

It's hard to believe Memorial Day is just ten weeks away! We've had a cold, miserable winter and most of us haven't been motivated to leave the house. But now is the time to take advantage of longer days and (slightly) warmer temps and get to some of your favorite local restaurants before the tourists descend. In a little over three months those parking spots will disappear and we'll all be stuck wandering the Old Port in search of an empty table and a wait list that isn't two hours long.

Guaranteed to be hotter than a July afternoon in the Moroccan desert is the latest restaurant to open with the small plate and great cocktails concept, Tiqa. This pan-Mediterranean restaurant on Commercial Street has been open since February and is getting plenty of media and foodie buzz. Focusing on locally sourced foods flavored with exotic spices, Tiqa offers Portland a taste of distant lands where the thermometer never dips below freezing.

Pull up a cozy leather couch in the low lit lounge and order some cocktails and small plates while the kiddos are entertained by the view out the floor to ceiling windows. The mezze plate is perfect for sharing and comes with an assortment of Middle Eastern snacks like warmed pitted olives, cucumber slaw, hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant) and plenty of pita bread.

For a real dinner treat ask for the seats in front of the kitchen bar, it's where all the action is. On the left (as you're facing the kitchen) it's nonstop movement and the kids will be mesmerized by the sizzling pans and dashes of colorful spices and sauces. We sat on the quieter side, the right side, opting to watch the breads and desserts being made by two talented and chatty ladies.

There might be a children's menu (it is in a Marriott hotel after all) but we didn't ask, both little C&Gs ordered kabobs (I think just so they could play with the skewers) and were very happy with their choices. They split the fattoush salad, mixed greens with torn pieces of pita bread, and ordered the chicken and beef kabobs. Neither dish was overly spicy and the boys liked the unusual flavors. Little C&G raved that the chicken was better than anything I've made him and I resisted challenging him to a skewered veggie dual.

After watching countless desserts make their way out of the kitchen we had to order the pistachio olive oil cake and the flourless chocolate cake. Dense, moist, and not overly sweet they were a tasty ending to our night out. We had a deliciously fun and unusual dinner at one of the most talked about places in town and we can definitely recommend Tiqa as a place to bring your adventurous kiddos. Grab a table soon (they're on OpenTable for reservations) and order some creative cocktails and exotic dishes to chase away this horrible winter.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Summer 2015 Sorted

For the past four months I have quite literally had my nose stuck in this pile of travel books along with about ten different travel sites open in my internet browser. We have a milestone celebration coming up this summer and we gave Big C&G the opportunity to pick anywhere in the world as our destination. Anywhere. Within reason, of course. I'm not about to climb Mt. Everest but if he wanted to bungee jump off the Sydney Harbor Bridge then I would (reluctantly) go along with it. I lobbied very hard for a macaron tour of Paris but as I've been reminded by multiple C&Gs, it's not up to me. Tant pis!

Big C&G narrowed down his very long list and Little C&G and I took advantage of a few snow days back in January and put together a slide show with some highlights of where he wanted to go. I did a lot of research and planned five very different trips for him to choose from just as if he was a very discerning (aka picky) client. There may have been a little more attention paid to the adventures I was hoping for (the picture perfect turquoise waters of Fiji, serene sailboats along the Dalmatian Coast) but in the end Big C&G went with exactly what he said the first time we asked him where he would go on a dream trip.

Our flights are booked, our deposits have been paid, and I am more than ready to stop thinking about travel planning for a bit. I'm incredibly sad that our destination can't be found in any of the books I insisted on buying (yes Mr. C&G you told me so) and they will all go back on the shelves until 2016. I am just a wee bit superstitious and won't write about a trip before it happens so you'll just have to wait until summer to find out where we're headed.

Rest assured all those months of research won't go to waste, I'll share some of my findings in the weeks ahead because I'm not quite ready to give up on a resort in Fiji that provides you with your own marine biologist. Or lazing away the summer days in the hills of Tuscany at an olive oil resort (cooking classes for the kiddos and afternoons at the spa for the grown ups). Big C&G might be forcing me out of my comfort zone (and out of continental Europe) but I know I can count on Little C&G when it's his turn to choose. I foresee a lot of German soccer and Italian pasta in his future. . .

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stealing Some Time With the Crown Jewels

I'm re-running this post on visiting the Crown Jewels in London for some friends who are heading to England this summer. With Valentine's Day having come and gone (and nothing crown-worthy tucked in amongst my chocolates) it's always fun to think about spending a little time with the world's greatest collection of baubles.       

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 StradaZizzi, 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, February 9, 2015

Cocktail du Jour: Double Coconut

It's time to double up on the coconut, because things are looking a little bleak outside my front door. My usual nightly hot toddy or Stormy Scot just reminds me that a good five months stand between me and seeing my green lawn again. The sun hasn't poked out from behind the clouds in days and I'm really regretting our decision to not join my mother for her annual Mexican vacation this year. Darned Big C&G and his education!

Mr. C&G clearly misunderstood me the other night when I mentioned St. Tropez, I was talking about booking us on the next flight to the South of France and instead he headed for the drinks cabinet to start making a St. Tropez Spritzer. Or more likely he just has very selective hearing. With no pineapple juice in stock he dusted off the bottle of Cirôc coconut and improvised a new cocktail that deserves to be sipped under a striped umbrella on a pebbled French beach. Now back to the Air France website . . .

Double Coconut
2 oz Cirôc coconut vodka
sparkling coconut lime soda*
Rose's lime juice (or fresh lime)

Raise the flag to attract the attention of your garçon
Tell him to add the vodka into a cocktail glass filled with ice
Top with soda and a squeeze or two of lime
Stir and à votre santé!
(* if you don't have a Hannafords near you for their private label soda, Lorina French sodas are the exact same thing)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dreaming Of Drinks & Dinner In Aruba

Warm sunshine on my face, the sound of palm trees rustling in the light ocean breeze, and the sound of ice clinking in a cocktail glass. . . Just a few scenes from the movie I've been playing in my head since the start of winter storm Juno. The snowbank outside our door is up to my shoulders and we've got more snow on the way. I'm not sure where it's all going to go or how long the contents of our wine fridge will last.

Aruba is blessed with perfect weather year round, it sits just outside the hurricane belt and you could easily make it through your vacation never swapping dollars for Aruban florins. It's a very busy port for the mammoth cruise ships traveling from the East Coast and you can get cheap, direct flights from most major cities. If you're looking for a quiet, relaxing Caribbean island, Aruba is not it. Chain restaurants and cheap bars assault your senses as soon as you exit the arrivals hall (or step off the boat) but in true C&G fashion I found some small local gems on our visit last November.

An absolute must visit is Gelatissimo, a cocktail bar AND a gelato bar. What a brilliant combination, who would have thought? You can't miss it on the main hotel strip in Palm Beach, a purple and white oasis between Señior Frogs and the Hard Rock Cafe. Pull up a wicker lounge chair and order a mojito or a mangotini while the kiddos go press their little noses against the gelato case.

There's a small panini menu at Gelatissimo but Amore Mio and Gianni's Restorante Italiano are next door and both offer delicious and authentic Italian cuisine. If you're too comfy with your cocktails and gelato all three restaurants share the same owner and our waitress said we could order food off any menu without leaving the lounge.

Amore Mio is a tiny and popular spot for thin crust authentic Neapolitan pizza so if the lines are long stay put and order while you sit in Gelatissimo. Gianni's Restorante is huge with plenty of tables to choose from, indoors or out. Our dinner at Gianni's was delicious, sometimes when we're away from home I just want a big, comforting bowl of pasta and the rigatoni ai quattro formaggi was perfect. For a real treat order the spaghetti al formaggio parmiggiano (serves two) and a giant cheese wheel is brought table side and your dinner is cooked and flamed (thanks to a few dashes of whisky) right in front of you.

Local favorite Madame Janette requires a rental car and a very good map (even with 4 phones and GPS we got lost) or better yet have your hotel call you a cab. But the adventure is totally worth it for their classic European cuisine with a touch of Caribbean flair. When you make your reservation ask for a table in the back pebble garden, very little wind makes it this far inland and the rooms up front can be very stuffy. Bring bug spray for your ankles but if you forget the staff is happy to share.

Madame Janette is known for their saucey dishes, locally caught seafood, and famous plate-sized schnitzel. Ask them to downsize their schnitzel for the kiddos or order just plain pasta, there's no kids menu but the friendly staff will happily accommodate picky eaters. Big C&G had a caesar salad with steak and Little C&G ordered the shrunken schnitzel, but as you can see from the photo above it was still almost as big as his head. Save room for dessert, because the other part of my "escape to Aruba" movie always ends with Madame Janette's delicious coconut cream cake . . .