Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a fabulous New Year!

We've got lots of family and friends visiting over the next two weeks so I'm going 
to be unplugging my computer and taking a little social media vacation. 
Plus the little C&Gs are home from school and need to be entertained. 

If you're late to the Cocktails & Gelato party, there's plenty of reading here to keep you busy and jumpstart your 2014 travel plans. Over on the right are all the tags (under Where would you like to go?) for posts I've written, just pick a place and click on it to read all the posts on your desired destination. Or if you're looking for some cocktail inspiration to ring out the year click on the cocktails tag and there are forty recipes for you to choose from. 

Every end of year review always has its lists and I thought you'd like to see what the top five posts on C&G have been. I was shocked only one cocktail entry made the top five cut!

Cocktails & Gelato is coming up on its one year anniversary, and it has been an amazing experience starting the blog. I've finally been able to put all the research, scribbles in notebooks, scraps torn from magazines, and notes in my travel guides into one easier to read place. There's much more to come in 2014, so many cheers and thanks for joining me on our journeys! 
See you in January!

Cheers from our Irish country house! (just kidding, it's Ashford Castle)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cocktail du Jour: The Ritzy Blonde

This might be my new favorite cocktail. It could be because I've christened it "The Ritzy Blonde" and I fancy myself a ritzy blonde. But I have no plans to be at a Ritz anytime soon and currently I'm not blonde. So it must be the deliciously smooth orange taste of Grey Goose L'Orange balanced with the Cointreau.

There's not a lot of sweetness to the drink, especially if you go with a super smooth flavored vodka like a Grey Goose, Stoli, or Belvedere. The sugar comes from the wine based French aperitif Lillet Blanc, a key ingredient in the Bond beverage, the Vesper.

I texted Mr. C&G the ingredients from my cozy fireside perch at the Ritz Carlton's Avery Bar last week and asked if he could recreate their "Blonde martini" at home. Thankfully it's pretty simple and only took 3 tries to get the crisp, clean taste just right. Our lovely libation will tide me over until our next trip down to Boston. And my next trip to the hair colorist. Cheers!

Ritzy Blonde
2 oz Grey Goose L'Orange
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc

Add all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass
Garnish with an orange slice

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cocktail Research in Boston

My new favorite cocktail at my new favorite bar
Three Boston hotel bars have been on my list to try for months. So when my oldest and dearest friend called up a few weeks ago and suggested we meet for a mid-week overnight of holiday shopping and cocktailing, I had a hotel booked before we hung up.

My secret to drinking on vacation when your kids are along for the ride is to find the nearest swanky hotel bar. Hotels are usually happy to accommodate guests of all ages, they realize not all of their clientele are single business travelers. If there's a restaurant on site they'll most likely have a kid friendly menu, just in case your youngsters don't consider cocktail olives an afternoon snack.

The Avery Bar at the Ritz Carlton, Boston
Only one out of the three on my list makes the cut for a return visit with Big & Little C&G (and Mr. C&G, of course). The Avery Bar at the Ritz Carlton is my new favorite on account of their amazing cocktail list and super stylish lounge area. Long leather couches and low tables cozy up to an alpine-chic fireplace, or for a little more privacy choose one of the rooms tucked away on the side.

Classic cocktails are the stars of the menu, there are 10 to choose from and I can attest to a very well made Vesper. Another five categories of cocktails will make your decisions very difficult, and I found a new favorite in the vodka based Blonde. Totally delicious and I'll share the recipe with you tomorrow as my cocktail du jour. I sent the ingredients off to Mr. C&G back at home base and he recreated it perfectly.

Side rooms make great hiding places
A short list of bar snacks will keep your kiddos occupied, plates of cheeses, charcuteries, cookies, and the always favorite cheese straws will easily tide your crew over until dinner. There's plenty of room to spread out across the tables so be sure to pack some activity books or coloring things so you can work in a little quality adult conversation with your other half. If you're looking for a more substantial meal the attached Artisan Bistro has gotten rave reviews for it's bistro style menu.

The Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons has always been a favorite hotel bar for a late afternoon snack with the boys, but I'm crossing it off my list. They've taken away a lot of the bar tables and added in more space for the dining room, which totally ruins the cocktail lounge vibe. M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental hotel was high on my list to try because of it's prime spot on Boylston Street (in an otherwise bar & restaurant free 'hood) but it too doesn't make the cut. Only three uncomfortable banquettes would be suitable for family seating, everything else is either at the bar or on high stools along the windows.

Our brief stay in Boston was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I got a lot of "research" done. Now if only I had an expense account to write off all those lovely cocktails. . .

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Little Something For the Bar

At least one thing in this photo gets used on a nightly basis. Mr. C&G loves his bar tools and he insists everything here is essential to establishing a good home bar. A vast collection of liquor helps too, of course, but you won't get very far without a good cocktail shaker or a strainer. The bucket of accessories was a wedding gift more than 15 years ago, and I can assure you it's been used almost every day since.

Artisanal ice cubes are all the rage with the mustachioed and plaid clad hipster bartenders around town so of course we need to be able to make our own at home. The orange square ice cube tray and round ice molds (the grey and white doodads on the upper left) first debuted on the blog back in June and they've been in heavy rotation ever since.

Check out the ice ball in my Unusual Negroni (equal parts gin, Lillet, and Aperol) and with little contact between the ice and your beverage there's no watering it down. It takes a bit of getting used to, that feeling of being bonked in the lip by a snowball, but after a bevvie or two you'll get over it. Plus it makes it look like there's less alcohol in your glass, which is always good for self deception.

Not in the photo (because they're in the freezer) are the whisky stones. The tiny squares of Vermont soapstone retain the cold and add a bit of a chill to your favorite dram. Mr. C&G is a traditionalist when it comes to his whisky, maybe with a drop of water but certainly not chilled, so it's more likely I'll use them in my white wine glass. Perfect for the times I've brought home some bottles but forgotten to store them in the wine fridge.

And as fabulous as the cocktail recipes on my blog are, most of them come from these wonderful books. The two Gary Regan ones, The Joy of Mixology and The New Classic Cocktails get used the most. They're a great reference when you need a little bit of inspiration, with drink styles and ingredients organized in a very logical format. Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail is equally indispensable and a great beverage resource for some trendier libations.

American Bar by Charles Schumann and Whisk(e)y by Stefan Gabányi are leather bound and look very impressive on your bar, but they're as informative as they are beautiful. American Bar has more than 500 recipes to work your way through, and Whisk(e)y is more of a reference book but an absolute must if you've got a whisky fan on your list.

The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park NY
For some fun non-fiction reading try the James Beard award winning How's Your Drink by Eric Felton. Mr. C&G picked this up at the C.I.A. bookstore, the cooking one and not the spy one, on the recommendation of a faculty member. The subtitle says it all, Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Sounds perfect to me.

Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany is a collection of culinary tidbits you'll want to work into your next cocktail party conversation. The Drunken Botanist I bought in the gift shop of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens purely for the title but it's been an interesting read. Who knew it's against the law to call something gin if it doesn't contain juniper berries. And who goes around and checks this? The gin police?

Capping off the book collection are two Glencairn whisky glasses, collected from visits to the Balvenie distillery and the Macallan distillery. The glasses are widely available online and a great gift for any malt lover. However the collection of Balvenie and Macallan bottles require a bit more legwork, and a trip through international duty free for some of them. Which as you can probably guess is the only thing on my holiday wish list, four round trip tickets to Europe on Virgin Atlantic, Upper Class of course.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy Holiday Road Tripping

I've pulled a bunch of toys and games out of the little C&Gs travel bags to share with you and to spark some gifting inspiration. Conveniently they haven't unpacked since our five hour Thanksgiving road trip so I didn't have to go hunting for things all over the house.

These Doodle To Go books come in various shapes, sizes, and themes. Little C&G loves this spiral bound one (I bought the girly princess version to gift to a cousin) and he'll happily sit in the back seat with his supply of colored pencils and tell us all about his crazy drawings. I'm a big fan of the twistable Crayola crayons and colored pencils (did those crayon sharpeners ever actually work?) and always include a new pack when wrapping up a doodle book as a gift.

Brain Quest wands have accompanied us on all our trips over the years, they're so compact and there's one for every age and every subject. I love them because they'll give you a good chunk of peace and quiet while the backseat passengers work their way through the questions. 

This car version is our latest purchase and we turned it into a competition (upping the stakes as they get older) by assigning a dollar value to the correct answers. The boys choose a page and assign us a category to answer. Most of the questions are pretty easy for the adults, but it's amazing how sometimes you know the answer and just can't get it out. Mr. C&G and I aren't always the winners at the end.

I bought five of these to give out as gifts (two of which are for the little C&Gs) to various kiddos. With 16 mazes to solve in one handy travel friendly tablet I'm hoping this will be a new favorite in the car. 

Doesn't it remind you of those magna doodles? The boys used to be obsessed with those as toddlers, and they were awesome until they scribbled too hard and messed up the magnets. We went through a lot of those things in the early years. With the maze you slide the paths around to make things more difficult and thankfully there are no magical magnets involved. 

I know I've raved in the past about my love for the compact travel game IQ Twist, and we've wrapped it up for both kids and adults as gifts. We just got the more challenging BendIt game, I'm not sure my brain is up for it, and it's a new favorite of Big C&G.

The Super Color Picture Maze book gets passed back and forth between the boys in the backseat, even though we bought it for Little C&G. It's a little complicated (each turn of the maze gets a different color) and probably best for kids 8 and up. Plus it requires a very sharp colored pencil and some good coloring between the lines. Despite my art school degrees I won't be borrowing it anytime soon.

Little C&G is currently obsessed with making paper airplanes, so the Origami on the Go book is right up his creative alley. The papers are perforated and easy to work with, and the book is thick enough to support folding on a lap. Each of the 40 projects are based on a world traveling theme and come with fun facts and descriptions. Too bad the British Royal Crown doesn't come with real jewels.

Tomorrow I'll share with you Mr. C&Gs essentials for a well equipped bar, all of which make excellent gifts. His library of cocktail books is also quite extensive, and as you've seen on the pages of C&G they all are very well referenced and field tested.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Monday: Holiday Gift Ideas

Scrambling to finish up your holiday shopping? I've asked Big and Little C&G to recommend some of their favorite things that would appeal to fellow young adventurers. Of course they're all travel related, but the good news for you and your budget is that none of them require passports or expensive airline tickets.

Scotland Yard is a great board game for kids ages 10 and up and takes you all across London by tube, taxi, or bus in search of the mysterious Mr. X. You've got 24 chances to track him down as he escapes by any mode of transportation, even a boat ride down the Thames, à la David Beckham in the London Olympics. One player gets to be the slippery Mr. X, he moves about in secret and surfaces only three times in the 24 moves, so the rest of the players need to work together as a team to figure out where he's hiding.

Big C&G loves this game, especially because he remembers all the famous landmarks from our trip to London last July. It's a bit complicated for Little C&G (age 8) so one of us will team up with him to catch the bad guy. I love it because the playing pieces look like martini glasses. Shaken, not stirred please.

I've joked in the past about how Little C&G checks out all the security cameras and guards whenever we go into an art museum (should I be worried? Don't your kids do this too?), so it's no wonder he loves the game ArtShark! There's no board so clear yourselves a place on the table and be ready to deal in real and forged artwork.

Collect famous paintings from different periods in art history to add to your gallery. Every piece of art has a matching forgery, and you want to try and replace your opponents masterpieces with a fake one. This lowers the value of their gallery, and at the end of the game the player with the most valuable collection wins. It's no wonder Little C&G has been highly successful at this one.

ArtShark! is recommended for ages 8 and above and it's a great way to get them interested in art. If you let them be the "banker" at the end of the game to tally up the collection values you'll get in a math lesson as well as an art history lesson.

Sometimes I worry our Lego collection outnumbers the entire supply of the Danish population. Sets have long since been disassembled and the little C&Gs have moved on to their own creations, but I love the Brick City book when they need some new ideas and inspiration.

Brick City gets them familiar with global icons, like the red telephone boxes of Britain or the gondolas of Venice, along with landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Roman coliseum. Directions and parts lists are very clear, and even if you don't have the exact colors shown to create your very own Palace of Versailles, the French will never know.

All of these items were found at our local toy store, but you might have to resort to the elves at Amazon as the days count down and the store shelves empty out. Stay tuned tomorrow for some more of the little C&Gs recommendations, the boys have picked out some of their favorite books and activities to help make those holiday car rides a little more enjoyable. And I'm not leaving the grown ups out of the holiday gift giving, I'll get Mr. C&G to chime in with his favorite barware essentials. Until then, cheers and happy shopping!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Perfect Rob Roy

Perfect in this case refers to the equal parts sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, but this classic drink is also perfect for the sudden arrival of winter which has totally snuck up on me. The vodka bottles will go back on the shelves and it's back to the warming whiskies and cognacs from our European friends.

Compass Box is the maker of the Oak Cross whisky Mr. C&G used in my Rob Roy, as well as his coveted Great King Street. They're a very interesting and unique artisanal whisky maker, buying up single malts from small distilleries and custom blending them into five different distinctive bottles.

Oak Cross is aged in barrels using American and French oak, giving it a beautiful warm amber color along with the flavor of vanilla and cloves. Perfect for snuggling up in front of the fire with a warm wooly tartan blanket while your young heathens rampage across the moors of your living room.

Perfect Rob Roy
2 1/2 oz whisky
1/2 sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino)
1/2 dry vermouth (Dolin)
Dash Peychaud's bitters

Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Give it a vigorous shake and strain into a martini glass
Garnish with a lemon peel & enjoy

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Norwegian Naked People Park

Gustav Vigeland is the Norwegian sculpture behind the design of the Nobel Peace Prize medal, but he's probably more well known for his bronze, granite, and cast iron statues of anatomically correct people on display in the center of Oslo.

Frogner Park may be the official name of this lovely green space in the middle of Oslo, but if you ask the little C&Gs they'll tell you it's Naked People Park. Europeans are clearly much less repressed when it comes to nudity, so be prepared as you step into the park to see body parts of all assorted shapes, sizes, and genders on the more than 200 sculptures created by artist Gustav Vigeland in the 1930's and 1940's.

Vigeland Sculpture Park is on everyone's must see list when you mention you're going to Oslo. We were headed back to our hotel from the Holmenkollen ski jump and decided to get off at the tram stop in front of Frogner Park to see what all the nakedness was about. At the park entrance is a visitors center and a small cafeteria with sandwiches and snacks (the park has some beautiful spots for picnicking) and there's always an ice cream truck or two not too far away.

You'll see the giant monolith at the center of the sculpture park, but first you must walk the gauntlet of naked people, one of which is the famous angry baby. Legend has it the sculpture gave the little barn a bar of chocolate only to take it away to get just the perfect reaction. It definitely worked and to this day the little C&Gs pull out the angry baby face when they don't get their way around dessert time.

The endless labyrinth around the fountain will keep your kiddos busy for hours. We happily grabbed a seat on a bench and watched them try to work their way from one side to another. I was glad they were distracted, the fountain is surrounded by statues depicting the circle of life (sing it, Lion King fans) from birth to death and I found it kind of creepy. If you don't look too closely it's pretty, but the people tucked in and around the bronze trees weirded me out.

At the highest point in the park is the monolith, an incredible work of art with 121 figures all carved out of one single piece of granite. Surrounding it on the stairs are another 36 groups of statues of naked people in all sorts of strange positions. Be sure to walk by the pile of babies and just try to stop yourself from pinching a tush or two.

A very common sight throughout Frogner Park is young Scandinavians spread out on picnic blankets with a gourmet feast and a few bottles of wine. Dining out is incredibly expensive in Oslo so most young families pack up some goodies and a portable grill and head outdoors for the evening. Norway's largest outdoor playground is located right near the main gate, making the park a perfect spot to spend an afternoon or evening. So find the nearest convenience store, grab some snacks and a bottle of wine and raise a toast with your plastic cup to all the tushies.

Frogner Park is free and open to the public year round. For a more in depth look at the work of Gustav Vigeland, visit the museum which is only a 3 minute walk from the entrance, on Halvdans Svartes gate. We made up our own stories to go with the sculptures with a little help from my Rick Steves guidebook and didn't stop by the museum. The boys still talk about how funny the sculptures in "Naked People Park" were. Definitely don't miss it, because you know you'll never see anything like Vigeland Park back at home.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Above It All In Oslo

If you are a skier, you may recognize this perilous looking structure made of concrete and steel. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump in Oslo, Norway is famous in the ski jumping world as the site of many World Cup competitions and the Oslo Winter Olympics in 1952.

The first ski jumping competition took place here back in 1892, when they used branches covered in snow to add some height to an already existing hill. Technology has come a long, long way since then and the Holmenkollen ski jump has gone through 18 subsequent renovations. This latest structure was built in 2010 and definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Oslo, no matter what the season. It's open to the public year round and you don't need a racing bib or a crash helmet to take the elevator to the viewing platform at the top.

Admission to the ski jump includes a visit to the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, the oldest of its kind in the world. The museum has been open since 1923 and showcases 4,000 years of skiing history. You'll see primitive wooden skis dating back to 600 AD alongside the high tech super lightweight skis used by world class athletes today.

The highlight for the little C&Gs had to be the diorama of the moose, complete with realistic droppings in the snow. We learned that poop is the same in English as it is in Norwegian from the young Norwegian boys giggling their way through the exhibit.

A documentary on the northern lights is new since our visit to the museum and showcases a natural phenomenon that most of us will never see. Also included in the exhibit are stories and artifacts from various polar expeditions, because you can't have a museum in Norway without referencing the race to the Poles.

After you've worked your way through the museum take the elevator up to the jump tower for a spectacular view overlooking Oslo and the fjords beyond. Exit the elevator and climb a few more stairs to visit the jump platform. Take a deep breath and work your way over to the very edge of the jump and get a feel for what world class skiers see just before they leap into the abyss.

But don't panic (easier said than done), there's a very solid metal gate preventing you from tumbling down almost 200 feet to the bottom. Big C&G stood there pretending the stands below were filled with cheering crowds while I barely made it long enough to snap the photo to the left. If your crew really wants to experience the jump (without lugging your gear or qualifying for the elite championships) don't miss the simulator back down at ground level where you can "try" it yourself for an extra charge.

Holmenkollen is about a 30 minute ride outside of Oslo on public transportation. Take the Metro #1 towards Frognerseteren and get off at the Holmenkollen stop. The tram winds through some lovely neighborhoods so sit back and enjoy the view. Don't worry about missing your stop, you'll see the giant ski tower out your window as you get closer. From the tram stop it's a ten minute hike uphill to the park.

The admission fee of 250 NOK ($40 US) gets your family in to the jump tower and to the museum. Individual tickets are 110 NOK ($18 US) for adults and 55 NOK ($9 US) for children. The ski simulator is extra, 50 NOK for a five minute full sensory experience similar to what pilots and astronauts use for their training. But there isn't enough money in any currency that could get me to step into that thing.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Maine Monday: Parking Tips

This public service announcement is brought to you by the letters W, T, and F. Insanity and total chaos doesn't even begin to describe the parking situation at our local Whole Foods as the calendar counts down to 2014.

A few weeks ago it was a war zone, thanks to the convergence of winter storm Boreas, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving, and it's only going to get worse as the weather gets messier and the ball drops on New Years Eve. Until then, I've got the perfect solution to avoiding the madness, and you won't have to give up on your organic kale and Pineland Farms hot dogs.

I knew there were parking spots off to the right side of Whole Foods, but I didn't realize there are a whole bunch of parking spots hidden behind where they're storing the wooden crates filled with holiday wreaths. You'll see in the photo the crates take up a lot of space, but there are at least 5 more spots behind them that nobody knows about. If you're driving by it just looks like a storage area, but actually it's the perfect place to pull in and grab a spot and avoid all the parking lot madness.

Whole Foods has the best flowers
That top secret little area has been my go to spot on my grocery trips ever since I made the mistake of leaving the obscure organic ingredients shopping until right before Thanksgiving. Cars were parked along the side of the fence, in front of the entrance, and down a side street. But back there, there are no angry drivers riding your bumper in hopes of stealing a spot from you, no lines of cars waiting to push their way into the already crowded rows, and no cars blindly backing up assuming you and your kiddos will give them the right of way. Just a dumpster, some greenery, and plenty of space to do doughnuts with your shopping cart.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Stormy Coconut

The liquor cabinet at my moms' house is not nearly as well stocked as the one Chez C&G, so Mr. C&G had his work cut out for him over Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, for me anyway, she's a big fan of my Kiki de Montparnasse so her stash includes a bottle of Cîroc Coconut vodka and lots of little cans of pineapple juice.

Our Thanksgiving travel plans were delayed due to the bad weather working its way up the East Coast last week, but we made it just in time for cocktails on Thursday afternoon. After a day of ice, snow, freezing rain, and then rain I was definitely in the mood for something sunny and tropical in a cocktail glass. With no vanilla vodka in the house we came up with this Kiki alternative, and it did the trick to melt away the previous hours spent driving.

The Stormy Coconut 
2 oz coconut vodka
2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
Add all ingredients into a cocktail glass filled with ice
Stir and enjoy while booking your winter getaway to a tropical island

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Great Minds Pick Quebec City

Wasn't I just saying you need to visit Quebec City? Well Conde Nast Traveler is agreeing with me in its current issue, on the newsstands now. They also insist it's an easy way to get your European fix this winter if you're on a budget. If we hadn't just been in October I'd certainly be booking a few nights in our French neighbor to the north. Especially over New Year's as they light up the night with fireworks and celebrate with DJs and dance troupes.

The Conde Nast Traveler article recommends the luxurious and elegant Auberge Saint-Antoine for accommodations. I think it would be a perfect hotel for a romantic getaway with the Mr. or Mrs., but not if you've got your munchkins in tow. The Café-Bar Artifact in the lobby of the hotel is the best spot for cocktails in the Old Town and they happily welcomed the little C&Gs to sit at the bar. The charming bartender made up some festive juice cocktails for the little C&Gs, but I did notice they were the only kiddos wandering the hotel. Instead I'd book one of the chic and modern rooms at the family friendly Hotel Le Germain-Dominion down the street.

When you're not out strolling the romantic streets of the Old Town, give your kiddos their video game fix at the Musée de la Civilisation. Over 80 different games are free to play in the Game Story/Jeux Vidéo exhibit running until March 23, 2014. Enjoy the sights and sounds of late 19th century theatrical Paris at the Paris on Stage exhibit, which comes with a free audio tour (there's a special audio guide just for kids, be sure to ask for it) with charming background music that transports you to the halls of the Moulin Rouge. Check out my review of the museum here, along with a great pizza place (escargots as toppings are optional ) nearby for when your gamers get hungry.

Another one of our favorite spots for an authentically French (and kid friendly) bistro meal is the cavernous Café du Monde, with a prime location on the waterfront. The restaurant is located on the second floor of the ferry terminal, but the dark wood and frosted glass decor would have you believing it was the Seine outside and not the St. Lawrence.

Little C&G ordered the incredibly un-French dish of pasta with pesto, but thankfully Big C&G went along with the natives and ordered steak frites. As you would expect, the carte des vins is extraordinaire and they have a long list of delicious French wines by the glass. Be sure to order an extra side of frites, they're so good your kiddos won't want to share.

Quebec City is a short two to three hour flight (and a fraction of the ticket price to Paris) from most major hubs on the East Coast, or a five hour drive from Portland. Tourism dominates this elegant old city, so you'll find English is readily (and happily) spoken if you don't get too far with your high school French. You'll need your passports if you're flying or drivers licenses and birth certificates for the kids if you're driving. Be sure to bring along all those Canadian quarters and pennies you find lying around at the bottom of your purse. They'll buy lots of chocolat chauds to keep you warm as you wander the festive streets. Au revoir and bon voyage!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Tips Tuesday: The Beauty Edition

I am by no means a beauty blogger. So you can be sure that if I'm posting something like this it must involve travel. And easing my trip through airport security.

A friend emailed last week, before starting her holiday travel south, asking me about my love for all things Kiehl's. She noticed the simply designed white bottles sticking out of my new AirQuart bag and was thinking of stopping by a store over the weekend (brave girl!). After going on for probably more paragraphs than she wanted to read, I decided to turn it into a C&G post.

With a lot of packing and unpacking going on over the next few weeks, it's time to streamline the travel bag. As addicted as I am to my French face creams, they aren't very portable. My moisturizer comes in under the 3 oz carry on limit, but I swear there's another 16 oz of frosted glass making it crazy heavy and easily breakable. For traveling I switch over to my favorite little blue apothecary bottle from Kiehl's.

My skin gets really dry this time of year, and I discovered the fabulous Midnight Recovery Concentrate when it came in a salon goody bag a few years ago. It's a super hydrating oil that absorbs right away and you only need a few drops of it for your entire face. Which means it lasts forever, good news because I use it in the morning and at night. The 1 oz bottle takes up no room in my travel bag and I've even used it on the little C&Gs when they've gotten cuts and scrapes.

For a quick weekend away I only need to pack the itsy bitsy bottle, it holds .14 oz and that's enough for two nights. The tiny bottle is the sample size they give away in the store (it's not available online), so be sure to ask for one. Kiehl's is always very generous with their samples and I make sure to pick up a few of the small packets of their award winning Creme de Corps moisturizer, they're the perfect size to bring along on your travels.

Kiehl's Skin Tone Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream also does double duty in my shrinking travel bag. I have absolutely no idea what a BB cream is or does, but I love this lightweight tinted cream which I can use as a foundation and a sunscreen with an SPF of 50.

Both the Midnight Recovery Concentrate and the BB Cream take up very little space in my purse or carry on and solve all sorts of travel related problems. Dry skin, necessary sunscreen, covering up blotchy travel skin, and most important, saving room for all the shopping I'm tempted to do on vacation. Happy packing!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Maine Monday: Shop Local

Royal River Books in Yarmouth, Maine
Remember bookstores? The pleasant surprise of finding something new and interesting on the shelves, maybe because it came with a shop owners recommendation? Or letting the kiddos slow down, grab a seat in a cozy corner and flip through a new picture book?

As fabulous and convenient as it is to get all your holiday shopping done online this Cyber Monday, I wanted to give a shout out to the small and local businesses that make up our communities. I am just about done with my gift buying and it's all thanks to wandering the aisles of our local toy store and local book store, finding great items that I never would have found with the click of my mouse.

Big C&G picked out some books for his Italophile little brother (Geronimo Stilton: A Mystery in Venice being one of them) and snuck them to the register under his unsuspecting nose during a recent trip to our favorite little bookstore, Royal River Books in Yarmouth. Little C&G and I need to return (he's not as sneaky) so he can select something with a few more pages from their older kids fiction section. Their cookbook buyer has a wonderful blog so she definitely knows her stuff, and she's put some fabulous books (Le Pain QuotidianOttolenghi) on their shelves that I need to pick up as gifts for family and friends (and myself of course).

Dwellings in Falmouth, Maine
For the best hostess gifts I always stop by Dwellings in Falmouth and find the most charming things. With a well curated display of objects all around the store and chic accessories for the home (Simon Pierce glassware, Mariposa silver, Voluspa candles just to name a few brands), I never leave empty handed.

Even if you don't live within driving distance of these lovely local places, there are similar small businesses in your neighborhood that will appreciate your visit (and purchases) so much more than any website with a warehouse. It's the creativity and thoughtful selection of gifts that sets the local shops apart and make them worth your visit. Plus you can always head out for a refreshing cocktail afterwards, which is not something you can do while shopping online in your jammies

Maine has always had a very celebrated "buy local" culture, so much so that there is an official and state run website featuring Maine merchants. So even if you're "from away" you can still think local and add a little Maine to your holiday. Happy shopping!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Pass the Cranberries, Please

Cran-raspberry Breeze
Raise your hand if you need a drink on this Black Friday. Well, that would be all of us then, right? Lucky for you I'm posting two cocktails today, because it's just the beginning of the holiday madness and you might as well start it off with your feet up and a cocktail in your hand.

If you didn't get enough cranberry at the Thanksgiving table then these two seasonal cocktails will do the trick. I realized all my drink posts this fall were very heavy on the bourbon and whisky (my personal favorites have been the Autumn Manhattan and the Stormy Scot) so I'm lightening things up (flavor-wise) and dusting off the vodka bottles.

Cranberry vodka is one of the less artificially sweet flavors you'll find in the liquor aisle, which means you need to add in some juice to balance things out. The Cran-raspberry Breeze is similar to a Bay Breeze (vodka, cranberry juice, pineapple juice) but with more alcohol and less juice. Because it's mostly liquor, I'd make this the first drink of the night and then move on something a little lighter, like the Orange Cranberry Fizz. At the end of cocktail hour you'll be totally ready to tackle the Thanksgiving leftovers in your fridge.

Cran-raspberry Breeze
3 oz cranberry vodka
2 oz Chambord
1 oz pineapple juice
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass

Orange Cranberry Fizz
Orange Cranberry Fizz
3 oz cranberry vodka
2 oz Cointreau
1 oz Roses Lime Juice

Add vodka, Cointreau, and Rose's into a highball glass filled with a few ice cubes
Top with seltzer, stir and enjoy

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.
May your tables be filled with the love and laughter
of family and friends, and of course lots of cocktails.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hotel Review: Ashford Castle

As you can imagine, this week is pretty busy. So when Little C&G brought this school project home last week I knew I could "borrow" it to be my first guest post. Freeing up valuable time to do battle with the crowds at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

I've got several posts on Ashford Castle to publish in the future, but for now I'll leave you with a review of this stunning thirteenth century castle as seen through eight year old eyes. He's pretty spot on, and it totally amuses me that he gives a shout out to the bar. That's my boy.

My other favorite part of his "review" is even though the five star Ashford Castle regularly tops several world's best lists (Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure), it only makes it to number two on Little C&Gs list. Find out which hotel can compete with a real castle on this previous post. If it's coming from Little C&G, you can bet it involves Italy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Maine Monday: On the Hunt

It doesn't get any hotter on the cocktail scene in Portland right now than at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. It's been on our list since they opened in September and with their craft cocktails and Scandinavian nibbles, it really is the perfect C&G spot.

Somehow the stars haven't aligned for us (weekends away, babysitters busy, the usual) and we haven't been able to visit and start working our way through their leather-bound cocktail menu. Until last week, when we stopped in with our dear friend and talented graphic designer (as seen on C&G), the newly married Atlantan, Don.

Little C&G was tagging along with us for dinner, and we were in town with quite a bit of time before our dinner reservation. Fate delivered us a parking spot right in front of the Hunt + Alpine club, and Mr. C&G took that as a sign that we could no longer wait to give it a try. I sent the two grown-ups in to investigate the kid-friendly possibilities, and they came back with the waitress' blessing and Little C&G was heartily welcomed inside.

The interior looks like we brought it back from our trip through the Swiss Alps, the pale white room is warmed up with red accents and dark wood. All that's missing are some cows with giant bells around their necks. Pickles, brown breads, and cheese and charcuterie are the highlights of the small menu, and perfect accompaniments for the uniquely crafted cocktails.

The lights were dim and the music loud, and while Little C&G was the only kiddo in there we didn't feel uncomfortable having him with us. We grabbed seats at the long table in the center, and there are industrial chic metals stools along the windows that would make a fun perch for early afternoon cocktails. I'm sure it's much more of a scene after 6:00, and certainly on weekend nights, but at happy hour (4:00 to 6:00) on a random Wednesday it was nice and low key.

If you find yourself in town running errands this holiday season with kids in tow, or you're visiting our lovely city and you're in need of a refreshing cocktail break, don't be intimidated by the chic ski lodge vibe of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. You'll get extra bonus points if your kiddos are wearing flannel, plaid, or a baseball cap. We found that true to Scandinavian form, børn (Danish for children) are welcome at the table.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Moscow Mule

The proper glassware is an important ingredient to any cocktail, and the copper mug is a stylish and sensible way tip back a Moscow Mule. Copper keeps the drink refreshingly chilled for as long as it takes you to reach the bottom.

One local restaurant told us their copper mugs are the most stolen items in the restaurant, and I was given a very stern warning upon ordering one. At $40 a pop to replace I can see how they'd be sure to deliver Moscow Mules to only the most respectable of imbibers.

Gosling's is the ginger beer most associated with the Moscow Mule but I prefer mine a little spicier and a lot less artificially sweet. We're lucky to have the great local brand Maine Root, their ginger brew is sweetened with Fair Trade organic evaporated cane juice and naturally delicious.

Fever Tree is my newest favorite brand of mixers, and their ginger beer is the preferred ingredient for my Moscow Mule. Especially since Mr. C&G recently had a case delivered for my birthday. It's a very clean tasting blend of three different types of ginger, responsibly sourced from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and India. Fever Tree also makes some award winning tonic waters, with none of the artificial and medicinal aftertaste found in the little yellow cans. You can find British exported Fever Tree at Whole Foods (alongside Maine Root) or online at Amazon. Leave it to the Brits to create the perfect T (tonic) to go with the G and the V.

Moscow Mule
2 oz vodka
ginger beer
Fill a glass (or an official copper mug) with ice, pour over the vodka
Fill the rest of the glass with ginger beer
Add a squeeze of lime, stir, and enjoy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The QC Cocktail Quest

Restaurant Simple Snack Sympathique
Finding a spot for cocktails in Quebec City proved to be quite a challenge. Google it and the number one pick on everyones list is the St-Laurent Bar at the Château Frontenac. The old world charm and spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River make it a classic spot for swanky cocktails, but we found out the hard way that it's closed for renovations until early 2014. Which left me with no plan B just hours away from cocktail time on the Saturday of our visit.

We arrived just in time for cocktails on Friday night and the lovely concierge staff at Hotel Le Germain-Dominion directed us around the corner to Simple Snack Sympathique (Restaurant SSS). They're famous for their assorted pâtés and spreads (the little C&Gs are not that adventurous) and their french fries with pulled pork poutine (more palatable). We were seated in the sleek dining room, made cozy by the low ceilings and old stone walls, but we had really been looking for a place with more of a lounge-y kind of feel.

Our concierge told us there aren't many lounge options in town, and we certainly found that to be true. My guess is that with so many old stone buildings converted into various hotels and restaurants space is tight and efficiently used. A few other hotels lined the cobblestone street in front of our hotel, but when we poked our heads in to each one we were disappointed to find no lounge, only sleek leather couches for waiting guests.

Café-Bar Artifact at the Auberge Saint-Antoine
Auberge Saint-Antoine is a trés chic hotel that's perfect for a romantic getaway, and their award winning restaurant Panache serves an innovative (and trés cher) menu. The lower priced and more casual Café-Bar Artifact was on my list but I was worried it wouldn't be kid friendly. But with no other options in the neighborhood on Saturday afternoon, I dragged us all in for a look.

I shouldn't have been so worried, as the cozy Alpine ski lodge vibe was perfect for our late afternoon cocktails. We found four seats at the bar and the friendly bartender invited the boys to pull up a chair. She quizzed them on their juice preferences and then made up the most stylish of concoctions, complete with pineapple frond garnish.

A bit of France north of the border
When the little C&Gs got restless they wandered around the lounge checking out the extensive collection of artifacts found during construction of the hotel. Our charming bartender helped me with my French while mixing up delicious cocktails from the extensive menu. Two separate rooms in the café offered cozy spots to curl up in front of the fireplace and musicians were just setting up before we had to head out to dinner.

We have our fingers crossed that the next time we're up the bar at the Frontenac will be re-opened. But even if it isn't, we found a new favorite spot at the Auberge Saint Antoine. For when we get up enough energy to leave the couches at the Hotel Le Germain-Dominion, of course.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hotel Review: Hotel Le Germain-Dominion

I wish this was my living room
To say that I have dreamt about this hotel for the last twelve years would not be an exaggeration. Mr. C&G and I last stayed at the Hotel Le Germain-Dominion before kids with our BFFs who were 2 months away from having kids. It was a whole lifetime ago but the chic boutique hotel has never been out of my mind.

I have no idea why it took us so long to make the return trip to Quebec City, this time with the kiddos, but a few weeks ago Mr. C&G surprised us with an anniversary weekend away at my favorite hotel. And I'm so happy to report it lived up to and exceeded my highest expectations. As soon as we walked up the stone stairs and into the sleek, dark wood lobby, I knew the Hotel Le Germain-Dominion's fabulousness stood the test of time.

The red pillows didn't fit in the suitcases
The Hotel Le Germain-Dominion is housed in a former warehouse in the heart of Old Quebec, just a few blocks from the waterfront. Super high ceilings let in lots of light and the rooms are very airy and modern. I thought I'd embellished the memory of how comfortable the beds are, but as soon as I plopped down on the Frette sheets I knew I wasn't going to want to leave. And I certainly will not be waiting another twelve years to return.

For such a swanky boutique hotel, it's amazing how family friendly they are. We had help before our arrival with planning kid friendly (but trés chic) restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. The suggestions the concierge sent matched up with the list I had and they were able to recommend who could modify the Quebecois menus to fit the little C&Gs tastes. Definitely valuable insider information in a new city with a unique type of food.

Shhhh. . . Top secret 
They also left the boys a very special treasure map to follow on our weekend, directing them to all the best ice cream parlors in town. It may have been a bit too cold for ice cream, but they really enjoyed tracking down the spots "just in case" they wanted a chilly treat later.

Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate (a Big C&G favorite) are all available anytime in the hotel lobby, along with wines by the glass and a small selection of cocktails. Buttery, flaky croissants are delivered from local favorite Paillard fresh everyday to the breakfast buffet, and I regularly made a mess of crumbs all over the French language newspapers I was pretending to read.

When a cold drizzle cut our sightseeing short we retreated to the comfort of the overstuffed couches and roaring fireplace in the hotel lobby. I sank into a cozy corner with a book while the boys sat at the giant table by the window playing board games. I may have dozed off a few times, that's how comfortable I was, and that was before cocktail hour.

Cozy and elegant spot for a nap
Quebec City really rolls out the sparkling white carpet during the winter and there are a ton of outdoor activities to help you work off the croissants and poutine. Nobody embraces winter quite like the Canadians (maybe the Scandinavians) with ice skating, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing right in the center of the city. Toboggan your way down to Dufferin Terrace in front of the Chateau Frontenac and grab some sweets at the sugar shack.

When your cheeks are pink and your nose is frozen, head back to the cozy warmth of the elegant Hotel Le Germain-Dominion, steam up some hot chocolates, and thaw out your tootsies in front of the fire for the perfect French Canadian getaway.