Friday, March 29, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Remember the Maine

It's Friday, which means I must pause in my Spring Break series to bring you a new cocktail recipe. The USS Maine was a US Navy battleship that sunk in the Havana harbor in 1898. The ingredients of this classic cocktail have nothing to do with Maine or Cuba, instead it's distant cousin of the popular Manhattan.

Remember the Maine, C&G style:
2 oz. Rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
2 tsp. Chambord (Cherry Heering is traditionally used)
1/2 tsp. Absinthe (or substitute any anise type liqueur such as Absente or Pernod)
Stir together in a glass filled with ice
Strain into a martini glass with a Luxardo cherry at the bottom
Cheers & enjoy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Break in Philadelphia, part two

The Bellini Flight at Jones, it's how I brunch
Philly is a very walkable city. It's easy to get around, most sights aren't too far from each other, and thankfully cocktails (and gelato) are never too far away. We found some great bars and award winning restaurants to explore with the kids last spring, and again last December when we were accompanied by the C&G Grandparents.

After a full day (and a miserable lunch) at the Franklin Institute we were ready to make up for it with some phenomenal cocktails. Across from City Hall is the lovely Ritz Carlton hotel, located in a former bank building. Under a beautiful marble dome, the 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge offers the perfect setting for some refreshing cocktails and snacks.

My Eric Ri-Pear (the former chef at 10 Arts) Martini
Their swanky lounge is a welcome sight at the end of a long day of adventures. The cavernous room can be loud, but it's perfect when you've got some overtired kids who might be bouncing off the banquettes just a little.

The lounge is in the lobby of the hotel and there's plenty of people watching and room for the little C&Gs to roam. We ordered some cocktails and snacks from the lounge menu and sat back while the little C&Gs bounced their way from empty couch to empty couch. With so much activity going on they pretty much went unnoticed. And we had a lovely relaxing cocktail hour.

Cocktails with a view from the 19th floor
Just down the street from the Ritz Carlton is the café, bar and restaurant XIX, on the 19th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel. The bar here seems a little more buttoned up, but I've found that hotel bars are generally kid friendly. The couches looked very comfy and I can see how this would be a popular spot after 5:00.

Around 4:00 they were pretty empty so it was fine, but I don't know that we would have gone with the boys any later than that. It was a beautiful spring day so we asked for a table outside on one of the balconies. After ordering drinks and some french fries we sat back and admired the Philly skyline.

The little C&Gs made a fun discovery while we were waiting for the elevator to head back downstairs. The beautiful baroque breakfast room was empty (the balconies & elevators were off this room) and the little C&Gs had fun playing with the acoustics. If you stood on one side of the room and whispered, they could hear it on the other side of the room. Maybe not such a great spot for a power brunch?

Pink lemonade and a purple people eater at Jones
If you'd like to start your day with cocktails and you're headed towards Independence Park, be sure to stop by the retro restaurant Jones. The decor looks like it was smuggled off the set of the Brady Bunch, but their food is always delicious and the cocktail menu extensive. You can custom order your bloody mary (they give you a little notepad and a pen) or order a Bellini tasting flight. Be forewarned, as you can see in the picture above their definition of "tasting" is a little different than most peoples definition of "tasting". But trust me, after we left there and headed to Independence Park, the Liberty Bell never looked so interesting . . . 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Break in Philadelphia, part one

Spring break is on the horizon for many of us. If you're heading someplace warm & beach-y, your cocktails and gelato shouldn't be too hard to track down. But if you're like us and sticking around the East Coast, I've got some great ideas coming up for you.

Philadelphia was our spring break destination last year and again during Christmas vacation this past December. Just over 2 hours from NY (depending on the unpredictable GW Bridge & NJ turnpike traffic) Philly is a city full of history, great restaurants, fun cocktails, fabulous art, and plenty of kid friendly activities to keep everyone happy. 

Reading Terminal Market is centrally located and a great spot to start your day. It's a definite must for sightseeing, and a bonus that you can combine it with breakfast or lunch. The country's oldest indoor farmers market and food hall dates back to the late 1800s, with many stalls still run by the Amish of Lancaster County. We ate breakfast there almost every morning and I don't think we ever got the same thing twice. I still dream about the scrambled eggs and cheese wrapped up in a pretzel. The boys loved walking around checking out the different food stalls, the strange things at the fish counters, and the endless selections of candies, cupcakes, pies and pretzels. There is plenty of seating in the center of the market, and the parade of people walking by will provide lots of entertainment. Or if the weather is good take your food to go and head outdoors to one of the many nearby parks.

The Comcast Experience "Snowman Symphony"
The Comcast Center is another great destination for combining a bit of culture and sightseeing with breakfast or lunch. The tallest building in Philly houses a great food court in the basement, along with the Comcast Experience show on giant LED screens in the lobby. If you walk in and see nothing but paneled wood walls, grab a seat and wait for the show to start. The high definition screens morph into a fabulous music and special effects show (don't tell your kids ahead of time, they'll enjoy being surprised) several times a day.

The Swann Memorial fountain in Logan Square
Di Bruno's Italian market in the basement of the Comcast Center is our favorite spot to grab a quick lunch. They have several locations around Philly (the biggest and best is in Rittenhouse Square) and they're famous for their gourmet food, and cheese and meat departments.

We bought paninis while the boys ordered slices of pizza from the next stall over. The tables are usually filled with office workers grabbing a quick lunch, so if it's too crowded take your stuff to go and head to nearby Logan Square for a picnic next to the Swann Memorial fountain. The Square is across from the Franklin Institute, one of the oldest science museums in the country.

We usually stop by the Comcast Center to have some lunch on our way to the Franklin Institute. I made a totally rookie mistake in December when we were caught in the Franklin at lunchtime (breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market didn't last us as long as I thought) with cranky kids (and adults) and a super long line to get back into the museum. Instead of venturing out, we headed to the museums' Franklin Foodworks cafeteria for some very lousy food. The tables were jam packed with other cranky families and nobody was happy. But it was lunchtime, at a huge museum, during holiday break, so some unhappiness was expected. The better plan would have been to stretch out the morning working our way towards the Franklin Institute, stopping for lunch at the Comcast Center (or the nearby Corner Bakery Café) then heading to the museum.

We rarely spend all day in one museum, but the Franklin Institute had enough to keep the little C&Gs entertained for hours. There are 3 floors of hands on activities, a planetarium running free shows all day, and a giant gift shop filled with science books and toys for all ages. Our post-lunch second wind carried us all through till cocktail hour, so stay tuned for tomorrows post on the kid friendly cocktail bars of Philly.

The Comcast Center is free, as is the Reading Terminal Market. Buy your tickets online for the Franklin Institute to avoid the lines, general admission is $16.50 for adults and $12.50 for kids. Your ticket comes with 1 free planetarium show, IMAX and Franklin Theater shows are extra.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Maine Monday: Petite Jacqueline avec les enfants

"Since we've been sitting down, this is one of the best restaurants in town besides Vignola and Paciarino".

Shocking words to come out of the mouth of Little C&G. A confirmed Italophile, it's high praise coming from him, especially when the restaurant is a French bistro and he hasn't gotten past the charcuterie course yet.

Petite Jacqueline has many admirers besides our very own Little C&G. The James Beard Award nominee (Best New Restaurant semi-finalist, 2012) is packed most nights of the week. We go several times a month for brunch, lunch or dinner and we've always left the kiddos at home. But we decided the bustle and the noise provided the perfect atmosphere to introduce les petites to la cuisine Français. We figured if nothing on the menu appealed to them (escargots, fois gras, poisson, etc.) at least we'd stuff them with some baguettes then stop for a slice of pizza at Bonobo on the way home.

To get the soirée started, we ordered a cheese selection and a charcuterie selection for them to enjoy while we had our French onion soup. The lovely waiter helped us pick out some not too stinky cheeses and not too spicy meats, which they devoured before we could even get a sample.

Charcuterie and cured meats are just a fancy way of saying pepperoni or salami, which is what we told the little C&Gs back before they knew they liked it. It's all in how you sell it to them, and thankfully they haven't questioned us on it since. Plus it keeps them busy (all that bread helps) while we're enjoying our appetizers and cocktails.

French bistro food is slightly more kid friendly than fancy French food, and frites accompany almost everything. Big C&G loves his beef so he cleaned his plate of steak frites. Little C&G doesn't stray too far from his pasta so it was a little more of a challenge with him.

He and I consulted the menu together, talked it over, did some negotiating, and decided we'd share the burger. He's not a meat fan so I was very proud of him for being open to trying something new. The waiter tried to sell him on the risotto as a close cousin of pasta but our resident Italian expert wasn't buying it. Luckily the burger was a hit and somehow they both still had room for dessert.

We had been talking up Petite Jacqueline to the boys for weeks and we were so glad they liked it. They put on their collared shirts and they brought their best behavior and an open mind. I think it helped that we had a backup plan in mind (food-wise) and that it was a loud Saturday night. We were prepared to offer up a trip to Gelato Fiasco afterwards if needed, but they couldn't be tempted away from the Petite Jacqueline dessert menu. Creme brûlée and pots de creme au chocolate were the perfect way to end our night a la Français.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Sydney

We are big fans of Whisky Magazine and Whisky Advocate Magazine here at C&G HQ. I mostly read them for bar and restaurant reviews and travel ideas while Mr. C&G reads them for the news and recipes. And the pictures, of course.

The Whisky Magazine website is a great resource for classic cocktail recipes. The ingredients feature lets you check off what you have in your liquor cabinet and it will give you a bunch of cocktail ideas. Always helpful at the end of the week (like a Friday) when you're feeling unable to make a decision. Here's a new favorite to try, so chill your martini glass, stir it up, and enjoy!

The C&G Sydney:
2 oz Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
Dash Orange bitters
Dash Yellow Chartreuse
Stir together with ice and strain into a glass
Serve with a twist of lemon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Art History Mystery, Solved?

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Courtyard
Twenty three years ago, on the night of March 19th, two thieves disguised themselves as Boston Police officers and entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

After convincing the guards on duty that they were responding to a call, the thieves tricked them into leaving their posts and lured them away from the only alarm button.

The guards ended up handcuffed in the basement while the thieves went to work removing 13 priceless works of art. They were in the museum for only 81 minutes when they walked out the doors and disappeared into history.

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)
None of the artwork has ever been found, and the identities of the thieves has eluded detectives for the past twenty three years. But on Monday federal investigators announced they'd solved the mystery, and had an excellent article about the search and hope for recovery of the stolen art.

We took the little C&Gs to the Gardner Museum in December, and nothing captures their attention more than a good mystery and a little intrigue. The dark and dusty halls are the perfect setting for their imaginations to run wild with the possibilities of whodunit and how.

You can download the story of the theft from the museum's website (download the Images and Press Kit: Theft) and share the images and details with your kiddos. Next time you bring them to the museum, tell them about the $5 million reward and watch them turn into art history mystery detectives. That would buy a lot of Legos. . . Happy sleuthing!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Maine Monday: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Mother Nature may be about to dump a foot of snow on us tomorrow, but I'm ignoring her and looking forward to spring. In just a few short weeks (or months, it seems) we'll be out enjoying the colors of spring while stomping around in our mud boots.

One of our favorite places to explore is the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Located in Boothbay, Maine on 250 beautiful acres, the Botanical Garden is a stunning place to bring the kids for a day of adventure and exploration. Boothbay is only an hour north of Portland, and the Botanical Garden is open year round. Admission is free from November through March, otherwise it's $14 for adults, $6 for children, and under 3 they're free. We bought a family membership ($90) after our third visit and wished we'd joined the first time. . .  Membership also gets you reciprocal admission to over 300 gardens throughout the US and Canada, which makes it a great deal if you travel.

Sometimes we'll break up the drive with a lunch stop at Lion's Pride in Brunswick. This British pub has gourmet pub food (not the greasy fried kind), hundreds of unusual beers on tap, and a great kids menu. If you're just looking for a snack (and you follow the rules of C&G travel), stop at Gelato Fiasco on Maine Street in Brunswick for a little sugar boost before you head up the coast to the Botanical Gardens.

The best thing about the Botanical Gardens is that it looks different every time we go. The plantings and flowers change right along with the seasons. And with lots of wide open spaces the boys never run out of trails to take. We pick up a map at the main desk and let them direct us along. There is a lovely cafe if you need to pick up a snack or want to eat lunch on the outdoor patio. Be sure to bring along some water bottles, as all that running around works up quite a thirst.

In the children's garden you will find a vegetable garden to walk through, a playhouse with toys and books, a water pumping station (always a hit, no matter what the temperature), and a beautiful rainbow garden with flowers across the whole color spectrum. A labyrinth encourages them to slow down and follow the path, while you can sit on the nearby porch swings under a shaded trellis. Or let them loose in the treehouse and watch them traverse the rope high off the ground.

A walk down to the water will bring you to the meditation garden, filled with giant granite rocks quarried from around Maine. It's very peaceful, and even the little C&Gs will stop for a bit and take in the silence. After about 5 minutes they're ready to follow the waterfront path through the woods to the fairy village. This is always a big hit and they'll spend as long as we let them scavenging natural materials to build a few fairy houses. Along the way are plenty of rocks, stumps, and trees to jump over or climb on.

If all this activity gets too exhausting, a golf cart shuttle will stop along several points in the gardens to give you a lift back to the main house. We leave it up to the boys to find out where we are on the map and where the shuttle stop is if they're too tired to walk. Back around the main house you'll find the kitchen garden, filled with every kind of herb. There's also a five senses garden with a pebbled labyrinth to follow in your bare feet, a waterfall and tall grasses that whisper in the breeze, edible lettuces, and colorful flowers and plants to see and smell. It's a nice way to wind down the day before hopping in the car.

If you time things right, you'll be back in Brunswick around cocktail/dinner time and you can stop by my favorite funky Mexican place, El Camino, for tasty margaritas and chips and guacamole. The menu has lots of innovative dishes, made with fresh local produce, meats and seafood. The choices might be a little too creative for the kiddos, but they're always happy to make up some cheese quesadillas.

And don't forget to make a detour down Maine Street for some more Gelato Fiasco. There's nothing wrong with gelato twice a day. . .

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Motoring in Munich, part zwei

The stunning architecture of BMW Welt
(zwei is two, in German)
Now to the good stuff. After refueling at the BMW Museum M1 Cafe with some espresso and ice cream, we finally headed to BMW Welt to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out all the latest and greatest from BMW. And to spend more money in the gift shop (in case the Museum gift shop wasn't enough).

The main floor lobby is dazzling, with soon to be launched cars for you to check out, a luxurious Rolls Royce turning slowly on a pedestal (while attendants lovingly polish off your messy handprints), and comfy white leather couches for you to relax on. Construction was just getting underway for the Mini Cooper exhibit, so I can only imagine all the kid friendly things they've come up with to go with the fun Mini brand.

BMW Welt interior, publicity photo
All throughout the day there are demonstrations with sports cars, motorcycles, or vintage cars vrooming their way across the main floor. You won't want to miss the motorcycle stuntman making his way up and down the two steep staircases leading to the second floor. And wherever you are, it's impossible to miss the roaring engine of the powerful BMW M3 GT4 racing car as it circles the lobby.

The Junior Campus, also on the first floor, offers a play space and all levels of educational programs for kids. We were already overwhelmed with so many things to do that we skipped it. If you're interested in the Junior Campus, register as soon as you get there in the morning, as the English workshops are limited. Registration and schedules are at the information desk in the center of the lobby near the elevators.

We signed up to take a guided tour of the building, and I would highly recommend doing this, especially with the kids. We learned so much about the award winning architecture, and the guide pointed out lots of hidden details we would have missed. We got to go behind the scenes and take a peek inside the massive garage where soon to be delivered cars are stored. The highlight for the little C&Gs was watching a robotic arm retrieve the cars from their slot and putting them onto a conveyer belt. Kind of like a grown up version of the Fisher Price garage. Topics & sights vary on the different tours, so check with the information desk when you first arrive at BWM Welt.

Factory tours are also possible with a little online planning. There are limited English tours, so be sure to email them up to six months in advance. The boys would have loved this, kind of like a Discovery Channel show come to life, but we weren't able to do it. The plant was closed for it's annual two week vacation, which they do every year in early August. All four of us C&Gs were pretty disappointed but I plan on using it as an excuse to plan a return trip to Munich.

If you have any interest in test driving your favorite BMW, there is a registration desk in the lobby where you can do just that for a small fee. When we were there, a few new cars were available that hadn't come out in the US yet. It would have been fun to get behind the wheel of the new X1 SAV before it arrived on our shores, or maybe one of the small sports cars. But we needed to save our Euros for more mini cars from the gift shop.

Motorcycles aren't our thing, although I think the boys might disagree. Outside the building and inside on the second floor there were plenty of motorcycles on display for climbing on and "test driving". Little C&G couldn't resist jumping on and pretending he was making a break for it, with his big brother along for the ride. They would have happily hopped from bike to bike for hours (vroom is the same in German as it is in English), but we were starting to lose steam and it was time to head to the main floor gift shop.

If you need a set of luggage, golf clubs, sailing attire, workout gear, baby clothes, umbrellas, hats, or just a pen, you'll find it in the gift shop with a BMW logo attached. Thankfully we made it out without any of these, but a dozen of the little mini Isetta cars did come home with us. A full selection of BMW history and design books can be found in the second floor gift shop and at the Museum gift shop. The second floor is also where you'll find the elegant restaurant and lounge. We didn't try it, but I certainly would have been happy relaxing with a glass of wine while overlooking all the action down below.

Entrance to BMW Welt is free (cars are extra), and the building is open daily from 7:30am to midnight. A small grab and go food counter offers up drinks and light snacks in the main lobby, and bathrooms are downstairs on the lower level. Spending the day in one spot was a nice break from touring around the city of Munich, and there was plenty to keep us all interested. We even found cocktails. And of course ice cream, which is the next best thing to gelato.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Tuaca Tulip

Last weekend we noticed supplies were running dangerously low. As in empty wine fridge low. Vodka and no tonic, Manhattans without the vermouth. It was desperate times around here at C&G HQ.

Lucky for us in Maine you can buy your booze right alongside your bread at the local grocery store. We have some strange importing laws (the price for that purchasing freedom) so most places carry all the same ordinary wines. Bow Street Market in Freeport has a very knowledgable wine buyer, so when we're looking for variety (and large quantities) that's where we'll head to re-stock.

You'll notice in the picture above that the chubby round bottle of Chambord Vodka made it home with us. We're hard at work trying to recreate the Parisian Cosmo but we haven't found the right balance yet. There was a little too much cheek puckering with the last batch, and there's only so many you can sample before they all start to taste awesome. So it's still a work in progress.

A new addition to our newly re-stocked bar is the Italian liquor Tuaca. Sounds like something you drank on spring break in Mexico, right? Wrong, it's a vanilla citrus liquor originally produced in Livorno, Italy that's now made in Kentucky. We saw it on a cocktail menu recently and weren't quite adventurous enough to try it. But with the bottle buying frenzy, we loaded it into our cart.

Tuaca has a very nice vanilla taste, not too sweet and would make a good companion to any bourbon drink. I'm not a big fan of bourbon so Mr. C&G went onto their website to track down some ideas. He found the unfortunately named "TUACA Body Art", which just based on the name had no appeal to me. But the ingredients sounded good and we have a bottle of Lillet we just don't know what to do with (I think you need to be a full blooded Frenchman to appreciate Lillet), so I was game to try.

My new drink was pretty tasty, the vanilla and citrus cut the bitterness of the Lillet, and the Chambord and strawberries gave it a nice color and added in some sweetness. I had to give it a new name, so because of the pretty pink color and the blades of grass poking up through the snow, I came up with the Tuaca Tulip. Sounds pretty girly, I know. But chances are if you're buying it and you're male, you'll mix it into your favorite bourbon, whisky, or rye. And that's a post for another day.

Tuaca Tulip:
1 1/2 oz TUACA
1 1/2 oz Lillet Blonde
1/2oz Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur (regular Chambord, not the vodka)
2 strawberries (Mr. C&G muddled one in the bottom and used the other for the garnish)
Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake, pour into a martini glass and add a dash of Chambord on the top. Garnish with a strawberry & enjoy!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Gelato du jour: Gelato Fiasco

You can tell it's been a cold winter in Maine by the lack of gelato posts here at C&G. Most of the year we can be found several times a week at one of the branches of our local favorite, Gelato Fiasco. But even their discounted prices (1% off for every degree below freezing) couldn't lure us in this winter. However the temps have been climbing, the sun has been shining, and we recently returned to resume racking up more "red spoon society" points.

Portland has an unusually high number of ice cream and gelato places. Understandable for a tourist town, and even in the dead of winter people seem to want their frozen treats. We're lucky to have two very good gelato places across from each other. Gorgeous Gelato is the more authentic style of the two, run by a native Italian. Their flavors are the closest to what we've had in Italy (trust me, MUCH research has been done on this), and not as sweet. Americans certainly like their sugar, so when we got back from Italy this past summer it took a few days to get used to again. Mr C&G and I really like Gorgeous Gelato for their affogato (Lavazza espresso poured over gelato, like an Italian coffee milkshake) but the boys like their sugar so we head across the street to Gelato Fiasco.

Breakfast in Brunswick special flavors last December
Gelato Fiasco is the hands down winner for the C&G family. They have the oddest flavor combinations, plus a little window in the back where the boys can watch the gelato being made. The standards are all there, pistachio, straciatella, caramel sea salt, but they also get really creative and put "black and pink peppercorn" on the menu. Chocolate covered tangerine and Maine cookies and milk are some other fun flavors you can find, and the selection changes daily.

The best thing about Gelato Fiasco (other than the gelato of course) is you can sample as many flavors as you want and the staff is so truly friendly they're happy to oblige. The other super cool thing about them is they'll squeeze as many flavors as you want into whatever size bowl you pick. So none of that difficult decision making . . .

Mr. C&G's fave is the Portland special "Sweet Resurgam", celebrating the fact that Portland burned to the ground several times before smartening up and using bricks instead of wood to rebuild. Resurgam is the city motto meaning "I shall rise again", but the gelato is burnt sugar, roasted almond gelato with swirls of salted caramel and chocolate chips. Brilliant, and it's delicious!

Gelato Fiasco posts their flavors daily on their web page for both their Brunswick and their Portland stores. Or you can do like Mr. C&G does and have them email it straight to your inbox. I always know something is up when he makes an excuse to go into town after we've picked up the boys from the bus!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Motoring in Munich

The "Double Cone" Tower and museum
Are fast cars your thing? Super cool luxury vehicles? Vintage wheels? Lucky you if you happen to be in Munich, home to Bavarian Motor Works (aka BMW). Munich was the first stop on our Summer 2012 adventure and we were all very excited to check out BMW HQ.

They have a phenomenal museum on the campus of their world headquarters, known as BMW Welt (Welt being the German word for world), and we set out on our second day to see their collection of rare cars. With so many things to see and do, we quickly realized we weren't going to make it out into the nearby Olympic Park after lunch. We were happy to spend the entire day wandering around, immersed in everything BMW. Fortunately all four of us C&Gs are car fanatics (hello, Top Gear!) so not once did anybody utter the words "Can we go now?".

BMW Dixi, 1927
You can't miss the beautiful and futuristic buildings that make up the campus as you come out of the S-Bahn (metro/subway stop at Olympia Zentrum). We knew we wanted to do the museum first thing, to get a better understanding of how an airplane engine manufacturer (look at the logo, doesn't it look like a propeller?) evolved into the creator of the "Ultimate Driving Machine".

Construction on the BMW Welt building started in 2003, and in 2007 this gorgeous exhibition space was opened to the public. Inside you can admire all the latest that BMW has to offer, watch the motorcyclist make his way up the steep staircase in a daily stunt show, shop the largest collection of BMW branded items, grab a quick bite, or sit back and relax in the more formal restaurant overlooking all the action. And if you're really lucky it's where you can take ownership of your newly ordered BMW, with reservations made months in advance, of course.

The best approach to the museum is through the award winning BMW Welt building, across a sweeping pedestrian bridge, and over to the "double cone" that contains the museum & various BMW offices. So walk through the main building with blinders on, there will be plenty of cool things to check out after you've learned a little history. And had a cocktail in the stylish M1 Cafe.

Look at that work of art!
The museum showcases cars from BMW's 90 plus years of history. It's hard to pick a favorite from this iconic brand, but the sleek lines of the roadsters get me every time. That and the room filled with every iteration of the award winning 3 series was the best. The shiny cherry red convertible circa 1986 was at the top of my sweet 16 wish list way back when. So as I stood in front of my dream car in the museum, I was trying to figure out how to say "It's mine! A belated birthday present" in German in case the security guy saw me trying to make a quick getaway.

Big C&G was very into the racing cars and roadsters as well. But he was also fascinated with all the technology, which is nicely explained on the displays in German and English throughout the galleries. One room had a full size clay model to show how they work out the various design challenges. Interactive kiosks helped explain the many challenges, from wind resistance to interior sound design.

Just the right size for Little C&G, BMW Isetta 1955
While Big C&G was learning about the technology of car design, Little C&G found his perfect match. We all fell in love with the adorable Isetta, the bubble car built for two from 1955. Originally made by an Italian company that manufactured refrigerators, BMW took the idea, upgraded the engine, and made its own version. Sadly they stopped production after only 7 years, but it's very interesting to see that the idea of smaller cars is not something new. The boys remarked it must have been the first Smart Car. They loved the Isetta so much we almost bought out the gift shop supply of little Isettas. Perfect souvenirs for the various cousins. And the perfect sized play toys for the little C&Gs for the rest of our trip.

Ice cream under the Cone
It was very hard work admiring the finest collection of BMWs in the world, so we desperately needed some lunch not too far away. The Euro-chic M1 Cafe is on the first floor of the museum overlooking the campus with a view of the Olympic Park off in the distance. We got to relax with a refreshing glass of rosé and some paninis while the boys were thrilled with the kid friendly hot dogs on the menu. As it was only our second day in Germany we weren't sure what they'd end up with. But they were super happy to be served a bowl with two long skinny hot dogs floating in a bowl of water. In the land of wursts we figured there would be all kinds of hot dogs in their future and they were happy to try anything. After some espresso and a trip out to the patio for some ice cream we were ready to head towards BMW Welt.

The BMW Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00am to 6:00pm. Admission for adults is 9 Euros, 6 Euros for children, and 18 Euros for a family ticket of up to 5 people.

Stay tuned for part two of Motoring in Munich, the Welt experience!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Computers in Cambridge

The Ray and Maria Stata Center, Cambridge MA
Is that Barcelona on the left? Los Angeles? An art museum? Concert hall? Not quite. If you're a student at MIT in Cambridge, MA, then this Frank Gehry designed building is where you'll find yourself most days of the week taking classes and doing your lab work. It also doubles as a fabulous concrete playground, as Big C&G and Little C&G will tell you. Just look at all those stairs!

Cambridge is home to two top universities, one of which we have explored extensively over the years. Harvard Square has some excellent restaurants, shops, museums, and plenty of things to share in a future post. But we'd never ventured over to the MIT side of things until recently.

Our plan was to visit the MIT Museum, which as you'd expect is full of robotics, technology and science. Little C&G was bordering on too young for this museum, but at age 7 the robotics exhibits kept his interest for a surprisingly long time. Big C&G (10) is just the right age for the MIT Museum and older kids will get a lot more out of a visit. There is no art here, but there were some holographic works hanging on the wall in one of the smaller galleries that were very cool.

The highlight of the collection is Kismet, a product of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He's a robot built to look like a stuffed animal, and he can interact with people (and kids) in a very human way. There is a wonderful video in the exhibit from a Scientific American Frontiers episode with Alan Alda talking to the creator about developing social robots that the boys sat all the way through. Big C&G was fascinated, but I kept trying to get the picture of freaky Gremlins out of my head.

Another interesting exhibit in the museum is the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson. There aren't a lot of hands on activities for the kids here, so it was nice to see this last room in the museum. A few of the sculptures are interactive so the kids can start off the chain reaction or wheel a cart around the room to watch the gears turn. After that it was a quick trip to the very tiny but well stocked gift shop. They have lots of fun toys with science and technology themes, most of which we've seen in one of our favorite catalogs, Think Geek. Somehow we managed to pull them out of there without making a purchase.

It was a tough choice for lunch in that neighborhood, but only because there were two very cool C&G type places to try a block apart. We went with Area Four, just because the boys wanted pizza. Next time we'll have to overrule them and head to Catalyst. They had a fabulous looking lounge area, with a futuristic fireplace (probably the work of some talented MIT engineers) and a great local and organic menu.

Area Four is a very industrial-chic coffee house/bakery in front and a bar/wood oven pizza place in back. We grabbed seats at the high top community table in the back while the little C&G's went to inspect the baked goods. Somehow a giant sticky bun found it's way back to our table. . .

While the boys worked their way through the frosting we had to order something to drink (C&G rules, after all). The bar menu has some creative cocktails, an extensive list of New England beers, and a large selection of wines available on tap by the glass or carafe. Mr. C&G had an Italian Babysitter (not quite what you're thinking, but a mixture of Old Overholt Rye, Luxardo Amaro, Cocchi Barolo, St. Germain and a dash of Fernet), and I had a glass of bubbly Prosecco.

Area Four is also known for their local, sustainable, and organic fresh ingredients. The pizzas were delicious, very thin crust and hot out of the wood oven. The male C&G's ordered pizzas and I ordered the mac & cheese with a croissant topping, which was just as amazing as it sounds. If I was going to school there I would totally plant myself on a stool in the back and work my way through the brunch, lunch, and dinner menu. Everything looked and smelled amazing. And how hard could the workload be at MIT anyway?

A little research tells me Area Four has outdoor seating in season and that they're starting a food truck, both of which will have to be on our list as soon as the weather warms up. After we've given Catalyst and their chic fireplace a try.

The MIT Museum and the restaurants are a short walk from the Red Line Kendall/MIT station. We had our car and it was Sunday so there was plenty of parking. The museum is free until noon on Sundays, and $8.50/adults or $4.00/students & kids otherwise. The buildings around MIT have plenty of squares and small green spaces for the kids to run around, and don't forget to explore the futuristic Stata Center.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Russian Meteor

It's cocktail time here Chez C&G. After a very long back-from-vacation week filled with miserable weather, we need a drink. This is my Russian version of a Dark & Stormy. In reality it's called a Moscow Mule but I think dark & stormy sounds so much better. Substituting vanilla vodka for the regular vodka adds in some sweetness and balances out the spiciness of the ginger beer.

With the addition of the vanilla vodka we needed a new name for it. Little C&G was obsessed with the Russian meteor that fell a couple of weeks ago and wouldn't stop talking about it. So our cocktail hour conversation centered around meteors versus asteroids, and my nameless cocktail took on a new identity.

The C&G Russian Meteor:
2 oz Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Fill glass with Ginger Beer & ice
Squeeze of lime
Stir & enjoy!