Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Orange Creamsicle

This delicious cocktail tastes exactly like an orange creamsicle. Which makes it a perfect drink for the hot summer nights ahead. I had been looking forward to a French Breeze, the orange vodka based cocktail sent by Grandma C&G, but the only ingredient we had on hand was Aperol. So plan B had to be something orangey, but I wasn't in the mood for fruity.

Mr. C&G set to work doing his thing with the ice and the shaker and all the bottles in the bar. But I stopped him at the fridge with my no fruit juice request. One would think I'd know better than to interrupt the maestro when he's at work. He handed over my drink and the first thing I said was "it's not orangey enough". So after a good eye roll he headed for the fridge, added in a splash of oj (instant orange flavor), and handed it over. Lesson learned, Mr. C&G is a professional, and it was absolute perfection. Cheers!

Orange Creamsicle
2 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Tuaca
splash of OJ
Combine everything in a martini shaker filled with ice
Shake it up and strain it into a glass over ice

Friday, June 28, 2013

Escape to Montreal, la deuxième partie

Cocktail Friday will have to wait till tomorrow. It's been a very busy week and there's been little cocktailing going on around here. But I have a recipe Grandma C&G emailed to me that I need Mr. C&G to try out so I'll have that for you tomorrow.

On our last trip to Montreal we weren't able to visit two of our favorite places, the Biodôme and the Insectarium in the Olympic Park. A civic workers strike closed the complex for six months during prime tourist season, March until December, in 2010. Some renovations were made during the break and they reopened with updated exhibits and new baby penguins (I guess it was a very productive strike). This past April a brand new Planetarium opened in Olympic Park and it's at the top of Little C&Gs must see list.

The Biodôme contains four ecosystems all under one roof. The tropical rainforest is very cool to see in this northern city, while the maple forest and the gulf of St. Lawrence look a little more like home for us Mainers. The sub-polar ecosystem is home to everybody's favorite animals, the popular penguins. On our last visit to the Biodôme Little C&G was still in a stroller and promptly fell asleep as soon as we paid our fare and crossed into the tropical rainforest. Not even the screeching monkeys or the high humidity of the rainforest could wake him.

The new Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is next to the Biodôme, and with it's futuristic design you won't miss it. Exhibits explore our search for life out in the universe, along with two different planetarium shows in their state of the art theater.

A fifteen minute walk across the park will bring you to the Insectarium, North America's largest insect museum (yuck). With over 160,000 different specimens of creepy crawly things it would be a huge hit with the little C&Gs. I, however, would definitely sit that one out. I'd happily wait for them in the "Buzzground" playground or the nearest cocktail bar.

Also nearby is the beautiful Botanical Gardens, with plenty of blooms to check out indoors and out. This summer the Gardens are hosting outdoor sculptures made entirely of various plants and flowers.

The Olympic Park area is very easy to get to on the Metro, Station Pie-IX and Station Viau are on either side of the park. If animals, bugs, and botanicals aren't your thing there are plenty of other activities to check out in the Olympic Park. You won't miss the giant tower complex, which you can ride up for a panoramic view of Montreal and the St. Lawrence valley. Or to take a swim in the sports center, check out their schedule online. I'll get to the great food and cocktails of this chic city in my next Montreal post, so stay tuned.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Escape to Montreal, la premiére partie

Montreal Museum of Archaeology & History
It's been a while since we've been to my favorite city north of the border, but I have some friends who are looking for a little travel inspiration and Montreal is an easy getaway. Just five hours by car from Portland or less than an hour and a half by air from either New York or Boston and you're in one of the most cosmopolitan and family friendly cities in North America. You'll feel like you've crossed the ocean and landed in Paris, without the jet lag, the hefty airfare, or the poor dollar to euro exchange rate.

We started our visit (after amazing croissants and coffee, more on that later) in Old Montreal at the birthplace of Montreal, literally. The Pointe-à-Callière is the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History and sits on the spot where a mass was held to celebrate the founding of Montreal in 1642. Archaeologists in the 1980's uncovered thousands of artifacts and evidence of early settlements, and the museum opened to the public in 1992. A quick multimedia movie gives you an introduction to the history of the city, and then you head underground to check out the stone tunnels and see what life was like over the centuries. In the Archaeo-adventure workshop your kids can play Indiana Jones and dig and sift their way through a replica dig site, crystal skulls or holy grails not included.

Jardin Nelson, Vieux Montréal
After the Archaeology Museum it's good to take a walk above ground and search out some lunch before heading to the Museum of Science. One of our favorite lunch spots is Jardin Nelson, with a beautiful outdoor garden surrounded by stone walls dating from the 1800s. The boys love the empty windows and the missing roof. In good weather be sure to wait for a garden table, you'll eat under a canopy of clouds and blue sky or if the weather is iffy they'll put up the gigantic umbrellas. The food isn't as good as the view, but it's fun to eat inside the shell of an old building and when they have a jazz band playing I can't think of a better way to spend an hour or two.

The Montreal Science Center takes up an entire pier on the waterfront in Montreal, just down the street from Jardin Nelson. It's a cavernous hands on museum, with tons of activities for kids of every age. Every exhibit is in English & French, and there's an IMAX theater if you need to get off your feet for a while. This summer the special exhibit is on sharks, which I'm sure the little C&Gs would love. I'd have to sit that one out, as I never quite recovered from seeing the movie Jaws as a kid.

Pedestrian friendly Place Jacques-Cartier
Old Montreal is a lovely maze of narrow streets and bumpy cobblestones, with tourist trap shops spilling out onto the sidewalks and chic art galleries and boutiques perfect for window shopping. When you're ready for a cocktail check out the beautiful atrium bar of the Hotel Nelligan or their outdoor rooftop terrace with stunning views, just a five minute walk from the science museum. Hotel bars are a great place to unwind and they're almost always kid friendly. Order up some pretzels, charcuterie, and cheeses and sit back and enjoy the gorgeous views over the city. The people watching isn't too bad either.

If you travel by air, the entire family will need passports, but if you're driving the adults need passports and kids can get away with a birth certificate. There's lots more to enjoy in this chic city to our north, so stay tuned for my next Montreal post.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Maine Monday: Hike up Bradbury

Shocking as I'm sure this may seem, I am not a nature girl. I'm never going to go camping (voluntarily), or plan a cross country trip in a Winnebago. I'm not a fan of hiking, kayaking, or anything else that features prominently in the L.L. Bean catalogs. But we live in Maine and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to our state to do just those things. So once in a while I'll put away my city girl sensibilities and head for the trails. But only when Mr. C&G insists we need to get the boys legs ready to tackle the streets and cobblestones of various European cities.

Not far from the outlet mecca of Freeport is Bradbury Mountain State Park. It's a quick ten minute drive to this family friendly hiking spot of gently sloping trails with a rewarding view at the top. There are over 20 trails to choose from of varying difficulties, and a small playground, picnic tables, and bathrooms at the base. If you're up for a picnic, pick up supplies on your way from Old World Gourmet on Route 1 in Freeport, across from the Big Indian. They have plenty of options for the kiddos, with pizza by the slice or build your own sandwiches or paninis. They also have the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, and that's all the motivation I need to lace up my hiking shoes.

The little C&Gs like the easy one mile Northern Loop Trail with a mostly straight shot to the top. A few smaller trails branch off of the main Northern Loop if you need to add a little adventure to your hike. The boys are in charge of keeping us on the right trail so they can practice their navigation skills. Everything is very well marked with slashes of paint on the trees to keep you going in the right direction and you can't really get lost.

At the summit there are plenty of flat granite rocks to scramble over and some shady spots to relax and snack on some treats. If their enthusiasm starts to wane on the adventure, Ben & Jerry's is just a short ten minute drive back into Freeport. Ice cream (in place of gelato) always works as some extra motivation for getting up and back down the mountain.

Bradbury Mountain State Park is at 528 Hallowell Road in Pownal, Maine. Trails are open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horse back riders. Park fees are $3 each for Maine residents 12 and up, $1 for Maine kids ages 5-11. If you're visiting from out of state it's $4.50 for adults and $1.50 for kids. Shopping in nearby Freeport is extra.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cocktail du Jour: Unusual Negroni

This libation comes straight from the Hendrick's Gin website. Mr. C&G is a huge fan of the Negroni (gin, vermouth, Campari), but was looking for a way to change it up a bit. He saw a Hendrick's Negroni on a cocktail menu recently and decided to give it a try at home. We've still got a bottle of Lillet gathering dust in the wine fridge, and we just bought a new bottle of Aperol (I love my Aperol spritz cocktails). After a quick internet search he found the Unusual Negroni and this refreshing gin drink is perfect for toasting the official start of summer.

Cheers to the start of summer!

Unusual Negroni
1 part Hendrick's Gin
1 part Lillet Blanc
1 part Aperol
orange twist

Combine ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice
Shake it up and serve up (or over a ball of ice, one of Mr. C&Gs new bar toys)
Garnish with a twist of orange peel

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lunch à la Suisse

Salami on a pretzel, genius!
Someone asked me the other day with all our travels, where would I choose to move to. My first reaction is always "Paris!!", but the practical part of me likes to think Switzerland would be an ideal place to raise a family. It's got all the stylish appeal of France, with none of the instability that plagues the government and economy of Là République.

Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, their population is highly educated, and I'm envious of their fluency in three (or more) languages. Plus they make chocolate and everything runs on time. Sounds ideal to me. Mr. C&G likes to point out that if I'm not a fan of Maine winters I won't fare much better in Switzerland, but I prefer to ignore those pesky details.

One of the best lunches the little C&Gs had on our trip last summer was in the Swiss city of Lucerne. We stopped in the picturesque lakefront city on our way to Zurich from the Swiss Alps for just a few hours, but we easily could have spent a few days exploring the beautiful city. Lucerne is set along the sparkling blue shores of the Reuss River and Lake Lucerne, with narrow streets and charming squares that fan out from the waterfront.

The little C&Gs still talk about the delicious gourmet pretzel sandwiches we had at the waterfront restaurant Rathaus Brauerei which we found thanks to my trusty travel companion Rick Steves. We grabbed a riverside table at the height of lunch hour and enjoyed the scenic views of the snow capped Alps in the distance and Europe's oldest wooden bridge just a few feet away. Both boys gobbled up their salami and cheese on a pretzel in no time and happily would have ordered another if they weren't saving room for gelato at one of the many stands along the water.

All that Swiss daydreaming reminded me about the boys love of lunch on a pretzel. Just one week into summer vacation and already they're complaining about the lack of lunchtime options around C&G HQ. I'm sure they complained all throughout the school year when they unpacked their lunchboxes, but at least then I wasn't within earshot.

I'm thinking I might need to take inspiration from the smart and efficient Swiss and throw a few pretzel sandwiches into the mix. It's a brilliant idea and sure to entice them into eating more than a few bites before heading off to the next activity. But if it doesn't work, I always have some Scandinavian ideas to try. Although I'm not sure I'll find reindeer at my local grocery store.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dining at the Other C.I.A.

Want to have lunch with the next generation of award winning chefs? Next time you're passing through the Hudson Valley stop by the other C.I.A., the Culinary Institute of America.

Overlooking the beautiful Hudson River in Hyde Park, NY, the C.I.A. is the world's top culinary college. Students come from a variety of backgrounds to study at this elite school, with famous alums like Anthony Bourdain (can you imagine him as a student?), Grant Achatz (of Chicago's Alinea fame), and everybodys favorite cake maker Duff Goldman.

We learned that the average student is 27 years old, and you must have at least six months of non fast food restaurant experience before you can apply. After completing the 21 month program (for the associates degrees), graduates are ready to enter the culinary profession at the top of their game. While at the C.I.A. they must work at every aspect of running a successful restaurant. Your waiter this week could be doing dishes or baking up fruit tarts for the fancy Bocuse French restaurant next week.

We happened to be driving through around lunchtime and without reservations our two options were the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe or the casual Al Forno Dining Room in a replica Italian villa. As you know Little C&G, I'm sure you can guess where we ended up.

The Al Forno Dining Room is tucked into a side room of the beautiful Caterina de Medici restaurant, in the Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine. Long farmhouse tables take up most of the space, along with seats at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Students and their teachers are hard at work behind the scenes, mixing salads, tossing up pizza dough, and maintaining the flow in and out of the kitchen. There's plenty of action to keep the kiddos busy while they wait for their super thin crust brick oven pizzas. With an impressive cocktail and wine list, we could have happily stayed there all day, but the little C&Gs were anxious to check out the rest of the campus.

Our waiter told us we had to head over to the main building for the decadent desserts at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. He said the smells that fill the hallway are intoxicating, and when they're baking chocolate chip cookies the line wraps down the hallway. Besides cookies and pastries, they also serve up soups, salads, and sandwiches for a light casual lunch.

After our sweet treats we wandered the halls of the main building, checking out the classrooms full of students in action. Classrooms being full working kitchens of course. Each themed class meets all day, with a short break where you eat your project for lunch. The boys thought they were the best classes ever, and Little C&G went off searching for Pasta 101.

Reservations must be made in advance for the three main restaurants, and the American Bounty restaurant and the Ristorante Caterina de' Medici would be best with well behaved (and collared shirted) kids. American Bounty showcases regional cuisine, with many ingredients coming from the Hudson River valley. Classics at the Caterina de' Medici transport you to the Italian countryside for the afternoon, and I'm sure they'd be happy to shrink an order of orecchiette down to kid size.  The Bocuse Restaurant is a chic classic French restaurant with traditional dishes and seems too elegant for family dining, but be sure to poke your heads in to check out the glass wall separating diners from the kitchen. Also be sure to save some room for those delicious cookies. The boys were very impressed by our visit to the C.I.A. and said the students all deserved straight A's.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Maine Monday: Time to Smell the Daisies

Congratulations to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay Harbor for being named top public garden in the US, according to Trip Advisor! We certainly agree that the 250 acres on Maine's beautiful coast are a must see this summer for locals and visitors alike. I reviewed the gardens way back in March, right before Mother Nature dumped three feet of snow on us and it seemed like we'd never see green grass again. But the blooms are back and it's on our list to visit this week.

Both of the little C&Gs love exploring the gardens, there's plenty of open green spaces for them to run around and lots of trails to follow. Walk into the children's garden and you'll be greeted by whale sculptures spouting water, perfect for cooling off on a hot afternoon. There's a labyrinth to follow, vegetable gardens to examine, a story barn filled with books, and plenty of other things to entertain the kiddos. Little C&Gs favorite part of the gardens is the Burpee kitchen gardens, near the entrance. I need to keep an eye on him when he wanders over to the "pizza wall", where oregano, basil and other Italian herbs grow together in vertical beds. I know if he asks for pesto that night he's made off with a few bunches of basil.

Make the downhill hike past the meditation garden and you'll come to the fairy forest. With so many natural materials available the fairies have never had such palatial palaces! And if your kiddos are too tired to hike back up the hill, a golf cart shuttle will be by to bring you back up to the main house. Every Friday in July and August the gardens are hosting Fairy Fridays, with special programming and activities in the children's garden for boys and girls.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are an hour north of Portland, and they have lots of family programs going on all summer. The story barn in the children's garden is home to several of the daily activities, including a story hour at 10:00, puppet theater at 11:00, chicken feeding at 12:30, and nature investigations at 2:00. The gardens are open daily from 9:00 to 5:00, admission for adults is $14, and for kids 3-17 it's $6. Family memberships are $90, and get you free admission to over 270 gardens throughout the US and Canada. Great if you're doing some traveling this summer!

We usually stop for lunch or snacks along the way in the college town of Brunswick. The British pub Lion's Pride is a favorite, and the C&G Grandparents raved about lunch at Scarlet Begonias recently. If you're looking for a quick slice of pizza, the owners of my favorite funky Mexican restaurant El Camino also own Flipside on Maine Street. They use local and organic ingredients for the pizzas they bake up all day. A few scoops of gelato at Gelato Fiasco, also on Maine Street, is the perfect way to start (or end) our adventure along the Maine coast.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Londoner

See, he lives in his Bayern shirt
I wish I could have frozen this morning in time. I dropped the boys off at school and watched them walk in together, side by side, their little heads bobbing along, and I had to fight back the tears.

This is the last time they'll be in the same building until they hit high school. And we all remember high school, where we pretended to not know our siblings (sorry little brother!). I know that all our travels together have made them the best of friends, and we are so thankful they have such a close bond. Next time they walk into school together they'll be quite a bit taller, and they'll probably have lost the Star Wars backpacks. Thankfully I've got some time to adjust.

Cocktail hour can't come soon enough this afternoon, and we are totally ready to raise a toast to new adventures. Mr. C&G has the perfect drink for kicking off the start of summer vacation, with the gin based cocktail called The Londoner. It's a refreshing alternative to his favorite Manhattan, a little lighter and with a twist of orange.

So cheers to the start of summer vacation! May you have wonderful adventures with your families, enjoy every single moment together (even the annoying ones), and I hope C&G continues to inspire you to pack your bags and get out there! Cheers!

The Londoner
2 oz gin
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz Cocchi Torino (sweet vermouth)
1 dash orange bitters

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass half filled with ice
Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with a twist of orange peel

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Boredom Busters: Travel Games

The clock is counting down to the end of school and the unofficial start of summer. Which means I have less than 24 hours to get my act together and accomplish all the things on my to do list that I'd prefer to do solo. Big C&G and Little C&G are happy to hike all over Europe, but ask them to go to Target and you'd think I'd asked them to build a bonfire out of their entire Lego collection.

One errand I've taken care of is stopping by the local toy store to stock up on travel games. We spend a lot of time in cars and planes and I'm always on the lookout for things to keep the kiddos occupied that don't involve batteries or power adaptors. I've gathered some of our favorites to share with you, and I'd love to hear about yours. Let me know in the comments!

The only single player game of the bunch is IQ Twist. This has been the biggest hit in our house since Big C&G unwrapped it on his birthday. Nobody can seem to put it down, including Papa C&G who logged quite a few hours between martinis with it. I love that it comes in its own self-contained case not much bigger than a deck of cards. It's a brain teaser game, where you have to match up colored pegs and colored playing pieces, following the set up instructions in the book of 100 challenges.

Plan ahead to avoid the pout of doom
The card game Beat the Parents is a favorite of Little C&G. Each card has three questions for the kids and three for the parents. Answer correctly and you keep your card, first one with five cards wins the game. Tricky parent questions test your knowledge of Elmo's favorite food and the names of the characters from Yo Gabba Gabba. I don't know about you but it's been a long time since I've sat down to watch Sesame Street, so it's usually kids rule on this game.

The compact little cube of Table Topics To Go for Kids is perfect for car, plane, or cocktail hour conversation. It takes up no room in my purse, and can snap the little C&Gs out of a cranky mood in no time. Nothing gets them giggling faster than trying to come up with new flavors of toothpaste or sharing what their superhero power would be. Obviously mine would be G&T flavored toothpaste (sounds refreshing, right?) and the ability to travel at the speed of light.

Last up in my stash of travel games is Blurt. The goal of the game is to get the players to figure out what word you're describing. I can barely accomplish this in everyday life, much less at rapid fire pace under the barking orders of my children, so it's always a lot of fun. The cards have a target word (like "purse") and the clues you use to describe it (like "a small bag for holding money"). The storage tin has a magnetic scoreboard and the first player to get twelve points wins. It's really a game for the youngsters with fresh neurons, but we still give it our best effort.

Of course after an hour or two of so much enclosed space togetherness we could all use a break, and I don't mind handing out the headphones if we've had some good laughs. Vacation memories rarely include those hours of zoning out in front of a screen, but they will always remember what kind of toothpaste you wanted to invent.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Royal Treatment at the Grand Hotel, Stockholm

The changing of the guards, Royal Palace Stockholm
I love a royal wedding. The host country puts on a fabulous show, the jewels are taken out of the vaults, and it's a never ending parade of beautifully dressed ladies. This past Saturday Sweden's Princess Madeleine wed her American banker fiancé at a ceremony in Stockholm. Royals from across Europe donned their ceremonial sashes and sparkling tiaras to witness the youngest daughter of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia tie the knot.

Friday night the Swedish royal family gave a private party to kick off the weekend at the elegant Grand Hotel on Stockholm's sparkling blue waterfront. This beautiful five-star hotel regularly hosts royalty, Nobel laureates, dignitaries from around the world, and on one hot summer day in 2011 it hosted the weary and hungry little C&Gs.

Salmon and reindeer sashimi at Matbaren
On our first day in Stockholm we decided to give our feet a break and tour the harbor on one of the sightseeing boats. It was a great idea, but both little C&Gs promptly fell asleep, waking an hour later when we bumped into the dock in front of the enormous Grand Hotel. One look at their tired little faces and I knew we needed to find cool air, cocktails, and something to eat, stat.

Elbowing our way out of the crowds getting off the boat, we crossed the street and escaped into the ornate lobby of the hotel. After a few bounces on the overstuffed couches we realized we were far too underdressed for snacks at the swanky lobby bar. We continued exploring the hotel until we came upon the two restaurants of the star Swedish chef and Bocuse d'Or winning Mathias Dahlgren.

Dessert was a much bigger hit than dinner
Matsalen is a two Michelin starred affair right next door to the more casual Matbaren, with "only" a single Michelin star. We certainly weren't heading into the world renowned Matsalen, but the friendly maitre'd said there was a table on the patio of Matbaren, and graciously welcomed us into the restaurant for dinner.

Matbaren looks like the chicest Scandinavian farm house, all blond wood, red accents, and open kitchen. The boys drooled over the center island table covered in fresh loaves of crusty bread, and we admired the cocktails being served at the bar. There was no children's menu, but they offered to grill up some plain chicken and to keep the bread supply coming. After stealing Mr. C&Gs smoked salmon (strange how they left the reindeer) the little C&Gs made sure to leave plenty of room for dessert.

We had an amazing meal with a beautiful view of the harbor at twilight (which is about as dark as it gets before midnight), and nobody raised an eyebrow at our t-shirt clad crew. I can't imagine walking into a Michelin starred restaurant in NYC and being equally as welcomed, much less with two kids in tow. The friendliness and openness of the Scandinavian people is legendary, and we certainly saw that first hand with our adventure in Stockholm's top hotel. We weren't staying there, and I can only imagine how the Grand Hotel puts out the red carpet for its royal guests. Basic rooms at the hotel start at 3,800SEK (roughly $575), although I'm sure if you're in town to pick up your Nobel they'll give you a deal.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Maine Monday: Bowling for Cocktails

The Cocktail Grandparents came to town last week to spend time with the grandkids and watch a few of their baseball games. Out of the five games they were looking forward to, only one didn't get rained out. Which means we had to come up with some alternative activities to keep us all entertained and out of the rain, preferably involving cocktails.

Bowling alleys are not usually known for good food and fun drinks, but we're lucky to have Bayside Bowl in Portland. If you're looking for a Negroni and a bowl of nachos while you try your luck at a turkey (Little C&G tells me that's a good thing), this is your place. My favorite beverage, a version of a Moscow Mule, was on the specials board as we walked in, so I knew it was sure to be a fun afternoon.

We were more interested in cocktails and snacks on this outing, but we've had lunch there in the past and been pleasantly surprised. The burgers are really good and Big C&G liked his pizza, but Little C&G wasn't a fan of their mac & cheese with the cracker crumbles on top. He's more of a purist. If there's a wait for a lane you can eat in the dining room in front of the giant screen tv, or if not grab a lane and order from the wandering wait staff.

When our unpredictable Maine weather interferes with your summer plans, head indoors to Bayside Bowl for an afternoon of cocktails and bowling. Three generations of C&Gs were completely entertained on a rainy Saturday and we all had a lot of fun. $30 gets you an hour in a lane ($25 during the week), and shoe rental is $3.00, unless you're hip enough to have a stylish pair of your own. They open at noon on Fridays and Sundays, and at 4:00 the rest of the week.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade

Mr. C&G got some new toys today. If I were smart I would have intercepted the UPS guy and hid them away for Father's Day. But I'm not that quick, and I desperately need a drink. It's been a very long week, with the end of school and all the insanity that goes with it. Concerts! Field trips! Baseball! Teacher gifts! And plenty more craziness as we barrel towards June 14th. So I put the bartender and his new muddler to work and here's what he put in my hand to chill me right out.

In a rare moment of down time this week while the boys were getting their summer buzz cuts, I got to browse through the June issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Inside I found the perfect cocktail recipe to break in the new fancy muddler. It's very refreshing with a nice balance of sweet and sour, and the tarragon adds a tiny hint of licorice. Mix this pitcher of lemonade up and you'll easily put the hectic week behind you.

Sparkling Tarragon Gin Lemonade

10 large sprigs tarragon
2 lemons, thinly sliced
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup gin
3/4 cup St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
12 oz club soda

Muddle tarragon sprigs, lemon slices, and sugar in a large pitcher. Add gin, St. Germain, lemon juice, and club soda. Add ice and stir to combine. Serve over ice, makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Castle Von Wasteoftime

Neuschwanstein is best known as the castle that inspired Walt Disney and it's instantly recognizable as the symbol of his media and theme park empire. If you ask the little C&Gs, Neuschwantstein is best remembered as the biggest waste of a day on our Summer 2012 vacation. "It isn't even old", cried Little C&G as we started our hike back down the mountain after touring the 19th century castle. Even a stop at the ice cream shop halfway down the trail didn't cheer him up. It didn't do much for the rest of us either after an incredibly disappointing day.

We planned our stop at Neuschwanstein as an adventure to break up the drive between Munich and Innsbruck, Austria on our way to Venice. Unfortunately for us, thousands of other tourists also arrive every day by the bus load to tour Bavaria's most visited destination.

My dear friend Rick Steves recommended buying tickets online to avoid long lines at the ticket booth in the center of town. Timed tickets are required for the 30 minute tour of the castle, and I guessed that a 1:00 tour would give us plenty of time to drive the two hours from Munich, have lunch, and get up to the castle. I didn't account for the single road into town, blocked by tour buses, camper vans, and crazy European drivers. Mr. C&G dropped us in town then started the perilous journey to find parking. We discovered we missed the window for our 1:00 tour, but my look of desperation inspired the ticket guy to book us into the 2:30 tour. If you don't book your tickets ahead of time, you could easily be waiting hours on line at the ticket booth, so either book ahead or don't go at all (which is my recommendation).

We barely had time to scarf down hot dogs from a stand in the center of town run by an Australian surfer dude (cash only) before we had to get on line for the shuttle up to the castle. The shuttle will take you closer, but you still have to make the trek uphill to the castle courtyard. Or if you have the time and energy you can make the 30 minute hike up the steep trail to the castle. We chose to shuttle up, but this involved another 30 minute wait on line for shuttle tickets. We were already cutting it too close and the afternoon was nothing but stress, but walking uphill with the little C&Gs just wasn't going to happen.

Mad King Ludwig inherited his title in 1864 at the young age of 18, and then proceeded to construct a castle that matched his boyhood dream of a royal residence. He hired a theater set designer to draw up the plans and then turned it over to architects. Even after 17 years of construction it was never finished, and the crazy King only lived in it for 172 days before he died at the age of 40. Interior rooms reflect Ludwig's impression of medieval grandeur, but the 15 rooms on the tour were obviously decorated in the late 1800s. Both little C&Gs were more impressed by the story of the King's mysterious death in the lake at the bottom of the hill than they were by any part of the castle.

Unless you really feel the need to visit this castle on your trip through Germany, I would definitely skip it. Neuschwanstein is crowded, overpriced, a hassle to get to (especially with small kids in tow), and definitely not worth the time and effort. Tickets can only be bought online the day ahead of your visit, and adults are 12€ (roughly $15), children under 18 are free.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Maine Monday: Gather & Toots

Just up the road from us is the charming restaurant Gather, in Yarmouth. Local ingredients, delicious food, great cocktails, and a kids play area. How brilliant is that? We stopped in for brunch a few Sundays ago and enjoyed a delicious breakfast to the tunes of a local bluegrass band.

As soon as you walk into the former Masonic hall you're charmed by it's small town neighborhood vibe. Kids are happy, parents are drinking, it's perfection. A blackboard up front lists the local suppliers and farms that contribute to the healthy and very tasty menu. The kitchen is open and in full view of all the tables, as it's raised up on the old stage. Little C&G was completely mesmerized by the power dish washer contraption. The door opened, steam billowed out, and a tray of clean glasses rolled out. Fascinating stuff for an eight year old!

Dinner at Gather is as good as brunch, and it's nice to have a local place where you can go out for a casual (but nice) dinner, with healthy choices and an excellent wine selection. If your kids aren't used to joining you for a nice dinner out, it's a good place to go for a trial run. There are plenty of families filling up the tables and the corner up front has a nice area for them to play. An open kitchen always helps to add entertainment and background noise, so you can relax with a glass of wine and pretend you don't hear the "mommy . . . mommy . . . mommy" chorus coming from the corner.

Just a quick drive up the road from Yarmouth is our favorite farm that doubles as an ice cream stand. Toots is a local favorite, they make their own ice cream and serve it out of an old railway car. After you order one of their delicious flavors (candy store floor, a Big C&G favorite) you can tour the farm and say hi to the cows, alpacas, pigs, bunnies, and goats. Just watch out for the chickens who roam the grounds, Little C&G is convinced they follow him around in an attempt to steal his ice cream.