Monday, July 22, 2013

Break Out the Bubbly Monday

My Royal Wedding party preparations
We at C&G HQ will be taking a little blogging break today to binge watch all the royal festivities. The cork has popped, so to speak, and the bubbly is flowing. It's never too early in the day to start drinking when a royal baby is involved. Cheers to the new parents!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Frozen Ko Olina

This summer heat wave is never ending, which means it's time for a frozen and frosty beverage. I'm not a big fan of rum drinks, one of those overindulgences I'd like to forget from my college days, so my frozen cocktail choices are limited. I love anything flavored with coconut or pineapple, so I recently challenged Papa C&G to whip me up a frozen cocktail in his blender.

This is basically a margarita with the coconut vodka standing in for the tequila (again, not a huge fan for the same anti-rum reasons) and it turned out to be delicious. Ko Olina is the Hawaiian resort we stayed at a few years ago with the Grandparents C&G, so it seemed like an appropriate name for a Papa C&G creation. It has that wonderful taste of the tropics and thankfully no rum needed!

Frozen Ko Olina
1.5 oz coconut vodka
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz triple sec
1/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks
handful of ice
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a short straw

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Seuss in Springfield

Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three
With a lot of time spent in the car driving around the Northeast, we're always on the lookout for new places to stop and stretch our legs. Springfield, Massachusetts is best known as the home of everybody's favorite Doctor, Dr. Seuss and it's here that you can explore the sculpture garden dedicated to his most beloved characters. Walk amongst Horton, Yertle, and Things One and Two and then visit one of the five museums surrounding the courtyard.

One fee gets you in to all five museums so you can do as much or as little in each one as you have time for. If you're hungry there is a cafe in the "Quadrangle" (as the complex is called) with light sandwiches and a good kids menu (hot dogs, pb&j, wraps and paninis). We stopped in downtown Springfield at Red Rose for their pastas and pizzas before the five minute drive over to the museums.

Looking for aliens on the moon
Little C&G loved the Science Museum and we were just in time for a show in their small planetarium. They have a good dinosaur hall for your budding archeologists to check out and an African hall where you can see animals (taxidermied, of course) that would be very out of place in a Massachusetts winter. The gift shop is located at the entrance to the Science Museum and they have an amazing collection of Dr. Seuss books for sale, along with all kinds of Seussian goodies.

The Fine Arts Museum has a nice collection of paintings with a strong emphasis on French painters. The boys and I had fun making up wild tales about the dark and brooding portraits in the the Dutch and Flemish galleries. The gallery also has special exhibits and when we were there the exhibit was on the Beatles. It was very weird looking at paintings that were hundreds of years old while the sounds of the 60's floated through the open galleries.

Poor Yertle, Little C&G isn't helping
We didn't make it into the other three museums, as we needed to hit the road for our next destination. But it will give us something new to do on our next drive through central Massachusetts. The boys are looking forward to climbing on some of their favorite all time characters again.

The museums are generally open 10:00 to 5:00 Monday through Saturday and 11:00 to 5:00 on Sunday. Check their website for more specifics, if there's something you definitely want to see on your drive through town. Admission for adults is $15 and kids 3-17 are $8. The Dr. Seuss sculpture garden is located within the complex so you do need to pay your admission before you can go ask Horton if he's heard a Who.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Philly Food Faves

Garces Trading Company
Philly has become quite the foodie town and we've had to make some difficult choices on our last few trips to the city. There are a few favorites we return to time and again (Jones, Parc, Amis), but the list of new restaurants to try is getting longer.

Our newest favorite has to be Garces Trading Company. It's a wine, cheese, and charcuterie shop that's also a restaurant, which is about as perfect as it gets in the C&G world. Iron Chef Jose Garces created this very European style eatery, selling his private label olive oils, vinegars, and the best food and wine imports from France, Italy, and Spain. They also make and bottle their own cocktails, with one option being Mr. C&Gs favorite Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and orange oil). It's a wonder we went anywhere else the rest of our vacation.

Garces Trading Company is also a great place to go for dinner with the kids. The selections of cheeses and charcuterie will keep them occupied while you enjoy one of their house sangrias or bottled cocktails. If you're not sure they'll like some of the offerings, they can head over to the cheese and charcuterie counter to try a taste. Keep in mind the olive oil samples are also across from the counter so if your kiddos disappear for a while you'll know where to find them. My little C&Gs had to be pulled away from the bowls of bread as they tried every flavor of olive oil under the Tuscan sun. Pizzas and pastas make up half the dinner menu and almost everything can be made kid friendly.

If you're on the hunt for Mexican, you can't get any better than El Vez, brought to you by the same people as our fave Jones. It's quite the hot spot and if you have to wait for your table they'll take your number and call you. Which means you can be down the street at our favorite gelato place Capogiro studying what you'll get for dessert.

El Vez is dark and very loud, so it's a perfect place for kid friendly dining. The restaurant is on a busy corner, with floor to ceiling windows perfect for people watching. They make the most amazing guacamole (tableside if I'm remembering correctly), so you'll have something to keep you busy as you debate which of their delicious margaritas you're going to try first.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Maine Monday: Zapoteca

We might be 3,000 miles away from the border of Mexico, but our northern city has some pretty good places to grab tacos. During the summer nothing beats sitting outside at El Rayo with a margarita and some chips and guacamole while the seagulls fly overhead and the mariachi music (or a live band) plays in the background.

On our way into town for Mexican the other night we noticed the thermometer still registered above 90º, even as the sun was going down. Not even an ice cold margarita could tempt us into sitting outside at El Rayo so we needed to come up with a backup plan. We wanted Mexican, but we certainly didn't want to feel like we were sitting in the blistering hot Mexican sun. 

Zapoteca is just a few blocks away from El Rayo, and it's a great place to go with friends for upscale Mexican and amazing cocktails. I never would have thought to bring the boys there, but it was getting late, we were all hungry, and we lucked out with a parking spot right in front. They're known for their extensive tequila selection and they also have some great Mexican sodas, which Big C&G ordered right away. Our waitress told us there isn't a kids menu but they'd happily cook up kid friendly quesadillas or tacos with their choice of ingredients. The guacamole was a bit different than the little C&Gs were used to, although that didn't seem to matter and it disappeared pretty quickly. 

Both little C&Gs loved our unintended fancy night out. They enjoyed trying someplace that they knew we'd gone to with grown ups only. Big C&G even bravely sampled some of Mr. C&Gs ceviche, and actually had more than one forkful. Best of all is they weren't dressed for a fancy dinner, so there were no avocado stains to clean out of their collared shirts, 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Kamikaze Fizz

Sometimes you just want a martini, and sometimes you want something a bit lighter and fizzier. I was a little indecisive the other night (shocking) about what to have around cocktail hour and couldn't make up my mind. This drink originally started out in a martini glass, but one sip and I knew it needed to be watered down or dinner would never make it to the table.

Mr. C&G took my Kamikaze, poured it into a tall glass, and fizzed it up a bit. Thankfully raspberry vodka goes pretty well with club soda, it's my standard order when a bar doesn't have a cocktail list. There was enough bubbly water to balance out the alcohol and dinner was on the table in no time. Although I'm sure the boys were keeping their fingers crossed for ordering in a pizza.

Kamikaze Fizz
2 oz Chambord vodka
1 oz cointreau
1/2 oz lime juice
Pour into a glass filled with ice
Add club soda and fresh raspberries for garnish

Thursday, July 11, 2013


En route to Mexico, circa 2007
The little C&Gs have been toting their wheelie backpacks behind them for many years, and the heavy duty bags have been trusty companions on all of our trips. Long ago I made it a rule that the boys were in charge of packing up whatever toys, books, and Legos they wanted to drag across cities, states, and countries. If they wanted to play with it, they were in charge of it. It's one less thing for me to worry about, and I never get blamed for not packing the right things.

On our travels last summer I noticed Big C&G was getting too big for his neon green panda-patched classic wheelie. He was too tall to reach down and drag it behind him, and he ended up with a sore back from all that stooping. It was hard (for me) to let it go and upgrade to a big kid bag, but I guess that now he's a tween the neon green panda bag might not be cool enough to be seen with. And since my rule is: it's your bag and you're responsible for it at all times, I (and the TSA) make sure it's never too far away from him.

Fresh off the plane/train in Copenhagen
Big C&G and I headed up to Freeport to try out the LLBean backpacks in the store, but found they were extremely bulky and heavy and the handle was pretty short. Which means my $99 investment wouldn't last too long before I needed to upgrade again, as Big C&G gains a few inches every time I look away. Pottery Barn Teen has a good selection of wheeled backpacks in some cool boyish patterns, and we ended up ordering one online. It has similar dimensions to the LLBean ones, but with a handle a full inch and a half longer (at 19.5") the PB Teen rolling backpack is sure to last us on lots more adventures in the years to come.

The new bag showed up last week, and so far Big C&G is very happy with it. He loves all the zippered pouches and pockets and he's so happy that it doesn't bang into his heels as he wheels it behind him. I think it's going to work out perfectly on our upcoming travels and there's plenty of room for all his books and gear. We'll see how it holds up and I'll get him to report back and maybe write up a review. Now excuse me while I go unsubscribe myself from PBTeen emails, because I can't possibly be old enough to have a (almost) teen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cocktails in Venice

Sometimes you just have to embrace being a tourist, even though nothing makes me unhappier than following the crowd while on vacation. If you're in Venice this means you must go on a gondola ride and you must have a bellini at Harry's Bar. Neither of which will live up to your expectations, but you aren't allowed off the island until you've checked those off your list.

Gondoliers are part of the Venetian legend and last summer the little C&Gs asked us once an hour when we were going to go on a boat ride. As it was at least 100º the entire time we were there the answer was usually "later". But on our last day we realized there was no way the little C&Gs were letting us back on the vaporetto (water bus) to the tronchetto (parking garage) without a ride on a gondola. Guide books advise you to haggle with the gondoliers, but it's hard to play nonchalant with two bouncing boys both wearing gondolier hats. They saw us coming from across the narrow alley and were happy to charge us €100 (roughly $125) for the pleasure of a half hour spin around the lagoons. The boys loved it, and I have to admit it was magical to see the ancient and sinking city from the canal perspective.

The only way to follow up an overpriced and overhyped (but entirely necessary) boat ride is with an expensive cocktail at the world famous Harry's Bar. We actually stumbled past it on the walk back to our hotel and I decided we needed to go in for a cocktail. With the mercury still climbing, even towards the end of the day, the frosted glass double doors of Harry's Bar looked very inviting.

The clock had just struck 5:00, and from 5:00 to 6:00 they are a bit lax with their dress code. Shorts are not allowed after 6:00, and I'm guessing neither are little boys in shorts and sweaty t-shirts but we assured them we would be gone by the shorts witching hour. My bellini was good, as was Mr. C&Gs Negroni, although we've certainly had better elsewhere. But I will admit it was fun to have the blend of white peach puree and Prosecco in the place where it was invented, and our €50 bar bill was almost worth the hour of cool air conditioning.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Maine Monday: Hit the Beach

We can't get too far into summertime Maine Monday posts without mentioning the beach. It's been brutally hot the past few days and the only relief seems to come from dipping your toes in the icy waters. Which then must be followed up with some ice cold gelato, or ice cream with sprinkles, of course.

Our favorite beach is the pristine white sand of Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth. It's super shallow and there's almost no undertow, which is key when you're oceanside with little ones. It's a perfect mile long stretch of sand, shaped like a crescent, with rocks for climbing and crab hunting on the southern end. There's a changing room, showers, bathrooms, and a small snack shack if you get hungry. But we always save room for a stop at Kettle Cove Creamery, on Rt. 77 just a quarter of a mile north of the entrance to Crescent Beach. They make all their own hard serve ice cream in house and the soft serve comes in more than 20 different flavors. Plus the sea gulls don't seem to be as devilish just a mile or two in from the shore.

Also in Cape Elizabeth is Fort Williams State Park, not exactly a swimming beach but a fun place to throw rocks and climb ruined fortresses. The little C&Gs won't stay occupied for too long at the beach, so Fort Williams is a nice blend of sun, sand, sea, playground, long stretch of lawn, ruined World War II bunkers, and a classic lighthouse, Portland Head Light.

The "beach" is very rocky but the boys love skipping and throwing rocks (usually when one C&G is in front of the other) and when they tire of that we go exploring. For some amazing homemade ice cream on the way home swing by Willard Scoops in South Portland. Just off Preble Street (on your right off Shore Road), the tiny store front serves up a great variety of flavors.

Crescent Beach State Park is free if you have a state park pass ($70), otherwise it's $4.50 for adult residents, $6.50 non-residents, and $1.00 for kids 5-11. Fort Williams State Park is free, but not ideally suited for swimming. And all this talk of ice cream reminds me I need to replenish my car supply of hand wipes, it's going to be a messy summer!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Philadelphia mini-golf
Downtown Princeton, NJ

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Escape to Montreal, à boire et à manger

Cocktail hour is taken very seriously in Montreal, which means there are always plenty of places to relax with a beverage or two after a long day of sightseeing around this chic city. Summertime may be short this far north, but Canadians certainly take advantage of the nice weather by putting cafe tables on every inch of available sidewalk and bar stools on every possible rooftop.

Rue Crescent/Crescent Street is probably where you would end up if you came to Montreal in your late teens (the drinking age is 18) or early twenties before you had kids. These three short blocks are home to row upon row of bars, and the craziness certainly gets going as the sun goes down. But three stories up at the restaurant Newtown, on the corner of Crescent and Maisonneuve, is an oasis of calm above all the noise. The third floor rooftop terrace bar is the perfect spot for late afternoon cocktails and snacks. The skyline views stretch out across the city and you forget one of the busiest streets in Montreal is down below. When they need a little distraction send the kiddos over to peek over the rails at the action on the street. We saw fancy sports cars cruising the strip and very busy policemen ticketing illegally parked cars. There's plenty of people watching for them while you enjoy some interesting Canadian charcuterie with your martinis.

Two doors down from Newtown is the pasta emporium of Weinstein & Gavino's. Our little adventurers were not up for any more walking and we were a group of seven at the height of dinnertime. The place is huge, spread across two floors and with lots of outdoor tables. We lucked out with a table on the balcony overlooking the kitchen and the little C&Gs couldn't have been happier. W&G is huge, incredibly noisy, and highly entertaining. There was an endless stream of bachelorette parties on the night we were there.  The food was good, not amazing but good enough, and the boys were happy with the pasta and brick oven pizzas. The grown ups were happy with the great wine selection and the very long cocktail list.

M:brgr is another one of our favorite spots for dinner just a few blocks over from Crescent on Rue Drummond/Drummond Street. The interior is incredibly stylish, and the dance beats are playing at full volume. Which means the fashionable patrons will never notice your hungry kiddos. If you'd like a mojito with your burger and your kids want ice cold milkshakes with theirs, then this is the place to go. There are tons of options to make even the pickiest eaters in your group happy. Choose from organic or Kobe beef, tuna or veggie burgers, chicken, hot dogs, or mac & cheese. Add in some crazy toppings like shaved truffles or foie gras, or splurge on the decadent $100 kobe burger with all the high end fixings. And because you're in Canada don't forget to add the gravy to your fries (aka poutine).

If you have any room left at all for dessert you can't pass by Suite 88 Chocolatier without stopping in. The chocolates are displayed in glass cases like jewels in this sleek little modern shop. Each brown square is beautifully decorated and filled with interesting flavors such as green tea, maple syrup, or Grand Marnier. For the non chocolate lovers in your family (that would be Little C&G) they also serve waffles, biscotti, and gelato dished out in very colorful little cups. As you can imagine we made several trips to Suite 88 at all times of day, either for a small cup of strong espresso or for a late afternoon sugary treat.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Maine Monday: PMA Art Cart

Art museums aren't usually at the top of the little C&Gs sightseeing list, but promise them some sketch paper and colored pencils and they're happy to unleash their inner Picasso. Add in some super lightweight portable stools and off they'll run into the nearest gallery.

This summer the Portland Museum of Art is introducing the PMA Art Cart for families, free of charge with your visit to the museum. Every Wednesday from 2:00 to 4:00 and Friday from 3:00 to 6:00 the cart will be in one of the second floor galleries with supplies and stools for your budding artists to borrow.

Letting them loose in the museum with a sketch pad and a purpose really helps kids focus on the artwork, and it's always interesting to see what attracts their attention. Big C&G immediately plopped down in front of an iconic Picasso, while Little C&G set up shop in front of a small muted colored still life by Georges Braque. Both paintings are in the first floor gallery, where the stunning collection of the renowned collector William S. Paley will be until September 8.

The Paley collection is part of a special traveling exhibition on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and the Portland Museum of Art is the only stop the 61 paintings will make in New England. It's definitely a must see, and there are so many works that will appeal to the kiddos. Degas, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, and Gaugin will have you thinking you've somehow transported yourself into midtown Manhattan for an intimate and uncrowded look at the European masterpieces.

Both boys unfolded their stools in front of a small bronze sculpture they renamed Hulk's Hand, actually a work by Frenchman Emile-Antoine Bourdelle. And the man in the top hat, M. De Lauradour by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec also got a thorough looking over by my little artists. After about an hour with the world class collection of Mr. Paley, the boys were ready to fold up their stools and go. It was absolutely downpouring when we walked out, otherwise we would have headed around the corner to Otto's pizza to grab a slice and restore our energy. Which we most certainly would have followed up with a ten minute walk over to Gelato Fiasco.

The Portland Museum of Art is at 7 Congress Square, and they're open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 5:00 with a late night on Fridays until 9:00. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids 13-17, and free for the under 12s. On Friday nights from 5:00 to 9:00 admission is free, thanks to some generous museum benefactors. The William S. Paley collection is an extra $5 surcharge, but it's a whole lot less than the $25 admission you'll pay at MOMA to see the collection when it returns home in 2014. For more tips on how to keep your little artists entertained in museums, check out an earlier "Boredom Busters" post I wrote a few months back.