Friday, November 29, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Pass the Cranberries, Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hotel Review: Ashford Castle

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Maine Monday: On the Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Moscow Mule

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The QC Cocktail Quest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hotel Review: Hotel Le Germain-Dominion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Maine Monday: Choomi Coconut Cookies

This Maine Monday post is a purely selfish recommendation. I'm hoping I can inspire you all to stampede your nearest grocery store and buy up the supply of Choomi Cookies. Because if you don't, then I will and that won't be good. If you aren't local, don't fret because you can buy them online at their website and save me from adding a few inches of insulation this winter.

Po' Boys & Pickles on Forest Ave in Portland is world famous for their coconut macaroons and with good reason. Those moist bundles of tropical goodness can sell out before lunchtime, and one bite of their macaroons warm from the oven will transport you to a hammock under a palm tree.

So when I saw this cheerful blue bag on the counter at a local coffee shop in town with "manufactured by Po'Boys & Pickles" on the back, I grabbed one. Even the hipster coffee dude was raving about them. After I texted out a picture of my tasty new find to a group of friends they told me I could also pick them up at the local Hannafords in the bakery department. Which was not the news I wanted to hear.

The bag of five cookies didn't last 24 hours in our house, and the little C&Gs will tell you they were only allowed to pick off a tiny piece of one cookie. They are amazing. A slight crunch on the outside and soft and moist on the inside, and not overly sweet at all. Just the right amount of breezy coconut flavor.

As with all things that are crazy delicious (cocktails, chocolate cake, coconut macaroons) they are pretty high in calories. 230, to be exact. But there's no artificial anything in the cookies, and isn't coconut the new kale? At least that's the story I've been telling myself.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Vesper

"I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made". 
James Bond, Casino Royale
*and Mrs. C&G

The only cocktail we could end this week with is a James Bond special, the Vesper. Daniel Craig lines up six of them in the movie Quantum of Solace, but I'd have to call it quits after one. Gin and vodka together is quite a dangerous combination and a fitting tribute to the Russian double agent, Vesper Lynd.

James falls in love with her and she almost convinces him they could run off into the sunset together, only to kill herself when she realizes they'll never be free. Poor James. He tracks down the bad guy at his stunning Lake Como villa (yours to rent) and utters the famous last words "The name's Bond, James Bond". All he's left with is her memory and this lethal cocktail. And maybe a free room at the beautiful lakeside villa. Cheers!

The Vesper
3 oz Gin
1 oz Vodka
1/4 oz Lillet
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
We all know the next step
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cocktails at 9,744 ft*

Yes, those are real clouds out the window
* But who's counting . . .
Notorious playboy spy and serial cocktailer James Bond may have enjoyed martinis all over the globe but there's only one place in the world you can order yours "shaken and not stirred" in the lair of an evil villain.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed at the top of Schilthorn, the mountain a few thousand feet above the alpine village of Mürren. Bad guy Blofeld and his lovely lady killers used the newly constructed (1968) restaurant Piz Gloria as their secret hideaway high up in the Alps. Spectacular chase scenes have George Lazenbys' James Bond skiing full speed down the mountain, with avalanches and snipers nipping at his heels. The movie was filmed on location around the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Piz Gloria remains a favorite tourist attraction of Bond fans from around the world.

The tiny little dots above the blonde head? Murren.
Once you've conquered your fear of heights (or not, as in my case), what's a few thousand more feet in the interest of cocktails? Piz Gloria is open to the public year round with food and drinks for tourists and brave hikers, from 8:00 to 5:00. For the truly insane, Schilthorn is open to daredevil skiers during the winter months and it's the finish line of the grueling Inferno Triathlon in early August.

It takes two additional cable car rides from Mürren (elev. 5,413 ft.) to get to 9,744 ft. The little C&Gs were so excited about the ride up into the clouds and their enthusiasm is the only thing that got me into the cable car. That and the promise of a very large martini glass filled with vodka at the top. Honestly they should set up a drinks cart at the ticket booth, I would have handed over thousands of euros just for a little liquid courage.

Little C&G not liking the sudden drop in temp
We watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service with the boys before we left home (it's pretty harmless, just long) and they loved seeing the movie location in real life. There's no Joanna Lumley hanging around the lounge but the interior is still pretty groovy. A new interactive Bond exhibit opened last summer and a 360º theater shows Bond clips and aerial shots of the mountain, just in case you kept your eyes closed when you got out of the cable car.

The restaurant rotates (thankfully very slowly) so no matter where you're sitting you'll get a spectacular view. The cocktail menu is filled with Bond references, so it's no surprise Mr. C&G went with a classic martini. I had to order the Bond Girl, a bubbly Prosecco tribute to the lovely Diana Rigg and the only Mrs. Bond in fictional history. The little C&Gs ordered ridiculously expensive orange sodas to go with their fancy Swiss desserts, and after a swing through the Bond themed gift shop we were ready to head back down the mountain.

The name's Gelato. Cocktails and Gelato.
The cable car station is located right in the center of Mürren and you'll want to check the weather forecast and the webcam at the ticket booth before your ascent. If you're going to be up that high you'll want to have clear skies, and wear as many layers as possible. It's cold.

Once the clouds clear you really can see forever, and it's absolutely beautiful. Had we been a little braver we could have walked out on the ridge of the summit. The little C&Gs loved their trip to the top of the world and begged us to go back up again the next day. I am massively acrophobic, so I certainly was not up for a repeat performance. As the cable car descended to Mürren I started feeling much better and 6,000 ft didn't seem so scary. Or possibly my cocktails were finally kicking in.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Playground At 6,250ft

"Don't launch your brother over the side of the cliff"
Swiss ski season is starting up, and the picture perfect postcard villages are readying their luxurious chalets for high paying visitors. I'm not a fan of the winter sport, but the cliffside town of Mürren could charm me into a return visit during the chilly months ahead. I'd happily pack up our warm woolies and brave the cable car ride again just to visit this adorable alpine town up in the clouds.

Switzerland is an adventurers paradise, but with a ten year old and a seven year old in tow we weren't looking to climb the world famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains on our summer 2012 stop in the Swiss Alps. Some easy hiking and fun sightseeing were all we needed before leaving for Zurich and heading home. Rick Steves' Switzerland recommended the traffic free town of Mürren with it's family friendly trails, charming village, a scenic playground, and breathtaking views.

Eiger and the C&Gs, great band name
Mürren sits 5,413 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley and is the perfect place to go for some alpine adventures in any season. Accessible only by cable car and virtually vehicle free, kiddos (and cows) can roam the town. Right before we left home I swapped a day from Zurich and extended our stay in Mürren to three days and I'm so glad I did. It was the right amount of time for exploring the natural beauty of the Jungfrau region.

The adventure starts when you park your car at the bottom of the cable car station, under the roaring glacial waterfall of Trümmelbach Falls. Buy your ticket and line up with the British and German base jumpers, slightly smelly (but cute) young backpackers with an adrenaline addiction. You'll see them leaping off the sides of the mountains and gliding gracefully into the valleys below.

Mürren sits on the edge of a cliff (it's a long way down for the errant tennis balls at the town court) at a very high elevation, so be sure to bring warm clothes. The clouds roll in and the temperatures drop, but as soon as the sun comes out grab a spot on the nearest bench and enjoy the views. Snow tops all the mountains surrounding you (no matter what the month) and you'll find water fountains all over town with freshly melted glacial water flowing freely from the tap.

Climb up another thousand feet above the town for a playground with a world class view by riding the Allmendhübel funicular. There's a quaint little restaurant where they serve delicious Swiss specialties like rösti (fried potatoes and eggs) and a lovely sun patio where you can enjoy a beverage while the kiddos swing, slide, and try not to launch themselves over the side. Don't worry, there are plenty of fences to keep them and the cows from wandering too far.

Sandwiches and ice cream for the weary hikers
Many of the hikes start from this point and if your crew isn't feeling too adventurous there are a few short walking trails around the restaurant that will make you feel like you've conquered the Alps. At least the big three mountains are always in the background so you can snap some impressive pictures.

Pick up a detailed hiking map at your hotel and be sure to ask for recommendations. Lots of the trails are family friendly and they'll be able to guide you to the right one. The maps show trail difficulty and estimates for how long it should take, obviously not accounting for short little legs. We headed out on the trail to a small restaurant about an hour's hike away that was well marked on the map. Little C&G is not an enthusiastic hiker (but give him a soccer field and he could run forever) so we ended up taking lots of breaks on the benches that dotted the trails.

After a long day in the fresh mountain air, head indoors to a heated pool to stretch and soothe your tired muscles. Most of the hotels offer a free visitors pass to the Sports Center and the little C&Gs loved swimming with the snow capped mountains in view. Towels, lockers, and showers are available for use, and a new spa is scheduled to open next summer. Stay tuned for tomorrows' post when I'll fill you in on the more important things. Like where you can follow in Diana Rigg's footsteps and toss back a martini at 9,000+ feet.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Maine Monday: Black Cat Coffee

Stevens Ave in Portland has the distinction of being the only street in the country where you can go from pre-school to graduate school all along the two mile stretch of road. From learning your letters to getting your doctorate, it can be done on Stevens Avenue.

That same one-stop shop philosophy also applies to Black Cat Coffee, with all the best of Portland's breakfast food scene in one convenient storefront. No matter what you like to start your day with, there's something for everyone and the coffee is amazing.

Union Bagel Company supplies the bagels, the donuts come from the creative bakers at Holy Donut, croissants come from Standard Baking, and there are delicious gluten free options from Bam Bam Bakery. With their comfy couches and shelves full of books you could easily stay at Black Cat Coffee through lunch for their Kamasouptra specials.

Trying to gather all our Portland breakfast favorites on a weekend morning would require a major sacrifice to the parking gods, so finding it all in one cozy spot, complete with free wi-fi, is a great discovery. Black Cat Coffee posts their daily deliveries on their Facebook page, but even if your favorite chocolate sea salt donut isn't making an appearance there will be something under the glass display cases to tempt your sweet tooth. Nearby Baxter Woods has walking trails, just in case you need to work off some of those yummy calories.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Chilly Parisian

A weekend ahead with no travels and no plans is a true luxury, and I think we could all use a break. It was only a month ago that we were in Atlanta celebrating a friends wedding and we've been on the go ever since.

Even a trip to see the World Series Champs last weekend was a hard sell to the younger C&Gs so I know they're looking forward to some down time around the house. Of course I don't think they realize that means cleaning up, packing away summer clothes, sorting through the winter clothes, and clearing out the playroom just in time for the holidays. I'm sure they'll be begging for a road trip before lunchtime tomorrow.

Cocktail hour came and went very quickly this past week, and there were several nights it wasn't until the boys were tucked up in bed before I realized I had missed it. Mr. C&G remedied that with a lovely aprés dinner drink made up of Armagnac and Chambord, a delicious combination that melted away all the stress of the busy day. Armagnac is a type of brandy produced in a very specific region of southern France, and you could certainly substitute Cognac in its place. Brandy is very often warmed before it's served, but I found chilling this cocktail really brings out the raspberry essence of the Chambord. A perfect ending for our rapidly shortening days.

The Chilly Parisian
2 1/2 oz Armagnac
1/2 oz Chambord
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice
Stir and strain into a brandy glass

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Boston Quick Scoops, part two

No matter which baseball team you root for, you have to admit the oldest ballpark in the country is pretty magical. Fenway Park is open for tours every day (they run 60 minutes), and you can easily get caught up in the enthusiasm of the latest World Series Champs. Even if you have some non-fans in your family, it's still a lot of fun to see the field from the Green Monster perspective. Tickets for tours are available on a first come first serve basis at the Gate D ticket booth, open from 10-5. Adults are $16 each and kids 3-15 are $12 each.

If you've got a little time before your tour, head over to the Hotel Commonwealth (also a C&G favorite hotel) in Kenmore Square for some food and drinks that don't involve sports themes. Eastern Standard is the hotel restaurant and quite the swanky looking bistro, but I'm sure it would be family friendly during the day. We haven't tried it yet (the Saturday of the Red Sox parade was NOT the ideal time to pop in for a drink) but it's at the top of my list in that neighborhood. Or for a quick, good but cheap burger head across the street to Uburger, another place we haven't tried but it's very similar to a Five Guys. And sometimes your crew just wants a cheap (but not fast food, very anti-C&G) burger.

The little C&Gs have long since outgrown the Boston Children's Museum, and it's too bad because it's one of the best kids museums in the country. There are three cavernous floors for running, jumping, building (and knocking down of course), experimenting, blowing bubbles and making noise.

It's best for kiddos ten and younger, Little C&G would still get a lot out of it but it isn't as much fun when your older brother stands around looking like a bored pre-tween. It can get a little nutty in the Children's Museum (thankfully there's Purell everywhere) so be sure to take a break outside and breathe in the fresh salty air along the water.

Queue up with all the other frazzled families around the corner at Flour Bakery when your troops get hungry. The line may be long but I promise you their delicious sandwiches and bakery treats are totally worth it. I still dream about the homemade pop tart I had there years ago. Nothing like that has ever come out of my toaster at home. Seats turn over quickly but you can also take lunch to go and head back to the benches in front of the Children's Museum.

I'm not a fan of the New England Aquarium, but it's a must-do at least once. Tickets are expensive ($25/ages 12-adult, $18/kids ages 3-11) and I always find it's very crowded, no matter what time of year we go. Their website boasts of a new redesign for the giant center tank and surrounding exhibits which should help with the flow of people. The little C&Gs were more interested in the stuffed animals in the gift shop than anything they saw swimming by under their noses.

Faneuil Hall is a destination all on its own when you've finished up with the fishes at the Aquarium. There are enough sights, smells, and novelty carts to keep you busy for an entire afternoon. If we're in the neighborhood we always stop in for a cheap lunch and some fun people watching. Everybody can get what they want from the various food stands and we meet back in the middle to track down a table or head outside if the weather is nice. Noodle favorite Wagamama has an outpost in Faneuil Hall if you're looking for something a little quieter and more organized.

Very tempting views at the Boston Harbor Hotel
Drinking in and around Faneuil Hall is for beer swilling amateurs. Instead I'd let the kiddos run around the new Columbus Waterfront Park for a bit and then head over to the Boston Harbor Hotel for some snacks and much deserved cocktails while nestled in comfy overstuffed chairs. But be careful, after a Beacon Hill Bellini or two you might find yourself at the check-in desk handing over your credit card. . .

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Boston Quick Scoops, part one

It always feels like the kiddos are never in school for the full five days in a row in the months of November and December. Between conferences, holidays, travels, and potential bad weather days, you're going to need some quick and easy ideas to get you through the weeks ahead.

The Museum of Science is always a favorite and we could easily spend the entire day going from the exhibits to the planetarium to the IMAX theater without ever coming up for air. Be sure to break up your day with a walk outside (get your hand stamped on the way out) and head across the bridge into Cambridge for lunch. You'll be amazed at how just a small change of scenery can rejuvenate your little adventurers.

ArtBar in the Royal Sonesta hotel (the first left after you go over the bridge) has a surprisingly innovative and creative menu, some great cocktails, and a special kids menu complete with goldfish or veggie stick starters. Try and grab a table next to the window and sit back and enjoy the view of the Charles River.

Bambara in the Hotel Marlowe hotel (the second left after you cross the bridge) is an elegant place to go for dinner, but lunch and their weekend brunch is much more accessible and kid friendly. We've stayed at the Hotel Marlowe a few times and it's a great family friendly hotel. Be sure to hang out on the giant couches in the lobby (and enjoy the roaring fireplace) before you head back to the museum.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge is one of the little C&Gs favorite places to explore. The minerals and gems room is where they first came up with their iPhone iSpy game, which easily took up 45 minutes of their morning. Brightly colored beetles, butterflies, and birds fill the other rooms, along with bones, skeletons, and all varieties of stuffed mammals behind glass.

A short walk back towards Harvard Square will bring you past the classic burger joint, Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage. Just don't be disappointed if you find them closed on Sundays or during school (college) vacation weeks. Grafton Street Pub is just a few doors up Mass Ave from Bartley's (and it's a good backup) and has a great brunch on the weekends, along with some pretty tasty cocktails. Closer to the T stop is Russell House Tavern, head downstairs for their fabulous brunch and classic drinks menu. We always save room for a quick trip to Cardullo's shop for some international candies or head across the street to Sweet Cupcakes bakery for their decadent cupcakes.

Tucked into an uncommonly traveled part of Cambridge is the MIT Museum and definitely worth a few hours, especially if your kiddos are into robots and science. The highlight of the collection is Kismet, a furry robot built at MIT to have artificial intelligence, and the NOVA video they show is incredibly interesting. Even the little C&Gs sat through the whole thing.

Be sure to stop by Area Four (from the MIT Museum head out on Windsor St. and turn right onto Main Street) for the largest sticky bun ever, completely smothered in sugary frosting goodness. Or grab a table at the restaurant in back and order one of their delicious super thin crust pizzas or salads. Their cocktail list is very impressive (Mr. C&Gs fav Boulevardier is on the menu) and the food is delicious. Plus there's a small green park next to the restaurant if you need to send the kiddos out to burn off all that sugar. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Massachusetts & Maine Monday

I really shouldn't have been surprised when Mr. C&G asked me over lunch on Friday if I wanted to go to Boston for the Red Sox parade on Saturday. He's much more spontaneous than I am (and much less claustrophobic), and with rooms available in the Marriott Copley Plaza just a block away from the route, I agreed we couldn't miss it.

Our bags were still unpacked from our trip to Quebec City the previous weekend so it didn't take too long to get our stuff together and load up the car. I was more than happy to leave all the laundry and catching up behind (sadly, it was still there when we got back on Sunday), and after dinner we gathered up all our Red Sox gear and hit the road for the quick drive down to Boston.

No plan was needed for this trip, other than to try and see all the boys favorite players and enjoy the gorgeous late fall weather. Mission accomplished. After celebrating with two million fellow fans we wandered the city, stopping when we got hungry or tired (avoiding the young & drunk revelers) and eventually making our way towards Fenway for some souvenirs to bring home.

We've got a long weekend ahead of us and while we'll be staying home for once I know lots of friends are looking for some things to do. Our quick few days away reminded me of how easy it is to zip down to Boston for a day or two of adventure. I'll post some quick C&G scoops tomorrow with some last minute ideas for this weekend and Thanksgiving, which is hard to believe will be here in three weeks. Until then, check out some of my past posts on Boston for where to go, what to eat, and where to drink (always important when the kids are home for longer than the two day minimum!) and get ready to hit the road for some adventure.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Sidecar

A classic cocktail leads us into the blustery month of November. The leaves are falling, the sweaters are coming out of storage, and it's about to get a whole lot darker much earlier thanks to the changing clock this weekend. I can't think of a better reason to open up a bottle of Cognac and settle in next to a roaring fire.

The Sidecar is a cocktail that comes to us by way of either London or Paris in the 1920s, depending on which mythology you'd like to believe. After our trip to Quebec last weekend I'm all about the French so my vote goes to Paris as the birthplace.

As with last weeks Boulevardier, we have another expat American to thank for the idea. Legend has it an American Army captain used to catch a ride to Harry's Bar in a motorcycle sidecar, and this is what he would drink to shake off the chilly Parisian night air. It's a lovely story, but there are as many tales to tell about the origins as there are formulas for making it. The classic recipe is equal parts Cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice. Mr. C&G changed it up a bit and this lets the warmth of the Cognac come through. Bundle up and enjoy!

The Sidecar
1 1/2 oz Cognac
1 oz Cointreau (or triple sec)
1/2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
Add ingredients into a shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist
(tradition calls for a sugared rim, but I think it's sweet enough as is)