Friday, January 31, 2014

Cocktail du jour: The Nor'Easter

We spent a lot of time eating out last weekend as I wasn't about to cook in our igloo kitchen no matter how many space heaters we set up. On our third night out (not complaining, I'm very happy to not cook!) I finally decided a cocktail would totally cheer me up. Enough with my truly good intentions, they didn't stand a chance against the brutal cold, the dead furnace, or the other house and weather problems that have plagued us since January 1st.

When I saw this on a cocktail menu Sunday night, I knew it was time to raise the white flag. Whiskey and ginger beer is always a good mix, add in the delightfully tasty Cherry Heering (think maraschino cherry juice without all the toxic chemicals or red dye) and it's a very smooth and not too sweet cocktail. Thankfully Mr. C&G assured me we had the ingredients at home and the Nor'Easter has been in heavy rotation ever since. Plus the cheery red color makes it the perfect drink to take us into February.

The Nor'Easter
1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
splash of fresh lime juice
ginger beer

Mix the first three ingredients in a glass filled with ice
Stir and top off with ginger beer

Thursday, January 30, 2014

#TBT (Tropical Beach Thursday) St. Lucia

File this one under grown ups only getaway. Cuisinart Resort in Anguilla (my last #TBT post) could work with kids, with its variety of activities and inviting hydroponic farm to explore. But if you're looking for a romantic, stranded on a deserted island vibe then Anse Chastenet and Jade Mountain on St. Lucia is the destination for you.

Jade Mountain is perched on a mountainside high above the beach, with stunning architecture and a breathtaking view of the Piton mountains. It regularly appears in first place on every every Caribbean best of list and it's a top honeymoon destination. Each luxurious suite comes with its own infinity pool, brilliant idea because the beach is quite a hike (a golf cart will whisk you away anytime). There's nothing to come between you and the perfect view, and I do mean that literally. Each suite has only three walls.

Which is why I'm glad Mr. C&G choose the beachside rooms down below at Anse Chastenet. Fully enclosed, air conditioned, and just steps from the water is more my speed. Plus I loved rolling out of bed and having my morning coffee on the beach as the sun was coming up.

Hillside rooms at Anse Chastenet are also tucked in along the mountain, just not as high up as Jade Mountain. Most have the fourth wall missing or a louvered wall lets in refreshing tropical breezes. Breezes beachside are nonexistent, hence the need for AC in the lower rooms. It's not just me being a nature wimp.

A second beach is a short walk or boat ride away if you're looking to pretend you and your lover have been shipwrecked in the middle of the Caribbean. This secluded stretch of sand comes with a chef and a bartender and don't miss the grilled burgers and cold beers from the aptly named Jungle Grill.

Ingredients for all five restaurants come from the plantation on the grounds and a nearby farm provides organic vegetables. Have dinner in a romantic treehouse with a view or dine beachside under flickering candlelight at the amazing East Indian restaurant Apsara.

January is coming to a close (cheers to that!) and after all my Caribbean research and writing I think I'm just about thawed out. It's been very inspiring and I wish we were packing our bags for a quick winter escape but instead I've got some new cocktails to look forward to. Mr. C&G has been busy shaking up some new ones over the past few weeks and I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mexican Italian in Cancun

Sunscreen, Maine style
This is going to seem like the most bizarre post ever, one of my favorite Italian restaurants is located in a shopping mall in downtown Cancun. No my brain hasn't frozen over from the lack of heat in our house (finally fixed), I honestly can't wait to go back to Cancun for sun, sand, and pasta.

As much as I love our lazy days around the pool ordering tacos and pina coladas, we're pale skinned Northerners and there's only so much SPF 70 I can slather on the wiggly little C&Gs. Kukulcan Plaza and Luxury Avenue is our escape when we need a break from the sun or if rain is in the forecast.

The two malls are connected, Luxury Avenue offers high end duty free shops (Ferragamo, Vuitton, Vilebrequin) with a swanky (and kid friendly) cocktail bar and Kukulcan Plaza is the place to pick up flip flops, bathing suits, and Senior Frog souvenirs to bring home. They're indoors, air conditioned, and located right in the hotel zone at kilometer 13 on the road into downtown Cancun. The local bus stops in front as do many hotel shuttles, or if you need some exercise it's an easy walk along a wide and well maintained sidewalk.

Cenacola is an elegant and very upscale Italian restaurant in the center of the mall. But at 2:00 (when it opens) it's mostly empty and ready to welcome you in for some delicious handmade pasta, brick oven pizza and a few glasses of wine. A good wine list is a rare find in the cheap liquor frozen drink spring break capital of the world and the Italian owners have put together an impressive list of reds, whites, and bubbly.

2:00 might seem a bit late for lunch (especially for the kiddos) but keep in mind Cancun is one hour behind the East Coast and they don't switch to Daylight Savings Time until April. Floor to ceiling glass windows let you look in on the chefs as they prepare all the pasta by hand and if we're too early it always provides plenty of entertainment. One of these years I'm hoping they recognize me and come out with a glass of prosecco while I'm waiting.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Maine Monday: Not So Much

We've dubbed this guy the Dalek. If only we had Matt Smith or David Tennant doing battle with our faulty five year old furnace we would have no need for moving this thing about our house. We've had no heat since Friday night and my normal anxiety levels have been slightly elevated with open flames, flammable liquids, single digit temperatures, and very little sleep.

Thankfully Mr. C&Gs home office is on its own heating system and space heaters have kept our bedrooms warm. The repair guy is here with the new parts and I hope to be cranking the thermostat up to 80º by lunchtime. I'll be back blogging on Wednesday, after my laptop and my hands thaw out, and the next group of posts will most likely involve tropical destinations. Or at least getaways where the temperatures never fall below 65º.

Just in case you're wondering, my martyrdom only goes so far and there was no way I could make it through the weekend cocktail free. January, you played hard and dirty, and you've won. So cheers.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Ward Eight

Note to self: Do not give up drinking in the month of January. Ever again. January is the most miserable and depressing month and the lack of booze is not doing anything for my opinion of it.

Also not helping is Mr. C&G shaking up a storm night after night as he works through the recipes in his book How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten. How's my drink? Not nearly as good as his, but thanks for asking.

This beautiful and brightly sunny creation is the Ward Eight, named after an old West End neighborhood in Boston and created in the late 1800s. Fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice, and some delightfully pink (and very sweet) grenadine balance out the rye turning it into a very smooth and drinkable cocktail.

With the temperatures hovering in the single digits all week (and throw a negative sign in front of that as soon as the sun goes down) the Ward Eight will most certainly brighten up your evening. I wish it were brightening up mine. But cheers to the weekend, and only seven more days of this nonsense to go.

Ward Eight
2 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1/2 oz grenadine

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker (Boston, preferred of course) filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass

Thursday, January 23, 2014

#TBT (Tropical Beach Thursday)

Cuisinart Resort on Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla
It was -3º out this morning on the early school drop off run. This winter has been incredibly cruel and I've been doing a lot of wishing for an escape to warmer climates. Also I realized that after a year of posting there is absolutely zero on C&G about getting away with your other half. A happy Mr. & Mrs. (or whatever your combination) is the key to a happy family, even more so than cocktails and gelato.

Everyone wants something different from a Caribbean beach vacation. There's an island and a resort perfect for you, once you figure out what you're looking for. Narrowing down the choices can seem impossible and I know from past experience that it takes a lot of research (or a big wallet and/or the hiring of a travel agent) to come to a conclusion.

I'm easy, if we're not headed to Europe with our kiddos then I want to do absolutely nothing. But on a beach. Where it's warm and sunny and I can hear the gentle sound of the waves. I don't want to exercise, or do sunrise yoga, or pick up a tennis racquet. I want a stack of books, the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, and happy hour promptly at 3:00.

My only other requirement is really good food. Gourmet, delicious, incredibly healthy and fresh food. If that sounds like your ideal vacation too, I've got the perfect place for you. Cuisinart Golf Resort & Spa on Anguilla. As in the makers of half the small appliances in your kitchen.

Cuisinart Resort is unique in the Caribbean with its own hydroponic farm supplying most of the fresh produce served in the four restaurants. Order a mojito and your muddled mint will come from the greenhouse just a few steps away. You can tour the farms and gardens or take a lunchtime cooking class when you need a change of scenery from the gorgeous turquoise waters.

Gorgeous Mediterranean style beachfront villas
Mr. C&G and I took the cooking class together and had a fun time preparing fresh fish baked in parchment, which we later enjoyed for lunch by the pool. You really shouldn't miss the chance to cook in one of the best equipped kitchens in the Caribbean. Or if your educational interests lie elsewhere, the sommelier from Le Bistro at Santorini restaurant runs wine tasting classes twice a week.

Golf, sports, water and spa activities are all available if you're a little more ambitious than I am on vacation. I'm much more of a lounge around and sip cocktails kind of girl, and thankfully Mr. C&G likes to chill right alongside me. Sadly we don't have a tropical getaway planned anytime soon, but if it stays sub zero for much longer I might cash in some Jet Blue points and head for Anguilla.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Talented Young Chef In Edinburgh, Scotland

Friends are heading to Edinburgh, Scotland this spring and I keep meaning to email with a don't miss restaurant recommendation for them. Fried food, mushy veggies, and standard pub fare can be found on every corner, but Edinburgh also has a very sophisticated restaurant scene. Local and organic is easy to come by in a country with so many natural resources and such extreme beauty.

Michael Neave is a very young (young!) and incredibly talented chef who made the bold move to open his eponymous restaurant in 2012. Young as in if he were in the US he would just barely be allowed to drink the whiskey he stocks behind the bar. But his sophisticated menu and delicious dishes could easily be mistaken for creations of someone twice (or triple) his age.

Michael Neave Kitchen & Whiskey Bar is just off the Royal Mile, down a very big hill on Old Fishmarket Close. We passed it by a few times on our wanderings and since they had us at "Whiskey Bar" we decided it was the perfect place for cocktails. The sleek bar is at street level (the hill is so steep that the downstairs dining room also is at street level) and there is a cozy terrace perfect for drinks under a moody Edinburgh sky.

We were happy to sink into the low leather couches after a full day exploring the National Museum of Scotland. The boys brought along some activity books and Mr. C&G hung out at the bar discussing single malts with the very knowledgeable bartender. The cocktail menu is a bit shorter than the whiskey menu but there are plenty of tasty things to choose from. We ordered a few bar snacks to go with our cocktails (we skipped the haggis bon bons) and tried to come up with a plan for dinner.

I had looked at the website before we headed out for cocktails and I was really impressed by Mr. Neave's heartfelt enthusiasm for wanting to share and showcase the best of Scotland in his restaurant but I worried there wouldn't be anything for the boys to choose from. Over cocktails we chatted with the waitstaff as they were picking up drink orders from the busy bartender and they assured us the chef would be happy to accommodate the boys.

As we descended the stairs into the dining room we all smiled at the boy in the kitchen who looked far too young to be in charge. Little C&G proved a bit of a challenge for our charming waitress when he found out there was no pasta in the kitchen. Strangely enough his other favorite food is smoked salmon and she was happy to offer him smoked salmon and focaccia toasts. Big C&G and I split the Aberdeen Angus steak (amazing) and they happily plated it on two full plates so we didn't have to duel with our sharp steak knives. Mr. C&G had a local venison with a whiskey sauce that he still talks about to this day.

We had an amazing and authentically Scottish meal at Michael Neave Kitchen & Whiskey Bar, and I know my foodie friend will appreciate the talents of this young chef. Now if I could just work out a way to accompany her and her family on their trip . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

Travel For A More Peaceful World

Oslo City Hall and Nobel Peace Prize ceremony site
"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There is no greater gift to your children than opening up the world to them through travel. Letting them experience different cultures, customs, food and languages breaks down barriers. They learn that we are all different and yet we are all equal. It teaches them to not be afraid of the unknown, to not be afraid of someone whose appearance is unlike theirs, and to appreciate the unique qualities each of us brings to this world.

The Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in the auditorium of the University of Oslo in Norway. In 1990 the ceremony moved to Oslo City Hall, and this majestic public building is open every day of the year. I wrote about our visit here, and you shouldn't miss the opportunity to walk through the same halls as President Obama (2009), Kofi Annan (2001), Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk (1993), just to name a few winners inspired by the messages of Dr. King.

The Nobel Museum in Stockholm brings all of the talented and inspiring award winners to life in a very kid-friendly way. A scavenger hunt around the museum will introduce your kiddos to some very important people, and if they answer all of the questions right (which of course they will, it's not too challenging) they will receive their own gold Nobel Prize (in chocolate). Read my review of our visit here, and be sure to add it to your list of adventures on your visit to Stockholm.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Shane's Whiskers

Halfway through my self imposed detox and I bet you're wondering how it's going. I've only had one glass of wine and that was to celebrate Little C&Gs birthday so it doesn't count. It may have been his big day, but I'm the one who did all the hard work nine years ago so I decided I deserved a brief reprieve. Plus I consider it bad luck to raise a toast with an empty or non-alcoholic beverage in your glass. We can't have that going into 2014, now can we?

Mr. C&Gs latest cocktail is a Boston twist on the classic gin favorite Satan's Whiskers. It calls for orange juice, which we were fresh out of, but we always have a stash of little cans of pineapple. With the tropical substitution we needed a new name, and something that would work with "whiskers". One of the boys suggested "The Flyin' Hawaiian" to honor our favorite World Champion Red Sox and outfielder Shane Victorino. He was pretty whiskery towards the end of the series, and he's from Hawaii, so Shane's Whiskers it is.

Shane's Whiskers
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz pineapple juice
dash of orange bitters

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass
Cheers to Red Sox opening day on April 4th

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dinner On A Sword In Zurich

No, we didn't get to keep the sword
Embrace your inner Medieval warrior (or more likely your childrens' Medieval warrior) with dinner at a 500 year old armory in the center of Zurich. Zeughauskeller serves traditional Swiss foods in a former weapons and ammunition store house which dates from 1487. If you've got boys it doesn't get more entertaining than dining under the battle axes, armors, and bows and arrows that decorate the walls.

Zeughauskeller is tucked down a cobblestone alley just off the busy Bahnhofstrasse (strasse is street in German), near the popular Paradeplatz (platz is square in German) and only a ten minute walk from the train station. Tables spill out onto the street in warm weather and we opted to eat outside, even though the interior is incredibly entertaining. Sending the boys inside to explore gave us a chance to sit back and enjoy a few glasses of weisswein. Smart move, right?

Perfect spot for a Papo knights battle
Menus are available in 12 languages at this popular spot and there's a separate menu just for children. (If you're looking online you'll find it with the German menu, but there is an English translation.) Big C&G asked for a German menu and my adventurous eater used that to make his dinner decision.

Bürgermeister Schwert (Mayor's sword) was a specialty of the house and both Big & Mr. C&G decided they had to share it. Where else but in an old Swiss armory can you order your meat delivered on a giant sword? Plus Mr. C&G and I couldn't resist a few Burgermeister Meisterburger references (from the classic 1970 stop motion Christmas special, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town).

Work it off with a neighborhood stroll
Our waiter came out onto the sidewalk brandishing the long beef-wrapped sword and expertly sliced it off from tip to handle. Sadly he didn't leave the sword for us to take-home, although we all took turns trying to lift it and could barely get it to budge a few inches. How does Johnny Depp manage to wield it wildly across a sandy Caribbean beach? Wursts and schnitzels are other local favorites on the menu, but they aren't nearly as entertaining.

As good as the dessert menu looked at Zeughauskeller we all needed to stretch our legs after our heavy meal. Swiss favorite Sprüngli is just a short walk across the Paradeplatz and they are famous for their chocolates and mini macaroons (Luxemburgerlis). Their beautiful vintage tins make perfect gifts for friends and family back at home.

If you can't resist temptation (or you like to procrastinate) there is a Sprüngli shop in the Zurich airport. Just be sure to grab a few extras for yourself for the long flight home.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Money and Mummenschanz in Zurich

Sure an Aston Martin DB9 would be a great souvenir
Zurich is a lovely city if you like expensive cars, exquisite jewels, and immaculately attired bankers. But if you're there with your kids chances are you're using Zurich as a arrival or departure point for other adventures around Europe. No matter how many days you're spending in the sophisticated Swiss city you're going to need some entertainment.

Two days were all I allocated at the end of our summer 2012 trip to Zurich and we were all vacationed out by the time we got there. Originally our plan was for two nights in the Swiss Alps followed by three nights in Zurich and I'm very glad we swapped out more nature for less big city before we left home. Two days is just enough in notoriously expensive Zurich, unless you're there making a deposit in your secret bank account. In which case, cocktails are on you!

My tiara must be in one of these boxes
The Swiss National Museum is the best place to start your Zurich adventures. Easy to get to and located right next to the bustling main train station, it will give your crew a good overview of Swiss culture and history. I could have happily moved into the wing of Swiss furniture design but the little C&Gs made a beeline for the armory tower. For such a peaceful and neutral county they have a very impressive stockpile of weaponry, from Medieval times to the 20th century.

It's hard to mention Switzerland without referring to it as the private banking capital of the world. Every other building you pass on the street will have a discreet sign announcing some form of wealth management, so you can't miss the banking exhibit at the museum. There's an interesting display of money and currency and the little C&Gs wouldn't budge from the "vault". Even I enjoyed opening the secret lock boxes in search of forgotten jewels and stacks of gold bars. The boxes do indeed slide out and there are fun costume jewelry pieces (or are they . . . ) under plexiglass.

All that's missing is the rolls of toilet paper
When you arrive at the museum there is a mandatory bag check and you'll need to stash anything you're carrying in one of the secure lockers on the second floor. Next to the coat room is a fun Mummenschanz themed play area for the kids but save it till the end of your visit. Otherwise they'll use up all their energy before you even get started.

Giant blue foam shapes are begging to be moved, sat on, and formed into funny faces. A ceiling mounted video camera will capture their creation while you grab a seat on the comfy couches. Stacks of Swiss design magazines and books make for perfect reading material until they're done, but most likely you'll have to tempt them away with the promise of a sweet treat from the bistro on the main floor.

Admission to the museum is CHF10 (Swiss Francs) ($11) for adults and free for children under 16, and keep in mind they are closed on Mondays. iPads and iPods guides are available for a CHF5 fee ($5.50) and a good idea if you want your kiddos to learn a little history about this trilingual country. By law everything in Switzerland must be presented in German, French, and Italian, and thankfully they throw in a bit of English here and there for us monolingual Americans.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Martini Monday (but not the kind you're thinking)

It doesn't get any more Little C&G than this, a big bowl of freshly made pasta smothered in pesto sauce delivered by a tuxedoed waiter at the elegant Antico Martini in Venice, Italy. 

Today my happy little adventurer turns 9, and to celebrate I thought I'd write a review of his absolute most favorite restaurant anywhere in the world. If you look at the list of places we've been, you'll notice there's quite a lot to choose from but when asked he'll say "Martini's" without a moments hesitation. 

Antico Martini is a classically beautiful old Venetian restaurant on the square next to the world famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice. I'm sure their usual patrons are a bit better dressed than we were on the hot and steamy night we visited, but they welcomed us with only a few raised eyebrows. 

Attached to the restaurant is the more casual VinoVino and a crowd of waiters came over and insisted we meant to eat there, not on the more formal side. But I had fallen in love with the beautiful terrace and remained firm that we wanted a table outside overlooking the famed opera house. 

It was easily two hours before most Europeans come out for dinner so they relented and led us through the restaurant out to the terrace. True to Mrs. C&G form I neglected to look at the prices on the menu & Mr. C&G shot me a look of alarm when he opened the menu. Gli antipasti (starters) on the menu averaged €25 ($35) and everything went up from there. After finally securing a table we certainly couldn't get up and walk out, instead we resolved to enjoy every expensive bite (and maybe order one dish each. And only one bottle of wine). 

Imagine an Italian version of Downton Abbey's Mr. Carson and that was our waiter for the evening. Very stiff backed and elegantly attired, but when Little C&G politely asked if there was any pesto available our waiter smiled and his formal attitude just melted away. 

After checking with the kitchen he came back and said "The chef would be honored to prepare the requested dish for the young gentleman". From then on he couldn't do enough for either of my bambinos and it was an amazing unforgettable meal. 

We were all very sad when our dessert plates were cleared and our sophisticated evening came to an end. Our charming waiter bid his new best friends a very buonasera and we crossed the square to enjoy some people watching from the marble steps of the opera house. Both little C&Gs learned a valuable lesson that night, manners and good behavior will always get you far. And that if you don't see pesto on the menu in a restaurant in Italy, it couldn't hurt to ask. Cheers & buon compleanno to my lovely little boy!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Aperol Sbagliato

I would happily drink Aperol all year round, but the crisp and bubbly Aperol Spritz has been retired until spring. It just doesn't seem right in the middle of this polar vortex extreme cold weather event Mother Nature has thrown our way. If anyone could use a cocktail, it's her. And make it a very strong hot toddy, I need the temperatures to be above 0º on a more regular basis.

Lucky for me we made a stop at one of our absolute favorite Greenwich Village bars, North Square when we were in NYC last week and came across a new twist on the Aperol Spritz. Adding in the high end vermouth Antica Formula Carpano to the orange flavored aperitif turns it into more of darker and warmer libation. A splash of Pellegrino made it bubbly and it was absolutely delicious.

Recreating it back at home was a bit more difficult than we thought. Our Cocchi is a good substitute for the Antica but we couldn't get the taste quite right. Mr. C&G changed directions and came up with an Aperol version of the Negroni Sbagliato.

Sbagliato means mistaken in Italian, and was created when the bartender at the Bar Basso in Milan accidentally grabbed a bottle of spumante instead of gin for his Negroni and created a new drink. I'm thankful Mr. C&G grabbed the Aperol instead of the Campari, and my new favorite festive winter drink was born. Now if we could only be in Milan instead of Maine . . .

Aperol Sbagliato
1 oz Aperol
1 oz sweet Vermouth (the higher end the better)
1 oz Prosecco

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the Aperol and sweet Vermouth
Shake and strain into a flute or coupe glass, top with Prosecco
Garnish with an orange peel

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Other Guggenheim

A Kandinsky in the living room
An unfinished palazzo directly on Venice's bustling Grand Canal hides one of the most magnificent collections of 20th century modern art. Bohemian socialite Peggy Guggenheim opened the doors to her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in 1951 to share the works of her friends, unknown artists named Pablo. And Jackson. And Salvador.

After her death in 1979 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (yes, that would be Peggy's uncle Solomon) turned the palazzo into a museum and opened it to the public. All of the artworks were left in their original places, which makes for a fascinating museum experience. It's a perfectly manageable size for your kiddos and the rooms are filled with iconic works that represent the best of modern art.

No doubt he's wishing for a return visit
Strolling across the peaceful courtyard is a wonderful way to escape the tourist crowds on your trip to Venice. Be sure to say hi to Peggy and her dogs (buried in the corner) and stop by Yoko Ono's Wish Tree, where you can write down your own wish and attach it to the tree. See how many languages your kiddos can find on the paper "leaves". Sculptures surround the courtyard and gardens and it's fun to have art the kids can interact with and contribute to.

Pull open the heavy iron scrollwork doors to enter into the palazzo where you'll be greeted by a few Picassos and a hanging mobile by Alexander Calder. Can't you just imagine the elegant Peggy greeting you at the door, wearing a flowing caftan and bearing champagne glasses? She was known for her elaborate parties and eclectic guest lists, with artists, actors, composers and dancers all gliding across her terrazzo floors. I would have loved to have had a few cocktails with her.

The collection is displayed mostly in chronological order but let your kiddos lead the way to things that spark their interest. Enthusiastic art students can be found in almost every room and they're very happy to answer any questions or share their knowledge. We had a charming young Italian student approach the boys to ask if he could tell them something about a Chagall and to practice his English. I'm sure the boys didn't understand a word, but I was very proud that they remained attentive and even asked a few questions.

Don't miss the excited boy sculpture
When your crew is done with art head out to the canal side terrace for a stunning view of Venice. You can see why Peggy chose to remain in Venice until the end of her life. Be sure to share the story of sculptor Marino Marini's The Angel of the City with your kiddos. The figure on the horse is very excited (I would be too if the Grand Canal was my permanent view) and a certain body part stands at full attention.

Peggy had the sculptor make the body part detachable, just in case she had some prudish guests over for drinks she could simply remove it. I'm sure one night the martini glasses were overflowing and in the morning Peggy found it had been unscrewed and stolen. So a new one was quickly made and welded on and there it still is today. The little C&Gs thought it was the funniest story and I can't help wondering who has the bronze piece on their mantle.

There's an excellent gift shop with great kids activity and art books and a small but expensive cafe. We headed out for cocktails and gelato in Campo San Barnaba, the square best known for its library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The boys ran off to grab gelato at the highly recommended Grom Gelateria while Mr. C&G and I found the nearest shady table and ordered a few Aperol and Campari cocktails.

Lounging under the Pollock
Honestly I don't think the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was on our list of things to do on our trip to Venice, we were looking for a place to escape the heat and crowds and decided a cool palazzo was it. But it was truly one of our best adventures, the boys even listed it in their top three.

The building and grounds are gorgeous, and the artwork is a nicely curated collection. Plus who doesn't love a few splattered Jackson Pollocks? Check the website for opening hours and the schedule of family friendly art activities. Admission is €14 ($19) for adults, €8 for students ages 11-26, and under 10s are free.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hotel Review: Hotel Flora, Venice

Right this way signore e signora
Oh how I wish we were back strolling the hot and steamy streets of Venice. I know I complained the entire three days about how unbearable it was and how little the air moved, but if I could wiggle my nose and go back there right now I promise I wouldn't utter a single negative peep. I swear on my alcohol-free smoothie.

Finding a family friendly hotel in the tiny floating city that annually welcomes almost three million tourists was a bit of a challenge. After quite a bit of google searching and thumbing through my Rick Steves' guidebook and my DK Family Guide to Italy, one particular hotel kept showing up, the Hotel Flora.

With a few emails back and forth we reserved their quad room which slept four, some rooms have twin beds for the kiddos but ours had a pull out couch. Location is key in Venice and the Hotel Flora is just a short five minute walk from the busy San Marco vaporetto (subway on the water) stop. Managing luggage and kiddos over bridges and crowded sidewalks while not losing one or the other into the canal can be a major accomplishment.

Hotel Flora is a charmingly understated boutique hotel in the city that practically invented opulence. Tucked back behind the Bulgari boutique off one of the most stylish shopping promenades in the world, this 17th century palazzo has just 43 rooms and has been tastefully renovated.

Their ivy covered courtyard offers a quiet and calming place to retreat when the sights, smells, and hustle of the busy streets become overwhelming. Even the little C&Gs were happy to abandon the crowds of Piazza San Marco to stage their afternoon action figure battles in the corner of the small courtyard.

There's no on-site restaurant, but there is the more important on-site bar, complete with charming Venetian bartender. He'll happily offer up afternoon tea, local wines, or any of your favorite cocktails. For the kiddos they have plenty of fruit juices and Big C&Gs favorite, Aranciata. Wi-fi reception is best from the couches in the lounge, and you'll get a more reliable connection with a drink in your hand.

Not a bad view when you throw open the shutters
Breakfast is included with your stay and it's buffet style with all the usual Italian charcuterie, cheeses, and pastries alongside cereals, yogurts and fresh fruit. Bring it out to one of the courtyard cafe tables and an aproned waiter will be along to take your espresso, cappuccino, or kid friendly steamed milk or hot chocolate order.

Rooms at the Hotel Flora are very reasonably priced (ours was €250/$340 a night) in a city that overcharges for practically just breathing the air. Venice is truly unique, the natives know it and you will be overcharged for just about everything. But it's an enchanting magical city that can't be missed. Even Little C&G will agree.

Monday, January 6, 2014

So Not Martini Monday

That would be my afternoon green smoothie, I'm calling it the kale martini and it will be the cocktail du jour for weeks to come. Thankfully we did quite a bit of cocktail testing before embarking on this dry month, so there will still be four cocktail Friday posts to come. One of which is a winter twist on my favorite Aperol spritz.

The kale martini doesn't taste any better when sipped out of a martini glass, but I thought it would look more cheerful. Sadly there isn't a drop of alcohol in there, and it's going to be a rough night ahead with no cocktails at cocktail hour.

After two very long weeks of vacation I was all ready to send the little C&Gs on their merry way this morning. But the snow, freezing rain, and then rain that fell all night caused some travel delays and we had a few extra hours together this morning. Which threw off my whole day and suddenly I find myself in the kitchen wondering what to make for dinner and there's no drink in my hand. Very sad. . . Only 25 more days to go.

We were away for most of the break visiting friends and family in New York, which means I've got some fun new adventure ideas to share with you. But I've also got loads of laundry, a very messy kitchen (making up lunch boxes this morning was a herculean effort), and some weather damage around the house to deal with. I could really use a cocktail. But I'll stay strong, and I'll be back to travel blogging on Wednesday. Until then, cheers.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cocktail du jour: The KD-Ringer

Ringing in the new year with good friends and a custom cocktail is the only way to go. We spent the last hours of 2013 celebrating with our dearest friends K&D and our entire brood of kiddos along with their charming friends and neighbors, M&S. It was a fun, festive, and international affair. My darling K served us a Swiss treat of raclette and we could have played cards with the wide assortment of passports represented at the dinner table.

Mr. C&G raided their bar supplies (a vintage bottle of Campari required a bit of dusting) and came up with this bubbly version of a cosmopolitan for us all to enjoy. It was very delicious and the perfect party drink, but for future occasions I'd mix up a pitcher of ingredients (minus the Prosecco, of course) and have it ready ahead of time. No sooner did Mr. C&G finish making a drink before one of us finished our flute. Which made for a very busy bartender.

The KD-Ringer
1 oz Vodka
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz cranberry juice
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
Prosecco

Add all ingredients (except Prosecco) into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a champagne flute
Top off with Prosecco and garnish with fresh cranberries and an orange twist
Raise a glass to good friends, new friends, and a fabulous new year ahead!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cheers to 2014!

This poster, by the British Transport Police, was up in the train station when we arrived in York and I almost tripped over my wheelie luggage (and the little C&Gs) laughing hysterically. How ironic that there is an official poster for this. And that it hangs, in all seriousness, in the train station. Bloody brilliant as they say, and I'm adopting it as my motto for the month of January.

As bizarre as this may sound (and contrary to the evidence I've put in print over the last twelve months), I am not a big drinker. To quote one of my favorite authors "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that drink to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made", so said James Bond in the novel Casino Royale. Quality over quantity is the key to our nightly cocktail ritual, and even with a glass or two of wine at dinner it's very rare that we overindulge.

However my birthday is in early November before Thanksgiving, so while most people start their celebrating just as the turkey platters are being cleared from the tables, I've already had a few weeks head start. Which means by the time January rolls around I'm ready for a bit of a break from food and beverages.

Every year I (along with countless others) designate January as a time to clear out my system to get healthy and I'm actually looking forward to a month of no drinking. My enthusiasm could be because of the latest addition to the C&G bar, the Rolls Royce of blenders, a Vitamix. I'm sure it will be put to good use come February 1st by Mr. C&G and his legendary bar tending skills, but over the next four weeks it will be all kale, all the time.

Cocktail du jour will still be coming to you every Friday so there's no need to worry. In preparation of my month of detox we've been spending the past two weeks mixing, shaking, and drinking some new recipes that I'll be sharing with you. It's been a tough job, but it's all part of the Cocktails & Gelato service. Cheers to the new year and all the lovely things ahead!