Friday, February 28, 2014

Cocktail du jour: The Colonial Americano

I feel like this would be a great Thanksgiving cocktail, but I have absolutely no desire to turn back the calendar. Tomorrow is March 1st and I couldn't be any happier to see the end of February. Our days of bone chilling cold are numbered and the upcoming switch to daylight savings will bring us all another much needed hour of sunlight. Now that's a reason to raise your glass!

When writing up my raspberry lime rickey post I mistakenly thought it came in a martini glass at M.C. Spiedo, clearly my memory was a bit cloudy from nine days of vacation at home with the kiddos. I was remembering it as the Maiden's Secret from Area Four in Cambridge, a similarly colored but completely different tasting cocktail that is served as a martini.

In order to recreate the Maiden's Secret chez C&G we had some serious shopping to do on our way home and no trip to Boston is complete without a stop at Kappy's for some souvenirs. Cocchi Americano is a new addition to our bar and it's a pale, sweet and citrusy aperitif. It blends well with the cranberry and apple brandy and balances out the alcohol taste from the vodka. I've christened our version the Colonial Americano, and you've got plenty of time to perfect it for your holiday celebrations next November. I've given you the perfect cocktail excuse, consider it recipe testing research. Just be sure to have enough martini glasses to go around. Cheers!

The Colonial Americano
1 oz vodka
1 oz Laird's Applejack
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
1/4 oz cranberry liqueur

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Restaurant Review: M.C. Spiedo, Boston

Boston in the winter months can be wicked windy and polar vortex cold. Which makes sightseeing a tough sell for the little kiddos. Sure the T goes everywhere you need, but a lot of stops are outdoors (I'm looking at you Museum of Science. Outdoors AND stairs.) and don't even think about driving. If you bring your car, hand it over to the valet at your hotel and consider it the best money you'll spend during your visit.

Of course with so many amazing restaurants around town it's difficult to settle for a mediocre (or overpriced) meal in your hotel if you can't convince your crew back out into the world. So we were very excited when we heard about the new restaurant opening in the Renaissance Waterfront Hotel from two Maine favorites (and James Beard Award winners) Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. Their Arrows Restaurant is known worldwide for its farm to table philosophy, and they've combined that with some inspiration from the Italians of the Renaissance period to open M.C. Spiedo.

Spiedo (spee-ay-do) refers to the rotisserie style of cooking, but the little C&Gs have Americanized the name and it will forever be known as McSpeedo in our house (sorry!). Names aside, M.C. Spiedo authentically borrows from Northern Italy, with small plates of Venetian style appetizers (known as cicchetti) and cheeses and charcuteries for starters. Your waiter will wheel over a cart with some dishes on the antipasti menu to choose from, you don't want to miss the house made burrata.

The Italian cocktails all have a New England twist (Bully Boy vodka from Boston or Cold River Blueberry vodka from Maine) and Sam Adams shares menu space with Peroni. Our favorites, Campari and Aperol, are well represented and you can see my at-home version of the Cosimo de'Medici here. As you'd expect the wine list is very impressive and heavy on the Italians with lots to choose from by the glass.

What I love most about M.C. Spiedo (besides my new discovery of combining Aperol with vodka and raspberries) is the thoughtfully created children's menu. It's not just pasta with butter or marinara, although I'm sure they'd be happy to do that. The menu has three courses with a selection of starters in case your kiddos aren't stealing your house cured charcuterie. Little C&G had the most delicious brick oven pizza and Big C&G declared his pasta bolognese "the best he's ever had in this country". Very high praise.

The pasta is all made in house and by hand and I love that you can order a half portion from the dinner menu, which is all you'll need after a few cicchetti. Meat and fish courses are hearty, rustic, and absolutely delicious. The golden crispy skin on my guinea hen pasta dish was absolute perfection and what I always hope for (yet never get) when I bring home a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods.

We didn't have cocktails in the lounge (I had Ritz Carlton on the brain) before dinner but it certainly will be at the top of our list for next time. There's plenty of room to spread out and the low tables and couches are perfect for lounging with coloring books, cocktails, and charcuterie. Floor to ceiling windows look out over the arrivals and departures from the hotel and are ideal for people watching.

Even if you aren't staying at the Renaissance you should put M.C. Spiedo at the top of your kid friendly cocktail and restaurant list for your next trip to Boston. But if you're smart you'll book a room at the Renaissance, because the perfect ending to your amazing meal is heading upstairs when it's time to hit the pillow.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Maine Monday: Art & Cocktails

February break is usually a staycation for us, so it's a lot of work (and motivation) to keep us all busy for nine days. Most everybody heads out in search of warm weather or perfectly groomed powder so it's the ideal time to play tourist in Portland.

The Portland Museum of Art always has special school vacation week activities, with drop in drawing sessions to entice your little Picasso's (or you) out of their comfy pajamas. The latest exhibit, Fine Lines: American Drawings from the Brooklyn Museum is on now through April 27th, so you can put it on your calendar for the next break if you missed it this time around.

The gift shop has a great selection of toys and books
All of the displayed works are done in pencil, charcoals, pastels, chalks, or colored pencils. Not many of us can break out the paints and brushes for some creative kiddo time, but we all have lots of colored pencils (sometimes we even have sharpeners!) lying around in the art supplies box. This exhibit provides plenty of inspiration for when you get back home and the rest of vacation is looming ahead of you.

The best part of the exhibit has the be the giant magnifying glasses for use throughout the exhibit. Even when they weren't looking up each others nostrils, the little C&Gs loved getting up close to check out the shading and lines that add shadows or light to the drawings. Also in the center of the gallery is a drawing station with paper, pencils, and a trio of sculptures to choose from.

Of course a trip to a museum has to be followed up by snacks and cocktails. The current hot spot in Portland is located right across the street from the Portland Museum of Art. The Top of the East rooftop lounge just reopened in mid December as part of a $50 million dollar Westin hotel renovation. The sleek dark wood bar with stunning ocean and city views has become the place for drinks and because it's part of a hotel it's the perfect spot for afternoon cocktails with your kiddos.

The Portland Museum of Art closes at 5:00 and the bar opens at 5:00*, so it's perfect timing if you can plan it just right. Tugboats, barges, and giant container ships passing through the channel will keep your kiddos occupied while you choose from one of the signature cocktails. There's not much on the food menu that appeals to young palates but the cheese plate gave us all a little energy boost to make it till dinner time.

All the seats and couches were taken by 5:20 and the buzz will certainly still be going strong as we get into tourist season. So take it from C&G with this insider tip, the elevator to the 15th floor won't start working until 5:00 on the dot. As long as you're waiting in the lobby by the elevators by 4:50-ish (send the kiddos to wander the main floor of the hotel if they get antsy) you won't miss grabbing a spot at the hottest kid friendly bar in Portland.  

(4/1/14 - the lounge is now open at 4:00 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I'll see you on line for the elevator!)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Raspberry Lime Rickey

Is there anything that says summer more than a raspberry lime rickey? The answer, of course, is a raspberry lime rickey with vodka and this one is sure to banish the winter blues that we all seem to have in the middle of February.

We ventured down to Boston for a quick mini break at the start of vacation week, mostly to try out the newly opened restaurant M.C. Spiedo from James Beard Award winning Maine chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. I'll write up a review next week (it's Italian, so you can bet Little C&G gives it two thumbs up) but I had to share this amazingly tasty cocktail I had, called the Cosimo de'Medici.

At the restaurant it was served up in a martini glass, but when Mr. C&G made it for me back at home he kept the ice and poured it into a highball glass. Which is probably a good thing because it's very delicious, it tastes like summer, and it's sure to disappear way too quickly. Something that can't be said for this record setting snowy season we seem to be stuck in.

Raspberry Lime Rickey
2 oz vodka
1 oz Aperol
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
fresh raspberries

Add all ingredients (including a few raspberries) into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and pour into a glass
Garnish with a few more raspberries

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DIY at the Ritz Carlton, Boston

We are just back from a few days in Boston and I've got some blogging catching up to do. Along with some serious shoveling out thanks to yet another snowstorm. I think the bill from the liquor store is going to be double the grocery bill for the month of February.

But the good news is that I have a bunch of delicious new cocktails to post, like this bubbly one from the Avery Bar at the Ritz Carlton Boston. We found out the hard way that the Avery Bar isn't staffed on Sunday evenings or all day on Mondays. You can just imagine the sad face I gave the charming concierge when he informed us there would be no Ritzy Blonde in my very near future.  

Instead he told us we could order cocktails at the Artisan Bistro and carry them into the lounge of the Avery Bar. It wasn't quite the same but I was determined to end our day of museum-going on the couches at the Ritz.  There were plenty of other thirsty and confused patrons around the circular Avery Bar just waiting for a nonexistent bartender to appear. I told Mr. C&G to hop behind the bar and put his skills to use. If it weren't for the locked up liquor cabinet he easily could have made enough money in just an hour to cover a few nights at the Ritz. And not just from me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cocktail du jour: A Bottle of Veuve

There's no reason to complicate things on Valentine's Day, it's the perfect occasion to keep it simple with an amazing bottle of bubbly. Really all I want today is for the mountains of snow and ice outside to magically disappear and a giant bottle of Veuve Clicquot Rosé to enjoy. Chances are only one of those things will happen, and I'm sure you can guess which one will make me happiest.

If you'd like to jazz up your flutes for the occasion, the addition of crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) turns your champagne into the swanky sounding Kir Royale. Or instead add in raspberry flavored Chambord for a Kir Impérial. Whatever your pleasure, cheers to a lovely Valentine's Day, the digging out from yet another storm (and more on the way), and the start of a very long vacation week. Fingers crossed Mr. C&G bought me a whole case.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kings of the Castle: Ashford Castle, Ireland

Is there anything more magical than staying in a castle? Other than owning one, of course. Years ago in the midst of my obsession with Downton Abbey I was googling "castle hotels" and came across Ashford Castle. One look at the opening video (seriously, go watch it right now) on their website and I was hooked. And absolutely determined to add a trip to Ireland in our near future.

Built in 1228 and added to over the centuries, it was bought by the Guinness family (yes, of the dark stout with a white foamy head Guinness') in 1852 and then sold and opened as a hotel in 1939. Since then it has hosted royals, aristocrats, rock stars, actors, presidents, politicians, and the incredibly excited C&Gs last July.  

Storm the castle!
Ashford Castle is the most family friendly place we've ever stayed and judging by the amount of awards it has won we're clearly not alone in our opinion. From the crenelated towers to the endless emerald green lawn the entire place just begs to be explored by your little ones. The staff is first class and we felt very well taken care of from the minute we passed under the portcullis at the entrance and drove down the long winding road to meet up with the uniformed doorman.

Endless hallways, overstuffed couches, tables tucked into corners covered with board games, and miles of gardens and forests will keep your crew busy for days. The staff will happily arrange for outdoor adventures around the grounds and we took advantage of every offering.

The little C&Gs loved pretending they were the young Lords of the Manor with archery lessons, horseback rides through the forest, and an unforgettable walk with a pair of falcons from the Ireland School of Falconry. The falconry deserves a post all on it's own so I hope to post that tomorrow. They were also perfectly happy to run wild across the lawn and roll down hills while we watched (cocktail in hand, of course) from the big windows of the drawing room lounge.

Afternoon tea in the Prince of Wales Bar
Dining at the castle was an amazing experience, the food was phenomenal and they were happy to make anything the Little C&Gs requested. Of course there's a full children's menu available in any of the three restaurants. A cozy thatched cottage a short walk down the drive is the most casual option and if the weather is nice the tables on the patio have the most beautiful view of the castle with the lake just beyond.

Tea and light snacks are available in the Prince of Wales Bar (built specifically for the future George V's visit to Ashford in the late 1800s) and the drawing room lounge. But be sure to pack collared shirts (and dinner jackets for your adult companions) for an elegant dinner in the George V dining room. Dine under sparkling Waterford crystal chandeliers on the freshest local ingredients, prepared by the expertly trained chef, with no worries as to what your kiddos will eat. Their chicken nuggets or burgers will be delivered on the finest china.

Dine like a king in the George V Restaurant
We took advantage of one of the many family package specials, which adds in a bunch of the activities and meals along with a family friendly room. Our package was only for two nights, but on the first night Mr. C&G and I looked at each other and decided we needed a third night in this beautiful castle on the lake. I happily settled right in to the royal lifestyle and he knew I wasn't going to be removed easily!

Ashford Castle is on the West Coast of Ireland, less than a two hour drive from Shannon airport or under three hours drive to Dublin. Public transportation isn't the best outside of the big cities so we rented a car when we flew into Shannon from Edinburgh. Cars are small and roads are narrow (and the sheep are plentiful and happy to wander in front of your path) and Mr. C&G is always in charge of driving on the left.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Maine Monday: The Boot

What is the chicest accessory this week at New York Fashion Week? The very un-chic LLBean Boot. Even Manolo Blahnik has approved and requested a pair for himself. I'm sure the king of footwear is responsible for the current shortage of Bean Boot supply, one peek at their website tells me almost everything is "temporarily out of stock".

New York has had more of the white stuff dumped on it this winter than we have and I can't imagine there are too many fashionistas running between shows in their sky high stilettos. As unfashionable as it is, the Bean Boot is incredibly practical for racing through the streets of Manhattan, dodging the murky mess at every corner.

A new use for when this winter (and the fad) is over
I was hoping to update my vintage pair to a much warmer shearling lined version but it looks like I'll have to wait until the spring (also known as mud season here in Maine). Bean Boots are one of the few LLBean products still made by hand in Maine so the boot elves must be furiously stitching away to keep up with demand for this ugly but suddenly chic shoe.

With no stock left online, your next best bet is to find an LLBean store. We used to have the only one up in Freeport, but in recent years they've been popping up like mushrooms along the East Coast. So if you want to get your feet into the trendiest footwear of winter 2014 you'll need to take a field trip to one of their 29 stores. And make it snappy, because you know the minute Victoria and Harper Beckham are snapped in the big city wearing their Maine boots the waiting list will be longer than the legendary wait list for an Hermès Birkin.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cocktail du jour: I Heart Coconut

How gorgeous is this cocktail? Coconut and cherry are a perfect pair for the romantic month of February. Combining Cirôc coconut vodka with the newest member of the bar, Cherry Heering, creates an appropriately red and very delicious drink.

The tropical taste of the coconut blends well with the sweetness of the Cherry Heering, which tastes just like the leftover juice in the maraschino cherry jar but without all the fake chemicals and red dyes. It's a totally natural liqueur made in Denmark of crushed Danish cherries and neutral grain spirits.  

There are seven shopping days left until Valentine's Day, so while diamonds and exotic vacations might not be on the list this year, you can always find room in the grocery cart for liquor. Don't forget to throw in a bag of limes, we never seem to have fresh limes which is why Mr. C&G keeps a supply of bottled lime juice in the wine fridge.

Maybe I should ask for a lime tree for Valentine's Day. Cheers, lovers!

I Heart Coconut
2 oz coconut vodka
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz fresh lime juice

Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake it up and strain into a rocks glass

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cocktail du jour: The Grand Coconut

I've got an extra bonus cocktail du jour for you today because the photos and recipes are starting to pile up and there aren't enough Fridays in the month. With all the snow outside I'm dreaming of palm trees and coconuts so Mr. C&G created a few new cocktails to stop me from complaining about the winter. It was working until we finished off the bottle of Cirôc coconut vodka and now we've got to make another Bow Street Market run to restock.

The Grand Coconut
2 oz coconut vodka
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/4 oz Rose's lime juice

Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and strain into a martini glass
(After I took the photo I had Mr. C&G put it into a rocks glass over ice, it's just as tasty and fools me into thinking it will last longer.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter Wonderland (& Wine) Wednesday

It's hard to believe we're just having our first snow day of the school year. I know our friends further south are probably contemplating home schooling at this point so I'm certainly not going to complain. My only complaint was the 5:30am robo-call from the school to announce the cancellation, which I promptly unsubscribed us from as soon as I woke up. So much for sleeping in.

January was a dry month here at C&G HQ which means our wine fridge has sat empty and un-re-stocked since the start of 2014. When we heard news of the upcoming snowstorm Mr. C&G and I beelined it up to Freeport yesterday to Bow Street Market to refill the shelves. While people were crowding the aisles buying up bread and milk, Mr. C&G and I were filling our cart with Chateau Montelena, Eric Kent, Tullamore Dew, Grand Marnier, and other necessities.

A few days ago we finished off the last bottle of Chateau Montelena that Mr. C&G brought back from his visit to the Napa Valley winery. Breaking out the good stuff is a sure sign we need to re-stock but we paired it with a viewing of the movie Bottle Shock and raised a glass to the winery that brought California to the world wine stage.

If you're snowbound with the kiddos send them to bed early tonight (surely they'll be exhausted from all that fresh cold air) and steal back some grown up movie time. Break open your best bottle, fire up the fireplace, and settle in to watch Bottle Shock (on Netflix). It tells the remarkable story of Chateau Montelena winning the 1976 wine competition against the top wines of France.

The movie is a lot of fun and Alan Rickman's performance as a British wine snob stuck in a failing Parisian wine shop is Oscar-worthy (the rest of the movie, not so much). His sneer is pure Severus Snape and nobody can look down their nose as condescendingly as he can. Plus the scenes of endless vineyards will make the snow outside a distant memory.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maine Monday: Museum Time

Borrow supplies and stools from the PMA Art Cart
Vacation week is rapidly approaching and I'm digging into the archives to come up with some fun ideas to keep us all from going crazy. We don't have any plans to go away and one thing I love about sticking around during school breaks is the museums always have fun family activities planned. 

If your kiddos aren't enthusiastic museum goers, chances are they'll jump at the chance to color or scavenger hunt their way around the galleries of your closest museum. The Portland Museum of Art has renovated their family play space and will be hosting a drawing festival on Thursday, February 20th. Your budding artists will be inspired by the newest exhibit, beautiful line drawings from the vast collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

The gift shop has the best selection of books on art, architecture, design, and fashion, along with an impressive collection of children's art books and toys. Have your kiddos pick out a coloring book or two and head downstairs for a snack and more importantly a glass of wine. Aurora Provisions supplies the downstairs cafe with yummy sandwiches, salads, pastries and sugary treats. 

Photo from Bowdoin College of Art website
Tops on my must see list over vacation are the latest acquisitions at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. A retired postal worker and his librarian wife amassed one of the most important collections of late 20th century contemporary art, almost 5,000 pieces that Herbert and Dorothy Vogel kept in their tiny NYC apartment.

In 1992 they gave the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and in 2008 they distributed 50 works to 50 different museums, one in each state. In early January it was announced that 320 works were being given to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the majority of the donation is currently on view. I just love their story (watch the PBS documentary Herb & Dorothy or the movie Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50), everyday art collectors with a very small income, buying art for the simple reason that something appealed to them. It's an inspirational tale, and one you should definitely share with your kids. 

Gelato Fiasco is a short walk from both museums in Portland and Brunswick, and during the winter they discount according to the "frozen code", a percentage point off for every degree below freezing. If you're looking for something a little more filling (or just less cold) I wrote up a few recommendations here

The Portland Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 - 5:00 and open late on Fridays till 9:00. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for teens (13-17) and under 12s are free. Bowdoin College Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 - 5:00, until 8:30 on Thursday, and Sundays 1:00 - 5:00 and admission is always free.