My feelings exactly.

My feelings exactly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Cozy Outing for Cold Days

The grey skies and newly naked trees of late November are a huge relief for my husband and kids. Finally, it's just too darned chilly and wet for all those hikes and bike rides. And we won't be skiing for at least a handful of weeks. They know, though, not to get too comfortable on the couch. Because I'm always drumming up something to get all of us off our asses.

One of my favorites tricks during the late fall--and even during winter before the snows--is a trip up to the Walpack Inn in Sussex County, NJ. Yes, it's a restaurant and I do lure them with the prospect of food. But you probably can guess by now that, in my book, there's gotta be some kind of physical output to merit a meal. Especially because the Walpack Inn is a hefty hour and 15 minutes from my house and I'm not inclined to drive that far for any plate of chow in the Garden State.

In this case, the pre-meal prerequisite is a quick romp at nearby Stokes State Forest. Nothing too demanding, mind you. Just enough time out in the open to bring color to our cheeks, rouse our appetites, and make our bods crave some warmth. Most times, we simply turn off Route 206 into Stokes, drive past the park office on up to the lake and--depending upon our mood and the weather--kick a ball around Kittle Field or follow one of the easy trails that radiate from the main picnic area. When the kids were younger, they particularly dug the playground that is also situated in this spot.

When it's just about dark, we pile into the car and point it towards the Inn. It's a beautiful 15-20 minute drive through surprisingly remote countryside, past signs for Peters Valley art colony and the virtual ghost village of historic Walpack Center. At points, you'll wonder if you've taken a wrong turn. But eventually, you'll come upon the smoke puffing chimney and the unexpectedly busy parking lot of the Walpack Inn. You'll tumble out of your car, push open the heavy wooden door of this quasi-log cabin and feel like you've joined a party everyone else has been celebrating forever.

The room is toasty, the air perfumed with a heady mix of wood burning fire and freshly baked bread. Some old guy is usually banging out tunes on a piano and everyone's bellied up to the bar, sipping a scotch or a beer while they wait for their table. The area is big, friendly, and casual enough for kids to wander around freely, checking out historic artifacts on display or sipping a Shirley Temple at one of the big old oak clawfoots scattered about the space. When your dinner table is ready, they'll shout your name. And here's where you'll become even more of a god to your kids than you already are: You'll sit down to see deer happily grazing just inches from your window. It's not some fluke of nature: The Inn puts out food for the animals and has outdoor lighting to make sure guests stay entertained well into the evening. Think of it as Sussex County's finest (only?) dinner theater.

Walpack's food is nothing spectacular, but certainly acceptable and just right for families. There's a Seventies style salad bar, a relatively reasonable menu featuring corny standbys like prime rib, teriyaki chicken breasts and shrimp cocktail. And there's a decent kids' menu, too. Best of all is the crusty, hearty, whole grain bread they serve up in slabs with sweet butter on everyone's table. It's so well loved, the restaurant sells loaves to take home and even prepackaged mixes so you can whip it up yourself. Top it all off with dessert, collapse back into the car, and by the time you arrive home and rouse your sleepy kids, you'll feel you've been away for a week.
Wanna Go? Need to Know:
Getting There: Stokes State Forest is a huge area in northwestern NJ. The spot I'm talking about is called the Stony Lake Day Use Area/Kittle Field. It is a solid hour and fifteen minutes from Montclair, heading out 80 West to Exit 34B and up along Route 15 which turns into 206. For more detailed directions, click here: http://www.nynjtc.org/ and type "kittatinny ridge stokes state forest" into the search function. To get from Stokes to the restaurant DO NOT use your GPS. It may very well take you on a backwoods road toward Tillman Ravine WHICH IS CLOSED during the winter months. You're best off calling the restaurant ahead of time and asking them for directions from the main entrance of Stokes State Forest on Route 206: 973-948-3890.
Trail Tips: The Stony Lake Day area is a fine spot for a romp during cold weather. When it's warm, there are tons of other trails to try out. A good, relatively easy one for agile kids about 8 and up is Tillman Ravine. You can get info by Googling it or going to the aformentioned http://www.nynjtc.org/.
When to Go: The Walpack Inn is generally only open during the winter on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It may be open an extra night during the summer. Not sure. The restaurant only takes reservations for groups of eight or more and it does tend to get busy. The earlier you go, the better if you don't like waiting. If you want to sit by the window for prime deer watching, you'll wait longer than if you'll take any old seat that comes along. Either way, we've never waited longer than 45 minutes and it's such a fun place, it doesn't really matter. Just build that time into your plans so your kids don't go mad with hunger. This is a great outing all year long, except perhaps in the dead of snowy winter. During cold weather, when it gets dark earlier, we tend to leave Montclair about 2:15, which gets us to Stokes by about 3:30 and gives us about an hour to romp around. We get to the restaurant by about 5:00 and after a wait for a table, sit down around 5:15 to 5:30.
What to Bring: We sometimes bring a change of clothes for dinner but not a must at all. This place is pretty laid back. You might want to bring cards, dominos, Take Two tiles, or whatever to keep the kids and yourselves amused while you wait for a table.
Costs/Services: Off season there is no entry fee at Stokes. Entrees at the Walpack run between about $23 to $29. But servings are generous and come with bread and salad bar. Meals can easily be split. The kids menu is very reasonable. Their web site is: http://www.walpackinn.com/.
Fear Factor: None. Except fear of waiting for a table. But don't fret. Just factor this in as part of the adventure.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Got Apples? Make This Cake.

Every October since we moved to Montclair back in 1998, we've gone apple picking up in New Paltz. And every October, we've come home with enough apples to adorn the desk of every teacher in the tri-state area. When first faced with this embarassingly huge apple supply, I scoured the web and old cookbooks for a truly delicious apple cake that might help use up some of our bounty. Yet, I didn't have much luck--some cakes were too oily, some were too dry, some were just plain dull. I suspect that my search was so arduous (I know, I need to get a life), because many apple cakes come from traditional Jewish cookbooks (I think it has something to do with the whole apples-Rosh Hashannah connection). And unfortunately that means they are usually made with oil instead of butter so that Kosher folks can have their meat and eat cake, too.

Well, I’m not Kosher. I am, in fact, convinced that in the vast majority of cases, there’s no point to baking anything sweet if butter isn’t part of the picture. Anyway, in 2002, I finally stumbled upon this apple cake recipe from Rosie’s Baking Book. It was so phenomenal, I made it twice that very first day. I, in fact, made this cake so many times that fall that my apple supply vanished by the winter holidays. A first.

I really can't recommend this recipe enough. It is, along with my pumpkin muffins, the most requested recipe in my repertoire. It's moist, perfumed with cinnamon, buttery, and keeps like a dream. It calls for granny smiths, but I use any firm, tart apple I happen to have hauled home with me from Upstate. Kids love this cake, grownups swoon for it....it's perfect for a fall dessert or can even stand in for a coffee cake at brunch. And it's practically foolproof. The only person who can't seem to pull it off is my mom. But then again, her oven runs about 150 degrees cooler than it's supposed to. Other than having an oven that works, there's really only one trick to this cake: Once you turn it out from the tube pan onto a plate, you're supposed to place your actual serving plate on top, and then flip it back over so the cake is right side up. For years, I didn't do this, nor did I realize I was serving this cake upside down. If you don't feel like taking the risk of a flip, forget this step: Serve it as it comes from the tube pan and let your friends and family flip for the cake instead.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. Ground cinnamon
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsps. Vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
4 cups apples (3 to 4 large apples), peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch cubes

1 tsp. Cinnamon mixed with 1 tbsp. Sugar (turbinado ideally for some crunch) for topping.

confectioners sugar glaze (highly optional, to drizzle over finished cake. You'll need about 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar, stirred up with enough milk to make it drizzly, yet still thick. That's very little, s0 start with about a teaspoon and keep adding milk slowly until you reach the right consistency.)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom with butter or vegetable oil. I make life easy and spray the pan with Pam for Baking, which combines flour and oil in one simple squirt.
2. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Cream butter, oil, sugar, and vanilla in a medium-size mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until the ingredients are blended, about 2 minutes. Stop to scrape the bowl twice with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix on medium-low speed after each addition until blended, 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl each time. Once the eggs are added, mix again for 10 seconds.
5. Add half the dry ingredients and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Scrape the bowl, add the rest of the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until blended, about 5 seconds more.
6. Add the apples with a few turns of the mixer or by folding them in by hand with a wooden spoon.
7. Spoon the batter into the pan and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar over the top. Bake the cake on the center oven rack until the top is firm and golden and a tester inserted at the cake’s highest point comes out dry, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.
8. Invert cake onto large plate. If desired, place actual serving plate on top of cake. Flip over. Allow to cool completely.
9. Drizzle with confectioners sugar glaze, if desired. Devour and win raves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

For A Quick Leaf Peep: Go Wawayanda

Yeah, I know. It's back to school insanity. Weekends are now hostage to homework and sports mayhem. But sometimes you end up with a Sunday surprise: a little bit of sun, a little bit of energy and.....an open few hours on the schedule.

Here's my suggestion: Skip the leaf-peeping crowds clogging the New York Thruway and head Wawayanda. It's just about an hour from Montclair and maybe a little more from the City. But this glassy lake surrounded by miles of trail-laced wilderness really does make you feel like you're, well, just what its name implies. Last autumn, on one of those precious Indian summer days, Paul and I popped up there with Noah, his friend, and Ringo. The colors were riotous, the air perfumed with that spicy, heart-tugging smell of dying leaves, the water as still as a mirror. We ate turkey sandwiches, then tossed fishing lines from the shore. We walked with Ringo along the flat, easy path around the lake, while the boys scrambled up fallen tree trunks and rocky shelves. And when we hit the dam at the other end, we laughed our own pants off as Noah and his bud stripped down to their boxers and ducked under the waterfall.

I've returned often ever since: For a Mother's Day picnic with Grammy Florence. For a day of kayaking with Grandma Carol (all sorts of boats are for rent between Memorial Day and around about mid-October). And just last weekend, I took all of my males on a New Year's hike to Shelter Pond just outside the park. You see, I gave them a choice: synagogue or the woods. I don't think they realize we don't belong to a synagogue and that I'd sooner go to a Nascar event in Texas than wear a skirt, read a book I don't understand, and stand up and sit down for five hours straight. Yes, I'm probably going to hell. But Ben the Nature Hater did fall three times and was tormented by a bee, so it's not as though there wasn't suffering involved. And we did do some good Nature worshipping, right? Whatever your inclinations, spiritual or sporty, go ahead, give it a try. Wawayanda will take you where you need to go.
Wanna Go? Need to know....
Getting There: Wawayanda is almost at the New York State border in the NJ Skylands, about 10 minutes from West Milford. Your best bet is to follow directions at this web site: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/wawayanda.html. You can also punch this address into your GPS: 885 Warwick Turnpike Hewitt, NJ. Keep in mind, though, that this is a mailing address and when your GPS tells you you have arrived, you will see only houses and get very nervous. Keep driving a few hundred yards, though, and you will see a big sign on the right pointing into Wawayanda, the entrance of which is on your left. For details, you can call:(973) 853-4462.
Trail Tips: Wawayanda State Park is a huge recreation area, with many trails (including 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail) and several parking lots. When you enter, you might want to pop into the park office for maps/info/recommendations. If you want to hike and boat as I've described, follow the signs to the lake. And here's the important part....drive right through the first parking lot for the lake and continue on to the second lake parking lot. This is where the boats and easy lake trails are. (The first lot is for swimmers, I think.) You can picnic at the picnic tables, throw your stuff back in the car, then take a walk around the lake and follow any of the trails for as long as you like. Just keep track of where you're going! If you want a more serious hike, ask the park office for advice and buy a map of the area (the ones they give out for free ain't so great). The Shelter Pond hike I took with the boys is amazing (so is Bearfort Ridge), but they can be tricky to follow so only undertake them if you are somewhat confident reading trail maps and blazes. The trailheads for these are actually outside the park.
When to Go: As I said, Wawayanda rents kayaks, peddle boats, small electric boats, etc. between Memorial Day and mid-October, so it's a great summer/early fall destination. Be warned, though, that it can get busy on peak swim weekends. Fall is divine, spring, too, and I've heard Wawayanda is the bomb for cross country skiing and even ice skating. I'll report this winter.
What to Bring: Bathings suits, water shoes, towels, picnic stuff when it's warm. Fishing rods any time--it's one of the few year-round habitats in NJ for landlocked salmon and trout. Mountain biking is big here. Dogs love this place and yes, signs say to keep them leashed. I generally let Ringo loose once I'm in the woods.
Costs/Services: There's a per car charge of $5/weekdays and $10/weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The rest of the year it's free. Boat rentals start at about $15/hour (I may be wrong here). There are lifeguards and a concession stand at the swim area; there's a decent bathroom and picnic tables at the lot where you rent the boats. All garbage must be carried out. If you don't feel like shlepping bikes, call ahead to the park office. I saw a sign recently that bikes are available for rent.
Fear Factor: None if you're just hanging around the lake. There are enough people so you won't feel creepy about getting lost or about being attacked by a bear or human. If you take a real trail, they are generally well marked, but it's still easy to get lost ,so always take another adult with you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fresh Spin on the City: Ride the West Side

My girlfriend Gail turned me on to this wild West Side adventure a few years ago. And I’ve been doing it spring, summer, and fall ever since.

Here’s how it goes: Tell the kids you’re all going biking. Load up your gear. And point the car toward the Lincoln Tunnel. Then watch your passengers get increasingly confused as they see the city skyline growing ever closer.

At this point, my guys are already onto this trick. But they--especially Ben the Nature Hater--become way psyched when they realize that this day of biking will not take them into the woods but down the (now newly/or nearly completed) Westside Greenway that ribbons down Manhattan’s West Side along the Hudson River. It’s such an amazing ride, cooled by the water and chock full of eye goggling, nose-to-window sights, from the hulking Intrepid in the 40s to the swim-suit studded pedestrian piers off Tribeca, to the fang-like skyscrapers and Lady Liberty that beckon way on down. Just don’t get too hypnotized: On his first ride, our then-seven-year-old Noah was so entranced as he biked beneath the yawning hulls of the cruise ships docked at the Maritime Terminal, he drove right into another rider. This kicked off a chain reaction, whereby I rode over Noah, and two more bikers piled on top of us. The great gash in Noah’s bike helmet from that incident drove two unforgettable points home for all of us: Keep your eyes on the bike path. And a helmet really can save your life. At the very least, your day.

Here’s how we generally tackle the Greenway when kids are involved: We come in the Lincoln, zip up West End Avenue and park in the garage behind my mother-in-law’s apartment at Lincoln Towers. You can, of course, unload at any garage near the West Side Highway. But I favor this Lincoln Towers spot because it’s a super easy, quick, and safe hop from the garage onto the Greenway. And since it’s out of a touristy neighborhood (unlike near the Intrepid), the garage is quite affordable and the crowds are absent. (We also get to use Grammy’s bathroom, but I don’t know how she’ll react if you show up asking for the same. The garage has a bathroom, too.)

So, with kids, we roll onto the Greenway and head south…..stopping when we feel like it for cold drinks or an amble out onto one of the many park-like piers that jut out into the river. Follow, follow, follow the path---if at any point you get confused about which way to go (the path branches off frequently into minor detours and mini parks), just keep heading south and stay close to the river. You really can’t get lost.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself in the crystal canyon of the World Financial Center, surrounded by suited-up lunch crowds (weekdays), enormous yachts lolling in their privileged slips, and tourists from across the globe. When I’m with my kids, we usually lock up our bikes at this point (we just hook up to a barricade). Then we head into the Winter Garden, where there are tons of food options. We usually pick up sandwiches from Cosi, then head back outside and snag a table. After a good hang, we’ll head a little further south to soak up a primo view of the Statue of Liberty, then turn around and head back uptown.

When I go with my girlfriends or Paul, we usually spice things up a bit. That includes riding all the way down the West Side Greenway, around the Battery, back up the East Side, over the Brooklyn Bridge, into a little bit of Brooklyn, and then back across Manhattan on the streets. Our adventure also includes hunting a lunch spot down in the Village where we can lock up the bikes, eat outside, and order wine. Even more reason to wear a helmet, wouldn’t ya say? With kids, without kids, keeping it short, or exploring big time, this is one ride that satisfies. Every time.

Wanna Go? Need to know….
Getting There:
If you’re heading to my mother-in-law’s garage, come in via the Lincoln, hang a left on 41st, then turn up 10th . I usually take a left at 66th Street (where the old Martin Luther High School is). Take 66th Street, cross over West End Avenue, then take the next right onto Freedom Place. The garage I use is on the right, about a half a block up, across the street from the Jubilee Market.
Trail Tips: Once you unload your bikes, ride about one block west toward the water (this is through the newish Trump apartment complex). There’s an entrance to the Greenway down a ramp just to your--I believe--left. If you stay below about 74th Street, the trail is flat and easy all the way. Farther uptown, things get a little hillier.
When to Go: Even on very hot summer days, this is a great ride thanks to river breezes. I tend to avoid riding with the kids on peak weekends: This is the busiest bikeway in the country and slow or fallen riders can get mowed down pretty easily. (As I described above). My top pick: Playing hooky with a girlfriend on a spring weekday. Or a late Sunday afternoon ride with the kids and Paul.
What to Bring: Of course, bring your bikes. If you don’t or can’t byob, you can rent from Bike and Roll at 43rd Street/Pier 84. Haven’t used it myself, but it’s probably a good bet: Check them out at http://www.bikeandroll.com/. What else? Keep cargo to a minimum. In warm weather, I carry just my cell phone, water, and wallet on my bike. When it’s cooler, I’ll keep some fleece in a daypack. A camera, of course.
Costs: The garage I use costs something around $18 for the day, I think. Maybe a little more. Lunch is up to you….pack one if you really want to economize. A bike rental for the day will run you $30-$40, depending upon what you rent and how long you rent it for.
Fear Factor: No crazy rapist fears here--though if you ride above about 100th Street the scene can get a little sketchy. The biggest thing here is making sure the kids and you pay attention to the bike traffic so you don’t end up in a pile up. If you stay slow, steady, and alert, you’ll be fine.
 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hit This Spot While It's Still Hot

Until about two weeks ago, there was only one place where I really loved to swim. That’s Lake George, the mountain-rimmed glacial lake in New York State where my family’s been camping for 52 years. I’m partial to that lake because it’s clear and rocky. No weird muddy froggy lilly pad stuff going on. No sand to get stuck in funky places. No salt to make things sticky.

Who woulda thought I’d find a spot that would give old George a run for the money less than an hour from Montclair? In central Jersey, no less. It’s called Round Valley Recreation Area and until I stumbled upon it on the Internet, I had never even heard of the place. What I read online was intriguing: The area centers around a huge, deep reservoir that is nearly encircled by mountain biking trails and footpaths and, at one end, boasts a swimming area. (It is also one of the few spots in Jersey that offers wilderness campsites). "Perfect jaunt for a hot August day," I says to myself, I says.

Noah and I threw our swim stuff, the dog, and an errant playpal in the car and set off to check Round Valley out. We zipped right down 78, got off at Exit 18 and paid our $5 at the entry booth to get into the park. My heart quickly sunk when we pulled up to a packed parking lot. We trudged across the tarmac in the blazing sun and caught sight of the “swimming area”: A sprawl of brown sand clotted with daytripping moms and crying babes and edged by a stone complex containing a snack bar and changing rooms. So much for the great NJ wilderness. I rolled my eyes and figured we’d chalk this one up along with our paintballing foray (tune in later for details.)

Since the swimming looked so awful, I loaded the gang back in the car, figuring we’d check out the trails--evening though it was 8,000 degrees out and all we wanted to be was wet. We backtracked a few hundred yards to another lot where the trailheads started and …..just like that, we were in another world. Just a few cars, just a few feet to a woodsy path, and crowds were a distant debacle. Not a structure in sight, save for the dam building down in a far corner--just waves of green hills backdropping a crystalline clear lake nearly as blue as the Caribbean. I hate to admit it, but this water was clearer, by far, than Lake George. And here’s the beauty part: It was warm.

We wandered along the path, running into the water at will. Yeah, there were signs saying “no swimming” and “dogs must be leashed,” but the few people around didn’t seem to give a hoot. Finally, the water became so irresistible, I gave in: I hadn’t brought a bathing suit, so I walked right into the water in my clothes and Tevas. Even Ringo, who doesn’t swim, joined Noah, Adam and me, and the four of us splashed around, hooting and hollering in the heat.

That’s basically how we blew a whole day. Popping in an out of the water. Strolling along the reservoir under the trees when we felt like it. For a whole hour, I stared up into a beautiful pine while Ringo and the boys splashed. The day disappeared before we knew it. And we had done, well, not much. But it’s a day I’ll remember well when the temp dips below freezing and the chaos of the working year is in full swing.
Wanna Go? Need to know……
Getting There: Take the GSP South to 78 West. Follow 78 West to Exit 18. Follow signs to the park. Once you pay at the gatehouse, take your first right into the parking lot for the trailheads. There’s a lower parking lot near the water that’s for divers or boaters or something. The upper parking lot is closer to the trailheads. Park there. This trip took us about 50 minutes without traffic. Park info: 908-236-6355.
Trail Tips: If you are looking at the lake and the lower parking lot, there’s an easy trail that starts just to your left. Follow a sort of dirty muddy road for a few hundred feet, then bear left and follow the trail around the shore of the lake. It’s shady in most parts and stays close to the water. I believe you can walk all the way to the dam at the far side. There is also the much longer Cushetunk Trail (probably good to do in cooler weather) that goes around a fair part of the lake--it’s a little less kiddy and grandma friendly and is also farther from the water. Very popular with seasoned mountain bikers. I plan to hike this in the fall with the guys.
When to Go: As mentioned, this lake is so gorgeous, it’s a shame not to visit when it’s hot enough to jump in. I was concerned about it being crowded on the weekends, but when I returned to the same spot on a Sunday with the rest of the family in tow, it was still blissfully quiet and relatively unpopulated (unlike the dreaded swimming area). I’ve got to guess that fall is gorgeous here--and the hike along Cushetunk must be a blast. I’m sure there’s a way to avoid the GSP (maybe catching 287 off 78, then going up to 80?), but dealing with the GSP rush hour thing is tricky on the weekdays. So, you might want to leave after the morning rush and try to get back to the GSP going north before it starts jamming up with commuters coming from the Holland Tunnel.
What to bring: Water shoes (the bottom is rocky and pebbly), goggles and snorkels (the water at Round Valley is so clear, many scuba divers come here), sunblock, bug spray. Pick up lunch before you leave home….the pickings are very slim once you get off 78 and the snack bar at the swim area only sells burgers, hot dogs, etc.--not very picnic-friendly fare. Also consider bringing fishing rods (kids under 12 don’t need licenses in NJ, I believe). The lake is stocked with trout and other species--we didn’t catch anything but that doesn’t mean much. And if you have kayaks or mountain bikes--bring em. Chances are, though, that if you have this stuff, you already know this place.
Cost: There’s a $5 charge per car weekdays; $10 per car on the weekends.
Fear Factor: My biggest fear here was getting busted for having Ringo off leash and for swimming in the “no swimming” reservoir. Didn’t happen. To me or to anyone else breaking these rules during our visit. I’ve got to believe this isn’t really a drinking water source---there are no fences blocking people from getting at the water and scuba divers and boaters are allowed in. It’s got to be a lifeguard/safety thing. So swim at your own risk--which is really pretty minimal, since the shore slopes so gently into the water even little ones can splash around while mom sits on her keester. (Don’t quote me on that.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

To Hell with the Hard Rock. Take the Kiddies to Buddhabar.

I’ve been married long enough to know that I need not spend my anniversary at some romantic restaurant staring into the eyes of my beloved. We’ve gone that route before and usually end up telling one another we need new glasses and Botox. So last May 31, when my husband and I found ourselves up against our big night with no big plans on the the board, we took a Meat Packing District denizen’s recommendation, and popped into Buddhabar for a coupla drinks and dinner.

Neither of us knew squat about the place…other than that it wasn’t Buddakan, the super luxe temple of excess where the uber hip flock for overpriced Asian food. I guess we both assumed that because the word “bar” was tacked onto the name Buddha (in itself comical), this spot would be more cajz--perhaps a good place to throw back a few Kirins and order a round of dumplings.

We must have walked up and down hipster-packed Little West 12th Street five times looking for Buddahbar before we realized it was the spot fronted by a pair of those tell tale red velvet club ropes. Hmmm. We hauled open a pair of enormous doors, the sunlight slipped away behind us, and we were suddenly walking through a darkened tunnel flanked by luminescent Buddhas. We were greeted at the end of this tunnel by one of the most cavernous and spectacular spaces I’ve seen yet in Manhattan. And by a coat-hanger of a hostess (and her many clones), whose neckline scooped so low it revealed her belly button. (I am not exaggerating.)

The place was virtually empty--no self respecting clubber would be seen anywhere at 7 on a Saturday, of course. So we ambled over to the bar area, climbed onto a pair of bordello-inspired couches and ordered up some absurd club cocktails--I think mine was a, don’t laugh, Buddhatini. As we moved from cocktails to dinner, and as the place started filling up with studiously garbed Buddha babes and beaus, the truth about Buddhabar became hilariously apparent: When you see more than five girls yank down their black minidresses in a span of 15 minutes, it’s a dead give away they have bought a new dress for the occasion and are probably from Paramus or Peoria. This place--with its flames, sky-high statues, meandering indoor streams, costumed characters, and kooky drinks and eats--was basically a high-end theme restaurant just a hair away from being a big-time bridge and tunnel attraction. Moments after a buxom 20-something-year- old girl fell off her platform shoe and nearly landed in our sashimi, Paul and I looked intently into each other’s eyes and said, virtually at the same time: “The boys would think this place rocks.”

Flash forward to a late Saturday afternoon in early August: We get the boys into the closest thing they have to unstudied casual chic--khaki shorts with rolled up, slightly wrinkly oxfords on top. We cruise into the Meatpacking District and snag a parking spot right on the street (again, no one really shows up til 9 or 10 around there). We take a walk around--the people watching (and window shopping if you’re into it) is pretty snappy. Then we saunter into the restaurant. The boys’ eyes nearly pop out of their heads. (And not because of all the short skirts.) They love the whole experience, the whole side show feel of the place…right down to the “copper waterfall sink and the guy giving out free gum” in the men’s room (don’t think Noah knew a tip was in order). “This,” declares my 13 year old, “is what I call an insanely cool restaurant.” Mission accomplished.

We top off the evening by heading diagonally across the street and climbing a stairway up to the High Line, that spectacular park that’s just opened along what used to be the abandoned elevated train tracks. I am a bit nervous at first about going up--it is about 9 PM and Paul has gone uptown to work a concert, so I am alone with the boys. But once we get there, all worries fall away. The place is teeming with people--strolling, lying on the park’s skyline-view chaise lounges, soaking up the hot August night. We buy some Ronnybrook ice cream cones and lap them up as we stroll. It is all we dream New York can be. Then we pop back down to street level and jump in the car for the burbs. Now that’s a theme night grown up and kids can all handle.
Wanna Go? Need to Know….
Getting There: In case you don’t know this already, Little West 12th Street is in a weird spot. You can take the Lincoln Tunnel, go down Ninth Avenue, turn right on 14th, then take left on Washington Street and then a left on Little West 12th. If you Mapquest it, the address is 25 Little West 12th. If you go early, there’s usually parking right on the street. Call the restaurant for reservations (and garage info if you want it): (212) 647-7314.
Trail Tips: If you don’t want to blow money on dinner at Buddhabar, you can grab a couple of drinks and appies there, then walk over to Chelsea Market and pick up some good eats (I think it closes at 9). If you want to go to the High Line after Buddhabar, come out of the restaurant, cross over Little West 12th and walk toward the river (to the right). The nearest entrance to the High Line is at Gansevoort and Washington Streets (literally right there). The northernmost entrance is at 20th Street.
When to Go: If you go to Buddhabar early in the evening, you‘ll be fine: The night crowds aren’t out yet, rezzies are pretty easy to get even on a Saturday, and there’s often still parking outside. If you have dinner at about 7, you’ll still have time for a stroll on the High Line, which closes at about 10 (I believe).
What to Bring: Don’t look like you’re going to a wedding. And don’t look like you just finished a trip on the Circle Line. I got away with a long sundress, (I’d wear slacks otherwise). Paul wore , a good t-shirt and casual jacket. You’ll see I have none of my own pictures in this blog. Just couldn’t bring myself to do it. You might be a bit more self-actualized, so you might want a camera. Your call. Don’t bring any child young enough to cry in a restaurant. Same goes for a kid too young too sit still in her/his seat. I’d say this is a perfect adventure for tweens/teens and their parents/generous aunts and/or uncles.
Costs: I think each cocktail at Buddhabar was about $16. Dinner can include things like sushi, sashimi, dumplings and some hot entrees. Both times we’ve been it’s been fine. Not spectacular. But certainly better than the stuff you’ll get at Planet Hollywood. We got out for under $150 for the 4 of us, booze included. (We ordered a bunch of rolls, some apps, and one hot main for the boys.)
Fear Factor: The only thing to be afraid of in the Meat Packing district is fatal pretentiousness. You, like me, will be able to get past it. I know it.


Have fun.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Great Jaunts, Part II: Go Climb a Rock.

When I take my kids out in the woods or out in the wilds, I find no thrill in the experience if everyone’s life is at stake. (Been there, done that, children still traumatized from the experience.) So, when I got a bee in my bonnet about taking the youngins rock scrambling up in New Paltz for the first time a few years ago, I knew just what I had to do to preserve all of our sanity: I’d pass up Bonticou Crag, my fave scramble in the area, swallow my pride, and shell out bucks for day passes at Mohonk Mountain House.

Mohonk Mountain House, if you aren’t familiar with the place and haven‘t read my previous blog about it, is a rambling, old resort that occupies one of the most gorgeous spots in the Shawangunks. Perched next to a mountaintop lake, it is surrounded by miles of gazebo-dotted trails and rimmed by a profusion of carefully tended gardens. It is also home to The Labyrinth--a well-used, carefully marked maze of ladders and rock scrambles that leads intrepid climbers to the resort’s mountaintop tower. While not risk free, it’s about as cushy as a bouldering spot can get. I mean, even if you do happen to fall and crack your skull open, there’s a nice tea salon inside the hotel where your clan can hang out while you’re rushed to the local ER. (Actually, day trippers aren’t allowed inside. But I’m assuming they’ll take pity if someone actually gets bloody while visiting.)

Now, when I was a kid and we wanted to hit the Labyrinth, my father refused to pay for a day pass at Mohonk just on principle. So--principled man he was--he’d usually con his way out of paying by telling the gatehouse some farfetched story about scoping out the restaurant for a family reunion. Or he’d try to cajole at least a couple of us kids to hide in the trunk so he could cut down on the per person charge. At this point in my life, it still makes me gag to pay a steep fee just to use the grounds. And I’m not too proud to say it irks me just a bit to be the interloping day tripper on Mohonk’s privileged premises. But, it’s easy to get over myself and the charge once we’ve parked the car, hiked our way up to the hotel (the shuttle busy is for babes with bingo arms,, thanks) and started scrambling up that good ol’ Labyrinth.

It’s not a fear-free venture, mind you. In fact, Ben and our neighbor Nicole sobbed the whole way up when they took on the Labyrinth at 10 years of age. But Noah and tiny Stefanie, just 7 and 8 at that point, scrambled up without a hitch. Except, perhaps, for the infamous Lemon Squeeze--a long ascent via rickety ladder through a rocky chimney at the top of which climbers must physically haul themselves up into the sunshine. They all cried, but I got them there, even if pushing them all up to safety took a permanent toll on my rotator cuff. The take home message here is that each of the kids I had in tow not only survived, they felt amazing pride in the fact that they succeeded. And every single one declared they would do it even faster….next time. And there have many “next times,” not necessarily with the same players, but with kids and adults of many ages who have all lived to tell their tale. Including me. Now, as for Bontcou…
.
Want to go? Need to Know….
Getting There:
It’s about an hour and 15 minutes from Montclair, up the GSP to the NYS Thruway to New Paltz. It’s a quick and pretty drive from Exit 18 to Mohonk Mountain House, as long as town isn’t choked with apple pickers (the legions of which include us at some point in mid October). Find exact directions at http://www.mohonk.com/.
Trail Tips: The hike up from the parking lot to the hotel is scenic and not too long….about two miles maybe. You could also take the free shuttle, which lets you off at the picnic lodge. Ask anyone there how to get to the hotel. Then ask anyone on the hotel grounds how to get to the Labyrinth. It should take an hour or so to get to the tower via the Labyrinth…all along the way reassure the kids that they will not come down the same way. It’s a gentle stroll back to the hotel down a well-tended path. Fit grandparents and non-climbers can walk the gentle way up and meet scramblers at the top.
When to Go: The Labyrinth is good for a visit any time it’s dry out and pleasant enough to be outside. I tend to stay away from Mohonk Mountain House on peak summer and autumn leaf-peeping weekends, since the hotel books up, and crowds pack the whole New Paltz area. In fact, if you don’t get there early enough on some prime weekends, the hotel stops issuing day passes in order to control crowds.
What to Bring: Sunblock, sneakers, crummy clothes you don’t mind snagging on rocks, water. Pack a lunch for eating up at the tower. Don’t have the kids carry daypacks--they can be cumbersome while climbing. As for the adult sherpa in the pack, pack as little as you can and put it in the smallest daypack that’s practical--you won’t want anything big and bulky on your back either. You might also take a bathing suit and leave it in the car--there’s some good swimming in the Mohonk area (Lake Minnewaska or, if you hike in to it, spectacular Lake Awosting.)
Services/Costs: As mentioned, lowly daytrippers aren’t allowed in the hotel. I do think the hotel is happy, however to sell the hoi polloi overpriced bottles of Poland Spring from a kiosk outside near the lake. The picnic lodge (where the shuttle bus drops and picks up) will also sell stuff to interlopers. I pick up eats/drinks just after I pull off the Thruway and begin heading into New Paltz. Now for what it costs to lurk around Mohonk Mountain House: Adults are $23/weekends and $18 during the week. Kids are $18/weekends and $13/week. As mentioned, the hotel only issues a limited number of passes and they are available on a first come, first serve basis. I know it hurts to pay for a walk in the woods, but hey--it’s cheaper than shelling out $1000 to stay at the resort for the night (which is, um, really fun, too).
Fear Factor: Anyone who tries the Labyrinth should be tall and strong enough to climb a ladder and climb up big rocks. As I mentioned earlier---you can’t really state a specific minimum age here. My younger son did fine at 7. My older, more cautious Ben, was threatening to call DYFS. I wouldn’t bring a grandparent on this (they can stroll up the path and meet you) or anyone who is terrified of heights. And it’s never a bad idea to bring along an extra adult, in case there’s a problem or in case one or some of the kids opt out.
Nearby: There’s so much to do and see in the New Paltz area, I can’t even attempt to give you a thumbnail here. Frankly, though, you’ll have enough to do on the grounds of Mohonk Mountain House to keep you busy for a day. There are rowboats to rent after you finish the Labyrinth. You can check out the gardens if you please. You’ll probably need to save further exploration of New Paltz for another day.

Have fun.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hot? Try Hacklebarney.

Let’s say you’ve got a free morning or afternoon. It’s sunny. You want to get outside. Maybe get a touch of exercise. But it just so happens that it’s a kajillion degrees out.

My advice: Pack up the kids, the dog if you have one, and a picnic lunch and head for Hacklebarney, a gem of a state park tucked off a side road near Chester, NJ. This rocky, quiet, glacial glen is so effectively cloaked by its leafy canopy of trees, I don’t even bother with sunblock when we pay a visit in high summer (Bug spray is another story.) The icing on the cake: The trail follows a splashy, waterfall-bedecked brook that is just deep enough for a dunk but shallow enough for kids to play in. In fact, our boys and their buds usually come dressed in swim suits and water shoes and walk the whole way through the river, catching frogs and having water fights, while Ringo and the grown ups take the rocky path right beside the river. Picnic tables are sprinkled along the path--we generally choose a spot for lunch that’s right on the water so the kids can frog hunt while we read or play Take Two. Then it’s back to the trail, which slopes down to a gorgeous (sunny) spot on the Black River, a fast running little number during the spring that usually runs pretty low by August. It’s supposed to be a good spot for trout fishing, but we’ve never caught anything and I’ve never seen anyone else catch anything either. (So I don’t know if it’s worth schlepping your fishing rods). Once you hit the Black River, you can retrace your footsteps if the kids want to stay wet, or cross over the brook and take the woodsy loop back up to your car. If I walk Hacklebarney alone I can do this whole walk in one hour--add kids, grandparents, a picnic and water fights and you can easily kill two or three.


Wanna Go? Need to Know?

Getting There: Hacklebarney is just under an hour from Montclair. Google it for details or punch the following address into Mapquest or your GPS:
Hacklebarney State Park 119 Hacklebarney Rd Long Valley, New Jersey Phone: 908-638-6969


Trail Tips: Soon after you pass the bathrooms, you’ll see a steep stone staircase down to the left….we generally take that route and follow the path alongside the stream, which takes us down to the Black River. It can be sort of rocky--what’s nice is that grandparents and parents with Baby Bjorns can can take the smoother, gravelly path that parallels the river higher up and can meet the splash-pack down at the Black River.

When to Go: I love summer best at Hacklebarney, though the weekends get busy. That said, it is a great outing during the fall and spring. Just beware of the pumpkin/apple picking crowds that jam the roads near Chester in October.

What to Bring: Water, swim suits (in summer), bug spray, towels for drying off and for covering your picnic table, water shoes, small plastic shopping bags for garbage and dog poop, plastic container for examining frogs/bugs, Scrabble tiles, books, trashy magazines. Also bring a leash for your dog---we generally let Ringo roam free, but things can get dicey when the park fills up on the weekends. (Officially, dogs must be leashed.)

Services/Costs: Ample free parking. No admission charge. Decent bathrooms, one spot for garbage.

Fear Factor: It’s virtually impossible to get lost at Hacklebarney. Most paths seem to lead back up to the parking lot. There are warning signs about bears but I’ve never seen one. As far as crazy rapists and that stuff goes, I never feel uneasy at Hacklebarney, even when I go alone on a weekday. It’s a pretty popular, though not crowded, spot.

Nearby: If you visit during the fall, stop by the old cider mill for, um, cider or an ice cream after you wind up your day in the park. Chester also has a bunch of produce farms and a bevy of cutesy antique shops and boutiques, if that’s your kind of thing. If you go to Hacklebarney in the late afternoon, you could top off your day with dinner in Chester.

Have fun.
 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Screw the Mall. Get Out There, Jersey Jane.

Yeah, we still did our two-week camping thing in Lake George. But a far-flung family vacation--that included dad--wasn't in the cards this summer. Neither was a work-friendly home environment for me, since we can't seem to convince either of our sons that sleepaway summer camp is a nifty idea.

All of this meant that--at various times when various day camps were in and out of session--I had kids lurking around AND the perfect excuse to declare it was IMPOSSIBLE (!) for me to work during the weekdays. My mission: To keep the kids off of electronics and on the hunt with me for close-to-home adventures that would spare my wallet undue stress and make us feel okay about hanging out in the Garden State this summer.


What I hope to post over the next couple of weeks are quick takes on some of our best discoveries (full disclosure: some are new to us this summer, some are favorites I've been doing since I was a girl.) Here's the need-to-know info: My older son, Ben, declared several years ago that he "categorically Hates Nature" and has stood his ground ever since. My younger son, Noah, would rather be chasing frogs and toads than just about anything and is practically allergic to anything cultural. My dog Ringo is really cool and I prefer any activity that can include him. And I am officially terrified of ice-cream-eating crowds and any tourist mecca that comes close to having a theme. Taking all of this into account, I tackled the city stuff with Ben, the woodsy stuff with Noah, and--when I had both of them plus Paul and Ringo (George and John didn't attend)--I tore my hair out trying to come up with something that would make us all happy.


And ya' know, we did pretty darned well--from the Methodist camps down at Ocean Grove to the pristine, Carribean-clear waters of Round Valley Reservoir to the 4H kids preening their pigs at the State Fair in Augusta, Jersey can really be quite exotic and wild and beautiful. I know, it's still Jersey. And I sure would like to get to Idaho next summer. But we had some great times...and I heartily recommend that you try a couple of these trips before this summer takes its last gasp. Or any time you've got a dead day and the mall starts beckoning.... Stay Tuned.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Make This Salad....NOW!

Last night, I was helping clean up after yet another end-of-school-year party. And, yet again, I found myself shaking my head as the poor host of the party freaked out about the trays and trays of leftover watermelon that had taken over her kitchen counters.

Watermelon always seems to put us in that position. Here is this amazing, crunchy, sweet, thirst -quenching gift from the earth and time after time, it ends up being the last girl left on the dance floor. It has two strikes against it, I think. First, it's always competing with some summer treat that's downright sexier, say a strawberry shortcake or, in last night's case, a cherry vanilla sheet cake with my son's entire Mudcats baseball team scanned onto the top of it. Second, there's just so freakin' much of it. Frankly, I think that if it came packed as tiny little balls in those precious little plastic containers that usually hold raspberries and ransom-like price tags, watermelon would go like hotcakes. I also think that most of us don't know what to do with watermelon other than slice it and serve it, so people get just plain sick of the stuff.


As I stuffed leftover hamburgers into a Ziploc (with plans to win big with my dog back home), I told my watermelon-panicked host exactly what she should do with the stuff. After she heard my description of a watermelon, feta, and tomato salad, Amy's lip curled ever so slightly and she said ever so politely, "could that really be good? It just sounds so weird."


I thought the same thing when my girlfriend Pat brought this amazing dish to a picnic three years ago. I took one look at the funky combo of ingredients and visibly wrinkled my nose. But Pat promised that if I just gave a taste, I’d be won over instantly by the unexpected yet tongue tantalizing contrast of juicy, sweet, crunchy fruit and creamy, tangy feta.Not only was she right….she was onto something. Over the course of that summer, the feta/watermelon combo (in a wide array of variations) showed up at at least four dinner parties I attended. And each time, guests were slow to try it yet quick to finish it. I spent last summer whipping up my own versions and conning my friends and family into giving each a try. Sometimes I used blue cheese instead of feta. Sometimes I added a sprinkle of cayenne to spice things up. On occasion I added thinly sliced red onion or some mint from my garden instead of basil. Black olives were also a nice touch. Mostly, I just tossed the watermelon, tomato, basil, and feta together with some olive oil, vinegar, salt and cracked pepper and called it a day. And every single person who tried these salads became a fan. My sister Jamie went so far as to declare I was a genius. (I didn’t bother correcting her.)

Try this recipe. Experiment. You’ll love the way the watermelon and tomatoes mingle together. And your body will love the fact that both watermelon and tomatoes pack a serious punch of Vitamin C, the antioxidant lycopene and a whallop of summer flavor at a pretty low caloric cost. Following is a good basic blueprint--- make as much or as little as you want but think in terms of about a 2/3 watermelon to 1/3 tomato ratio. (is ratio the right word here? Whatever.) Eat this salad promptly—time is not its friend.

2 1/2 cups seedless watermelon, in 3/4-inch cubes

1 1/2 cups ripe gorgeous tomatoes, cored and cut into ¾- inch chunks

1/2 cup crumbled feta (French, Greek or Bulgarian are tastiest)

Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
Pinch cayenne (highly optional)

1/2 cup basil, torn, chopped or cut into chiffonade

Toss the watermelon, tomato, cheese, and basil into a pretty bowl. Add olive oil and vinegar directly to bowl. Toss gently. Add cayenne (if using), salt and pepper to taste. Toss again lightly. Do not refrigerate. Serve within 30 minutes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

DO try this at home: Dovetail's Savory, Sweet, Buttery Crunchy Corn Scones

It was my mother's birthday recently. And as usual, my sister and I were tearing our hair out (at the last minute, of course) about a gift. Something for the house? Jewelry? Clothes? After 7 decades on earth, Carol's cup has long since runneth over. Photos of the grandkids? Hate to say it, but they're just not as cute as they used to be. A weekend away with the two families? The whoosh you're hearing is the sound of wind blowing through my very empty wallet.

So we decided on lunch. Not with all the eye-rolling preteen grandkids. Not with the Blackberry wielding son-in-laws. Not even with obstreperous grandpa. Just mom and her two daughters (who still roll their eyes but have improved somewhat over the years.)

I took the day off from work and we met at Dovetail, a tiny hideaway on 77th, right off Columbus, that I had been eager to try. It was that kind of gorgeous NYC spring day where everyone was out, the flowers were riotous, people were even smiling. So I was a bit dashed when I trounced into the restaurant and found it to be not only darkish and spare (it almost had the feel of a sushi place), but nearly empty. Was it the economy? Was this more of a winter spot?

Couldn't quite figure it out but my worries soon flew away. The $24/pp prix fixe meal we had was not only a great deal, it was so inventive and delicious, I cleaned every plate brought to me--from the beet salad with horseradish, pears, and ricotta cheese to the milk chocolate panna cotta with lemon curd and vanilla chantilly. What made the meal even sweeter was the service--I swear I don't remember the last time a restaurant in the city made me feel so welcome and appreciated as a guest. I suppose it's the proverbial silver lining to this grim recession. Just before leaving, I told the maitre d' what a wonderful time we'd had and how crazy I was for the cornbread they had served: It was that perfect balance of salty-sweet, crunchy and tender, buttery and fragrant. I was thrilled when he appeared a few moments later with the recipe. As we strolled through Central Park afterwards, I could barely wait to get home and give these babies a go.

I tweaked the recipe just a tiny bit and...as Borat would say....."Great success!" I've made these a bunch of times and find them addictive. My boys love them for breakfast as well as for snacks. They were a hit with parents at ballgames, too. This is sort of like a recipe for scones--but don't be afraid that it calls for rolling out dough: If that really freaks you out, just pat the dough flat with your little ol' hands before you slice it into wedges. One more thing: I tend to mix about 3/4 tsp. of dried, crumbled rosemary into half of the dough since I love rosemary in my cornbread. I leave the other blob of dough plain because, well, my boys aren't quite there yet.

Enjoy!

Dovetail Cornbread

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal ( not mandatory but it does make for a toothier texture. I buy Indian Head brand and can usually get it at ShopRite. You can probably find something similar at Whole Foods, Kings, or other high end or specialty markets.)

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/2 tsps. baking powder

1 1/4 tsps. baking soda

1 1/4 tsps. salt

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

2 sticks cold, cubed, unsalted butter

1 cup buttermilk

For brushing on top:
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a food processor using the steel blade: Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together with a quick whir. (If you are adding rosemary to the whole batch, you can include the rosemary here with the dry ingredients). Add butter cubes and pulse into dry ingredients until butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. It should look like very coarse meal. Pulse in buttermilk JUST until dough forms. Add cheese and pulse a couple of times, just until cheese is distributed. Dump lump of dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide in half. Place each blob of dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, slightly flatten each into a disc with your hand. (If you are adding rosemary to only half of the dough you can sprinkle rosemary over one of the flattened blobs at this point, fold it over once or twice, and flatten it again. Don't handle too much because you want the butter to stay cold.) Wrap up each disc and stick in fridge for about an hour or longer.

While dough is chilling, line two or three cookie sheets with parchment (if you for some reason consider yourself unworthy of parchment, butter and flour them.) Pour about 1/2 of a cup of heavy cream into a bowl. Pull out a pastry brush. Go find a rolling pin if you have one.

Preheat oven to 350. Flour work surface. Don't get all dramatic about it, but take out one of the discs of dough, unwrap. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour and, lay plastic wrap you just took off the the dough on top of the disc. Quickly just roll the disc into a circle about 7-8" inches across and 3/4" thick. Cut like a pie into eight wedges and place wedges a few inches apart on parchment-covered cookie sheet. Brush each with heavy cream and sprinkle not too shyly with salt and, yes, pepper (trust me!). Repeat this whole process with the next blob of dough. If just one half has rosemary in it, you can sprinkle a little rosemary on top of the wedges along with the salt and pepper so the kids will know to avoid them.

Bake about 10 minutes, turn cookie sheets. Bake 5-10 minutes or more, until the cakes are golden brown. This will all depend on how hot your oven is. You want them to be as crispy and brown as possible without burning on the bottom, so be careful. Serve and devour warm if you can. They're also pretty darned yummy at room temp.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Need a Quick and Affordable Trip with the Kids? Try Gettysburg.

It seemed like no big whoop back in February when I casually informed the boys we'd be staying home over spring break. As I've mentioned before, we've been cutting back--just like everyone else--and big ticket vacations have been a top line casualty. But as break week neared and my husband Paul announced he'd be off on business for the duration, I became fearful that sitting around staring at dirty laundry might make me crazy enough to eat my own young. And god knows what my young might do to each other.

I also happened to have just finished up a story for Family Circle on historic family vacations. And I have to admit, what I had initially taken on as a hohum, eat-your-vegetables assignment turned out to be fascinating and inspiring. Not only was I eager to explore more; I was itching to take my boys for a test run and see if American history really could turn them on if I brought them to where it all actually went down.

So, I chewed on some ideas. And one word jumped out at me: Gettysburg. Just a 3.5 hour drive away in PA, this pivotal Civil War battle site didn't demand air tickets and was far more affordable than Revolutionary Boston or Philly. It would get us outdoors in the spring weather and the terrible violence that occurred there might just appeal to my testerone-tinged lads. When my 13 year old came home from school that day, I excitedly ran my big idea by him. He rewarded me with this heartwarming response: "An educational vacation? Can't you ever write about anywhere that's fun???"

It took great maturity for me to refrain from spitting back that I personally would rather ditch him and his brother and spend the week at Canyon Ranch. But after taking a deep breath (and a Klonopin...kidding), I took his diss as a downright challenge: I would get him and his brother to Gettysburg and make one of the most tragic chapters in American history an absolute gas.

I kicked things off by borrowing my father's Civil War tapes (yeah, Ken Burns' thing) and popped the Gettysburg chapter into the VCR. The boys both fell asleep faster than you can say Little Round Top. Next, I tried Glory--granted, it had nothing to do with Gettysburg-- but it was much more of a turn on for them and--thanks to Denzel Washington--for me, too.

The next morning, we loaded the car and headed out.....in the cold, pouring rain. As I drove, I wondered what I was in for. Would we get to see the battlefields at all? Would the boys commandeer the car and head for the Camden Aquarium? We pitstopped at Cabela's--that amazing hunting/camping/yahoo emporium on 78--continued on our way and arrived in Gettysburg at about 1:00 PM. Forty eight hours later, my sons--I swear--threw their arms around me, thanked me for an amazing trip, and told me, and I quote, "Gettysburg was a blast." Here's how we did it:

1. We passed up elegance for elbow room. Many a vacation with kids has taught me that when indoor amusements in the area are limited and weather can't be counted on, the place you're staying should be entertaining in and of itself. For kids that doesn't mean the chintz and charm of a B&B or historic inn; it means a sprawling spot with an indoor pool and room to run around. We holed up at the glitzy new Wyndham and--while it's marooned in what looks like a vast parking lot outside of town--it fit the bill perfectly. Rates for very spacious rooms with two queen beds run as low as $129 per night on Travelocity. If you really must have a historic hotel fix, the Gettysburg Hotel is smack dab in the middle of the historic downtown. It's a Best Western property, so nothing too exotic, but it's got some charm.

2. We got basics under our belt and out of the way. That first afternoon, with the rain teeming, we headed straight for Gettysburg's new visitors' center, watched the requisite film, examined the famed Cyclorama (a huge 360 degree painting of the battle) and toured the rambling, surprisingly interactive exhibit rooms. The boys actually got a kick out of all the guns and weapons. I'd say if you come, don't let this eat into a whole day. You need just about 2 hours before you get museum burnout.

3. We found ourselves a great private guide. Having someone who is tuned into you and your interests, who can field your questions, who can skip what bores you and build on what thrills you, can make all the difference between a tour being something about dusty hot old ruins or graveyards or a thrilling journey where history comes alive. I truly believe that on just about any vacation with an educational element, this is the place to splurge. And splurge we did when we took the boys to the Acropolis in Athens last summer--6 hours with our own guide was a steep 350 Euros. Now, here's the beauty part about Gettysburg: The destination has an army of licensed and legit guides who will drive your car through the battlegrounds, lead you out into the fields and tell you all the tales, for a mere, get this, $50 for a group of 1-6 people. Hell, the tour busses charge $20 per adult and you're stuck gagging on fumes. I requested a guide in advance who could thrill a couple of boys and landed amazing Renae MacLachlan, who not only shared lots of gorey, boy-friendly details, but had them acting out Pickett's charge across the Bloody Angle and scurrying along the sniper perches at Devil's Den. When she shared the story about how the mysterious sound of popping corn on the night of one of the battles turned out to be the sound of buttons popping off the uniforms of tens of thousands of bloated corpses, I could swear I saw both of my boys turn a shade green. Here's proof positive Renae succeeded at her mission: My boys asked so many questions, the tour ran overtime to almost 3 hours. And they each expressed a sadness, compassion, and empathy for the young men who lost their lives on those bloody battlefields. If you go, you can ask ahead of time for a kid-friendly guide (http://www.gettysburgtourguides.org/; (717) 337-1709. Or, just contact Renae directly: rhm1863@comcast.net or 717-3380719. She's great.


4. We got physical: Several local outfits hire those very same licensed guides like Renae to lead group bike tours through the gorgeous, rolling countryside where the battlefiels are situated. For kids and teens--who generally detest seeing the world through a car or bus window (heck, so do most grown ups)--this is an amazing way to go. Ben and Noah and I joined up with an outfit called Gettysbike and headed out with just one other family in the group. The whole formula was a win: other kids and adults to socialize with, a great guide, beautiful scenery and plenty of riding time to get our ya yas out between each lecture pitstop. Unfortunately, about 25 minutes into the trip, the skies opened up and--since we'd already done the tour with Renae--the boys and I turned around and rode back into town. The other family sojourned on with the guide and had a great time. I heartily recommend this if your kids are decent bike riders and can keep up with a group. Three-hour tours with Gettysbike, including the bike, run $61 per adult and $26 for kids 10 and up. http://www.gettysbike.com/

5. We didn't overdo it. I knew there were other sites to see after the bike tour--the historic Gettysburg homes where families nursed wounded soldiers, General Lee's headquarters, etc. But I also knew when to stop pushing. So on our last morning I followed the boys' lead, took them for a big breakfast at Perkin's Pancake House and headed back to the giant boulders at Devil's Den, where they scrambled over the rocks for good hour before we piled back into the car and headed home. As we sat in traffic on Route 78, Ben tapped me on the shoulder. I could see him grinning sheepishly in the rearview mirrow. "You know mom. I need to apologize for the way I reacted when you told me we were going to Gettysburg," he said. "You see, I thought we were going to drive hours and hours to some random place in Pennsylvania just to see the spot where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. I had no idea there had been a battle there." Oh geez. Am I glad I took them.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Happiness....is a Warm Bun.

It's been a while since I tore my last food column out of the New York Times Magazine. Somehow the recipes of recent years seem less relevant, less honest than they used to in the old days, when I could practically count every week on finding something to stow away in my stained blue kitchen binder. The sad truth is, on most Sundays I now skip right past the column en route to the Puzzle. So, when my mother-in-law arrived one recent weekend with her usual wad of "articles that might come in handy," I glanced with only half interest at a food column she'd torn from the Magazine. The fact that it focused on popovers--which I have always felt were more about drama and pretense than they are about true deliciousness--engaged me even less. But then, somehow, my eyes caught on the second recipe, apparently from David Lebovitz's new book, "The Sweet Life From Paris." Not straightforward popovers, the treat Lebovitz shared was what he called "sugared puffs." The idea being that you make a popover first, then brush it in butter and roll it in cinammon sugar. I think it was the writer's description that ultimately hooked me: "A crisp, fragrant swell of pastry, pebbled with sugar. Part souffle, part donut, part cinnamon toast."

Within 20 minutes, I was busy whipping up my own batch. And I've been baking these things obsessively ever since. Not just because they are completely scrumptious and addictive and my boys and all of their buddies beg for them. But because they are, quite possibly, the world's most convenient Sunday breakfast treat. They require no special ingredients. The most exotic thing on the ingredient list is whole milk. The recipe requires no fancy equipment--just a regular old muffin/cupcake pan. You don't even need a KitchenAid or a mixing bowl, since you whip the whole thing up in a blender. And to top it all off, you can roll out of bed, start baking, wash your equipment, and have warm, yummy, hug-winning treats piled home-ily on a plate at the center of your breakfast table within about 45 minutes. These babies may not look quite as glamourous as traditional popovers, but the swoon they'll inspire will be genuine indeed. Here's the recipe:

For the puffs:

Softened unsalted butter (For greasing the pan. If I think of it, I leave a half stick out on the counter the night before. If not, I zap the butter in the microwave for a very few seconds just to soften it up a tiny bit.)
2 Tbsps. butter, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature if possible (I also leave those out on the counter the night before if I think of it. Otherwise, I just crack the eggs open and leave them in a bowl while I prepare everything else. Just to take the chill off.)
1 cup whole milk (Don't use low fat or skim. I keep individual pints of shelf stable whole milk in my pantry for just this kind of thing. The stuff doesn't taste so hot in coffee, but it's fine for baking.
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup flour

For the Sugar Coating:
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a nonstick popover or muffin pan with 1/2-cup-size holes/indentations with Pam, then grease 9 of the holes very liberally with softened butter. You should be able to see the butter--check out the picture over to the right to see what I mean.
2. For the puffs, put the 2 tablespoons of melted butter, eggs, milk, salt, and sugar in a blender and whiz for a few seconds.
3. Add the flour and whiz for 5-8 seconds, just until smooth.
4. Divide the batter among 9 greased molds, filling each about 2/3 full.
5. Bake for 35 minutes until the puffs are deep brown (I have a very hot oven and find that it takes mine about 28 minutes to get the puffs dark brown. Watch yours carefullly, starting at about 25 minutes. You want them to be a nice rich brown in order to get them as puffed and crispy as possible but obviously you don't want them to burn at all. Yuk.)
6 Remove the pan from the oven and wait a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Don't bum out that your buxom popovers will become sadly saggy during this time. Beauty is, after all, fleeting. You might need a small knife to help pry the popovers out--don't worry if they take a little bit of a beating. Sugar and cinnamon can cure most any ill.
7. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Thoroughly brush each puff all over with melted butter, then dredge in sugar and cinnamon to coat completely. Devour immediately. I put away 8 of them myself yesterday morning and haven't been able to eat anything since.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Now Do You Think You're Too Cool for a Ski Helmet?

When I heard the devastating news last night about Natasha Richardson, I nearly fell to my knees. It's not that I am or was a particularly devoted fan of hers or tend to get overly interested in celebrity news. It's the simple fact that this 45-year-old mother hit the slopes just a few days ago with her two boys--something I do all of the time. She had no big intentions--she wasn't headed for the terrain park or double blacks or high altitude bowls. She simply went out for a spin on the beginners slope and ended up dead.

By the time I hit the gym this morning, it was all anyone was talking about. I'm sure a lot of the interest was due to a shared sense of projection--most of us there are mothers in our 40s and 50s. What I didn't share with my gym mates, however, was a general sense of "you just never know when it's your time to go." It's a concept I do generally embrace (and I thus try to make hay while I can), but as a skiier and health journalist, it's a notion I flat out reject in this very tragic case.

Bottom line is Richardson should have been wearing a helmet. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference that she was on a beginners' slope or that she was with an instructor or that she was a glamorous movie star who didn't want to look like a geek. The fact is that it just takes one blow to the wrong spot to ruin a life. Some may counter that you can't spend your whole life in a helmet, worrying about the random brick that might fall from above or the unfortanate slip down icy stairs. And that's true. But here's the difference: Skiing is not a situation you "suddenly" find yourself in. It's an activity that has its own inherent risks and--just like driving--we should take every precaution we can to minimize our chances of becoming a statistic. We wear seat belts. We use car seats. And yes, we should all be wearing helmets when we ski, bike or are otherwise deliberately put our brains on the line.

Should ski helmets become law? I personally think it sounds like a good idea but the big ski resorts counter with the unappealing logistics of renting and cleaning helmets and then policing their resort guests. I say let everyone argue and waste time. But any adult with brain (yup, that's pretty much all of us, I think) can make the right decision now.

And I'm NOT talking about merely telling the kids to wear helmets, which I think is one of the most misguided concepts going. A parent who goes bare headed next to her child is basically sending the message that "babies" wear hemlets and "cool grown-up people" get to go bare headed. (They're not cool, they're idiots.) Secondly, as we've seen with Richardson, head injury is an equal opportunity debacle. You may be an expert on the slopes, but all it takes is one out of control snowboarder to smash into you and wreak havoc on your life. And sometimes, all it takes is a quirk of fate. For years our extended family skiied in Colorado together--the kids with their helmets, the adults bare headed. That was, until my brother-in-law Dennis was found on the slopes unconscious with spinal fluid coming out of his ears. He's a pretty good skiier, but it was his last run of the day on a blue slope and he lost control and skiied into a tree. You can bet all of us protect our heads now.

Fortunately, after being airlifted from Telluride, Dennis recovered. But that's not necessarily the end of the story. I'm currently reporting a story on brain aging and apparently, any trauma to the head---even if you don't totally lose consciousness like Dennis did--can injure the brain and increase your risk of developing Alzheimers or dementia later in life. Do any of us want that? I think not. So go ahead and give up the idea that helmets ruin your look or make you seem like a rookie. I know I personally look like Kazoo on the slopes. And I admit that I used to resent moms who biked around with their hair flowing while I pedalled along with my hardhat. But I'm so over that. Not just because I want to be a role model for my kids. But because I want to be around long enough to take on those double blacks with them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You'll Thank Me For This Recipe

About a year ago, at about 3:30 in the afternoon, two of my sixth-grade son's friends showed up at my door holding what appeared to be a black velvet riding hat for an American Girl doll. “Hi, Peg,” said Johnny. “We were walking by your house and found this on your lawn. Is it yours?” Considering the fact it was obviously way too small for my head and there are no girls in my home who might own a horse-riding doll, I was a little perplexed by the question. I thanked them for their concern and even balanced the little hat on my head to show them why it wasn’t mine. I asked them how their first year in middle school was going and figured they’d be on their way. But Johnny and his pal stayed put, swaying from foot to foot and staring down at their feet as middle school boys tend to do.

They couldn’t have been looking for my older son—his bus wouldn’t get him home for another hour yet. They didn’t want my little one—I mean, he’s cute and entertaining, but he was 8. And then Johnny spoke up. “You know, I really liked those pumpkin muffins you had on the kitchen counter when I was over Saturday. Do you have any left?”

For a second there, I stepped out of my body and swore I was staring down at Mrs. C from Happy Days chatting with Potsie and Ralph Malf. I mean, the neighborhood boys are coming around to taste my wares? Could The Fonz be far behind? What’s even scarier is that, after telling Johnny that the muffins had long since been polished off, I immediately offered to bake another batch and have fresh muffins waiting for him if he came around at the same time the following day. “You see,” said Johnny. “I told you she’d do it.” They tromped off and eagerly returned for their muffins 24 hours later.

When I shared this little episode with DH, he nearly blew his lemonade out of his nose he was laughing so hard. He couldn’t believe what a sucker I was and how goofy I am that I actually seemed delighted by the whole caper. But I was. I know it’s totally stupid and anachronistic, and I don’t care. Just like I don’t care about the fact that the single most used garment in my wardrobe is a faded yellow apron. Do I care that it makes me look like a domesticated she-creature? Bah. I think I wear an apron just to put that issue out there. It says “Go ahead! Make your assumptions! Decide that the woman whom you are looking at likes to cook! And she cooks a lot!” Actually, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. And I think women are losing the battle if we avoid doing things like cooking simply because we are afraid we’ll turn into June Cleever. I’m as comfortable in my kitchen as I am at the computer. I’m no less proud of my culinary accomplishments than I am of what I’ve written during my career. I love the fact that after a near fruitless, shapeless, and open-ended day spent producing maybe two sentences, I can come down into my kitchen and create something wonderful simply by following directions. I treasure the fact that I can wake up early on Saturday mornings, whip up an apple cake, and rouse my family into the day with the fragrance of cinnamon and browned butter. I relish the idea that my two sons love to cook with me as much as they love to eat with me. And that—when my family is driving me insane or I am so bitchy I’m downright scary—the simple act of making a meal shows them I love them.

So, that's why I plan to share many of my favorite recipes with you in this blog. And I give you my word that these won't be random, risky formulations I'm throwing out at you just to fill a blog page. What you are getting are road-tested, just-can't-fail dishes and desserts that I've cooked up countless countless countless times in my kitchen and served to a staggering and varied array of hungry souls.

So, I know you must be curious about those muffins Johnny loved so much. They truly are unspeakably moist and delicious. My kids love them. Their teachers love them. My neighbors love them. Complete strangers love them. And, yes, I--who hate pumpkin pie and just about everything gourd-related--love them to pieces, too.

"I Love Autumn Pumpkin Muffins"
(I know I should have saved these for next Fall, but tuff)

1 ½ cups lightly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups white granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup raisins, optional (if hard, soak in warm water, drain and pat dry)
Turbinado Sugar as needed (sold as Sugar in the Raw, nice but optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour 2 muffin tins that hold 12 muffins each. (I use Pam for Baking, which does the job of buttering/flouring in a couple of squirts. I urge you to follow suit. I also use oversize muffin tins that hold six muffins each. There's something so wonderful about sticking your face into a huge fragrant pumpkin muffin.)

Beat sugars and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Whisk together flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in raisins, if using.

Generously fill muffin tins almost to the top. Fill as many as the batter will allow. Sprinkle the tops of each with a little bit of Turbinado Sugar;. This coarse sugar (commonly sold as "Sugar in the Raw") gives these—and all muffins—a fantastic crunchy top. Not a must, though. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes (this isn’t exact, but start checking at about 25 minutes). Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut around the edge of the muffins. Turn onto racks and cool completely. Invite neighborhood boys over for a party.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Break During a Dark Winter

I don't think I'm alone in my feeling that this is one heavy winter we're slogging through. It's cold cold cold--at least up here in the Northeast--and the dreary economy is adding an extra chill. I know that in this house, my husband and I have been working overtime, making every penny we can before the oncoming train hits us. We've passed on making vacation plans and have been eating in a whole lot. I am absolutely positive we are among those who--by virtue of our fearful cutbacks--are only making the economic disaster worse. It's that self-fulfilling prophesy thing.

Anyway, DH had to take yet another trip out of town last week, which meant the boys and I would be alone over their February break. Usually, I'm okay with hanging out at home but I think I had just had enough. I needed to get out of the house and they had to get away from the Playstation. I started looking into airfares to any place warm, but it all ended up costing too much. I thought about taking them skiing, but I'd already done that solo with them once this season and macho I may be, but I'm not macho enough to tackle that endeavor twice in one year. Plus, I've been just plain pooped lately.

So, on a lark, I dialed up Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, just to see what a room might cost for a couple of nights. As I expected, it was pricey--a total of about $500 per adult per night. But when I started rolling the numbers around in my head, it began to sound sorta doable. Here was my thinking: That $500 was the charge for me, the adult. The kids (both under 13) were free--as part of a package the resort tends to offer when it's not high season. The charge included everything--all meals (including afternoon tea, a fancy pants dinner each night, dinner the night of our arrival, and breakfast and lunch on the day of our departure), all activities (and equipment) including skating, cross country skiing, hiking, swimming in the gorgeous indoor pool, and full run of the sprawling resort. That price also took into account all tips and taxes the hotel automatically adds to your bill.

Now, if DH had been around, this little jaunt would have been a thousand dollars a night, since we'd have to pay another $500 for an additional adult. But because I was alone with the boys, $1,000 for a full, three-day vacation all-in seemed very fair. I signed on and was psyched.

We took off in the morning on Monday and spent the early part of the day at Hyde Park touring FDR's family estate (perfect for President's Day, huh?). We arrived at the resort just in time for tea, which we snarfed down before heading up to our room. And what a beauty it was: Fully renovated with a working fireplace, deep carpet, a full bed and day bed, and a balcony overlooking Mohonk's mountaintop lake and famed stone tower. This was a HUGE improvement over the last time I had stayed at Mohonk about 9 years ago, when their upgrading endeavors had begun but the still-extant kinks didn't merit their already high room rates. Those old scratchy sheets and blankets have finally been replaced. The doors to the terraces no longer leak cold air. The good news only got better: We headed to the new indoor pool, located in the new spa wing, and found ourselves in a spectacular vaulted structure that spared us that icky, soggy, chloriny feeling you usually get when swimming indoors. We came back to the room and dressed for dinner, which turned out to be not just acceptable resort food. It was truly excellent--I had a 2-inch -thick piece of snapper in a horseradish crust that can rival just about any fish entree I've had anywhere lately. After dinner, we played a little Ping-Pong, stopped in at the evening Victorian Lantern show (just okay, don't even ask me to describe) and headed for bed. The next day was equally lovely--highlighted by hours upon hours in the new outdoor skating pavillion. Long a skating hater, I have found a new love. I just wonder if skating indoors at our local hockey arena will have the same magic. I was able to squeeze in a brisk walk while the boys hung out and explored the resort and its countless game and sitting rooms. Because check out time the next day was at 2 PM, we truly felt like we had another nearly full day at the resort before we left on Wednesday, fully rested, fully fed, and very very happy.

My final thoughts? Mohonk has really found its way. I grew up visiting New Paltz and peering around the grounds of the hotel, which always looked a little worn at the heels and stodgy. I can say now that, though the price tag is high, this resort finally delivers on all its promise. It has one of the most spectacular locations anywhere, on a mountaintop in the Shawangunk Mountains, surrounded by acres of trail-laced nature reserve. It is unbelieveably close to home (1 hour, 15 minutes from our NYC surburb) yet feels like true mountain country. It has tons to offer, day and night, cold weather and warm, rainy or sunny. The service was terrific. The food was very good and bountiful. I'd say it's a particular value for a single parent who wants to get away with his or her young kids--since, if the resort is offering the package I got, you're only really paying for yourself. But any time of year, for anyone who has a little cash to spare, Mohonk is a treasure and a true value that's not be missed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It all starts here....

I guess the appropriate--if cliched--phrase I should use to kick off this blog is "better late than never." If I look way way back, long before the web changed our world, I can see that I was already blogging. I did so through letters....long funny obtuse letters, short strange ones, flirtations, suggestions, you name it. And I remember explaining to someone, somewhere that I loved letters because they were spontaneous and were unencumbered by high expectations. I didn't need to present an argument or clean organization or even a cogent thought. Whatever I decided to slam down at any given moment....it was acceptable to throw it in an envelope and call it "mail."

I've been watching the blogosphere from the sidelines for a handful of years now. Each time I pull up a post, I see that same unfettered writing inherent in my old letter writing. I scan the stories, laugh a little, write down some recipes on occasion. And then I get a little uneasy. A little pissed off. Because there's that voice saying, "I should have done this. I could have done this." And then, of course, that clincher rises up through my gut, "it's too late."

Well, maybe it's not. For years, I've been writing a cookbook and sharing it via the internet with a web of friends, family, and acquaintances. For years I've been reporting for countless women's magazines about health, fitness, food, nutrion, travel, and god knows what else. And for years, I've been aching to share what I've learned about relishing all of these aspects of life with friends, family, and just about anyone who will listen.

Well, I'm making this blog on this ordinary February day my official mouthpiece. And I welcome anyone to read along and relish life with me. Enjoy.