New England fall colors

To continue on with the road trip theme from my previous post, today I will take you on a journey to New England. I am 50-years-old and this is a trip that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember – even before I could drive. Fall is my favorite time of year: I love the crisp fresh air and the vibrant hues that fill that air. I love wearing worn out jeans, cozy baggy sweaters, and boots made for hiking – my favorite fall activity, besides sitting by a roaring fire reading a good book and sipping a glass of wine.

My first annual road trip with my daughter took place two years ago. My daughter is a lover of fall and all the activities mentioned above as well, so this is a trip we sank into with ease and intent. It was an easy first trek, with my daughter living in NYC. I flew into JFK on a Friday and she met me at the airport where we rented a snazzy black Camaro to help us navigate the back roads of Vermont, New Hampshire, MaineMassachusetts and back to New York.

New England

We set out at Friday afternoon rush hour, which meant in our first 3 hours we made it all of 10 miles. But we persevered with good music, a hot cup of Starbuck’s Chai Tea and great classical music – rock and pop. We were in no hurry this weekend, and in the dark of night we finally made our way to the Windham Hill Inn, in Townshend, Vermont. A quaint Inn tucked into the hilltops of Vermont off a windy two lane road. After checking in, we climbed two flights of stairs up to our one-of-a-kind room and fell into our comfy king bed, with a fire roaring creating a low glow paired with a soothing warmth.

The Windham Hill Inn - our room was the triple windowed upper level.

The Windham Hill Inn – our room was the triple windowed upper level.

We awoke to a beautiful sight. A light rain was falling, but it didn’t dull the vibrant colors that filled the hillsides spreading out in every direction from the Inn. We raced downstairs, oh that’s right we weren’t in a hurry – we ambled downstairs to find a hearty breakfast menu fill with amazing food choices to fill our bellies and energize us for an adventurous hike around the grounds of the Inn. Apparently most of the other Inn’s guests were adverse to a little rain as we had the hiking trails to ourselves. We slipped and slided our way along the wet and leaf ridden paths, giggling as we looked for the colored arrows guiding our way as if we were on a treasure hunt.

The rolling hills of Vermont alight with vibrant fall colors

The rolling hills of Vermont alight with vibrant fall colors

Upon our return to the Inn we took up residence in front of the main house fireplace and read while warming our hands around a mug of cider. This left us sufficiently relaxed and ready for our next excursion – a massage in the refurbished barn on the grounds of this old estate, that also housed more rooms and a rustic one room spa. There was only one thing left to do after a day like that – take a nap!

Our room at the Windham Hill Inn, Vermont

Our room at the Windham Hill Inn, Vermont

Waking refreshed after an hour of deep, unfettered sleep, we changed and made our way down to the dining room. But first we made a stop at the two-seater bar and ordered up a couple of Manhattan’s – I’m a bad influence on my daughter, but it’s fun to share passions. Another hearty meal of New England fare, and we were down for the count after all that fresh air and exercise, a relaxing massage and the warmth from the fireplace food and drinks. We awoke to a sunny day, and after a lighter breakfast we headed out to explore other paths around this Vermont countryside Inn.

By mid-morning we hit the road to our next destination – the White Barn Inn, Kennebunk, Maine. We wound our way through the New Hampshire countryside, popped into the lower quadrant of Maine and took in the sights and sounds of Portland, shrouded in fog. We indulged in a lobster roll – not quite what I thought it would be. It’s like a lobster salad on a soft white bun – a little less mayo and a lot more lobster would’ve better suited my tastes. We walked through the streets of this quaint historical town, watching a big cruise ship takeover the harbor.

Checking into the White Barn Inn, Kennebunk, Maine

Checking into the White Barn Inn, Kennebunk, Maine

After our bite to eat it was time to head on into Kennebunk – which sits across the Kennebunk River from Kennebunkport – home to the Presidential Bush families. The White Barn Inn is a sister Inn to the Windham Hill Inn in Vermont, but they were very different experiences. The White Barn Inn is right on a main roadway through Kennebunk, within walking distance to the ocean. We stayed in a single level cottage, but had our meals in the main dining room at the Inn.

After checking in at the Inn, we headed across the street to walk the grounds of a working Franciscan Monastery – lush and quiet with lots of little private praying areas. Then we made our way down Beach Avenue, which appropriately took us to the beach. We walked along the seaboard, feeling very out-of-place because we had to be the only people there without a dog. We decided that somebody should offer a ‘rent-a-dog’ service for those of us just popping in for a quick visit. It was so fun to watch the dogs frolicking around in the waves, chasing after balls and sticks and their masters.

The waves crashing into the beach along the Kennebunk seaboard - could that be the Bush compound in the background??

The waves crashing into the beach along the Kennebunk seaboard – could that be the Bush compound in the background??

Back at our room we changed and headed over to the main house where we tracked down the sitting room. It had a roaring fire (seems to be a New England theme) where we sat and read for a bit, but then our eyes settled on a glass chessboard. We grabbed a glass of complimentary wine and settled into a heated competition of chess moves while we waited to be called to our table for dinner. Of course we had to dine on live Maine lobster! It was sweet and oh so delicious.

The restaurant at the White Bar Inn serves up their live Main Lobster all decked out

The restaurant at the White Bar Inn serves up their live Main Lobster all decked out

After dinner we returned to our room where a bottle of champagne was sitting on ice in our sitting room, the fireplace at the foot of our bed was stoked and lovely music playing softly in the background. We settled into bed with our glasses of champagne, our books and chatted about the highlights of our trip so far. It wasn’t long before the long day of driving and fresh ocean air found us fast asleep.

In the morning we enjoyed a wonderful complimentary full meal breakfast in the main dining room. Our time was ticking away and we had to have the car back to New York by evening, but first a stop in Boston to see my niece/my daughter’s cousin on her dad’s side. We took Highway 1 as far south as we could trying to stay as close to the ocean as we could, but eventually we had to pop over to the main highway to get to Boston in time for lunch.

This was my first time to Boston and my daughter’s second. What a an amazing engineering wonder Boston is – the way it winds around the waterways connecting different parts of the city. We wish we would’ve had more time to stay, but we figured Boston is a destination spot that someday we will take a road trip to and spend a long weekend in and around the city and down to the Cape maybe even Martha’s Vineyard. It was a beautifully sunny crisp fall day and I can see why so many people fall in love with this city. The food was great and the streets full of life, but in a very different, more laid back way than the busy streets of NYC.

It was a weekend chockfull of miles, great eats, vibrant fall colors and a multitude of new memories. As we wheeled the road weary black Camaro back to its stall at JFK, we proclaimed a new-found desire to repeat this kind of weekend to a new destination annually – at least. Thus endeth our first annual mother-daughter road trip!

Taking a pit stop in fog shrouded Portland, Maine on our New England road trip

Taking a pit stop in fog shrouded Portland, Maine on our New England road trip

 

Fall is for feasting – Part 1, September: CA, NY & SC

Throughout the last 16 months since I started this blog, I have shared many travel experiences and many of those have been with my daughter. The one constant theme we revisit over and over again, no matter where our actual travels take us, is our love of food. We are self-professed foodies to the point that many of my posts were becoming as much about food as it was about the destination.

I probably have enough memories from our eating experiences to start a whole new blog on food. But for starters, or appetizers as the case may be, I have decided to dedicate one post a month on places we have eaten in the last month. Whether that be on our travels, or just great local fare where we live – NYC, Kansas City and the Phoenix Valley.

By doing this, it will also allow me to expound more on the travel destination highlights and my personal reviews in experiencing my travels, and leave the food portion of the trip for these monthly posts.

So grab a cold one, throw a sheet of chicken wings in the oven, and while they are crisping up, enjoy a journey through the eyes and stomachs of two food lovers:

NEW YORK CITY:

Nowhere to sit, but plenty to eat by Allison Malecha

Almost anywhere you go in New York, the food will be more than passable. The portion may be smaller than you wanted. The price higher. And sometimes that C Grade on the door might give you pause. But I can’t think of a time that I’ve pushed my plate away in this city out of distaste.

Usually, for me, atmosphere counts for a lot. If I know I’m going to have a pretty good meal, I like to enjoy where I’m eating it. But in the last week, I’ve tried out two places with chow so enticing, and prices so reasonable, that I didn’t bother to care about much else: Silver Rice ($$), in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, and Brooklyn Taco ($$), on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

At Silver Rice, Kombu Kelp and Beet Pate are wrapped up into innovative sushi bites that are scarcely more expensive than a California roll in Manhattan, but the real draw are the eponymously named “Silver Rice Cups.” I had the spicy tuna one–a mouth-watering stack of flaxseed-threaded white rice, diced raw tuna, fresh scallion, and punchy mayo served inside a plain white paper cup for $6.50. Alternate with sips of the $1.95 organic miso soup, and you won’t give a damn that the only place to sit is at a slip of light-wood high-top next to the door.

Silver Rice Cup from Silver Rice Cup in Brooklyn

Founded by a Brooklyn native with South American roots and a Danny Meyer alum, Brooklyn Taco can take a while just to locate within the maze-like Essex Street Market. Last Saturday, I sat perched on another tiny bar stool in full view of a fish stand with a coconut shrimp taco that took two hands to hold and about two seconds to eat. The friend I was with told me her chipotle chicken one was the best tacos she’d ever eaten–she didn’t spare a bite to see if I agreed. And while their regular prices aren’t a total steal, the lunch deal is: $10 for two tacos and an agua fresca to wash them down.

Fish Taco at Brooklyn Taco, Lower Manhattan

More NYC… by Lisa Malecha

One of our favorite mother-daughter outings is to check one of the many boutique NYC neighborhood hot spots, and Jeffrey’s Grocery ($$$) fits the bill. Set in the West Village, the seating might be tight, but their seafood is big on flavor. Like the Blackened Flounder served on a Jalapeño-Cheddar Polenta Cake and smothered in an Andouille Gravy.

Blackened Flounder served up at Jeffrey's Grocery in the West Village of NYC

Blackened Flounder served up at Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village of NYC

Jump on the subway and head to 78th St. and Woodside Avenue and head to Ayada Thai ($$) restaurant in Queens for some really tasty food. The ambiance is pretty plain Jane, but the food infuses so many great flavors together it’s hard to stop eating when you know you don’t have any more room for another bite. A great starter is the Papaya Salad served with Salty Crab. Follow that with a Crispy Duck in a Red Curry Coconut Sauce and a wide noodle Pad Thai – all washed down with a Lychee Sangria.

Papaya Salad with crispy Salted Crab – yes you eat the whole crab, shells and all – at Ayada Thai Restaurant, Queens

If you’re in upper Manhattan, in the Upper East Side, taking in all the amazing museums and galleries, stop in at Cafe’ Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie and enjoy some authentic Austrian cuisine like the very flavorful Pikantes Ei mit Gurkerl und Paprika – a/k/a Spicy Eggs with Cornichons and Paprika. After a filling lunch be sure to take in the two levels of German and Austrian exhibits in this architecturally classically ornate museum.

Spicy Eggs on Cornichons with Paprika served at Cafe' Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie in the Upper East Side of NYC

Spicy Eggs on Cornichons with Paprika served at Cafe’ Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie in the Upper East Side of NYC

CHARLESTON:

Early September found my daughter and I sweating our way through Charleston. Thank goodness Charlestonians like to eat and drink as much as we do. We had no problem staying properly nourished to have the energy to walk the historic streets of this beautiful town, meander through their immense plantations and stroll along the water fronts.

We stayed at the Wentworth Mansion, an old estate home turned hotel, and also home to Circa 1886 restaurant, housed in the old carriage house. Our room included a complimentary breakfast – and “…honey this weren’t no slim pickings,..”-  a plate of fruit and a basket of pastries for starters, and then a menu to compete with any restaurant in the area. I chose a heaping helping of Shrimp n’ Grits so flavorful I could have had that for every meal and been content. My daughter chose Crab Cake Eggs Hollandaise. We also enjoyed a fine dining experience with dishes of Beef Tenderloin with a Chantilly Mustard Demi-Glace or Atlantic Lobster Tail with Vanilla Mascarpone Grits.

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston has a complimentary breakfast serving local favorites such as Shrimp & Grits

Wentworth Mansion in Charleston has a complimentary breakfast serving local favorites such as Shrimp & Grits

For lunch we checked out two local favorites. Charleston native, Stephen Colbert, recommends Hominy Grill. The line was long when we arrived, but an exterior bar window was serving chilled spiked beverages to keep us cool while we waited in the sweltering heat. Inside this old Colonial style home, we were given a starter of boiled peanuts in the shell and then ordered Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam. Husk, another local favorite restaurant, also housed in a renovated old mansion, had a line-up of hungry patrons. The menu here was a little more avant garde’ when it comes to southern cooking. We had starters of Shishito Peppers and Crispy Pigs Ear Lettuce Wraps. For lunch we split a Fried Chicken Po’boy sandwich and washed this all down with a couple of southern sweet teas.

Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam, at Hominy Grits in Charleston

Cornmeal Crusted Flounder served with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens and Tomato Jam, at Hominy Grits in Charleston

At Husk we enjoyed a Fried Chicken Po'Boy sandwich topped with peanuts, red peppers and slaw.

At Husk we enjoyed a Fried Chicken Po’Boy sandwich topped with peanuts, red peppers and slaw.

Our favorite dining experience in Charleston was a placed called Edmund’s Oast. An upper end Brew Pub, we were seated at a bar that fronted the open kitchen where we watched mouth-watering after mouth-watering dish by us. Good thing we had 49 cold brews to choose from to calm our taste buds. We selected a tender Grilled New York Strip that was teamed with Smoked Potatoes and Okra, with a side of Collard Greens.

Some of the delectable dishes being served up at Edmund's Oast in Charleston

Some of the delectable dishes being served up at Edmund’s Oast in Charleston

Enjoying a fun dining experience at Edmund's Oast - brew pub with a front seat to the kitchen.

Enjoying a fun dining experience at Edmund’s Oast – brew pub with a front seat to the kitchen.

The next weekend found my husband and I spending time on the west coast in both Napa and San Francisco. In Napa, we had some great meals at the Lakehouse Restaurant, at Calistoga Ranch where we were staying. But one night we took a ride down the road to its big sister Auberge resort, Auberge du Soleil which showcases a Michelin Star restaurant, appropriately called, “The Restaurant“. When you eat at a place like this, you should make great effort to try something you wouldn’t find on many other menus – like Squab (a young pigeon) served with Figs, Foie Gras, Caramalized Onions in a Port Wine sauce. For lunch in Napa check out Solbar Restaurant at Solage Resort for a menu full of unique delectable dishes like Sweet Scarlet Peaches with Prosciutto or Lucky Pig Roasted Pork.

Squab served up Michelin style with Figs, Foie Gras, Carmelized Onions and Port.

Squab served up Michelin style with Figs, Foie Gras, Carmelized Onions and Port.

Lucky Pig, roasted pork, served with lettuce or black sesame seed crepes, at Solbar at Solage Resort

Lucky Pig, roasted pork, served with lettuce or black sesame seed crepes, at Solbar at Solage Resort

In San Francisco we took checked out Eno Wine Bar right around the corner from the The Westin St. Francis Union Square where were staying. A flight of wine is their specialty teamed with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates. Need I say more!

Check out the numerous wine flights to pick from and pair with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates at Eno Wine Bar in Union Square, San Francisco

Check out the numerous wine flights to pick from and pair with a plate of cheeses, sausages and chocolates at Eno Wine Bar in Union Square, San Francisco

Check out more food pics in the Food Gallery under the Global Gallery!

Brooklyn Bound

Brooklyn (71 sm) may live in the shadow of it’s smaller but better known sibling Manhattan (23 sm) in terms of being a destination location, but Brooklyn can certainly hold its own in being well worth the effort to cross the bridges over or take the subway under the East River. It’s about a 15 minute ride either way. If you are feeling energetic, the best way to cross back and forth between the boroughs is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the bridge offers up some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. With the new 1776′ One World Trade Center looming off to the left views along the bridge on the southeastern tip of Manhattan. To be able to view those two iconic landmarks in one sighting is an amazing site to behold. With this week being the 13th anniversary of the 911 attacks, One World Trade Center is a beautiful reminder to the strength and character of the NYC people and the throngs of well-wishers that come to the site on a daily basis to pay their respects and honor the fallen.

One World Trade Center looms off to the left of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the southern tip of Manhattn

One World Trade Center looms off to the left of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the southern tip of Manhattan

The Brooklyn Bridge is a historical reminder of the foresight and engineering abilities of a generation long ago. Construction began in 1870 and was completed in 1883. To think that the designers, Jason and his son Washington Roebling, built a bridge for an era of horse and buggies, but built the bridge six times stronger than code required and so has stood the test of time as vehicles became heavier and a lot more of them. In the days that followed Hurricane Sandy, the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian and bicycle walkway became a main artery to get back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Old glory waves in the in the window of the west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge - days after two German's exchange the flags for bleached out American Flags - apparently to honor the 130th anniversary of the German designer of the bridge - Joseph Roebling

Old glory waves in the in the window of the west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge – days after two German’s exchange the flags for bleached out American Flags – apparently to honor the 130th anniversary of the German designer of the bridge – Joseph Roebling

The Brooklyn Bridge gives you fairly direct and easy access to great Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene and many more. Walking through these neighborhoods gives you a good feel of the diversity of inhabitants of Brooklyn – from the more family oriented Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens to the heavily sought after quaint neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights that still boast larger units for less money when compared to equal sized units in Manhattan.

The promenade or walkway leading from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill to the Brooklyn Bridge and on into Manhattan

The promenade or walkway leading from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill to the Brooklyn Bridge and on into Manhattan

Williamsburg Bridge, which takes you in and out of one of the more well-known neighborhoods in Brooklyn – Williamsburg – was completed in 1903 and with a bike path that is the most heavily biked bridge span in all of North America. Williamsburg itself continues to attract an eclectic crowd of tenants. Either those who tend to be more artistically minded and feel the slower pace of Brooklyn allows for a good atmosphere to let the creative juices flow; or for those who work in Manhattan to come home for a respite from that fast pace that usually accompanies daily life in the streets of Manhattan.

Enjoying an $8 glass of wine in the relaxing setting of Wine Bar in Brooklyn, where the owner talks to you like an old friend

Enjoying an $8 glass of wine in the relaxing setting of Wine Bar in Brooklyn, where the owner talks to you like an old friend

There are great one-off restaurants that are independently charming and keep it that way by not trying to venture into the realm of franchising their success lest they lose that personal touch they offer their patrons. You may have to wait upwards of an hour to get into one of these quaint eateries, but the wait is usually worth it. When I’m in Brooklyn, my whole demeanor takes on a laid back attitude and I’ve learned to sit back and enjoy the people watching, the conversation of people around me, and the looks of a city and a neighborhood in the throws of becoming a destination spot.

Brooklyn certainly has its fill of high-profile restaurants that are also worth the effort. Peter Luger Steak House has been a mainstay in Brooklyn for decades (opened in 1887), with picture walls showcasing the well-known clientele that have dined at this historical establishment. Serving only aged short loin bone-in steaks, a minimally available premium cut of steak. Or check out The River Cafe’ that sits at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and offers up a fine dining experience to match the views of the Manhattan skyline – day or night.

Enjoying the tender short loin bone-in steaks at Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn

Enjoying the tender short loin bone-in steaks at Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a strong appeal to readers and writers. Or those who just need a quieter place to work, but want a little more social interaction than their apartments might afford them. With the advent of wi-fi accessibility at most places, there are several great little bistros and cafes that have set up their seating to accommodate several small, but open working quarters. Enjoying a locally brewed coffee or an organically and freshly made sandwich at Toby’s Estate allows you to settle in for hours at a time. Something that is often frowned upon in similarly appointed cafes in Manhattan – as there is usually a waiting line to get a place to sit.

The espresso lab, where employees of Toby's Estate create specialty brews for their patrons.

The espresso lab, where employees of Toby’s Estate create specialty brews for their patrons.

If museums are your thing, you’ve come to the right spot. Manhattan may boast world re-known museums, but Brooklyn can certainly hold its own when offering up cultural activities. The Brooklyn Museum is a beautifully housed museum that sits adjacent to the equally visited Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. It has amazing exhibits, entertaining openings, and often teams up with other Brooklynites to offer things such as spinning class in the museum. If you like something a little more on the thought-provoking side – check out the Morbid Anatomy Museum and Library. It takes a look at how the generations have viewed and dealt with death.

One of many bookcases at the Morbid Anatomy Museum and Library, offering insight into the subject of death

One of many bookcases at the Morbid Anatomy Museum and Library, offering insight into the subject of death

Rooftop bars may be the in thing in Manhattan, but rooftop patios abound in abundance on the tops of many of the apartment complexes in Brooklyn. Grab an $8 bottle of wine from Nini’s Wine Cellar on Havemeyer, stock up on several great cheeses, sausage, olives and chocolates at the Bedford Cheese Shop off Bedford Ave. (be sure to read the creative descriptions) and head to the rooftops to watch the sun set over Manhattan.

Two gals enjoying a glass of wine rooftop in Brooklyn

Two gals enjoying a glass of wine rooftop in Brooklyn

Everytime I visit Brooklyn, I realize more and more what this borough has to offer that can successfully grab my attention as equally as any amount of time spent in Manhattan. And I know there is still so much more to discover: Coney Island, Brighten Beach, Rockaway Point, Dumbo, Red Hook. Besides how many people have you heard with the name Manhattan compared to those named Brooklyn (both female and male) – i.e. Brooklyn Decker, Brooklyn Beckham.

For more pics on the sites of Brooklyn check out the Global Gallery.

Gardens Galore! – Arboretums and Botanical Gardens year round beauty

Diversity. Serenity. Beauty. Oasis. Cultural. Magical.

I’m staring out the window of my office at a beautiful sunny summer day wishing I was outside taking in the warmth of the sun and breathing in unfiltered fresh air. No time like the present. I walk into my bosses office and quit. I exchange my high heels for steel toed boots, and my computer for a shovel, a dead-end job for doing something that makes me happy. I’m a doer and an outside person. I went to work for Bachman’s Growing Nursery in Minnesota, which led to getting a degree in Landscape Design and Horticulture.

That was thirty years ago, and even though I am no longer in the landscape business, I did spend over a decade in an industry that created in me a lifelong love of being one with Mother Nature. While I was going to school I spent many hours strolling through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, learning everything I could about plants, their habits, their different seasonal looks, their hardiness. Learning the Latin nomenclature for every plant that grew in our midwestern hardiness zone.

What home have you ever lived in that isn’t surrounded by plant material? We have trees for shade and color. Shrubs to add street appeal to our homes while adding a form of insulation for better efficiency. Gardens for fresh herbs for our food and colorful flowers for our table. Evergreens or cactus to hang our Christmas lights on.

Over the years, I have incorporated a visit to several arboretums and/or botanical gardens in my travels. It’s a great way to learn about the local flora and fauna, which tells you a little bit about the local culture. I find each garden venue strives to incorporate diversity into its plant presentation. Oriental gardens. International sculptures. English rose gardens. Monet’s lilies.

A feeling of serenity comes over me when I enter into one of these magnificent gardens. I feel the pressures of the world melt away for those few hours I spend meandering through the tranquil pathways. Everybody seems in a happy mood as they walk through these oasis amidst the busyness of the urban life and our chaotic go-go-go schedules.

The botanists of the past came up with the idea of teaming their creative talents with what Mother Nature has naturally presented to us for centuries. The culmination of these efforts are the multitude of arboretums and botanical gardens that have been built over the last century – from the Brooklyn (NY) Botanic Garden developed in 1910 to the Overland Park (KS) Arboretum in 1996.  Giving people magical places to take their kids to learn about nature; a great backdrop for that fairytale wedding; an outdoor classroom for people in the landscape/horticulture business; a great place to stretch your legs and fill your lungs with fresh air.

Day or night – spring, summer, fall or winter – it’s always a great time to visit these vast gardens and their unique exhibits! As the seasons move along I will update this post to show some of the beautiful transformations these gardens go through in a year.

Following are some of the gardens I have visited over the years while on my travels:

Arizona Desert Botanical Garden: Founded 1939; covers 140 acres (55 cultivated); 700,000 visitors annually.

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Moon rising over the Saguaros at the Desert Botanical Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: Founded 1910; covers 52 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 12,000 species.

Double deal and Brooklyn - cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Double deal and Brooklyn – cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden drape over the facade of the neighboring Brooklyn Museum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: Founded 1958, covers 1,100 acres; 5,000 species.

The ornate garden and paths at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

 

Montreal Botanical Garden: Founded 1931; covers 190 acres; 900,000 visitors annually; 22,000 species.

China - Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

China – Shanghai entry at the International Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Garden

Overland Park Arboretum: Founded 1996; covers 300 acres.

Monet's Pond - a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

Monet’s Pond – a replica of the scene Claude Monet painted several of his most famous paintings

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A statue of Claude Monet as he paints his ‘lily’ ponds. Overland Park Arboretum

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A river runs through it – through the Overland Park Arboretum that is.

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One of many ponds at the Overland Park Arboretum, with a weeping Willow overhanging the shoreline.

I'm sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered.

I’m sure this was built for or by the little fairies that inhabit the Overland Park Arboretum. I knocked but nobody answered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Botanical Garden: Founded 1940; covers 55 acres; 8,000 species.

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Japanese Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

Check out the Global Gallery for more great pictures from the Overland park Arboretum and more….

New York Hotel Hiatus and Food Fest – part 2

Part 2: Food Fest

One of my very favorite things to do in New York City is eat. I must have been a food reviewer in a past life, or at least distantly related to Adam Richman, the man behind Man vs. Food. I may not be able to put the food away like he does, but I am always up for trying anything! And there is no place like NYC for food diversity.

In part 1 of my New York posts, I noted I have been to NYC no less than 20 times. I could not guesstimate how many places I have eaten – from the corner food stands to Michelin rated, 5-star restaurants that you have to call a month or more in advance to get a coveted reservation. But the one number I am sure of is the number of poor food experiences I have had – zero.

It never ceases to amaze me how many delectable different ways there are to create a food fest to tantalize even the most picky of eaters. If you can’t find something good to eat in NYC – you have serious issues. Thanks to my daughter, who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, I am treated to a gastro extravaganza every time we set foot outside our hotel door.

The restaurants are spread as far across the burroughs as the hotels I have stayed in. So do not fear that you need to stay in one specific area to be treated to a top notch dining experience. I can guarantee a great dining experience within walking distance of wherever you are staying. Which is a good thing, as you will want to walk to the restaurant to work up an appetite, and then you’ll need to walk after most likely over indulging.

Since I cannot possibly give a review of every eating establishment I have frequented, I will chronicle the places I ate at from my most recent trip to NYC. And then follow that up with several of my favorite eating haunts.

Wednesday: arrive in NYC at 7 pm. Dinner at Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant 10 blocks away from our hotel in Union Square. To drink: Can you say Vodka! Sixteen different house infused flavors to be exact. Our table indulged in the “Flight of Five Shots”. To eat: Smoked Fish Plate; Borscht; the most flavorful Beef Stroganoff I have ever eaten; Vareniki (potato dumpling w/mushrooms); Medovik – a light pastry dessert.

Flight of Five Vodka Shots, Mari Vanna, NYC: Honey & Oats, Horseradish, Blueberry & Cinnamon, Black Currant, Apricot

Flight of Five Vodka Shots, Mari Vanna, NYC:
Honey & Oats, Horseradish, Blueberry & Cinnamon, Black Currant, Apricot served with homemade breads to help soak up the vodka.

Thursday: lunch at the W-Union Square restaurant, Olives. I had the place to myself and enjoyed a sizable wood-oven baked flatbread with prosciutto, shitake mushrooms and shavings of parmesan cheese. Dinner at Joseph Leonard, a small boutique restaurant with a wait of 35 minutes – enough time to walk to the book store around the corner and grab a couple of new reads. Worth the wait. To drink: Silky Pajamas and Rattlesnake Lake.  To eat: Duck Meatballs, Julienned Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Marinated Beets and a cheese platter for dessert washed down with a port giving off flavors of fig and cherry.

Duck Meatballs and Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Joseph Leonard, NYC

Duck Meatballs and Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Joseph Leonard, NYC

Friday: lunch at Rosemary’s Italian eatery, where many of the ingredients come from the rooftop farm. A light an airy space, with a rustic touch of exposed wood beam ceiling and brick wall. To eat: Sopressata (spicy sausage) Panini, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, and Forest Kale Salad – all wonderfully fresh and full of flavor. Dinner at Sorella, another quaint boutique restaurant run by two female chefs with a penchant for unique ways of fixing everyday dishes. To drink: Honeypot – sweet and refreshing. To eat: Broccoli Fritto – no words, a must try!; Agnolotti – pasta with braised oxtail; and an Arctic Char that was done to perfection over a bed of pearled quinoa – “to die for!”

Broccoli Fritto, Sorella, NYC - broccoli baked and crispy, smothered with a white sauce and cheese shavings

Broccoli Fritto, Sorella, NYC – broccoli baked and crispy, smothered with a white sauce and cheese shavings

Saturday: a day off of eating and a day on of walking – off all the calories inhaled in the last three days. For sustenance to get through the evening, my daughter and I created a plate of specialty meats, cheeses and olives, washed down with a nice bottle of Red Car Rose’, eaten on the rooftop of her apartment in Brooklyn while we watched the sun set over Manhattan.

Plate of heeses, meats, olives, bread and wine enjoyed rooftop

Plate of heeses, meats, olives, bread and wine enjoyed rooftop

Sunday: back to the food fest. Brunch at Seersucker, indulging in southern comfort food. To drink: homemade Blood Orange Sangria. To eat: TN Whiskey Braised Ozark Country Ham with grits and eggs sunny side up; Fried Chicken – need I say more; and a skillet of four biscuits to soak up all the juices and sauces of the afore mentioned plates. Dinner was a late evening event at ABC Kitchen. When we asked the concierge at the hotel to see if he could get us a reservation, all we got was a roll of the eyes from him. But the restaurant was only a block away so my daughter and I walked over on the off chance of getting two seats at the bar. Score! After only a 10 minute wait we were being served. To drink: Sour Cherry Old Fashioned and a McKenzie Rye Manhattan. To eat: Crab Toast with Lemon Aioli; Line Caught Tuna Sashimi Marinated with Ginger and Mint; Steamed Artichoke, Tender Greens and Spicy Oregano Dressing; Mushrooms, Parmesan, Oregano and Farm Egg Whole Wheat Pizza.

Enjoying a brunch of down home southern cooking at Seersucker, Brooklyn

Enjoying a brunch of down home southern cooking at Seersucker, Brooklyn

Other recommended “must tries” restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn:

Shake Shack – fresh, juicy hamburgers. Original ‘shack’ at Madison Square Park. $

Tom’s Restaurant – where Seinfeld exterior restaurant scene’s filmed. Good breakfasts – get the pancakes. $

Magnolia Bakery – fresh baked goods. Several locations. Usually a line. $

Il Laboratorio del Gelato – watch the creative curators make a flower of your favorite flavors of gelato. $

Katz Deli – literally ‘melt in your mouth’ pastrami sandwiches. $$ No reservations taken, but be willing to wait in line – it’s worth it!

Lombardi’s Pizzeria – New York Style pizza. Little Italy. Usually a line. $$

Morandi’s – local Italian eatery. Good food – good wine, neighborhood feel. $$ Reservations recommended.

Post Office – quaint Brooklyn bar with great cocktails and appetizers. $$

St. Anselm – Brooklyn boutique eatery with the best steaks. $$$ No reservations taken, and the wait can be upwards of an hour.

The Station – an eclectic mix of foods in a small Brooklyn eatery. $$$ Reservations recommended.

Five Leaves – another great Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant with interesting and fresh dishes. $$$ No reservations taken.

Il Postino – Italian dining at it’s best. Impeccable service. $$$ Reservations needed.

Hospoda – serving Czech foods and beers in a modern setting. $$$ Reservations recommended.

Felidia’s – Italian fine dining and the best Manhattan’s and Old Fashions in the city. $$$ Reservations needed.

Peter Luger’s Steakhouse – world renowned Brooklyn steakhouse, once owned by The Donald. $$$. Reservations needed.

Bar Boulud – one of Daniel Boulud’s French eateries. $$$ Reservations recommended.

Babbo – one of Mario Batali’s Italian eateries. $$$ Reservations needed.

Del Posto – another Mario Batali Italian restaurant. $$$ Reservations needed.

The River Cafe’ – fine dining at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. Great Thanksgiving dinner. $$$ Reservations needed.

Eleven Park Madison – Michelin Three Star dining extravaganza of a multi-course tasting menu. $$$$ Reservations needed.

New York City Hotel Hiatus & Food Fest – part 1

My very first visit to New York City was with my father for my 18th birthday, during the holiday season. We stayed in the hallowed Waldorf Astoria Hotel and went to three plays in three nights. What a magical weekend – I was hooked on NYC!

In the last 10 years I have been to New York City no fewer than 20 times. I have stayed at a different hotel every time, and have only returned to one or two restaurants multiple times. Not because the experiences were bad and I am on a search to find a place worthy of a return visit, but because the choices are so many, it is hard to limit the experiences in this vast and eclectic city.

I will list as many hotels and restaurants as I can remember, and attach a mini-review as well as pertinent info such as price and location. The post will be done in two parts, as there is so much to share.

PART 1: HOTEL HIATUS

Most of my decision-making of where to stay revolves around the reason for being in NYC. Family vacations. Visiting my daughter while she attended Columbia University. Business trips with my husband. Visiting my daughter while she works in Lower Manhattan. Idea search for this blog.

Every time I come to NYC I learn more and more why this place draws people in like it does – whether you are there for daytime sightseeing or the acclaimed nightlife. The hotels are as diverse as the clientele that frequent them. Where do these people come from? How did they choose to stay in a specific hotel? Every time I come to NYC I am amazed at how many different hotels I come across that I never knew existed – from the small side street boutique hotel to the massive main avenue hotel – yet they all seem full. There is a hotel to fit the right nitch for every unique demographic.

It is hard to decide what criteria dictates a status star, because every person’s needs are different. So all I can do is share what stood out to me and let my readers decide what hits home with them. The star ratings are taken from the rating system from booking.com.

The London NYC: 5-star; $429; modern, but comfy; nice size rooms – most with a large sitting area and nice size bathrooms; Midtown; younger clientele; Gordon Ramsay restaurant; great service.

The London NYC Hotel, New York City

The Plaza (Fairmont): 5-star; $520; classic traditional, ornate; large rooms and huge opulent bathrooms with gold-plated faucets; Central Park/Fifth Avenue; older clientele; Afternoon Tea and sitting area; great service; overpriced for condition of rooms and lounge areas, but still an amazing experience.

The Plaza Hotel, New York City

The Surrey Hotel: 5-star: $665, boutique hotel in grey/black/white motif – a mix of modern with a classic traditional flair; nice size rooms; Upper East Side; mixed age clientele; Cornelia Spa – a must indulgence often frequented by celebs; small lounge area, no bar; great service – very personalized.

The Surrey Hotel, New York City

Trump SoHo: 5-star; $595; modern, comfy, large rooms in warm earth tones; everything automated; SoHo; younger clientele; Koi restaurant; decent size lounge area, not overly comfy; very good service – but below what I would expect from a Trump property.

Trump SoHo, New York City

The Benjamin: 5-star; $349; decent sized rooms and bathrooms in classic traditional mono-toned color themes; Midtown-East; older clientele; service and room conditions lacking for a 5-star hotel but is somewhat made up for in competitively priced rooms.

The Benjamin Hotel, New York City

Waldorf Astoria (Hilton): 5-star; $429; large rooms in classic traditional warm pastel/floral colors; Midtown; older clientele; service good, but a bit stand-offish; great brunch.

The Waldorf – Astoria Hotel, New York City

Westin-Times Square: 4-star; $380; nice size and nicely appointed modern rooms; Times Square; ask for a higher floor to get away from noise of Times Square and get amazing views; Shula’s Steakhouse; large, but noisy lounge area; service typical of a chain hotel – solid but nothing special.

The Westin – Times Square Hotel, New York City

The Empire Hotel: 4-star; $499; room nice size, but bathrooms small and no doors on showers – water goes everywhere; modern, comfy, earth-tone colors; Upper Westside/Lincoln Center; younger clientele;  Bar Boulud across the street; medium-sized lounge area; mediocre service – not very personable.

The Empire Hotel, New York City

Park Lane Hotel (Helmsley): 4-star; $339; decent size rooms in an old world European floral charm; Central Park/Midtown; older clientele; no real lounge area; service very good, but rooms and interior in need of an update – room price offsets  need for renovation.

The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, New York City

W – Union Square: 4-star; $410; nice size rooms – smaller bathroom, modern, comfy, primary colors; Union Square; younger clientele; nice bar area and lounge area; service good – a bit slow, elevators slow.

W – Union Square Hotel, New York City

Hotel Belleclaire: 4-star; $259; boutique hotel with modern/classic small rooms; Upper Westside; mixed clientele; small lounge area; service okay, not very polished; whole experience and price more in line with a 3-star hotel.

Hotel Belleclaire, New York City

New York Palace: 4-star; $329; large ornate old stone building; rooms modern/classic; Midtown; diverse clientele; nice size rooms and bathrooms; nice size and comfy lounge areas and bar; great place to stay for Christmas holidays – beautifully decorated.

New York Palace Hotel, New York City

Bryant Park Hotel: 4-star; $495; smaller, funky, modern rooms; (lower) Midtown; younger clientele; great location across from Bryant Park and the New York Library; you don’t come here for the service or the comfy rooms – but for the local and the chance to see celebs. Overpriced.

Bryant Park Hotel, New York City

Gansevoort Hotel: 4-star; $455; modern, comfy nice size rooms; Meatpacking District; younger clientele; great roof top pool and lounge/bar; medium size lounge area in main lobby and nice bar; good service, and a good location to a lot of great restaurants.

Hotel Gansevoort, New York City

The Strand: 4-star; $299; modern/classic, comfy rooms; (lower) Midtown; younger clientele; well priced for location and rooms.

The Strand Hotel, New York City

Smyth – Thompson Hotel: 4-star; $399; modern, comfy, dark rooms with pops of primary colors; Tribeca; younger clientele; nice sized rooms, quiet; a good price for amenities and location.

Smyth – A Thompson Hotel, New York City

The Wythe Hotel: 4-star; $490; big open industrial rooms, each with a unique theme reminiscent of the area; Williamsburg, Brooklyn; younger clientele; no lounge area, but nice bar/restaurant on main floor; great rooftop bar that usually has a long waiting line to get in to – unless you are staying there. Pricey, but something fun and different.

The Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn

Sofitel New York: 4-star; $449; modern classic, large rooms; Midtown; mixed clientele; nothing special, but a good location – good family hotel.

Hotel Sofitel, New York City

Grand Hyatt: 4-star; $329; modern/classic style rooms in need of an update; Midtown (east) – Grand Central; business clientele; nothing special, but good price.

Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City

Affinia Dumont: 4-star; $399; decent size rooms in a modern/classic comfy motif using lots of reds; Midtown (east); mixed clientele; nothing special, but good price for size of rooms and it is right down the street from the Empire State Building.

Affinia Dumont Hotel, New York City

Intercontinental New York – Times Square: 4-star; $389; modern/classic business oriented rooms; Times Square; mixed/business clientele; nice rooms for a good price – good location for Times Square.

Intercontinental New York Times Square, New York City