Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ithaca Day Trip

Grandma lives in Binghamton, in upstate New York, so this fall when we spent a weekend there we did a drive to Ithaca, where we had never ever been.  Although we went on a Sunday, when the entire town is pretty dead, we still had a great time.  (But don't go on a Sunday, if you can help it.)  First of all, remember Moosewood, the James Beard award winning cookbooks--our favorite is Pretend Soup--the only cookbook Clara grabs off the shelf, and she has at least 5, thanks to my former job at Cookie Magazine---which had a giveaway table with tons of books and beauty products and clothes and...but wait, I'm not supposed to be wistful about my old life...back to too is closed on Sundays.   So I can't say I ate there, but I will when I go back on a Saturday.
Now, it's in an old building called the Dewitt Mall, that has shops inside that are really worth a wander...a nice bookstore, an organic coop called Greenstar, a great cafe called Cafe Dewitt that we ended up at because Moosewood was closed, and a nice and note expensive antique store.
Then we wandered around the 'commons', which was empty and mostly closed, but I could tell it had promise.  Here's what else I would check out in the area:

The waterfalls/hiking

Watercress: 607-257-0823 has an organic children's menu

Farmers Market on Saturdays from April to December

Jillian's Drawers:  It made me wish I was still doing the Cookie 100, our annual list of favorite finds...she had the best lunch kits, baby gifts....

Updated and extensive listings of everything a family can do can be found on

iPhoto tricks

I'm a huge fan of making little photo books for my friends and family at Christmas.  I buy the medium paperback ones (no minimum amount which is great) and they are $10.99 (then they add in shipping which makes it more like a $16 gift).  No one prints out pictures anymore, so these books really mean something and everyone loves them.  I also do a yearly book on Clara--Clara in 2003, 2004, you get the idea...I used to use the inside first page to write the most memorable things she said, places we went...then it just started to feel a little like a Christmas form letter, so I stopped that--just a picture instead.  But one thing we've started doing makes the book even more fun to produce, and look at.  Everywhere we travel, we see cool cars.  We ask her to pose like she's getting into it, and now we have this collection of her and the cars.  I also do this with her and food she's eating.  It makes for a nice series, which works so well in a double page spread in the book.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Road Trip Switzerland Part 1

For a completely charming winter wonderland, that will please skiers and non-skiers alike, check out the Waldhaus Sils Maria.  Sils Maria is a small little town that is probably 15 minutes drive from St. Moritz, but the people who go there, most likely never go there.  The Waldhaus is a grand old family hotel, that's been in the same family for 100 years, and gets the same families there for generations.  When we went there, we saw babies with parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  It's totally family oriented--when we checked in, they were having an early evening party for the kids, with the largest red balloons I have ever seen, floating around the lobby.  There's a lovely indoor pool, and a ski school.  But our favorite part was the horse and carriage ride.  You get picked up right in front of the hotel, and are seated in a carriage that is covered with sheepskins, and then you are covered with huge sheepskin blankets, and whisked away up into the mountains, to a sweet little village, where you sit down for a lovely tea or hot chocolate, or lunch.  We had the most perfect "rosti", which is basically like a perfectly formed circle of hash browns, with an egg on top.  Afterwards, we walked back down the hills, to the hotel, working off lunch. From here I will send you towards Thermalbad Vals, one of the sexiest, yet family friendly, mineral spring hotels.  More later.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa's Workshop: Adirondacks

Words of wisdom for any parent on a trip:  don't hype up anything you plan to visit, unless you have called ahead and verified once, and maybe twice, that the place you are heralding as the greatest thing in the world is (1.) open, and (2.) has availability.  I had been talking up Santa's Workshop for days.  It was supposed to be the cutest little amusement park, around since 1949, and here we were, staying just a 20 minute drive from it.  It was pouring rain on Saturday, so we headed out on a lovely Sunday morning, all excited, until we got to the empty parking lot.  How could this be?  How could any tourist attraction be closed on a Sunday in the height of the summer?  But yes, it was.  And it was devastating.  Poor Clara...she took it hard...and it probably took a good 15 minutes to get over it.  We promised a return, and that we would call way way way in advance and make sure they were open.  It looked really cute from the outside.

Escape From NY-Dartbrook Lodge, Adirondacks

On the other end of the spectrum from Whiteface Lodge, is the small  Dartbrook Lodge. It's in a 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' town, called Keene, but it's completely charming, and quiet, and has more the feel of a weekend cabin of your own in the Adirondacks, than a full-service property like Whiteface. The cabins are tastefully done, have all organic sheets and towels, and the details are just right. The owners even did the landscaping right, planting meadow flowers and leaving the grass high around the cabins, so the cabins don't look manicured, but like they belong. Next door is Cedar Run, a breakfast and lunch spot that has simple and delicious everything, plus items you can take out. And dinner at Tip A Canoe just across the street is great, so at the end of a long day out skiing or hiking, you can just walk to dinner. The wine list is smart, and the food is thoughtful and uncomplicated. On the other side of the cabins is the Dartbrook Rustic Goods Store, and it has everything from the best local artisan Adirondack mirror or table, to locally made balsam fir hand washing gel. The guys who own Dartbrook are so passionate about the area, and happy to share their secrets about where to go and what to do. It's about 15 minutes from Lake Placid, and 10 minutes from Keene Valley, with fantastic views along the way, of glassy lakes lined with birch trees.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Escape From NY-Whiteface Lodge, Adirondacks

This summer we went to the Adirondacks, our first time. It's such a huge area, that I will do several posts about our time there, but for those of you looking for a getaway that might involve skiing, definitely some snow activities, and a perfectly done lodge, I have the place.  Whiteface Lodge is in Lake Placid, which is pretty much in the middle of the Adirondack State Park, which is 6 million acres, and, according to Wikipedia, that's the size of Vermont.  So it's huge. To get to Lake Placid, home of the Winter Olympics of 1980, you should plan about 5 hours--it's 288 miles.  It's straight up the Thruway, which they call the Northway once you hit the Adirondacks.  It's really like you're in a different state, and one that's very far away.  No mini malls.  Lots of businesses that have been family run since the 40s.  No bad developments.  But back to the Whiteface: an Olympic skier who became an entrepreneur, concepted the place, wanting to have a lodge that harked back to the great camps that were so prevalent in the 19th century. It's totally grand in its huge beams and high ceilings, but also very cozy with lots of wood and fireplaces. The rooms are nicely appointed, the beds comfortable, and a family of four could easily fit into a  one bedroom suite, the smallest room, as it has a queen size bed, and a queen size pullout couch.  I just looked online, and they have a winter special, that has a winter rate of $395 per night over the weekend, and that includes breakfast, and all of the amenities they offer.  Now usually, I don't get too excited about those, but listen up: movie theater, game room, indoor and outdoor pool,bowling, ice rink, kids club, complimentary shuttle into town (which has no parking so you will actually use this), free valet...and the best part? They have a washer/dryer in the common area, with complimentary laundry detergent!  I couldn't believe it.  The food at Whiteface is excellent--we loved the breakfasts--granola, eggs, pancakes, waffles, organic yogurts, isn't a skimpy free breakfast.  We didn't eat lunch there, but dinner was great.  They have a bar area where they have some live entertainment (it was a great singer/guitar player one night, and the next it was a little hokey), and we just got drinks, and a pizza for Clara, from their wood burning oven.  They have a nice menu for kids, which is a step above average--good quality version of the classics.  The wine list was great. And it's in the middle of everything--which you'll read about on the next couple of posts.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cracker Barrel Rocks

I always turned my nose up to chain restaurants when we were on road trips.  I figured that with enough research (;; reading "apple's america") i could come up with something healthy, or honest, or both.  then we drove from new york to west virginia, and i realized i was wrong.  unless we wanted to take three days to get there, so i could find the most perfect spot to stop, i was going to have to cave.  that's how i ended up at cracker barrel...and let me tell you--you can actually have a great bowl of beans, cornbread, and mac and cheese.   everything else seemed pretty uninteresting, but those were delicious.  they even have a cool (yes, i mean that) gift shop, with lots of dvds (we bought mr. ed) that you wouldn't normally think about--old school movies...and lots of candy with old school packaging.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Doing The Nutcracker

I love Christmas, and took Clara to see the Nutcracker for the first time last year.  One of the big challenges though, is to figure out the meal situation before you go.  First, remember that the performance is 2 hours and 15 minutes, then plan accordingly. We had a 1pm performance, so we had a fast and delicious chicken soup (with dumplings) at Bouchon Bakery, on the third floor of the Time Warner Center. If you have a 5pm showtime, and you don't have to rush back for bedtime, a really good spot is Landmarc, also in the Time Warner Center.  They have a very extensive kids menu, much of it organic.

Midtown Secrets

Seeing as how I shouldn't be spending money taking Clara to the Christmas Spectacular, aka The Rockettes, I was happy to discover that we could meet some of the Rockettes in person, for free, at the Shops at the Plaza Hotel. We met two of them, got a signed photograph, and signatures in Clara's Disneyland autograph book, and then had a lovely coffee and cake at the Demel, also in the Shops at the Plaza. It's the only outlet of the Viennese cafe outside of Austria, and its perfectly presented, has lovely packaging on chocolates and jams that you can buy, and is half the price of eating upstairs at The Plaza.
Also on the same floor, is the Eloise at the Plaza 'shop'. It's not all the way up and running, but what it has now is a cafe where girls can have pretend tea parties, and do Eloise puzzles; a bean-bag lounge where they can watch Eloise movies, and retail areas which sell all things Eloise. Apparently by the spring they will offer real tea parties--for now, its a sweet fantasy space for your child to have some down-time--as long as you keep them away from the $55 satin headbands, and all the other Eloise merchandise that will be wooing them.
On our way out, we discovered the Cafe AKA, next to the Hotel AKA (42 W. 58th St). It has La Colombe d'Or coffee, and a smart menu...and the hotel itself seems great...I just looked online, and saw rates as low as $295. It's also just a couple of blocks from our favorite burger spot, Burger Joint, in Le Parker Meridien, at 119 W. 56th St.