Foxtown, Detroit

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On Woodward Avenue in the center of Detroit reigns The Fox Theater—a grand, 5,000+ seat performing arts center built in 1928.

This National Historic Landmark was designed by C. Howard Crane, the architect of 250 American ‘movie palaces’.  Honestly attending any show performed here is an excuse to drink in its opulence and imagine what it must have been like to see Berry Gordy’s annual 1960s Motown Revues featuring Smokey Robinson, The Temptations or The Supremes!

Cliff Bell’s Jazz Joint, Detroit

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On Detroit’s Park Avenue (just a few blocks from the Fox Theater), is a jewel of a jazz joint built in 1935—Cliff Bell's.

Bell kicked off his career as a child working his father’s Irish Pub, then went underground during prohibition working at speakeasies all over town before opening The Commodore Club which thrived after the repeal of prohibition.

The luxurious Cliff Bell’s followed in 1935—its Art Deco design realized in mahogany and brass with leather banquets, beautiful wall murals, vaulted ceilings, and a horseshoe bar now serving a twist on Prohibition era cocktails.  

It has a beautiful full brunch and dinner menu (with vegan and vegetarian options) that invites guest to “please plan for a leisurely dining experience”. A plate of truffle fries and a Detroit Dirty martini with vodka and McClure’s pickle brine would satisfy.

Not incidentally, it’s a beautiful, intimate place to listen to jazz.

Paris—A Reading Feast

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We've spent countless holidays in France for the past decade. And these books have been our greatest guides.  

The sweet Knopf,  Mapguide: Paris is reissued every few years and includes the highlights of what to see, eat, drink, or shop in each Parisian neighborhood or arrondisement with a helpful, fold-out map that trumps a GPS.

If you're traveling with a child, Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon is a beautiful memoir of this American raising his young son in Paris while his wife is pregnant with their second child. Woven throughout are great 'secrets' like the playground that serves espresso to parents.

Every page of Paris With Kids  features an excursion recommended for kids with detailed information, the address and website, even where to eat and drink nearby. A tiny flip book of a dancing Eiffel Tower in the corners of this pocket-sized book are also a sweet amusement.

When traveling to Paris, we opt to stay in an Air BnB so we can crash out when tired, even invite a few friends to dinner. We love to shop locally and cook a French feast inspired by Patricia Well's Bistro Cooking. Try her simple recipes for leek tart, warm potato salad, (download the e-book for traveling). Her Food Lover's Guide to Paris, promises 500 tips channeling Wells former role as former restaurant critic for The International Herald Tribune. (Be sure to screen Jean Luc Godard's Breathless at some point too!).

Gopnik's The Table Comes First is a great account of the evolution of the restaurant in post-revolutionary France that delves into France, family and the meaning of food. 

Pick up  Marcia DeSanctis' 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go to learn about the best kept secrets of Paris - such as the Musée Edith Piaf, the work of Rodin's mistress Camille Claudel now on view at the restored Rodin Museum. She'll even point you in the direction of a new pair of Bensimon sneakers and a great hike.

 
 

Escaping Time in Chatham, New York

When you walk down the main street of Chatham, New York today, you can almost imagine the daily life of its Dutch and Quaker settlers.  

Once the epicenter of interstate railways, It is a place of history that is in no way lost in time.

Today it boasts the membership-driven, independent Crandell Theatre which opened its doors as a 30cent per show vaudeville house on Christmas Day in 1936.  Across the street is the beautiful and similarly independent Chatham Bookshop which also houses an art supply shop and gallery. 

Bimi's Cheese is a delightful stop for cheese and all its accoutrements—chocolate, jam, bread. (Join the grilled cheese club to reward yourself for every visit to Bimi's grilled cheese bar.) 

Down the street in James Knight's shop Something's Gotta Give where he beautifully curates word work by local artisans—including many pieces by woodworkers Martin Zelonsky and Frank Grusauskas and the ceramics of Kathy Wismar.

Take a stroll past the brewery, liquor shop, clothing and shoe store, Belgian linen shop, yarn store and more up and down the main street of this beautiful Columbia County town. 

 

The Fly-in Pancake Breakfast

More than a dozen years ago, we were tooling around the back roads of the Hudson Valley in an MG Midget when an experimental aircraft buzzed over head. It looked like a lawn mower with wings - not much bigger than our car. A week later we saw the contraption being pulled behind a truck and followed it to a grassy airstrip. As my husband fearlessly took a ride—climbing a thousand feet above the Hudson River—I chatted up one of the pilot's students with feet firmly planted on the ground. 

He introduced us to Chapter 146  of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) which hosts a bi-annual—Spring and Fall—fly-in pancake breakfast at the Kline Kill Airport (NY1) in West Ghent, New York. 

Year after year the event grows bigger and bigger. Dozens of planes—from a shiny silver Cessna to a lipstick red Stinson Flying Station Wagon— line both sides of the green, grassy-lined air strip. 

Sitting across from a total stranger at communal tables eating plates heaped with buttermilk pancakes, eggs, and bacon, it's not uncommon to hear someone ask "what did you folks fly-in this morning?". Alas our MG has not sprouted wings.

Rock Climbing Down Under

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Down under the crashing surf of cars, trucks, motorcycles and subway trains barreling across the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn's DUMBO is an oasis of zen calm. Here expert and novice climbers puzzle out the ever changing routes at Dumbo Boulders.

A day pass allows you to climb all day (including rental gear) for just $9. With a hand stamp - you can come and go —exploring the rest of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Parents opting out of climbing still have to spot their kids but don't have to pay for themselves.

You can sign up for classes from $25 to $125 (taught by The Cliffs) or sign up for a summer-long membership from Memorial Day through Labor Day including an intro class, shoe rentals, and two rainy day passes you can use at The Cliffs indoor facilities.

Amsterdam Houseboat Surfing

 
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If you’ve ever wandered the Seine in Paris or the canals of Amsterdam you may have coveted the houseboats locals call home. Some look sleek and modern but more look lovingly lived in -  scattered with outdoor furniture, potted tomatoes and the occasional slumbering dog.  Now the Web opens up the possibility of finding and renting houseboats on rivers around the world.

We recently indulged by renting a boat on the Amstel River in Amsterdam where AirBnB lists over fifty houseboats. Our host, Hilda, answered all our questions before we left home (where to buy groceries on Xmas day?) and had the houseboat warm and ready.

Hilda’s clean, cozy woonboot has at least a thousand square feet of space. The front door opens directly into a large eat-in kitchen with a long dining table. The kitchen boasts a SMEG stove, dishwasher, Nepresso machine and everything else you need to make and serve a nice meal. Down a few steep steps from the kitchen  are two twin bunks tucked into the bow next to a beautifully-tiled bath (a separate water closet off the kitchen holds the toilet) . Down the steps in the opposite direction is a comfy, sunken living room whose flat screen t.v. can easily be hooked up to your mobile device to watch movies. The stern holds a generous master bedroom with fine linens and duvets.

The boat is docked right in front of the Opera House near the Waterlooplein tram and metro stops so the city is entirely accessible by foot, bike or public transit. (We squated the Opera House's wifi). We could have spent even more time in the Droog Design shop and exploring The Nine Streets both of which are walking distance from the boat and blissfully far from the city's tourist traps.

IAmsterdam is a great resource for planning the rest of your trip and allows you to purchase a combined tram and museum pass so that you can skip the long holiday queues.  We chose the Rijksmuseum,  Stedelijk MuseumVan Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House (which requires you to pick a specific day and time for your tour).  You might consider exploring the 1672 canal-house-turned  Museum Van Loon  after visiting the Rijks' dollhouse to bring Jessie Burton's novel The Miniaturist to life (a novel depicting the harsh realities of 17th Century life for people living on the fringe of society) . 

We also  took an evening boat cruise that was a surprising delight because of the city Light Festival. There are champagne cruises, dinner cruises, pizza cruises, even morning pancake cruises. But we hopped on a nighttime Light Festival cruise which sold hot chocolate, mulled wine and roasted nuts to satiate our empty stomachs. The view was beautiful and we especially loved seeing the bridges and other houseboats at eye level. We also identified several other waterfront excursions we now know we must return to see  - The National Maritime Museum, The Houseboat Museum, and  The NEMO Science Museum.

 
 

Lunar New Year Feast

 
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恭禧发财: happy new year

As China rings in the Year of the monkey - join in the seven day celebration February 8 through February 14. Kick off spring by filling your home with cherry blossoms to symbolize fragility and the beauty of life, a bowl of  tangerines with leaves attached for good luck and longevity.  Make a symbolic feast of savory dumplings for prosperity, sweet dumplings for togetherness,  lychees for close family ties, kumquats for wealth. And indulge the children around you with envelopes of "lucky money" and "caps" to scare away evil spirits. But be sure to wait a few days after the celebration to sweep it up so you don’t accidentally sweep up your new found good luck.



 

Lunar New Year children's books

 

Happy Chinese New Year! is a beautiful book explaining Chinese New Year traditions to children by illustrator/author Demi. The fifteen day celebration is explained with illustrations of the phases of the moon, the characters of the Chinese zodiac and the varied customs.  The traditions of cleaning, cooking symbolic foods, sharing sweet gifts and performing the lion and dragon dances are explained through beautiful illustrations.

Tricia Morrissey’s My Mother is a Dragon, My Father is a Boar, is another whimsical book about the Lunar New Year. Its introduction retells a story of Buddah choosing the twelve animals to make up the zodiac.  Each animal is represented with beautiful cut paper illustrations and its attributes described in detail. Born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004 and 2016 for example, the monkey is curious, mischievous and clever. 
 

Another great book to children celebrate the Lunar New Year with kids is Ralph Masiello's Dragon Drawing Book. Masiello’s study of dragon myths around the world culminate here in step by step instructions for how to master drawing dragons like the Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent, The Mayan Celestial Dragon, The Chinese Imperial Dragon and more.

 

"A Taste of Japan" @ The Doughnut Plant

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By the time we wrote this up The Doughnut Plant's ‘Taste of Japan’ had given way to New Orleans' Mardi Gras King Cakes. So you can only imagine the tangy, sweet, fragrant Japanese Yuzu that glazed their yeast, cake, and yuzu-custard filled doughnuts for a few weeks.

Just touch the tip of your tongue to the glaze and the heady smell of yuzu carries you to a Tokyo street corner where vending machines dispense tin cans of hot tea made of yuzu and honey (yuzu hachimitsu).

The Plant also launched black sesame, azuki & kinako, shiso and green tea doughnuts along with Matcha Latte and Kukicha tea (a twig tea with a milder, sweeter, creamier  flavor than matcha).   

The Doughnut Plant's 'Taste of Japan' celebrated their expansion to Asia over a decade ago. Founder Mark Israel’s passion for donuts was initially inspired by his grandfather who baked bread for U.S. Army troops in Paris during WWI.  To the delight of those of us living in New York, Seoul, and Tokyo, Israel has innovated  trés léches cake doughnuts,  square yeast doughnuts filled with house-made jam and caramelized  créme brulée doughnuts! But its yuzu-flavored donuts are already a thing of the past here in New York!

Candied Citrus - ugli, cara cara, kumquat, grapefruit, mandarine & more

There is always a jar of candied citrus peel and ginger in our house to accompany an espresso or a  bar of dark chocolate after a meal.  When we have a huge variety of citrus on hand - or are making lots of juice - we save the peels to candy.

Julienne the peel and soak in water over night to release any bitterness (changing the water once). Then bring a simple syrup of one part water to one part sugar to a boil and boil to the soft-ball stage. (We used two cups sugar to two cups water for 10 fruit peels. And we assessed the soft-ball stage by keeping a glass of ice-water on hand - dripping the boiling syrup in occasionally until it formed a soft ball in the ice-water.)

Then macerate the peels in the simple syrup for a few hours before straining and distributing them on a drying rack. Sprinkle with Demarra sugar  and let dry for about half an hour before storing in an air tight container.

Best Molasses Roll Cookies

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Molasses roll cookies in the shapes of leaves, acorns, and squirrels are a sweet Thanksgiving tradition  dating back a good forty years when I was first trusted with a rolling pin and a one foot square of the kitchen counter.

Over the years I've looked for the perfect recipe to make spicy, gingery cookies that are moist, not crunchy. This recipe - published by Food & Wine circa 1996 is by far the best. It's easy to assemble and perfect for rolling, You can even make and freeze the dough in advance. (I flew New York to Atlanta with frozen dough in my suitcase and it arrived at perfect temperature!)

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 5 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

Sift together all dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper. Cream the softened butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg, then gradually beat in the molasses. Slowly pour and beat in the sifted dry ingredients. Chill dough for at least an hour. Roll the dough out 1/4 in think and cut. Bake at 350F on parchment lined tray for 8 minutes.

 

Ina Garten's Make It Ahead

 

Ina Garten’s Make it Ahead seems to be her first cookbook to capitalize on her early career as a White House budget analyst. It offers tips on how to “entertain with ease” by preparing ahead. Each recipe is designed to be made and served right away - but is supplemented with tips on how far ahead you can make it (or whether it can be frozen).  Her dinosaur kale chips with parmesan can be put in the oven for minutes just  before your guests arrived (though you must keep an eye on them). And she suggests recipes that actually taste better with time like a Moroccan tagine or overnight Belgian waffles.  

My favorite tid-bit is her description of a perfectly lavish yet simple New Year’s Eve celebration:

Garten describes how she pulls off making dinner in 15 minutes on returning home by either whipping up a lemon/butter sauce for Lemon Capellini with Caviar in advance, or setting up a Provencal Fish Stew  so that all she has to do is add the fish and mussels and cook for ten more minutes, serving it with garlicky rouille and crusty bread . Even if your New Year’s Eve includes a glass of sparkling water, a spin around the family room with the kids and screening Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, this book might help keep you out of the kitchen to enjoy it more of it!

 

Honeymoon Picnic

When my niece's boyfriend proposed to her on Detroit's Belle Isle - her favorite place to roam -  I knew I had to gift them a picnic basket.

It's so nice to have a basket packed and ready to go - just add food and water. There have been summers when I had my basket organized enough to throw a picnic brunch almost every Sunday all summer long at estates along the Hudson - starting on Father's Day. That picnic set included a big French market basket with bamboo vegetable steamers to contain the loot.

This one includes the necessities: a cotton blanket, bamboo cutlery, napkins, paper bags, wooden plates, a (recycled) glass bottle, glasses and tea. And the luxuries: grass fans, votives, mosquito netting and a string bag. As well as some amusements like tools for journaling, a deck of cards, dice, his-and-hers mustaches, and his-and-hers darts

 
 
 
 

The tiny house

For days I watched a pair of wrens flying in and out of the side of my house - only to realize they were nesting in my clothes dryer vent. What they might be building in there? Must be cozy warm, but might it set my own house on fire? 

When I finally dragged a step ladder out to peak in, I was surprised at just how industrious they'd been. Twigs filled the vent and I reached the entire length of my entire arm into the duct to retrieve their tiny house. 

Location, it seems,  is everything for the wren. Hundreds of sticks filled the duct but their ephemeral nest was made up of nothing more than a few pine needles, feathers, twigs and a piece of a blue tarp my husband had thrown over his Triumph motorcycle. You could huff and puff and blow it to pieces.

Over a few years, I found another wren's nest abandoned, was gifted a sturdy barn swallow nest made of clay and dried grass and crafted another out of Martha's Vineyard seaweed - inspired by the 'eggs' scattered about on the beaches of Menemsha.

This is definitely a collection that will grow itself - with pleasure in each find. Until I find someone with a greater passion to gift them to!