Archive | September, 2011

BEACH PLUM WEEK!

30 Sep

Beach Plum gelato at Manducatis Rustica

Beach plum salad at Communitea. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Beach plum smoothie at Communitea. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Beach plum gelato! Beach plum smoothies and baked goods! Beach plum jam on toast! Beach plum sauces on entrees! Maybe a little Merlot with beach plum notes? There are many ways to enjoy this native New York fruit and to savor a fresh memory of summer!

Beach plums growing at Briermere Farms. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Beach Plum Week is arriving in Long Island City to benefit the Hour Children Food Pantry! From October 1 through October 9, LIC’s select restaurants will be serving beach plum foods and beverages with proceeds helping to feed 919 local households. That’s 658 children and 1374 adults, 462 of whom are seniors. Food pantries throughout NYC are painfully in the recession’s vise: budgets are slashed while the need rises.

To keep up with offers, please visit the Beach Plum Week website.

Three restaurants pioneering Beach Plum Week are Sage General Store, Communitea and Manducatis Rustica.

Long Island City faces the United Nations from across the East River. Getting to its Vernon Boulevard restaurant row and charming Court Square district couldn’t be easier — just a stop or two on the 7 or E trains. Views across the water are amazing and you’ll discover a vibrant cultural scene.

Even if you can’t make it to one of NYC’s most exciting rising neighborhoods, you can still support this great cause. Just make a check, money order or credit card donation to the Hour Children food pantry’s account with Food Bank for NYC:

Food Bank for New York City
Memo: Account Number 81171 (Hour Children).
Food Bank for NYC address:
39 Broadway, 10th floor

New York, NY 10006

After you feast, the learning begins. EscapeMaker, a fantastic regional getaway agency, donated $500 through the Greenest New Yorker program of I LOVE NY for public school students with the Greenhouse Project to germinate beach plum seeds. Those seeds come from fruits picked by Hour Children kids at Briermere Farms and served at restaurants. For more about that harvest outing, visit this earlier post.

The Greenhouse Project at PS 333, the Manhattan School for Children.

Those seedlings will be donated to schools and community gardens throughout NYC.  John Prunier of Petsky Prunier personally donated $300 to purchase buckets more fruit, to keep participating restaurants stocked. Amy Hermann drove a car made available for free by Zipcar to pick up the fruit.

How many chances does one get to support food security, native plantings, local agriculture and have a blast with fine dining in an artistic neighborhood all at once? Please be part of this great event!

Many thanks to all!

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See your Way to the Seaway and Harborfest!

21 Sep

The heart of North America is linked to the wild north Atlantic by the Great Lakes, canals and the St. Lawrence Seaway, nearly all accessible from the Thousand Islands-Seaway, Finger Lakes, Greater Niagara and Chautauqua-Allegheny regions of New York. A 518-mile Seaway Trail takes hikers, bikers and motorists alongside it from Lake Erie and out past the Thousand Islands. Dotting the way are historic homes, forts and battle fields, the incomparable Niagara Falls, quaint villages, universities and cultural centers, museums, wilderness refuges and a seemingly endless choice of ice creams!

Indeed, a very worthy endeavor for dairy lovers who want to earn their treats as they go would be an ice cream bike tour across northern New York! Naturally, you’ll want to include a regional specialty, frozen custard. Vegans can munch their way across the trail as well, especially during the height of autumn harvest season (see events calendar). Just plan to sleep in and not drive or ride if you opt for the wine tastings!

My introduction to the Seaway was a rollicking citywide party,  Oswego Harborfest! Bare Naked Ladies headlined the rock stage, while countless other musicians sharing other genres filled the air around every corner. Crafts and foods kept festive visitors, students and families out strolling and discovering deep into the night. The fest is free for all and lasts four days.

The 2012 Oswego Harborfest will be the 25th (of July), so expect an even bigger celebration. That also happens to be the War of 1812 bicentennial, so keep an eye out for special programs and the occasional redcoat.

A hub of this unique touring area is the Seaway Trail Discovery Center in far mellower nearby Sackets Harbor. I stopped in with my travel buddy, Ed Hancox to learn more about the region from Seaway Trail, Inc. President and CEO Theresa Mitchell.

The Seaway Trail Discovery Center is focused yet eclectic, teaching visitors about this region’s central role in the War of 1812 (more about that in a future post), it’s industrial heyday and continuing agricultural vitality. Kids will love two animatronic figures that neatly capture the Center’s range: Ulysses Grant and a talking cow.

Seaway Trail Discovery Center. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The Seaway region offers ice cream at nearly every turn. Erik loves the cows, live or animatronic. (Photo by Ed Hancox)

The area's agricultural heritage is everywhere, on farms both bustling and sleepy. (Photo by Erik Baard)

After the fun kid stuff, we took a more sophisticated turn by dining with Theresa at Tin Pan Galley. This elegant and intimate, tree-shaded and ivy-covered restaurant features live music, often played by its multi-instrumentalist owner.

Tin Pan Galley's greenery, music and arts fused.

Another informal highlight of the Seaway Trail is the antiquing and flea market bargain hunting one can do along the way. Old industrial row houses and farms yield everyday items from another era — medicine and milk bottles, postcards, glasses, tins and kitchenware and other curios.

A turtle shell estimated to be 200 years old at a roadside flea market near Sandy Creek, NY. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Heart Island: A Love Story (Complete with Fairy Tale Castle and “Millionaires Row”)

14 Sep

Millionaires Row. (Photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Tourism Council)

As a city-bred environmentalist, I’ve put a lot of thought into ways to escape or eradicate the urban “heat island.” But in Alexandria Bay, the thinking is to visit and preserve Heart Island. What a difference one letter makes!

I had the pleasure of cruising a section of the Thousand Islands with New York State Assembly member Addie J. Russel aboard one of the Uncle Sam Boat Tours cruisers. We launched from a pier around the corner from the hotel where I stayed, Capt Thomson’s Resort, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River.

As we passed astonishingly luxurious homes sitting atop tiny mounds arching out of clear water, Assemblymember Russel briefed me on some of the core environmental decisions facing her “River District” constituency. One hot debate centers on whether to build wind farms or maintain a large nuclear generating capacity — a question that resonates throughout the global environmental community. Voters are also divided over whether the government should modify water level policies maintained since dams were built generations ago. New regional growth and transportation models are being considered. As always, ecologists are busy battling zebra mussels.

As we approached Heart Island, the sunny upper deck’s milling crowd hushed and rushed to one side. Was it only the architecture that set this island apart or was it the love story that many read before arriving?

Fairy tale loves, usually involving the very wealthy, hold timeless escapist appeal. Ruth Bottigheimer, SUNY Stonybrook literary scholar and author of  Fairy Tales: A New History contends that fairy tales were not derived from orally transmitted rural folk tales as has long been believed. She posits that they were literary inventions of Italian urbanites.

Boldt Castle. (Photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Tourism Council)

And cramped city folk yearn like no others for fairy tale loves to be set in castles. Preferably their own.  George Boldt was as cosmopolitan as they come. A Prussian immigrant, he made his fortunes as a hotelier. His crowning business achievement came as proprietor of the original Waldorf-Astoria. But his most profound personal expression was this six-story castle he built as a monument to his love for Louise Kehrer Boldt, his wife.

Louise Kehrer Boldt, the castle's muse. (Photo by Erik Baard of painting at Boldt Castle)

Alas, Louise died suddenly. George halted all work on the castle in 1904.

Boldt Castle is an American reverse Taj Mahal. Whereas Emperor Shah Jahan built a mausoleum for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, George Boldt aspired to build a grand living home where love with Louise would always blossom. Her death rendered the effort meaningless. The castle stood incomplete and empty for over 70 years. The love was gone.

Or was it?

“Though the island was abandoned for decades, I dare say a good number of people living in the surrounding area were conceived here,” said Gary deYoung of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council. Couples boated out to Heart Island for trysts on many nights, writing declarations of love on the castle’s unfinished walls. Though restorations, renovations and additions have erased much of this unofficial history, happy traces remain in the basement.

Service tunnel in the basement of Boldt Castle. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Innovative for its time, an indoor pool in the basement of Boldt Castle. Though empty for decades, this room was also evidently popular with lovers. (Photo by Erik Baard)

It's always nice to arrive on Heart Island in the iconic I LOVE NY shirt, with a red or green heart. At center is Gary deYoung of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council. (Photo by Edward Hancox)

Even the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, which undertook care for the castle and island, is in on the love. Landscaping, garden features, a glass dome, furnishings and other elements added to complete the project evoke hearts and harts, or deer. Boldt himself made much of the heart/hart pun, linking his expression of love to the stags in his family crest.

Boldt's heart and hart in glass. (Photo by Erik Baard)

I suspect that Boldt was aware of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem written nearly 400 years earlier that makes use of the same pun. In that poem, the feminine is depicted in one line as “gentle, tame, and meek,” but subsequently the lover declares the author to be the prey, or hart:  “Dear heart, how like you this?”

The children's play castle. This was the only building to have residents. (Photo by Edward Hancox)

The "hennery." It paid to be a Boldt bird. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The grandeur of Heart Island doesn’t stop at the castle. Other magnificent structures include a children’s play castle, an aviary (or “hennery”) and powerhouse.

But if all of this castle business is just too over-the-top for you, perhaps you’d like to spend more time at the quaint and simple little Boldt yacht house across the water on Wellesley Island.

The Boldt yacht house is nearly itself a castle of wood. (Photo by Erik Baard)

A great, green way to get to the region is taking Amtrak to Syracuse, rather than driving all the way up. Or, of course, you could sail, row or paddle in! Our hotel, Capt. Thomson’s Resort, was perfect for sailors and drivers alike. Boat landings at Heart Island are free!

FINAL WEEKEND for the Swimming Cities Boatel

8 Sep

I was once asked to tow a huge floating diorama of the Bronx River from the Bronx to Brooklyn on the East River by kayak. The rickety eco-artwork was strung together from several pieces and featured delicate paper items. Square yards of it were covered with deliberately broken glass bottles.

Fortunately, I knew one man with enough humor, adventurous soul and artistic passion to give this “Mission Impossible” a go:  Jean Barberis, artistic director of New York’s innovative culture changer, Flux Factory.

As we expected, we never made it to Brooklyn. But we landed in Queens with hilarious memories and new friends at the secretive-but-hospitable marina that took us in as artistic castaways.

Now you can enjoy an unforgettable weekend  of Flux Factory arts and seaside living in New York City without mishaps and glass shards!

The artist-made Boggsville Boatel is auctioning off rooms for its final weekend! This floating hotel and “boat-in theater” on Jamaica Bay is ecologically sound, made from creatively restored boats from the “Gilligan’s Island” to “Miami Vice” eras that were otherwise destined for landfill.

After a sold out summer, rooms are being auctioned one FINAL WEEKEND to support future art projects and tours.

The installation and boatel received rave reviews from The New York TimesNPR and other major media. Enjoy a photo gallery of this unique summer community here.

Rooms include dinner and access to the artists and an invitation to the GOING AWAY PARTY on Sept 10, 8pm ’til late. There will be cold beers at Marina 59, revelers in beach wear, Cocktail Cruises in Jamaica Bay, Jerk Burgers & Pineapple Hot Dogs by Carnival Queen Lamar Iposa. You can even join in on Sea Shanty Karaoke.

Guests can start the morning with gulls, egrets and herons and spend the day in the company of daring, fun and talented Flux Factory and Swimming Cities artists! Be sure to meet the visionary behind the boatel, Constance Hockaday!

For more information and to bid for a boatel room, please CLICK HERE.

The Little Plum of the Big Apple State

7 Sep

Beach plums growing at Briermere Farm. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Visit the East End of Long Island now and into autumn for a lingering taste of summer! Though the past few days have been rather dismal downstate, the beaches of Long Island have more to offer after Labor Day than you might think. 

Right about now, farmers are harvesting tartly sweet beach plums to render into batches of jams, jellies and sauces and to bake into treats. Go enjoy them and you’ll be helping to carry a splendid natural and culinary heritage forward.

I’m thrilled that as I LOVE NEW YORK’s 2011 “Greenest New Yorker” I might become one of the purplest too. My $500 award from Escapemaker.com will be directed to the Greenhouse Project to grow beach plum seedlings that can be donated to schools, community gardens and other public spaces. This new effort parallels my championing of the Newtown Pippin apple.

Beach plums are indigenous to the east coast of North America. They play an important role in stabilizing dunes and feeding wildlife. Explorers Giovanni da  Verrazzano and Henry Hudson wrote of the beach plums lining what’s now known as New York Harbor. It’s hard to miss these bushes, which are resplendent in white blossoms in late May and thick with green leaves and cherry-sized fruits in late August.

Wild beach plum blossoms. (Photo courtesy of Cornell University)

Today in New York State you’ll find wild beach plums on Long Island, Fishers Island and Shelter Island.  Habitat restorations surrounding Jamaica Bay incorporate beach plums and several New York City waterfront parks feature small plantings. I first learned of beach plums from David Lutz of Friends of Gateway, a volunteer group that grows beach plums and other native plants. They do well at the New York State Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs, which lies between the territories of beach plums and another of New York State’s edible wild fruits, the Great Lakes sandcherry.

Briermere Farms owner Clark McComb teaches Hour Children visitors Beach Plums 101. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Cornell University researchers helped spark a beach plum revival by helping farmers to master new growing techniques and markets. I recently brought a group of 20 kids from Hour Children to visit Briermere Farms, a 300-acre rolling expanse of orchards and cropland in Riverhead, NY. Owner Clark McComb introduced the kids to beach plums and to healthy treats like peach slushies made from fruits he grew himself. Landscape designer Gil Lopez, who greatly helped with our trip, was inspired to include beach plums in his palate for sustainable gardens.

Children in the beach plum orchard of Briermere Farms. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Two of Hour Children's happy harvesters. (Photo by Erik Baard)

To see a full gallery of our trip, click here.

Pits made from fruit we picked will be germinated by the Greenhouse Project. In addition to the expertise Cornell University and Friends of Gateway offer, staff at the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Greenbelt Native Plant Center have always been very helpful to my green efforts.

Stay tuned for more info about an upcoming Beach Plum Week in Long Island City.  It is in the works for September, with local restaurants selling gelato, smoothies, tarts, martinis and other delectables. Proceeds will benefit the Hour Children food pantry.

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