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Rip Van Winkle Never Imagined Living So Well!

16 Jan

Emerson Resort and Spa. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

The Catskill Mountain gnomes who Rip Van Winkle encountered were fond of bowling and magical brews. These days they’re hanging out in hot tubs and getting massages after dining in style…of course, still while imbibing magical Catskill brews.

Winter’s the perfect time in the Catskills to indulge yourself in both active and therapeutic recreation. You’ll find luxurious Catskills escapes come in many guises. I was fortunate to spend nights at the serene Emerson Resort and Spa and the funky-chic Roxbury Motel. Each is family friendly yet also a sophisticated anomaly in this charming old Dutch colonial haven.

The burbling Esopus River and East Branch Delaware River and rounded mountains are extraordinarily calming. The entire Ulster and Delaware county region is laced with streams and rail beds, many of which carry antique trains or have been converted to trails. These flows continue the formation of the Catskills, which aren’t mountains in the usual sense but rather are remnants of a carved plateau. That’s why so many of these green mounds have nearly uniform height.

Esopus River running past the Emerson. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

The beautiful view from the bed of our duplex suite, as it appeared in Autumn. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

At its core, the Emerson is an ayurvedic retreat. “I thought I’d have to travel back to India to find a space like that,” said my travel companion, who hails from that nation.

Behind the imported, ancient Indian hand-carved gate at New York’s first Mobil Four-Star Spa you’ll discover ten treatment rooms adorned with antique fixtures and sculptures of deities and a striking raw stone sculpture centerpiece. Guests can stroll between these private sessions and steam showers, saunas, a fitness room, relaxation lounge, and outdoor hot tub. To take healthy wisdom home with you, there are Yoga classes too.

The Country Store with a silo converted into the world's largest kaleidoscope. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

When you’re ready for more fanciful fare, dizzy yourself with the world’s largest kaleidoscope at the Country Store just yards away. But steady yourself on your feet for serious shopping — the Country Store is stocked with distinctive jewelry, gourmet delights, glassware, antiques, women’s apparel, furnishings, accessories, and more.

The Emerson's road sign, complete with glowing eyes. (Photo Courtesy of the Emerson.)

Ol' Red Eyes at the Catamount. (Photo by Erik Baard)

At the Emerson’s restaurants it’s as pleasurable to fill your belly as it is to fill your luggage and spirit. The glowing red mountain lion eyes of the Catamount’s imposing sign announce “carnivores welcome.” But vegetarians and vegans will find very satifying choices. I had the pleasure of feasting on a tofu and veggie stir fry while I enjoyed the company of Lisa Berger of Ulster County Tourism, who had sauteed Atlantic salmon.

Catamount stir fry. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Catamount trout. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Over at the Roxbury Motel, in Delaware County, each room is a unique and elegant work of art, reflecting a broad palate of periods and influences. If you’re a more playful sort, a sleepover can transport you to an ancient cave, the helm of a starship, or into a coconut cream pie one can imagine was whipped up by Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.”

The Roxbury cheerfully greets the night. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

Mary Ann's coconut cream pie. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

A starship for the night. Uhura not included. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

The Noir Boudoir. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

Bride of Amadeus suite. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

The decor reflects the engaging and fun personalities of its delightful owners, Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa. The two met through New York City’s theater life and so it’s no surprise that they brought stagecraft to create shared dreams into which they personally welcome each guest.

But this dynamic duo is in touch with the rooted tranquility all around them too. This past weekend they were moved to post this little video of the East Branch Delaware River running past the Roxbury Motel:

 

 

Just contemplate that snowy stream for now, until you too can head up for a spa retreat in the Catskills!

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Catskills Snow Season Begins!

14 Dec
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Belleayre Mountain in Highmount, N.Y. is owned & operated by the New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation.

Santa and his elves are busy in the North Pole at this time of year, but far closer to home you’ll find snowy fun if you Visit the Catskills!

Opening day at Belleayre Mountain was a smash over the weekend and you’ll find numerous skiing, sledding, snowskating, snowboarding and other downhill thrills  popping now through the start of spring!  Nature watchers can slip quietly into gorgeous scenery on cross-country skis or on snowshoes. Families will love snow tubing too, as much as they love tubing rivers lacing the region in summer.

Tubing at Plattekill Mountain Resort in Roxbury, NY.

A vacation in the Catskill Mountains will work your body if you choose such active pursuits, but it will also feed and sooth those muscles. The region is home to top rated resorts and restaurants. Stay tuned for next week’s installment on spas and dining!

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!

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)

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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