Archive for the ‘Food/Drink’ Category

Cool Camps (Part 2): Why Let Kids Have All The Fun?

April 2, 2010

If you read Part 1 of this series, which featured seven way-cool summer camps for kids, you may have come away wishing there were a way us grown-ups could get in on the fun.  At least I know I did.

Camp Winnarainbow founder wavy gravy

Camp Winnarainbow's Wavy Gravy

Which lead me to put together this list of adult-only “camps” that’ll give the tweens and teens in your life just as many reasons to be jealous:

Hollywood TV Star Fantasy Camp

Get ready for your close-up as you play your part in this “made-for-TV” crime drama.

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp

Five days of jamming in laid back settings ranging from small combos to big bands.

Camp Winnarainbow

Run away to join the circus at this far-out program put on by hippie legend Wavy Gravy.

World Poker Tour Boot Camp

Raise your game to the next level at these two-day clinics taught by tournament pros.

Space Camp

Space Camp

Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, now you can at least train like one!

Bull Riding Camp

Here’s your chance to experience the longest eight seconds of your life from atop a rodeo bull.

CIA Boot Camps

Foodies can join Culinary Institute of America instructors for the tastiest “camps” anywhere!

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Michael Jordan’s Basketball Fantasy Camp

Mardi Gras Mentoring: How To Kill Time Between Parades

February 12, 2010

If you’re headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend, you’re in for a real treat.  I can tell you from personal experience that I sincerely doubt there’s a friendlier place or happier time on the face of the planet.

By this point you probably already know the two dozen parades that roll through the city’s streets between now and Fat Tuesday are the big attraction here (if you need parade info, check out my friend Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide).  What you might be wondering, however, is what to do with yourself in the hours before or after all those floats roll by.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own highly subjective and slightly idiosyncratic list of my favorite ways to kill time between Mardi Gras parades:

Cafe du monde new orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Eat, Eat, Eat

  • Personally, I think it should be against the law for visitors to eat at a national chain restaurant or fast food franchise in New Orleans.  But if you’re not sure where to go, here are four can’t miss recommendations you can string together to create a day-long feeding frenzy:
  • Breakfast at Café du Monde (hint: get your beignets and café au lait to go and scarf ‘em down watching the river traffic from atop the nearby Moonwalk).
  • When lunchtime rolls around, grab a muffaletta from the Central Grocery and then pull up a bench on Jackson Square for some first-rate people-watching.
  • The sheer number of great restaurants here makes recommending a dinner spot tough, but I’ve found you can’t go wrong with the crawfish etoufee or shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop.

Music, Music, Music

If there’s anything that can rival these local delicacies on the list of New Orleans’ greatest pleasures, it’s the local music scene.  There are dozens of popular venues (check out Offbeat magazine for a full listing), but here are my two favorites:

  • While a bowling alley may sound like an odd place to go looking for live music, Mid City Lanes—the originator of the Rock-n-Bowl concept—is known as much for its jumpin’ bands as it is for its 18 lanes.
  • The stage at Tipitina’s has played host to a long line of New Orleans’ home-grown legends, from Professor Longhair to Dr. John to the Neville Brothers, and it’s always a safe bet for great local music.

Tipitina's New OrleansHelp, Help, Help

While New Orleans has made an admirable recovery when it comes to all those things that make it a world-class tourist destination, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done to help local residents undo the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  You can do your part—and earn some serious good karma in the process—by volunteering with one of the dozens of local organizations working to rebuild the hardest hit areas of the City That Care Forgot.

Related Experiences

A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

9 Things I Learned At Mardi Gras

Extraordinary Event: Spain’s La Tomatina Festival

February 8, 2010

La Tomatina FestivalLast night’s post-Super Bowl celebrations in the streets of the French Quarter may have gotten a little wild, but it’s a safe bet they looked downright sedate compared to Spain’s La Tomatina Festival.

Each year on the last Wednesday in August, as many as 40,000 people pack the streets of the tiny town of Bruñol to pelt each other with their share of 45 tons of tomatoes.  In other words, the annual event is essentially the world’s biggest food fight.

Well, it turns out my friend Susie Wyshak was right there in the middle of all the action last year.  Her website, SuperViva.com, is built around the really cool idea of creating your own “life list” of all those things you’ve always wanted to do.  And this tomato-tossing melee had been something she’d wanted to check off her list for years.

If this sounds like fun to you too, read on for Susie’s take on this extraordinary experience:

What in the world made you want to do this?

I saw some videos of La Tomatina on YouTube a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe such an event existed.  As a lover of both tomatoes and wild experiences, I knew instantly this had to go on my life list.

La Tomatina festivalIs the whole thing as crazy as it looks?

Pretty much.  People are packed into the streets like  Spanish sardines, so it’s not an event for the claustrophobic!  Even before the trucks drive through dumping the tomatoes, local residents in the apartments above are spraying the crowd with water and people are ripping off their wet shirts and throwing them around.  When it comes time for the actual tomato fight, which is only an hour long, it gets even wilder.

What was it like to be there doing something you’d been dreaming of for such a long time?

It was one of the best hours of my life.  It was just sheer joy, standing in a sea of juice while crushing these over-ripe tomatoes (to make them slightly less hazardous projectiles) and throwing them with complete abandon. And then, before you know it, they give the signal and everybody just stops.

What was the best part of the experience? And the worst?

The actual fight itself was definitely the high point!  The worst part was that the weak U.S. dollar made it kind of an expensive trip.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to experience La Tomatina?

There are ways to make the trip more affordable, as flights to Spain can be surprisingly cheap and you can couch-surf if you plan ahead.  I went with a tour group put together by First Festival Travel, which was nice because I didn’t have to worry about any of the logistics.

Once you’re at the event, you should also make sure you wear some kind of eye protection and then don’t be shy—if you’re going, you might as well get right out there in the middle of the fight!

Three Places to OD On Chocolate

January 28, 2010

Chocolate Experiences

Too much chocolate? No such thing!

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I got to wondering whether it was actually possible to have too much chocolate.

Well, I did a little digging and found these three extraordinary experiences that will let you test that theory—I know, tough job, but somebody has to do it—by sampling a ridiculously wide range of indulgences produced from the seeds of the lowly cacao tree:

A Chocolate-Covered Month

Hershey, Pennsylvania—the self-proclaimed “Sweetest Place On Earth”—is offering hundreds of chocolate-themed activities this February, ranging from family-friendly Chocolate Lab experiences that allow you to whip up your own tasty treats to romantic multi-course chocolate-themed dinners.  To say nothing of the Spa at the Hotel Hershey, where you can wallow in signature treatments like the Whipped Cocoa Bath that sound good enough to eat.

China’s Chocolate Wonderland

This new Beijing attraction promises to be every bit as over-the-top as the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.  The 215,000 square-foot temperature-controlled indoor theme park opens tomorrow showcasing all kinds of chocolaty goodness, including scaled-down chocolate replicas of the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors.  Best move fast if you hope to see it, however, as this real-life Willy Wonka fantasy shuts down for the season in April.

Will Walk For Chocolate

To say the folks at New York Chocolate Tours are a little obsessed with the stuff might actually be an understatement.  They offer nearly a dozen walking tours each week that allow guests to sample the exotic delicacies of some of the Big Apple’s best gourmet chocolate purveyors.

Related Experiences:

The Original Chocolate Factory

New York Chocolate Show

Famous Fat Dave’s NYC Eating Tours

Take A Bite Out of The Big Apple With Famous Fat Dave

January 8, 2010

Just heard an interview with the wife of the late New York Times food writer R.W. Apple Jr. where she told the story of how, on a trip to Singapore, her husband once ate 25 meals in a single day. A feat which immediately conjured up visions of the famous “I couldn’t eat another thing” scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (if you have both a strong stomach and a warped sense of humor you can watch it here).

Famous Fat Dave

Former pickle-monger Famous Fat Dave

It also reminds me of the cold winter’s day my wife and I spent eating our way through all five boroughs of New York City with part-time cab driver and full-time foodie Dave Freedenberg, a.k.a. Famous Fat Dave.  Our four-hour tour saw us scarfing down a wide range of unique local delicasies, from chicken and waffles in Harlem to gourmet hot chocolate in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

While it’s unlikley you’ll be able to squeeze two dozen meals into one day, Dave’s tour will give you an unforgettable taste of the kinds of great eateries New Yorkers love and out-of-towners rarely discover.  It’s an extraordinary experience I highly recommend, whether it’s your first visit to the Big Apple or your fiftieth.

Related Experiences:

New York Chocolate Show

Custom Perfume Experience

I’m Only Here For The Beer!

January 4, 2010

beer tastingWine tasting tours have become so commonplace, I figure most don’t really qualify as extraordinary experiences.  But the suds-sampling excursions run by Mike Saxton and the folks at BeerTrips.com, well, now they’re a different story.

With more than a dozen outings—from a seven-day beer-tasting raft trip on the Snake River to behind-the-scenes tours of Europe’s most renown breweries—on their 2010 calendar, the company has something to appeal to just about everyone.  Add small group sizes (15 guests max) and an emphasis on educating their guests palates and you have  a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that ends up being equal parts rolling house party and  graduate course in beer-ology.

Related Posts:

‘Shine On!

An Extraordinary Place

August 29, 2009

Hurricanes signIn my adult life, I’ve lived in more than a dozen cities and spent time in dozens more.  And I’m here to tell you that, in my experience, there’s no place on this planet that can match New Orleans when it comes to pure, irrepressible joi de vivre.

What I find truly extraordinary, however, is the fact that this laid-back, fun-loving vibe has remained virtually unchanged despite the dramatic damage inflicted when Hurricane Katrina hit the Crescent City four years ago today.  While many New Orleans neighborhoods remain devastated, the laissez le bon temps rouler spirit that earned this town the nickname “The City That Care Forgot” remains remarkably intact.

Nine Lives coverThough I’m convinced you need to experience this intangible quality first-hand before you can truly understand it, Dan Baum’s new book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans comes as close as anything I’ve ever read to getting to the heart and soul of what makes this place so special.  The book is a great read, a real page-turner, as it tells the story of New Orleans’ unique culture through the lives of nine very different individuals, from millionaire Mardi Gras kings to hard-working blue-collar types, all set against the backdrop of the hurricane’s aftermath.

With all that in mind, we asked Baum to share some of his insights on New Orleans:

AR:  In your book you say New Orleans is like no other city in the United States.  What makes it so different?

DB: The U.S. tends to be a place where everyone is always trying to get ahead, trying to make tomorrow better than today.  New Orleans is the opposite of that, a place where the people seem to pay no attention to the future whatsoever, they’re totally living in the moment.  Which is a delightful way to live if you can get away with it.  Another big difference is that there’s no such thing as a stranger in New Orleans.  You ask someone you’ve never met a simple question and you wind up in this long friendly conversation where next thing you know it’s 45 minutes later.

AR:  You went to New Orleans to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for the New Yorker.  So how did you wind up writing a book that’s less about the damage done by the storm than it is the life stories of these nine people?

DB: It was about six months into my reporting when I realized I was really bored with writing about the hurricane.  Katrina was a big thing, but it’s not the most interesting thing about New Orleans by any means.  I just became fascinated by the unique culture of the city and decided the best way to tell that story was through these nine very different individuals.

AR:  It’s been four years since the flood that wiped out entire neighborhoods in New Orleans.  How do you think the city’s recovery is progressing?

DB: It depends what you want to see.  When I go back to visit, I see the glass as half full.  I’m amazed at how much has been rebuilt, especially considering the lousy help they’ve received.  But the people who live there every day really do still feel the loss.  They say “Are you kidding? A third of our people haven’t come back yet, all these local places we’ve been going to for years are gone.”New_Orleans_Sign

AR:  Do you think New Orleans will ever be the same?

DB: People there definitely want changes like better schools, but they’ve also made  a very conscious  decision to put things back to the way they were before the storm.  And I mean that in a good sense.  They’ve already made it very clear they don’t want New Orleans to become just another a big soulless city driven by the dollar and the clock.

AR:  Any final words for someone thinking about visiting the Crescent City?

DB: I’m always trying to encourage people to go to New Orleans.  The food, the music, the architecture, the story-telling—all the things that make it such a great place to visit—are all still there.  It’s also quite inexpensive, by the standards of most cities.  I think it’s one of the best vacations you can take and more out-of-town visitors are exactly what the city needs most right now.

Mancations?

March 28, 2009

Okay, I admit it: The first time I heard about the idea of a mancation, it struck me as somewhat odd.  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that some of my most extraordinary experiences have been in the company of good male friends like Mike, Todd, and Bob.

Which is one reason I was pleasantly surprised to discover Mantripping.com.  The website is full of ideas that would make great buddy trips, from attending air races to tromping through the backwoods in search of Bigfoot.

tomatina-headerMy favorite story on the Mantripping website though has to be this first-hand account of what it’s like to attend Spain’s annual La Tomatina Festival, a full-on food fight that’s held in the streets of Bunol each August. 

The festival has been on my list of cool things to do for a long time.  Now all I have to do is convince one of my buddies that being pelted with tomatoes for an hour straight might actually be fun!  

‘Shine On!

March 5, 2009

virginia_lightningMy hard liquor-drinking days may be behind me, but that doesn’t make me any less interested in visiting the Belmont Farms Distillery in Culpeper Virginia.

You see, while distillery tours have become commonplace, this family-run operation about 90 minutes southwest of Washington DC offers something truly unique: The chance to experience America’s only legal moonshine distillery.

Unlike fancier brews, the old-fashioned clear corn whiskey they make here isn’t aged in oak barrels. In fact, the 100-proof liquor isn’t aged at all, as moonshine connoisseurs (is that an oxymoron?) apparently insist this classic American liquor is best enjoyed fresh (their Virginia Lightning brew is actually guaranteed to be no more than 30 days old).

For a behind the scenes look at this unusual operation, check out this video.  To sample this legal moonshine for yourself, go here.

9 Things I Learned At Mardi Gras

February 27, 2009

mardi-gras-2Having lived in New Orleans in the mid-1980s, I’ve been to my share of Mardi Gras parades.  That said, I just came back from the biggest Mardi Gras weekend since Hurricane Katrina blew through The City That Care Forgot and I have to admit that I learned a few things (or at least remembered some things I’d forgotten).  In no particular order they are:

1.  New Orleans is back as a world-class destination.  While there are still many neighborhoods that remain devastated, all the things that make this town such a great place to visit—the food, the music, the friendly people—are still here and as enjoyable as ever.

2.  Everybody you meet during Mardi Gras seems remarkably happy.  If we could just find a way to bottle this joie de vivre, no one would need antidepressants.

3.  Try to explain Mardi Gras parades to someone who’s never been there (like my friend Pasquale, above) and they’ll look at you like you’re insane.  Better to just take them to New Orleans and let them experience this wonderful madness for themselves.

4.  It doesn’t matter how old you are:  The moment that first parade float rolls by you’ll be instantaneously transformed into a 10-year-old kid as you beg float riders to throw you cheap plastic trinkets.

5.  While many Mardi Gras krewes (the organizations that put on the parades) are essentially closed to outsiders, there are several that offer memberships that allow out-of-towners to ride aboard their elaborately-decorated floats.  Two of the biggest are the krewes of Orpheus (the parade Pasquale and I rode in) and Zulu.

6.  If you end up riding in a parade and need throws or are just looking for cool Mardi Gras souvenirs, go where the krewe members go: Beads By The Dozen.  Their elaborate showroom in suburban New Orleans is filled with all the cool trinkets you would have caught if it wasn’t for that 13-year-old’s quicker reflexes.

7.  Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide, which is filled with parade schedules and other useful information, is a must-have reference.  Pick one up at various locations around town or order your copy online before you go.

8.  As far as I’m concerned, the 479-room Intercontinental New Orleans—which is located right on the route of many of the biggest parades and just two blocks from the French Quarter—is the place to stay during Mardi Gras.  The fact that the hotel also has comfortable grandstands out front to watch the parades is an added bonus. 

9.  The crews that clean up after the parades are amazing—you go to bed with streets littered with every imaginable form of refuse and POOF! you awake to find the place looking like nothing ever happened.