Friday, December 27, 2013

The Art Scene in Peekskill, New York

Roaming around Peekskill's Riverfront Green Park, now draped in snow, thanks to a storm that hit just as my Metro North train departed NYC's Grand Central Terminal, I understood how, over the centuries, artists  have taken their inspiration from the Hudson Valley. Many infuse their landscapes with a sense of the romantic

Today, I stroll Peekskill's waterfront green space as well as downtown and find both sprinkled with sculptures (installations and murals) by a retinue of artists, mostly from New York State with a smattering representing the international community. The works are varied in their themes, materials and sensibilities.

Basha Ruth Nelson's oeuvre, a 10-foot-high steel ring, is a simple, graceful form that allows the viewer to interact with it, viewing the park and the Hudson as if through a window. "The Golden Mean," sculpted by Carol A. Feuerman, is a buff, 16-foot-high bronze diver that's so infused with energy, it looks as though he will fly into the river. Nearby, Serge Onnen's Planetariummonetarium is a steel sphere resembling a space object. Farther along the shoreline is a small hut constructed of weathered steel and set atop a steel bar. This work by Daan Padmos,"Time Sharing," is inherently unstable, looking like it was just washed ashore.

In the town itself, art work appears just about everywhere you look, whether in a vacant lot, across from parking spaces, snuggled between buildings, coating an expansive facade, even set atop concrete benches. 

Normally the presence of convex mirrors reflects a security function. But not with Marko Remec's "What Would I Wish For," which is constructed of more than 100 convex mirrors covering two utility poles. They act as fun house-type mirrors, reflecting your image, over and over again for the narcissist in you. Another Remec piece, "Totem (Up/Down)," -- it's more than a mile away, near the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art (HVCCA) -- suspends two bicycles along a flag pole, upending the idea that bikes represent the American dream. Perhaps one of the most whimsical is Leon Reid IV's "Pedestrian Shuffle," twin school crossing signs that are stepping out along a particularly ordinary Peekskill street.

With all the focus on these large works and with the snow draping every outdoor surface, it's easy to miss the series of colorful tile-covered concrete benches that lead visitors all the way to the HVCCA. The tilework, created by some two thousand school kids, provides visual representations of the history of the Hudson River and Peekskill, including English explorer Henry Hudson himself.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Christmas Lights in New York City

Why would I trek over an hour on the sluggish D train to Brooklyn and then wander another 20 minutes from the 18th Avenue subway station in Bensonhurst? For the extravagant Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, of course. The online real estate company, Redfin, considers this mostly Italian-American neighborhood to be among the top five neighborhoods in the U.S. to see holiday lights.

While there are one- and two-family homes that trim their modest dwellings with extravagant holiday decorations, it's the $1 million+ mansions along 84th and 85th streets between 11th and 12th avenues that are the real draw. So much so that tour buses make Dyker Heights a holiday destination for New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike, while the police cordon off 84th St. between 11th and 12th avenues, allowing crowds to overflow onto the asphalt.

Multi-floor balconies are decked out with glowing red bows and garlands of lights. Giant lighted gingerbread stand sentinel on one lawn. Another outlined their gazebo in blue, red and white lights, and set up brilliant reindeer and a golden sleigh nearby. This homeowner allows the public to shoot photos of their kids in the sleigh.

Colorful icicles drip from the eaves, trees are densely peppered with scarlet lights from the tippy top to the base; animated toy soldiers peep out of windows; grand staircases, pillars and old fashioned street lamps are bejeweled with gold, azure and emerald lights; a small merry-go-round spins; and a giant animatronic Santa beckons all. Even the trees along the sidewalks glitter with the dangling snowflakes and Christmas balls. And, of course, the Eiffel Tower makes an appearance on one property. Tacky? I don't think so.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Giveaway: Products for Healthy Holiday Travel

If you'd like to win one of two cool products, read on. Whether you're packing for a hot or cold weather vacation, it's likely you'll be including ointments, gels, salves or lotions that will help you deal with rashes, bites, burns or just chapped, dry skin. And finding a company that manufactures environmentally friendly products is a real plus. That's why I have long recommended products by All Terrain, a New Hampshire-based company that's focused on natural ingredients and children's health. (They support organizations that are concentrating on reducing childhood obesity by promoting an active lifestyle.)

I recommend two of All Terrain's products --Aloe Gel and Herbal Armor Spray -- on the laminated list that's included with Doc-in-a-Bag, my unique travel first-aid kit organizer. (I've blogged about this first-aid-kit organizer here and here.) And, with the holidays fast approaching, I'm holding a savvy travel giveaway, thanks to All Terrain that's providing these two products, each to one lucky winner. 
Herbal Armor is a DEET-free insect repellent that relies on oils from plant-based oils: citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass, geranium and soybean to repel mosquitoes and ticks. This is the only product I used on my recent river cruise along the Amazon. It's safe for children, it won't irritate your skin nor will it damage your clothing, and it's water and sweat resistant. Because it's 100% effective over a two-hour period, I simply reapplied it every two hours to remain mosquito free. The giveaway is the 4 oz. size that retails for $8.99.

Aside from containing aloe, the paraben-free Aloe Gel has, among the ingredients, extracts of chamomile and cucumber, as well as lavender oil that are all noted for their skin-healing properties. This product works well to relieve dry, cracked and chapped skin and it does so without any curious scent or greasy residue that seem to accompany many other aloe products. I carry it on all my trips and find it ultra soothing without negatively impacting my clothing. The giveaway is the 5 oz. size product that retails for $8.99

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment on this post as to how you try to stay healthy while traveling during the holidays. Make sure to include a way for me to contact you (whether your email, Twitter or Facebook account) in case you're one of the winners. All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on December 23, 2013. I will randomly choose two winners who will each randomly receive one of the two products above. You must be a U.S. resident to be eligible to receive the prize. Good luck everyone.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Skiing Switzerland's Goms Valley

Zermatt, St. Moritz, Gstaad and Davos stand at the apogee of name recognition among Switzerland's downhill ski resorts. But what's the Swiss equivalent for Nordic skiing? Why the Goms Valley, course, at least among the Swiss. Few in North America have ever heard of this sunny landscape that's sliced by the Rhone River and hemmed in by 10,000-foot-high peaks. What a shame, considering it's laced with 100 km of trails, and blessed with thick snow for four months a year, and excellent mass transit: a little red train lets skiers hop on and off in their village (and trail networks) of choice. (A trail pass even includes train access.) I skied the 22 km from Obergestein to Niederwald, passing dark larch structures fashioned sans nails and graceful steepled churches, crossing wooden bridges over the Rhone, and gliding through forests thick with spruce.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Who Shouldn't Buy My Travel First-Aid Kit Organizer

When you're about to hit the road for a domestic trip or an international expedition, who wants to think about injuries or illness? Perhaps that's one reason why so many people are more willing to overpack when it comes to shoes, dresses and sweaters than they are to overindulge in first-aid supplies and a well-organized first-aid kit. I'm one of those meticulous travelers who prepares for the inevitable, which is why I produced Doc-in-a-Bag, the unique travel first-aid kit organizer that comes with five zippered clear, durable pouches, each labeled with a colorful and humorous icon indicating what symptom/body system the contents treats. If you don't want to think about injuries or illnesses, then maybe this isn't your thing? Find out if you're one of those who shouldn't buy my travel first-aid kit organizer:

 1. You bring along only Band-aids, so what's to organize?

2. You prefer jamming all your tubes and bottles into one bag and rifling through it when you need something in a hurry.

3. You'd rather use ziploc bags that are cheap and will most likely unseal or tear, spilling the contents in your luggage or elsewhere.

4. You'd rather buy your own set of high-quality zippered vinyl bags, knowing that to get the same quality, you'll have to pay $8.00/bag at the rate of $40 for five. (Doc-in-a-Bag is 5 bags for $14.99.)

5. You like everything else in your life to be organized, whether it's your tunes, files, books or recipes, but not your first-aid supplies.

6. You know that Doc-in-a-Bag comes with 5 laminated lists of everything you need to pack in your kit, but you'd rather waste your time wandering the aisles of pharmacies or brainstorming your own set of lists.

7. You know that Doc-in-a-Bag comes with discount coupons for everything from pick-pocket proof pants (20% off) to a natural insect repellent, but you'd rather risk getting pickpocketed and eaten by mosquitoes when you travel. (Or maybe you just don't like getting money-saving discounts.)

8. You don't like the idea of paying $14.99 for a kit that doesn't come packed with all the supplies, even though the laminated lists take the thought out of deciding what to pack, and many of the items you may already have in your house.

9. You'd rather buy a first-aid kit that's pre-packed, even though it often has supplies that don't fit your individual needs, including those of women travelers or those with dental needs, and, because you didn't pack it yourself, you're not really sure when to use each item.

10. You don't like the idea of having a separate pouch just for women because, well, women and men are basically the same regarding health issues, right?
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wandering Through Red Hook, Brooklyn

I'm hoping that Red Hook, Brooklyn won't follow in the footsteps of Williamsburg where glass and steel towers crawl along the waterfront, obstructing views of the river for all but the few who can afford to live in these condos.

So far, Red Hook has avoided the Williamsburg syndrome because it's pretty isolated, transit-wise. There's no subway. So you're basically stuck taking a meandering bus or the IKEA ferry from Pier 11 at Wall Street (or driving, of course). Civil War-era warehouses line the waterfront, including one where the Fairway market has a home. Some house manufacturers while others are storage repositories. With its low-slung buildings, proximity to the water, handful of seafood restaurants and tight knit community, Red Hook very much feels like an intimate fishing village.

I visited Red Hook a couple of times in the past few months on my own and each time, as I tasted the salt air, delighted in the gentle breezes and enjoyed digging into a basket of fried clams, I felt like I had stepped off New York City's shores and onto another windswept land, like Block Island. And yet, it wasn't until I signed up for a walking tour with Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours that I fully experienced and appreciated all that Red Hook has to offer.

Jack from Brooklyn
An open garage with gleaming equipment inside is the only sign that something is brewing. Jack Summers, the owner who has Caribbean roots, makes and mass-produces Sorel, a hibiscus-based liqueur, in this brick walled space. This smooth tasting, violet-hued potion is attracting a significant following, including me who usually abhors hard liquor.

Jack, like many of the people in Red Hook, almost lost his business when Hurricane Sandy hit, bringing with it five feet of water that washed into his establishment last October. But the community pulled together, bringing the shop back in operation two months later, relaunching in January 2013.

The idea for this product came from the traditional party drink in the Caribbean, though each island has their own recipe: some use hibiscus, all spice, orange peel and rum; while others rely on the hibiscus plus ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon sans rum, and many other variations. (It's a beverage he'd made in his kitchen for friends for some 20 years.)

The hibiscus flowers are the key component. (The robust flowers from Morocco lend tartness and color to the beverage.) Then there's Brazilian cloves (for brightness), Indonesian nutmeg (for woodiness), cassia bark (for warmth), and Nigerian ginger, which is eight times as strong as the ginger you're accustomed to, and serves an important function, taming the taste of the alcohol. Where does the alcohol come from? It's 190 proof organic wheat grain alcohol from Syracuse and it's blended, not distilled, in small batches with the botanicals that are cooked as if you were making tea.

Sorel is quite versatile, served hot or cold, mixed with anything, from run to tequila, concocting a negroni, egg nog, lime rickey, sangria and more. Check out the recipes here.

Maker's Toolbox
Sue Williams set up shop in the front section of New York Printing and Graphics, a business-to-business company on the first floor of a 19th century warehouse. (One of their machines is 50+ years old and it survived Hurricane Sandy.) Sue embraces the ethic that DIY toy kits are a way to engender creativity. Her robot kit, for example, teaches kids about circuitry and construction. So does the vehicle kit. In fact, she promotes that not only do you make but you also should repair your own toys. Talk about self sufficiency. Additionally, they try to rely on recycled materials. For example, the electric slide guitar is made from cardboard, wood and a tin can.

Steve's Key Lime Pie
As I approached the picnic tables striped with cotton-candy hues and the lime green painted Ford truck, circa 1953, that front the 19th century warehouse, I was more than skeptical that I was about to bite into the best key lime pie around. How could it beat what I considered the best key lime pie I found several years ago in the Florida Keys, not far from Islamorada?

I ordered an individual 4-inch key lime pie and a Swingle, an individual key lime pie that's been dipped in dark chocolate. (The term Swingle comes from the scientific classification of the key lime: Citrus aurantifolia Swingle.) The pie unswathed in chocolate was so perfectly tart and creamy that it was, by far, the best key lime pie I ever sampled. The Swingle was plenty decadent treat but I found that the rich chocolate so offset the pie's tartness that I didn't find it as appealing.

So how did owner Steve Tarpin, originally from South Beach in Miami, do it? It's all about the pure ingredients: graham cracker crust, a filling of condensed milk (not from a can), egg yolks and, most importantly, key limes that are freshly squeezed in house.

Alfred Stadler
The second-floor atelier and showroom of Alfred Stadler is chock full of his mostly leather creations. Exquisitely-crafted bowls, notebooks, handbags, slippers, iPad covers, belts, and bracelets are displayed on shelves and tables in the light-filled space. Hand-stitching, that he learned in his native Switzerland, is a big part of repertoire as is working with, aside from leather, cotton and felt, the oldest textile in the world. Alfred makes custom products and also offers classes where you could come away with a wallet or a handbag.

Flickinger Glassworks
In business for more than 20 years, Charles Flickinger is quite prominent in the world of glass design. Studying with prominent glass craftsmen -- Hanz Deutsch, Sydney Cash and Maurice Heaton -- Flickinger was involved in the restoration of the Statue of Liberty's torch in 1984.

The front of Flickinger's factory -- he focuses on glass bending -- houses his shop where iridescent bowls, plates, decorative pieces are displayed on shelves and in glass cases.

In the rear are four ovens where he and his staff produce one-of-a-kind pieces for lighting, awnings, display cases, you name it. Designers and architects regularly pay a visit to this Red Hook-based factory to commission a glass prototype. The ovens, which are designed on site, are so efficient that they can bend glass in 20 minutes. No wonder, considering the temperature rises in one oven to 1,200 F. Right now Flickinger told me he's working on the U.S. Naval Memorial, creating bowls for a Pasadena library, and a canopy for a private client in Brooklyn who wants it to replicate the Ritz in Paris.

The quality of the raw materials and the workmanship is impressive. Flickinger stocks molds from the 1830s; sources glass domestically as well as from Vietnam, Germany, France and other countries; and hand bevels and polishes every piece

The Red Hook Winery
Housed in a building from the late 1860s, Red Hook Winery couldn't have picked a better venue to do wine tastings. Tall windows look out to the waterfront. Well, the venue was great until Hurricane Sandy hit, pouring almost five feet of water into the winery, submerging the barrels, and plunging the establishment into darkness for 12 days.

But, like all the establishments in the neighborhood, the family-owned Red Hook Winery is back in business, relying on grapes from 15 different vineyards in New York state. All are crushed in the rear of the building, where the wide doors open to picturesque views of the Statue of Liberty and the new Freedom Tower.

Interestingly, the two Napa-based winemakers have very different styles. Bob is more traditional, relying on commercial yeast and stainless steel tanks, while Abe, a former philosophy professor, likes a wild fermentation and French oak. The winery likes to see the contrasts in wine making styles and how this works with the various grape varieties. Displayed on the bottles in the light-filled tasting room, a griffin on the label indicates Bob's work while Abe's wine making is indicated by a sketch representing a Sir Isaac Newton theorem that an object in motion stays in motion.
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