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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Friday, November 22, 2013

Beguiling Bequia

Among the 32 islands and cays making up St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an archipelago that unfurls in the Southern Caribbean, Bequia is deceptive. On the surface, it may seem like an isle that's in permanent slow-mo mode. Yet, a vacation doesn't have to be all about lying on golden sands day after day sipping pretty cocktails.

I spent my time walking through the main town of Port Elizabeth along a ribbon of a pedestrian path beside azule waters; hiking on forested paths to sheltered coves; exploring hilltops, taking in the postcard-perfect views of offshore islands; inspecting model boat-building shops, such as family-owned Sargeant Brothers' Model Boat Shop; kayaking in calm bays; and dining at restaurants that radiated authenticity, such as the Sugar Reef Cafe that's set beside the waterfront. There were enough activities on Bequia to keep even a Type A person like me occupied.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

A Brooklyn Walking Tour For Those With Big Appetites

As our small group stood outside the New Utrecht Reformed Church under a pole where the district once flew the first American flag, essentially thumbing its nose at the British, Dom Gervasi, owner of Made in Brooklyn Tours, declared, “Bensonhurst is the Texas of Brooklyn.” The moniker seemed fitting for this neighborhood long dominated by big attitude. Once known for its mob connections and gang-related activities, the neighborhood formerly known as New Utrecht, one of the six original towns making up today's Brooklyn, didn't go the way of its not-so-distant but uber hip Brooklyn neighbor, Williamsburg. Instead, this now easy-going, primarily blue-collar district maintains its Italian-American roots while seamlessly melding with a United Nations array of immigrants from China, Central America, Mexico and Eastern Europe. Strolling through residential and commercial neighborhoods dominated by low-slung buildings, Dom showed off some of Bensonhurst's authentic food shops that are traditionally Italian-American.

Panino Rustico, owned by a life-long resident, is considered one of the top panini eateries around. Though you might think that paninis are a U.S. construction, their trendiness goes back to Milan, Italy circa 1980 where well-to-do teens favoring American-made jeans, sunglasses and shoes, would hang out at Al Panino, a sandwich shop, hence the term paninaro to denote this culture. Panino Rustico, a two-year-old Bensonhurst-based eatery, serves up 34 different paninis, made with ciabatta bread from Il Fornaretto, a bakery that's just about seven blocks away. Among those I sampled, it was a tie between the prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper, arugula and basil pesto; and the porchetta, smoked mozzarella and sauteed broccoli rabe. So I polished off both, which was probably not the smartest idea, given that our next stop was a premier hero joint.

Lioni Italian Heroes crafts more than 150 different varieties, each named mostly for famous Italian-Americans based on ingredients that they preferred or, in the case of historical figures, what we presume would fit their personality, according to Bensonhurst native and owner Paul Despirito. Number 69, the Christopher Columbus, is packed with roast beef, sopressato, fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage and stuffed mushrooms. Number 60, the Marisa Tomei, heralds her love of eggplant; the Frank Sinatra includes his two loves: salami and fresh mozzarella, the ingredient originally attached to the Lioni name. Each sandwich is immense, stretching some 13 inches and weighing in at nearly two pounds. (I only had room for a small bite but took the rest of this enormous sandwich home for the next day's lunch and dinner.) In keeping with a days-of-yore vibe, we washed down our heroes with a Manhattan Special, a carbonated coffee beverage that dates to the 1890s. (Made in Brooklyn, of course.) “There are deep roots here,” says Paul who took over this 20-year-old business several years ago, keeping it much the same, including the smoking of their own mozzarella with hickory wood, and simply adding to an already successful menu. “This is Brooklyn,” reflects Paul who says that Lioni's gives you a taste of what it's like to live here. “We make sandwiches the way we would make 'em in our houses on a Sunday night,” adds Paul.

Homemade raviolis keep customers flocking from all over to Pastosa Ravioli, an almost 50-year-old Italian specialty company with this, their largest store, smack in the middle of Bensonhurst. This family-owned business started by the Ajellos has a loyal patronage. No wonder, considering they make more than 30 types of raviolis, including truffle, butternut squash, lobster, pumpkin and crab, and stock their shelves and refrigerated cases with fresh gnocchi and tortellini as well as high-quality goods mostly imported from Italy.

Villabate Alba Pasticceria, formed via a merger of two respected Sicilian companies, maintains its ties with the home country. In fact, with a massive ceiling mural depicting angels, and myriad statues of Jesus and Mary reigning over the interior, it does feel like you're not so far from the shores of a Sicilian village. Whether you're sipping a strong espresso, enjoying a chocolate gelato or digging into the creamiest of cannolis – or consuming all three – you'll know that this shop is about the authentic Italian experience. (Their pastry selection is impressive, to be sure, and if you're thinking of visiting right before a holiday, be prepared for massive lines.) I'm a cannoli aficionado and found the creamy texture and light flavor of the filling, and the flakiness of the shell to reflect the best cannoli I've ever sampled anywhere in the U.S., and on par with those I discovered when bicycling around Italy.

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