dine and dash, new england edition

Culinary travel is hotter than ever and New England in summer is one of the best places to do the surf and the turf. Here are just a handful of packages recently found via New England Inns & Resorts, a collection of nearly 250 aligned inns, resorts, and B&Bs. The website has a handy reservations widget so you can search availability across the collection – or download their free app to view info on each property and plan a vacation.

Farm to Fork Weekend (Nonantum Resort, Kennebunkport, ME) – As the farm-to-table movement continues to grow, this weekend showcases Kennebunkport’s best local purveyors. Begin with a meet and greet that includes demonstrations from Cabot Cheese, Urban Farm Fermentory, and Shipyard Brewing Co. Saturday starts with breakfast in 95 Ocean Dining Room followed by a customized Foodie Tour of the Kennebunks, a lobster boat ride on the Rugosa, cooking class with the resort’s Executive Chef and a private dinner featuring a “Farm to Fork” menu. The weekend ends with a sunset walk and a Jazz Brunch. Starts at $598 per couple.

Now We’re Cookin’ (Johnson & Wales Inn, Seekonk, MA) – This package includes overnight lodging for two in an executive suite, a $50 dinner gift certificate for Audrey’s Restaurant, a 3-4 hour recreational cooking class for two at the campus of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, two Chef’s Choice aprons and breakfast for two at Audrey’s Restaurant. Starts at $369 per couple. Tax and gratuity not included.

Inn to Inn Culinary Herb Tour (Inn at Ellis River, Jackson, NH) – Visit 10 different inns for tasty herb treats, recipes, seeds or plants for the garden, and culinary lore. This package includes a welcome reception, herb-themed breakfasts, tours, and a gift from the inn from $249-$469 depending on room choice. A limited number of one night packages are also available for $159-$179 or stay a third night for an additional $99-$139.

King Arthur Flour Discount (Norwich Inn, Norwich, VT) –  Aching to get baking? Sign up for a class at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center and take advantage of a 20% discount on accommodations at the Inn. Additionally, the Inn and King Arthur offer a 10% discount on memorabilia at the Inn and many items at the Baker’s Store (excluding Cafe and baked foods). Classes cater from beginners on up to expert bakers and include such favorites as Pizza Perfected, Bread: Principles and Practice, and Cake 101. This is a midweek-only deal available Sunday – Thursday. Rates at the hotel start at $129 per night.

Roaring Ramble Package (The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA) – Hit the road on your motorcycle with Executive Chef Brian Alberg for a freewheeling half-day ride through Berkshire farmlands and back roads before stopping at one of the chef’s favorite farms or a microbrewery.  Package includes a Sustainable Foods dinner for two at the Inn, overnight accommodations, and a sustainable breakfast the next day. Available from $525, including tax and gratuity, it’s available for overnights Sunday June 19 and Sunday August 21, with rides taking place the following day.



i don’t want to be the donkey

Back in Ireland, I’m up on Slieve Foye for one last look at the lough. I’m sad though: summer is over. And I don’t want to be the donkey.


out of the bush

At the airstrip I am reluctantly coming to grips with the fact that the time to head home draws near. I’ve got a night in Nairobi and a weekend of housekeeping in Ireland before I head back to New York, yet still; the sudden chill in the air means summer’s grand adventure is rapidly approaching its denouement.


live blog: summer, packaged


when citrus meets summer

Hazard a guess as to how many limes it takes to make a single liquid cup of juice? Twenty four. Good thing then that I happened to have on hand a five-pound bag of Persian limes that I didn’t know what to do with. (As someone recently said while noticing the strategically placed Costco satchel in my kitchen: Wow, that’s a lot of limes.) I say good thing because a friend who’s obsessed with all things Food Network just passed on to me the most curious of recipes:  Chia Limeade.  That’s right, chia as in Chia Pet or chia seeds, a nutritional supplement I happen to have gone bonkers for over the course of the past year. Take note: it’s not just for sprouting green fur on the clay cast figurines of poodles and frogs anymore. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the seeds are native to Mexico – Chiapas is named for the seed – and were once used as a form of tribute among the Aztecs due to their high nutritional content. Modern research shows the humble seed also aids the body in slowing down the metabolism of carbohydrates – meaning a spoonful of chia goes a long way in leveling blood sugar spikes as well as hunger pangs. What I never imagined was that it could also make a refreshing summer beverage. Limeade by definition is a proportionate mix of sweet and sour and the addition of chia – which forms a protective gelatinous coating around itself when exposed to water – adds a nice texture of slippery crunch. Bottled it looks curiously like a science experiment. Yet served up over ice in a tall glass muddled with mint leaves, it’s a healthy, tasty addition to the summer repertoire – well worth the effort of juicing your way through two dozen uncooperative limes.


egghead revisited

From Albert Einstein and Dr. Seuss to Stephen Hawking and Bill Clinton – not to mention twenty-six British Prime Ministers, more than thirty international leaders, and at least twelve bona fide saints – the register of great and good Oxford graduates has to be one of the more impressive lists around. Funny enough, it’s one that anyone can easily join, too.

Now in its 20th year, The Oxford Experience is a one-week continuing education course taught each summer at Christ Church, one of Oxford’s most prestigious and picturesque colleges. Tutorials cover some 50 subjects and are as varied as The Brontës; Late Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories; The Novels of Thomas Hardy; Riot and Rebellion in Shakespeare’s London; Cotswolds Folk Traditions; The Arthurian Stories in Text and Image; Ethics, Questions of Life and Death; and The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Back-to-school week starts with a reception in Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle at Oxford, built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524.  While mornings are devoted to course work, most afternoons include excursions to stately homes, cathedrals or museums. Other days feature tours of Christ Church, the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace and Broughton Castle.  In the evenings there may be a pub walk, a lecture, or even Pimms and croquet in the Masters’ Garden.  Every student is invited to dine on “High Table” at least once during the week and on the final night there’s a gathering for drinks in the Cathedral Garden followed by a gala farewell dinner in the magnificent Tudor Hall, which might look familiar to fans of Hogwarts.

Three daily meals give lie to rumors about dreary English food.  Plus, anybody who’s secretly harbored a British schoolboy fantasy is in luck: accommodations are in student dorms, only some of which have private baths. The deadline for registration is May 1, but early application is encouraged as some courses are already full. The all-inclusive price for the week is £1,090, or approximately $1,730. Posh digs, private bog, and stiff upper lip are extra.


how bright is my valley

Son et lumière literally translated means a sound and light show. The invention of the concept is credited to the curator of the Château de Chambord, Paul Robert-Houdin, who hosted the world’s first son et lumière in 1952. Typically presented at an outdoor venue of historic significance, like a chateau or a pyramid, special lighting effects are projected onto the façade of the building or ruin and synchronized with narration and music to dramatize the history of the place.  (And this being France, it’s all very “artistic,” too.)

These nighttime spectacles have rapidly become very popular. Call it the Christmas Lights Effect:  sometimes all anybody wants is a bit of old-fashioned ooh and ahh.  In France – particularly among the majestic chateaux of the Loire Valley – about 50 annual productions a year take place; primarily in the summer when there’s nothing to do but wait around for the grapes to ripen. So if you find yourself enjoying the wines by day, be sure to open your eyes once the sun goes down, too.

From the end of June through to mid-September, the Château de Chambord presents nightly performances of Chambord, Rêve de Lumières, which will carry you back to the Renaissance, when this vast fortress-like construction was a regular stop-over for the traveling court of François I.  Chambord has mastered the art of the sound and light show and this new creation, designed for all ages and cultures, uses music, dance and images to highlight the essence of this remarkable site.

The storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution, which led to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, was a tipping point in world history and one of the most significant events to take place in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.  And while not strictly a son et lumiere, the sound and light show at Cléry-Saint-André is a pretty spectacular spectacle, showcasing the tumultuous Revolutionary period  with magnificent costumes and spectacular decors.  Plus, Revolution or not, France has never betrayed its passion for fine food -  come early and you can take part in the Republican Banquet, featuring gastronomic specialties of the times.

For a change of pace head for the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau for an enchanted walk through the grounds of the château at night – it’s one of the most beautiful in the  Loire Valley.   Special lighting, sound and musical effects accompany you, along with projected images of weird and wonderful creatures. In this fabulous new kingdom of animals you’ll meet some strange sights, like a monumental hippogramophone and a ballet of amphibians. The poetic, digitally-enhanced show is a real treat for the eyes.


i spy with my little … iced espresso

My summer addiction to Starbucks is well known, if not well documented. (uh oh, until now that is) Iced venti quad espresso, please, with a generous splash of soy milk and yes, do fill it to the brim with ice.  On average I can go through about four of these babies a day – which is one reason why I’ve recently taken a liking to decaf.

I’ve also noticed the disquieting trend of being asked for your name when you place an order  – as though hearing someone shout “I’ve got a triple tall extra whip mocha caramel non-fat chai for Precious” across a crowded shop someone makes the experience that much more personable – or the wait that much less interminable. The first time it happened to me I was taken aback.  I didn’t know what to say, so I pretended as though my iPod was too loud to hear and ignored the cashier.  I tried to walk away and wait at the bar but the barista asked me my name, too.  Trapped, I muttered  “Mike” – though if anyone were to actually call me Mike I would give them a stiff talking to.  When my drink came up at the bar, I was shamed:  all these people I would never see again now knew me as Mike, the four-shot iced junkie.

Later in the day, however, the idea popped into my head that I didn’t have to be Mike.  Or even Michael for that matter.  At Starbucks, I could be anyone.  I could even be … a spy, secretly sent to do coffee recon.  And so began what has become my harmless summer amusement!  My first fib was put into play later that evening when I claimed to be Oliver, in honor of my friend’s new baby.  The next morning on the way to work I was Aiden – another friend’s new baby.  In rapid succession a flurry of false identities (and occasional accents) breezily followed easy-peasy: Bradley, Topher, Archie, Will, Jack, Jonny, Marcus, Augustus, Jesus, Dougie, JT, BJ, KJ, Jake, Scooch, Jasper, Zeke, Kim, Con, Cort, Howie, Ross, Chandler, Joey.

I’m growing so bold I now pay with my credit card while still giving them a different name.  Screw you, Starbucks,  I’m starting to secretly think – I’ve got a higher purpose going on here.  Now just give me my coffee before I call out the ninja assassins – or corporate wonks, depending on the day.  Well, not really.  But with a heat wave firmly entrenched and a belly full of stitches and three more weeks to go before I travel again I’ve got to amuse myself somehow, don’t I?


nantucket naturally

Flanked on either side by Nantucket Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, The Wauwinet – say it like you’ve got a mouth full of mashed potato – epitomizes the effortless beach-chic that’s so characteristic of an idle summer on Nantucket Island. Trimmed in weathered gray shingles, the inn’s elegantly decorated cottages are considered one of the top country-house resorts in the United States – as well as being Nantucket’s only Relais & Châteaux property.

Opened in the mid-19th century as a restaurant serving “shore dinners” to patrons arriving by boat, Wauwinet quickly evolved into a hotel and soon became a Nantucket landmark as the island’s most famous luxury resort.  Strategically located at the edge of the Great Point Wildlife Sanctuary on the northeast end of the island, Wauwinet feels a world away from Nantucket Town, yet it’s only nine miles – and easily accessible by launch aboard The Wauwinet Lady.

The inn’s Spa by the Sea opened in 2007 exalting use of the island’s native habitats of sun, sea, and sand.  This summer four new locally inspired treatments are making their debut – as if you needed another reason to visit this classic New England destination.

Cobblestones can be a pain in the neck – but not when they are used to soothe pains in your neck.    Smooth, rounded basalt stones are heated and then used with essential oils in a deep tissue Cobblestone Massage.  (60/90 minutes – $155/$225)

Seaweed clinging to your body as you try to swim in Nantucket Sound?  Annoying.  Warm, nourishing seaweed swathing your body in the detoxifying Atlantic Seaweed Body Wrap?  Heaven.  Natural seaweed is abundant in minerals, micronized vitamins, and enzymes – all of which your skin needs to look and feel its best. (90 minutes – $210)

If the salty air rising off of Nantucket’s world famous beaches doesn’t quite do it, try Nantucket’s Salt and Sea Scrub – a blend of aromatic sea & mineral salts and essential oils that are massaged into the skin to remove impurities and dead skin cells while stimulating circulation.  (60 minutes – $155)

Gazing out at the soft purple lavender fields on Nantucket is a soothing escape in itself.  But you can take flower relaxation a bit further with the Lavender Crush treatment, which uses the soothing powers of wild lavender in an invigorating aromatic full body exfoliation and massage.  (60 minutes – $155)


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