Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ample Hills of Deliciousness; Ample Hills Ice Cream, Brooklyn, NY

Ample Hills Creamery
623 Vanderbilt Ave
 Brooklyn, NY

Houston, we have a problem.  And her name is ice cream.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good scoop of toffe heath or fresh strawberry.  But I married a icecreamaholic.  And what happens when you mix my recessive genes with her dominate sugartastic ones; a kiddo that loves the stuff.  "What do you want to do for your 8th birthday Sydney?"  "I want a party at Ample Hills, the best ice cream shop in the world!"  How does a parent say "no" to that?

Before opening this Prospect Heights bastion of the new "Brooklyn" cool, Brian Smith was a published Sci-fi author and producer for the Sy Fy station.  Clearly, giving up monster movies for cream was a genius career move.  Sydney got to go back stage to see the magic at work.  What makes that "cracked caramel" so good?  How many egg yolks go in that "egg nog" flavor? (uh, yeah 10!)  "I'm sorry, did you say the 'Munchies' has ritz, potato chips AND pretzels?"  He got to ride the ice cream bike, as did all of his friends.  Props to our friend Emily S ("Emily's Homemade" cookies, amazing!) for pioneering this outing in our circle, it was amazing AND delicious.

We used to walk the twenty or so minutes there every once and a while. It was a good buffer.  Today I discovered that they have an outpost at Pier 4 in the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  But then, on the way home I was reminded of something terribly sinister that I had read this spring.  There is now an Ample Hills factory and shop just down the street at Union at Nevins.   Oh no!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

World Cup Fever in the City, Red Bulls Arena, Harrison, NJ

World Cup Fever in the City
Red Bulls Arena
Harrison, NJ

RED SOX NATION SPOILER ALERT:  My kids might be growing up to be Red Bulls fans.

I'm so sorry Sox Nation.  I tried so hard.  We go to Fenway every year.  They wear Dustin jerseys to school in Brooklyn and to the Bronx for games.  They know that the Manning brothers are no match for Brady, Bledsoe, Eason or Grogan.  They danced in the streets when the B's won the Cup.  We even live five blocks from the Barclay Center where we rooted for KG and Pierce BEFORE they were Nets.  They even hate the Lakers and they don't know why.  But, I think I lost them on soccer.  I'm sorry.  Truly, I am.

It was the World Cup summer that did it.  Like Newton, in Park Slope soccer is king.  Kids stroll the streets in Messi and Neymar jerseys.  The boys play in the fall with AYSO and in the winter and summers with Super Soccer Stars.  This Cup we chose Argentina.  Messi was easy to love, who doesn't like a South American team over those European moneybags (Yanks anyone?).  We were heartbroken when Neymar went out before the finals.  We were even sadder that Messi didn't realize his dream of winning a Cup, and had to lose out to those damn Germans.

But we couldn't go to Brazil, so what's a Sox fan to do?  Head to NJ.  It didn't help that we rooted for France when they won the Cup and the captain of the Red Bulls is Thiery Henry.  We were doomed when Red Bull midfielder Tim Cahill tore it up for Australia. Now Bradley Wright-Philips is tearing up MLS by leading the Golden Boot race with his 17th goal (that we saw live!).    But the final straw were the chants from the fans, let's go Red Bulls as the boys sung along "let's go Red Sox" and we distinctly heard others joining in.  It ain't Foxboro, the Garden and it sure ain't Fenway, but at least it's in Jersey, not the Bronx!

Eating with Kiddos in China; Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing, PRC

Eating with Kiddos in China
Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing

The most significant source of fun and frustration traveling with kids is eating.  We were delighted at how willing they were to experiment. We were willing to give them a "break" from Chinese and also avoided the obvious.  That formula seemed to work. 

Familiar foods were always a great place to start.  Our first delights were donuts and dim sum, something our kids are used to and love. We sold them on dim sum for years before we travelled. 

Easy staples, available everywhere, included fried rice (although staying awake during jet lag made this takeout),  noodles, wonton soup and common dishes like sweet and sour or veggies without sauce are everywhere. 

Dumplings are the nexus of kid friendly and adventurous.  Fillings ranged from typical pork to intestines.  Staff know American kids are not used to the later, and will not offer unless you ask.  

Meals like Peking duck were more for the adults and the experience.  They tried it, but settled on duck spring rolls and  veggies. 

Then there is the Andrew Zimmern "off the map"; watch daddy and Nic try stuff.  I am a big believer in modeling and moderation. So, I let them watch me try a cricket, not a scorpion.  

Our goto fast food break in the states is Subway. Clean, relatively healthy (compared to McD or KFC) and there is always something they like. We were fortunate that they were everywhere.   We did DQ one time too.  Sometimes kids just need a little home, a playground, the pool.  Meatballs on sub rolls so hit the spot for our boys. 

Sometimes daddies just need their iced coffee too without worrying about water born bacteria in their ice. When it's 100 and feels like 115 because the humidity is 85% I am thankful for a little slice of home too.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Chinese" Disney,Disney Land, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, PRC

What do you do with an afternoon to kill near the airport in Hong Kong and you need the kids to stay up late to adjust for jet lag?  Why, head to Disneyland!  It just so happens that the two ladies on this trip are South Florida residents who went to "Florida" day in Orlando as an annual rite of passage. 

So what makes this different from Disney World?  Umm, it's in Chinese for starters. Everything is in miniature from Sleeping Beauty's Castle to Tomorrowland.  But more importantly it also includes Mystic Point, Toy Story Land and a number of "Asian" themed restaurants.  

Like most of the rides. Grizzly Gulch was a more modernized runaway train than Orlando's.  Mystic Manor was a fascinating take on the Age of Exploration in a Haunted Mansion fashion.  Toy Story Land was beautifully anchored by Tinkertoys giant Slinky the Dog rides and your fav toys from growing up.  

But the highlight of this cool, sea breezy evening was Kam's fav "It's a Small World." (Ok, having a planet named "KamiandSeth" as the main act of an animated Stitch show was pretty cool).  Shockingly there was no wait, and the diversity blew away its Orlando partner.  From the Pacific Islands to the Middle East, the representations were fantastic!

Dinner and dancing were the magical "Chinese" cap on the night. What better way to spend our last night in China than with piggie bao and fireworks!  Let's see what Tomorrow brings ...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guangzhou Bubba Gump ; Tai Wen shrimp Farm, Guangzhou, PRC

My boys love to fish.  It is not that I don't like fishing, it just happens to play into all of my weaknesses (i.e patience and all of it's related friend categories). My boys on the other hand could sit with Uncle Lon or Grandpa Barry for hours (as they did today). 

Lon is a masterful fisherman.  The entire time we lived on Lake Cochituate we caught a total of five or six.  One day we left Lon home with the canoe.  He filled the boat and we ate wonderful Thai fish a thousand ways.  Yet in Guangzhou his newborn has kept him from exploring fishing ops. The boys love to fish with him, so today was a perfect chance for him to explore his new hometown. 

How he found this place I will never know. Something about looking for a fishing hole, a cabbie and a neighborhood that looks like a scene from "Brokedown Palace." He makes friends with fisherman everywhere he goes.  Somehow, just a ten minute walk from the Huadiwan subway station he found this shrimp farm.  

Shrimp fishing is not as easy as it sounds, even though they were in a pool (yes, shooting fish in a barrel). The boys caught a bunch of big ones right out of the gate. I of course lost at least six trying  to pull them up before they had the hook on their shrimpy little mouths. 

We caught fifteen or so, they threw in another pound for dinner (they would  have cooked them there but Lon is also a trained chef). So we headed home to their place for some Thai chili shrimp. What a great last night in Guangzhou!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Move Over Williamsburg; Redtory, Ghuangzhou, PRC

My kids fancy themselves artists and as such, they love a good artist collective.  Like MassMOCA in North Adams, MA these folks have made mastery out of industrial space.  Guangzhou has always played second fiddle for its industrial past, but this outpost of post-modernism is a vision for old Canton's future. 

Unlike our obnoxious neighbors in Williamsburg who are DYIing designer pickles, these people are making the space the art.  For fans of Japanese animation classic "My Neighbor Totoro," your kids can even get in on the fun at the ceramic studio.  

The beauty and uniqueness of this space is its quintessential "Chineseness."   The giant Buddha with hair, the distinctly Chinese angels in this masterful open space, covered with sandy floors and the kitsch she trending western has plenty of eastern spin. 

Like Williamsburg, this too shall pass. Redtory will not be secret for long.  The most interesting space, a reconstructed old train depot and cars was the site of simultaneous photo shoots while we passed through.  So if you're passing through soon, get the kids there before it becomes home to million to million dollar condos that artists could never afford. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Escaping Beijing; The Summer Palace, Beijing, PRC

The Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven
Beijing, PRC

We were warned.  It will be hot.  It will be humid. It will be overcast.  The pollution is off the charts. Perhaps this is why the last Empress Dowager Cixi of China was willing to rebuild the Summer palace instead of her navy.  Seems as though this didn't help her beat the Brits, but it sure did make for a fabulous escape from the city.  

Unlike the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is open, spacious and downright breezy.  As our two lady guides paddled us across the lake, the boys and I felt like the Last Emperors

Almost as impressive, in a light and airy kind of way were the dumplings at the Du Yi Chu Imperial institution, opened in 1738 and discovered by the Emperor on his way home from a field trip a few years later. The pork dumplings put American buns to shame. 

The Imperial splendor of the Mings was also on display at the Temple of Heaven. Despite the long day, the boys were still willing to run up the stairs to this incredible monument to Confucius practice.  The surrounding cypress park, some trees over 800 years old was equally tranquil and inspiring.   We will miss Bejing and the Mings as we make our way back south.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A lil' Canton Colonialism: Shamian Island, Guangzhou, PRC

As one comes near to the end of an adventure, you tend to slow down a bit. Reflect, get an iced Americano and dream of home. So too, did the British as they neared the end of their global imperialist exploits. Shamian Island is a bizarre amalgamation of this same end of an époque architecture and modern non-western life that you across the old Empire from Rangoon to Penang.  

Where once a beautiful park sat, surrounded by high end hotels, the Bank of Taiwan and the British consulate, now sits a lovely mini track and work out area.  Where there was a stunning neo-classical facade is now drying laundry hung over peeling paint.  The hotels gone, the most magnificent Starbucks in the world moved in (yeah they own the whole building, including theta lovely veranda we sat on).   

Old Canton was the centre of the Eastern empires for years.  It hosted the Brits, French, Germans, Portuguese and yes even imperialist Americans (clearly we won, there is both a stunning Starbucks AND Subway).  All of this fun; the Opium Wars, the Nationalist revolution under Sun Yat Sen and the Communist insurgents under Mao has made for a fascinating intro to Sydney's understanding of geopolitics.  

Liji was fascinated with the tanks of swimming spoonbills, giant bullfrogs and snails all headed for the dinner plate. "Don't the French eat frog legs?" "Yes, but I doubt they invented it."  So for a lovely stroll back into a fascinating era of China's past, hit the European island of Shamian. 

Noodles, Monks and Subways; Modern and Ancient Guangzhou, PRC

We set off on our first Guangzhou (formerly Canton) adventure today with a little help from Uncle Lon, who makes life simple, clear and stress-free. We started the day in modern, central Guanzhou by the brand new Opera House, the Guangdong Museum and the stunning Canton tower.  This enormous central section of this ancient city barely existed before the Asian Games came to town just a few years ago.  It is a bizarre mix of cutting edge architecture and capitalism gone amok with a creepy underground mall, acres long with only a Starbucks and a few empty, half-built store fronts. But the boys were most excited by the clean, quiet and bustling subways that shuttled us quickly across this giant metropolis of 12 million. 

Old Ghuangzhou is a different story.  Winding back roads, beautiful ancient temples and endless jade markets gave the kids hours of entertainment. They were as amazed by the forty foot Buddhas at Six Banyans as they were by another healthy dose of noodles and "slippery shrimp" dim sum that has had them eating their way through Cantonese delights.  

We were particularly impressed with their questions at the Guangxiao Temple as they wandered the halls of hundreds of giant, golden Buddhas with various states of facial hair and expressions; "why did the Buddha have so many different looks?"  "Why do people burn incense?"  "Why do people leave big bags of rice for the monks?"  Tomorrow we leave for Beijing via the bullet train, but we can't wait to get  back to Auntie Nina and Uncle Lon's hometown of surprising delights.