Urban Camping: Pitch A Tent In Central Park

High Manhattan hotel prices ruining your summer travel plans? If you’d like to try urban camping — sleeping under the skyscrapers of New York City — you can try your luck for a spot at one of the city’s summer Family Camping sessions. The Urban Park Rangers lead programs in more than a dozen city parks in all five boroughs, including Manhattan’s Central Park (August 24) and Prospect Park (September 21) in Brooklyn. The campouts are all free, starting with an early evening hike, cookout with food provided (don’t expect anything fancy, but you might be surprised with s’mores) and even a tent — you need only bring sleeping bags. The catch? There’s a lot of competition to join, with only 30 tents available for each night. Each event is open to online registration for 24 hours, with the “winners” chosen by lottery and notified about two weeks in advance. Find all the details and get lucky here.

Where else can you pitch a tent without leaving the city? Here are a few other urban areas with camping options.Austin: Emma Long Park offers campsites for $10-25 per night, depending on utilities, in addition to the $5-10 park entrance fee charged to all visitors. Set beside Lake Austin, the Texas city park is less than a half-hour from downtown. Check out the our adventure guide to Austin for more ideas.

Berlin: An innovative use of “fallow” urban space, the Tentstation project is unfortunately not open this season, but you’ll find other options in and around Berlin to pitch a tent or park an RV, even with a group. In typical German efficiency, some are within a few minutes’ walk to public transportation.

Honolulu: The Hawaiian capital has over a dozen campsites, many on the beach with fishing and surfing opportunities and views to rival expensive Waikiki resorts. Camping permits are issued for 3 or 5 days, and cost $32 and $52, respectively. Interesting note: several of the campsites warn that “houseless encounters are likely,” so look out for beach bums.

Japan: One of the most notoriously pricey countries also has a strong tradition of urban camping. While not officially sanctioned, it’s tolerated and generally quite safe in public parks. It might be hard to actually pitch a tent in downtown Tokyo, but you’ll find many guides online to finding a place to sleep al fresco.

Would you want to camp in a city? Have you done any urban camping?

Outdoor Adaptive Sports Programs: Where To Find The Nation’s Best

Like most of us, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the daily hassles and challenges faced by those who use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other mobility aid until it became somewhat personal. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who’ve been an enormous source of both education and inspiration, and I’m writing this piece because of them. A little bit of background is in order:

When I moved to Vail in 1995 to attend culinary school, I became friends with Darol Kubacz, a young Forest Service employee. Darol had broken his back in a motorcycle accident about 18 months prior; at the time of his injury, he was in the Army, working in Special Ops. He was already an experienced outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, climbing, and hiking. Despite the physical challenges and fairly recent onset of his paralysis, he made a huge impression on me with his positive, non-defeatist attitude.

Darol’s job with the Forest Service entailed trail assessment for the handicapped, while in his personal life he’d already undertaken a number of adaptive sports, including the aforementioned activities he’d enjoyed prior to his injury. He’d also started alpine skiing (he broke his neck in a skiing accident in 2000, but fortunately sustained no additional physical or neurological damage).

Darol became my workout buddy, and he was the first friend I’d ever had who was in a chair. Through him, I learned a lot about what it means to live with a limitation. Mainly, he impressed upon me that, to a certain extent, it’s possible for humans to overcome physical limitations. I’m surprised he doesn’t have, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” carved into his chest.Today, Darol works as a part-time adaptive hiking guide in Phoenix (he and his clients use off-road arm bikes),and is working on launching an adaptive paragliding program. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro –twice, summiting once– entirely under his own power, to raise awareness for his foundation, Freedom for Life. Following his ski accident, he has, he says, “Learned to embrace a more intimate experience with nature, that’s less about speed and adrenalin, and more about being in the moment.” Hence his passion for off-road bikes.

I met my friend Tony 12 years, ago, when I was living in Berkeley and working as a farmers market vendor. A loyal customer, Tony is also a documentary filmmaker and graphic designer. He’s quadriplegic, the result of a teenage diving accident. Tony has partial use of his arms, and until his accident, was a competitive surfer. Until a few years ago, however, he’d never been able to get back on a board due to some medical issues he was dealing with.

Today, a freakishly youthful 48, Tony is an avid surfer and skier (that’s him at Alpine Meadows, in the photo at the beginning of this story), thanks to several amazing adaptive sport programs. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, and his jones for salt water and snow matches that of any able-bodied enthusiast.

Living in the outdoor adventure mecca of Boulder as I do, I’m also in an epicenter of outdoor adaptive recreation programs. With my locale and both of these inspiring and incredible guys in mind, I wanted to provide a round-up of top adaptive sport centers across the country.

Adaptive Adventures
Based in Boulder, this is Darol’s preferred ski and summer program; he also co-produces a summer Moab Mania event for them. They offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, wake-boarding, kayaking, rafting, and cycling. Offers civilian, veterans, and kids programs.

Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
Darol and I both recommend this program (me, from living in Telluride and knowing some of the staff). TASP is very well-regarded, and offers summer and winter programs. This time of year there’s alpine, nordic, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-climbing, Helitrax skiing, and snowmobiling. In summer, there’s horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, paddling, and camping.

Challenge Aspen
This prestigious adaptive ski and snowboard program based in Snowmass is for civilians with physical or cognitive disabilities. Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O.) is for injured military; a new camp this year has been developed to help adaptive skiers learn more about competitive Paralympic training programs and interface with Paralymic coaches.

High Fives Foundation
Tony is a huge fan of this Truckee, California, based non-profit founded by paralyzed former competitive skier Roy Tuscany. It’s dedicated to raising awareness and funding for “injured athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.” High Fives also serves as a resource center for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and pilates, gyms, and adaptive sports and equipment.

WORLD T.E.A.M. Sports
Chartered in North Carolina and based in New York, Darol recommends this athletic organization that offers adaptive and able-bodied events in mountain biking, rafting, cycling, and more. They also offer teen challenges.

They Will Surf Again
Tony has hit the waves with this Los Angeles-based program offered by the non-profit, Life Rolls On (LRO). Founded by quadriplegic, former competitive surfer Jesse Billauer, LRO raises awareness and funds for spinal cord injury (SCI) research, and offers bi-coastal adaptive surfing, skate, and snowboarding programs.

AccesSurf Hawaii
Honolulu-based adaptive surfing and other recreational water sport programs.

Wheels 2 Water
Tony recommends this adaptive surf and scuba diving non-profit in his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

Wheels Up Pilots
This research and instructional paragliding program in Santa Barbara is highly recommended by Darol, who is about to become one of the first two U.S.-certified adaptive paragliding pilots. Open to civilians and veterans.

Freedom for Life Off-road Arm Biking
For guided hikes in the Phoenix area, contact Darol Kubacz, darol@fflfoundation.org.

[Photo credits: adaptive skier, Tony Schmiesing; all others, Adaptive Adventures]

Pacific Rowing Race announced

Adventurers and extreme sports athletes looking for a new challenge may well find what they’re looking for in the newly announced Pacific Rowing Race. The event, which isn’t scheduled to take place until June of 2014, will cover more than 2100 nautical miles, beginning in Monterey Bay, California and ending in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Organizers of the event expect that it will take around 30 to 35 days for the fastest two- and four-person crews to row the entire length of the course. The current record for an individual rower is 64 days, and was set back in 1997, but due to advances in technology and better boat design, a solo racer could easily break that record. On the other hand, teams who are more interested in enjoying the experience of being out on the ocean, and aren’t trying to set new speed records, could take as much as 100 days to reach the finish line.

Along the way, racers will face a host of weather conditions, ranging from clear, calm days to potentially dangerous storms. They’ll also have to contend with seas that can be both extremely turbulent or smooth as glass. And while they’re out on the water, they’ll experience breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and a peaceful solitude that is broken from time to time by a passing dolphin, whale, or other sea creature.

Some of the details on the race are still being worked out, but if you’re interested in taking part in the event, there is an online form that you can fill out by clicking here. Completing that form will ensure that you receive the latest news on the event and keep you updated on any announcements from the race organizers.

Online entry for the Pacific Rowing Race is scheduled to open on April 2nd of this year, giving participants more than two years to prepare.

[Photo credit: Roz Savage]

Taste Hawaii: Savoring Alan Wong’s fresh farm-to-table feast

On a recent trip to Oahu, my wife and I had the excellent fortune to dine at Alan Wong’s eponymous restaurant in Honolulu. Consistently named one of the best restaurants in Hawaii, Alan Wong’s has been at the forefront of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement since its founding in 1995. Our farm-to-table, fusion feast featured a number of dishes that embody the chef’s culinary quest to showcase Hawaii’s fresh food products and its marvelous mélange of culinary cultures. Virtually every dish was a compact lesson in taste, texture, and tradition.

Our favorites included such signature concoctions as the Soup and Sandwich, a stemmed glass filled with chilled vine-ripened Hamakua Springs tomato soup presented with a yin-yang design, crowned with a parmesan cheese crisp and atop it a mini-kalua pig foie gras and mozzarella sandwich; Butter-Poached Kona Lobster, savory chunks of lobster served in a sauce of green onion oil with flavorful morsels of Hamakua Heritage eryngi mushrooms; North Shore Tilipia on a bed of local saimin noodles with Naked Cow Dairy lobster truffle butter nage; Ginger Crusted Onaga with piquant miso sesame vinaigrette, Hamakua mushrooms and sweet corn from Kahuku; Crab “Tofu” Agedashi, consisting of a tofu-like spanner crab mousse with Kona lobster medallions and plump lumps of crab meat, served with kudzu dashi; and a delightful dessert called The Coconut – scrumptious coconut meat-like haupia sorbet served in a chocolate “coconut” shell, surrounded by tropical fruits in a lilikoi sauce. Yum!

%Gallery-140566%Before our feast we had devoured Chef Alan’s 2010 book “The Blue Tomato,” which beautifully showcases both his culinary art and his life philosophy. So our dining experience was enhanced by the knowledge that he is a passionate and idealistic chef/entrepreneur, who goes out of his way to support sustainability efforts in Hawaii and to mentor and inspire his staffers to dream big. The aloha energy that he pours into his cuisine and co-workers seemed to fill the restaurant that night; from the warm, knowledgeable, and infectiously enthusiastic kitchen and wait staffers to the companionably oohing-and-aahing diners, everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

After our feast, I looked more deeply into Chef Alan’s background. Born in Japan and raised in Hawaii, he worked his way through the kitchen trade, first at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, then at Lutèce in New York City, and finally at The CanoeHouse on the Big Island of Hawai’i before opening his restaurant in Honolulu in 1995. Since then, he has won the James Beard Award and was one of 10 chefs in the United States nominated by the Wedgewood Awards for the title of World Master of Culinary Arts. Bon Appétit has recognized him as the “Master of Hawai’i Regional Cuisine,” and Alan Wong’s Restaurant has been ranked by Gourmet twice. It is also the only restaurant in Honolulu that appears in the Top 10 of America’s Best 50 Restaurants. In addition to “The Blue Tomato,” he is also the author of “New Wave Luau” and is a 10-time winner of the Hale ‘Aina “Restaurant of the Year” and Ilima “Best Restaurant” Awards in Hawai’i.

Inspired in general by the emphasis on ethnic fusion cuisine and farm-to-table practices we found in Hawaii and in particular by Chef Alan’s attitude and achievements, I asked if he would do an email interview with me. He graciously agreed. Here’s our conversation:

DG: Did you cook when you were a child?

AW: No, but my mom was a great cook. Her cooking taught me a lot about seasoning, and she showed me the value of not wasting anything in the kitchen.

Who have been your principal culinary mentors and inspirations?

Andre Soltner, Chef Proprietor, and Christian Bertrand, Chef de Cuisine at the Lutece Restaurant, in New York City, when I worked there; Mark Erickson, chef at the Greenbrier Hotel when I did my apprenticeship there; and Joe Kina, instructor at Kapiolani Community College where I went to culinary school.

What first inspired you to create the cuisine you are now famous for?

Being the Chef de Cuisine at The CanoeHouse Restaurant at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, opening it in 1989. Meeting all the farmers on the Big Island and using their products, and being charged with creating Hawaii Regional Cuisine with 11 other chefs from across the state. HRC was born in 1991, and we have been celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

You mention “being charged with creating Hawaii Regional Cuisine with 11 other chefs from across the state.” How did HRC come about? Was it a spontaneous creation of island chefs or was it something that was proposed from some outside source such as the Hawaii Tourism Board and then adopted by the chefs?

Originally twelve chefs got together just to “enjoy the party” for a change instead of providing the party all the time. We established HRC Inc. for two reasons. The first was to help develop an agricultural network in the state with the help of the Department of Agriculture. We did this by divulging all of our farmers and purveyors whom we bought produce from. Our second goal was to promote Hawaii’s culinary scene so that tourists and locals would know that there was a different new cuisine of Hawaii evolving and developing.

What are the primary characteristics/ingredients of traditional Hawaiian cuisine?

The word “Hawaiian” refers to an ethnic group entirely on its own. They originally came from the South Pacific islands. They ate a lot of raw fish dishes. They cooked in an underground imufrom which kalua pig is most famous today. They grilled on hot rocks, called pulehu. Now we have iron, so we cook on hibachis. They placed food in the imubesides the whole pig, and that method is steaming today. Another method of steaming was known as lawalu, where a fish or meat is steamed in tileaves over the fire. Taro turned into poi was the main starch. For seasoning, the Hawaiians would use inamona(roasted kukui, or candlenut), sea salt, and seaweed.

What are the primary characteristics/ingredients of contemporary Hawaiian cuisine?

Hawaii (without the “an” at the end) Regional Cuisine is a contemporary cuisine that borrows from all the ethnic cuisines found in the islands today. To Taste Hawaii, we utilize as much locally grown and raised product as possible to feature what we have — the fish from our waters, grass-fed beef and lamb, local eggs, dairy, pork.

How important are fruits and vegetables to HRC, and how much do these vary from season to season? That is, because of Hawaii’s climate, are the same produce products available throughout the year, or are there seasonal differences and specialties?

We have two seasons in Hawaii, rain and sunshine, or another joke is mango season and no mango season. Fruits and vegetables play a big role in the cuisine. We have the best mangoes in the world when in season. Pineapples are best from here and do not travel well. Tropical fruits grow well here and for the most part, because of our weather, we can enjoy a vine-ripened tomato all year round.

What are the goals of the fusion cuisine you are seeking to create?

The most important things are flavor, good taste, having a sense of place, and featuring the food, not your ego.

Could you take one of your favorite fusion dishes/creations and “deconstruct” it: What are the different elements in terms of ingredients that go into it? How are these prepared and put together? Which cuisine traditions are you combining in this dish?

Ginger Crusted Onaga was inspired by childhood memories of Chinese cold ginger chicken. The miso sesame vinaigrette that goes with it is Japanese inspired. Combining ethnic flavors together comes naturally to me; the most important thing is that it has good flavor.

Are there any special techniques you use in creating this cuisine?

Most of the techniques are influenced by European techniques and French training. The different ethnic cooking styles, flavors, ingredients, and techniques do come into play and using the Hawaiian influence is important to me.

What’s the biggest challenge of creating Hawaii Regional Cuisine?

Your own imagination and creativity

What most excites you about the culinary scene in Hawaii today?

It is still growing and evolving, so there’s a lot to look for in Hawaii. Today the popularity of farmers markets is growing. People can go to the markets and meet the people who grow their food, and they can get products that are much fresher because they come from the source. There’s more variety in what’s available. Twenty years ago when Hawaii Regional Cuisine was first started, we didn’t have products like locally grown mushrooms, hearts of palm, abalone, chocolate, and vanilla. As more farmers continue to grow a wider variety of products, we as chefs can continue to be inspired by what’s fresh, local, and in season.

In your mind, how is Hawaiian cuisine related to Hawaiian culture?

Family is important, sharing food, talking story at the table. Aloha means many things: doing the right thing, to make things right, to have the right intentions. Hawaii’s multi-ethnic cuisine begins from the immigrant plantation days. Most of the immigrants came from Asia, so the local people are a mixed bag. When you are raised in Hawaii eating local food, you find that the source comes from this time, and it is heavily Asian influenced. Most of the food comes from a poor time and so something like the “Plate Lunch” is born out of necessity to fill your stomach so that you can go out and work again tomorrow. It has evolved quite a bit today.

What’s your favorite food memory?

I don’t have a particular one, however, cooking for Chef Andre Soltner every day for his dinner with his wife taught me so many valuable lessons that helped create who I am today professionally.

Is there a special goal or project you are working on now?

We plan to open another restaurant on Maui, partnering with the Grand Wailea Hotel. It will be called Amasia, featuring small plates and family-style fare. We’re hoping to open it in early spring 2012.

[Photos by Kuniko George]

The local flavor of Oahu: Hawaiian shave ice

The recipe for Hawaii’s signature dessert is simple: fill a cup with a mound of finely shaved ice and then top it off with a sugary syrup of your choice. If you want to get creative, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or azuki bean paste at the bottom of the cup, or top it off with a “snow cap”-some sweetened, condensed milk drizzled over the top.

Although the recipe seems like a piece of cake, there’s actually much more to the Hawaiian shave ice. The treat was actually introduced by Japanese immigrants working on sugar plantations, who would shave fine pieces from large blocks of ice using Japanese swords that were family heirlooms. The tradition actually goes back even further to the turn of the first millennium in Japan, when ice would be brought down from the mountains in the winter and stored in caves. Eating the flavored ice was a luxury reserved for royalty only, but in Hawaii it became commonplace.

When first introduced to Hawaii, shave ice was sold solely on Sundays-the only day of the week immigrants rested. Now, its available pretty much anytime and anywhere in touristy areas-but don’t be fooled. Not all shave ice is created equal.

With some tips from locals (and after much debate), we’ve culled together a list of five of the best places to get shaved ice on the island of Oahu.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
: This classic shave ice stand in the North Shore of Oahu has been dishing out colorful treats since 1951. On sunny days, the shop sells around 1,000 cones of shave ice to surfers, locals, and happy tourists.
66-87 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; 808-637-4827

Aoki’s Shave Ice: In a little red shack down the road from Matsumoto is Aoki’s, a family-run business that has been serving shave ice for over 25 years. Although the line is typically long (especially on hot days), the wait is well worth it-and there’s plenty of mom-and-pop kitsch to look at to kill time.
66-117 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; 808-637-7017

Waiola Shave Ice: If you can’t make it to the North Shore, Waiola is a little piece of shave ice heaven in Honolulu. The store can be a little difficult to find, but once you get there the shave ice is cheap, they have a wide variety of flavors, and the ice is deliciously fine-like powdery snow. With a delectable melt-in-your-mouth texture, this place comes with my personal “severe brain freeze warning.”
2135 Waiola St., Honolulu; 808-949-2269

Ailana Shave Ice: Also in Honolulu, Ailana Shave Ice has a mission to serve “fresh and tasty homemade syrups” to the masses. Try some of the local flavors-lychee, melona, or haupia-or stick to classics like blue Hawaii, pineapple, strawberry, or the ever-popular rainbow. This place also serves plate lunch on weekdays.
1430 Kona St., Honolulu; 808-955-8881

Shimazu Store: Tucked away in Honolulu’s Chinatown is this neighborhood convenience store that whips up some mouthwatering shave ice. Lots of flavors-including red velvet, root beer, and crème brulee-are on the menu, and the portions are larger than most other shave ice places. If you’re feeling up for the challenge, there’s an oversized option called “The Larry” that is extra, extra large.
330 N School St., Honolulu; 808-371-8899

(All photos by Libby Zay)