Roadside America: Hudson Valley, New York

For many New Yorkers, it’s a fall rite of passage. Rent car. Book bed-n-breakfast. Drive somewhere with trees. Indulge in pastoral pleasures like hay rides, apple-picking, hiking, canoeing, etc. Return, wondering faintly if you should ditch city life to renovate a colonial home and take up beekeeping.

But often, planning a New York City getaway is a bit more complicated than that. First, there’s the cost of getting out of the city; a weekly car rental from Manhattan can often cost more than a flight to Europe. Then there’s figuring out where to go. The Adirondacks? The Catskills? Pennsylvania? Maine? And once you finally arrive at your destination, there’s the long process of disconnecting from city life. By the time you’re no longer checking your phone every half hour, it’s time to go home.

Thankfully, there is one getaway that is relatively easy to plan: a trip to the Hudson Valley, a region of upstate New York about two to three hours from Manhattan.The main town of Hudson is accessible either by car, which is more expensive but offers greater flexibility, or by Amtrak train. If you do decide to go with a car rental, try taking the PATH train from Manhattan to Hoboken, New Jersey. An Enterprise Rent-a-Car is walking distance from the train station, and rates are about 50 percent cheaper than in the city.

Accommodation-wise, Hudson is overflowing with charming bed-and-breakfasts. For cheaper accommodations with more privacy, try booking a homestay in a nearby town. I recently found a lovely two-bedroom townhouse in nearby Athens for just $125 per night, which is comparable to the cost for a single room in the region.

Apart from the stunning scenery, river views and fresh air, the town of Hudson offers a number of charming cafes, galleries, antiques shops and historic sights, which can easily be explored by foot. The food options are also top-notch. Head to Olde Hudson Specialty Food to peruse the selection of regional artisanal foodstuffs, like fresh eggs, cheeses and charcuterie. A few doors down, Hudson Wine Merchants offers a wide array of wines and liquors, including locally distilled whiskeys and spirits. The staff is familiar with the selection at Olde Hudson and can provide excellent pairing suggestions. Protip: the Hudson Red with the Chilean shiraz is pure bliss.

Cap off your artisanal picnic basket with a baguette from Café Le Perche, which also has an incredible French Roast coffee. And if you have a car, don’t miss a trip to Black Horse Farms in Athens, which sells fresh seasonal produce and gourmet grocery items from nearby producers.

Indulge carefully, though. You may never leave.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user eleephotographay]

Fall festivals: five delicious ways to celebrate

fall festivalsThere’s something really depressing about seeing the last of the tomatoes, corn, and stonefruit at the farmers market, the withering vines in my neighbor’s gardens. But fall is also an exciting time for produce geeks, what with all the peppers and squash, pomegranates and persimmons.

If you love yourself some good food and drink, here are five reasons to welcome fall. No matter where you live in the North America, at least one of these is guaranteed to be coming soon to a town near you.

1. Hit a harvest festival
From the hokey (corn mazes, hay rides) to the downright debaucherous (late-night live music and beer gardens, camping in orchards), harvest festivals are a blast, no matter what your age. A great harvest festival will include delicious food; local craft beer, cider, or wine; farm tours and seminars; a children’s area and special activities; live music, and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful, bucolic setting in which to experience it all. Some festivals run the span of a weekend, providing an opportunity to take in more of the educational offerings.

Below are some of my favorite festivals, all of which have an educational component to them. Should you find yourself in Northern California in early October, it’s worth a detour to attend the famous Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Oct.1-2) at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, near Davis. It’s one hell of a party (there’s also a top-notch children’s activity area, so little people will have fun, too); definitely plan on camping in the orchard and bring your swim suit; the farm is located beside Cache Creek.

Other great celebrations of fall: Vashon Harvest Farm Tour (Sept. 25), Vashon Island, WA; CUESA Harvest Festival (Oct. 22), Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco, CA; Annual Harvest Festival, Sustainable Settings (mid-Sept.; date varies, but mark your calendars for next year!) Carbondale, CO.

September 22nd, from 7:30-9pm, the 16th Annual Harvest in the Square is being held in Union Square; online tickets are still available until tomorrow at noon for what is one of New York’s premier food and wine events. Some general admission tickets will be available at the event for a higher price.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zakVTA]fall festivals2. Check out Crush
In North America, the wine grape harvest is held in September or October, depending upon weather patterns. In Napa Valley, “Crush” has just started, and with it, fall colors on the vines; barrel tastings; special winery tours, wine-and-cheese pairings, and up-close-and-personal views of the Crush itself. Even if you’re not an oenophile, it’s by far the most beautiful time to visit Napa and it’s neighboring wine region, Sonoma Country. For Napa wineries and event listings, click here. For California’s Central Coast wine region events, click here.

Check out wine harvest events in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Washington state’s Yakima and Walla Walla regions, and British Columbia’s Fraser and Okanogan Valleys (go to Wines of the Northwest for events calendar on all of the aforementioned); for New York’s Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, and other regions go to Uncork New York!

3. Go apple pickingfall festivals
With apple-growing regions scattered all over North America–from Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, Washington state, British Columbia, and California–there’s no shortage of opportunities to attend festivals or U-picks. This traditional fall pastime is a fun activity for kids and supports the local economy and foodshed. Put up apple butter, -sauce, or freeze a pie for Thanksgiving, but be sure to save enough for winter (all apples and pears are placed in cold storage once the growing season ends, so the fruit you buy later in the season won’t be freshly picked). Store in a cool, dry, dark place. P.S. Don’t forget to buy some cider doughnuts if they’re available.

Please note that due to unusual weather patterns (aka “global warming”) this past year, the harvest is delayed in many parts of the country, including Washington. Check with local farms before heading out.

4. Visit a cidery
If you prefer your apples fermented, there are some excellent craft cideries throughout North America. The tradition of craft cider distilling hails from Western Europe, but domestically, the hot spots are the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia), parts of the Midwest, and the Northeast.
fall festivals
5. Feast at a farm dinner
For food lovers, few things beat dining outdoors in an orchard or pasture, surrounded by the people and ingredients that made your meal possible. Farm dinners are a growing national trend; they may be hosted independently by the farm (Washington’s Dog Mountain Farm, Colorado’s Zephyros Farm, and California’s Harley Farms Goat Dairy are my picks) or hosted by companies like Portland, Oregon’s Plate & Pitchfork and Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. Many farm dinners are fundraisers to help protect local agricultural easements or wetlands, but your participation also supports the farm and local foodshed.

Farm dinners are also held at wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, mariculture farms, and creameries; a tour should be included. The best part, however, is when the guests include everyone from the local cheesemaker, rancher, fisherman, or winemaker, to the potter who made the plates. It’s both humbling and gratifying to meet the people who work so hard to ensure local communities have a safe, sustainable food supply.

[Photo credits: grapes, Flickr user minnucci]

Wine Tasting Room Etiquette

On the Supremacy of the Bed and Breakfast

I’ve been staying in a lot of hotels. Some nice ones, some not so nice, most owned or at least operated by a corporate parent. There’s a anonymous familiarity about them all, which is comforting or unsettling, depending on my mood.

I’ve also crashed with some friends on this road trip, sleeping on a recliner in a living room in Detroit and an air mattress in an extra bedroom on Staten Island. That’s fine-and a fine way to save some scratch.

But it took about three minutes at the Whistlewood Farm in Rhinebeck, New York for me to finally realize that the bed and breakfast is the world’s greatest form of lodging. Please hold your arguments until I lay out mine!

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The size: There are just seven rooms at Whistlewood, which means my host, Maggie, knew who I was the moment I set foot in her home. We’d already spoken on the phone and arrival was like meeting a new friend in person for the first time: a little awkward, but with hope for a fine future.

The freebies: I will not be nickel-and-dimed and I know it. The blueberry crumble pie? Free. The lemon-poppy seed cake? Free. Wireless internet? Free. Tea, coffee, pretty much whatever else? Free. “Make yourself at home” is the request? Oh, thanks, I will!

The farm: There are horses here, roaming their paddocks, playfully inquisitive about visitors. There are chickens running around. A woman in a big straw hat is pruning rose bushes. There are exactly zero “porters,” “valets” or “customer service representatives.”

The countryside: So this one doesn’t go for every B&B but the birds here make a racket. It is hard to stress over an email thread from the office when there are birds chirping and flitting around the back yard, picking up caterpillars to feed their chicks.

The breakfast: Obviously the ultimate consideration. At Whistlewood, the spread is enormous. Eggs from the farm’s own chickens, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, fresh fruits salad, yogurt, English muffins, quick breads and muffins, juice and enough coffee to sate an Italian village. Would you like seconds? Go on, just help yourself.

In sum: The best service, everything’s included and it’s insanely relaxing: Sounds like the world’s best lodging to me. Don’t you think?

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Favorite towns: Woodstock, the place in upstate New York where the concert didn’t happen

Even though the town of Woodstock in the Hudson Valley region of New York balked at letting the mega concert happen within its domain—and even though all of Ulster County didn’t want the concert there, Woodstock the town is a groovy, upscale (and a little downscale) arts haven that is definitely worth heading to for a day of wandering, particularly if you like to shop for lovely, interesting items. It is one of my favorite towns to head, particularly because the people who live here make sure it remains true to who they are and not what corporate giants would like them to be.

There are tree-lined streets and small historic buildings. The arts focus started here back in 1902 which helps make it eye candy for shopping. Plus, even though the concert didn’t happen here, hippies are welcome and mixed in with the upscale, there is an edgy grit.

I head here every summer to look for wedding, baby and birthday gifts, plus a new pair of shoes. The shoes are for me. Sometimes it’s a quick trip, mostly for the shoes, but once in awhile there’s that wonderful summer day where no where else really matters. Here is my Woodstock guide–mostly shopping. Everything I’ve listed, I have done.

Some shopping stops that are my favorites:

If you wander along Tinker Street where each of these are located, you’ll also come across shops selling all sorts of specialty items from kitchen supplies to books to clothing to greeting cards. Some shops are the up-scale variety and others center around tie dye and incense.

Clouds Gallery: Located on the right-hand side of Tinker Street if you are driving up through town. The specialty is hand blown contemporary glass, fine American crafts and jewelry. My daughter has a collection of blown glass hearts– one for each birthday, from this store. The hearts are gifts from my mother who is my companion on these jaunts. Tell Robert, the owner, I said hi.

Pegasus Footwear: This is where I always find an interesting pair of shoes. The types they sell are perfect for travelers’ feet. They also last.

Timbuktu: An eclectic mix of folk art, pottery, jewelry and fusion type fare from different countries. Whoever is the buyer knows his or her stuff. Presents I’ve bought here: salad servers with beaded work from Kenya, a hand painted clock with a sun’s face on it, and ceramics to name a few.

Tinker Street Toys of Woodstock: Right next door to Clouds. This is a child’s dream store (and adults). I’ve played in here many a time and pick up stocking stuffers for the real kids in my life–and my husband.

For other shopping suggestions, click here.

Where to eat

Our favorite place is The Little Bear, an upscale Chinese restaurant two miles out of town. Eat in the sun room type addition. It overlooks a stream and you may even see deer. I’ve been here with kids and the staff has always been amenable–even when my son was only a year and a half.

Anywhere I’ve wandered in for a bite, I’ve found the food good, but you can’t go wrong at The Little Bear.

What to do at night:

The Tinker Street Cinema movie theater, housed in a former church–, the old wooden, white kind, is a one-screen kind of place. Popcorn always tastes better in movie theaters like this one. The last movie I saw here was 21 Grams.

There are other things to do at night, but since I’m mostly visiting family and friends in Kingston, I’m not here much after dinner. Folks, who have, please offer suggestions. I do know there are always concerts, talks and art events going on somewhere. This is a happening place.

Other places to head:

Where Woodstock, the concert happened. It takes a 43 mile drive.