2013 Fall Foliage Travel Guide

ohio fall foliage
Office of TourismOhio

Don’t miss out on America’s grand costume change this fall. Leaf peeping opportunities abound as trees transform into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows and purples all over the country. There are many ways to enjoy the season — you can take an autumn road trip, go on a colorful hike or savor local foods and drinks against a spectacular backdrop.

See the full Fall Foliage Travel Guide on AOL Travel>>

And if you’re curious about what exactly makes the leaves change, the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau has a cool 3D site about fall foliage.

Where To Get New York’s Best Hot Chocolate This Winter

hot chocolate While New York has many worthwhile offerings during the holidays – seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating at Bryant Park, browsing the many holiday markets – the bitter cold of the city makes it important to know where to go for a hot beverage. Home to many cozy bars, restaurants and cafes, you’ll have numerous options, including R Lounge in the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel.

Chilly travelers can take in 360-degree views of Times Square and beyond while sipping special hot chocolates relating to the month’s holiday and season, each served with a complimentary sweet. There will also be ongoing chef selection choices including Milk Hot Chocolate, Dark Hot Chocolate and White Hot Chocolate made with homemade marshmallows, fresh fruit, chocolate shavings and various other toppings. If you’re in the mood to get a bit tipsy, you can add Grand Marnier, Rum, Franjelico or Baileys to any cocoa.

In November, cinnamon churros are served with beverages like Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate, Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate and Hot Apple Cider. If visiting in December, you’ll get a free piece of peppermint bark as well as Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Hot Chocolate or Mulled Wine. In January, seasonal flavors include Frozen Hot Chocolate, Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Mocha Hot Chocolate served with peppermint meringue and chocolate ganache. And in February, meringue cookies come with cocoas like Lavender Hot Chocolate, Strawberry White Hot Chocolate and Hot Chocolate With Coffee.

Hot chocolates are $8, or $18 when you add liquor.

[Image via R Lounge]

Best ice cream in America not just from a shop

best ice cream AmericaSince Memorial Day is past, I think it’s safe to say we’ve officially entered ice cream season (National Ice Cream Day is July 17) Unless you live in Seattle, in which case, it’s still winter, but never mind. We still have great ice cream.

What makes for acclaim-worthy ice cream? Food writers like me tend to look for an emphasis on local/seasonal ingredients, including dairy. I love high butterfat ice cream, because my feeling is, if I’m going to indulge (I’m also lactose intolerant, so it’s really taking one for the team) I want something insanely creamy and smooth, with a rich, full, mouthfeel. Gummy or chewy ice cream is the hallmark of stabilizers such as guar or xanthan gum. The fewer the ingredients, the better, in my book. Hormone/antibiotic-free cream, milk, eggs; fruit or other flavoring agent(s). That’s it.

Much ado is made of unusual ice cream flavors, and I agree that creativity is welcome, as long as it remains in check. But there’s something to be said about purity, as well. If you can’t make a seriously kickass chocolate or vanilla, you may as well shut your doors.

Below is a round-up of my favorite ice cream shops, farmers market stands, food trucks, and carts (the latter two a growing source of amazing ice cream) across the country. If your travel plans include a visit to one of these cities, be sure to drop by for a dairy or non-dairy fix; most of these places do offer sorbet, or coconut milk or soy substitutes. Some also sell via mail order and at other retail outlets; check each site for details.

1. San Francisco: Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop
When I lived in Berkeley, I used to make special trips into the City just to shop at Bi-Rite Market, a beloved neighborhood grocery in the Mission District that specializes in all things local, organic/sustainable, and handcrafted, from produce to chocolate. When they opened a tiny, adorable creamery across and up the street a few years ago, it was with the same ethos and business practices in mind. Organic milk and cream are sourced from Straus Family Creamery in adjacent Marin County, fruit from nearby family farms. Salted Caramel is a best seller; I’m a slave to Brown Butter Pecan, and Creme Fraiche. Every rich, creamy mouthful is about purity of flavor, but sundaes and new soft-serve flavors are also available.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Barbara L. Hanson]best ice cream americaRunner-up is three-year-old Humphrey Slocombe, also in the Mission. Personally, I can live without Government Cheese, Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke), or Foie Gras ice cream, but I can definitely get behind Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes), Prosciutto (somehow, it makes sense, whereas I just don’t like my diseased goose liver in dairy form), Honey Thyme, and Cucumber Ice Milk. Like Bi-Rite, dairy also comes from Straus, and local food artisans and farmers provide the goods for most of the esoteric to downright freakish flavors. Bottom line: what doesn’t repulse you is good stuff

2. Brooklyn: Van Leeuwen
While in Williamsburg two weeks ago, I stumbled upon one of Van Leeuwen’s famous, butter-yellow ice cream vans (co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen used to be a Good Humor driver). It was tough to decide on a flavor, given the lovely, lyrical sound of the mostly botanical flavors such as ginger, currants and cream, and Earl Gray. I chose palm sugar, which was an ethereal blend of sweet, high-quality dairy Van Leeuwen sources from a farmer he knows in Franklin County, and the caramelly richness of the sugar. Props too, for using all biodegradable materials. Van Leeuwen also has stores in Greenpoint and Boerum Hill. A trusted friend in Brooklyn also highly recommends the Asian-inflected flavors at Sky Ice, a Thai family-owned spot in Park Slope.

3. Chicago: Snookelfritz Ice Cream Artistry
Pastry chef Nancy Silver stands behind her unassuming little stall at Chicago’s Green City Market in Lincoln Park, dishing out some of the most spectacular ice cream in the country. Snooklefritz specializes in seasonal ice creams, sherbets, and sorbets using Kilgus Farmstead heavy cream and Meadow Haven organic eggs. The result are creations such as the deeply flavorful maple-candied hickory nut, and heavenly brown sugar and roasted peach ice creams, and a creamy, dreamy Klug Farms blackberry sherbet.

4. Seattle: Full Tilt Ice Cream
The city’s most iconoclastic ice cream shop (on my first visit, the ska-punk band Three Dead Whores was playing…at the shop) has opened several locations in the last two years, but the original is in the ethnically diverse, yet-to-gentrify part of South Seattle known as White Center. That accounts for flavors like horchata, Mexican chocolate, ube (purple yam), and bourbon caramel (if you saw the patrons at the open-at-6am tavern next door, you’d understand). Enjoy Memphis King (peanut butter, banana, and chocolate-covered bacon) with a beer pairing while scoping out local art on the walls or playing pinball. Over in hipster-heavy Capitol Hill, Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream & Tea Room does the PacNW justice by offering an intense, almost savory Elysian Stout (the brewery is two blocks away), and a spot-on Stumptown Coffee ice cream. Not as high in butterfat as the other ice creams on this list, but well-made, and full of flavor, using Washington state dairy.
best ice cream america
5. Portland, Oregon: Salt & Straw
“Farm to Cone” is the motto at this new ice cream cart/soon-to-be-storefront in the Alberta Arts District. Think local ingredients, and sophisticated, fun flavors that pack a punch like a lovely pear and blue cheese, honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper, hometown Stumptown Coffee with cocoa nibs, and brown ale with bacon. The 17% butterfat content is courtesy of the herd at Oregon’s 4th generation Lochmead Dairy.

6. Columbus, Ohio: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni’s has a clutch of stores now, but the family-owned original is in Columbus. The Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey, and Freisan cows at Ohio’s Snowville Creamery produce high-butterfat milk and cream, which, according to Jeni’s, goes from “cow to our kitchen within 48 hours.” The result are flavors ranging from signature Buckeye State (salty peanut butter with chunks of dark chocolate) and Riesling Poached Pear sorbet, to seasonal treats such as Backyard Mint, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, and Strawberry Buttermilk. Down home and delicious.

7. Boston: Toscanini’s
From Burnt Caramel to Grape Nut, Cake Batter, Cardamom Coffee, or Banana sorbet, this wildly popular Cambridge shop is, in the words of a colleague, “consistently original and good.” Equally wonderful is Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream, also in Cambridge. It’s attached to the family-owned spice shop: the results are fresh, potent flavors such as Cinnamon, Herbal Chai, French Vanilla, Fresh Rose or Mint, and Bergamot. Five sorbets are available daily, as well.

[Photo credits: bourbon, Flickr user gigaman; bacon, Flickr user miss_rogue]

This eggnog ice cream from Van Leeuwen is admittedly Christmasy-sounding, but just think of it as “custard” ice cream (and a way to subconsciously cool off, while watching this clip). Pair with luscious summer fruit, such as sliced nectarines, cherries, strawberries, or plums.

Van Leeuwen Eggnog Ice Cream Recipe

University in Virginia opens year-round ski slopes

It’s always been that, at their most basic, skiing and snowboarding require two things – some sort of skis or a board and of course, snow. And snow usually requires precipitation and a sufficiently cold temperature(this concludes today’s lesson in meteorological science). But as of August 29th, snow – and the weather conditions required to create it – will become unnecessary for American skiers.

That’s the date when the Liberty Mountain SnowFlex Center opens. And it’ll stay open, all year round. How? The complex, on the grounds of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, will be home to a ski slope that utilizes a synthetic material called SnowFlex. SnowFlex aims to be the closest replication of snow. It’s already in use at several European locations and has been used at Olympic training facilities, but this will be the first public ski area in the US to use it.

The Liberty Mountain Center will feature a beginner slope, freestyle rails, and a quarter pipe. Prices are pretty reasonable – actually when compared with the cost of most mountains, they’re downright cheap. Thursday through Sunday rates are $7 an hour. Monday through Wednesday the rate goes down to just $5 an hour.

For die-hard skiers and snowboarders, I doubt this faux snow could ever replace the real thing, but for those looking to get in some more practice time, it’s one cheap way to spend summer on the slopes.

Tourist and Rude-Tourist Prices

One thing that I never get used to about travelling is the ever-changing prices. Here in North America, prices are clearly outlined everywhere — on signs, price tags, ads. They typically stay the same throughout the year. But almost everyone I’ve travelled to outside of North America has a special kind of pricing — I call it “I charge what I feel like charging” pricing.”

Vendors often don’t post their pricing; they eye you up before they figure out what they’re going to charge. This is both good and bad — on one hand, it allows you to barter with the vendor, but on the other hand, it usually means you’re getting ripped off, just by virtue of being a foreigner. Prices also vary by season. Summer prices can be double what you would be paying if you went a few months before or after.

Truth be told, it’s quite common for prices of food, accommodation and souvenirs to be raised drastically according to not only the season but where you’re from. But here’s an instance of seasonal prices being taken to whole new level — Merchants in Venice are charging 3 different prices: Low (for locals), High (for tourists) and super-high (for rude tourists.)

I think this is amusing (certainly nobody in Canada would have the gall to charge rude people more) but actually, I kind of like the idea. There’s nothing more annoying than the ignorant tourist who goes to another country to do little more than act like a jerk and insist that everyone speak English to him. He makes everyone else look bad. Word to the wise: when you’re a guest in someone else’s country, the least you can do is maintain some sort of polite dignity for the language and customs, and if you can’t do that much, perhaps you deserve to get treated less hospitably.

(via Intelligent Traveler)