Saturday, July 31, 2010

Testing the Waters: Beaver Brook Reservation, Belmont

My two year old is a bit of a daredevil, rarely hesitant to see what happens if he stands a bit too close to a fan, never afraid of barreling into deep water as I hold on tight and teach him to swim, or to jump on a new bike. But my four year old is unpredictable in his fears. His hand shot up when a clown asked for a volunteer while performing in front of tens of children. He loves to dance in big groups. He is trying to read at every twist and turn. However, he is scared of sprinklers. Skeptical that water falling in his eyes is harmless, he is never thrilled to see water spilling out of the ground.

All that being said, I was curious about his reaction to Beaver Brook Reservation in Belmont. My friends had raved about the place, and after one visit, I am game to go back. It is a combination of many things: a playground, a place to picnic, hike, let dogs roam, and, yes, to enjoy sprinklers galore.
Thanks to the web, I had read the warnings to a) get there early before parking fills up and b)make sure my kids wear water shoes to prevent slips on the concrete that line the sprinkler area. The best part? The range of sprinklers and big boulders made it exciting for the 2 year old, while the 4 year old was able to take courageous steps into one of the little sprinklers. It was cold enough to cool us down on this hot morning. And, after 1 hour, we had our fill.

It wasn't as cushy as the sprinkler park at Davis Farmland. But, reality check? This place is free and close by! Another lovely local option for hot days. Next time, though, I will bring a stroller to make the walk from the parking lot just a bit easier.

Beaver Brook Reservation, Trapelo Road, Belmont

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tales of a 4 Year Old at the Natick Organic Farm Camp

Told, over the course of 4 days:

Mommy, can I go to the camp when I am 8? And 18? Can I be a farmer?
We put a dying chicken in the compost pile. (Uh, okay)
We got seeds from sunflowers and we will plant them. But we need to put water on after. And, mommy, you know what is so cool? When they grow and fall over, we can get more seeds and keep planting them. But, mommy, don't take the seeds if the sunflower is still standing up.
This my picture with flower petals.
Don't touch the bees in the hive. They are making honey but they will sting you.
I gave the pig my extra grapes, so we don't waste them.
I will ask my teachers why purple carrots are orange on the inside.
I will ask them why a cow has 4 udders, but a pig has 2.
I will ask them why animals eat the same food every day. I can't do that.
Don't hit the fly, mommy. My teachers told me to just send it outside.
We gave the baby turkeys seeds. Mommy, the baby chicks are in the barn, but the big chickens are outside.
Where do the birds go on a hot day like this?
I didn't know I liked zucchini. Thanks for buying it at the farm, mommy.
How come their tomatoes are so good?
Don't go in with the goats, Mommy!
The pig's name is Lilac (followed by hysterical laughter).
Today we read stories.
For another post on the Natick Organic Farm, click here.
For more about the camp, click here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cheddar, Chocolate and Cider in Waterbury, Vermont

When you are about to begin a 4 hour journey with two toddlers it is good to be well fed. Stopping at Waterbury, Vermont on a return visit from Smugglers' Notch (or Stowe) to Boston can easily solve that problem. I admit, we passed on ice-cream fun at the Ben and Jerry's factory. However, we did get our fill of other tasty treats.
We started at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. While it is clearly a tour bus destination it was a perfect activity with our little boys. Outside are antique cider presses, while inside you can watch them making both apple cider and cider donuts. And, as much as I had explained the process of getting cider from apples, my sons were entranced by the sight of mushed apples being shot out of a pipe and then S-Q-U-E-E-Z-E-D. Of course, as juice is a treat at our house, they were also thrilled to get cups of the freshly made product!
In that same vein, my boys who had never before eaten a donut, were more than happy to try the Cold Hollow version. And they were delicious. Made with a mix of flours (including whole wheat), and actual apple cider, the dough is made in the back, while fresh donuts are fried right by the register.
Beyond the bakery area is a general store of sorts filled with speciality products (many made of maple or cider), items for making your own donuts and books about Vermont.

Just a bit further down Route 100 is a trifecta of goodness: the Cabot Cheese Annex, the Lake Champlain Chocolate Outlet and the Muddy Paw coffeeshop, all located in the same plaza.
In terms of the Muddy Paw, they are worth a stop for their fantastic iced mochas. And, better still you can drive through! (Why don't we have more drive through independently owned coffeeplaces? These little side stands are so good!)

I could have spent a while at the Cabot Cheese Annex, and I would have been quite full as they have samples of their cheeses and products throughout the store. However, my 2 year old was so excited about said samples, that had we not left, he would have eaten the entire bowl of cheese-covered popcorn, all the cheddar cheese, and even the horseradish cheddar!
Cabot cheddar is sold in supermarkets, but at the outlet you can try (and purchase) a much wider range of items. I had enjoyed the clothbound cheddar as part of my cheese plate at the Hearth and Candle. You can buy that, as well as other aged cheddars. They also have speciality flavors like "Chipotle," "Chili-lime", "Tuscan" or "Tiki Masala." I also bought a container of their cheddar powder to use on my kids requisite mac and cheese. The kind staff people also have created an educational center of sorts, and my kids walked away with coloring books to inspire them to learn about cheese. Finally, I appreciate that Cabot is actually a cooperative and, thus, is supporting the increasingly rare Vermont dairy farmers.
The Lake Champlain store didn't impress me as much for their friendliness, but the range of chocolates did. And I think they make delicious chocolates. At this location you can buy any of their products, enjoy hot chocolate at their cafe, or get their factory seconds. My favorite was their new "Grace Under Fire" bar, that consisted of big pistachios, layered in a chili-enhanced dark chocolate.

Needless to say, we didn't need to have a picnic on the return drive home!

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Route 100, Waterbury Vermont, 800-3-APPLES
Muddy Paw Coffee Drive Through, Route 100, Waterbury, Vermont, 802-244-8700
Cabot Cheese Annex, Route 100, Waterbury, Vermont, 802-244-6334
Lake Champlain Chocolatier and Cafe, Route 100, Waterbury, Vermont, 802-241-4150

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You Will Never Get Bored at Smugglers' Notch: The Activities

Within a mile, you can swim, play miniature golf, go tubing, hiking, learn to paint, meet a big Mouse, compete in an egg race, canoe, kayak, fish, skateboard, scale a climbing tower or just lounge by the pool. Yup. All of these activities are part of the joy of staying at Smugglers' Notch. And it is why, though they treated us this year, we plan to return next year as well.
While my sons' attended the day care program, my mother and I took advantage of the chance to hike on the grounds. There are beautiful trees and a lovely brook, as well as hiking trails that make it easy to get some exercise without straying too far.
My sons enjoyed their first chance to play mini-golf. The course isn't fancy, but it is built besides a stream. Plus, it was quiet enough that I didn't have too worry too much about my sons' golf balls flying through the air. There are 4 completely different pool areas at the resort. The courtside pool is located right in the center of the resort. On top of the hill is the Notchville area, which would be perfect for older children as it has a shallow pool area separate from the larger pool.
However, our kids were in heaven at the Mountainside pool area. The area itself has one large pool, a large waterslide and a mini-waterslide. However, the highlight fo our kids was the gradual entry lagoon that was replete with tubes, sprinklers, a tunnel and a mini-river.
Finally, a short drive (or long walk) from the resort, is their Rum Runner's Hideway. To get there you need to do a very short hike up a very steep incline. I knew that my kids' could never make it up. However, if kids were any older, they would love the chance to play at this water lagoon, full of canoes and kayaks.
In addition to all this, we also had access to the indoor/outdoor Aquatics area at the North Hill part of the resort. This was the only indoor water area. My only complaint? I would have loved a hot tub area that was a)hotter than theirs and b)for adults only. I just couldn't relax in a hot tub full of kids.

My sons, though, will also return for more highlight: The FunZone. Now, I will make it clear that they loved it.
Full of inflatable structures, another indoor mini-golf course, toys, arcade games, and a giant slide (my kids were too young for it), it is not where I would want to hang out. But they loved every minute of it. Make sure to bring socks (no barefeet or shoes allowed), and plenty of antiseptic spray.
The final highlight for my kids was the nighttime activities. Each night features another set of family friendly fun. One night was the biggest bingo game I have observed. While our last night was a giant social, filled with juggling, egg and spoon races, hula-hooping and waterballoons.

Another lovely part of the resort were the playgrounds. I have never seen this brand (KOMPANY) or type. But they were pretty unique, looking more like futuristic space modules than play structures.
Scattered throughout the grounds, they provide one more type of entertaintment for my kids.
There was so much else that we didn't get a chance to do. I would have loved to have tried "yoga in the mountains" or one of the art classes. I also hope to try one of their longer, guided hikes (Smugglers distinguishs between walks, hikes and, yes, wikes!) when my kids get older. Their science center is like a mini-science museum, and will be a definite stop on a future visit.
In the winter, their programming as just as amazing, just substitute dog sledding, skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for the outdoor activities. Confession, I really just want to go in the winter for the chance to take part in the Snowshoe Adventure Dinner: You take a lift to the top of Mountain, eat a meal catered by the Hearth and Candle, and then showshoe!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nourishing Those Hungry Bellies at Smugglers

After mornings hiking and afternoons spent splashing, swimming, swinging golf clubs, it is easy to be hungry at Smugglers' Notch. (The mountain air helps, too.) So, in order of my recommendations:

1. Bring your own food. Yup. That is my best suggestion for keeping costs low and food healthy. It may be inconvienent, but by bringing some key staples, it gives you the most flexiblity, and, in some cases, the best quality.

2. Add on by buying gorgeous Vermont produce at the Monday morning farmer's market or at the local Vermont stands and orchards near by. Add on further by buying what you forgot at the Smugglers' Notch Country Store located right on the premises of the resort.

3. Splurge for a meal at the Hearth and Candle. This privately owned restaurant is situated right at the resort. The meal we ate easily rivaled some of the great meals I have had in Boston and Cambridge. It isn't inexpensive, but the quality makes it very worth it. For a full write up, click here.
4. Head out of the resort to some of the local restaurants. We only made it to 158 Main in Jeffersonville, but we liked it so much that we returned twice, once for dinner and for an even better breakfast/brunch. For more about our meals there, click here.

5. Fill up on ice cream at the Ben and Jerry's store located right at the resort. Yup, all the rich stuff right at your footsteps.

While there are restaurants right at and owned by Smugglers', our better dining experiences were had elsewhere. But try the Morse Mountain Grille or the any of the other places and tell me what you think.

For more about food at Smuggs, click here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Etch a Sketches and Pancakes Go a Long Way at 158 Main in Jeffersonville

There are a few reasons to head to 158 Main in Jeffersonville, Vermont. It is just under 10 minutes from Smugglers' Notch. The prices are reasonable. The food is good. The bread is delicious. And the place is certainly kid-friendly, providing the little ones with "Etch a Sketch" toys to keep them occupied.

We went twice, once for dinner and once for brunch. Of the two meals, I loved the breakfast, but would return anytime.

We tried a few dishes at brunch. The plate size pancakes were light and, the best part, filled with tiny, fresh blueberries.
The smokey bacon was so good that my kids got two orders. And I inhaled my Town Western omelette which consisted of sweet and salty ham, peppers, tomatoes, onions and cheese.
The meal was so substantial, and included, too, thick slices of their homemade whole grain bread. In fact, my mom and I didn't eat again until dinner!
My favorite part of dinner? My kid's chicken fingers. Seriously. They were huge chunks of white meat chicken, lightly fried and salted. Served with french fries, it was healthy junk food galore for my kids. I went with the fried theme and had the local Rock Art Beer battered fish and chips.
The fish itself, fresh haddock, was good, but I peeled of the coating. My mom had another flatbread, which included mozzarella and artichoke hearts.
I thought it was soggy and bland, but she enjoyed it. Overall, it was clear to me that I had been spoiled by our previous night's dinner at Hearth and Candle. But here, the fish and chips cost $11.95! And they have many sandwiches under $10.00.

158 Main Restaurant and Bakery, Jeffersonville, Vermont.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Farmer's Market at Smugglers' Notch Resort

My hopes for spending time exploring the Monday morning Farmer's Market at Smugglers' Notch were dashed by a second day of rain. So pictures were taken between gasps of sprinkles. The market was also just starting to reflect the season's produce, so note that as the summer evolves, the stands will offer greater variety.
That being said, we picked up delicious blueberries and just picked local asparagus from Valley Dream Farm. Dinner that night consisted of the asparagus with bacon and ham from the Growing Farm in Eden, Vermont. We washed it down with sips of wine from the Boyden Valley Winery. There were also spicy, organic sauces from Benito's Hot Sauces and baked goods from Sahvie's Kitchen.
The Farmer's Market takes place at Smugglers' Notch from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Monday mornings.