Granted, it’s cold outside. But what are you gonna do? Pretend you’re a bear and hibernate ’til spring or get out there and enjoy yourself in spite of
the frostbite warnings? Here are 12 ways to have fun while thumbing your nose at the thermometer.
by Tyler Wilcox Research by Elizabeth Trickett
1: Mention basic training and I think of Lou Gossett Jr. browbeating Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman. But Boot Camp I at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (Dutchess) is an entirely different, um, kettle of fish. For five days, you learn the ABCs of cooking — knife skills, dry-heat methods (such as roasting, grilling, and pan-frying), and moist-heat cooking (braising, poaching, and steaming) — from the same pros who taught the chefs at your favorite restaurant. You not only attend lectures and demonstrations, but get to try out your new skills at the stove while dolled up in kitchen fatigues and a paper chef’s hat (provided by the CIA along with two textbooks). And you’ll dine in four of the school’s restaurants, enjoying special pairings of food and wine. The courses are pricey — $1,850 — and you do take a final exam, but this is the one boot camp where you’re guaranteed to gain weight.
Boot Camp I courses this winter take place from Jan. 10-14 and 17-21; Jan. 31-Feb. 4; Feb. 7-11; Feb. 28-Mar. 4; Mar. 7-11 and 14-18. They usually run from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. each day. For information on this and other Boot Camp programs, call 1-800-888-7850 or log onto ce.culinary.edu/ciachef/Heading.asp?heading_id=42
2. Get in touch with your inner child — and leave the children at home — for an adults-only snow tubing night at Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Montgomery (Orange). The tubes are big and comfy so your butt won’t bounce all over the groomed lanes on the 800-foot hill, and there’s a tow rope so you don’t have to huff and puff back up it. Even better, you can warm yourself by a bonfire at the bottom and listen to musical blasts from your past over the speakers. And when you’re done, you can head into the lodge, plunk yourself by the fireplace, and enjoy a drink and hors d’oeuvres. After this, you’ll be begging the kids to take you sledding.
Thomas Bull Memorial Park is located on Route 416. The adults-only nights are scheduled from 8-9:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 and Feb. 18. The fee is $25 and reservations are required. For more information, call 845-457-4910.
3. One of the oddest sights I ever saw occurred at a gathering of Valley notables at Bear Mountain State Park (Rockland). Following a posh dinner, many of the jewel-encrusted attendees hopped onto an otter or a turkey or a frog and went for a spin around the pavilion. They weren’t drunk — nor was I. They were riding the park’s fabulous, custom-crafted merry-go-round, which began revolving in 2001 with a herd of exquisitely carved and gaily painted animals representing Hudson Valley fauna. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to ride: it costs just a buck.
For the same price (it’s actually free, but there’s a suggested $1 donation), you can also board the carousel at the New York State Museum in Albany. This folk art beauty (shown at left) dates between 1912 and 1916, and began its life traveling to carnivals.
Then for 39 years it was an attraction at an amusement park in western New York. The state acquired it in 1975; 26 years later, spiffed up and reunited with its original Wurlitzer band organ, it began delighting museum crowds. All of its 40 animals — 36 horses, two deer, and two donkeys — are “jumpers” (they go up and down). If you positively can’t take your hands off your date, you’re still in luck: the two of you can sit and cuddle in the spinning love tub. Now, isn’t that romantic?
The merry-go-round at Bear Mountain operates from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends and holidays from Labor Day-Memorial Day. The carousel at the NYS Museum runs during museum hours, closing at 4:30 p.m.
4. To get a jump on the sweet smell of springtime, head to Dutchess County, where the greenhouses of F.W. Battenfeld & Son (in Red Hook) and Ralph Pitcher & Sons (in Rhinebeck) are ablaze this minute with the colors of hybrid anemones, long-stemmed members of the buttercup family that have been around since biblical times. (It’s thought that the first species in the West sprung from plants brought back from the Crusades.) Both florists have been growing anemones for decades, supplying the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Martha Stewart. The blooms come in shades ranging from red, white, and blue to magenta, eggplant, and lavender; there are also bi-color varieties. A visit not only provides a sensual feast, but is easy on your wallet: you can take home a bunch for between $6 and $12 — about a third of what you’d pay retail.
F.W. Battenfeld & Son, 856 Rte. 199, Red Hook. 845-758-8018; www.anemones.com. Ralph Pitcher & Sons, 41 Pitcher Rd., Rhinebeck. 845-876-3974.
5. If you get an adrenaline rush whenever someone so much as utters the word “shopping,” then you’re bound to be impressed — and maybe even a tad overwhelmed — by the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack (Rockland). America’s second-biggest shopping emporium, it is to other malls what the Grand Canyon is to a hole in the ground — but thanks to huge skylights and lots of colorful neon, it doesn’t feel like you’ve been entombed. There are four floors, more than 270 stores (including Lord & Taylor,
Abercrombie & Fitch, Brooks Brothers, and J. Crew), 14 restaurants in addition to a food court, amusement park rides (among them a vintage carousel and 68-foot Ferris wheel), an NHL-sized skating rink, 21 movie theaters, and an IMAX theater. The hardest part will be deciding what to do first — and remembering where you parked your car.
1000 Palisades Center Dr. (NYS Thruway Exit 12). 845-348-1000; www.palisadescenter.com
6. In the “if it looks like a turtle and tastes like a turtle” department: the pecan caramels at Krause’s Chocolates in Saugerties (Ulster) are little artery cloggers that refuse to be eaten singly. What’s the best part of them — the milk or dark chocolate (they come with either), pecans, or gooey caramel? Who cares? Just pass me another. Entirely handmade, they are $8.90 per pound (if boxed; $7.90 when bagged) and are so tasty that we aren’t about to quibble over their name.
41 S. Partition St., Saugerties. 845-246-8377; www.krauseschocolates.com
7. Satisfy a yen to speak Chinese or understand more than a soupÃ§on of French — and do it in world-class surroundings — at the Tower of Babble, a three-day program offered by SUNY New Paltz’s Language Immersion Institute at the Mohonk Mountain House (Ulster). Courses in 20 languages (Spanish to Swedish, Arabic to American sign language) are taught by native speakers; you don’t need to know a word to join in. The goal is to develop conversational skills, which means that during free time you can utter foreign superlatives to describe the Victorian hostelry’s glorious mountain setting and fine cuisine.
The Tower of Babble takes place Apr. 1-3. For a more spartan classroom experience, courses will also be held at SUNY New Paltz Mar. 4-6, Apr. 29-May 1, June 10-12, July 8-10, and July 22-24. With the exception of the June and July dates (when college housing is available), you have to find your own accommodations. For more information, contact the Mohonk Mountain House: 845-255-1000 (www.mohonk.com) or the Language Immersion Institute: 845-257-3500 (www.newpaltz.edu/lii/ weekend.html).
8. For those of us whose ankles turn when we skate, it takes a lot to pry us out onto the ice. A place that might do the trick is downtown Albany’s Empire State Plaza, which is transformed into a big rink once Old Man Winter delivers a knockout punch. The scenery is so superb — on three sides you see the plaza’s white marble buildings (which even in summer resemble ice castles), on the other the wedding cake of a capitol — that you’ll soon forget you’re not Michelle Kwan and may even be tempted to try a figure-eight.
Weather permitting, the rink is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 4-9 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Skating is free; there are no skate rentals or concessions, but there are restaurants in the plaza’s underground concourse.
9. Hearing a solo acoustic performer in a cavernous concert hall is like talking to a neighbor while operating your snowblower: you may get the gist of the conversation, but you miss all the nuances. Fortunately, the Friends of Music in Middletown (Orange) have hit upon the perfect concert venue to present top-flight singer/songwriters: Morrison Mansion, a Victorian showplace on the grounds of Orange County Community College. Sixty lucky attendees get to hear first-rate folk, blues (or a blend of the two from the likes of Chris Smither, shown below), pop, jazz — even zydeco — amid the splendor of the building’s opulently paneled and stenciled parlor. Prior to Sunday matinÃ©es, you’re invited to bring a dessert or appetizer that can be shared with others beneath the ceiling murals in the salon and music room. The experience will make you feel like a million bucks, even though you won’t shell out more than 35.
This spring’s Mansion lineup includes Jeffrey Gaines (Mar. 13), John Gorka (Apr. 3), and Richie Havens (May 22). For a complete schedule and ticket information, log on to www.friendsofmusic.net or call 845-343-3049.
10. The view from Cascade Mountain Winery, located in rolling pasture land near Amenia (Dutchess), is breathtaking: just a short stroll down the road, you can see from the Berkshires to the Catskills. But that’s not the prime reason folks hunt down the off-the-beaten-path vineyard: it’s the wine, stupid. Among Cascade’s seven offerings are a couple of superb reds, a delightfully fruity rosÃ©, and a concoction called Heavenly Daze — red wine mixed with cinnamon, lemon zest, vanilla beans, and lemon juice — that’s a perfect pick-me-up served warm after a brisk walk through a snowy landscape. For $5, you can sample them all and enjoy a roaring fire in the bargain. Winter doesn’t get any better than that.
835 Cascade Mountain Rd., Amenia. The winery is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thurs.-Sun., other days by appointment. 845-373-9021; www.cascademt.com
11. The Playboy Mansion is 3,000 miles away, but you can still get into the swing of things, Hugh Hefnerâ€“style, at The Grotto, the underground pleasure palace at Scribner Hollow Lodge in Hunter (Greene), just down the road from the ski slopes. Designed to resemble a cavern (faux stalactites hang from the ceiling and water drips from the walls),
The Grotto boasts seven waterfalls, a Jacuzzi, saunas, and a heated swimming pool. It also has two distinctly un-cavelike amenities — a fireplace and poolside bar — that add to the ultra-romantic ambiance. Guest rooms at the lodge feature a variety of dÃ©cor, from Southwest to log cabin. To really impress your mate, go whole hog for the penthouse, a three-room duplex with sunken living room and fireplace.
Weekend rates range from $140 per person for a standard room to $225 for the penthouse. Route 23A, Hunter. 518-263-4211; www.scribnerhollow.com
12. Bella Vista Day Spa in Westtown (Orange) overlooks several wineries; its logo even features a bunch of grapes. How apropos, then, that the spa’s newest service is a two-hour wine wrap/champagne facial combo.
Designed to soothe dry, aging, and sun-damaged skin, the treatment begins with a relaxing soak in a hydrotherapy tub, followed by the application of a special sugar-and-olive-oil body scrub that sloughs off dead skin cells. After a Vichy shower, it’s party time. Your body and face are slathered with a mud-like cocktail of wine, champagne oil, and hot water. Specially produced for this purpose, the wine contains vitamins, flavonoids (a type of antioxidant), and a high acid content, all of which help exfoliate the skin and repair sun damage. Wrapped in thermal blankets, you’ll relax for a spell, rinse off, then enjoy a champagne oil rubdown. “You feel wonderful afterwards,” enthuses Robin Roggia, Bella Vista’s owner. Sounds like the perfect antidote for those of us who soaked ourselves in alcohol on New Year’s Eve.
Bella Vista Day Spa, 22 Bergerons Rd., Westtown. 845-726-4499 or www.bellavistadayspa.com. The wine wrap/champagne facial costs $100. ■