Monday, March 31, 2008

Taste of New York: April is Wine Month

April is Wine Month in New York State, with hundreds of restaurants and wine stores offering customers a “Taste of New York”.

April is the perfect time for this promotion. The first wines from the great 2007 vintage are being released, and we are starting to plan our wine country trips for late spring and summer.

New York Wine Month has a list of restauarants throughout the state which are featuring New York wines from the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes and Long Island.

Or, buy my book. Shameless self-promotion here.

Eating the Hudson Valley: Food Lover's Guide to Local Dining, Wineries & More is the only complete guide to family-owned and operated restaurants whose menus focus on fresh, natural, local ingredients. There's also a guide to local wineries, farmer's markets, cooking classes, and famous sites to visit. Things like West Point and Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion.

The list does not include New York City restaurants, which have a separate Taste of New York and New York Wines promotion each fall.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Santa Monica Restaurant Goes Green with Solar Power

The Lobster Restaurant, one of Santa Monica’s historic landmarks, has just added 54 solar panels to its roof.

The restaurant is by the world-famous Santa Monica Pier. The solar panels curve gracefully over the roof, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, and do not obstruct ocean views.

The solar panels are expected to generate up to 20% of total energy needs for The Lobster. That's electricity which won't be generated by coal or oil or nuclear power. Just power from the sun.

The restaurant -- which first opened as a seafood shack in 1925 -- worked with Solar Santa Monica, the city’s program encouraging both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal (hot water), to get the new system up and running.

Solar power for sunny California. How appropriate.
Three cheers for The Lobster. And one question --

Why aren't more businesses installing solar panels on their unused, unproductive, sun-splashed rooftops?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Tips to Save Money at the Gas Pump

Gas prices are causing sticker shock, and perhaps indigestion, too. But there are some simple ways you can reduce your pain at the pump and travel green:

Slow down. Driving 65 MPH, rather than at 75 MPH, can increase your fuel economy by 15 percent.

Behave. Aggressive driving, such as 'jackrabbit' starts and slam-dunk braking, can reduce your highway mileage by a whopping 33 percent.

Keep your tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires waste gas, and wear out the treads, too. Tire pressure changes one pound for every ten degree Fahrenheit change in the outside temperature, so if you haven't checked your tires since you stopped wearing winter mittens, you are wasting gas. And money.

Get rid of the junk in the trunk. Manufacturers are squeezing out every spare ounce from body parts to reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency. So why are you carrying around everything but the kitchen sink? Junk in the trunk reduces fuel efficiency.

No idling. Get in the car and go. Sitting there with the motor running gets you zero MPG. That's why hybrid cars are so much more fuel efficient than their comparable-sized gas only siblings -- when a hybrid is not moving, it switches to the electric motor, which doesn't use gas.

Get regular tune-ups. Just replacing your air filter can improve mileage by 10 percent.

Check your gas cap. Be sure there’s a tight seal, to prevent that high-priced octane from vaporizing. Nearly 20 percent of vehicles on the roads have gas caps that are damaged, loose or are missing altogether, wasting some 147 million gallons of gas every year.

Fill-up in the morning or evening, not mid-day. Why? Because gasoline expands with warmer temperatures. You'll get more gas and less air when the temperature is cooler.

Pump your gas slowly. Use the slow setting on the pump trigger to minimize the amount of money-wasting vapors you are putting into your gas tank.

Of course, you could also drive less, carpool, take the train, walk.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Delta Joins United Charging $25 for a Second Bag

Airlines are finding creative ways to increase the cost of a ticket -- without actually increasing the cost of a ticket.

Delta is now joining United in charging passengers $25 for a second checked bag. And USAirways has similar plans.

It's called 'unbundling', something like a hot dog vendor charging you extra for sauerkraut. And it's a sneaky way to increase prices without actually increasing prices. Oh, I said that already.

The other sneaky thing is that United and Delta haven't made the announcement officially. It's hidden on their websites. But, an article in the Washington Post spills the beans.

The baggage fees begin in May -- just in time for peak summer travel season -- no matter when you bought your ticket.

The fee applies to economy-class domestic and international flights. Business- and first-class passengers are exempt. So are some members of an airline's frequent flyer program. So, if you haven't joined a program like Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus, do it now, while that's still free.

Airlines used to feed you. Now you have to buy your food on board -- except on l-o-n-g flights. Since so much of airline food isn't too good to begin with, and most airport food court food is of the greasy kidstuff variety, I'd rather bring my own from home or from a sandwich store near home than buy on board.

Airlines used to give you free headsets or free movies, or both. Now, you have to buy them on board. Unless you bring your own, and a portable DVD player, too.

Curbside checking used to be free. Now, some airlines are charging $2 or $3 per bag to check them curbside. That's for the airline. You still have to tip the skycap.

What's next? Charging for the seatbelts?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bed and Breakfast Inns Offer Green Travel Bargains

For the fifth year in a row, bed and breakfast inns around the U.S. are offering creative ways of rewarding guests for conserving gas.

The program is called "Tanks a Lot!", and it includes helping guests pay for their own fill-up, either before or after a home-made breakfast.

Here's a sample of eco-friendly great green deals being offered by B&Bs in more than 40 states, the Caribbean Islands and three Canadian provinces --

The Colonial Terrace, Carmel, California, just one block from Carmel Beach -- Through the end of June, arrive in a hybrid vehicle, Sunday through Thursday, and receive $25 off the total bill to put toward gas.

Pilgrim’s Inn and Cottages, Deer Isle, Maine -- This inn is rewarding guests who arrive driving hybrid vehicles, by reducing their bill up to $40 for a tank of gas, through October 18.

White Swan Inn, Whitehall, Michigan -- Through June, guests staying two nights who bring a grocery bag of non-perishable food items or personal care products for the local food pantry will receive a $40 discount on their bill to help with gas. Mention "Fuel and Food" when making your reservation.

Island Goode’s, Hilo, Hawaii -- Look forward to fresh produce grown on this eight-acre estate, plus solar-heated water at this eco-friendly inn. Book two nights and get a $25 credit toward auto or travel expenses; stay four nights and get a $50 credit. Call for a free airport pickup, and ride green in the inn’s Toyota Prius.

Be sure to mention the's Tanks a Lot! promotion when booking your reservation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Marriott Golf Courses to be Certified Audubon Sanctuaries

Marriott Golf is going to the birds, and we're not just talking about golf birdies.

The company is launching new standards for 34 of the golf courses it manages in North America and the Caribbean to become Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries by the end of next year. Travel green and golf green!

Certification means golf facilities must protect the environment. That includes enhancing precious natural areas and wildlife habitats, water and energy conservation, and more.

The golf program is the latest link (okay, I couldn't resist the pun) in a systemwide environmental commitment by Marriott International.

Marriott Golf courses include such famed golf destinations such as Doral Golf Resort & Spa, in Miami, Florida; Royal St. Kitts Golf Club in the British West Indies; and Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert, California.

In fact, Doral, host of the 2008 WGC-CA Championship, March 20-23, becomes the first-ever Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in North America to host a World Golf Championships event.

In the last decade, Marriott has replaced 450,000 light bulbs with fluorescent lighting, introduced linen reuse programs, and installed 400,000 low-flow showerheads and toilets at its hotels worldwide.

And, at its headquarters in Maryland and a division headquarters in Orlando, Marriott replaced more than 2.5 million pieces of Styrofoam and plastic utensils with fully biodegradable versions those made of potato, sugar cane and cornstarch.

Such green actions have earned Marriott an EPA Sustained Excellence award and placed the ENERGY STAR® label on more than 200 of its hotels, the most of any hotel company.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bottled Water or Tap?

March 22 is World Water Day -- a good time to think about the environmental cost of bottled water.

World consumption of bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005.

Think about how much oil it takes to manufacture and ship all those plastic bottles.

Now, think about all those plastic bottles winding up in your city's landfill -- the ones that didn't get dumped along your favorite street or highway.

The United States is the world's largest consumer of bottled water. US residents drank nearly 6.3 billion gallons in 2005, according to Planet Ark.

More than one billion people in this world lack access to clean water, bottled or not.

Something to think about on World Water Day. And every day.

Is bottled water worth the price?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Visit Home of Paul McCartney in Liverpool

Visit the childhood home of Sir Paul McCartney, which Heather Mills did not get in their well-publicized divorce settlement.

Maybe that's why these Beatles impersonators are smiling, or maybe it's just because this is a great time to visit Liverpool, which has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2008.

Take a magical history tour of Liverpool, where The Beatles lived and wrote about in their songs.

There are two ways to travel green in Liverpool -- three if you count walking --

Hop aboard a yellow minibus, not a yellow submarine, to visit the childhood homes of Sir Paul McCarthy and John Lennon, now both National Trust heritage properties.

There's also a hop-on-hop-off double decker bus, which makes multiple stops, including at The Cavern Club on Matthew Street, where the Beatles were just one of more than one thousand musicians and groups to have played here. There still is live music here five nights a week, and outside, a “Wall of Fame” lists some of these golden oldies, from Richie Havens to Acker Bilk, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. The Cavern Club is just around the corner from the new Beatles-themed Hard Day's Night Hotel.

Take the ferry for a one-hour loop of both sides of the Mersey River, immortalized by the Beatles song Ferry Across the Mersey, which plays over the loudspeaker when the ferry leaves the dock, which is in front of the baroque Cunard Building. Liverpool may be most famous these days for its Beatles connection, but the city has a strong maritime history, too.

And if you want yet more of The Beatles Story, there's a museum of the same name in the Albert Dock area of museums and shops. It traces the influence of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other 1950s rock and blues stars on the young Liverpudlians who would create what became known as ‘the Mersey sound” in the 60s.

It’s pure nostalgia for those old enough to remember the raucous early days. And, it's bittersweet for anyone viewing the white piano decorated with a single red rose and a framed photo of John Lennon, while the loudspeaker plays Imagine, softly. The self-guided audio tour is in nearly one dozen languages; Lennon’s sister narrates the English version.

It's enough to turn you into a Beatles groupie, if you weren't one already.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Best Wildflowers in Years in Arizona Desert

Thanks to well-timed rains, the desert of Southern Arizona will have its best wildflower season in years this spring. And, the wildflowers are being joined by a similar riot of colors of cactus flowers.

Peak blooming season is generally mid-March through April.

There's a list of colorful areas in and around Tucson on the website of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where you also can take guided tours with a staff expert. This is an outdoor museum, where you sometimes have to give the javelinas and other desert creatures right of way to cross the paths.

Spring is a great time to visit the Sonora Desert -- daytime temperatures are cool and comfortable, and the desert floor is green and pink and purple and red.

Just so you know -- Tucson is 2,389 feet above sea level, and the metro Tucson area covers more than 500 square miles. Arizona does not follow daylight savings time. From April through October, Arizona time mirrors Pacific Daylight Time.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Restaurants Support UNICEF Effort for Clean Water

World Water Day is March 22, acknowledging the importance of clean water for people around the world.

In Washington, D.C., nearly 100 top restaurants are participating the UNICEF Tap Project, a grassroots initiative to provide clean water to children in developing countries.

Lack of clean water is the second largest killer of children under five. This year the Tap Project goes nationwide, including Washington, DC., where restaurants are asking customers to donate $1 for the tap water they get for free, to support the cause.

For a list of DC-area restaurants participating, click here. The fund-raiser is during the week of March 16, through World Water Day on the 22nd.

Last year, more than 300 restaurants and thousands of their patrons in New York City raised more than $100,000 -- that helped provide four million children with safe and clean water.

More than one billion people do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation, and one in five of them are children. Eighty percent of all illness and infant mortality is due to waterborne disease.

UNICEF's goal is to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation by 2015.

A little goes a long way— $1 to UNICEF can provide 40 liters of safe drinking water. That is enough to give one child safe drinking water for 40 days, or 40 children safe drinking water for one day.

As the saying goes -- every drop counts.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry blossoms are about to redecorate Washington, D.C. in pink and white.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is the annual rite of spring in the nation's Capital, and it also celebrates the gift of hundreds of cherry trees from Japan to the United States, representing the friendship between the two nations.

The world-famous trees were a gift from Japan in 1912, and 2008 is the 96th year of the festival. The festival runs for two weeks starting March 29th, with daily events including concerts, arts and crafts, demonstrations of origami, and more.

This year, opening ceremonies include an appearance by Miss Universe 2007, Riyo Mori, originally of Shizouka, Japan.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival organizers have a live webcam to track the blooms, which are tracked by a horticulturalist with the National Park Service.

The webcam is a cool way to travel green.

Washington, DC hotels have special packages for the festival, and the city's restaurants have added special cherry-infused menu items. Check the Washington, DC Visitors Bureau for the cheery cherry details.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Air Canada Offers Carbon Offsets to Passengers

Air Canada has an innovative green travel program that allows passengers to purchase carbon offsets for environmental efforts.

Since the program was launched in May 2007, the airline's customers have purchased thousands of dollars in offsets -- enough to plant nearly 1,400 trees to a forest restoration project in Maple Ridge, British Columbia.

The program has offset nearly 7,000 tons of CO2 -- which is the equivalent of taking some 2,300 vehicles off the road for a full year. Pretty impressive.

I'm just back from a ski trip to Alberta and the wondrous slopes and vistas of Sunshine, Lake Louise, Norquay and Marmot Basin.

My own JFK-Calgary trip had a carbon offset cost of just $11.37.