Got your bunny ears?
It's Easter Sunday and at the sumptuous brunch at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay in California, little girls are dressed in brightly colored dresses, boys in dress shirts that don't want to stay in their pants and kids and grown-ups proudly sport bunny ears, some with blinking lights. Outside there was an Easter egg hunt going on and a visiting petting zoo with baby goats, chicks and bunnies.
But the real attraction -- other than the drop-dead gorgeous views of the Pacific Coast -- is the food -- sushi, dim sum, corn bisque, chilled mint pea soup, Peking duck, roast beef, ham, Thai curry, freshly shucked oysters and shrimp -- some 300 choices in all, much of it locally sourced -- the fruits, vegetables, chicken, beef, ham and lamb. And despite all the kids, there's not a chicken finger in sight.
"I don't do kids food at the brunch," says Xavier Salomon, the executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, and he adds, parents rarely ask for it -- not when kids can eat delectable mashed potatoes, roast beef, just-made sushi rolls, veggies in season and mini quiches that they can serve themselves. "And, of course, they go crazy for the desserts," he says with a smile -- Nutella crepes, apple, blackberry and peach marshmallows, chocolate mousse, flan, tiny tarts, fresh berries and cream and miniature cakes too pretty to eat (chocolate raspberry dome, anyone?)
Chef Salomon says he's most proud that the food at the brunch is so fresh, coming from a dozen local farms and purveyors with 11 chefs cooking, slicing and serving as we eat -- shucking oysters, carving ham and beef, cutting chicken. No wonder this brunch is so popular in the Bay Area that people drive an hour or more to indulge. For some, it becomes an annual tradition to celebrate a birthday -- or Easter.
Half Moon Bay famous for its fall pumpkin crop and pumpkin festival, of course, is also known for its spectacular beaches, redwood forests and hiking trails along the bluffs. The region south of San Francisco also offers terrific opportunities for families that want their kids to see where their food comes from. There are farms here that date back to the 1800s and many welcome visitors. Kids will especially like Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, where they can ogle the baby goats and sample goat cheese and fudge made with goat milk.
This coast with its hidden coves, thick fog and isolated canyons was ideal for Canadian rum runners and local moonshiners. Now there are farms, miles of beaches (here's the place to horseback ride along the beach), redwood forests and countless trails. There's whale-watching through April, kayaking, fishing, and of course, the chance to sample plenty of farm-to-table eats.
The hotel sits high on scenic bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean with two golf courses, tennis courts, walking trails to the beach and outdoor fire pits. Some of the rooms even have their own private fire pits where guests can sit and take in the ocean views while the kids make s'mores with the hotel' s'mores kits. Fun!
Wherever you live or are visiting, spring is a great time to visit a farm (all of those baby animals) or a farmer's market (all of those fresh veggies). (It's not too late for a spring getaway.
You'll find plenty of ideas on the Taking the Kids Spring Break Adventures Guide.
Vacation is also a great time to encourage kids to try new foods and if you can afford it, splurge on a "special" meal, like an Easter brunch. It's guaranteed to be memorable. (Another over-the-top brunch your gang is guaranteed to like is at the historic Broadmoor at the base of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo. (The kids will love the chocolate fountain!)
Of course, it's not just big fancy places where you can enjoy a memorable meal. At Dorothy's Tamales in Fair Play, Colo., for example, we chatted up Dorothy, the 70-something grandmother and mother of eight, who has won a loyal following for the tamales she learned to make from her grandmother.
You can also get your junior foodies into the kitchen. In Hershey, Pa., this spring, the Chocolate Lab at the Hershey Story offers chocolate-themed classes daily, including Chocolate Bird Nests, "Eggs-citing" Chocolate Creations and Hoppin' Chocolate Bunnies. Kids are also invited to construct an old-fashioned toy pinwheel in the "Sugar, Spice, Slugs and Snails: Childhood in Early America" exhibit on Saturdays and Sundays in April from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And this summer, kids and teens not only get cooking lessons at Vermont's Essex Resort and Spa's Camp Cook, but they visit the chicken coop, the onsite gardens and local farms. (Rates start at $199 per night per room; the price for Camp Cook is $400 per child per week, not including taxes.)
Georgia's Jekyll Island Club Hotel also offers a kids cooking camp this summer. And Atlantis in the Bahamas has a first-rate kids-size demonstration kitchen for their COOKSPLY program where your budding chefs, ages 6 to 12, can take a break from the sun and waterslides for a few hours and make molten chocolate cakes, homemade pretzels and more.
Maybe you've got kids who think they've got an idea for the next best snack. Take them to visit a local food factory. A perennial favorite is Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory tour in Waterbury, Vt., complete with ice cream samples. It's impressive that milk for all the ice cream produced here comes from Vermont cows!
Did you know that the national headquarters for PEZ candies is in Orange, Conn.? You can even watch the production process and make your own dispenser.
In Half Moon Bay, we spent the weekend hiking and eating -- from local cheese and freshly baked bread to just-harvested asparagus. We whet our appetite for the Easter brunch by taking a long walk along the coastal trail, as popular with local dog walkers as with visitors.
We arrived for brunch determined not to feel guilty about our Easter indulgence.
Another dumpling, please; and pass the chocolate dome!
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to LA is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando and coming in December, Chicago.