Tara Weingarten

Stories by Tara Weingarten

  • The Tip Sheet

    TECHNOLOGYSafe Cars Of The FutureWhen it comes to cars, many people will gladly pay extra for premium sound systems and plush leather seats. But when offered additional safety features, buyers frequently opt to save a few bucks. Why spend $2,300 on a collision-warning system when you could put the money into a rear-seat DVD player to entertain the kids?Cyndi Robin used to think that way--until a pickup truck broadsided her and her 3-year-old granddaughter. Both passengers had to be pried out of the car by paramedics. Had Robin's 2004 Lexus RX330 not come equipped with an amusement park's worth of airbags, she's convinced they would have been gravely injured. Instead, they walked away without a scratch.Certainly, safety technology can save lives once an accident occurs. And now a growing arsenal of safety features will help you avoid a crash in the first place. Here's a primer on the latest auto-safety technology:BLIND-SPOT INFORMATION SYSTEM Cameras mounted on each side mirror...
  • ROAD TEST: MAZDA 6-S

    Silver cars are ubiquitous these days, but Mazda is betting you might actually want a little color. And not a timid green or beige, but the loud shades you find in a box of crayons. Mazda might be right. As I scooted around town in a metallic copper orange Mazda 6, drivers flashed me a thumbs up. Crayola would call the color Burnt Sienna, but I just call it fun. Everything about this five-door hatchback is uplifting, including the cool aluminum accented dashboard (with pebble-grained plastic to simulate leather). And the perforated leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel (with audio and cruise-control buttons), a leather shift knob, racy body cladding and twin, chromed tail pipes speak to the 6's sporty nature.As for performance, I like how this five seater hugged the road with beefy 17-inch wheels and decent power from the 3.0-liter, V-6 engine with 220-horsepower. And my manual tester came with a very satisfying short-throw shifter. The back seat is large enough to hold your...
  • TECHNOLOGY: SAFE CARS OF THE FUTURE

    When it comes to cars, Americans will gladly pay extra for premium sound systems and plush leather seats. But when offered additional safety features, buyers frequently opt to save a few bucks. Why spend $2,300 on a collision warning system when you could put the money into a rear-seat DVD player to entertain the kids?Cyndi Robin used to think that way--until a pickup truck broadsided her and her 3-year-old granddaughter. Both passengers had to be pried out of the car by paramedics. Had Robin's 2004 Lexus RX330 not come equipped with an amusement park's worth of airbags, she's convinced they would have been gravely injured. Instead, they walked away without a scratch.Certainly, safety technology can save lives once an accident occurs. And now a growing arsenal of safety features will help you avoid a crash in the first place. Here's a primer on the latest auto-safety technology.BLIND-SPOT INFORMATION SYSTEMCameras mounted on each side mirror survey blind spots and alert the driver...
  • ROAD TEST: FERRARI 612 SCAGLIETTI

    Mother's Day may be over, but I'm still the coolest mom in the state. That's according to my 10-year-old son, Graydon. He nearly passed out when I pulled into the carpool lane driving the sleek new Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. After all, the 612's long, sculpted lines, and low, flat racy physique make it a stunner. The interior's diamond-stitched tufted roof liner flicks at the car's 1950s heritage. Looks aside, the Scaglietti, named for Ferrari's most vaunted midcentury designer, is a seriously sophisticated piece of machinery. A light touch on the accelerator makes the 612 as easy to drive as an entry-level Japanese import. But ask more of it, and it's all Ferrari. Beastlike and ready to rock.Though the Scaglietti is very much a sports car, it is also a 2+2--not as roomy as a four-seater but still equipped with a back seat. How serious is this car? Look at the tachometer; it's large, red-faced and placed at the center of the dashboard. The small speedometer, which ticks to 220, is off...
  • ROAD TEST: ACCORD

    Maybe you remember when the Accord debuted back in the'70s? It was the car everyone short on cash wanted--a little sporty, kinda roomy and really reliable. Don't feel ancient when I tell you the Accord is now in its seventh redesign. But this part-electrified version is not for the faint of wallet. Donning a 3-liter, 255-horsepower V-6 gas-electric hybrid engine, this new sedan gets V-6 performance with four-cylinder fuel consumption. The engine switches between three and six cylinders, depending on how hard you're driving. It also shuts off the gas engine at standstills. In English, it means you'll get an added 100 or so miles out of each tank.Honda's legendary practicality pays off with required oil changes just every 10,000 miles, and its first scheduled tuneup at 105,000 miles. I can't help but commend the spacious five-seater's advanced engineering. It offers good steering, with zippy acceleration and grippy handling. But I'm disappointed in its styling; it's so dull that I...
  • A FLAP OVER FOIE GRAS

    It was a delicacy among the Romans, and later the Jews, a substitute for the pig that helped their Christian neighbors survive the Middle Ages. To French food writer Charles Gerard, foie gras--the swollen liver of a deliberately overfed goose or duck--was "the supreme fruit of gastronomy." Seared and doused with a port-wine reduction, or baked with truffles into a terrine, it is the key to the restaurant industry's holy grail: the $20 appetizer. But to animal-rights activists, it's fur on a plate, an outrageous flaunting of humanity's dominion over other species, and at the same time a wedge issue that can usefully be wielded against the entire meat industry. Which is why, within an hour of Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation last week, an exultant e-mail went out from Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling media attention to the new pope's views on animal husbandry. In a 2002 interview, Ratzinger opined that "degrading...
  • ROAD TEST: 2006 RANGE ROVER

    Few SUVs make me feel as smart and as fashionable (as in, "I'm too sexy for my car") as the new supercharged Range Rover. Boxy and bold, this tweaked version retains many stylish design cues implemented by BMW, which owned the marque until Ford recently purchased it. Dig the vigorous new Jaguar-derived 4.2-liter, V-8 engine with 400 horsepower. Thrill to its very capable off-road performance, and a suspension that's magically at once forgiving and stiff. On a drive along Highway 1 overlooking northern California's rocky coastline, I liked how the vehicle's stability and high ride gave me solid command of the road.Though it's likely to be housed in suburban garages, the new Range Rover's look is strictly urban contemporary. A matte-finish cherry veneer on the dash, with ample use of matte aluminum trim, is so tasteful, it almost makes me weep. And I love how the new mesh grille and air-intake covers seem industrial, and the headlamp clusters look like floating bubbles. Toss in some...
  • SHE'S GOT CLASS

    When I tugged the door handle of the new M35, it responded with a substantial click--and I knew Infiniti had finally come of age. Think I'm nuts to harp on such a small point? It's a sign of better things to come; the M35 not only puts Nissan's Infiniti on the luxury track, it shoves the competition off the road. This midsize sedan looks contemporary, drives like a sports car and wears technology like an MIT geek. At first, the central-panel dials are a tad intimidating, but a quick read of the owner's manual fixes that. (And it helps you operate the Bluetooth wireless and voice recognition.) Driving is a joy, with delicious power from a 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 engine. Handling and traction are superb with rear-wheel, or available all-wheel, drive. And back-seat riders get available reclining hot seats. Duh. They're heated.Tip: Expect to pay sticker price for this year's hottest midsize sedan.
  • ROAD TEST: MASERATI QUATTROPORTE

    I spent the weekend with a seductive Italian--masculine but not macho, and as chic as a GQ model in an Armani suit. I'm talking, of course, about the Maserati Quattroporte. Zooming on a Santa Barbara, Calif., freeway and armed with 400 horses in a 4.2-liter, V-8 engine, I thought that if it had wings, it could have taken off. But this is no garden-variety sports car. With four doors, it's also a stylish family sedan--I suppose, if your name is Michael Schumacher.Designed by Pininfarina, the famed Italian auto-engineering firm, this fifth-generation Quattroporte handles tight and sticks beautifully to the road on 18-inch wheels. Shifting is a little jerky through a sequential manual gearbox accessed by chrome-plated paddles behind the steering wheel, similar to those on Formula One racecars. I thought a manual shift or even an automatic transmission would have been smoother. But I like how sportiness yields to luxe on the inside, with creamy leather seating and a deeply grained and...
  • ROAD TEST: HONDA RIDGELINE RTS

    Honda's new Ridgeline five-seat pickup is so big and bold-looking you'd think it was made in America. This truck wears an Erector-set-like boxy frame and a menacing, aggressive front end. Pretty, it's not. Practical, it certainly is. Need to haul 1,500 pounds of cargo? No problem. Want to tow something weighing 5,000 pounds? Sure. Its 3.5-liter, VTEC V-6, 255-horsepower engine is up to the job, and the four-wheel-drive traction works well. It also sports a tighter chassis than some other trucks in its price range, making it a stellar road handler. I felt completely safe plodding through L.A.'s rain-soaked streets during a recent storm; there wasn't a slip from the 17-inch wheels.The Ridgeline's retro industrial-design interior is more attractive than the busy exterior. Oversize aluminum-trimmed door handles and gauge rims, and a soft-rubber steering wheel play to the Tonka-tough image. The commodious back seat, with ample storage space underneath, can fit three burly fellows. And...
  • ROAD TEST| MERCEDES SLK350

    If the SUV says utility, the sporty roadster with a convertible top is all about a carefree day on the road. Mercedes gets this right in the redesigned SLK350. I scooped up a friend, popped the top and took to the hills above Malibu. This beauty fit perfectly into the landscape. The SLK is sculpted, tight and cut--like a body-builder. A steeply sloped front end meets a seriously slanted windshield; it looks as if this SLK is zooming even at a standstill. But zoom it must, with a 3.5-liter aluminum V-6, 268-horsepower engine. Slipping through the rocky coastline, I thrilled to the skin-tight responsive steering, the seamless shifting and the pitch-perfect traction. This is a monumental improvement over the previous-generation SLK, which looked cheap and gave a decidedly uninvigorating ride.Inside, sleek is the buzzword. My tester had red leather seats and door inserts contrasting with matte black. The dash is all about matte metallic finish, and the bling-bling Mercedes logo is...
  • FOOD: ITALIAN FOR SUSHI

    Sushi lovers on the left and right coasts are angling for a new kind of raw fish. Forget about wasabi-spiced slivers of yellowtail and soy-drenched toro; the buzz now is on crudo. Italian for "raw," crudo is spiked with robust Mediterranean flavors of garlic, citrus, tomato and fresh olive oil. Il Grano (Los Angeles; 310-477-7886) serves Maine scallops with candied lemon peel, and snapper with chard and poppy-seed dressing. Esca (New York; 212-564-7272), where crudo got its start in the United States, offers Spanish mackerel with muscat-steeped golden raisins. Seablue (Las Vegas; 702-891-3486) dishes out yellowtail "jack" with spicy shiitake mushrooms and ponzu sauce. And at Oliveto (Oakland, Calif.; 510-547-5356), try the halibut with black truffles, Meyer lemon vinaigrette and bottarga. No chopsticks required.
  • FIRST-CLASS RIDE

    If it's luxury you're looking for, you don't have to spring for a Bentley. You can slip into the new $16,000 Chevy Cobalt and get many of the same interior goodies found on that regal $158,000 tourer. Priced to compete with Toyota's Corolla and the Honda Civic, the Cobalt LS is fine basic transportation dolled up to make your commute less painful. Some of the standard features--air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, audio system with CD and four-wheel antilock brakes--are what make driving enjoyable and safe.Though I am disappointed in the Cobalt's nondescript exterior design, I like what Chevy did inside. My tester, with the $595 sport package, had a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever. The gauges, with a sporty white background, are more appealing than the standard black. And the brushed aluminum dash is au courant. Door seals are engineered to keep the cabin silent, just like on pricier cars. And when it comes to power, it's good enough for this car...
  • ROAD TEST | LAND ROVER LR3 SE

    Land Rover describes its new LR3 as "architectural." It's also fun, with a tailgate that closes like a clamshell. Inside, the cabin is so vertically spacious, even those over six feet will have room to spare, and its signature stadium-style second row allows back-seat passengers two extra inches of headroom. I also like the three glass sunroofs that illuminate the interior front and back. On the road, the LR3 handles well, with four-wheel drive and standard six-speed automatic transmission. Good power comes from a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that bangs out 300 horses. Taking a cue from its design, this all-terrain cruiser, with traction settings for mud, grass and sand, is made just for that beach clambake. Tip: The HSE model bumps up the perks, like DVD navigation, for $5,000 more.
  • THE TASTE OF THE EARTH

    Along the lanes of Burgundy, A. J. Liebling once wrote, the very road signs read like wine labels. The place names speak of the flinty or chalky earth, of soils that have for centuries sacrificed themselves to yield up tantalizing notes of apple or leather. But most Americans, having mastered a simple five- or six-part vocabulary of varietals (Cabernet, Chardonnay...), never learned to tell a Chassagne Montrachet from a Puligny-Montrachet. California wines have mostly been defined by the type of grape and the wine maker's style, not the vineyard or the year. That suits the typical wine drinker seeking consistent enjoyment rather than an intellectual challenge, says Linda F. Bisson, an oenologist at the University of California, Davis. The soil and weather, being Californian, were assumed to be perfect.But precisely because their products are so routinely excellent, California wine makers have begun to look for ways to distinguish themselves. "A few years ago, customers never asked...
  • ROAD TEST | JAGUAR X-TYPE

    If it's true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, then what does it mean when Jaguar puts its logo on a less-than-sumptuous car? Yes, I'm talking about the X-Type. This month the second-generation entry-level Jag makes its debut. The first model was universally panned for looking too much like a Taurus and, worse, driving like one--not a stretch, since Ford bought Jag. While this redone version has a classier appearance and the elements of a luxury brand--wood veneer, leather seats, automatic climate control--the interior still left me underwhelmed.As for performance, the 3.0-liter, V-6, 227-horsepower engine with five-speed automatic transmission is barely adequate. Merging onto the highway, I stepped on the gas, watched the revs climb and heard a roar from the engine but didn't see much acceleration for all its activity. On the plus side, there's a bevy of useful standard features: 17-inch alloy wheels, one-touch moon roof and a nice wood-and-leather steering wheel....
  • HOME: SHARP AS A... TILE?

    For foodies, stainless-steel knives have lost their edge. Today's urbane cutlery is made of industrial-strength ceramics. The advantage: the material is stronger than steel, stays sharp up to 10 times longer and won't turn fruits and vegetables brown. The downside: the knives have to be professionally sharpened. For the best quality and selection, try Kyocera (kyocera advancedceramics.com). Its three-inch scissors (below left) are supersharp and should last a lifetime. The five-inch slicing knife with a stained wood and rivet handle (below right) is ideal for everyday use. The Summit Collection (YTCSummit.com) also has excellent quality and style. The five-inch utility knife in black ($100) has an ergonomic handle and is super-lightweight to reduce fatigue. The six-inch chef's knife ($112.50) melts through meat and poultry like buttah. URI Eagle Ceramic knives (urieagle.com) are less expensive than the competition, with cheaper-looking and poorly proportioned plastic handles. Yet...
  • ROAD TEST | LEXUS GS 430

    Mother Nature laid it on thick: rain, wind, even a little ice for my test drive of the redesigned GS 430. Would this debutant handle the big stuff and still keep its luxe cool? Sure enough. This superbly redone second-generation GS is packed with safety technology that does everything to keep the sport sedan's hunky 18-inch wheels with Z-rated tires fixed on the road. Several times I felt the onboard computer kick in, fluttering the brakes and controlling the accelerator, to right the car when the back wheels began to slip. If the car got buffeted by wind, it self-corrected its steering. On a rain-slicked straightaway, I turned off the traction-control button and floored it, just to see how sure-footed the GS would be without its safety gizmos. Huge surprise that the GS shot forward with no slippage or tire spin. Very nice.Technology carries into the cockpit with push-button ignition, heated seats and an ingenious drop-panel drawer that controls 10 different functions, like the fuel...
  • AN X-CELLENT RIDE

    I'm not the X Games type, and yet I feel pretty gonzo in the redesigned Pathfinder. Everything about this SUV is athletic: its angular physique and robust flared fenders; the beefy, cut, rubber side runners and tailgate pad, and the macho, tough-looking chrome grille. Inside, the dash gets a rugged and utilitarian treatment with chrome trim. And though it might seem trite, I adore the excellent cup holders that actually keep drinks secure, even over bumpy pavement. The shift handle and steering wheel are grippy rubber, and seats are covered in supersoft and comfy terrylike fabric. Pretty unusual for a truck.Nissan's Pathfinder was one of the first SUVs. Like all early sport utes, it was a rough ride with iffy fit and finish. Now the Pathfinder jams on the same sturdy platform as Nissan's behemoth Titan and Armada, and has exceptionally stable handling despite its high ride. It also has admirable acceleration from a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower engine. Your family will feel at home in...
  • BREAKING THE ICE

    Beat winter blues by taking a spin around an outdoor skating rink. These are open at least through late February: New York Be one of the quarter-million skaters to slice the ice under the Manhattan skyline at Rockefeller Plaza (adults from $9, kids from $7; 212-332-7654). Boston Skate into American history at the Frog Pond in Boston Common, Beantown's oldest park ($3, children under 14 free; 617-635-2121). Ann Arbor, Mich. Stop by Buhr Park Ice Arena for drop-in hockey games and figure-skating lessons (adults $4.50, kids $3.75; 734-971-3228). Yosemite National Park, Calif. Glide under Glacier Point and Half Dome at this Curry Village rink (adults $6.50, kids under 12 $5; 209-372-8341).--Tara Weingarten
  • HAVE KALE, WILL TRAVEL

    They are on their way now, by overnight express, nestled in tissue paper and custom-designed boxes, to any place where restaurant menus take more than a dozen words to describe a $14 salad. Peacock kale and baby red brussels sprouts, butterball turnips, bull's blood beets and all the greens, micro- and otherwise, plus 17 kinds of potatoes, in five sizes. From the unlikely neighborhood of Huron, Ohio, where it was 18 degrees last Friday, vegetables from Bob Jones's Chef's Garden are in the air, bound even for places like Los Angeles that are perfectly capable of growing their own salads, challenging the reigning orthodoxy formulated by the great advocate of fresh, seasonal, local produce, Berkeley, Calif., restaurateur Alice Waters. When Waters told NEWSWEEK that "we should try to eat from within a range of an hour or two from where we live," she meant by truck, not jet. The Jones family, farmers in northern Ohio for six generations, has created a model for the 21st-century market...
  • ROAD TEST | CORVETTE C6

    I'm cruising in a totally bitchin' Corvette when I spy the speedometer and it reads 50. Fine, except that I'm in a 35mph zone. Oops, 50 feels like 20 in this car. And that's good, or bad, depending on how you feel about speeding tickets. Chevrolet has done such a stunning job boosting the iconic Vette's power and stiffening its frame that it zooms effortlessly. And yet it's a real challenge to drive it like a normal car.That's because the C6 is no normal car, with its 6.0-liter, V-8, 400-horsepower engine. Neck-snapping on takeoff, but remarkably smooth in its acceleration, this two-seater really stays planted on curvy roads. I love the coupe's new look, even if it lost its signature blinking headlights. Composite body panels resist rust and dings. And the new interior is sporty yet comfortable. But be warned: a sports car packed with obscene power doesn't go unnoticed. By anyone.Tip: Speed freaks may opt for the even sportier Z51 manual-transmission sport package with tuned gears...
  • ROAD TEST | AUDI A6

    One of the best perks of reviewing cars is that, occasionally, I get to hang with the folks who design and build them. So it was recently, on a trip through the hilly roads of Sonoma, Calif., that I tested the redesigned A6 seated next to its designer, Achim Badstubner, who had flown in from Germany. Of course, it's a thrill only when you like their work; otherwise it's an awkward drive. Fortunately, the A6's new contrivance is satisfying in every way. Badstubner discarded the old A6's flabby appearance, giving it a strapping, masculine architecture with high shoulders and an elegant front fascia. It's also slightly longer and roomier than the previous model.The redesigned A6 is faster, too, with a 3.2-liter, V-6, 255-horsepower engine (35 more ponies than the outgoing model). And it's packed with technology, like full-time all-wheel drive, Tiptronic transmission and computer-guided steering and braking programs that make this sport sedan safer, with noticeably keener handling. Plus...
  • FOOD | FEELIN' CLAMMY

    Looking to defrost with a bowl of soul-warming clam chowder? Red or white, here are our picks: Grand Central Oyster Bar (New York): Some of the best red in town, with chunks of surf clams, tomatoes, green peppers and potatoes. Just a bit spicy. $4.75/12 oz.; 212-490-6650Scoma's (San Francisco): Overlooking the bay at Fisherman's Wharf, Scoma's has rich, creamy clam chowder infused with leeks, celery, garlic and thyme. $4.95/8 oz.; 415-771-4383Union Oyster House (Boston): Sip this super-thick, extra clammy chowder with chunks of potatoes at the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the States (since 1826). $4.95/8 oz.; 617-227-2750Blue Mermaid (San Francisco): Choose from eight chowders, including Dungeness crab and corn, and smoked chicken and hominy. At Fisherman's Wharf in the Cannery. $3.95/8 oz.; 415-771-2222
  • ROAD TEST: GMC SIERRA HYBRID

    I came to a stop at the light and watched the tachometer drop to zero as my GMC Sierra stalled. Yikes. I'm in thick traffic. Now what? Then I remembered, I'm in a hybrid and that's what hybrids do. Though this Sierra acts and looks just like its gasoline-powered cousin, like all hybrids it shuts down at standstills to save on fuel and prevent noxious emissions. Yet unlike smaller hybrid vehicles, this full-size pickup always seemed to need the gas-powered engine to move. As a result, its fuel-efficiency numbers aren't astounding: 17mpg city versus the gas version's 15mpg. And both engines get 19mpg on the highway. But the hybrid version burns slightly cleaner, cutting the truck's CO2 emissions by 10 percent.Everything else about this truck is like it is on the gas-powered model. And this one sports an extended cab and four-wheel drive. For now the Sierra hybrid is available in just six states, but GM plans to expand distribution based on demand.Tip: Four onboard 120-volt electrical...
  • BLOCK OUT THE RAYS

    Sunglasses aren't just for the beach. They're also needed on the ski slopes--because of high-altitude exposure to ultraviolet light. This winter, see if these new offerings are easy on your eyes (pictured, from top).Ray-Ban Junior RJ9019 ($63; www.rayban.com) Eye doctors warn you to protect your kids' eyes from the cumulative effect of UV rays. These shades block harmful light and fit the 8- to 12-year-old crowd.Revo 3030 ($239; revo.com) These UV-blocking lenses were designed by a NASA engineer for space-shuttle portholes. Spring hinges make for a comfy fit.Smith Factor Lightweight ($109; www.smithoptics.com) This frame comes with four sets of interchangeable, carbonic lenses with protection from the sun's rays.SpyOptic Dallas ($125; SpyOptic.com) These women's shades come in champagne bronze. They look like something Jennifer Garner would wear while fighting bad guys between runs in the Alps.
  • HEAD FOR THE GREEN

    Palm Springs has been L.A.'s swingin' playground since the Rat Pack made it their weekend home in the 1950s. But there's a new reason to visit now: Smoke Tree Ranch (smoketreeranch.net), a private desert enclave for wealthy southern California vacationers, including the late Walt Disney, recently opened its guest cottages to the public. You can lounge around in 70-year-old Spanish-style casitas in 375 acres of undisturbed cactus and wildflowers. Three meals are served daily in the Ranch House dining room, and there's old-time entertainment like bonfires, cowboy singalongs and scavenger hunts.Next, hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com) for a 2.5-mile rotating ride up a steep mountainous incline to a snowy landscape where you can dine, snowshoe and cross-country ski. And no matter what, don't miss the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies (psfollies.com), a tongue-in-cheek cabaret variety show featuring a cast of leggy showgirls, all over the age of 50. Oh, yeah, and if you...
  • TRAVEL: AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER

    Most family reunions mean cheek pinches from Aunt Ethel, feuds with your siblings and stale stories about how awkward you looked as a teen. But today's elaborate gatherings make it all worthwhile. Really. Take Coleen and Rupe Ricksen's 50th-wedding anniversary last spring. Twenty far-flung relatives of the Oakland, Calif., couple met up at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix (arizonabiltmore.com; from $340 per night) for a weekend tribute. After sipping icy Margaritas at a pool cabana, the five adult children, with help from the hotel's staff, devised a treasure hunt, which used family heirlooms and souvenirs as clues. "Each item sparked a story," says Jane Jackson, one of the Ricksens' daughters. "Even my siblings and I discovered things about our parents and grandparents that we never knew."Savvy reunion planners are forsaking the backyard barbecue in favor of upscale affairs. With families more scattered and busier than ever, more relatives are willing to pay a premium for that rare...
  • ROAD TEST| LOTUS ELISE

    Though I've never driven a go-cart through city streets, I now feel as if I'm an expert at it. With my tush just inches from the pavement, I darted around Los Angeles in the Lotus Elise. Lotus's racing heritage is apparent in its Formula- like appearance, if not in its street-legal engine. Yes, it's quick--going from zero to 60 in five seconds flat--owing to a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 180-horsepower engine in an ultralightweight body. And its steering is exceptional. But then I stopped behind a Honda Civic and felt like an ant. Driving one of these on urban roads is not for the faint of heart, what with all the gargantuan SUVs.Inside, creature comforts are minimal. The adequate air conditioning and pathetic Blaupunkt stereo are about it. The floorboards are aluminum--very cool. And there are bolstered racing seats, a MOMO steering wheel and an aluminum shift knob--all to enhance the racing feel. Getting in and out is tricky, so I don't suggest pulling up to a fine restaurant in it....
  • MAGIC FLUTES

    Anyone who's traveled through the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux can tell you they're lovely. But French wine drinkers there take the local grape so seriously, it can nearly spoil the romance. Yet there's no need to be intimidated in the rolling hills of Champagne. You don't need to ponder metaphorical notes; just pop a cork and feel the moment. To get the most from the region, join Perrier-Jouet's daylong "Fleurtation Package," named after P-J's famous flowered (or fleur, en francais) bottle. A 90-mile drive from Paris brings you to Epernay, the heart of Champagne and the home of Perrier-Jouet. Tour the house's vineyards, learn how bubbly is made and then dine in Perrier-Jouet's private 18th-century town house. A five-course lunch that includes such romantic treats as oysters, truffles and caviar is paired with a bottomless glass of Perrier-Jouet's tete du cuvee Fleur de Champagne, Fleur Rose and Fleur Blanc de Blanc. Ladies bring home a set of six crystal flutes; men receive a...