Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not a Black Sheep: the Standout Black Sheep Deli

Just some of the choices at Black Sheep Deli

The black sheep of the family is the odd member, but the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst, MA, stands out for its excellent vegetarian and vegan menu.

Vintage menu: prices current aren't much higher
Actually, it fits right into the Pioneer Valley, which is larded with meat free choices. Usually we stick to Northampton, one town over, but Amherst has a larger farmers market, on Saturdays, a great local bookstore, and easy access to nearby hiking trails.

It also has this casual deli, where you order at a counter. Sandwiches are huge, and there are gluten free options like big salads or gluten free bagels and breads.

The breakfast sandwich
For three of us, three sandwiches, including a smaller breakfast sandwich, was a feast. We could have ordered just half of one of the sandwiches, but we pigged (or tofu-ed) out.

Make your Own

The large menu has typical deli fare like tuna salad, and make your own options, but we stuck to the specialty sandwiches. Everything here is made from scratch, using local purveyors and farmers.

The Great Garlic

Vegetarian Specialties

There were so many to choose from, it was hard to decide. We went with the messy and delicious  Great Garlic, which was overstuffed with grilled portobellos, roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers, caramelized garlic and goat cheese, on a baguette

East Meets West

Vegan Specialities

We had the East Meets West, a yummy sandwich with roasted tofu, grated carrots and a peanut hoisin sauce.

Breakfast all day

Breakfast sandwiches are slightly smaller. We had the Florentine, a baked omelet with goat cheese, spinach, roasted red pepper and sun dried tomato pesto on excellent focaccia.

"Downtown" Amherst
We weren't crazy about the coffee; it was little weak for our industrial strength standards.

What else is there to do?

A weekend in New England has to include a hike, so we drove the snazzy Kia Optima hybrid I was testing to Mount Holyoke Range State Park in Hadley.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Drive a Kia, Avoid the Rat Race

Have you driven a Kia Optima hybrid?
The Kia Optima hybrid made it from Brooklyn to Northampton on hardly any gas

Like lemmings, New Yorkers head en masse to the country to see leaves changing colors in fall. But unlike lemmings, we don't have suicidal tendencies. So I was thrilled to take a trip in a Kia Optima loaded with all the latest safety technology.

Best leaf peeping car: 2017 Kia Optima hybrid

Kia loves rodents

Kia uses hamsters to advertise its Soul. I think they need to use a cute, cuddly animal for the Optima. The 2017 Optima hybrid EX that I drove was just so lovable.

Start with price - it's a great value

Do you take a drive to see leaves and buy a pumpkin?
The pumpkin patch
The base model is $30,990. Most states and the federal government give a rebate for buying a hybrid car, so your net price is much lower. Also, the car is listed at 42 miles per gallon (39 in the city, 46 on the highway). I drove it in eco mode and got 50 mpg. So there is also tremendous savings on gas, no matter the price of a gallon.

Extras on the Kia

This Kia, in "silky silver," has a $5,000 technology package. Some of these were luxury amenities, like heated and cooled front seats, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats and rear window sunshades.

Bring on the safety

Then there were all the safety extras included in the package: smart cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, bind spot detection, forward collision and lane departure warnings and rear cross traffic alert. My favorite feature, perfect for the winding back roads of the Pioneer Valley: headlights that turn and bend as you curve. Once you've tried this feature, regular headlights seem so inadequate.
Hiking in the Pioneer Valley

Cool features for all

If you don't want to drop the extra 5K, the Kia still has some great amenities. The best here is the smart trunk. Walk around to the back of the car when the car is off and the doors are locked. The trunk automatically opens. But if you forget that you have the key in your bag and you didn't want the trunk to open, step back and the trunk closes.

We stopped at a pumpkin patch and a got both a huge pumpkin and a bushel of apples. I hadn't told my husband or daughter about the smart trunk autonomous feature and they were quite surprised when the trunk popped open.

The Kia also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 2 USB ports and a 12 volt plug.

Great luxury speakers in the Kia

The sounds of silence

Since this Kia Optima is a hybrid, the engine noise is non existent. But you can fill that silence with great tunes. There is Sirius XM radio, and Harmon Kardon speakers for high quality sound.

Low carbon footprint

With global warming, the mid October trip was warmer than in the past. We hiked in short sleeves and opened the sunroof to let in the wonderful (yet disturbing) warm air. We were glad to be driving an environmentally correct car.

We were in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts, where every restaurant is either vegetarian or has an extensive vegetarian selection. And people are biking, or pulling bikes off their hybrid cars (with the split back seat, we could have easily brought our bikes, but we just wanted to run and hike).

Do you get perks with your car?
Reserved parking for fuel efficient cars

Kia perks

The benefits of the hybrid were not just limited to saving money and feeling good. At my local Whole Foods, I even got to park right by the entrance, which is reserved for fuel efficient cars.

The Kia hybrid fit right in with the environmental ethos of both Brooklyn and the Pioneer Valley, yet provided us with enough luxuries that we felt coddled as well.

Note: Kia loaned me the Optima hybrid for this review. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cumin Scented Acorn Squash: Recipe Follows

Sandwich with roasted acorn squash

Though NYC has yet to get a frost this fall, winter squash is dominating my local farmers market.

I used to just cut a squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast it cut side in with a little olive oil. Actually, before learning to do that I hated every manner of winter squash. Probably because I grew up with both sweet potatoes and winter squash relegated to overly sweet side dishes, often boiled and served with brown sugar.

best recipe for roasted winter squash

Fall and winter foods while summer lingers

But winter squash has an earthiness and richness that make soups sing and salads filling.

The raw ingredients 
And one of the hardest parts of preparing acorn quash isn't even necessary. You don't have to peel the raw squash; if you roast it long enough, the hard skin tenderizes and makes a chewy contrast to the caramelized flesh.

Raw squash, ready for its close up.  And the oven
Just make sure to trim away the inedible stem and surrounding area. But don't toss the hard bits! Use use the hard scraps and stringy flesh clinging to the seeds in vegetarian stock, which thickens it and adds a layer of complexity.

Roasted acorn squash
Roasting squash with olive oil and salt is fine, but adding herbs or spices is also nice. I was sent a couple of Spice Island seasonings to test and the cumin called out to me. Sprinkling it on before roasting made the winter squash stand out in salad [and in a sandwich the next day]. Even on a hot and humid October night

Best recipe for roasting winter squash

One acorn squash, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt


Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the squash and cut in half along a ridge. Slice it along the ridges and discard seeds, stringy flesh, stem and hard bits around the stem [Or save and toss into vegetables you are using to make stock]

Spread the olive oil on a roasting sheet and add the squash slices. Sprinkle on half the cumin and salt, turn slices and sprinkle on remainder.

Roast until flesh caramelizes and skin softens, about 30 minutes. I like to turn the slices over half through so they brown evenly.

Use in salad or a sandwich with blue cheese and baby arugula.

Note: I was sent Spice Island spices samples but was not otherwise compensated. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin: The Perils of Fame

Meeting Pooh. Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The same day I saw a screening of the new movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin, the New York Times ran an article about parents who post their kids every move on Instagram.

The movie poster
Living life under a lens has its drawbacks, as the surprisingly somber and affecting movie shows. A. A. Milne, battling PTSD after fighting in WW I, uses his son as inspiration for his famous Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Milne, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is at times the kind of charming wit seen in The Thin Man movies, along with his socialite wife, played by Margot Robbie. But he is unhappy being a rich London poet and playwright, and moves the family, along with a nanny, to Sussex.

The Fox screening room
The parents don’t come off well, relegating care of their adorable son, Christopher Robin, to the nanny. Christopher Robin, nicknamed Billy Moon, is played by the dimpled Will TIlston as a young boy. He will break your heart.

In this story, father and son are left alone and the clueless dad, who cam’t even make a proper breakfast, begins to warm up and entertain his son. He creates stories around his son’s stuffed animals, and Winne-the-Pooh is born.

Children's literature, adult movie

This is certainly not a children’s movie, with its adult themes, flashbacks to battle and somber tone. But for parents who grew up with the books, or read them to their children, the movie is diverting and intriguing.

I sought out Milne’s poetry and decided to reread the Winne-the-Pooh books to look for subtext. One of my English major friends wrote her thesis on Alice in Wonderland, so I know that there is often more than meets the eye in children’s literature.

And movies.

Live in New York?

And if you live in NY, or are visiting, you can see the original Winne-the-Pooh bear at the New York Pubic Library. It’s on display at the Children’s Center on at 42nd Street.

Note: I ws a guest of Fox at this screening.

Friday, September 29, 2017

More to Love at Chelsea Market: Chelsea Local

Signature cocktail at Chelsea Local opening

Chelsea Market keeps growing its food presence. From more sit down restaurants to the headquarters of the Food Network upstairs, this former National Biscuit Company factory is like a lab for both food start ups and established food vendors.

Now Chelsea Market has expanded down. Chelsea Local is a downstairs retail space. It was mostly a food storage area, but now there are two large markets and a couple of counters.

The staircase down to Chelsea Local
And, importantly, a ton of [gorgeous] bathrooms. We visited this summer with out of town guests and their son needed the restroom. He waited over half an hour. So the large, and, for now, exceedingly pristine bathrooms are particularly welcome.

I got to attend the grand opening with Food52, where there were food samples, a cocktail with Hudson Baby Bourbon and apple slices, a marching band and a DJ.

Manhattan Fruit Exchange is in Chelsea Local, with a huge salad bar and a smoothie station. I tasted a smoothie with almond milk, bananas and strawberries that was delicious.

The Italian market Buon' Italia has specialty olive oils, jarred tuna and excellent artichoke and olive paste, both of which were tasty on crackers.

I passed on Dicksons' Farmstead Meats but I could spend a weekend sampling all the cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers. If you like spice with your dairy, right next door, Heatonist has tons of hot sauce to sample.

And if the spicy sauce upsets your stomach, you can coat it with fresh milk. Donnybrook Farm Dairy is next door to that.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Homemade Bitters: Amazing Cocktails

Some of the roots and herbs needed for bitters

One of my favorite  restaurants, and cookbooks, is Vedge. This vegan restaurant in Philadelphia has outstanding plant based food and incredible cocktails paired with the food.

The cookbook also has great recipes, for both food and drinks. One cocktail, the Sage Martini, has this throwaway suggestions: why not make your own bitters? Of course, there is a recipe for bitters and of course I had to make them.

Then I went on a bitters kick, and made several varieties. If you are a fig fan, these bitters are fabulous in a Manhattan or a drink with amaro. You need both fresh and dried figs, and patience.

You also need a good source for all the exotic ingredients. Luckily, I live in Brooklyn, whereto can source pretty much everything. Even so, I had to go to several place to find cinchona bark and gentian root.

What's next

Now that I've 'mastered' the subtleties of bitters' making, I might try my hand at making my own whiskey, or moonshine.

Holiday gifts

I know, it's a bit early to think of holiday gifts, but homemade bitters make great gifts. I buy small Mason jars and print a recipe using the bitters, which I stick on the jar.

The bitters 'mash' and homemade bitters

Bitters recipe

2 cups over-proof bourbon 
1 cup dried figs (about 6 ounces), halved
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
4 cloves
2 fresh figs, halved
Strips of zest from 3 oranges
1 tablespoon cinchona bark
1/2 teaspoon gentian root
1/4 cup dried orange peel
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
2 tablespoons simple syrup

In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily. 

Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week. 

Transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily. 

Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to small glass Mason bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.

Staying Hydrated: Oon Arvelo

Hair and body hydrated 

Summer wreaks hell on hair. The heat, sun, humidity -and ext sweat - all dry out your hair. But I was invited to Oon Arvelo Salon for a hydrating treatment and blow out.

The hydrating treatment

The salon, named for founders Peter Oon and Elvin Arvelo, is a midtown oasis of calm. On the night I was there, we were offered wine or an Aperol Spritz. Since my hair was getting spritzed, I went with the trendy cocktail.

First, my hair got much needed nourishment from a Phyto hydration elixir. I found out that the dry shampoo I sometimes use weighs down my curls and strips my hair of its natural sheen.
Hairspray and straightener

Next, I needed a straightening cream to relax my curls.

It's hard to drink while getting your hair done

The end result - and cocktail moistly drunk
Then it was on to the expert blow out. My hair was straightened, but lively. and it felt great.

In addition to haircuts and coloring, the full service salon offers manicures, pedicures and waxing.

Note: I was a guest of Oon Arvelo. I was not other side compensated.