Friday, March 23, 2018

One Week Before Major League Baseball: More Spring Training

Girl power at Mets spring training

Two weeks ago, Toyota brought me to Florida to drive a few cars and take in a couple of spring training baseball games.

Not my usual sight on a run
I already wrote about driving the new Prius, and I'm spending a week with the snazzy C-HR. So this focuses on my time with the Toyota Camry.

But first, the road trip

We spent the night in Jupiter after going to a Mets away game, and drove to Orlando, where the Marlins play.

Greek salad
The Wyndham Grand Jupiter hosted us. The hotel is at Harbourside Place, a pedestrian area which has shops, restaurants and a walking / running path along the Intracoastal.

Warm goat cheese at The Woods
We walked to The Woods, Tiger Woods' restaurant. This deluxe sports bar has an impressive selection of bourbon and cigars, but it also has quite good vegetarian food. The tasty Greek salad, with no onions. And the warm goat cheese with bread had pear jalapeƱo jelly on the side for a kick.
Comfy bed at Wyndham Grand Jupiter

Toyota Camry

Pool and hot tub at Wyndham
The 2018 Camry punches way above its weight in luxury. Fully loaded, which is how I tested the car, it tops out at under $35,000. But it looks and feels sporty and the red leather interior looked sharp against the white exterior.

I didn't have a chance to drive the hybrid, which gets 47 miles per gallon, but the 39 mpg on the highway for the regular gas model is still impressive for a mid size sedan. It gets 28 in the city.

The Camry has a lower roof line, but the same amount of head room; you sit a little lower, and can almost pretend you are driving a sports car.

Back up camera and that red leather

Technology updates

But the Camry has advanced tech like a valet mode so when you leave your keys with a valet, you can get a notification if the car is driven further, or faster, than it should be.

[This is also a way to spy on your kids].

Cloud based services2018 Toyota Camry

GPS is great, but when a business closes, or a road asunder construction, you don't always get the most up to date info. The Camry has cloud based service that constantly updates.

With this kind of connection, a dealer can also let you know if your car needs service, or if there's a recall.

Maybe in the future, it can also keep you updated on the baseball score.

Note: I was a guest of Toyota, which covered my travel, food and accommodations. Opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Passover Prep: Beet Vodka Cocktail Recipe

A glass of beet vodka

When I was younger, I maintained that vodka was kosher for Passover. It's made from potatoes, so it had to be ok.

Of course, unless a product is actually certified kosher for Passover, it is not ok.

Enter Lvov vodka, certified kosher for Passover. And made from beets.

Beets have always had a place at my Passover table. Instead of a roasted shank bone, I used the vegetarian alternative, a roasted beet.

Vodka, a neutral spirit, has no flavor, so I detected no earthy beet notes in the vodka. But I thought it would be great to infuse the vodka with beets, which would give it a bit of flavor and vibrant color.
Beet vodka for Passover, or any time

Beet vodka

1 750 ml bottle of vodka
2 beets, scrubbed, but not peeled

Cook the beets in boiling water until soft, about 1 hour.

Peel, slice and put in a large mason jar. Fill with vodka and refrigerate.

After a week, the vodka will be deep red. Strain out the beets and keep vodka in the refrigerator (or freezer if you want to do shots).

Pink lemons
Lvov vodka, made in Poland, can also be used in regular old vodka martinis.

Beet vodka cocktail 

1/2 ounce ginger syrup (recipe below)
1/2 ounce lemon juice (I used pink lemons, which had pretty skin, but no special flesh color)
2 ounces beet vodka
1 slice pickled beet
1 spear cucumber
fresh horseradish (optional)

Fill a shaker with ice. Add the ginger syrup, lemon juice and beet vodka. Shake till cold, then strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with pickled beet and cucumber. Grate some fresh horseradish on top, if desired.


Ginger syrup

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 slices of fresh ginger, peeled.

Place everything in a small saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves.  Cool and refrigerate. Keeps for about 2 weeks

Note, I was given a sample bottle of Lvov vodka. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mets and Yankees: Spring Training Road Trip with Toyota

Steinbrenner Field, Yankees' spring training home

When Toyota invited me to a spring training road trip in Florida, I could barely contain my excitement. Three days of sun, baseball and staying at luxury hotels? Sign me up.

When we got to the Westin Tampa Bay, we got personalized jerseys, (NY Mets for me, of course) hats and the keys to a new car. Alas, the cars had to be returned, but we got to keep the shirts and baseball caps.
Some serious swag

My partner, LeAura and I headed for the colorful Toyota C-HR, in teal, that reminded me of the uniforms the Marlins used to wear. But we decided to first drive the Toyota Prius Four. LeAura and I are both vegetarians, and eco conscious. This hybrid, with its 56 miles per gallon, is perfect for both us. In fact, four of my neighbors own this exact car.

2017 Toyota Prius Four

We drove to enemy territory (Steinbrenner Field, home of the crosstown rival Yankees) and sat in the sun. The Toyota folks thoughtfully provided sunscreen, snacks, water, and a victory.

Running path along the water
We also had baseballs and Sharpies, but kids are really the ones who approach the ball players. I had never seen major league baseball players be so accommodating; signing autographs, flipping balls to kids and smiling at everyone.

By the time we returned to the hotel, there was only a short window for a quick workout. I ran along the causeway and got to stretch at the small beach at the Westin. The hotel also has a gym, and loans you exercise clothes, for $5, if you forgot your own. You get to keep the socks.

The gym has a Peloton bike with live streamed or on demand spin classes. And there is a indoor pool

Salad at Aqua
We ate dinner at Aqua, at the hotel. The chef buys local produce, and grows his own, makes cheese and serves super fresh seafood.

The Westin emphasis on being fit carries over to the breakfast menu. I had a 'superfood' smoothie with blueberries. There are also healthy choices like steel cut oatmeal, egg white scramble and avocado with tofu.Toyota road trip to baseball spring training

Toyota Prius drive impressions

We each drove only about half an hour in the Prius, but it was remarkably comfortable. The 4th gen Prius was designed with a lower center of gravity, (think sports car) which makes it fun to drive. And if course it get gets great gas mileage.

Safety: Standard Toyota Safety Sense

Artistic and delicious dessert at Aqua
When we were driving back to the hotel, we needed to move over quickly to the right, but traffic was heavy. Although my partner was signaling, no one would let her over. I tried hand signals, to no avail. The problem? Every we looked, everyone else was texting, so not making eye contact.

This made me extremely happy that the car had Toyota Safety Sense. This suite of safety enhancements is standard in Toyota's line, and makes anyone in a Toyota safer.

The safety tech includes pre-collision system that automatically brakes if a crash is imminent. There is also pedestrian detection, keeping anyone walking by safe.
The lane departure alert requires lane markers to work

The automatic high beams give you more clarity at night. They drop down to regular headlights when the car detects an oncoming vehicle.

Heavenly bed and breakfast smoothie
The Prius also has lane departure alert with steering assist. We saw a large truck weaving ahead and were happy to have a car that keeps you in your lane.

I slept soundly on the aptly named Heavenly bed. And then LeAura and I hit the road in the teal C-HR.

Note: I was a guest of Toyota, which paid for my travel and accommodations (and snazzy Mets paraphernalia). Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, March 19, 2018

DNA Reveals: Does Vegetarian Diet & Exercise Work?

As a marathon runner, boot camp aficionado and cycling enthusiast, I have exercise covered.

And as a vegetarian, salad lover and creative home cook, I eat on the healthy spectrum.

But would my DNA tell a different story?

I tried the HomeDNA Healthy Weight genetic testing kit to find out.

I got a kit in the mail, with instructions on how to swab my cheek and send in a sample. In a couple of weeks, I got the results.

Healthy plant-based lunch
According to my DNA, my weight loss ability with diet and exercise is below average. Although my weight is in the low-normal range for my height, both of my parents were overweight, so this makes some sense.

My fat loss response to cardio was found to be low, a rather depressing insight. And my fitness response to cardio is below average. So maybe I really do need to run a marathon to get the same benefit those lucky high responders get from a one mile jog.

The test results recommended cardio workouts, which include walking, running, cycling and cardio machines. These are all part of my regular routine. The exercise plan it suggests recommends 300 minutes (that's 5 hours) of high intensity cardio per week.

Overnight oats; healthy breakfast 
It also suggested strength training: boot camp or circuit work, 3 times a week.

Vegetarian Diet

Although there was nowhere on the DNA kit to indicate my current food habits, the diet suggested is right in my wheelhouse. It said I should get my protein from plant-based sources such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables. Check, check, check.

For fats, I should go for plant foods - so perhaps my cheese habit could be reduced. And for cabs, a plant=based diet, high in complex carbohydrates. And avoid processed carbs like fries and chips. Which I mostly do anyway.

The results offer a 7 day diet plan, with few processed foods: steel cut oats or plain yogurt for breakfast, a salad with lentils for lunch, simple broiled fish with veggies for dinner, and fruit or nuts for a snack. Conspicuously missing: chocolate, alcohol, coffee. Well, I mostly have the diet right...

How I spent my weekend

Not a substitute for the doctor

If you get a low or below average level or response to a nutrient, the report recommends you speak to a doctor.

Coincidentally, my neurologist ran a blood test and found that my vitamin B12 is low. The Home DNA kit nailed that. I started on a supplement (that my doctor recommended).

My trainer agrees

Perform moderate to vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise 5 or more days a week for minimum of 300 minutes per week. You can achieve greater results by lengthening the duration of moderate intensity cardio, focusing on endurance activities like biking or running.
Lift weights 3 days per week using weights that are heavy enough to challenge you at the end of each of 3 sets of 12 reps. 

Note: I received a complimentary genetic testing kit. I was not otherwise compensated.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mom Approved: Wubble Fulla Slime

The Wubble Fulla Slime is somewhat translucent; you can see your hand through it

Gross, slimy things are often loved by kids. When my girls were little, we even stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort where there was a daily slime show. At home, they mixed up strange concoctions that they somehow found appealing.

But having all that slime in the house? Not so much fun for me.

Luckily, there is now Wubble Fulla Slime. This non sticky colorful slime ball comes in three sizes - huge, big and tiny. The balls make a satisfying splat when smacked to the ground, but they don't leave a residue.
Wubble Fulla Slime

Even better, from a mom point of view, Wubble Fulla Slime is soft, so you can pelt your little sister with it and it won't hurt. Not that I'm advocating violence. But kids do throw balls at each other, and one that is soft and squishy could keep the peace.

Wubble Fulla Slime has a sibling product, Wubble Fulla Marbles. Both of the new toys come with a warning that they should be used under adult supervision (likely so there is no repeat of the Tide pod challenge) but there was no age recommendation on the product sample that I got for review. Children who stick toys in their mouth should probably not be given this toy.
The dog prefers tennis balls to slime balls

The Wubble Fulla Slime stretches and snaps back into shape. You can squeeze it and press it and it will return to its original blob shape.

Wubble Fulla Slime and Wubble Fulla Marbles will be sold at Walgreens and Target - and Toys R Us, if it stays in business.

Note: This is a sponsored post. I was compensated for my review and received a product sample. Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Traveling Like Royalty: the Presidential Suite at the Hilton San Francisco Financial District

Sunrise in SF; black out curtains helped us sleep, but jet lag woke us early

As a young traveler, I stayed in some decidedly sketchy places. There were dicey hostels, shady hotels, nights where we had such early flights that we camped out at the airport.

Biking over The Golden Gate Bridge
And this didn't necessarily end when I hit an - ahem -certain age. For my middle daughter's college graduation, the hotel we'd reserved months in advance lost our reservation and we would up at a flight motel, with strange stains on the sheets and s weird wet spot.

All this was the opposite of our luxe accommodations in the heart of San Francisco. We were staying in a complimentary media room, which can be anything from a basic room to an upgraded executive expanse.

The living room in our suite
The soaking tub, and shower next to it
The Hilton San Francisco Financial District laid out the red carpet with its Presidential Suite, a sprawling suite with a gigantic living room, a couple of balconies, a super comfy king sized bed and an unparalleled bathroom.

The incredible bathroom included a soaking tub that was near the bed, so you could look out on the city while you luxuriated in a bath, a separate glass enclosed shower with a rain head, a double sink room. And the piece de resistance, a toilet room with a $10,000 Toto throne. Er, toilet. This commode, which I first encountered at the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, near San Diego, has a heated seat, bidet-like warm water sprays, dual flush and a self-cleaning feature.

If you stumble into the bathroom at some ungodly hour due to jet lag, there is no need to fumble for a light switch or the toilet seat cover. When the 'smart toilet' senses you, the seat automatically lifts up.
Fruit at breakfast in the executive lounge

Executive features

If a hedonistic toilet isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty more to love at this hotel. The executive lounge has daily breakfast, with hot entrees and plenty of choices. There was a variety of fruit, both whole fruit that you could take for a snack or cut up berries and melon.

There were also cereals, breads and pastries, and gluten free options. There was yogurt, cheese, meat, and a bowl of hard boiled eggs if you need protein to start the day.

Throughout the day, there was fruit, bars and drinks available, as long as you had a key card that granted you access. There were also evening snacks, but we were out both evenings.

If you get a room on an executive floor, or have elite Hilton status, you get access to the lounge.

Chinatown mural


The Hilton is right in Chinatown, and the Chinatown history tour that we took through Wok Wiz met in the lobby. We also walked down to the Ferry Building for an amazing meal at The Slanted Door.

The fitness center at the Hilton
The hotel has a small, well-equipped gym. We got our exercise biking over the Golden Gate Bridge and running, and walking, the hilly city.

Vegetarian spring rolls at The Slanted Door

Personal touch

Although the Hilton is quite large, the concierge greeted us every time we left or arrived. And our first night, we had a message waiting for us Warm chocolate chip cookies and milk could be sent up to the room, free of charge.

What a sweet intro to the city.

Note: I was a guest of Hilton and received a comp room. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Is it Possible to Love it More? Wahlburgers' Vegetarian Impossible Burger

The Impossibly delicious Impossible Burger

As plant based diets become more mainstream, the Impossible Foods vegetarian Impossible Burger makes inroads around the country.

The Upper East Side Wahlburgers

Vegetarian burgers for all

Wahlburgers, a Boston based burger chain, founded by the the Wahlberg brothers, just introduced the Impossible Burger at its New York City location.

To drink, the Wahlbrewski 
I had tried the Impossible Burger at another burger chain, so I was eager to see what the difference would be here.

At Wahlburgers, a secret sauce with a bit of sriracha automatically comes with your burger (you can request it to be left off). Also, the sauce, and lettuce and tomato, are below the patty, whether meat or vegetarian. The reason is that since your taste buds are on your tongue, the founding chef, Paul Wahlberg, wanted to get that sauce closest to your tasting source. [The other partners in the restaurant  are the actors and singers Donnie and Mark].

Walburgers also adds caramelized onions to the Impossible Burger, along with smoked cheddar. It's all on a delicious brioche bun.

The chain has each location make its sauces and pickles in house. The pickles were crisp and fresh tasting, and the spicy buffalo sauce added a nice kick to the burger. Many of the extra toppings (like the two mentioned) are free; some like avocado spread and extra cheese, cost $1 each.

Pick a sauce: the full line up at Wahlburgers
Tater tots and sweet potato tots go well with the burgers. We tried the macaroni salad, which reminded me of why I hated this dish as a child. If you like a mayo based salad with red onions and celery, this is for you.

For dessert, the grilled 'fluffanutta' will transport you to your childhood. White bread with peanut butter, banana, Nutella and fluff give you gooey sweet, salty, and more sweet, in every bite.
Tater tots, regular and sweet, with cheese dipping sauce

To drink

Wahlburgers partnered with Harpoon Brewery, also Boston based, for an unfiltered pale ale. The Wahlbrewski is on tap, along with a few other beers. There is a full bar, and if you like sweet drinks, adult milkshakes are offered.

Note: I was a guest of Wahlburgers at a media tasting (we tasted burgers, not media).