Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Take Your Pet - To a Luxury Hotel!

The Freshpet bounty

There are hotels that take dogs, but charge you an extra fee. Of they accept dogs, but warn yo that they can't go on the furniture. Or that body shame your dog, allowing you to only bring dogs under a certain weight.

The Soho Grand Hotel takes dog friendly to a whole new level. This luxury boutique hotel has a bespoke dog park right next to the hotel. No exhaust fumes or cobblestone-sore paws for your pooch. The park has water stations, shade and benches.

The Soho Grand also provides dog beds, organic treats, bowls and waste bags.

Dr. Katy, 2nd from right, and pets up for adoption
I had always wanted to treat my dog, Karat, to an afternoon here and got an opportunity thanks to Freshpet, which had a "Take Your Pet to Work" day.  My dog, a labrador retriever, has a sensitive stomach, though she hoovers up trash from the streets. Freshpet uses real chicken and vegetables to create its food, and the table of people food and pet food was hard to distinguish.

As a vegetarian, what I liked about the food was the roll of chicken, turkey or beef could be sliced and served with minimal handling by me, the meat-averse. We hosted a dog who ate a raw food diet and just the smell was enough to send me searching for kale.

The Freshpet food is cooked at low temperatures, to preserve nutrients, and it has to stay refrigerated. No worries about it spoiling with Karat; she scarfs her food so quickly that we have a special insert in her bowl to slow her down.

The kitten missed her friend
Dr. Katy Nelson, host of The Pet Show with Dr. Katy and a veterinarian in Virginia, said the food meets an animal's nutritional needs and said that anecdotally, some overweight dogs actually lost excess weight by transitioning to this diet.

The Soho Grand bikes
The "Take Your Pet to Work" day included adoptions from Animal Haven and the ASPCA, but we just adopted a kitten and are maxed out on pets. If you adopt a pet from one of these organizations by July 31, you get free Freshpet food.

Dr. Katy said that pet-friendly workplaces are good for both pets and employees and it seemed true at the Soho Grand, where everyone was happy.

I know Karat wants to spend more time at the Soho Grand and I definitely want to check it out. The hotel provides free bicycles and my cocktail-loving cousin says the martinis are unparalleled. What a great base for exploring NYC.

Note: I was a guest at this event and did not receive any compensation, though Karat did eat a lot of treats.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Tale of 2 Mazdas: How to Mix Business and Pleasure

Choose your adventure: surfboard, bikes or kayak?

Many parents fantasize, while driving the carpool minivan, about the hot little convertible or speedy sports car that they would rather be driving. Mazda gave me the opportunity to drive both the sensible new 2017 CX-5, a compact sport utility vehicle, and the sporty 2017 MX-5 Miata RF, a hard-top roadster that opens up at the touch of button, at the recent Mazda Design Event.

Which Mazda is for you?

Perfectly framed: the Mazda CX-5 on the left and MX-5 Miata RF on the right
The surprising thing way, both cars managed to delight everyone. That the Miata was fun is a given. The two seater, particularly in the soul red I drove, and the smooth 6 speed manual transmission has fun built into its DNA (there is also a 6 speed automatic). 

The CX-5 has its own unique charms. Look, I love both a chocolate chip cookie and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. I'm not here to say one is better than the other. Sometimes you need a cookie, sometimes you want pie.
My focal point in my room's patio; around the corner, a private outdoor hot tub

And sometimes you have more than one person driving with you, or your dog, a couple of bicycles, maybe a kayak on the roof. The CX-5 fits the bill here, with extras like a crisp Head Up Display that incorporated speed limit, navigation and current speed, all projected at the perfect focal point.

The Mazda CX-5 also has rear doors that open wide, for ease of installing a child safety seat, strapping your kid into the seat, or helping an elderly parent into the car. Along with heated and ventilated rear seats, the CX-5 cossets all its passengers.
The MX-5 Miata RF; add some zoom zoom to your day

The lap of luxury, for less

Mazda hosted us at the exquisite Rancho Valencia Resort, where rooms are over $600 a night, and the cars driven by the other guests elected a well-heels clientele: Range Rovers, Bentleys and Mercedes-Benz automobiles dominated the parking lot. But the sparkly new Mazdas fit in, at less than half the price of those luxury cars. Which may be why there were two distinct Mazdas on display: a CX-5 for the daily grind and a Miata for weekend fun.

The only lemons are on the trees

Instead of splurging on a Bentley, you could buy both, and still have enough cash on hand to spend a weekend at Rancho Valencia Resort.
Lemon grove at Rancho Valencia

There is a citrus grove on site, with lemons and oranges, an olive grove and a rose garden

The 5 star, 5 diamond resort has a world class spa with a full complement of fitness classes included with a stay: pilates, spin, and an open air yoga pavilion where we took a class in Zazen, a seated meditation. Mazda designers study Zazen in Japan, a practice that involves keeping your eyes open and focusing ahead of you..
Outside the yoga pavilion

Posture is paramount, which translates into the Mazda design. Comfort is important. And the quiet cabin, whether in a convertible or an SUV filled with kids, lets you focus on the task at hand: driving.

Note: Mazda covered my transportation, lodging and food. Opinions and Zoom Zoom delight are all my own.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Biking for Life with Fleet Week & Toyota

Fellow IMPA members in front of all the bikes we assembled

Biking has been part of my life forever; my mother rode me on the back of her bicycle and when I got my first 10 speed, my father gave it to me in a box and told me I could ride it when I could put it together.

Coast Guard ship, in for FleetWeek
That was the year I turned 15, and my father died. I had already signed up for an American Youth Hostels bike trip that summer, and my mother insisted I go.

I've always had at least one bicycle (until it was stolen, I had a folding commuter bike that was great for zipping around NYC in a dress) and I often include biking in a vacation. In fact, last month I spent a week cycling through Tuscany and Umbria.

So when Toyota asked me to help with a project assembling bicycles for the children of military, I jumped at the chance. As part of #FleetWeekNYC, volunteers spent a day with Coast Guard members putting together hundred of children's bikes.

I can't think of any better way to spend the time leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks to Toyota for the opportunity.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best of the New York Baby Show: Making Little Foodies

Sage Spoonfuls baby food system

Every year, the New York Baby Show introduces a host of dazzling new products, but some of them are destined for the scrap heap of useless paraphernalia. This year, a focus seems to be on feeding your baby healthy, fresh food, with services and products dedicated towards making that possible.

Best in show

Here are my top picks from the New York Baby Show:
Reusable food pouch

D-I-Y: Squeezing it all in

Sage Spoonfuls makes it easy to go homemade with a complete baby food system: steamerlending stick and glass or plastic storage jars. But what jazzed me was the reusable food pouches. You can make your own purees in bulk, freeze them, and brining these along on car trips or stroller outings. The pouches open from the side, and seal up like a Ziplock bag, so you don't have to funnel a puree in from the top. Then the pouch works just like any other baby food pouch, with a screw top and relatively un-messy way for your toddler to self feed.

And this is not just for little kids. My youngest daughter loves applesauce and all through high school, I would buy her applesauce pouches for breakfast on the go. Since we always go apple picking in the fall, and I make big batches of applesauce, I would have loved to have these refillable pouches.

She might have balked, though at the little kid graphics: monkey, giraffe, dinosaur or polka dots. Then again, she was eating baby food on the subway.

The pouches are dishwasher safe; supposedly, they stand up to 50 washes, on the top rack. They can also go in the microwave.

Baby Tripster travel food container

Graduating to a spoon or fork

Some adults I know find squeeze pouches infantilizing - even for children - and prefer that kids eat with a spoon or fork. Baby Tripster is for them. These leakproof food travel containers have  attached lids so the tops won't get lost, and the BPA-free plastic is dishwasher safe. There's a separate compartment to hold the double sided utensil (fork at one end, spoon at the other). It's microwave safe, so you can use it at home to feed your toddler soup or mac and cheese, too.

No time to make baby food? No problem

Smushed Organics homemade baby food
If buying, prepping and cooking baby food is beyond your time or interest, you can still feed your baby top quality food. Smushed Organics delivers homemade baby food cooked in Brooklyn in small batches,  with local, seasonal produce emphasized. Weekly deliveries are made in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Jersey City

The purees come in glass jars and if you recycle the jars with Smushed, you get a discount on your next order.

There are smooth purees for babies six months and older, with classic likes apples or sweet potatoes, or "little explorer" purees like sweet potatoes, carrots & curry. The textured purees, for eight months and up, might have apples with rolled oats, or broccoli, roasted garlic, barley, olive oil and parsley.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dressing Well for a Bike Trip, without Spending a Lot

The Avia top, over the sleeveless shirt, perfect for biking
There are 2 ways to dress well for a bicycle trip. One is to buy functional clothing designed specifically for biking. The other is to make sure that you look good.

But the 2 can definitely intersect. Avia sent me some new items from their Active Wear line that not only looked great and handles well on my Backroads bike trip to Italy, but also are bargain priced.

Sleepless top, just $7.95

Functional fitness without a steep price

Consider the Avia half zip performance jacket, which I wore almost every morning of the bicycle trip. I could zip it shut when the wind picked up, and unzip it when I got warm. The jacket was just $12.95. I actually spent more than that on my cycling socks.

The fabric was moisture wicking, so I never felt gross and sweaty, and with the thumb holes, I could keep my hands warm under my cycling gloves.

I couldn't wear the sleeveless top on its own, since the April weather was a bit too chilly, but I've been wearing it on training runs for the half marathon, #AirbnbBKHalf that I'm running this weekend.

Note: Avia provided the clothing to me, but I would purchase it on my own.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Luxury Bike Trip: Tuscany and Umbria with Backroads

The reward after a day of biking; hotel view from our balcony in Umbria

Part of the fun of travel can be planning out a trip: researching the best restaurants and hotels, deciding on a route. But doing this for a bike trip can be overwhelming: arranging a rental, getting your bags transported from luxury villa to deluxe manor house, coordinating a group of freinds.

My husband and me getting drinks and snacks before biking
Backroads makes it simple. The have dozens of biking (and hiking, plus combination multi-sport) trips in Europe, with even more trips in the United States, Asia and South America. We recently took a six day biking trip through Umbria and Tuscany and despite drinking gallons of wine and consuming pounds of fresh pasta and tiramisu, we returned home no heavier.

The villa in Tuscany where we spent our last 2 nights of the bike trip
There was still plenty of planning. We appended a dew days beforehand in London and Pisa, and a couple of days in Florence after the bike trip. You want to make sure you are acclimated to the time change before setting off on a bicycle trip where you have to wake up early each day and bike about 50 miles.

Vacation or trip of a lifetime

According to my neighbor, the daily early wake up call made this 'not a vacation' but I disagree.  Or. rather, I call this a "trip of a lifetime." Of course, it's actually the third bike trip I've taken with Backroads, but still..If you like biking, food, wine, and being with a group, this is definitely the vacation for you.
2 person in room jacuzzi in our Tuscan abode

Family, couple or solo?

Riding one of the 'cycleways' with no car traffic

When we took out other bike trips, we brought our children on designated 'family trips'. The Umbria / Tuscany bike trip was a 'premiere trip' which meant stays at luxury hotels and impeccable service. We had a small group, with three couples, two single women and three women who left their husbands home. Our support consisted of two leaders; one rode with us and one drove a van that we could hop into during a challenging hill or sudden rainstorm. A third person drove another van with our luggage from hotel to hotel; we stayed at three different hotels over the five nights.
Umbria specialty; pasta with truffles 

View from Cortona, in Tuscany
Our bikes were provided, along with helmets, bike bags, snacks and water bottles. My bike had the requested toe clips; riders with bike shoes could bring their own pedals and have them attached and adjusted. We were also given paper route maps (and a plastic map holder on the front of each bike) along with a GPS with a pre-loaded route. And if you still couldn't follow instructions, the third support person stood at easy to miss turns, pointing in the correct direction. Really, the trip was a no-brainer.

In fact, the most difficult activity over the six days might have been remembering the instructions for the in room steam shower in our third hotel. We also had a 2 person jacuzzi, and we had ridden 55 miles in the rain. We soaked our aching muscles in the tub and warmed up in the steam shower.

Not just biking

We got off our bikes to explore small towns; this is Spoleto, where we had lunch
We took a cooking class at a vineyard, where we also learned about the wine and drank so much, most of us chose not to ride our bikes back to the hotel. We also toured an agritourismo, a farm and vineyard where we feasted on about 20 courses of rustic food. We had an entertaining tour guide lead us around Cortona, the setting of "Under the Tuscan Sun," and we walked around the religious mecca, Assisi.
Backroads prepared picnic lunches for us

Eating was also important

Cooking class; we made bruschetta and pici pasta. And drank wine
The hotels had robust buffet breakfasts to fuel us for the day, but we also had bags we could fill from a snack table: dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruit, bars. Then we had a couple of picnic lunches and two amazing restaurant lunches. Dinners were four courses and highlighted local specialties like truffles, artichokes and pasta. There were plenty of vegetarian choices and gluten free options for the one group member with celiac. There were also excellent local wines, though I only sipped a little at lunch since I wanted to bike more.

I still want to bike more; this trip just whetted my appetite for yet another bike trip.

Note: Backroads gave me discount in exchange for posting on Instagram. Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cafe: Food Matches Setting

Sampler vegetarian plate, with crostini, biscuits, veggie tacos, falafel and crudite

When my kids were little, we could spend the entire day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The only thing that held us back was the lack of a decent food option. There was an outdoor cafe, but it had a limited menu and sometimes we wanted to eat indoors - too cold or too hot for outdoor dining.

Now, there's a new place, the Yellow Magnolia Cafe. And the outdoor eatery has also been upgraded, to the Yellow Magnolia Canteen.

The new indoor Yellow Magnolia Cafe
Yellow magnolias were developed by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the vegetable-focused menus reflect the plants growing in the magnificent garden.

The Japanese Garden at BBG
Local chef Rob Newton oversees the seasonal menu and at a preview event, I got to sample the many vegetarian choices. And local purveyors like seed + mill tahini, are incorporated; local breweries are showcased as well.

Cafe vs Canteen

No worries about lines at the Canteen. You can make reservations at the cafe. But if you are more of a spur of the moment diner, or want to stay outdoors, the umbrella-topped cafe tables beckon.
Chef Rob Newton

We had fava been falafel, (with that wonderful tahini) strawberry-ricotta crostini and heirloom polenta fries, along with ramp cheese puffs and fish tacos. If you are a biscuit lover (and who isn't) be sure to get an order.

Since the cafe is a full-service restaurant, there is also a bar. The rhubarb collins featured local Greenhook Gin with seasonally fresh rhubarb and red sorrel. Oh, and it was delicious.

Currently at the Canteen, both soups are vegetarian: tomato lentil and corn and chili chowder. and both salad entrees are gluten free as well: kale and beet, or strawberry and quinoa.