Thursday, December 29, 2011

Travel Insurance

Until the United States passes health care reform, millions of Americans will continue to be uninsured or underinsured. If you like to travel, you may need even more insurance for accidents of unexpected medical conditions. offers a way to cover the gap between Medicare and other health costs. It offers the option of continuing with your own personal doctor to ill the gaps in Medicare policies.

My Medicare offers prescription drug plans and information on preventive health measures, like flu shots.

Vegetarian Thai Food

I have a complicated relationship with Beet, the hip Thai restaurant around the corner from my house.

Brooklyn has no shortage of moderately priced, vegetarian-friendly Thai restaurants. This one also has good cocktails and nice decor. But we had two bad experiences, one where one of my kids found the exo-skeleton of a huge bug in her food. We were at Beet at the time, but the waiter seemed unconcerned and did not offer to replace the dish.

Another time, we picked up and had a huge long straight black hair in one dish. We went back to the restaurant, but again they did not offer to replace the food.

So we avoided the place for a couple of years.

We gave it another try recently and the food was delicious: vegetarian chicken in a basil curry, tofu in massaman curry, seitan in thick glass noodles.

No bugs, no hair.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

London Apartments

When my family and I last took a family trip to London, we decided an apartment rental was the way to go. Our family vacation was for a week, and with a London Apartment we feel like natives.

Turns out London Apartments are a great deal only if rent from the right place. we got ours from a site that no longer exists, and the apartment was extremely cold, with barely working heat and inadequate lights.

But friends who have rented from London Apartments have had much better experiences, with family friendly apartments vetted by a local family.

Still, we had a lovely post-Christmas week, shopping the Harrod’s sale, visiting Kew Gardens, cooking vegetarian curry in our apartment and exploring London’s museums. My kids loved the city view from the London Eye, and making friends with the owner of the local chip shop. We also got half-price tickets to two West End productions, including an all-male version of Swan Lake.

Our apartment, near Portobello Road, offered easy access to the Tube, so we got weekly transit cards and explored every inch of the city.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Patagonia family vacation

On Christmas Day, people drove convertibles around New York City – with the top down.
It is time to see the Patagonia glaciers before global warming melts them away.

Navimag runs multi-day boat trips that take you up close to the Patagonia glaciers. The family friendly adventure trips include a whopping 80% off the trip price for kids under age two. But even families with older kids get to enjoy discounts; 20% off for ages 12 and under, and 10% off for students. Cabins can accommodate up to four people; larger families need a second cabin.

Another bonus for families; low season, with correspondingly lower rates, runs April – October, so families can go over summer break.

The ships, called ferries, are nothing like cruise ships. One ferry take sup to 52 passengers, while the other can accommodate 320. The smaller size means more personal service, though also fewer activities. For kids who love wildlife, the scenery is the main attraction: you can see dolphins, sea lions, wild birds, and whales. There is a game room for down time.

The Chile Patagonia Tours are also great for budding photographers, who can catalogue the fjords, glaciers and snow-capped mountains that they see.

The meals are all inclusive, and vegetarian food is always available.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Family Ski Trip: France

Skiing in Vermont is a no-brainer when you live in New York, but true powder heads fly out west.

Except for the really dedicated, and well-heeled, who go to Europe.

Skiing in France actually makes a lot of sense. You can take a ski train to the Espace Killy ski resort in Tignes, and drink French wine après-ski. Flights to Europe are at one of their lowest points during ski season, which runs from September to May, and you can find Tignes Ski Deals to make your family vacation reasonably priced.

Imagine being able to eat all that delicious French cheese and burning off the calories skiing.

There are many types of Tignes accommodations including
Tignes apartments where you can make your meals and full service Tignes hotels.

For families, ski school starts at age 2 ½ and there is childcare for younger kids. The village has family friendly restaurants, including vegetarian friendly creperies.

Hanukkah latkes – crispy or not?

Like a matzo brei debate, Jews are divided over the issue of latkes. You generally want the latkes your mother made for Hanukkah, either shredding the potatoes by hand or pureeing them in a Cuisinart or blending.

If your mom went the latter route, you got something soft, more like a pancake. This is the kind of latke I am used to. My husband’s mother grated her potatoes, and fried them in more oil, resulting in the traditional crispy latke.

Not to be a heretic, but I actually prefer the crispy latke. And I can cheat when I make this, using the shredding blade on my Cuisinart so I don’t have to lose the skin off my knuckles.

Whatever kind of latkes you eat, they all taste better with homemade applesauce.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Home James

If you’ve lived in a neighborhood for years, you remember the history of its real estate. You may buy your artisanal cheese from a storefront that once sold cell
phones, or buy designer clothing from a spot that once housed a check cashing place.

So it is with the restaurant James, where a bodega once offered convenience for Prospect Heights, Brooklyn residents. Our friends, who lived around the corner, remember buying milk and cigarettes here.

But the gleaming bar, dark wood and reclaimed tin ceiling speak to a different era, one more likely to drink the gin cocktail (with bits of ice, St. Germain, lemon juice and fresh mint) than beer from a paper bag.

ames has a super Sunday Supper deal: appetizer, main course and dessert, for $30. Choices are limited, but twice when I’ve been there, both appetizers and both main courses were vegetarian. You can also order off the regular menu, but it’s nice when vegetarians aren’t marginalized.

Well, ok, we can’t go there on burger night. But any other night is vegetarian-friendly – perfectly composed salads, soups like the parsnip soup topped with Brussels sprouts. Simply divine.

The risotto with wild mushrooms had a hint of truffle oil and was studded with meaty fungi. Buttery skate over broccoli and arctic char over beets elevated the humble vegetables accompanying the fish.

I can’t wait to go back.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tourists in Brooklyn

There are those evenings when you go out without a reservation and think you might never eat. We went to a restaurant with friends, and a soon to expire gift certificate. But there was a 2 hour wait. So we went to another restaurant, then another.

Our mistake was to be in Williamsburg, a great place to eat, but maybe not so much if you don’t live there and don’t know the next best place to try. Also, it was Saturday, amateur night.

We thought our goose was cooked.

Finally, we wound up at The Fat Goose. It looked promising: exposed brick walls, chandeliers, tin ceiling, only half full.

But all those tables were spoken for.

The host was very gracious, and sat us at the bar. He said in 15 minutes, if a certain table didn’t show, we could eat there.

Fourteen minutes later, they walked in.

Meanwhile, we were contemplating drinks. Fat Goose has a very trendy cocktail menu, but the new winter menu was all rum and bourbon, neither of which I like.

There were 2 IPAs on tap, including my fave, Smuttynose. But both were out. We sampled the Ommegang wheat beer, which no one really liked.

So we drank wine.

Conversation was difficult with our group, since we were lined up at the bar, but then the people at the corner left, so we moved there and ordered appetizers.

Remember when appetizers were called apps & no one had a smartphone?

So Fat Goose, of course, puts goose fat in things where it doesn’t belong, like a lovely looking lentil, pear and Stilton salad, or kale salad. But both were tasty without the goose.

Then, we got a table so we could order main courses. A progressive dinner in one small restaurant.

Vegetarian options for main courses included a sweet potato strudel with oddly bitter carrots and scallops with roasted cauliflower.

We also had wild mushroom toasts with goat cheese – the best thing on the menu.
Next time, a reservation.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Artisanal Meat, Veggie Sandwiches

When a restaurant touts the origins of its meat, form four local butchers and specialty shops, I figure the vegetarian food is going to be an after thought. But Zito's Sandwich Shoppe in Park Slope, Brooklyn, puts as much care into its veggie sandwiches as it does in its meat offering, so this is definitely a vegetarian friendly place.

Of the 13 classic sandwiches, 5 are vegetarian (3 if you don’t eat fish). Plus you can create your own. All are served on brick oven bread baked by Il Fornaretto in Bensonhurst, or gluten-free bread from Everybody Eats in Park Slope.

The meatless was my first choice, with plenty of grilled portobellos roasted peppers and broccoli rabe, with artichoke spread. My only gripe was that it was too cold, so if you can let your sandwich sit for awhile, or ask the counter guys to heat it up.

But this brings up the problem many have with this place. The food is wonderful, but waits can be interminable. If you order arancini, Sicilian rice balls (there is an addictive veggie version, with spinach and homemade mozzarella) and sip a craft beer, you might be a little less puckish when your food arrives.

Sandwiches are huge, and make a more than filling dinner; at lunch, you might only eat half and save the rest for later. You could also split a sandwich and get one of the 6 veggie side dishes: faro salad with roasted corn, garlicky broccoli rabe or lentil with caramelized onions.

The eggplant parm, with more of that homemade mozzarella and a slightly too salty tomato sauce was a perfect counterpoint to the crusty bread. If you like breakfast for dinner, try the bargain Potatoes & eggs sandwich; scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, onions and parmesan cheese, with tomato sauce on the side.

The chickpea fritters were so meaty that my husband was convinced he had been given meat. These fritters are not like falafel at all, but with the lettuce, tomato and lemon, they were yummy.

Next on my list to try, before I start customizing my sandwiches, is the Sicilian tuna, with arugula and tapenade.

We were not bothered by our long waits, since the guys working there were so friendly and they have a great sense of humor. A family friendly place that promotes its high chairs and growlers has to be. Fill those growlers with Sixpoint craft ale to go, or drink a beer with your sandwich. There is also wines from Long Island based Gotham Project.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vegetarian Chicken Soup

As a Jewish mother, I supposedly have the panacea for colds, chicken soup. This legendary broth-y soup has been spooned in the mouths of generations of kids, with the urgent, “eat it, it’s good for you.”

I don’t make chicken soup, since my family is vegetarian, but for years I have made a rich vegetable soup, using vegetable stock to make a soup with carrots, parsnips, celery and onions.

But my youngest daughter doesn’t like broth-y soup.

Now, we take other measures to ensure winter health, getting flu shots, drinking Traditional Medicinals cold tea when we get the sniffles, and not going outside with a wet head (not sure what this one does, but my own Jewish mother instilled it in me).

Still, I wanted Nora to eat the restorative soup.

Here’s the thing – she loves soup, but only cream soup. One day, I took her bowl and buzzed it with the immersion blender. Voila – she ate the soup.

Then I thought about other soups and ways to get more vegetables into her. Nora hates cooked carrots, but if they are blended in soup, she willingly eats them. And I find ginger to be particularly soothing when I have a sore throat. Since Nora is a singer (and a screamer) she gets a lot of sore throats, cold or no.

Note: You can make this soup vegan by sautéeing the onion in olive oil.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 T butter
1 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
2 quarts vegetable stock (homemade is much better, but you can use Imagine)
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 sweet potato, peeled and chunked
1 potato, peeled and chunked
slat and pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

Cook the onion in the butter on low heat till soft, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, stock and all the veggies and turn the heat up high. Add salt and pepper.
When small bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are soft.

Remove the piece of ginger.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender (you can do this when the soup is hot) or wait till it cools and blend in a food processor until smooth.

Add the ginger back. Heat and taste; add salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce, if needed.

This soup gets even more ginger-y the next day. Just don’t serve anyone the huge chunk of ginger; it can turn them off ginger forever.

Have a bowl after you get your flu shot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Decluttering: a pack-rat’s tips

An earthquake recently jolted New York City. While damage was minimal, my oldest daughter posted a photo on Facebook of her youngest sister’s playroom, “apparently the only part of our house affected by the earthquake.”

I have raised a slob.

Now, I don’t profess to be all spic & span, but I do prefer a clutter-free zone. Yet I am at heart a pack rat. This is why I believe strongly in closets.

Our family has a lot of them.

When we built an addition to our house, we added a wall of extra deep closets, where the television, DVDs and board games live. We also have a ton of videotapes, which no one watches. I’m not even sure our VCR works. The kids watch movies on their computers.

In our battle to reclaim floor space, I have these 10 tips:

Bins. I love color-coded bins, so kids can remember that crayons go in the yellow, markers in the blue.

Baskets. I use baskets throughout the house, for hats, gloves, makeup.

Shelves. All those bins and baskets can’t be in the floor, because then there would be no place to walk, or play.

Clear boxes. These are best for high closet shelves, so you can see which has the sweaters, which the ski socks.

Rotation. Most kids simply have too many toys. If you put some out of reach – in the basement, under the bed, on the highest shelf, it limits kids’ options, plus it seems like they have new toys when you bring them back out.

Donation. When they clearly have outgrown something, I donate it. But don’t donate too soon. My youngest decided she was done with Barbie, but I knew she was too young to completely give them up. I put them in the basement playroom and, although she denies it, we know that she still plays with them.

Stoop/yard sale. In our Brooklyn neighborhood, families have frequent stoop sales, where they unload extra or unwanted toys. Be beware. Some kids use the opportunity to buy new toys with the money they make (we usually donate the money to whatever cause the kids choose).

Digital camera. Get rid of school projects, but preserve them by photographing them before you trash them (and don’t let kids see them in the garbage).

Less is more. I really like when beds are made, but blankets and covers make it more difficult for kids. We have sheets topped by comforters with print covers. All you have to do is pull the comforter up and the bed is made. And laundry is simpler. You don’t have to wash the comforter often; just wash the cover.

Build. If you run out of floor space, build a new closet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Family at Play: Kids on Bikes

Biking has been one of my favorite activities since I was a child. When I was a teen, I went on bike trips with American Youth Hostels, and even when I had a car at college, I used a bicycle to explore St. Louis. It seemed natural that when my husband and I bought our second brownstone, we built a closet specifically for our bikes.

Like many kids, our girls played soccer, and the fields were a couple of miles from our house. We used to drive over, but the extremely limited parking meant we could circle the fields for half an hour, with one kid missing practice and the others growing bored. We told the kids, “if you want to play soccer, you have to ride to the field.”

This turned a couple of hours at soccer into a day-long adventure. In our first house, we stored 2 bikes in the cellar, 2 on the ground floor, and the third up the stoop. Just getting all the bikes out took 45 minutes. And when the kids were younger, they rode very slowly.

But as their skill level and confidence grew, so did their speed. Our youngest daughter, now 13, rides a 35 mile round trip to the beach with no complaint, and she went on a bike trip with camp, New Hampshire to Maine, biking 45 miles a day.

Our middle daughter, now in college, often rode her bicycle from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side for high school. She was a competitive soccer player, so she didn’t ride when she had soccer practice, but we rode our bikes to her games.

Family vacations have included Backroads bike trips in Denmark and Italy, and shorter bike trips as part of a family trip. We have ridden bike trails in Northampton, MA, Jim Thorpe, PA, and Cincinnati, OH. We rode bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and through Mayan ruins in Mexico.

We were trying to decide what to do to celebrate Nickelodeon's 8th Annual Worldwide Day of Play this weekend, but the 13 year old has practice for the Ultimate team. So we will go on a own bike ride without her.

Our kids all played varsity sports, from track to soccer to Ultimate, they ski, they swim, they hike and rock climb. But they go their start on tiny bicycles with training wheels. Get your family started on exercise today.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ordering in for the Emmy's

A pile of outdated menus stuck in a kitchen drawer is so 1990. Use your drawers for their intended purpose, to store corkscrews and bottle openers, and order your food on the web.

New Yorkers have several online delivery services, which offer a network of restaurants and no additional cost to the coach potato. With the Emmy’s approaching and football season under way, this is a good time to consider options.

Grub Hub
has over 15,000 restaurants in 13 cities, including Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

You can sort by cuisine, restaurant name or menu item and read Yelp reviews to help try an unfamiliar restaurant.
also includes Yelp reviews. They live up to their name by trying to include all the menus of local restaurants in every market – but this means that some restaurants don’t participate in their online ordering program. So you might see a menu for a place you want to order from – and not be able to order.

Of course, you could actually leave your house, but you can also spend hours searching the 250,000 menus from cities across the United States. It’s also in over 400 college campuses.

Seamless offers apps for apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry users, or you can old-school it with a computer. The site covers 7,000 restaurants in 27 cities across the US and UK, and you can bookmark restaurants you like for easy re-ordering., the newest service in New York, has restaurants, but also grocery stores, liquor stores and florists who deliver – about 3,000 places in all. It has about 10,000 places in 10 cities outside New York. offers reward points; follow the other sites on Twitter for promotions and special deals.

To go with your food, try The Sparkling White. Created by the folks at Sauza in honor of seven-time Emmy winner Betty White, a nominee for Hot In Cleveland.

7.5 oz. Tequila
2.5 oz. Triple Sec
3 oz. fresh lime juice
3 oz. Agave Nectar
12 oz. Prosecco or sparkling white wine
Lime Wedge for garnish
Combine first 4 ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain the mixture into a chilled champagne glasses and top it off with the sparkling wine. Serves 9.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vegetarian Banh Mi: Cheap Brooklyn Lunch

Israeli relatives who came to our house passed one of the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich places in Park Slope. “What means this vegetarian pork?” they asked.

I have never been sure at Hanco’s Bubble Tea & Vietnamese Sandwich because they always seem to be out of it, but the vegetarian pork at Henry’s Vietnamese Sandwiches is seitan in a spicy barbeque sauce, with the usual coriander, cucumber, shredded carrots and diakon radish.

Henry’s sandwiches are cheaper, too; the vegetarian ones are only $5.50 here, instead of $6.50.

If you like very spicy food, you can handle the hot version; the medium needs an extra squirt of Sriracha.

The only disappointment is that there is no whole wheat option.

Henry’s has a delicious vegetarian chicken sandwich, that taste just like – chicken. There is also vegetarian ham or fish, neither of which I’ve tried yet.

Hanco’s is a much nicer place to sit; Henry’s has just a couple of tables and is really better for take-out.

Henry’s also has a variety of brown rice dishes, each $5.95, with meat or the veggie meat.

Both Henry’s & Hanco’s are on Seventh Avenue; Fifth Avenue in Park Slope also has Lotus (all sandwiches are $5.95) and Home (all sandwiches are $6).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The (almost) Empty Nest

My middle daughter left for college last week. Let me rephrase that. We took her to college. Back in the dark ages, parents (like my mother) happily dropped college-bound kids off at bus stations or airports, but in this day of helicopter parenting, the whole family comes to take a kid to college, often turning it into a mini family vacation.

When my first daughter went to college two years ago, everyone and his brother (including my older brother) told me about the cool Bed, Bath & Beyond college shopping experience. You choose everything at your local BB &B, then it’s waiting for you at the one near college.

But Hallie refused to participate. She wanted her stuff and she wanted it then. While we trolled the aisles, numerous sales associates approached us, to tell us about the college deal. Her age, the rabid look in her eyes and the false cheer I was holding on to (look, sweetie, only $39.99 for the body pillow) must have tipped them off. Hallie brushed off each salesman, assuring them that she wanted to take her stuff.

Then one guy tried a new approach. He could have our stuff delivered, free, in the five boroughs. Hallie, normally placid, snapped. “Stop trying to tell me how to shop,” she said.

We took our 5 overstuffed bags with us and couldn’t fit through the revolving-door turnstiles at the 16th St entrance to the F.

Sela loved the idea of shopping with the clicker at BB&B. her entire shop took 20 minutes – no debating over shades of towels or the look of her mattress pad. But it turns out that the pick up doesn’t go as smoothly. Your order is not put together until you arrive at the college-area BB &B, so we essentially shopped twice – we had to wait 45 minutes while the stuff was pulled.

And when you buy the stuff near college, you can’t wash it at home first.

So we’re learning. We’re also readjusting our buying habits with only one kid at home.

We also just discovered the Empty Nester, a cocktail that is perfect for using up leftover red wine.
1 ½ Parts Sauza Silver Tequila
½ Part Cabernet Sauvignon
½ Part Triple Sec
½ Part Agave Nectar
½ Part Fresh Lime juice

Pour all ingredients over ice in mixing glass. Shake and strain into a martini glass and garnish

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Telepan: Friendly to Vegetarians

I loved the restaurant Judson Grill (where Bar Americain is now) so I was not surprised to like the same chef's upper west side place. Bill Telepan, owner of Telepan, is a greenmarket fan and though he has meat on his menu, he also offers many vegetarian choices.

Starters on the late summer menu include a vegetarian-friendly vegetable-bread soup, enriched with olive old and parmigiano cheese. Cabbage is cooked slowly until it is sweet and tender.

A 'gazpacho' salad featured chopped heirloom tomatoes, covered with bits of cucumber and onion. Sadly, no spoon was offered, so the delicious soupy liquid went to waste (I'd finished my bread).

There is also an egg on fried green tomato, and smoked trout on a corn blini, an upgrade of what your Russian bubbe might have served on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Family Meal: Where are the veggies?

It was always challenging to raise vegetarian kids who didn’t eat vegetables. For years, we fell into a pasta trap, making a vat of pasta most nights and letting the kids carbo load.

At a certain point, I’d had enough. I wanted my daughters to eat vegetables. It took some work, but eventually, I was able to get them to eat a more balanced diet, one that included many different vegetables.

I didn’t want to hide the veggies, like The Sneaky Chef Missy Chase Lapine so I came up with a few tips:

1. Drop the pasta. The first thing I did was just stop buying pasta. If I didn’t have it in the house, I couldn’t make it or offer it.

2. Rethink the sauce. Ok, so I do now make pasta once every other month. But I make a tomato sauce that includes an entire package of frozen chopped spinach and the girls are none the wiser. I dub this sauce ‘puttanesca’ and add chopped black olives, capers and hot sauce, along with shredded carrots and chopped tomatoes. So they get plenty of vegetables.

3. Go to the farmer’s market. The unusually colored vegetables, like orange cauliflower and purple carrots, have enticed my kids to try an array of veggies.

4. While I make dinner, I put out carrot sticks, slices of red pepper, jicama, or sugar snap peas. If a child comes by fainting from hunger, I point out the spread, which also includes hummus or another dip. If a kid is truly hungry, she will eat the veggies.

5. One of my kids just won’t eat salad. She hates leafy greens. Since my husband and I love salad, this causes great consternation. But, she loves fresh peas. We used to buy them just for her – snapping them is so time consuming – but the other girls figured they were missing out. So now they all eat fresh peas.

6. Read cookbooks together, and not just ones specifically designed for kids. The photography in Chez Panisse cookbooks makes almost anything look appealing. Except meat, but that’s another story.

7. Bake with veggies. Roasted acorn squash puree enlivens my waffles and muffins. You can even cut down on the sugar in muffin recipes when you add the puree. In a pinch, I have used prepared baby food.

8. Eat at ethnic restaurants. When kids get served food they don’t recognize, they might be more apt to try, not snub it. Since my kids like spicy food, they will try almost anything pungent at a Korean, Indian or Vietnamese restaurant.

9. My husband and I would sometimes treat ourselves to a snack before feeding the kids; samosas, or Spring rolls, saying we just had to eat right away and we couldn’t share. Of course, this made the kids really want to try our vegetable-filled treat and we’d ‘reluctantly’ offer a taste.

10. Finally, don’t stress too much. Soon enough, they go to school, on play dates, or out with their own money and make their own food choices. Model good eating habits and hope some of it rubs off.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

High Line & Haute Cuisine

One of the joys of the High Line extension is The Lot, at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, in NYC. This former parking lot, at the new northern terminus of The High Line, is filled food trucks and an outdoor bar, The Lot on Tap.

For those of us with OCD issues, The Lot has well-maintained portable toilets, with running water and soup outside, so you can wash your hands. The water is operated by a foot pedal, so no touching grotty faucets.

You need clean hands to tackle some of the food, which on the day we visited included Taim Mobile. This all vegetarian truck has falafel sandwiches, with fresh and tasty falafel and spicy sauces to perk up your lunch (or dinner - The Lot operates 11am – 10, Sunday – Wednesday; till 11pm other days).

Taim also makes a zesty and refreshing ginger mint lemonade and date smoothies; the kids can drink this while parents have a craft beer on tap.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Celebrating National Ice Cream Month with the Family

I don’t think we had National Ice Cream Month when I was a kid, but then, in summer, every day was ice cream day. Now we have to worry about sugar intake, fat content, lactose intolerance and gluten allergies to cones.

So it’s nice to just forget all about that and just revel in frozen treats in July. Loews Hotels offers free ice cream all summer long, from 4-5pm.

All North American Loews Hotels have this Summer of Loews celebration.

In NYC, families can celebrate locally at the new Ample Hills Creamery, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. This ice cream shop makes its own base, using natural, hormone-free milk and eggs. Then the fun really begins.

Parents can have Otis Stout & Pretzels, with chocolate Stout ice cream and chocolate covered pretzels, or salted crack caramel, with salted caramel ice cream and cookies. Both of these offer addictive combos of sweet and salty. There is also a maple bacon, but it doesn’t work with my avowed vegetarianism.

Kids veer towards the baked/unbaked, with cookie dough and cookie bits, or the colorful cotton candy, which amazingly has no artificial tints or flavors.
Ample Hills also serves up scoops at Celebrate Brooklyn!

The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
, at Fulton Ferry Pier, is best reached by Water Taxi, or after a walk or bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The small shop, an old fireboat house (with long lines) offers only a few flavors, but each is perfection. The peaches & cream or strawberry will make believers out of those who don't usually like fruit flavored ice cream.

A new nearby park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, has playgrounds, free kayaking and rowing and the ferry to Governors Island.

July 17, The Bell House is hosting an Ice Cream Takedown.

Monday, July 11, 2011

10 Reasons to Visit Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, Virginia is a laid-back place for a family vacation. The beach area is not far from the historic triangle destinations/southeast/1702.html of Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown.

1. Virginia Beach has 14 miles of free beaches, with different attractions at each. The main resort area has restaurants and nightlife within walking distance of the sand, while of Sandbridge, on the southern shore, is more tranquil. Little Island Park has playgrounds, tennis courts and beach volleyball.

2. Swimmers should head to Chesapeake Beach, with its protected, shallow water. The beaches are great for a family vacation; teens can go to a livelier beach, and families with young kids can go to another. And if you have kids in different ages ranges, you can spend your time exploring them all.

3. Along Atlantic Avenue between 17th and 25th Streets, you can see shows with live music, magicians and jugglers. The free oceanfront entertainment occurs nightly during the summer.

4. Get in the water with a kayak; one rental outfit offers Dolphin Kayak tours where you look for dolphin, loggerhead sea turtles and marine birds.

5. You can bike the flat, quiet roads; bring a bike or rent a beach cruiser, a one-speed bike that usually comes with a front basket for your towel.

6. The free Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum has exhibits on the migratory wildfowl that fly through Eastern Virginia. There are wood carving demonstrations, historic decoys and exhibits on the history of Virginia Beach.

7. If it rains, go to the Virginia Beach Rock Gym, which has a 32–foot climbing wall, boulders and daring edges.

8. Vegetarians who eat fish can dine well in Virginia Beach. The Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean provide fresh seafood, including blue crab and rockfish. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk Food Tour offers an inside look at the area.

9. Shop with your kids at The Virginia Beach Farmer's Market has local produce, organic products and a restaurant.

10. The Old Beach Farmers Market has specialty produce like heirloom tomatoes that you can bring home to your friends or cook in your vacation rental.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vegetarian Indian Dining

Eating vegetarian is easy at Indian restaurants, and Tamarind Tribeca elevates the often austere experience of going out for vegetarian or Indian food. This is fine dining, with great cocktails (the signature ginger martini, with Absolut peppar). But still kid-friendly.

The huge, bi-level restaurant is elegant and refined, in an Art Deco building flooded with sunlight during the day. At night, dramatic lighting transforms the space, creating intimate areas.

We started with samosas, of course, my kids’ favorite. These had a twist; a pomegranate sauce that leant a touch of sweetness. The kachori, lentil and green pea pancakes, had dried mango powder on top.

The tandoor baked nan had none of the greasiness you sometimes get. I was able to convince the kids to get the onion version, but not the wild mushroom and truffle oil; I’ll have to save that for another visit, without the family.

The saag paneer was a more refined, less buttery version of the take-out Indian were are accustomed to, and the channa masala had a hint of pomegranate powder in with the ground chickpeas and ginger.

We loved the rich nargisi kofta, dumplings made of lotus root and cheese, in a saffron-cashew sauce, and achi khumb, shiitake mushrooms with pickled vegetables.

Tamarind is about twice as expensive as a neighborhood Indian restaurant, but more than twice as good.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Food on the Beach: Not just lobster rolls

Head east on July 16th for the first annual Dan's Taste of Two Forks. Over 40 restaurants from the Hamptons and the North Fork, plus over a dozen local wineries and food purveyors, will all be at Sayre Park, Bridgehampton.

Marcus Sammuelsson (Red Rooster Harlem) hosts and Good Day NY co-anchor Rosanna Scotto )whose family owns FRESCO by Scotto is Master of Ceremonies.

Babette's serves both meat and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options at its East Hampton restaurant, so check it out for vegetarian tastes. Southfork Kitchen specializes in sustainable seafood restaurant and local produce; it even has its own garden. One of the North Fork restaurants, Noah’s, serves lobster rolls and small plates.

It won’t all be healthy eating; newlywed Dylan Lauren will have a Dylan's Candy Bar table.

The event benefits East End food pantries through Have a Heart Community Trust. Buy tickets online.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Airline Passengers: family travel complaints

I am sometimes known as a complainer, but I only complain when I think it is warranted.

When my daughter flew home from Israel with her Hebrew school class, they were not allowed to bring water on the plane (i.e, fill their water bottles after security). But the overworked flight attendants either ignored a the group of teens or figured they didn’t deserve good service. My daughter literally had nothing to drink on the LOOONG flight to JFK and arrived thoroughly dehydrated.

hen I complained to Delta, they stepped up to the plate. Not only did they offer me $100 credit, but they extended this to everyone in her group.

My point is that if you speak up, you can often get results.

That is why taking the Airline Passenger Experience Association survey is a good idea. How can airlines improve their service if they don’t know you are unhappy in the first place? The survey cover travel experience, from check-in and food, to in-flight entertainment and cabin ambiance.

And if you go over to TravelingMom and take the survey through their link, you are entered to win an iPad2!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ordering Dinner in NYC

Even with central air, it is often just too hot to cook in summer in NYC. I make a lot of salads, and just recreated a sushi sandwich, based on one from ‘snice.

If we still want to eat in our garden, we resort to take out. allows us to clean out our drawers and throw away all those battered menus. The site has dozens of restaurants in my area, with menus, reviews and specials – a free soup or extra discount.

And if you follow allmenus on twitter (@allmenus) you can score extra discounts.
Allmenus has thousands of restaurants in over 200 cities, so it is also a great resource when you are traveling and can't find a restaurant.

For locals if you comment below, you can win a $20 gift certificate from Signpost, good for any Allmenus NYC restaurant.

Sushi sandwich (for one):
¼ avocado
3-4 strips spicy nori (I used Annie Chun’s)
3-4 slices firm tofu
1 multigrain wrap
Spread wrap with avocado. Lay nori on top, then tofu. Roll, slice in half and eat.
You can add sliced cucumber, pickled ginger and more wasabi.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Summer Getaways Every Kid Should Experience

Our family vacation plans are on hold as we figure out how to pay for college for 2 kids, and keep the third happy.

Luckily, in New York City, you can find lots to do that is free, and takes you away from your regular self.

Go to an Island
No, we are not heading to St. Barth’s or even Cape Cod. But Governors Island has so many free activities that we could head there again and again, and still enjoy ourselves.

We can laze away in a hammock, ride a bike (Bike & Roll even offers free bikes for an hour on Fridays) or splurge on a family surrey ride.
And free ferry rides provide service from Brooklyn and Manhattan to Governors Island.

Go to the Beach
This is not exactly the same as going to an island, as anyone who has tried to swim in the waters off Manhattan (an island) can attest. From our house in Brooklyn, we can take the subway to Coney Island or Brighton Beach, and spend the day at the shore for the cost of a Metrocard swipe ($2.25; free for kids under 44 inches).

We can also ride our bikes to the somewhat less crowded Manhattan Beach (no direct subway access, but you can take a bus there, too, or pay $10 to park). If we are feeling really adventurous, we can bike to the bucolic Rockaways, particularly Breezy Point.

Take in a Game
The boys of summer played baseball and if you don’t live near a major or a minor league baseball stadium, you should take a trip. We can see the Mets and Yankees (both major leagues teams; the Mets, alas, barely) or minor league affiliates, the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones, again, all just a Metrocard ride away.

Time with the Grandparents
My husband’s mother lives in a house that can accommodate our entire brood, and just down the road, a free pool and tennis court provide entertainment. Yes, we have to get there, but this kind of family vacation, spending time with the older relatives, is invaluable. We also get to see other relatives who live in my husband’s hometown, and see how he spent his boyhood.

Amusement Parks
Even if we can’t afford a trip to Disney World this summer, we can still spend a relatively inexpensive night at a nearby water park or theme park and get our fill of thrill rides and fried dough.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Family Travel Planning with Goby

I pride myself on always being in the know, but it can be hard when you are traveling to figure out what to do if it is suddenly raining, or your kids have a craving for Vietnamese food.

But if you have an iPhone or iPad, Goby can be your family vacation savior. This app, which you can also use as a search engine on your laptop, gives you hundreds of activities, food choices, and places to stay throughout the US.

A Test Drive
For years, we have spent a grim 3 or 4 days in Cincinnati, OH, visiting my husband’s family.

Ok, grim may be a bit extreme. Cincinnati has a great museum center, the King’s Island amusement park and a museum on the underground railroad. But it doesn’t have many vegetarian restaurants, or so I thought.

We put Goby to the test and it spit out so many choices, we may have to make 2 family vacations to Cincinnati this summer.

A Comparison
Since I figure I know my hometown best of all, I all looked into the biking recommendations for Brooklyn. Local bike shops were listed, which can be particularly useful when you are on the road and get a flat. And bike paths in & near the city gave me choices for a ride.

I can’t wait to see how Goby does on my next vacation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cheese Loving Vegetarian

I could never be a vegan – I love cheese too much. So I was excited to be invited to a cooking class with Top Chef Ariane Duarte and the makers of Finlandia Cheese.

Finlandia has a new Lacey Swiss, with less fat and fewer calories. They also make Swiss, light Swiss muenster and other cheeses, all made in Finland.

We helped make a rich, gooey macaroni & cheese, with chipotle paste, and mushroom & Swiss cheese tartlets. The tarts are easy to make and if your kids like mushrooms, a fun dinner.

Chef Ariane’s recipe, below, can be tweaked with the addition of some chopped spinach or broccoli – I love to sneak in some greens.

Mushroom and Finlandia Swiss Tartlets
1c shitake mushroom sliced
1c Portobello mushrooms sliced
½ c domestic button mushrooms sliced
2 shallots diced
2T olive oil
1T butter
1T chopped parsley
1c Finlandia Swiss Cheese, small dice (I made this with the low-fat Lacey Swiss and it was just as good)
1/2c parmesan
Salt & pepper
4 eggs
2 c heavy cream
36 prepared tartlet shells

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a sauté pan add butter and oil. Get hot and add shallots and mushrooms. Cook on high heat until mushrooms are brown and soft. Season with S&P. Add parsley.
In a blender add mushrooms, eggs, cream and parmesan. Blend for about 1 minute (not too smooth) Add in Swiss cheese. With a small scoop fill tartlets. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15-18 minutes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vegetarian on family vacation

When my oldest daughter was little, she hated Indian food. This was a problem for my & my husband, since Indian food is so vegetarian friendly.

So I tricked her, ordered in Indian food & billing it as Pakistani. She loved it. I don’t know if she had confused southeast Asian food with something out of Pocahontas, and I know that Indian & Pakistani foods are not identical, but we do what we can to get our kids to eat.

Saag paneer is a great way to get kids to eat spinach, whether they are vegetarian or not. And you don’t even have to tell them it’s spinach, which may turn them off – it’s saag paneer.

I was happy to learn about TheDailyMeal, a site for traveling vegetarians. There is a list of the best countries for vegetarian dining, including the obvious India, and the not so obvious: Belgium and Costa Rica, for example.

We seek out ethnic restaurants on our family vacations, figuring that's the best places to find vegetarian food.

If only I could convince my Ohio in-laws that vegetarian food is not only important to us, it is critical to the health of the planet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Have Booty, Will Travel

If you have teens or tweens in the house, surely you know that Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens May 20.

What you may not know is that the great snack Pirate’s Booty is also getting in on the action. The all natural rice & corn puff, Pirate’s Booty, is gluten free and made without trans fat. The cheddar cheese puffs are also relatively low in calories and sodium, so you don’t have to feel guilty about snacking.

Which is good, since you’ll want to look your best if you win the Fountain of Youth Caribbean family vacation. Enter at Pirate’s Booty for a 5 day family vacation for 4 at Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic.

Pirate Brands, makers of Pirate’s Booty, is also donating $.05 for each package sold unitl 7/31/11, up to $100,000, to Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Family Fun: Getting kids to try food

When kids are really little, we try to entice them with airplane spoons and Disney plates, but as they graduate to real flatware and the regular dishes, we sometimes lose the sense of fun.

One way I got my kids to try new goods was to buy interesting tableware. I got soup spoons in Chinatown for about $1 each, and they eagerly spooned up vegetarian Asian soups.

I have a lot of different chopsticks, both the smaller, thinner Japanese kind, and the thicker Chinese chopsticks, for stir-fries and sushi. I also bought different chopstick rests, to make the meals fun.

Not for the kids
Adults deserve a little fun, too, and I recently went to an event where party planner Cathy Riva made great cocktails even more special by rimming the glasses in colored sugar.

Because I like things less sweet, I made these at home with a mixture of sea salt and colored sugar.

Pear Ginger Fizz
1 part Sauza Silver Tequila
2tsp ginger liqueur
1 part pear juice
Top with champagne

Wet champagne flute and dip into colored sugar

Shake and strain tequila, ginger liqueur, and pear juice into the glass and top with champagne.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mother's Day Brunch

Going out for brunch in NYC is a blood sport; going out on Mother's Day is exponentially worse. Every couple of years we make a mistake and go out for Mother's Day - inevitably, we wait forever, our order is screwed up, and no one is happy.

So this year, we are heading to the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market to combine a bike ride and brunch. On the 2nd Sunday of each month, the flea market hosts a Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar, from 11am - 5pm.

The trucks include: Rickshaw Dumplings (vegetarian edamame dumplings), Kimchi Taco Truck, (falafel and kimchee) Luke’s Lobster (lobster rools, duh), and best of all, the vegan Cinnamon Snail. They have tempeh sliders, spicy seitan and grilled tofu.

For dessert, The Cavity Shoppe. I will be avoiding Schnitzel & Things.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easy Meals: Pasta Delivers

I have a friend who is an excellent cook and baker. her soups, stews, and salads are all perfect and she makes brownies, cookies and cakes that are just delicious.
But she can’t make pasta. No matter what she does, her pasta is gummy, under-sauced and a misery.

I can’t understand this because pasta is one of the easiest meals for me to throw together. In fact, I have to make an effort NOT to make pasta too often - it is a vegetarian trap, an old stand-by that is also a kid-favorite.

But if you are similarly pasta-challenged, or work long hours and face an empty fridge, Schwan’s can help. Schwan’s Home Service delivers a grocery store of choices to your home and the new Fresco by Scotto offers restaurant quality meals that you can store in your freezer, and quickly heat up.

The NYC restaurant, Fresco, has a new line of frozen entrees that include vegetarian friendly baked ziti, and pasta with spinach and mushrooms. These are easy, and pretty cheap, ways of getting veggies into your kids. The eggplant and zucchini pie disguises the vegetables under a red sauce with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. And a huge tray of it, serving 5, is only $14.80.

There are also a couple of pastas with meat, including a meat lasagne and penne a la vodka with chicken.

And best of all, you can’t possibly screw it up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Win $150!

Shanghai cuisine is one of my favorite types of Chinese food. There is actually a Chinatown restaurant in NYC called Shanghai Cuisine and they serve the famous soup dumplings.

Also, these dumplings use pork to get the haunting flavor. And crab. Not the best choice for a vegetarian. But they also have a number of tofu and vegetable dishes, with sweet & sour one of the preferred preparations.

I have friends living in Shanghai and we want to take our kids to visit. And American Airlines is not only flying to Shanghai now, they are also giving away $150 towards a flight (or anywhere AA flies.

Watch the American Airlines video and go to the American Airlines giveaway to enter the contest.

And try the soup dumplings. Even if they are not vegetarian.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ordering In

Here is the usual scenario when we want to order food. We poll family members (up to 5) to see who wants what cuisine. Then we look for menus. Usually, we don’t have a menu for the kind of food we want, or we only find an old menu for a Chinese place that closed.

We have been saved by This nationwide service lets you search nearby restaurants, narrow them down by cuisine (e.g. Thai, vegetarian, Mexican) then read menus and Yelp reviews and order your food. You can even find deals and specials on the site.

You don’t pay any extra for this - places that don’t charge for delivery don’t charge when you order through

Another cool feature - if you are on vacation and have a hankering for Indian food or pizza, you can find a place.

Now if we could only all agree on what to order...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coke for Breakfast

As a New Yorker, I always knew that adults started their mornings with coffee. As a girl, I really didn’t like milk, so my mother would put a couple of spoonfuls of coffee in my milk and I would drink it.

So I was completely shocked the first time I went to London and people started their day with tea. It just seemed so wrong.

Then I went to Texas. Everyone there, it seemed, stated their day with a Coke. A cold drink in the morning? Doesn’t your morning beverage have to be hot?

But it makes a little sense, when you think about it. Kids drink milk or orange juice in the morning, but of them cold. Who says you have to start your day with a hot liquid?

And yes, Coca-Cola is sweeter than the unsweetened coffee I still drink. But plenty of people throw a couple of sugars into their coffee. If you ask them, they say they have to cover the bitter taste of the coffee. I like the bitterness - but if you don’t like the taste of coffee, why are you drinking it?

It’s hot in the south. A cold drink makes sense. One with caffeine makes even more sense, particularly if you have kids who keep you up at night.

Coke in the morning? Still not my thing. But I wonder if Starbucks would have a better time right now if they started selling soda.

As much of the country is overtaken by malls, I think it’s important to encourage regional differences. Not only is Coke the morning beverage in the south, but people eat grits with their eggs, instead of hash browns, or biscuits instead of toast. I won’t eat biscuits with gravy (not vegetarian) but I always want to try whatever regional vegetarian specialties there are.

On my recent trip to Panama City Beach, Florida, I went to Andy’s Flour Power Bakery where they have biscuits and gravy, grits with eggs and cold sweet tea for breakfast. And Coke.

I got a plain biscuit and grits. And coffee.

But then I realized I do have a Coke product at breakfast. The Coca Cola Co. also now makes Minute Maid orange juice.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Coca-Cola® blogging program. If I am one of the first 100 blogs received by SocialsMoms, I will receive a $25 gift card. For more information on the program, click here.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Switches: New Vegetarian Dinners

No matter how much you try to innovate in the kitchen, you can quickly fall into routines. My husband grew up in a house where every Monday was spaghetti and meatballs, every Tuesday, steak, every Wednesday, overcooked fish, every Thursday, dry chicken, every Friday a pot roast (also over cooked). They went out on Saturday nights or the parents went out & the kids ate TV dinners. Apparently, they didn’t eat on Sundays.

My mother served a more eclectic, and less overcooked, mix, but she did pretty much serve chicken one of 3 ways, (I hated all of them) fish 2 or 3 different ways and everything with no salt and little flavor.

I vowed to be different, but now as my kids have gotten older, they make odd declarations, like “you know I don’t eat lentils” or “when have I ever liked (insert name of that night’s dinner).

So I’ve decided to just make new vegetarian foods every night and, in a little switch, not even take into consideration everyone’s likes and dislikes. You eat it, great, If not, leftovers.

I found a recipe for a cabbage and potato gratin recently. I was not even sure I would like it - I grew up hating cabbage. One kid sneered, then ate all the potatoes. I could swear a teensy bit of green was clinging to some of the potatoes.

The other kid expressed surprise, said she didn’t like cabbage, took a big helping, and ate it all.

And you know what? I liked it, too.

1 pound Yellow Finn potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
1 ½ pounds green cabbage, cut into ribbons
Salt and black pepper
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 cups skim milk
3 eggs
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a gallon of water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and boil until nearly tender (about 6 minutes).  Remove from boiling water with a slotted spoon.  Set aside.
Add the cabbage to the water and boil for about 5 minutes.  Drain and dry in a kitchen towel.
Combine the potatoes, cabbage, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Cottonelle blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Power Up Your Brain

In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper takes a drug that allows him to access the full capacity of his brain.

But maybe he just needed mega-doses of vegetarian DHA.

According to Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment by Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Albert Villoldo, you can build new neuropathways in your brain, grow new brain cells and live a longer, healthier life with dietary supplements. Vitamin D and vegetarian DHA can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, and cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s risk factors can be reduced through better nutrition and exercise.

Learn more about supplements for better brains here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vegetarian on St. Patrick’s Day

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve seen a number of restaurants advertising corned beef sandwiches and I started thinking out a sandwich I liked as a kid, the Reuben. A Reuben is a corned beef sandwich, typically served on pumpernickel, with thousand island dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. The whole thing is then grilled.

The thing is, even when I ate meat, I didn’t like thousand island dressing, sauerkraut, or Swiss cheese. Or pumpernickel bread. I just liked the sound of a Reuben sandwich. So my mother would make it my way, on rye bread, with no condiments or cheese. You could say it was a corned beef sandwich. But I called it a Reuben.

One day when I was about 8 or 9, we had gone out to lunch and I ordered a Reuben. Without thousand island dressing, sauerkraut, or Swiss cheese. On rye. The waitress started arguing with me, that I wanted a corned beef sandwich. I insisted that I wanted my customized Reuben. It was like the toast scene in Five Easy Pieces.

I have no idea why this waitress felt the need to argue with a little girl. but when I saw that chefs at New York restaurants insist that customers eat their food the chef’s way, I thought I’d better make my own Reuben. And now I even like Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and pumpernickel bread, though I still hate thousand island dressing.

Yves Meatless Salami
Pumpernickel bread
Swiss cheese

Drink enough Guinness Stout and you won’t even notice the missing meat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

10 tips for family travel deals

As gas prices and airline fares soar, families are looking at ways to save money, yet still take a fun family vacation. You can find deals and follow these tips to save money.

Travel Off Season
1. It can be very difficult to find ski deals Christmas week, or a cheap beach house in the Hamptons in August. Consider traveling in the ‘shoulder’ season, the time before or after the high season.

Public School breaks
This can be the most expensive time for family travel. For example, public schools in New York City have a week off in February around President’s Day, and ski vacations and flights to Florida shoot up in price. If you can take your kids out of school a day or two early, you can snag a better deal.

3. Snacks
Pack your own snacks so you don’t have to rely on overpriced convenience stores or, worse, yet, snacks at theme parks or tourist attractions. Because my family is vegetarian, I always have plenty of healthy snacks in case we can’t find suitable food. Bring refillable water bottles.

4. Car rental
Book your rental car, at a refundable rate, as early as possible. Then check prices again a week or two weeks before your trip, and again the day before. Agencies often run specials when they have a lower than expected rental rate and you can take advantage of that by rebooking at the special rate.
Car rental, step 2 Check after you rent your car. you might be able to snag an even better deal. Bid low; you can always bid again if your bid is rejected. Priceline rentals are non-refundable, so no more price checking after .on.

6. Car rental, step 3
Bring your own GPS, toll pass and car seat so you don't have to pay extra to rent these.

7. Public transportation
You might be able to forgo the rental car altogether and save even more money. Since kids often love riding trains and buses, see if you can just utilize these.

8. Museum memberships
If you are visiting a city or region with a local children’s museum, science museum, zoo or botanic garden, bring all your membership cards with you. Many non-profits offer reciprocity and you can have fun, like a local, for free.

9. Go Vegetarian
When you dine out on a family vacation, consider the vegetarian options. They are often several dollars cheaper than the rest of the menu.

10. Do Your homework
Research your chosen destination’s local convention and tourism bureau for free family-friendly events and attractions.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Alamo blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Coming Home from a Family Vacation

I was recently passing through the Orlando airport on the way home from the Disney retreat and since my flight was at 6:30pm and airlines don’t serve meals on domestic coach flights, I had to find vegetarian food.

The results were grim.

In my little neck of the woods, the Delta terminal, an Outback restaurant had no vegetarian food on the menu. The Starbucks had only chicken sandwiches left and a place I’d never heard of did have broccoli cheese soup, but everything else looked so unappetizing, I didn’t want to chance the soup.

There was a veggie burger at Burger King, which sat forlonly while everyone else scooped up hamburgers. Since no one could tell me if it had been cooked on the same grill as the meat, I avoided it. Good thing; I found out later that it had 1030mg of sodium.

I wound up at The Smoothie King where people are deluded into thinking they are choosing a healthy snack. My peanut power shake (plus chocolate) had a whopping 717 calories in the 20 oz size, the smallest. I couldn’t finish it, which led me to wonder about the people I saw ordering the large.

OK, I didn’t have to wonder much. They were HUGE.

But since neither calorie nor nutritional information was posted, how could people make an informed choice?

When I go to Starbucks, the cinnamon chip scone looks appealing, but since by NY State law, the calories are posted, I know this indulgence will cost me 480 calories.

Which is why it’s so cool that the new Starbucks Petite line has fewer calories and less sugar. The salted caramel sweet square, with chocolate, pretzels and pecans, has 190 calories and 15 grams of sugar.

And if the airport Starbucks had only sold the vegetarian roasted vegetable panini, at 350 calories, I could have had a more filling dinner, at less than half the calories.

My hotel and meals at the retreat were sponsored by Disney. And I found plenty of vegetarian food there.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

National Peanut Month

Peanut butter is a vegetarian mom’s best friend. We usually travel with a jar of peanut butter so we can make a sandwich if we can't find vegetarian food on the road.

I just found out that March is National Peanut Month - who knew? Peanut Butter & Co, one of our vegetarian family’s favorite NYC restaurants, created a pop-up PB&J Art Exhibit with the National Peanut Board.

The exhibit, The Nutropolitan Museum of Art, is open March 4-6 at the Openhouse Gallery. It features photography by Theresa Raffetto. On Saturday and Sunday, kids can make their own PB&J art in an art studio and meet a peanut farmer. The Van Leuwen Ice Cream truck will be on the street from 11am - 4pm, selling peanut butter treats. On Sunday, get PB sandwich cookies, brownies and rice crispy square from the Treats Truck, also 11am - 4pm.

Not only is the gallery free, but every family gets a free jar of Peanut Butter & Co peanut butter. How cool is that? And for every jar given out, another jar will be donated to the Food Bank For NYC.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I spent 48 hours at Disney World as part of the retreat and since this was a working trip, I didn’t bring my kids. In fact, they weren’t invited, and even had they been, one kid is in college, one was skiing with friends and the youngest was on a bar/bat mitzvah trip to Israel.

But still, every time I go away for business, I go through a bit of an exit strategy. So if I were abducted by Martians, these are things my kids would miss:

Dinner. I cook dinner most nights, and try to make double what we need for favorite meals. Then I can freeze half, or we can eat it later in the week, and I only had to cook once.

Dessert. I’ve been baking since I was a kid, and one of the tricks my mother-in-law taught me was to freeze cookies or brownies. Whenever I go away, I leave a batch of peanut butter brownies in the freezer for a treat.

Bread. Over a year ago, I started a sourdough starter, and I’ve been baking bread regularly. I’ve got it down so I can mix a dough in just a few minutes, let the starter work its magic for a few hours, then do the next step when I have time. Although the quality of the bread degrades in the freezer, I leave a couple of loaves for the kids (and my husband) for lunches.

Math homework. I am the math expert in the family, and have had to explain corresponding angles and differential equations over the phone.

Shoes. My three daughters all wear the same size shoes as I do, so we trade footwear. When I go away, I sometimes take shoes that they want with me. When I go south in winter, I leave my boots home for the jackals to pick through.

Humor. We love to laugh in my family, and my kids definitely miss my warped sense of humor.

Compassion. One of my worst trips was when my youngest daughter, who was 5 at the time, had an accident. I was on a plane from Los Angeles and when I turned on my phone at JFK, I had an increasingly sadder series of messages from her.
Estrogen. Try as he might, my husband just doesn’t get it sometimes. When one of the kids has cramps or wants to rant about her period, I am there for her.

But since my kids are teens, and I rarely go away for more than a few days without them, they can handle me being away, reachable by phone, text and email. And when I am away from them, I can enjoy:

Sleep. Our bedroom is a floor below the girls’ bedrooms and we hear every floor creak, toilet flush and late night phone call.

A break from fights. As I said, it’s an estrogen -laden household. Maybe the Martians are interested in three teenage girls?

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetarian in Vietnam

Ok, I haven’t actually been to Vietnam, but Hanco’s, in Cobble Hill and Park Slope, has Vietnamese sandwiches in three vegetarian varieties.

The traditional Vietnamese sandwich, banh mi, combines ground pork, ham, and pâté on a toasted baguette with cilantro, carrots, and daikon radish. At Hanco, the vegetarian variety has tofu, and with all the other flavors, plus the sweet/spicy Srichacha chili sauce, you really won’t miss the meat.

A vegetarian chicken and vegetarian pork variety use the same fake meat used in vegetarian Chinese dishes, and the different textures make these great choices for the vegetarian diner.

Best of all, Hanco’s now has whole wheat baguettes, giving the sandwiches a bit more heft and some fiber. All the sandwiches have mayo and butter on them, too.

The $6.50 sandwiches are perfect for lunch; if you want to have dinner here, you can add summer rolls (shrimp, lettuce, fresh mint, and vermicelli wrapped in rice paper, with a peanut hoisin sauce or garden rolls, swapping the shrimp for cucumber.

Salads have lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, carrot and mint topped with roasted peanuts, fried red onion, and scallion oil

Hanco’s also has a sardine sandwich I have yet to try, with tomato sauce along with the usual Vietnamese condiments.

Drinks include a large variety of bubble teas, with or without milk, (or soy milk, for vegans) all with large balls of tapioca. It is definitely an acquired taste.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cold and Flu

If I ever waver about getting the flu vaccine, I think back to when my oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school. It was early in the flu season, around October, and we had not yet gotten our shots. She got the flu and missed a week and a half of school. It was not a kid’s dream vacation, watching movies and reading trashy books. She was really, really sick and when she finally got better, she spent weeks playing catch up with her school work.

My youngest daughter just recovered from a nasty cold - three days of missed school - and we even visited the doctor to make sure she didn’t have some strain of flu that escaped the vaccine. No, just a cold, which she has now passed on to me.

According to Dr Tanya Remer Altmann,a pediatrician consultant for Puffs, the common cold is “the most frequent cause of school and work absenteeism.”

Dr. Altmann offers these tips for avoiding colds:

Practice Healthy Habits (get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat your veggies!)

Wash hands early and often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.

Soothe cold symptoms by drinking fluids and running vaporizers/humidifiers at night.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and put your used tissue in the trash.

Soften-And Strengthen-Your Blows by selecting a gentle but strong tissue like Puffs Plus with Lotion to help prevent chapping from frequent nose blowing.

I tried Puffs Plus with the Scent of Vicks. It brought me back to my days of have Vicks VapoRub smeared on my chest and gave me the illusion of feeling taken care of. Because no sooner had I sat down, than my young patient bleated about needing a hot drink.

So is the flu vaccine worth it? Nora still got sick, still missed school. But she was out less than half the time, and by the middle of that third day, she was fine. Had freezing rain not been falling, we might have sent her to school in the middle of the day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
continues to recommend vaccination for everyone 6 months and older this season. For more information, click here

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Family travel: U.S. getaway

Having just returned from Puerta Vallarta, where my brother-in-law treated friends and family to a vacation to celebrate his 60th birthday, I was thinking that my ideal family vacation is one that I don’t have to pay for.

But I’ve taken a number of free vacations and some are far from ideal.

For my kids, now 13, 17 and 19, any adventure related trip is up their alley. They love to ski, and though we haven’t ventured out west, we’ve had great ski vacations at Mount Snow and Smugglers’ Notch. My husband doesn’t ski, and now that the kids are older and accomplished skiers, we don’t even have to put them in ski programs. They ski together and my husband and I cross country ski. We gather by a fire for lunch, have a hot chocolate break at some point, and eat for more than normal, since we are burning fuel.

We have also taken our kids on Backroads bicycle trips. These are great because all the planning is done by the Backroads team. You choose a trip and show up on the appointed day - your bicycle is ready to go, you get a detailed map and snacks, and meals and hotels are arranged. You even have built in friends - on family trips, the Backroads planners put together groups with kids of similar ages.

We are not the only ones who love Backroads. Last year, my siblings and their kids took a family biking trip out West.

But for my money, the best place for an active family to go to in the United State is the all-inclusive Club Med Sandpiper. We have been to several Club Meds, and the mixture of family time and adult-only time is ideal. Kids have their own clubs, where they hang with kids their own age.

My girls are addicted to the circus school, where they perform on the flying trapeze. And when it is too cold to swim - my friends went to Sandpiper over Christmas, during a cold spell - there are tennis lessons, sailing trips, fitness classes.

The food, for vegetarians, fussy eaters, hearty appetites - even dieters - is amazing. Maybe dieters wouldn’t be too happy about the preponderance of food, but if they stick to salads and fresh fruit, they can find low calorie food.

My husband and I have a major birthday coming up (OK, a year away) and we’d love to go with our extended family.

If only we could find a way for my brother-in-law to pay.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Alamo blogging program, for a gift card worth $50. For more information on how you can participate, click here.