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.