Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Travel Budget

Guest Post: I sat down today to try to sketch out a budget for the trip I am planning for this summer. I find it is helpful to give myself some realistic parameters to work within so that I am not unprepared for the amount of money I might need to be spending, but also so that once I am there I do not go crazy and spend an unnecessary amount of money. Of course it is impossible to account for every expense, as many unforeseen costs can arise once you are actually abroad, but it certainly helpful to give yourself a ballpark estimate. I figured out the costs for the two biggest expenses--the flights and hotels. Then I decided on approximately how much I expect to spend on food and drinks. I alloted a small amount of funds for souvenirs and shopping. I have an activity expenses category for things like water sports, museums, and shows. The last expense that I decided should be included in the budget was actually a precautionary expense to make sure I don't end up losing out on all the of the money I will be investing into this vacation. I needed to spend sometime looking into travel insurance prices, because I have learned from experience how much this small expense can make a difference. I decided to compare travel insurance from Moneysupermarket to get a good estimate of how much money I should include in my budget for the travel insurance. It was really easy to compare a number of rates using the site, and to make sure that the policies I was looking into were right for my trip. Now that I have my budget etched out I can start to put away a little bit of money to make sure I have a cushion and then just relax and get excited for my trip!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Roman Pizza in Park Slope: kid and diet friendly

Can you eat pizza and still stay in shape? Probably not if you scarf down a couple of slices at a most Brooklyn pizza joints, but if you go to a restaurant like Campo de’ Fiori, it's easy. First, start with one of the great salads. Even the simple mixed greens had a delicious vinaigrette, and a sprinkling of raw onions. There is also a beet salad, and a radicchio salad with gorgonzola and apples.
We naturally skipped over the cured meats selection and headed straight to the pizzas. The Roman style pizzas use organic wheat in dough that sits overnight, developing the flavor. The eco conscious restaurant also uses organic tomatoes and local vegetables. Plus the chefs profess not to cut down trees or produce on CO2 to cook the pizza. The simple Margherita pizza lets the purity of the ingredients shine. Just the right amount of extremely fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil come together in a deeply satisfying square pie. You can also get pizza with buffalo mozzarella or creamy burrata. We liked the Vignarola, with artichoke hears and topped with salad. Salad on pizza is a sneaky way to get extra veggies into your kids, and it is both tasty and low in calories. There are a number of vegetarian pastas, including one with cauliflower and gorgonzola. We will be back.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 62

The challenge at PedalNYC was not so much the exercise, which was quite difficult, but finding the studio.

New York City has this habit of vanity addresses, where buildings well off Park Avenue are given a Park Ave address, but in this case, Pedal NYC is on an as yet unnamed street, in a new development on the Upper West Side.

Once I found the place, which bills itself as a boutique fitness gym, I felt like I was in a playground for adults. Masochistic adults. Cheery colors, including a bright green and purple, and cubbies made me feel like a kindergartner.

But there was nothing childish about the workout. I took a TRX class (there is also spin, yoga, Pilates and a core class) with a heavily inked and incredibly toned instructor who gave us basic moves, then 'spicy' alternatives. For one move, we had one foot suspended and then we lunged. To make it more challenging, we could jump up from the lunge.

For a plank with both feet suspended, we could increase the work on our obliques by bringing our knees to either side.

Or we could just collapse in a sweaty heap.

The gym has a large bathroom where you can change, and provides small towels for mopping your brow. One nice touch is the collection of hair bands; I often forget one, and spend half my time pushing hair out of my face.

The cubbies have locks. Bring your own water.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Family Vacation: the postcard

The US Post Office’s fortunes nose dived with the popularity of email and posting vacation photos on Facebook, but a pretty strong contingent still sends family vacation postcards.

I love getting those postcards, which usually reveal nothing about the vacation itself (having a great time! Wish you were here!) but provide travel porn on the reverse side.

You pick an iconic souvenir postcard: the Statue of Liberty when you visit New York, Big Ben for that family vacation in London, the Great Barrier Reef for Australia.

But how cool would it be to take your own family vacation photo and make your own postcard? You can do just that with custom postcard printing.

You can send these out after the family vacation, or use them for holiday cards.
And you can get them free! Just leave a comment below and be entered to win 100 free custom postcards.

Family vacation not included.

You should assume that I will receive free print products in exchange for the post. Any and all reviews posted are based solely on my own experience and may be atypical. Please practice due diligence in making any related purchase decisions. Interested to hold a giveaway like this? Please sign up here.

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Prize Information:

100 pcs. postcards for one (1) winner
5" x 7"
14pt Cardstock Gloss
Front Only Printing
2 Business Days Turnaround
*Free shipping
Restriction: Limited to *US residents 18 years old and above only


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2. No prize substitutions allowed.
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4. Only email addresses used for the giveaway will be eligible to claim the prize.

Virginia Beach for Foodies and Families

Peanuts come to mind when I think of Virginia. I figured that Virginia Beach food would also center around peanuts, maybe with a fudge store or two thrown in.

But it turns out that Virginia Beach is so much more.

The area has become a foodie destination, so much so that Coastal Food Tours of Virginia offers a Virginia Beach Boardwalk Food Tour and a Farmers Market Food Tour.

When you look at Virginia Beach closely, this attention to food makes sense. The area is on the Atlantic ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, so fresh seafood is a given. Blue crab, rockfish, flounder and mackerel are some of the local seafood.

Virginia Beach for vegetarians
The year round Virginia Beach Farmers market sells seasonal, fresh vegetables and fruit as well as organic groceries, local dairy and ice cream and candy. When our kids were little, we gave them money to spend at farmers’ markets, and they usually chose unique, healthy foods they wanted to try: purple carrots or a whole grain bun studded with pumpkin seeds.

Virginia Beach for families
If you are traveling with young children, be sure to check out the Rural Education Center at the Farmers Market, which offers Rural Heritage Tours. Kids can milk a fake cow (that produces real milk), churn cream into butter and feed pigs.

Virginia Beach is also famous for its ham, not too appealing to my vegetarian family, but the pigs are adorable.

At Brookdale Farm, you can pick your own strawberries and shop from a small farm stand. Even if you are staying at a hotel with no cooking facilities, fresh corn from the farm should not be missed. You can actually eat it raw, bursting with juice and flavor.

Family activities in Virginia Beach
In between eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and thinking about food, there is plenty to fill your day. The salt air at the free ocean beaches whets your appetite for the meals to come. If you overindulge, work off a meal by strolling the three mile boardwalk, or riding a bike.

Families with young children should head to the protected waters of the Chesapeake Bay Beaches. The gentle waves are perfect for kids and swimmers can also enjoy the water.

Hike almost 20 miles of trails at First Landing State Park, where English settlers arrived on April 26, 1607. The park also offers kayak rentals and guided kayak eco tours, bike paths, picnic areas and campgrounds.

And if you want some Virginia peanuts, get the Virginia Beach caramel apple version at The Royal Chocolate, an apple dipped in caramel, then rolled in peanuts and chocolate.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Virginia Beach blogging program. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 61

The appeal of a gorgeous pool is often lost on me, since I can't swim. But I like the idea of taking an aqua fitness class since it forces me into a pool.

So a filthy pool is not for me.

Luckily, a private school The Berkeley Carroll school, in my Park Slope neighborhood, opens its doors to its Brooklyn neighbors. And the pool is a beauty.

The four-lane 25-yard pool is mainly for students, of course, but during off-hours there are classes for adults and neighborhood kids.

The enthusiastic aquatics fitness instructor led is through a series of difficult exercises, though it is hard to judge how much you are sweating when you are already wet.

The facilities include very clean, modern locker rooms. Could be an incentive to learn to swim

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 60

Although I am no longer a member of New York Sports Clubs, I have a lot of free passes given to while I was one.

I checked out the New York Sports Clubs at 91st St and 3rd Ave, which has a large pool and an atrium where spin classes are held.

I have never liked the cave-like atmosphere at most spin classes, which are held in dark, interior rooms with the lights turned off. The heat generated by all the stationery bikes is overwhelming enough; why do we need to be in a dark, crowded room as well.

At this gym, we basked in the sunshine while sweating away. The music was thumping, my heart was pumping, but I didn't have that claustrophobic feel I usually have in spin.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 59

My daughter took her lifeguard training at the McBurney YMCA , near Union Square. The huge pool has a viewing area where parents hang out while their kids take swim lessons.

The bare bones gym has plenty of space to exercise, though it is not the most inspiring. The locker rooms are typical Y metal lockers, with adequate showers. But when I came out of the shower, my towel and clothes had been knocked to the wet floor and a strange woman was staring at me.

On the other hand, I had a decent work out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 58

Basement gyms are often cramped, depressing places, but Harbor Fitness in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has high ceilings and enough shiny surfaces that you forget you are below grade.

The huge gym, at the edge of Park Slope, has 2 other Brooklyn locations and all 3 are open 24 hours a day during the week. I don't know how crowded the gym gets at 3am on a Tuesday, but even on a Sunday morning, usual prime time, the gym felt empty.

The Ultimate Conditioning class was another story. Women were lined up before the class, making sure to get a prime spot in the studio.

I lurked in the back, since I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a tough workout, with weights, that touched on every body part.

The gym has an interesting mix of unusual classes, form a jump rope class to Grid Iron Spin and Grid Iron workout, both taught by a NY Sharks Women’s Professional Football Player.

Didn't even know NY had professional women's football

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 57

For years, my 3 daughters took dance classes all over Park Slope. We lived on Union Street for 10 years, and there were 2 dance studios, one on our block, one another block away (which has since moved). We spent a lot of money on classes.

My girls have outgrown the dance studios, but I have not given them up. Both offer adult classes that draw many neighborhood residents. A lot I know from the years of schlepping children.

As far as gyms go, these are pretty bare bones. A hardwood floor, mats, a few hand weights and steps. If you need a towel, you bring your own.

Spoke the Hub has a few adult classes that offer great ways to stay fit: dance, yoga, Macho Girls Super (Fun) Workout and Step ‘n Scupt. The last 2 are intense a 90 minute workouts.

You have to commit to a series of classes, but it is pretty reasonable, as long as you go to the class you paid for.

Baseball v Football, NYC Style

Baseball is back in NYC, but football hasn’t gone away.

The NFL Shop at Draft is open in midtown Manhattan through April 30, and on Thursday, April 12, the pop-up store hosts a Ladies Shopping Night.

This is the NFL with manicures and designer bags, the way football is meant to be. You can also get official NFL gear and clothes from Nike and Under Armour.

The store is at 1095 Avenue of the Americas, between 41st and 42nd Streets.

You can meet NFL Players and Fashion Stylist Renee Reese, buy the latest Cuce Shoes, and get a free manicure and massage with a $50 purchase.

Designer bags from Anastasio Moda will be 25% off Thursday only. Get one to carry to Citi Field, where the NY Mets are currently in first place.

Follow @officialnflshop to get more information on the pop-up shop.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 56

One reason people join gyms is that once they commit to paying the money, they feel obligated to use the gym and get their money's worth. At least that's the theory.

In much the same way, if you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you commit to a season of produce. So you eat healthier, even if you don't become a vegetarian. Or those gorgeous organic vegetables wither away in your fridge.

Triomph Fitness may be the only gym that has its own CSA, open to anyone who wants 22 weeks of organic produce.

It's a really cool synergy; you have to go to the gym weekly, to get your box of produce; while you are there, you can take a class or work out.

The gym's cafe will use the fruits and vegetables, so even if you don't buy a share, you can support a local farm.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Talde: Criminally Good

When Talde first opened in Park Slope, the menu did not have that much for vegetarians. There was a whole fish, and vegetable buns, and a kale salad, but too many things had pork.

Then my Kosher friends went there and said that even with the limited choices, the place was amazing. And it was.

Now, it is even more so. The new menu has a number of vegetarian dishes, and as long as you can snag a table (2 hour waits are not uncommon; reservations are not accepted) you will be extremely happy.

From the new menu, we ha the golden beet and tofu salad, with kale. Fantastic. The Saigon crepes, with smoked shrimp (hold the bacon) didn't need the pork to wow us.

The Hawaiian bread buns were a nod to Passover; we had to eat bread the night before we were giving it up for a week. You get three in an order, and you can have all vegetable (changes nightly; last night was shiitake mushrooms) or fluke. Or pork, of course. Both the shiitake and fluke were spicy and delicious.

New to the menu, a soft shell crab bahn mi was messy and fabulous. The crispy soft shell crab was nestled on pickled vegetables. The spicy red sauce should be bottled; I was tempted to scoop up the extra and bring it home. And again, there was bread.

We also had the Pad Thai, with fried oysters (hold the bacon). This was the weakest dish, but it was the best Pad Thai of my life.

We didn't have room for the whole fish, the fluke with black bean butter, the shrimp fried rice or stir fried vegetables.

Or the roasted corn ramen with smoked tofu or lobster soup.

Luckily for Park Slope and the rest of NYC, Talde will be around for a long time.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 55

Longtime Park Slope residents remember years-long discussions about the Park Slope Armory, which finally opened with a variety of fitness activities 2 years ago.

The Armory, run by the nearby Prospect Park Y, offers a variety of exercise classes in barebones classrooms. The shining feature of the Armory is the indoor track, a 6 lane, state-of-the-art 200 meter track.

The track surrounds a full-size basketball court that is also used for soccer.

The Armory doesn't have showers, but it does have communal dressing rooms. It also doesn't provide towels, so if you are the type who drips sweat during a step class, bring your own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 54

Captain Quinn's Fitness Boot Camp promises to move outdoors soon, and today, a sunny day in the 60s, seemed ideal.

Alas, we were still inside. Avoiding allegens?

The nearby Brooklyn park where we are going soon is under construction, that may account for our indoor class.

But the class was completely different from the last one, with 30 second routines alternated with other routines, each repeated 8 times to the point of exhaustion. Squat jumps on a step then upright rows, bicep curls on the TRX or plank jumps. By the end, my whole body ached.

and with a mile or so run to and from class, it added up to a complete cardio and strength workout.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

Why is this matzo ball soup different from other matzo ball soups?
Every year, millions of Jews around the world celebrate Passover, and many celebrate with traditional foods like matzo ball soup.

But vegetarians won't eat the usual chicken broth. I always make a rich vegetarian matzo ball soup, making broth, then using that broth to make vegetable soup.

The winner of this year's Manischewitz Cook-Off made a 'Mod’ Matzo Ball Soup, using vegetable broth and roasted veggies.

'Mod’ Matzo Ball Soup

6 medium carrots, sliced into 1-inch pieces

2 medium turnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 large onion, diced

4 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided

1 box Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix (reduced sodium)

2 large eggs

½ tsp. ground cumin + pinch

14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (unflavored)

6 cups Manischewitz All Natural Vegetable Broth

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place carrots, turnips and onion in mixing bowl .Toss well with 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, a pinch of cumin, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread evenly on a metal sheet pan.

2. Roast in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until brown, mixing halfway to ensure even browning.

3. While vegetables are roasting, prepare matzo balls according to package directions with a few “secret” changes. Crack 2 eggs, into one mixing bowl, but instead of beating everything together right away, tilt the bowl and try to beat some of the whites separately until frothy, and once done, place the bowl back on the counter and incorporate the yolks as well. Add remaining 2 tbsp vegetable oil and whip again until fully incorporated and bubbly. Add packet of matzo ball mix and stir just until combined. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

4. Combine 4 cups vegetable broth, ½ tsp kosher salt and ½ tsp ground cumin in a 4 quart pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

5. Remove matzo ball mix from fridge. Form into balls with hands, just under the size of ping pong balls; makes about 8.

6. Drop matzo balls into broth, cover and lower heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes. When vegetables are finished roasting, remove from oven and set aside briefly. Remove cover from pot and add remaining 2 cups vegetable broth and diced tomatoes. Add vegetables and bring soup to boil over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 more minutes. Uncover and add salt, pepper or cumin to taste.

Fitness Challenge: iPhone vs HTC Rhyme

A fitness challenge motivates many to work out more. I started my fitness challenge not just to stay in shape, but also to justify the cost of an iPhone.

The phone itself isn't so expensive; it's the monthly data plan. So I was challenging myself not just to work out regularly, but also to find free or inexpensive ways to do so.

While carrying an iPhone.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my iPhone. But I pretty much stopped carrying a camera, and the iPhone's camera is not it's strongest suit.

Then I met the HTC Rhyme. This smartphone is really an amazing camera - with a built-in smartphone.

You can edit photos right on the Rhyme, changing settings for low or bright light, action shots, panorama.

The camera - er, phone - also comes with a docking station that you can use as an alarm clock.

Note that the Rhyme only comes in purple, so guys might be reluctant to carry it.

Disclaimer: HTC loaned Rhyme smartphones to TravelingMom bloggers on the recent retreat aboard Disney's Fantasy cruise ship. Photos, taken with the Rhyme, are from the cruise.

Fitness Challenge: Day 53

The Prospect Park YMCA attracts a wide range of Park Slope residents. With programs for preschoolers to seniors, it seems the whole neighborhood, including local writer Jane Brody, belongs.

Except us.

The Y is across the street from the gym I went to daily for 10 years, and it's cheaper. And it has a pool.

But it is also where I took an adult 'learn to swim' class before I had kids, and I never learned to swim. A group of us adults clutched the side of the pool and resolutely refused to put our faces in the water.

With signs warning against swimming with open sores, it was not the most inviting place.

But I recent visit surprised me. It has new aerobic equipment, with more channels than the other gym. It has a wider variety of classes, throughout the day.

It has fairly clean locker rooms.

It still has a pool. And a new one is being built, with a retractable roof. Maybe it's time to overcome my fear and aversion.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gastronomie 491 Satisfies a Wide Range of Hungry New Yorkers

The new Gastronomie 491, on the Upper West Side, offers take out and sit down meals, at a counter or small seating area in the rear.

The specialty market/cafe is perfect for families looking for a quick meal, and looking to satisfy a variety of tastes. There are paninis, Mediterranean sanwiches called pan bagnats, and entrees like a spice encrusted wild salmon and shrimp with a chickpea puree. Lighter appetites can have tapas or mezze plates.

The chef, Steven Gutterman, is sensitive to special food needs. Many of the dishes are gluten free, and vegetarians can find satisfying fare like a vegetable trio of braised feel, peperonata and broccoli rabe, or one with an orange date salad, Israeli couscous and brussels sprouts. Salads are fresh and filling.

Produce is local and organic, and the cheese selection focuses on small producers. You can also shop for a well-curated selection of jams, chocolates and coffee and tea.

Equal care has gone into the selection of craft beers, which can be drunk in the café or taken home. There are even 2 beers on tap. And a gluten free beer.

Now that spring is here, you cam take food from Gastronomie 491 to Central Park and dine al fresco.