Thursday, October 27, 2016

Free in NY: Watch a Taping of Kevin Can Wait

With Kevin James and Erinn Hayes
Broadway ticket prices go for hundreds of dollars, but you can see free live theater in New York if you plan in advance, reserving tickets to a taping of a television show. This is truly live theater; shows are filmed in front of an audience and an emcee keeping things lively.

One of the perks of blogging is being invited to special behind-the-scenes events, like a recent opportunity I had to go to the set of Kevin Can Wait and meet the stars, Kevin James and Erinn Hayes, and director. But anyone can go online and see a show being taped, for free.

Seat from Shea Stadium!
This is a common experience in Los Angeles, where most television shows are taped. My husband’s cousin is a writer and we’ve gotten to go on set a few times. Back home in New York, we’ve seen the Rachael Ray show and Martha Stewart; both of these are great because they often come with swag. No, not Oprah-sized gifts, but things like cookbooks, aprons, kitchen utensils and food.

At the Kevin Can Wait taping, the studio audience is often treated to fresh pizza. If you haven’t watched the CBS show, (which moves this week to a new time slot, 8 pm ET on Mondays) the main character hangs out at a pizza restaurant. To keep the show authentic, pizza is sent in whenever there’s a restaurant scene.

Long Island, for real
What also keeps the show authentic is filming it on Long Island, where the show is set and where the star, Kevin James, grew up. His last show, King of Queens, was set nearby, but filmed in California; in Kevin Can Wait, the sense of place is palpable.

Kevin loves the Mets
Kevin, a notorious Mets fan, (both the actor and the character) has a stage home filled with Mets and other local sports teams’ memorabilia; actual seats from the old Mets home, Shea stadium, pennants from the Knicks, Jets’ knick knacks.

The Halloween episode (which actually airs ON Halloween; again, at 8pm ET) even guest stars a current Mets player, Noah Syndergaard. Of course, if the Mets had made it past the wild card this year, we would be watching the Mets play in the World Series, but there’s always next year - if Kevin can wait, so can I.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Plan a Hawaii Vacation: 6 Things to Know Before You Book

Sunset in Hawaii; worth the trip
With unrest in Europe and hurricane season in the Caribbean, the appeal of a Hawaiian vacation is growing. Add in the fact that you don’t need a passport or a Zika concern, and Hawaii is even more tempting.

1. Get ready for a lo-o-o-o-ng flight
One of the benefits to Hawaii - its uniqueness - is also a drawback. It is remote. Even if you live on the west coast, you are facing a five to six hour flight, and if you are on the other side of the country? It’s like two back to back trips from NYC to LAX. Plus there’s the huge time difference.

If you are taking little kids, or anyone who frequently gets ants in her pants, your best bet is to tucker them out before you get on the plane. This could mean not pre-boarding; once you get on the plane, kids pretty much have to stay buckled in while every other zone boards. So you might not be able to claim overhead space. My husband and I would divide and conquer before a long flight when our three kids were little - one of us would board early with, say a diaper bag or stroller, just to look legit during that family boarding time, while the other would stay in the airport, running circles around the gate.

2. What is there to do on board?
Let kids watch movies on a long flight. Credit: Jana Seitzer
If you are one of those parents who like to limit screen time, great! But loosen the rules on the flight. If your kid loves the movie Frozen and can watch it a coupe of times in a row, that is hours of stress free flying time.

Long books are great on the flight, as well as workbooks. My kids loved filling those out, and if we gave them pencils, they invariably broke the point. Then we could go through a whole ritual of sharpening the pencil, which eats up more time; this is one of those cases where more is more. Hard to open, individually wrapped string cheese takes longer to eat than a slice of American cheese, so it's a better bet for a long flight.

3. Where to go in Hawaii? Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island?
This is easy - whatever is easiest to get to. That romantic resort where you honeymooned, that required a boat trip, or a short second flight to another island? Out. I say go to whatever island has a nonstop from your home airport, or the least amount of travel time. If you are lucky enough to have a vacation of over a week, you can venture away from the main islands, but for a family vacation with little kids, stick to the most convenient areas. It’s all still paradise.

4. When should you go to Hawaii?
If you are taking school age, even preschool children, you might want to take your Hawaiian vacation over the December holidays, spring break or summer. Any time is fine, just make sure to book well in advance. 

5. What should you do with kids in Hawaii?
This is easy, too - there are so many kids friendly activities, from spending long days at the beach to taking hikes to waterfalls, to learning about Hawaiian culture. 

Cherimoya, one of the exotic fruits you can find in Hawaii
A big part of our travel always involves food and in Hawaii, kids can sample an enormous variety of exotic fruit. Be warned that they can develop an affinity for expensive tropical fruit. My youngest daughter was addicted to star fruit for awhile and we indulged her passion since she wasn’t a huge fruit eater. In addition to the expected pineapple and papaya, you find cherimoya, guava, passion fruit and lichees.

Westin Villas in Hawaii. Credit: Vacatia
This is one of the advantages of having a kitchen when you travel to Hawaii; you can pick up loads of exotic fruit and make fruit salad in your condo (see below). For our vegetarian family, a kitchen means we can prepare food if we can't find enough vegetarian-friendly restaurant food.

6. Hotel or condo: which is better?
Hotel aficionados prefer staying in hotels for all the services; vacationers who like condos point to all the space they get in a condo. Staying in a resort residence offers the best of both worlds: hotel services like daily maid cleaning along with the extras of a condo like a full kitchen and a living room.

If you are booking in Maui, you have a pool and the Hawaiian beaches nearby.

Note: This post is sponsored by Vacatia. Opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy Birthday Jarlsberg: The Norwegian Cheese Turns 60

Jarlsberg cheese crisps: crackers with cheese baked right in
Aged cheese is prized among cheese connoisseurs but Jarlsberg cheese is celebrating a different kind of aging process: its company.

At a party to celebrate Jarlsberg's 60th birthday, I learned a few things about Jarlsberg. The cheese is is naturally lactose free. This is good news for those of us who have trouble digesting dairy. There is a part-skim variety, still tasty, and smoked version.

There are also other cheeses in the Norwegian specialty cheese collection, many of which we got to sample at the party. [Note: Although Jarlsberg was originally made in Norway, the stuff we get in the US is made here; the other cheeses from the company are imported).

Tine Ekte Geitost, a brown cheese made from goat milk, is sweet since the milk is cooked and it caramelizes. It can be used in desserts, which may seem odd until you think about cheesecake and cannolis, other desserts with cheese.

I bought some Geitost for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and served it with apples; traditionally, apples dipped in honey are served at Rosh Hashanah, and this was a nice twist 

There was Snøfrisk cream cheese, made from 80% goat’s milk and 20% cow’s cream; new flavors are coming, including red onion and thyme; horseradish;  and dill and garlic. These are nice spread on crackers.

And speaking of crackers, we got to try Jarlsberg Cheese Crisps, crackers made with Jarlsberg cheese baked right in. Flavors include rosemary and olive oil; chipotle; garlic and herb, and sea salt. Instead of a grilled cheese with tomato soup, you could crumble these into your soup bowl.

The Jarlsberg party was held at Aquavit, a Nordic restaurant that has its origins in Sweden. and, a rarity for New York, a female chef. Emma Bengtsson, a Stockholm native, used the different cheeses in a few appetizers, like smoked salmon with cream cheese and warm cheese puffs.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Open Sesame: New Gluten Free Snacks

Original flavor Superseed Crunch
When I was a kid, my health fanatic grandfather had one weakness: sesame seed candy. He would sneak us the super sweet plastic wrapped candy and hold his finger over his lips: Shhh. Don’t tell.

Of course, we didn’t like the sticky candy - we wanted chocolate, or cookies.  But my grandfather may have been onto something: the new Superseed Crunch is a tasty and early nutritious snack from the makers of Absolutely Gluten-Free.

In addition to being certified gluten-free, the snacks are vegan, organic, soy free and Kosher. And they are made with flax and chia seeds, as well as sesame.
Superseed Crunch comes in three flavors: original, toasted coconut and cinnamon. I am not really a coconut lover (OK, I hate it) but the coconut in all three flavors is subtle enough that it didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. Plus I tried it sprinkled on plain Greek yogurt, so there is even less coconut flavor.

You can also eat it straight out of the bag, though if you have trouble exercising self-control, you might want to portion some out into a bowl.

The Superseed Crunch is a good source of fiber, protein, antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper and calcium. These aren't a health food - they are a snack - but they are certainly better for you than chips or candy and they are nutrient dense.

The Absolutely Gluten-Free line also includes: flatbreads, crackers and a cauliflower crust pizza that should have those with Celiac dancing in the grocery store aisles