Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What to Do on Christmas in NY - If You Don't Celebrate Christmas

Macy's Holiday store windows: open on Christmas (the displays, not the store)
How to spend the day on Christmas is a question that bedevils Jews every year, along with Scrooge, anti-holiday types and non-Christians. In New York, it's actually pretty easy to fill your day.

The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum, on the Upper East Side, offers a full day of programming (unless the holiday happens to fall on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath). There's a little bonus this year: on Christmas Eve, when many cultural institutions are also closed, the museum is free. It's always open, for free, on Saturdays, but no special programming is planned, and the restaurant and gift shop are closed.

See the Rockettes on Christmas
Go to the top
One World Observatory, in lower Manhattan, and Top of the Rock, in midtown, are both open Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Eat Chinese food
This is what we did on Long Island when I was younger; everyone in my mostly Jewish town went to the movies and ate Chinese food.

Go to a movie
See above.

Most Chinatown restaurants are open on Christmas
See a Broadway show
Yes, several shows have Christmas performances including both Jersey Boys and The Color Purple, both of which close in January. Catch them while you can!

Kick up your feet
If you are a Christmas hater or agnostic, this may not be for you, but the Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular multiple times at Radio City Music Hall.

Most animals don't celebrate the holiday
Get wild
The Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo are all open on Christmas Day. If your kids have opened all their presents, eaten all the goodies and are starting to turn on you, take them to the zoo where they can at least forget about inside voices.

Visit the store windows
No jockeying for space in front of the most popular store window displays. You can see Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales and Macy's, and even check out the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Take a ride
Drive or hop on the subway and see the holiday lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. These free displays are lit as soon as the sun sets.

Find more suggestions on how to spend Christmas (and Christmas Eve) at

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Nissan Gives Back: The Force is With Them

Our ride for the day: A 2017 Nissan Rogue
Every year, Nissan arranges a volunteer day in New York City, where they invite auto writers and bloggers to help the community. For the second year in a row, we spent the day at the New York Common Pantry, a food pantry in East Harlem, giving bags of food to the working poor and needy.

The food pantry gives low income families and needy individuals and bag of fresh, healthy food every other week, as a supplement to other food programs. What's unique about this program is that the beneficiaries can choose what grains, proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables they prefer, from a changing list of purchased and donated items. Our job, along with Nissan execs, was to put together the food bags, and throw in a couple of extras: fresh sandwiches, salads and other donated goodies.

The pantry resembled a vegetarian's kitchen: bags of dried beans, eggs, fresh sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and lots of lots of bananas. Whole grain pastas, grits and oatmeal, milk, and canned tomatoes filled the bags and recipients carefully packed their bags into grocery carts or wheelie suitcases.

Holiday cheer at Maxwell's Central Park
As usual, after the day of hard work, Nissan treated us to appetizers and drinks, this year at Maxwell’s Central Park. The bar food included a vegetarian friendly black bean dip with guacamole and a jicama and red pepper relish, spinach dip served with really spicy pita chips and sweet potatoes fries.

An extra treat
We were chauffeured to the bar in a fleet of brand new 2017 Nissan Rogues. The compact SUVs seat 5 and we were all comfortable on our short drive.

The main event
After fueling up (on drinks and appetizers) we took a much longer ride downtown for the main event: a special private screening of the new movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Nissan is capitalizing on the car's to tie in with the movie.
Thanks Nissan: private screening of Rogue One

Besides the name, Nissan Rogue has nothing to do with Rogue One, which is all spaceships and Rebel warriors. Plus intergalactic warfare, martial arts and geeky allusions to other Star Wars movies; blink and you'll miss R2-D2 and C-P3O.

I loved the original Star Wars movies, but never saw the later films; it was fun to jump back into the franchise and even get a peek at Princess...well, I don't want to give anything away.  See it for yourself.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Intersection of Lincoln, Luxury & Hipsterdom: Mast Brothers Chocolate

The actual Mast Brothers, complete with hipster beards
You might not think that artisan chocolate made in Brooklyn would have much to do with Lincoln Motor Company, but last week, I saw how they fit together over a 24 hour period.

First, I went to the Loft Opera's production of Macbeth, at the new Mast Brothers factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The unheated warehouse was the setting for a faithful rendition of the tragedy, and most of the young audience sat on backless benches for the three hour performance, fueled only by the Brooklyn Brewery beer for sale, along with fine chocolate.

Lincoln's swag: bars of Mast Brothers chocolate
The gray and no hairs - i.e., people in my demographic, were mostly the VIP members, who got folding chairs with actual backs. Because theatergoers who can afford more than a $30 ticket require a few more luxuries.

The setting for Lincoln's holiday party
For much the same reason, luxury cars appeal to this demographic. But Lincoln knows its long term success depends on appealing to a younger audience as well, so it has the essence of cool, Matthew McConaughey, starring in its commercials.

And as it happened, the night after the Macbeth show, Lincoln invited me to its swanky holiday soiree, in a penthouse at Lincoln Center. You wouldn't think that this had much in common with the barebones Loft Opera. Yet, along with the canapes and top shelf open bar, heat (something I will now never take for granted) and comfortable seats, there were parting gifts: bars of Mast Brothers chocolate.

You couldn't ask for a better pairing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

New Organic Ranch Dressing: Trying Tessemae’s

Rocking the Ranch dressing t-shirt

You know the baker whose children prefer to eat packaged cookies, or the dress designer whose daughter wants to wear clothes off the rack? Sometimes I feel like that when I cook or bake; pouring time and love into food that my kids want from the store. In fact, my oldest daughter used to say she wanted food we bought, and I wondered - did she think we just found the ingredients I used to cook?

As a matter of fact, the salad dressing I served last night did come free, from the Mom It Forward Influencer Network, and I am being paid to spread the word about Tessemae’s new ranch dressing.

But even without compensation, I would sing the praises of this organic salad dressing, made without sugar, preservatives or artificial ingredients. In fact, one reason I started making my own dressing was I read what was on the label of the dressing I liked and was grossed out. Why buy organic greens and vegetables just to drown them in chemicals?

I know, I know, we all do whatever it takes to get our kids to eat veggies. And eating salad or carrots dipped in ranch is better than eating chips or candy. But when Tessemae’s ranch dressing tastes as good as any other bottled dressing, why not choose the natural one? I’d say Tessemae’s tastes better, but then, I haven’t eaten those gloopy, chemical-laden dressings in so long I can’t really compare.

Tessemae’s, which is sold at Walmart, says ranch is America’s #1 dressing. And if you are in the minority and ranch isn’t your thing, the brand makes 25 dressings, marinades and condiments. I also got to sample the Caesar dressing, which is delicious.

The dressings need to be refrigerated and they are sold in bottles, as well as single use packets. These are great for toting a salad and not having wilted greens. We often bring a big salad to baseball games or on airplane trips since we can’t rely on finding good vegetarian food at ball parks or airports. But with the packets, we can bring our own meals and have crisp lettuce.

The dressings are sugar and dairy free, as well as gluten free (well, most dressings are, unless they have soy) and non-GMO verified. One of my kids is lactose-intolerant, so it’s nice to find a creamy dressing that has no dairy.

I’ve also learned over the years that a salad doesn’t even require greens to be a salad. My kids love this “salad” of corn, tomatoes and avocado, with fake bacon and Ranch dressing. And no fair telling me that tomatoes and avocados are fruits, not vegetables. They love this salad and I’m happy.

Recipe: Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad
1/4 pound veggie bacon, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
4 to 6 ears corn, stripped (2 to 3 cups kernels)
4 sliced tomatoes
1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced
Ranch dressing
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, then add corn. Continue cooking, stirring or shaking pan occasionally, until corn begins to brown a bit, about 5 more minutes; remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. 
Layer tomatoes and avocado slices on 4 plates. Scatter corn mixture on top. Pour Ranch dressing over everything. Enjoy.
Serves 4

Note: I was paid to sample and write about Tessemae’s. Recipe development and enjoyment were all my own.