Thursday, May 25, 2017

Biking for Life with Fleet Week & Toyota

Fellow IMPA members in front of all the bikes we assembled

Biking has been part of my life forever; my mother rode me on the back of her bicycle and when I got my first 10 speed, my father gave it to me in a box and told me I could ride it when I could put it together.

Coast Guard ship, in for FleetWeek
That was the year I turned 15, and my father died. I had already signed up for an American Youth Hostels bike trip that summer, and my mother insisted I go.

I've always had at least one bicycle (until it was stolen, I had a folding commuter bike that was great for zipping around NYC in a dress) and I often include biking in a vacation. In fact, last month I spent a week cycling through Tuscany and Umbria.

So when Toyota asked me to help with a project assembling bicycles for the children of military, I jumped at the chance. As part of #FleetWeekNYC, volunteers spent a day with Coast Guard members putting together hundred of children's bikes.

I can't think of any better way to spend the time leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks to Toyota for the opportunity.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best of the New York Baby Show: Making Little Foodies

Sage Spoonfuls baby food system

Every year, the New York Baby Show introduces a host of dazzling new products, but some of them are destined for the scrap heap of useless paraphernalia. This year, a focus seems to be on feeding your baby healthy, fresh food, with services and products dedicated towards making that possible.

Best in show

Here are my top picks from the New York Baby Show:
Reusable food pouch

D-I-Y: Squeezing it all in

Sage Spoonfuls makes it easy to go homemade with a complete baby food system: steamerlending stick and glass or plastic storage jars. But what jazzed me was the reusable food pouches. You can make your own purees in bulk, freeze them, and brining these along on car trips or stroller outings. The pouches open from the side, and seal up like a Ziplock bag, so you don't have to funnel a puree in from the top. Then the pouch works just like any other baby food pouch, with a screw top and relatively un-messy way for your toddler to self feed.

And this is not just for little kids. My youngest daughter loves applesauce and all through high school, I would buy her applesauce pouches for breakfast on the go. Since we always go apple picking in the fall, and I make big batches of applesauce, I would have loved to have these refillable pouches.

She might have balked, though at the little kid graphics: monkey, giraffe, dinosaur or polka dots. Then again, she was eating baby food on the subway.

The pouches are dishwasher safe; supposedly, they stand up to 50 washes, on the top rack. They can also go in the microwave.

Baby Tripster travel food container

Graduating to a spoon or fork

Some adults I know find squeeze pouches infantilizing - even for children - and prefer that kids eat with a spoon or fork. Baby Tripster is for them. These leakproof food travel containers have  attached lids so the tops won't get lost, and the BPA-free plastic is dishwasher safe. There's a separate compartment to hold the double sided utensil (fork at one end, spoon at the other). It's microwave safe, so you can use it at home to feed your toddler soup or mac and cheese, too.

No time to make baby food? No problem

Smushed Organics homemade baby food
If buying, prepping and cooking baby food is beyond your time or interest, you can still feed your baby top quality food. Smushed Organics delivers homemade baby food cooked in Brooklyn in small batches,  with local, seasonal produce emphasized. Weekly deliveries are made in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Jersey City

The purees come in glass jars and if you recycle the jars with Smushed, you get a discount on your next order.

There are smooth purees for babies six months and older, with classic likes apples or sweet potatoes, or "little explorer" purees like sweet potatoes, carrots & curry. The textured purees, for eight months and up, might have apples with rolled oats, or broccoli, roasted garlic, barley, olive oil and parsley.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dressing Well for a Bike Trip, without Spending a Lot

The Avia top, over the sleeveless shirt, perfect for biking
There are 2 ways to dress well for a bicycle trip. One is to buy functional clothing designed specifically for biking. The other is to make sure that you look good.

But the 2 can definitely intersect. Avia sent me some new items from their Active Wear line that not only looked great and handles well on my Backroads bike trip to Italy, but also are bargain priced.

Sleepless top, just $7.95

Functional fitness without a steep price

Consider the Avia half zip performance jacket, which I wore almost every morning of the bicycle trip. I could zip it shut when the wind picked up, and unzip it when I got warm. The jacket was just $12.95. I actually spent more than that on my cycling socks.

The fabric was moisture wicking, so I never felt gross and sweaty, and with the thumb holes, I could keep my hands warm under my cycling gloves.

I couldn't wear the sleeveless top on its own, since the April weather was a bit too chilly, but I've been wearing it on training runs for the half marathon, #AirbnbBKHalf that I'm running this weekend.

Note: Avia provided the clothing to me, but I would purchase it on my own.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Luxury Bike Trip: Tuscany and Umbria with Backroads

The reward after a day of biking; hotel view from our balcony in Umbria

Part of the fun of travel can be planning out a trip: researching the best restaurants and hotels, deciding on a route. But doing this for a bike trip can be overwhelming: arranging a rental, getting your bags transported from luxury villa to deluxe manor house, coordinating a group of freinds.

My husband and me getting drinks and snacks before biking
Backroads makes it simple. The have dozens of biking (and hiking, plus combination multi-sport) trips in Europe, with even more trips in the United States, Asia and South America. We recently took a six day biking trip through Umbria and Tuscany and despite drinking gallons of wine and consuming pounds of fresh pasta and tiramisu, we returned home no heavier.

The villa in Tuscany where we spent our last 2 nights of the bike trip
There was still plenty of planning. We appended a dew days beforehand in London and Pisa, and a couple of days in Florence after the bike trip. You want to make sure you are acclimated to the time change before setting off on a bicycle trip where you have to wake up early each day and bike about 50 miles.

Vacation or trip of a lifetime

According to my neighbor, the daily early wake up call made this 'not a vacation' but I disagree.  Or. rather, I call this a "trip of a lifetime." Of course, it's actually the third bike trip I've taken with Backroads, but still..If you like biking, food, wine, and being with a group, this is definitely the vacation for you.
2 person in room jacuzzi in our Tuscan abode

Family, couple or solo?

Riding one of the 'cycleways' with no car traffic

When we took out other bike trips, we brought our children on designated 'family trips'. The Umbria / Tuscany bike trip was a 'premiere trip' which meant stays at luxury hotels and impeccable service. We had a small group, with three couples, two single women and three women who left their husbands home. Our support consisted of two leaders; one rode with us and one drove a van that we could hop into during a challenging hill or sudden rainstorm. A third person drove another van with our luggage from hotel to hotel; we stayed at three different hotels over the five nights.
Umbria specialty; pasta with truffles 

View from Cortona, in Tuscany
Our bikes were provided, along with helmets, bike bags, snacks and water bottles. My bike had the requested toe clips; riders with bike shoes could bring their own pedals and have them attached and adjusted. We were also given paper route maps (and a plastic map holder on the front of each bike) along with a GPS with a pre-loaded route. And if you still couldn't follow instructions, the third support person stood at easy to miss turns, pointing in the correct direction. Really, the trip was a no-brainer.

In fact, the most difficult activity over the six days might have been remembering the instructions for the in room steam shower in our third hotel. We also had a 2 person jacuzzi, and we had ridden 55 miles in the rain. We soaked our aching muscles in the tub and warmed up in the steam shower.

Not just biking

We got off our bikes to explore small towns; this is Spoleto, where we had lunch
We took a cooking class at a vineyard, where we also learned about the wine and drank so much, most of us chose not to ride our bikes back to the hotel. We also toured an agritourismo, a farm and vineyard where we feasted on about 20 courses of rustic food. We had an entertaining tour guide lead us around Cortona, the setting of "Under the Tuscan Sun," and we walked around the religious mecca, Assisi.
Backroads prepared picnic lunches for us

Eating was also important

Cooking class; we made bruschetta and pici pasta. And drank wine
The hotels had robust buffet breakfasts to fuel us for the day, but we also had bags we could fill from a snack table: dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruit, bars. Then we had a couple of picnic lunches and two amazing restaurant lunches. Dinners were four courses and highlighted local specialties like truffles, artichokes and pasta. There were plenty of vegetarian choices and gluten free options for the one group member with celiac. There were also excellent local wines, though I only sipped a little at lunch since I wanted to bike more.

I still want to bike more; this trip just whetted my appetite for yet another bike trip.

Note: Backroads gave me discount in exchange for posting on Instagram. Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cafe: Food Matches Setting

Sampler vegetarian plate, with crostini, biscuits, veggie tacos, falafel and crudite

When my kids were little, we could spend the entire day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The only thing that held us back was the lack of a decent food option. There was an outdoor cafe, but it had a limited menu and sometimes we wanted to eat indoors - too cold or too hot for outdoor dining.

Now, there's a new place, the Yellow Magnolia Cafe. And the outdoor eatery has also been upgraded, to the Yellow Magnolia Canteen.

The new indoor Yellow Magnolia Cafe
Yellow magnolias were developed by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the vegetable-focused menus reflect the plants growing in the magnificent garden.

The Japanese Garden at BBG
Local chef Rob Newton oversees the seasonal menu and at a preview event, I got to sample the many vegetarian choices. And local purveyors like seed + mill tahini, are incorporated; local breweries are showcased as well.

Cafe vs Canteen

No worries about lines at the Canteen. You can make reservations at the cafe. But if you are more of a spur of the moment diner, or want to stay outdoors, the umbrella-topped cafe tables beckon.
Chef Rob Newton

We had fava been falafel, (with that wonderful tahini) strawberry-ricotta crostini and heirloom polenta fries, along with ramp cheese puffs and fish tacos. If you are a biscuit lover (and who isn't) be sure to get an order.

Since the cafe is a full-service restaurant, there is also a bar. The rhubarb collins featured local Greenhook Gin with seasonally fresh rhubarb and red sorrel. Oh, and it was delicious.

Currently at the Canteen, both soups are vegetarian: tomato lentil and corn and chili chowder. and both salad entrees are gluten free as well: kale and beet, or strawberry and quinoa.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Environmental Calculus: Train vs Car

Sister cars: the new Prius Prime in white and my sister's older Prius in blue

Most trips I take, I do an environmental calculus: if I take a plane, what is my cabin footprint? If I go by train, what about the roundtrip to the train station - can I go by cab? If I have to be picked up at the other end, that's another trip. And if I drive, what's the gas mileage?

The Prius Prime makes it easy

2 weeks before we got to DC, my daughter saw this cherry tree in full bloom
But when I had the chance to drive a Toyota Prius Prime for a week, it was easy to figure out the math. The plug in hybrid gets about 25 miles in pure electric power, and over 60 miles per gallon with the gas engine. We were taking a trip to my sister's remote house in Pennsylvania, (40 minutes roundtrip for her to pick us up at the train station, and another 40 minutes to drop us off, if we drove) then on to Washington, DC. So we could charge the car up at my sister's house, then charge it in DC. And for the longer periods in the car, we would use a teensy, tiny bit of gas.

The incredible kale salad at Zaytinya - going green
In fact, my sister also drives a Prius, an older model that gets 'just' 40 miles per gallon. So driving around with her would use a lot fewer fossil fuels in the new Toyota. We drove to the new house she is building, and made it there and back on electric power.

Worried about climate change? Save gas

Zaytinya's fantastic hommus (their spelling)
One of the reasons I like to drive an electric vehicle is I worry about global warming. We had planned our trip around seeing the cherry blossoms in Washington, but with climate change, the peak occurred  weeks before normal and we missed the blossoms.

The upside was that in early spring, we were able to eat outside. DC really embraces outdoor dining, and we found sidewalk cafes everywhere.

It can be difficult to snag a table at Zaytinya, but the outdoor seating area nearly doubles the capacity. We had a vegetarian feast of small plates. Some of the dishes were: kale with smoked olives, crispy Brussels spouts, seared Halloumi cheese with dates, pomegranate, orange and mint, and beets with fennel. We had to have the creamy hommus. There was a never ending bowl of warm, freshly made pita. 

Note: Toyota loaned me the Prius Prime for a test drive. Opinions expressed are my own.