Monday, July 31, 2017

Easing NYC Commute: Ford Partners with Chariot

NYC commuters, your Chariot awaits

According to today's New York Times, more New Yorkers are commuting by bicycle. I am all for this, and am, in fact, running the NYC Marathon again as a member of the Transportation Alternatives team.

But not everyone can or wants to bike to work. I get it. I am also rather fed up with the NYC subways this summer. I've been stuck in more stalled trains, or behind sick passengers, or delayed because of signal problems or police incidents or train traffic than cumulatively over the last decade.  The subways are so horrible that Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency.

Ford partnered with Chariot
This is on top of construction at Penn Station, which many subways traverse, which is undergoing its summer of hell.

So I was intrigued when I heard about a new transit option, Chariot. Chariot, a crowd-sourced shuttle service, partnered with Ford to help commuters in New York City. This is part of Ford Motor Company's smart mobility plan to innovate beyond private car ownership.

Chariot already operates in San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, and launches in NYC in August. The service is designed to address transportation deserts and fill in gaps in transportation. When Chariot launches, it will have two routes, Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Dumbo, and the Lower East Side to midtown.

The old (cab) and the new (Chariot) alternatives to crowded subways
Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh said the 'micro transit' is entirely crowd sourced; by fall, Chariot plans to have 60 shuttles running throughout the city, with routes determined by users who make suggestions.

What is great about Chariot, as opposed to other app-based transportation services, is that each shuttle  fits 14 people. Vahabzadeh said at Chariot takes at least 10 people off the road. If you have sat in traffic, you know that having fewer cars on the streets is critical.

The Chariot service costs $4 per ride, with no surge pricing. Riders are guaranteed a seat. And since this is a sustainable mass transit option, it qualifies for TransitChek reimbursement.

And, just to reinforce the idea that Chariot is needed: on my way to the launch meeting, my subway inexplicably stopped moving for a good 17 minutes. I would love to ditch the Metrocard.

What to Eat in Michigan: Zingerman's, Of Course

Zingerman's brownies
Delis are usually not the best place for a vegetarian, but Zingerman's so no ordinary deli. The Ann Arbor, Michigan based deli has a comfort food, family friendly restaurant, Zingerman's Roadhouse and sees sandwiches on its excellent bread at the Detroit airport.

Best of all, it has a catering business, Zingerman's Roadshow, which features some of its top sellers. And when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, aka FCA, shows off its new cars, it invites writers to Michigan and treats us to Zingerman's.

Sheila's viva las vegan

If you are a macaroni and cheese aficionado, Zingerman's Roadhouse has several varieties, all rich and creamy. I found out that a hoppy IPA pairs quite nicely with the cheese.

At lunch, the Roadshow crew showed up with Sheila's Viva las vegan, a fabulous sandwich stuffed with hummus, roasted red peppers and artichokes. 

I was almost too hungry for dessert. Almost. Zingerman's has a signature Magic brownie, intensely chocolatey and studded with walnuts. If you don't like nuts mucking up your dessert, you can have the Black Magic brownies.

Zingerman's brownies and other treats are sold online, but having them fresh in Michigan is the way to go.

Thanks Fiat Chrysler for the yummy food!

Note: FCA paid my travel and food expenses.  I was not otherwise compensated. Calories are all on me.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Avoiding the Summer of Hell: Driving the Lexus NX 300h

The Lexus NX 300h, ready for its close up

This summer has been dubbed the Summer of Hell for commuters, with much needed track repairs at Penn Station causing delays for Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit riders.

Central Park, from the highest vantage point
The subways are even worse. I've been on more broken down subways due to derailments, sick passengers, track fires, police actions and non-specified reasons in July than in the previous decade combined.

So I was glad to have the Lexus NX 300h to tool around the city for a week. Twice, we drove to Central Park to explore the park, rather than riding our bikes there and being too third to enjoy the great expanse.

The cream leather seats, which look perfect against a New Yorker's back wardrobe
For example, we 'discovered' the 4 acre Arthur Ross Pinetum, an arboretum within Central Park that has a collection of specimen pine trees, along with a playground and adult fitness equipment. [Think pull ups bars, not Frederick's of Hollywood]. We brought bagels and cream cheese and had a picnic at one of the tables.

The driver info panel, with directions front and center

Usually, we riding the bike path over the Brooklyn Bridge [photo taken by my husband]
Though I was driving the Lexus around familiar terrain, I used the navigation system just to get a feel for it. The large touchscreen had clear directions and upcoming turns were also on the dashboard, so you can keep your eyes front and center.

We also climbed up Belvedere Castle to survey the park. This is the highest point in the park, and overlooks the reservoir and the Ramble.

Another day, we explored the east side of the park. At 750 acres, the park really does require several days to see.
A model boat, with rubber ducks on for a ride

On this side, we went to the model boat pond, formally known as the Conservatory Water.  This is the backdrop for countless movies, from One Fine Day to Stuart Little. We also walked around The Ramble, which seems like a forest. It is totally artificial, but the city literally disappears around you.
The Lexus NX 300h is perfect for a stylish New Yorker

Why not get a hybrid?

Though gas prices are still relatively low, saving the environment is important to me. It's one reason I often bike rather than drive. But since there are times you have to drive, and the subway is so unreliable, a hybrid makes sense. The Lexus NX 300h actually gets better gas mileage in the city, 33 mile per gallon. It gets 30 mpg on the highway.

Note: Lexus loaned me the NX 300h for a test drive. Opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Eat Local: Local Treats in Nashville

Easy to wipe chocolate off the Infiniti Q50 leather seats

When I go to the south, I try to find local specialties like grits or vegetarian collard greens. What surprised me on a recent trip to Nashville were two local candies: Goo Goo Clusters and Leiper's Fork Distillery chocolate bars.

I was in Nashville to drive the new Infiniti Q50 and if you are the type who likes to eat candy in the car, you'll be happy to now that the leather seats in the Q50 can easily be cleaned. We drive a car with cloth seats and the dog fur sticks to it relentlessly. Whenever we drive a car with leather seats they are so easy to wipe down!

But on to the candy:

The old

Goo Goo Clusters have been manufactured in downtown Nashville since 1912. The milk chocolate surrounds caramel, marshmallow and peanut. The first ingredient is sugar, so these are definitely not an everyday treat, but since today is National Junk Food Day, it's appropriate.

The Goo Goo Clusters will bring you back to your childhood, or make your kids very happy. And if you go to the retail store, just off the music bacchanal of Broadway, you can find different flavors, like peanut butter.

And the new

Leiper's Fork Distillery is a small batch artisanal bourbon and Tennessee whiskey producer that opened in 2016. You can take a 45 minute tour of the facility, housed in a timber frame building; the gift shop is in a 200 year old log cabin. Since bourbon takes 5-7 years maturation in oak barrels, tastings are of white whiskey and rye. We were driving, so we couldn't taste either (plus, it was about 10am).

But the chocolate was another story This rich dark chocolate caramel bar had a bit of whiskey in it, lending it a smokiness and layer of complexity that is for the chocolate purist.

Note: Infiniti paid for my travel and gave me samples of the chocolate. Opinions and calories are all my own.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back to School: What's in Your Lunchbox

Breakfast on the go: Kite Hill vegan cream cheese on toast

Back to school is becoming less of a thing in my house, though my youngest is leaving for her junior year abroad in a month. On to Ecuador!

For us, it's more about when the girls return, often with friends in tow. This one is gluten free, that one lactose intolerant, another is on a paleo diet. And we are vegetarian. How can we cater to all these different food sensitivities and intolerances and maintain our sanity?

Plus, we are moving away from kid-friendly food - I converted our cereal shelf in the pantry to an overflow liquor cabinet when the youngest went to college. It's a grain, right?

Kite Hill almond milk yogurt

Kid friendly food for all

At the Momtrends back to school event, I found out about a few new foods that are perfect for us. Kite Hill had its plant based yogurt and cream cheese, both made from almond milk, at the event. The 'cheese' and 'yogurt' are vegan, gluten free free and soy free so they truly cater to a diverse set of food sensitivities.

Although I am a huge Greek yogurt fan, I am somewhat lactose-intolerant, and when I run, I try to avoid dairy. Since I am training for a marathon, I was happy to discover that these yogurts and cheese are delicious. The yogurt is also low in sugar.

For little kids (or adults, I'm not judge-y), Kite Hill has a new squeezable yogurt tube, with its almond milk yogurt.

Ozery Bakery morning rounds

Breakfast on the go?

Whether it's kids leaving for school, or adults rushing off to work, breakfast can be challenging. Mom trends had Ozery Bakery at its back to school event, with Morning Rounds, fruit and grain breakfast buns that were a tastier and healthier take on English muffins. These buns, which are scored for easy slicing, come in five flavors, including muesli and cranberry orange. We had them spread with Kite Hill's cream cheese and topped with strawberries, an easily totable breakfast. I got a sample to bring home and toasted it with peanut butter. Delicious!

Dried fruit, with a twist

Raisins were one of my first loves, and I still choose dried fruit as a snack. It packs a powerful punch. Raisels are golden raisins flavored with a little sour, so you get a sweet and sour thing going. The small boxes are great for lunch boxes or for travel.

What to pack it in?
12 littles makes diaper bags, backpacks and lunch boxes. We each got a lunch box. I'm giving mine to my niece, since I work from home, but anyone can use these lunch boxes, which are insulated to keep food warm or cold.

Note: I received samples of the products mentioned. I was not otherwise compensated.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wonder Woman and the Goddess: Baker Extraordinaire in Chicago

Baked goods at Goddess and the Baker

In the summer of Wonder Woman, it seems imperative that we explore Goddess and the Baker. [Note: no comparison between these artisan goods and Wonder Bread].

On a Chicago Food Planet walking tour, we saw an outpost of The Goddess and Grocer on the Gold Coast and its impressive array of specialty foods. Then, right by our hotel, the Kimpton Allegro, was a related Goddess and The Baker. This seemed like the ideal spot to have breakfast. [There is also lunch, dinner, beer and wine - it's an all day affair].

Goddess and The Baker has counter service - you order and get a buzzer, and pick up your food. At the Wacker and LaSalle location, where we ate, there is outdoor seating.

Morning sandwich
Since the tagline is Eat Now Caffeinate, we had to try to coffee. There are pour overs, drip coffees, nitro cold brew. We stuck to the house coffee, which was delicious. I was intrigued by specialties like tommy z’s rocket fuel: espresso with honey, cold brew and bitters, over ice and bulletproof: black coffee blended with grass-fed butter and coconut oil. Intrigued, but not enough to try.

Croissant at Goddess and the Baker
We had the morning sandwich: scrambled eggs, cheddar, avocado (you can get bacon or ham instead) and tomatillo sauce on sesame semolina. Had it been later in the day, I would have tried the iron man omelet, made with egg whites, red peppers, arugula and avocado - it seems to early for the onions and brussels sprouts.

Of course, there's avocado toast, and a hummus and brussels sprouts toast (again, too early for me). We went with the sweet side, a chocolate chip scone and a croissant. The croissant was kind of disappointing; it didn't taste all that fresh. But the scone, while maybe even less breakfast appropriate than brussels sprouts, was so good we inhaled it before I had a chance to photograph it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Chicago Vegetarian: Mana Food Bar

Baby kale salad with pears
On my first trip to Chicago, when I was 15, I became a vegetarian. I looked at the meat at Northwestern University's cafeteria and said I was a vegetarian. And though I was in one of the meat capitals of the US, I stuck to it that summer, when I returned to New York, and ever since.

Bi Bim Bop
So it makes sense that i would find a great vegetarian on my last visit to the city. Mana Food Bar, in Wicker Park, has the kind of delicious, global based cuisine that appeals to meat lovers and vegetarians alike.

What I mean is that food sounds familiar and tastes great; you go here because you want a lovely meal, not because you are preaching deprivation.

Menu division

Mana Food Bar doesn't divide its food into appetizers and mains There are cold dishes, which you can have in a small or large size, and hot dishes, some of which are also in two sizes. There are also side dishes, and you can add tofu to any dish.

The menu also offers a number of vegan and gluten free options.

What we ate

Golden beet salad
The baby kale salad had pears and a ginger miso dressing. It also had unexpected crunch from granola bits. The golden beet salad had blue cheese, hazelnuts and arugula.

Although it was hot and we were eating outside,e we had the Bi Bim Bop, with veggies and a sunny side up egg over brown rice, and the polenta side dish with asiago cheese. We saw people happily tucking into the sesame noodles, mushroom sliders, seared broccoli and seaweed salad. I could have sampled any of the dishes and been happy.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Overnight Oats: My Vegan Breakfast Obsession

Vegan 'yogurt'

As I start training again for the NYC marathon, I have been carefully considering my breakfast options. I like to go on training runs an hour after I eat, and I need protein. My usual fuel before a race is a peanut butter sandwich, with natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast, but that takes a little longer to longer to digest.

I also found that cutting out dairy helped me avoid stomach distress last year. So I started making overnight oats with almond milk and almond or soy 'yogurt.' The faux yogurts don't taste great on their own, but mixed with everything else, it's fine.

Overnight oats became my obsession recently, since it's too hot for oatmeal. I soak oats with liquid and maybe some goji berries. I leave it covered in fridge and add fresh fruit the next day. The oats become creamy, almost like rice pudding. And it it more filling than just having yogurt and fruit.

You can also add a bit of peanut butter to boost the protein.

With blueberries and strawberries, you can have a patriotic red white and blue vegan breakfast.

Overnight Oats recipe

1/3 C rolled oats
1/3 C liquid: skim milk, or almond milk if vegan
1/3  C yogurt: plain yogurt, or soy yogurt if vegan
1 T goji berries, optional
1 T natural peanut butter, optional
1/3 C fresh fruit

Mix the oats with milk and yogurt, and goji berries and peanut butter, if using. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, top with fresh fruit.

Serves one.