Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Fun on the Bayou, Without Jambalaya

Getting ready to bike Buffalo Bayou

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the bayous flooded, and even almost two months later, many of the trails are still closed.

But we were still able to enjoy some of the biking and running paths through Buffalo Bayou. You can rent bikes, but we were lucky that my brother-in-law's friends had a couple to lend us for free, and that Toyota loaned us a Tacoma pick up truck so we could get the bikes.
Not quite a compact car, but...

Usually, there are kayak and canoe rentals on the bayou, but that is also closed post-Hurricane.

Everything is bigger in TexasPost hurricane fun in Houston, Texas

Parking is free at the park, and after I pulled into a huge spot, I saw that I was actually in a spot label 'compact car.' Compact cars evidently mean something different here; the Tacoma fit easily.

Muddy trail on Buffalo Bayou

Mixed bag on the bayou

Buffalo Bayou has water fountains throughout, and miles of paths for running, walking and biking. Many of the lower trails are closed, and bull dozers were moving mounds of mud and debris. But on the upper parts, wildflowers still bloomed.

Southwestern breakfast bowl

Delicious food: The Kitchen at Dunlavy

There's a wonderful restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, on the bayou. The Kitchen at Dunlavy has plenty of vegetarian choices, and though we were there for lunch, we ordered from the breakfast menu.

Outdoor patio at The Kitchen at Dunlavy
The avocado toast had a bit of ricotta cheese and lemon zest, and we made it a bit heartier with a poached egg on top.

We also shared a southwestern breakfast bowl, which had quinoa, wild rice, kale, white beans and a soft boiled egg.  There was hot sauce on the table.

Avocado toast with broccoli side
I also got a side of broccoli salad, which had cabbage, walnuts and a creamy dressing.

My meat eating brother in law loved his turkey, apple and brie sandwich.

Next time, I want to come back for happy hour.

Note: Toyota loaned me the Tacoma, I was not otherwise compensated.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not a Black Sheep: the Standout Black Sheep Deli

Just some of the choices at Black Sheep Deli

The black sheep of the family is the odd member, but the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst, MA, stands out for its excellent vegetarian and vegan menu.

Vintage menu: prices current aren't much higher
Actually, it fits right into the Pioneer Valley, which is larded with meat free choices. Usually we stick to Northampton, one town over, but Amherst has a larger farmers market, on Saturdays, a great local bookstore, and easy access to nearby hiking trails.

It also has this casual deli, where you order at a counter. Sandwiches are huge, and there are gluten free options like big salads or gluten free bagels and breads.

The breakfast sandwich
For three of us, three sandwiches, including a smaller breakfast sandwich, was a feast. We could have ordered just half of one of the sandwiches, but we pigged (or tofu-ed) out.

Make your Own

The large menu has typical deli fare like tuna salad, and make your own options, but we stuck to the specialty sandwiches. Everything here is made from scratch, using local purveyors and farmers.

The Great Garlic

Vegetarian Specialties

There were so many to choose from, it was hard to decide. We went with the messy and delicious  Great Garlic, which was overstuffed with grilled portobellos, roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers, caramelized garlic and goat cheese, on a baguette

East Meets West

Vegan Specialities

We had the East Meets West, a yummy sandwich with roasted tofu, grated carrots and a peanut hoisin sauce.

Breakfast all day

Breakfast sandwiches are slightly smaller. We had the Florentine, a baked omelet with goat cheese, spinach, roasted red pepper and sun dried tomato pesto on excellent focaccia.

"Downtown" Amherst
We weren't crazy about the coffee; it was little weak for our industrial strength standards.

What else is there to do?

A weekend in New England has to include a hike, so we drove the snazzy Kia Optima hybrid I was testing to Mount Holyoke Range State Park in Hadley.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Drive a Kia, Avoid the Rat Race

Have you driven a Kia Optima hybrid?
The Kia Optima hybrid made it from Brooklyn to Northampton on hardly any gas

Like lemmings, New Yorkers head en masse to the country to see leaves changing colors in fall. But unlike lemmings, we don't have suicidal tendencies. So I was thrilled to take a trip in a Kia Optima loaded with all the latest safety technology.

Best leaf peeping car: 2017 Kia Optima hybrid

Kia loves rodents

Kia uses hamsters to advertise its Soul. I think they need to use a cute, cuddly animal for the Optima. The 2017 Optima hybrid EX that I drove was just so lovable.

Start with price - it's a great value

Do you take a drive to see leaves and buy a pumpkin?
The pumpkin patch
The base model is $30,990. Most states and the federal government give a rebate for buying a hybrid car, so your net price is much lower. Also, the car is listed at 42 miles per gallon (39 in the city, 46 on the highway). I drove it in eco mode and got 50 mpg. So there is also tremendous savings on gas, no matter the price of a gallon.

Extras on the Kia

This Kia, in "silky silver," has a $5,000 technology package. Some of these were luxury amenities, like heated and cooled front seats, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats and rear window sunshades.

Bring on the safety

Then there were all the safety extras included in the package: smart cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, bind spot detection, forward collision and lane departure warnings and rear cross traffic alert. My favorite feature, perfect for the winding back roads of the Pioneer Valley: headlights that turn and bend as you curve. Once you've tried this feature, regular headlights seem so inadequate.
Hiking in the Pioneer Valley

Cool features for all

If you don't want to drop the extra 5K, the Kia still has some great amenities. The best here is the smart trunk. Walk around to the back of the car when the car is off and the doors are locked. The trunk automatically opens. But if you forget that you have the key in your bag and you didn't want the trunk to open, step back and the trunk closes.

We stopped at a pumpkin patch and a got both a huge pumpkin and a bushel of apples. I hadn't told my husband or daughter about the smart trunk autonomous feature and they were quite surprised when the trunk popped open.

The Kia also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 2 USB ports and a 12 volt plug.

Great luxury speakers in the Kia

The sounds of silence

Since this Kia Optima is a hybrid, the engine noise is non existent. But you can fill that silence with great tunes. There is Sirius XM radio, and Harmon Kardon speakers for high quality sound.

Low carbon footprint

With global warming, the mid October trip was warmer than in the past. We hiked in short sleeves and opened the sunroof to let in the wonderful (yet disturbing) warm air. We were glad to be driving an environmentally correct car.

We were in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts, where every restaurant is either vegetarian or has an extensive vegetarian selection. And people are biking, or pulling bikes off their hybrid cars (with the split back seat, we could have easily brought our bikes, but we just wanted to run and hike).

Do you get perks with your car?
Reserved parking for fuel efficient cars

Kia perks

The benefits of the hybrid were not just limited to saving money and feeling good. At my local Whole Foods, I even got to park right by the entrance, which is reserved for fuel efficient cars.

The Kia hybrid fit right in with the environmental ethos of both Brooklyn and the Pioneer Valley, yet provided us with enough luxuries that we felt coddled as well.

Note: Kia loaned me the Optima hybrid for this review. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cumin Scented Acorn Squash: Recipe Follows

Sandwich with roasted acorn squash

Though NYC has yet to get a frost this fall, winter squash is dominating my local farmers market.

I used to just cut a squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast it cut side in with a little olive oil. Actually, before learning to do that I hated every manner of winter squash. Probably because I grew up with both sweet potatoes and winter squash relegated to overly sweet side dishes, often boiled and served with brown sugar.

best recipe for roasted winter squash

Fall and winter foods while summer lingers

But winter squash has an earthiness and richness that make soups sing and salads filling.

The raw ingredients 
And one of the hardest parts of preparing acorn quash isn't even necessary. You don't have to peel the raw squash; if you roast it long enough, the hard skin tenderizes and makes a chewy contrast to the caramelized flesh.

Raw squash, ready for its close up.  And the oven
Just make sure to trim away the inedible stem and surrounding area. But don't toss the hard bits! Use use the hard scraps and stringy flesh clinging to the seeds in vegetarian stock, which thickens it and adds a layer of complexity.

Roasted acorn squash
Roasting squash with olive oil and salt is fine, but adding herbs or spices is also nice. I was sent a couple of Spice Island seasonings to test and the cumin called out to me. Sprinkling it on before roasting made the winter squash stand out in salad [and in a sandwich the next day]. Even on a hot and humid October night

Best recipe for roasting winter squash

One acorn squash, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt


Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the squash and cut in half along a ridge. Slice it along the ridges and discard seeds, stringy flesh, stem and hard bits around the stem [Or save and toss into vegetables you are using to make stock]

Spread the olive oil on a roasting sheet and add the squash slices. Sprinkle on half the cumin and salt, turn slices and sprinkle on remainder.

Roast until flesh caramelizes and skin softens, about 30 minutes. I like to turn the slices over half through so they brown evenly.

Use in salad or a sandwich with blue cheese and baby arugula.

Note: I was sent Spice Island spices samples but was not otherwise compensated. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin: The Perils of Fame

Meeting Pooh. Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The same day I saw a screening of the new movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin, the New York Times ran an article about parents who post their kids every move on Instagram.

The movie poster
Living life under a lens has its drawbacks, as the surprisingly somber and affecting movie shows. A. A. Milne, battling PTSD after fighting in WW I, uses his son as inspiration for his famous Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Milne, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is at times the kind of charming wit seen in The Thin Man movies, along with his socialite wife, played by Margot Robbie. But he is unhappy being a rich London poet and playwright, and moves the family, along with a nanny, to Sussex.

The Fox screening room
The parents don’t come off well, relegating care of their adorable son, Christopher Robin, to the nanny. Christopher Robin, nicknamed Billy Moon, is played by the dimpled Will TIlston as a young boy. He will break your heart.

In this story, father and son are left alone and the clueless dad, who cam’t even make a proper breakfast, begins to warm up and entertain his son. He creates stories around his son’s stuffed animals, and Winne-the-Pooh is born.

Children's literature, adult movie

This is certainly not a children’s movie, with its adult themes, flashbacks to battle and somber tone. But for parents who grew up with the books, or read them to their children, the movie is diverting and intriguing.

I sought out Milne’s poetry and decided to reread the Winne-the-Pooh books to look for subtext. One of my English major friends wrote her thesis on Alice in Wonderland, so I know that there is often more than meets the eye in children’s literature.

And movies.

Live in New York?

And if you live in NY, or are visiting, you can see the original Winne-the-Pooh bear at the New York Pubic Library. It’s on display at the Children’s Center on at 42nd Street.

Note: I ws a guest of Fox at this screening.