Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Other Twin: Exploring Saint Paul

Cathedral of Saint Paul on the left, Minneapolis in the distance

As a parent, you are warned never to compare children. Parents of twins have it even harder, as kids the exact same age go through school, friendships and activities.

The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, inevitably draw comparisons. Minneapolis gets most of the glory, but Saint Paul has many reasons for a visit.

Minnesota History Museum

It was snowing in April, so an indoor campfire was in order at the Children's Museum
The Minnesota History Museum has permanent exhibits like one on the Greatest Generation. My 20 year old was fascinated by the peek into her grandparents' lives, with a movie theater, clothing, soda shop and vintage Ford all on display.

We explored the 1968 exhibit, which covers the Vietnam War, civil rights demonstrations, fashion and culture.
The giant astronaut at the science museum

Children's Museum of Minnesota

Motorcycle from Purple Rain. Credit: Paisley Park
The Children's Museum of Minnesota is the place for kids to expend energy over the long winters (and 'spring'). There is a huge slide through the museum, and a supermarket, car wash and a special area for babies and toddlers. There is also an outdoor area if you are lucky to be visiting during warm weather.

Minnesota State Capitol

The fabulous Minnesota State Capitol has daily tours. The landmark building has been restored inside and out. The rotunda is particularly impressive.
Interior of Cathedral of Saint Paul

Cathedral of Saint Paul

The historic Cathedral of Saint Paul offers guided tours during the week, but we couldn't make it. Your can wander through on your own, which we did. Just not during Sunday services.

Science Museum of Minnesota

The Science Museum of Minnesota has a mummy, mostly complete Triceratops and a giant astronaut. Instead of just looking at the mummy, you can see what it looks like on the side  through 3D imaging. In the interactive Sportsology exhibit, you can throw a basketball, kick a soccer ball or race a dinosaur and learn about hand-eye coordination and the science of sports.
Minnesota State Capitol, in downtown Saint Paul

Paisley Park

Prince's home and recording studio is in neither Minneapolis nor Saint Paul. But since traffic was so light in and out of Saint Paul, our drive here was quick.

At this tightly controlled tour, you have to turn off your cellphone and put it in a locking bag (unlocked as you exit). There is no picture taking, or touching. But you do get to hear snippets of Prince as you see where he lived and worked. There are also clips from movies and music videos. This is a must see for even a casual Prince fan.

You have to reserve tickets in advance.

Tasting at Summit Brewery

Saint Paul food scene

Saint Paul has venerable places, like Mickey's Diner, along with new hot spots. The year old plant based J. Selby's has delicious vegan food. We also ate Ethiopian food at Fasika and excellent falafel and hummus at Shish, near Macalester College.

Cossetta Alimentari has been around for over 100 years. There is a huge pizzeria, along with an Italian grocery, a gelato and pastry shop and a fancier restaurant. Think Eataly, but historic. Across the street Cossetta, the Seventh Street Truck Park offers pizza, tacos, salads and grilled cheese. There is also a full bar and plenty of local beer on tap.

Saint Paul Booze

We had excellent cocktails at Vieux Carre. The speakeasy features live music most nights.

Summit Brewery charges $5 for hour long tours of the brewery. These come with 3 8 ounce glasses of beer. And you can get a small taste first if you want to make sure you like the beer. The Imperial IPA was our favorite. There are also food trucks.

The Happy Gnome has 89 beers on tap. There is a large outdoor patio.

Convenient Doubletree hotel

The pool at the Doubletree Hotel
We stayed at the Doubletree Saint Paul, during a snowy April visit. We were glad that the hotel connected up to skyways so we could get around with little exposure outside. If you are going to the Children's Museum, you can walk there from inside.

For morning coffee, we could practically get to Dunn Brothers or Starbucks from a climate controlled environment, with just a quick dash outside.

Warm chocolate chip cookie at check in at the Doubletree Hotel
Our room had a coffee maker, plus a mini fridge and a microwave.

Although the bed was quite comfortable, and the linens pristine, the bathroom had rust on the mirror and needed a refresh.

There is a large indoor pool, with a gym next to it.

We didn't eat at the breakfast Town Grill, but we did have drinks at the Rival House Sporting Parlour. This is a fun sports bar with local beers on tap, and lots of board games that you can play while you eat a pizza cooked in a wood oven.

Note: I was a guest of Visit Saint Paul, which covered my stay at the Doubletree Hotel. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Gluten free? This bar's for you

Finding a tasty gluten free - and delicious - energy bar just got easier.

TahiniBar, which is also dairy free and Kosher, is a 'super seed energy bar.' the sesame seed bars come in vanilla, cocoa nibs and pistachio flavors, though the dominant flavor in all is tahini. Or, if you grew going to Jewish delis, halvah.

But a TahiniBar is not dessert [actually, when I was a kid, I said that halvah wasn't a dessert. I've since reassessed]. The 100 calorie bars are high in vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc. 

Although they taste sweet, the bars are low in sugar. I tried them before a long distance run and found they gave me energy. They can also satisfy if you are feeling peckish during the day, or while traveling. Note, though, that the cars are rather soft and may crumble if you squish them in a bag.

TahiniBar is made by Absolutely Gluten Free.

Note: I received a sample of TahiniBars. Opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Great Vegan Cafe: J Selby's, Saint Paul

The 'cheese' burger at J. Selby's

Selby is a name you see throughout Saint Paul. MN. Selby Avenue is a main street, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul was once a farm owned by a man named Selby.

The packed J. Selby's
The farmer, J Selby, would likely be tickled that his name adorns a new plant based restaurant, J. Selby's. The restaurant is what we old schoolers would call vegan, but that word can have negative connotations. No one is judging you here for wearing leather shoes or a silk shirt.

We went on a Sunday night, when we thought we could just waltz in, but it was completely packed. J. Selby's is the kind of place where you order at a counter, and take your number to a table. Except there were no tables. A server came over and pointed out a group that was finishing, and we ordered and sat.

The food was incredible. And filling. We saw the portions and realized there was no need for appetizers. though I have to go back for the cauliflower 'wings.' And the chili. And the brunch.

Brunch, served on weekends only, has a vegan take on biscuits and gravy. Sounds fabulous. There is also a children's menu.

BBQ 'beaf'
But what we had was equally wonderful. My daughter got a 'cheese' burger, which comes with one patty (a solo) or two (the dirty secret). You can have a Field Roast, Beyond Burger or Herbivorous Butcher patty. Since we'd already eaten at the Herbivorous Butcher earlier in the day, Nora had the Beyond Burger.

It came on a whole wheat bun, with pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato. There was homemade ketchup, of course, and sriracha if that's how you roll. The burger comes with fries, a salad, chips and salsa or spicy slaw.

I had that spicy slaw on my BBQ 'beaf.' The sandwich was like pulled pork, on a hoagie bun.

My husband got the burrito bowl, with soy chorizo, brown rice, guacamole and a cheesy, creamy sauce that was, of course, vegan.

Or plant based. Whatever you want to call it, it was delicious.

5 Star Fun in San Francisco: Executive Lounge at the Intercontinental

Appetizers at the executive lounge at the Intercontinental SF

The relaxing executive lounge
Anytime I stay in a hotel, I want to have access to the executive lounge. But like airport clubs, these lounges vary in quality.

The large indoor pool
I recently stayed at the Intercontinental in San Francisco, where the lounge had great views, an outdoor patio, a fantastic breakfast, and food and drinks throughout the day.

Yogurt parfait at breakfast 
When we arrived, our room wasn't ready, but at check in, we were told we could go hang out in the lounge for a bit. It was almost 5pm, so we were surprised that our room wasn't ready, but since the hotel offers a late check out, it can't have all the rooms ready at once.

[Note: the guy checking in next to us started yelling when told his room wasn't ready. Had he tried smiling or being somewhat nice, he might have been offered lounge access. It does work]

And since my daughter had just played six game of Ultimate Frisbee at a tournament, she was happy to just chill in the hot tub for a bit. But first we had espressos in the lounge, and some fruit and cheese.
The bathroom at the Intercontinental

We left our bags in the lounge, and when we returned to get them, a full bar was set out, along with appetizers from the Michelin-starred on site restaurant, Luce. We had dinner plants, but this is a fantastic amenity. When our kids were little, we made sure to always upgrade our room to club level so they could have a quick snack before dinner and not complain if our food took awhile.

Our king sized bed
The Intercontinental has a large fitness center, next to the indoor pool. We used the weights and yoga mats after a mostly flat run along with waterfront, then had breakfast in the lounge before starting our day.

The lounge had copies of the New York Times, and the expansive place meant we could eat and read in relative privacy. A waiter came around offering smoothies and refilling coffee cups and water glasses.

Note: I was offered a media rate at the Intercontinental. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Gross Out Toy Offers Sensitivity Lesson

When I first got a package of Zits to review, I showed them to some adults who cold not comprehend this toy. "Who would WANT zits?" they asked?

Well, almost no one. But that's not the point of Zits. The peel and stick pimples are for the gross out factor - think, fake puke, rubber poop. And you are supposed to pop them, and watch the goo (mostly water and glycerin) ooze out.

But I can see value in these ersatz zits. First, if you have a kid who can't stop squeezing his pimples, he can safely pop these and leave the real pimples alone. My mother always warned me not to touch pimples. On the other hand, my husband's mother squeezed his.

Guess what? I almost never had pimples and he has craters from picking his zits. So Zits could save your skin in the long run.
Obviously fake Zits

Fake zits, real feeling

But where I think Zits could actually help is in sensitivity. Let's say one of your kids has troubled skin, but the other doesn't. Being kids, the one with the 'good' skin will likely mock the one with the 'bad.'

To make the one with the pimples feel better, you could apply these fake pimples and join your child in solidarity. I remember how traumatized I was by a single pimple - and really, I had almost my pimples. My daughters, too, would feel that they couldn't leave the house with the tiniest pimple.

Having these around could normalize the experience. And if not -well, just pop them and gross someone out!

Get your zits

Zits come in assorted sizes; a package of at Walmart is $4.99 or buy at

Note: I received a sample of Zits for the purpose of this review. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A New Love: Vegan Philly Cheesesteak

All in red for Philly Love Run

Before and after a long run, carbs are your friend. For the first time, I traveled for a race, the Philadelphia Love Run. This half marathon starts near the iconic "Rocky' steps. But unlike Rocky, I don't drink raw eggs as part of my training.

Vegan cheesesteak from Wiz Kid
We drove to Philly, since taking the train or bus involves lots of walking. What I didn't factor in was how many tourist things we'd want to do in the city. The day before the race, a day where I usually try to rest a bit, I walked over 12 miles.

I stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, which just so happened to be within blocks of 5 places where we were planning to eat.

Kimpton stays the same

Kimpton welcomes runers
This was my first time staying in a Kimpton since the chain was acquired by IHG, but the hotel still retained its individuality. Everyone at the hotel was exceptionally friendly, and dogs are treated like royalty. Each canine guest has its name written on a chalkboard, and there are treats and a water bowl at all time.

In the morning, there was coffee in the lobby, and wine in the evening. [Sadly, no wine when you are running a race]. Best of all, the morning of the half marathon, there was a bowl of fruit, plus Gatorade and water bottles. I always drink a water on the way to a run, so this was perfect.

And everyone running - there were at least 30 of us in the hotel the morning of the race - got a late checkout.
Triple threat (for your waistline): triple chocolate donut

Federal Donuts

One of those places was Federal Donuts. The carbs in a donut are negated by a 13.1 mile run. And even if you aren't planning a long run, the donuts are worth the splurge. The mini chain is owned by the same geniuses being Zahav, a fantastic Mediterranean restaurant. [We tried to get a reservation a month earlier but were shut out].

After the Love run, Philly bling
There are only a few choices at Federal Donuts, but we loved our selection; a triple chocolate and a peanut butter malt.

Lose a toe nail? Check the Mütter

The Mütter Museum specializes in the human body, with actual skeletons and specimens. You can see what gangrene does to a foot, or tumors preserved in liquid. Since runners have grotesque food oddities - we share tales of toe nails that fall off and strange foot lumps. X-rays of runners' bodies would fit right in at the Mütter.

The Impossible Burger at Wiz Kid
Photographs are not allowed at the Mütter Museum.

Sense of the city

The walkable city map at the History Museum
The Philadelphia History Museum deserved a visit because it has a huge walkable map of the city. I figured it would be fun to walk over the race route. We also checked out artifacts like photographs from the Saturday Evening Post. The magazine was published in Philly, and the museum owns a complete collection of Norman Rockwell covers for the magazine.

That vegan cheesesteak

"Cheesy" sweet potato fries
After the run, we walked two blocks to Wiz Kid, a fast casual off shoot of Vedge and V Street Kitchen. You don't want to wait a long time for your food after a run.

We had the gooey, messy and utterly delicious Wiz Kid Philly, made with seitan, mushrooms, onions and 'wiz' sauce made from rutabagas. Believe me, it worked.

Since there were three of us, we also got the KFT - Korean fried tempeh with kimchee and sriracha, and an Impossible Burger special.

The back up camera on the Toyota C-HR, incorporated into the rear view mirror
The Wiz fries, smothered in that vegan cheese sauce, were a must. In a nod to health, we had sweet potato fries.

The wheels - a Toyota C-HR

We drove this sharp looking Toyota C-HR. It has an aerodynamic design, but a pretty large blind spot Luckily, it also has a blind spot monitor. You have to train yourself to rely on the tech.

The car has Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes pre collision alert, pedestrian detection and lane departure alert.
The swooping roof looks great but reduces sight lines

My favorite feature is automatic high beams; you can see clearly at night, but when another car approaches, the lights dim.

The C-HR [which stands for coupe high rider] is sexy and eye catching. The Ruby Flare looked great, even though a flock of pigeons christened it early in the drive. I also drove a teal C-HR in Florida in early March.

Most important, the Toyota C-HR was quite comfortable. After all the walking and running - and eating - I needed to relax.

Note: Toyota loaned me the C-HR and Kimpton provided a complimentary room. Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, April 2, 2018

New York International Auto Show : Hyundai Hope on Wheels

Hyundai Hope on Wheels
Hyundai Hope on Wheels ambassador Elizabeth Blair

Hyundai is well known in the car industry for its unprecedented warranty: 10 year / 100,000 mile powertrain, 5 year / 60,000 mile new car warranty, lifetime hybrid battery.

What may not be as well known is it caring prowess. For 20 years, Hyundai Hope on Wheels has donated millions of dollars to fight pediatric cancer.
Youth Ambassador Carter Gates. Credit: Q Barefield for Hyundai Hope On Wheels

Time to toot its own horn

At a preview night before the New York International Auto Show, Hyundai celebrated its 20th anniversary of Hyundai Hope on Wheels and announced grants of $15 million.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels car. Credit: Q Barefield for Hyundai Hope On Wheels
Two pediatric cancer survivors, 11 year old Elizabeth Blair, and 12 year old Carter Gates, debuted as new National Youth Ambassadors.

Over the years, Hyundai Hope on Wheels has donated over $145 million to the program, in conjunction with local Hyundai dealers. Grants help fund cancer research and help families with children fighting cancer.

While Elizabeth and Carter were the real stars of the evening, Soledad O'Brien was the emcee and Broadway performers Betsy Wolfe (Waitress) and Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King) entertained. And the Broadway Youth Ensemble sang as well.

Grants spread around

Columbia University Medical Center received the largest grant, for $2.5 million, while Intermountain Healthcare Foundation in Salt Lake City, UT, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and St. Louis Children's Hospital Washington University in St. Louis, MO each received $1 million. 

31 other hospitals also received grants. In New YorkMontefiore Medical Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and New York University School of Medicine each got awards. 
Broadway Youth Chorus. Credit: Q Barefield for Hyundai Hope On Wheels

Grant tour

From April to October, a 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe, customized with children's handprints, travels the country presenting checks.