Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Driving to Asia? Culinary Adventure in DC

The view from the rooftop bar, Whiskey Charlie

Driving to Washington, DC, can be a tragic mistake, with traffic jams and short tempers. But on our recent trip, we had smooth sailing.

And we stayed at a waterfront hotel where we could have gone sailing - or kayaking, or on a water taxi.
First, a Korean car. Then, Korean food

Not only that, we 'drove' to Asia, courtesy of a new restaurant, Kaliwa, that featured food from Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. And we were driving a Korean car, a Hyundai.

First, the car: thanks Hyundai

The Wharf 'street' for cars, walkers, bikers and runners
We hit the road early in the 2018 Hyundai Elantra on a Thursday, hoping to avoid weekend traffic on I-95. And we did. In fact, the only traffic at all was around our hotel, the Canopy by Hilton. This hotel is part of the new District Wharf development. The area is still under construction, so it can get pretty hairy or there.

Apple CarPlay in the Hyundai Elantra
Also, the 'street' along the Wharf is for cars, bikers, runners and walkers, with no clear delineation. We stuck the car in the hotel's garage, and only used it to drive our daughter home at night.

The Hyundai Elantra has Sirius XM radio, so we had great music for our whole drive. And our phones connected with Apple CarPlay so we could listen to a podcast or two. The GT model that we drove had premium speakers and the cabin was quiet, even with the windows open.

There was a wireless charging pad, as well as a USB port for charging.
Pickled vegetables at Kaliwa

Asian food, a short walk from the hotel

District Wharf has quite a few restaurants. The Canopy by Hilton hotel has a rooftop bar, Whiskey Charlie. Bar food like crab cake sliders and a warm soft pretzels with beer cheese sauce stave off hunger. We had just two of us drinking, so we couldn't have the cocktail tankard. These giant cocktails serve 4-6, and you aren't even allowed to get one for less than 4 people.

By rooftop standards, $52 for a cocktail that serves 6 is a bargain. We had delicious Manhattans. There is, naturally, a great selection of bourbon and rye.

Korean vegetarian bibimbap
Kaliwa, a short walk from the hotel, divides its menu into three sections. There were no vegetarian choices on the Philippine section, which I expected.

From Korea, we had vegetarian bibimbap. This stew of pickled vegetables and rice had a spicy chili sauce. A sunny side up egg topped it

We also got a plate of more pickled vegetables. The sweet pickled shiitakes were delicious.

Thai crab curry
The Thai Kaeng Daeng was blue crab with red curry. Since it was rich, I were happy to share with 3 others. The stir fried green beans retained their crunch and the clams with black beans was so generous we couldn't finish it.

We also took the Hyundai Elantra with us to shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn
Drinks include a wide variety of Japanese beers. There are rice lagers and rice ales, beers from Korea and the Philippines and cocktails that include tropical fruits, Thai chilies and ginger.

We ate outside, watching the water lap the boats bobbing on the Potomac and felt transported far from I-95.

Note: Hyundai loaned us the Elantra GT for this trip. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Farm to Glass: Farmers & Distillers

Impossibly delicious: the Impossible Burger

The very urban Washington, DC, does not seem like a place for fresh produce. But Farmers & Distillers goes one step further than farm to table cuisine. Here, you can have farm to glass.

The restaurant works with a local distillery for its own alcohol, including Founding Farmers Rye and Founding Farmers Gin. They also have local beer.

Everything here is made from scratch, from the bread to the fresh donuts. They even have their plates made for them. And though the emphasis is on comfort food, there are plenty of vegetarian options.

In fact, there was a whole meatless section. And the Impossible Burger was an option. [Oddly, it cost more than beef].

There are also pizzas, pastas, and lots of salads.

The Farmers & Distillers plates
I had the cauliflower steak, which came with creamy cheesy grits. It also had roasted heirloom carrots, and a tasty green sauce.

Both my husband and daughter had that Impossible Burger. All burgers come with fries, cole slaw, pasta salad or house salad. On a homemade brioche bun, of course.

The 'Baby Macs' is a great deal. The burger comes with cheese, special sauce and a shake. Or a beer. Not bad for $15. Or $16 for the veggie version.
Homemade vegetarian dumplings

We didn't need our appetizer, sweet potato dumplings, but they were delicious. But we were too full for dessert.

Next time I'm in Washington, DC, I plan to tour the distillery. And return for breakfast.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Dog Friendly Hotel - AND Car

Dog friendly Canopy by Hilton, District Wharf
Hanging out in District Wharf, Washington, DC

Finding a dog friendly boutique hotel is getting increasingly easier. A new lifestyle hotel brand, Canopy by Hilton, opened its first United States iteration in the fall, in Washington, DC.

The dog friendly Hyundai Elantra
Scarlet red pearl 2018 Hyundai Elantra
The first Canopy by Hilton, in Iceland, was a bit far to bring our dog to, but the one in DC is an ideal distance away. Of course, you can't take a MegaBus, or even an Amtrak, with a Labrador Retriever, so we had to drive from Brooklyn to DC.

dog and kid friendly sunroof in the Hyundai Elantra
Open sky through the panoramic sunroof

Dog and child friendly car

We had wheels for the trip, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra. This roomy sedan got 32 miles per gallon, taking us from home and halfway back before we had to fill up. And the panoramic sunroof was a hit with the dog, who loves to feel the sun on her face. The sunroof bathes the entire car in light, and also allows fresh air to circulate.
dog friendly Canopy by Hilton
Karat with her swag, a ball from the Canopy by Hilton

This is the car I wish we had when my youngest was constantly car sick. If you have kids who don't like car travel, the issue is often access to air and light. Particularly for our third child, who was always stuck in the middle seat in her car seat, with no window.

Creature comforts

Easy to use controls on the Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra wasn't just designed for bringing along a creature like my dog. It had plenty of driver comforts like heated and cooled seats, and dual temperature controls. We happened to go to DC during the first heat wave of 2018, and opening the sunroof while cooling the seat was an environmentally friendly option.

The roomy trunk and split seat
And since my husband runs hotter than me, he could have the car cooled more on his side. In the rear seat, the vent could be moved around. We had it pointed right at Karat, who never panted during our drive.
#drivehyundai #dogfriendlytravel #canopybyhilton

More Canopy by Hilton choices

The Canopy roll out includes a second hotel now open in Bethesda, Maryland. This summer, locations in Atlanta, Dallas and Portland, Oregon open.

The DC Wharf location has valet parking, and I was glad we had such a sharp looking car. The Elantra exterior was scarlet red pearl, which set off the black interior.

Free Canopy by Hilton bicycles

Other wheels: DC by bike

The hotel has a dozen bikes, free for guests, with helmets and locks provided. These sturdy, three speed bicycles are perfect for short jaunts around town. But, they are too heavy for long bike rides. We wanted to go to Alexandria, a 16 mile round trip. But in the 91 degree heat, we kept trips short.

The Canopy hotel is on a new two-way, protected bike lane. There are also plenty of bike lanes in DC, and since traffic can be heavy, this is a great way to get around the city. My daughter met us to sightsee, bringing her own bicycle. After dinner, we drove her home. The split seat in the Elantra made it easy to fit her bike without removing a wheel. And still seat three adults.

More ways to get around town

Waiting for the valet. This is how close we were to the water
The Canopy offers a free shuttle to the National Mall and the Metro. You can also walk to the station. We walked with the dog to the National Mall in the evening. It's about a mile, and temperatures cooled off at night.

And District Wharf has a free water jitney to East Potomac Park. You can bring your dog on the boat. We didn't since Karat had never been on a boat, but we did ride with a bulldog.

There is also a water taxi to Alexandria, Georgetown and National Harbor in Maryland. No dogs allowed. Fares are $12.60 roundtrip.

Private outdoor plaza just past the hotel's restaurant; Karat laid down here while we had a free breakfast

Canopy perks

Waiting while we sampled drinks
The free breakfast had fresh fruit, flatbread pizza, Greek yogurt, cereal and several kinds of bread. We took Karat outside and ate while she relaxed at our feet. Just kidding -she tried to sample the breakfast. We could have left her in the room. Canopy provides a tag that you hang outside your door, alerting staff that a dog is inside.

Specialty cocktail, made with local vodka.
Canopy will also deliver a breakfast bag, which we tried one morning. It had a piece of fruit, a small yogurt and juice. Our room had a Nespresso maker. But if you want a heartier breakfast, or more options, go to the restaurant.

If you are around the hotel between 5 and 6pm, the restaurant also offers tastes of a specialty cocktail each evening. Perfect for when you return to the hotel to walk and feed the dog; you get a drink. Local spirits and mixers are the focus. When we were there, we tried a local vodka, District Made Vodka. Karat wasn't allowed into the restaurant, but we brought the drinks to the couches right outside.

Note: Hyundai loaned me the Elantra for this trip. Canopy by Hilton provided me with a media room. Opinions are, of course, my own.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Vegan Buddha Bowl

Colorful and flavorful vegan bowl

Almost all bowls have some combo of grains, greens and sauce. Maybe there's a protein, possibly a fat.

The key is different textures. flavors - and colors.

I was recently sent a sample of V8 vegetable juice and it reminded me of when I would cook with it, to 'sneak' some veggies into my kids' meals. I would make rice with a mixture of water and V8, so those eight vegetables would be incorporated into the grain.

V8 has tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress and spinach. While it is rich in vitamins A and C, it also has a fair amount of sodium, so if you usually add salt to your rice cooking water, leave it out.

This bowl has a good mix of cooked and raw veggies, so there's crunch and texture.

Vegan Buddha Bowl

1 bunch kale leaves, washed and torn
1 package tempeh, cubed
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice, made with V8
1 small red pepper, chopped
3/4 cup chopped or shredded purple cabbage
1 medium sweet potato, roasted and chopped

Marinade -mix all below
6 T tamari
3 T rice vinegar
2 t sesame oil

Curry Sauce - mix all below

3 T cashew or almond butter
3 T almond milk 
1/1/2 T  tamari
3 t rice vinegar
1 1/2 t red curry paste

Serves 3 (though when my husband is really hungry, just 2)

Marinate tempeh for at least 15 minutes. Cook tempeh, with marinade, in medium pan on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until crispy.

Microwave or steam kale until softened, about 4 minutes.

Divide rice, veggies and tempeh into 3 bowls. Top with sauce.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Lions and Dragons and Pandas, Oh My: Chinese Lantern Fest

The Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square

Spring and summer mean outdoor music festivals, concerts and the Chinese Lantern Festival in Philadelphia.

Get to Philadelphia's Franklin Square for #PhillyLanternFest
The Chinese Lantern Festival, an eight week extravaganza, lights up Franklin Square nightly through June 30.

Although you have to pay for the festival to see it lit up at night, you can visit the park during day for free and see the lanterns.

Franklin Square also has a summer of free fun, including music and movies, the rest of the summer.

I got to attend a media preview last week, where the 28 brightly colored lanterns include a 200 foot long dragon.
During the day, see the lanterns for free

Just walking around looking at the colored lights is fun, but there is more entertainment on offer. Performances include acrobatics and dance. And folk artists sell crafts.

The mini golf, which includes Philly landmarks like the Art Museum and Liberty Bell, is open during the festival, along with the carousel.
Vegetarian SquareBurger

Food and drink

In addition to SquareBurger, during the festival there is Asian food for sale. I had veggie dumplings and a veggie burger.

Franklin Square has local beers on tap. For the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Beer Garden has beer from China and Japan.
My pup and husband before the festival started

Dog Days of Summer in Franklin Square

Note: Historic Philadelphia invited me to the media preview. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spicing it Up with Butternut Squash Empanadas

Like many kids in the 1970s, I grew up with a mostly bland diet. Pepper was an exotic seasoning and the spices my mother had were a wedding gift. Paprika was red dust and garlic was a four letter word.

My children love sriracha and cumin and only use freshly ground pepper. So the Taste Buds Kitchen new partnership with the premium spice company Spice Islands makes sense.

At an event at Taste Buds Kitchen, a cooking school, we got to sample dishes made with the spices.

Spice Islands has four key components in its products: source, spec, volatile oil and process.

They source from around the world, so they have things like Saigon Cinnamon, which is bit spicier than most cinnamons.

Spec if specification, the company's standards, and process means that spices are ground here, then quickly bottled so they last longer.

Volatile oil refers to the natural oils in species. At an event where we tasted and sniffed different species, I was surprised by the snap and scent of Spice Island bay leaves. They seem like they would actually impart flavor to food.

I got to take home a few spices, including smoked paprika. This flavor bomb enhances chili, roasted chickpeas and hummus.

At the event, we helped make a few dishes, including these vegetarian Butternut Squash Empanadas.

Butternut Squash Empanadas Recipe:

2 cups                   all-purpose flour
¼ cup                    cornmeal
1 tbsp.                  Spice Islands® Dried Oregano
2 tsp.                     sugar
2 tsp.                     Spice Islands® Paprika
2 tsp.                     Spice Islands® Salt
6 tbsp.                  unsalted butter, cold
2                              eggs
½ cup                    water (more or less as needed)

7 oz.                       butternut squash, roasted and mashed
2 tbsp.                  frozen corn
¼                             red bell pepper, diced
¼                             onion, diced
2                              garlic cloves, minced
2 oz.                       cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup                    vegetable stock
2 tbsp.                  olive oil
¼ tsp.                    Spice Islands® Garlic Powder
1 tsp.                     Spice Islands® Cumin
Pinch                     Spice Islands® Salt and Pepper

Egg Wash
1    egg
 2 tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients for the dough; flour, cornmeal, Spice Islands Oregano, sugar, Spice Islands Paprika and Spice Islands Salt. Cut butter in and mix until if forms pea size pieces. Then add eggs, mixing one at a time. If mixture is dry, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until it just comes together as a dough that forms a ball and is not sticky to the touch. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, make the filling. Saut—ź onion and red pepper until soft, then add minced garlic until fragrant. Add to a medium mixing bowl with mashed butternut squash, corn, grated cheddar cheese, vegetable stock, olive oil, Spice Islands garlic powder, Spice Islands Cumin and Spice Islands Garlic Powder, Spice Islands Salt and Pepper. Mix thoroughly until combined.
Once dough is chilled, cut into individual portions, about 1.7 oz. each. Roll out the dough portions between 2 pieces of parchment paper about ¼” thick, into 4: circles. Then place a heaping spoonful of butternut squash filling into the middle of each round (be very generous with the filling). Fold dough circle in half, over the filling and seal with fork.
Place on prepared baking sheet and brush each empanada with egg wash (egg and water whisked together). Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Buying New Tires: All Online

Spending money on new tires is like buying a new home security system. You don't necessarily want to spend the money on it, but for safety reasons, you have to.

SimpleTire is removing the pain point from the shopping experience. A new feature on the site lets you schedule the tire installation at the same time you buy the tires. The two step process is now just one, and makes getting those new tires on your vehicle easier.

Check your tires

Before any trip, check your tires: make sure the tread isn't worn, and make sure there is enough air in the tires.
New tires on the Mazda3

Choosing new tires

I had my daughter, Hallie, test out the SimpleTire service recently. SimpleTire gave me a discount.

On the site, you enter your vehicle, year and model. You also look at your old tires and enter the size.

You can sort by brand: national brands such as Michelin, BFGoodrich and Bridgestone are available.

After you select your tires, you choose a convenient service center. Tires are shipped in about 48 hour; shipping is free. Since I live in New York City, I figured finding a place close by would be easy. So I had Hallie send the tires near her, in Northampton, MA. There were several places nearby, and she was easily able to schedule installation.


Note: SimpleTire gave me a discount, but I paid for the tires and installation. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Outdoor Video Game Play: Laser X Micro Blasters

When Pokemon Go enjoyed its moment in the sun, many parents of kids who love video games were thrilled. Here was a way couch potato game players could get outside AND play games.

Laser X Micro Blasters operate on the same principle. They encourage kids to run around outside and play games. These light weight laser tag toys, only five inches long, are for two or more players. They are compact enough for travel.

The set comes with two blasters, but they work with other Laser X Micro Blasters. So if your neighbor's kids also have them, the kids can play together. The arm band sensors work at up to 100 feet away.

The Micro Blasters also work with the original Laser X, which has a 200 feet range, and the Long-Range Blaster, which blasts up to 400 feet.
Laster X Micro Blasters

The light and sound effect make the game play fun, and they can even be used indoors (if you want kids running around the house). But it doesn't use actual lasers, so there is no danger to eyes.

The toy is for ages six and up. A set of two is $29.99. And if you have an odd number of children, or just want a spare, you can buy a single micro blaster for $14.99.

Note: I was given a sample of Laser X Micro Blasters for the purpose of this review. Opinions expressed are my own.