Friday, November 30, 2018

Unique Columbus Ohio: Seeking the Local

Many midwest cities have a numbing sameness. Columbus, Ohio stands out.

Columbus, the state capital, may be the most fashionable midwestern city. The home of L Brands, which includes the Limited, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, the city attracts lots of designers. In the Short North Arts District, I found local boutiques with highly fashionable clothes, shoes and jewelry.

Food is also a focus in the city. There are beer, distillery and coffee shop trails that encourage visitors to patronize local establishments. And get a free t-shirt.

Even my hotel, Hotel LeVeque, emphasized this local mentality. The minibar had a craft bottled cocktail from Watershed Distillery.
The minibar goes local

Hotel LeVeque's sumptuous lobby
The hotel's restaurant, The Keep, uses Watershed Distillery's gin for a barrel aged Negroni. It makes use of many local products: the bourbon, rye, apple brandy, and bitters are all local. You might think you were in a bar in Brooklyn.

Local coffee shop

Although Hotel LeVeque has a chain coffee shop in the lobby, I did check out a fantastic local place, The Fox in the Snow Cafe. The latte was perfect, and the latte art on point. The sublime egg sandwich was made on house baked bread, with arugula. And the biscuits would please a Nashville purist.
Perfection: the egg sandwich at The Fox in the Snow

Taking home a bit of CBus

Concocting a candle at The Candle Lab
I made a candle at The Candle Lab. You choose a few scents, see what goes together, and create a custom candle. Cleverly, the candle takes a couple of hours to set, giving you time to shop the local boutiques and art galleries. Or have a meal or drinks at Service Bar. This restaurant is attached to another local distillery, Middle West Spirits.
Barrel aged Negroni at The Keep

Note: I was a guest of Experience Columbus, which covered my travel expenses.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

All Aboard: Driving the Chevy Traverse around New York

Does it seem odd to drive to a train show?
Holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden

Well, the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is a bit of a misnomer. The annual show, in residence for two months, has plenty of model trains. But it also has models of houses and structures around NYC.

We particularly liked the Coney Island section and the area devoted to Lower Manhattan. When you see the show with older kids, you examine the buildings more closely. We were saddened by how many of them had been knocked down.

The glorious Beaux Arts Penn Station was there, rendered in bark, leaves and twigs. At least the building's demise led to an outcry and to the formation of the NYC Landmarks Law.

Spreading out in the Chevy Traverse

Second row comfort, and light pouring in through oversized windows
I was surprised that the 3 row Traverse is considered a midsize SUV. We found it quite roomy, with captains seats in the second row and a full size third row. There was plenty of floor space for an overgrown dog as well.

Behind the third row there was a large cargo area. We drove to Thanksgiving in it, instead of squeezing into our small sedan, and had tons of room for the cakes, pies and sides I was supplying.

Button on lower right reveals a secret compartment
The Traverse gets only 18 mpg in the city, 27 o the highway. But considering that we drove our friends, who were going to take a second car, w saved a ton of gas. If you are just driving yourself around, this may not be the ideal vehicle.

We didn't get to put the AWD to the test. You switch into this as needed. But considering I had the SUV a week after a snowstorm paralyzed the New York region, with cars spinning off the road, this is an important feature.

Note: Chevrolet loaned me the Traverse. I was not otherwise compensated.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Fit for Foodies: Holiday Gift Guide

A 'shot' of peanut butter from Pic's

Have a foodie you need to shop for? Try these holiday gifts

A gift that isn't nuts

Peanut butter is essential to a vegetarian or vegan diet. [sorry if you are allergic]. We usually have three or four different peanut butters at hand. A creamy for me, crunchy for the kids. Both natural. And another natural that is thinner and better suited to baking. Sometimes we have a specialty pb: spicy, or mixed with chocolate.
GoSili reusable travel mugs

Now there's another brand to consider. Pic's Really Good Peanut Butter, from New Zealand, could be your all around peanut butter. Pic's shines in savory dishes, like an African ground nut stew with tomatoes and sweet potatoes. It has a subtle, very fresh taste that goes well in cooking.

Pic's has both salted and unsalted varieties, smooth or crunchy. And it is just peanuts and salt. It is non GMO verified and about $12 a 16 ounce jar.

A cheese plate with Polaner fruit spread
And if you are giving gifts to a traveler, the 'peanut butter slug' is ideal. You can put these in a stocking, or pair a few with crackers.

A honey of a gift

Local Hive has raw and unfiltered honey in 16 varieties. The honey is made throughout the country, so you can buy honey that is local to your area, or try a honey from a different region. Each varietal has its own flavor profile. Local Hive, from Rice's Honey, is also kosher. One pound jars are $5.99- $7.49

And sweet alternative#giftguide #holidaygiftguide #foodiegiftguide

If you want to avoid added cane sugar, Polaner Fruit & Maple is sweetened with maple syrup. These fruit spreads come in strawberry, peach, raspberry and blueberry. The peach pairs well on a cheese plate, since it is less sweet than most jams. The gluten free and kosher jams also have no high fructose corn syrup.

[Try it paired with Pic's peanut better for a real treat!] An 8 ounce jar is $3.99

Drinks on the Go

Reusable coffee cups may be great for the environment, but they are often difficult to clean. GoSili has a dishwasher safe silicone cup that is reinforced with stainless steel. The cups stay cool to the touch and they are lightweight. They also fit easily in stroller or car cup holders.

If your coffee (or tea) gets cold, you can pop it in the microwave. The 16 ounce mug, in teal, gray or (millennial) pink is $15 at Target.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Powering Up breakfast: Eat Your Veggies

Vegetable Frittata with veggie bacon

In my fantasy world, I get up and make a nutritious, delicious breakfast..

Scratch y fantasy, my cook prepares a nutritious, delicious breakfast..

Breakfast in a jiffy
In reality, I often eat cold cereal. But now, Garden Lites has a frozen line of veggie filled egg dishes that you pop in the microwave and don't find yourself scrabbling around for donuts or chocolate croissants at 10am.

Garden Lites Frittatas

Garden Lites "Veggie Made Great" Frittatas remind me of the New York Times frittata recipe that are more vegetable than egg. The spinach egg white version  has spinach, tomatoes, onions and red peppers, along with egg whites and mozzarella.

Keep on hand in the freezer
Each frittata has 70 calories, five grams of protein, and no added sugar.

I loved the veggie bacon & potato frittata. The veggie bacon is made from pinto beans. These are 80 calories. And five grams of protein. the main ingredient is cauliflower.

Both frittatas tasted even better with a hit of Sriracha.

Garden Lites products are vegetarian, kosher, gluten free and non- GMO. They are also made in a nut free facility.

If you are running, or running off to work, these frittatas start the day right.

Note: I got samples of the Garden Lites Frittatas. I was not otherwise compensated.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Staycation: A Night in Manhattan

On top of the world: Empire State Building Observatory

In the original Fame, one of the characters lives in an apartment in Times Square.

But unlike the movies, most New Yorkers live in more residential neighborhoods. So I jumped at the chance to spend the night at the Embassy Suites on 37th Street.

#NYCHotel #NYCFamilyhotel #Familyhotel #bestNYChotel #empirestatebuilding
The new hotel, the first Embassy Suites in NYC, is officially Embassy Suites by Hilton New York Midtown. And it's ideally located for anyone spending a couple of days seeing Broadway shows, visiting museums, and of, course, going to the top of the Empire State Building.

On top of the world

Room with a view AND windows that open
Before my recent stay, I had only been to the top of the ESB once (I also edited at a magazine in the building for 8 years). I was with 2 of my daughters, then 5 and 10 years old. As soon as we got to the top, the power went out in the trip-state region and we had to walk down 86 stories, and 6 and a half miles home.

Skylawn Bar at Embassy Suites
This time, with the 5 year old now 20, nothing so dramatic happened. And we actually got to go twice. We had a New York CityPass, which allowed us to go in daylight, and after 10pm. How convenient that we were only 3 blocks away.

My foodie 20 year old also had a bucket list for her short time back in NYC between her summer internship in Buenos Aires and returning to college. One place on it was Beyond Sushi, a vegan sushi restaurant that happened to be just a block from the hotel.

Colorful and tasty vegan sushi

Plant based dining

Beyond Sushi, a mini NYC chain, has plant based sushi and dishes like 'fun guy' mushroom dumplings, (say it out loud) noodle soups and curries and shared plates with roasted cauliflower, eggplant with tahini and farro sunchoke risotto. We over ordered but managed to eat everything.

Hotel food and more

Some rooms at the Embassy Suites have balconies
The Embassy Suites has a cocktail and appetizer evening reception daily, with a rotating menu of snacks. We checked it out and there was cheese, chips and bean dip. Just for journalistic purposes, I had a martini and it was quite delicious. There were meaty olives and it was icy cold.

If you want a craft cocktail, with top shelf liquor, the SkyLawn Bar has both indoor and outdoor seating and local spirits. Brooklyn distillery NY Distilling Company supplies the local Dorothy Parker gin (one of my faves) and Ragtime Rye Whiskey. There is also a Rooftop Cinema Club, open to the public. Hotel guests get priority seating.

A bar for little kids: the cereal bar
Like all Embassy Suites, the hotel includes breakfast. Omelets are made to order, with lots of fresh veggies. There is also fruit, cereal and yogurt. We were impressed that the fruit included fresh mango.

Leaving the hotel

Apps at the evening reception
If you are traveling with little kids, Bryant Park has a carousel, and free games and crafts. Once there's a nip in the air, the park has free ice skating.

Madame Tussauds New York features wax replicas of local celebrities. And you can also walk The High Line from the northern terminus on 34th Street down to the Meatpacking District.

Note: I was given a complimentary one night stay at Embassy Suites. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eating Well on the Road: Travel Snacks and Food

As a seasoned traveler, I plan ahead and try to have healthy snacks and meals as much as possible, whether at home or on the road. Still, I occasionally find myself confronting a distressing array of empty calorie food choices, or no decent vegetarian options.

The healthy selection at Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens Tampa

For example, I was at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay last week and the only vegetarian option we could find for lunch was cheese pizza. Not the worst choice. But when you live within spitting distance of Roberta's and Table 87, theme park pizza is not what you craze.

Healthy snacks at Busch Gardens

Do you take road trips? Try these #healthysnacks #roadtripsnacks #glutenfree #vegan
We did find one place with healthy snacks. There were Clif and Kind bars, dried edamame, Peeled Snacks organic dried fruit and almonds. It's a start. But Busch Gardens should take a page from Disney, which does have appealing vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options at almost every venue in its parks.

New player in the healthy food market: HMSHost

HMSHost, which runs cafes and snack shops in airports and service plazas around the world, just introduced a the "Eat Well. Travel Further' initiative at select airports and travel plazas around the country.

Sampling of HMSHost healthy snacks.
Bento boxes include a vegan and a protein lunch boxes. The vegan box has chickpea salad, roasted red peppers and veggie chipsAll the boxes are under 500 calories (ever look up the calorie count in a smoothie from the airport?) and include nutrient dense food. There is also fresh fruit, hummus with veggies, count water and kombucha.

Flying off the shelves: healthy snacks at airports

HMSHost sent me a sample box of some of its new healthy airport and travel plaza offerings. Some items I was familiar with: protein loaded Rx Bars and Peeled Snacks. But there was also the low calorie, addictive Skinny Pop popcorn, and Bare fruit chips. Skinny Pop and Bare products are also vegan and gluten free.

Other healthy offerings include That's It bars, made with just whole fruit and Rhythm Superfoods kale chips. The kale chips have all the vitamin K you need for a day, plus over half the vitamin A.

Justin's almond butter packets are great to pick up if the only thing you can find is a bagel. And the Biena chickpea snacks give your snacks plenty of protein and fiber (add some to a salad).

Note: I was sent a sample pack from HMSHost. I was not compensated for this post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pick a Winner: Family Trip to Florida

Sunset from Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach

As my kids get older, it gets harder and harder to gather all 3 to take a family trip. My middle daughter just started law school across the country, but before my youngest started her senior year of college and the oldest went back to the fall semester of grad school, we squeezed in a 4/5 of the family trip to St. Pete / Clearwater.

#wyndhamgrand #bestfloridahotel #floridagetaway #familyvacation #beachvacation

Winning Entry

Even better, I won the trip from the Visit St. Pete Clearwater tourism board. We stayed at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, right ton the beach and in a connecting room suite with plenty of room for the 4 of us.

Had we come with younger kids, we could have gotten a room with bunk beds. And an Adventure Pack geared towards children. Since my youngest is 20, she was more appreciative of the Keurig coffee maker and balcony.
Fish tacos poolside, 3 to an order

What to do at Wyndham Grand

If you just want to hang by the pool all day, no one will judge. There are plenty of lounge chairs, and some shade, surrounding the large, heated pool. Heated? Really? Well, it was still refreshing for a dip.
Pubic playground, next to the hotel

The towel cards were a bit annoying; to get a towel, you have to turn in towel card. You turn in your towel to get the card back. And at check out, you are charged $45 per missing card.

I guess this cuts down on people stealing towels, or grabbing 6 per person. And I am all about being environmentally correct. But the hotel also makes a green claim in the room, that towels are changed only every 3rd day , if you hang them back up.  So we all dutifully rehung our towels - and they were charged twice a day.

Free yoga

The hotel has different daily activities - a live band was performing when we arrived. And there are pool games, arts and crafts and other family friendly activities. We took a free yoga class, on the turf near the pool. The instructor knew what she was doing and it was a perfect way to start the day.

Hit the beach

Marina view, from our balcony
You have to cross the street to get to the sugar sand beach. It's a public beach, so a private concession rents chairs and cabanas. [You can bring your hotel towel - but remember to return it!] There's also a large public playground right next to the hotel.

Daily sunset

Get out of your shell and go to the beach
The Wyndham is next to Pier 60, which has a sunset festival every evening. Except when we were there. It started raining at 5pm our first 2 nights, and though it had stopped by sunset, few of the promised vendors and musicians made the soggy trek to the pier. The third day, it started pouring at 5pm, on cue, but didn't stop till after 10.  We did get to watch a fabulous sunset from our table at the Wyndham's high end Asian fusion restaurant, Ocean Hai, our first night.

Family - and adult - friendly

All rooms have mini fridges and coffee makers. The hotel bar doubles as a coffee bar during the day, with pastries and sandwiches. You could get your kids an egg sandwich and set up camp at the pool for the day.
Running and biking path

The pool cafe delivers food to your lounge chair. We had giant fish tacos and a huge salad for lunch. Though the prices were a bit high, we needed on 3 dishes for the 4 of us, and we still didn't finish.

Ocean Hai gave us a big plate of edamame with black sea salt and dumplings to start our meal. We had spicy pad thai, a seafood pho studded with vegetables and more dumplings. Again, we needed only 3 entrees at dinner. [Note: we paid for our meals].

Getting active

Early morning empty beach run
The hotel has a large gym overlooking the Gulf. The lobby had a bowl of oranges and apples, perfect for a before workout snack. We also ran along the protected bike path over the causeway. I'd definitely return to bike along the path.

We played mini golf at Captain Bligh's. The pirate themed course had caves and water hazards. It cost a surpassing $10 a person. You can also charter a boat at the marina, or take a sightseeing cruise.

Note: I won this trip, which included airfare and hotel. I was not otherwise compensated. Opinions are my own.