Friday, March 15, 2019

Dog Day Afternoon - and Morning

Find your canine avatar at the Museum of the Dog

It what may be the height of irony, the new Museum of the Dog in midtown Manhattan is not dog friendly.

Sure, the AKC Museum of the Dog welcomes all breed s- on its walls. But the museum, on the ground floor of an office building that also houses the headquarters of the American Kennel Club, doe't allow you to bring your own dog in.

That's fine. My yellow lab isn't much of an art aficionado anyway, and Park Avenue at 40th Street is too long a walk for her from Park Slope. But for young and old dog lovers alike the museum is a delight.
Interactive training video

Does your dog look like you?

There's an old saying that dogs resemble their owners. Not true in my case; no one in our family but the lab is blonde. But at the museum, you can take a photo and then be matched with your look-a-like dog. My curly hair paired me with an Irish water spaniel, then a Field Spaniel.

Training a pup

Kids and adults can try an interactive video, where you train a Labrador puppy. Parents, be careful if your kid shows an affinity for this. You may be adopting soon.
Sad dog at AKC Museum

Dog art

No this isn't artwork by dogs (though the late Koko the Gorilla could probably have drawn something). There are paintings and statues of dogs. One of the most poignant is 'Sorrow' - a dog resting his head on an empty chair. As pet parents, owners and scientists know, dogs feel emotions.

Learn about canine workers

Learn something, too

You can learn about different type of working dogs, or head to the library to read about dogs. And don't worry about leaving your pooch at home. You can also pick up a treat at the gift shop.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Pet Friendly Wine Country: Napa Valley Getaway

Napa in the rain

My recent trip to Berkeley began as a way to visit my middle daughter, a '1L' at Berkeley Law school. But while we were across the country, we figured we could head up to wine country for a couple of days while she was in class.

We stayed at the pet friendly Wine Country Inn, in St. Helena. We hadn't brought our dog, but I find that dog-friendly hotels are often relaxed and less formal than other places. Not that housekeeping is relaxed. In fact, some dog-friendly hotels are even cleaner, since they have to devote so much time to eradicating fur.
The lush grounds at Wine Country Inn

The Wine Country Inn offers free wine tastings on Friday and Saturday evenings (we were there Sunday - Tuesday) and a half bottle from a local vineyard to all guests.

A generous buffet breakfast includes eggs, fruit, yogurt and made to order waffles. There were also pastries from Model Bakery, on Main Street.

We hit a rainy spell in Napa, but did get in a soak at the outdoor hot tub. There is also an outdoor pool. Our room had robes, slippers and pool towels. The only thing missing was a place to exercise. With all the rain, we had to cancel our bike ride and didn't want to run.

Eating in Napa

The justifiably famous English muffin at Model Bakery
So we ate. We had lunch at Model Bakery, where people sit outside with their dogs. We had to have the homemade English muffins, which were not offered at Wine Country Inn. We had just missed the cut off for egg dishes, but there were some tasty salads, and we got toasted English muffins with avocado.

By law, leashed dogs are allowed in outdoor dining sections of all California restaurants. And Napa has many. We just didn't get to enjoy them this time.

Indulgent dining

A room with a view at Las Alcobas
Since we needed to stay inside, we had a long, luxurious lunch at Acacia House by Chris Consentino, in Las Alcobas. This hotel and restaurant has an elegant spa, luxury rooms with views of the next door winery.

Avo toast at Acacia House
This would be my choice for my next (dog free) trip. The free Trek bicycles are perfect for a day of riding the gym has everything needed for a workout, along with classes, and the rooms have perks like fire pits so you can enjoy the balcony in any weather.

The Top Chef alum makes delicious California cuisine with lots of vegetarian choices.  At lunch the $29 prix fixe is a good deal. You get a starter, main course and dessert. We were too stuffed for our second dessert. I had the little gem salad and my husband had the tuna tartare. Then I had a huge avocado toast and he had lobster BT without the 'b' but with a salad. There was also pasta or chicken.

The signature margarita at Las Alcobas
For dessert, we shared the chocolate mousse with fennel pollen creme fraiche. Worth every calorie.

We shared the signature cocktail, the Margarita Las Alcobas. There is another Las Alcobas hotel in Mexico City, and both make the margarita with sea foam. I'm not really a margarita fan, but this was tasty.

Wine tasting 

Forg's Leap signature wine tasting
Many of the vineyards let dogs in outdoor tasting area, and some of them even lets dogs inside. St. Supéry, in Rutherford, allows on the winery grounds and in the downstairs tasting room.

We tried delicious wine at Frog's Leap, which provides a platter of cheese, nuts and dried fruit at its signature tasting. We curled up by the fire to taste the wine. 

There is also a guided tour with a tasting, but not in the rain. Dogs are welcome on the tastings, but not the tours. To show how welcoming Frog's Leap is to dogs, Spinone stars in the winery video. Just made a reservation.

The St. Helena Welcome Center also has free wine tastings on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month. You can bring your dog in. This is also a good spot for humans; it has a public bathroom.

Mud bath at Golden Haven

Rainy Day Options

Since it was so muddy everywhere, we decided to embrace the mud and get a mud bath. At Golden Have Hot Springs & Resort in Calistoga, we had a couples mud bth that started with immersion in thick gooey muck. An attendant smeared some mud on our faces, laid cool towels on foreheads, and took pictures. 
Pool at Las Alcobas

The mud allegedly has curative powers, and it was certainly relaxing. After rinsing off and sitting in a whirlpool, we were each wrapped in blankets for a nap. Then we headed to the hot tub for another soak. You can also use the pool for as long as you want.

The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, is just down the road from Las Alcobas. CIA has cooking demonstrations and tours, wine tastings and a cafe. You can wander around the main floor, where there was an exhibit of unusual corkscrews. Cooks will love the marketplace, which has lots of interesting spices and kitchen gadgets. It's a great place to buy souvenirs for a foodie back home. 

Dog Friendly Car

The shiny Mazda6 in the fog
Although we didn't have our dog with us, the Mazda6 we drove had a lot of dog friendly features. The major one was the generous floor space i the second row. My dog is, ahem, a big boned lady, and she needs all that space to feel comfortable.

A sunroof is also important when you have an animal in the back seat. Having the windows open doesn't always cool the floor, and other passengers in the car might not want the windows all the way down. The Mazda6 had a large sunroof that made the cabin feel airy.

The Mazda6's smooth ride is as important for animals as it is for car-sick prone passengers (and drivers). We were on many curvy roads and poorly maintained streets, yet I never felt the least bit queasy.

Note: Mazda loaned me the Mazda6 for this drive. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Happy Stomach: Why I Had to Drive in San Francisco

Hiking in Berkeley

On my recent trip to San Francisco, I didn't really go to SF. We had one meal at the fabulous Slanted Door, and cocktails at Hard Water. But since we were staying in Berkeley, and going to Napa for a couple of days, we thought getting a car was a good idea.

It turned out to be a great idea.

Heated and cooled leather seats in the Mazda6
We stayed in Berkeley for 4 nights, at the Doubletree by Hilton Berkeley Marina. This waterfront hotel is a little off the beaten path, though you can easily bike, run, or take a free shuttle to the adorable shops and restaurants along Fourth Street.

Fermented tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar
Getting anywhere else is a bit more complicated. The shuttle takes you to BART, the train station, where you can get into San Francisco in about 20 minutes. But factor in waiting for the train, waiting for the shuttle, and a 10pm cut off, and we were glad to have a car.

And what a car

My daughter, hiking in Redwood Regional Park
Mazda loaned us its top of the line Mazda6 sedan. This 2018 Signature model, with came tricked out with a should red crystal pain job and soft nappa leather, had both a sunroof and heated steering wheel. Turns out we needed both. Our first couple of days, it was about 60, with clear blue skies. Then we had persistent rain, and temperatures in the 40s. That heated steering wheel made me forget that I left my gloves in New York. And rain sensing windshield wipers were great when the rain finally stopped. And started. And stopped...

The roomy Mazda6 trunk. We had 3 suitcases behind these
The car had heated and cooled seats, but we didn't need these features.

On a hike: Redwood Regional Park

With a car, we were also able to drive up to Redwood Regional Park, near the Berkeley Hills in Oakland. I was amazed at how short a drive it was to such excellent hiking. There are 40 miles of trails through a redwood forest.

Only the main gate charges for parking, and weekend only, April - October. If you use the main gate, you also have to pay a dog fee if you bring one. And almost everyone had a dog with them.

Checking out Oakland

Along the road from the Doubletree, a biking and running path
My daughter lives on the border of Berkeley, close to Oakland, and the Mazda6 was very convenient for driving around that neighboring city. We ate at Burma Superstar, a sister restaurant to Burma Love in San Francisco, where we ate last year. This is the original location and has the same excellent, very flavorful food. There are lots of vegetarian and vegan choices, but my meat eating brothers-in-law were pleased with their beef and lamp dishes.
Spicy tofu at Burma Superstar

My cousin's three year old was also happy with her plain white rice and veggie samosas.

Another day, we drove to the Oakland Farmer's Market and sampled our way through the lively market. There was local cheese and bread, along with unusual citrus to try. We even got large hunks of pomegranate.

The area near the market is filled with shops and restaurants. There is even a vintage movie theater that plays first run movies. On the weekends, a huge Wurlitzer organ is played before screenings.

We were so taken with Oakland that we drove there another time for a vegan brunch. Millennium has a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, which recognizes great food at a good value.

Brunch at Millennium: mushroom sandwich with pickled veggies 

Heads up driving

Berkeley has Bicycle Boulevards that give priority to cyclists. So I was happy to have the Head Up Display to help me keep my eyes on the road. The Mazda6 also had lane departure warning and lane keep assist. And the adaptive front lighting was useful in returning to the hotel late at night. The roads were dark and the adaptive lights also prevent you from blinding oncoming traffic.

The soulful Soul Red Mazda 6, on the waterfront in Berkeley 

Driving in comfort

We never had more than three people in the car, so we had plenty of room to stretch out. The roomy trunk easily fit all the luggage we brought. We had to bring a huge bag for our daughter of stuff she couldn't fit on her last trip. In a combination of city and highway driving, we got about 26 miles per gallon.

All this for $36,435.

Note: Mazda loaned me the Mazda6. I was not otherwise compensated. Opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Show of Its Very Own: Fiat 500 F

The adorable, and well designed, Fiat 500 F

The New York International Auto Show isn't until April, but car enthusiasts can see a special class of car: the Fiat 500 F. At the Museum of Modern Art. The showstopper, in the new exhibit The Value of Good Design, runs until May 27.

The 500 F, aka the Cinquecento, was an inexpensive car for the masses. Watch the grainy video, showing a family taking the car on a day trip. But although the car seats four, kids are better suited to the back seat. And my 6'5" friend said he likely wouldn't fit. [Note: you can't touch the car, so no getting in to test out that theory].

What's cool about the car is how adorable it is. And how the price of steel led the designers to use a fabric roof - which then turned the car into a convertible. A convertible at economy prices is like getting Alexander McQueen clothes at Target.
The Fiat is just as cute from behind, especially with an Italian license plate

Cars that make you happy

When my father-in-law turned 50, he bought himself a Fiat Spider. He had been driving Cadillacs most of his adult life, so this was quite a pivot. These fun to drive cars make even grumpy New Yorkers happy.

Everyday kitchen objects at MoMa - and an axe

More Good Design 

The MoMa exhibit includes everyday objects like a bicycle, a sewing machine and a camera. The kitchen utensils include a shrimp cleaner, a whisk and - an axe? Not sure how heated things get in your home, but this is a gorgeous axe. Maybe for chopping the ends of carrots?

The Value of Good Design closes June 15, when the entire museum shuts down for a four month renovation.

Note: I was a guest of Fiat at the exhibit. Opinions are, of course, my own.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How Sweet it is: Local Hive Honey

Winter greens with honey

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but a spoonful of honey imparts a unique flavor. I recently sampled Local Hive from Rice's Honey.

Local hive honey
This company sells 17 varieties of raw, unfiltered honey from around the United States. I tasted both the Northeast and New England honeys, known for their bold flavor. I mean, Brooklyn, right? And Boston - we make ourselves heard.

I used the Local Hive honey is a winter salad of hearty greens , where the sweetness balanced the bitter.

Winter Salad:

I bunch Swiss chard, leaves only
1 small head radicchio
1/4 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half, sprinkled with olive oil and salt and roasted at 450 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, until slightly charred
1/4 C kimchi


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon kimchi juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Loca Hive varieties

Chop Swiss chard leaves and radicchio into ribbons. Slice Brussels sprouts into silvers and chop kimchi. Put in all in a salad bowl.

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and pour over greens. Toss to combine.

Note: I was given 2 bottles of Local Hive honey. I was not otherwise compensated.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Wisconsin Eats: Cheese, with Beer

Winter scene in the Northwoods of Wisconsin

The first food that comes to mind in Wisconsin is cheese. Green Bay Packers fans are cheeseheads and although I was heading to the Northwoods, regional pride means that everyone is a cheese fan.

Fried cheese curds at the Sawmill Saloon
I spent 5 days in the frozen tundra of the Northwoods of Wisconsin, in the small towns of Cable and Hayward. I was there to experience winter outdoor adventures, though in the record cold, we had to curtail some activities. No amount of hot cheese can warm you up from minus 37 below.

Greetings from the North Pole
But the polar vortex meant that we were all burning extra fuel just to get in and out of restaurants, so we didn't have to worry about calories. Which was great when we had dish after dish of cheese.

Cheese curds for all

At the Sawmill Saloon, between Cable and Hayward, I finally understood the fuss about cheese curds. I'd only had fresh cheese curds, which seemed like mozzarella's less flavorful cousin. But dipped in breadcrumbs and fried, these cheese curds oozed melted cheese and tasted great.

The pizza oven at Tamarack Farms Winery
The Saloon also makes pizza, and had a vegetarian version with fresh mushrooms, peppers and olives.

Wine, and cheese

We also previewed the food at the new Tamarack Farms Winery. This brand new winery has a wood fired pizza oven. The winery uses local cheese in its pizza and appetizer plates.

Come warm weather, (July?) Tamarack will have a dog friendly outdoor patio. The winery specializes in fruit favored wine, using local cranberries in its award winning cranberry wine. Apples, strawberries and blueberries are used in other wines. The winery also sells California wine, and beer.

The local beer scene

Some of the vegetarian options at Old Southern BBQ
Wisconsin has a hyper local brewery, New Glarus. Available only in Wisconsin, the cult brewery makes Spotted Cow, a farmhouse ale ubiquitous in the state. I tried it on tap and in a bottle. I also had Moon Man, a hoppy session pale ale. Beer isn't the first thing you think of when it's many degrees below zero, but these were tasty.

Southern BBQ in the Northwoods

Local Dave Anderson had a restaurant, Famous Dave's, that burned down. He rebuilt it as Old Southern BBQ. While meats, with meat on the side, is the reason to go here, vegetarians aren't forgotten. There is a rich and creamy macaroni and cheese, chickpea salad, creamed corn and roasted sweet potatoes. I tried them all, with every homemade BBQ sauce. The spicy Diablo was my favorite.  There is also cornbread, served as muffin top so everyone gets a crunchy part.

Old Southern has 5 locations including a branch in Minneapolis. Dave is a partner in Tamarack Farms Winery.

Local cocktail

Warm up with a maple old fashioned
Wisconsin riffs on a classic old fashioned, with brandy instead of bourbon. This is a great way to warm up. Have I mentioned the polar vortex?

At Birches Roadhouse, which specializes in organic, made from scratch food, a bourbon old fashioned still has a Wisconsin twist. Local, bourbon aged maple syrup subs in for the mundane sugar.

Birches would be at home in any big city, with delicious food like wild mushroom and caramelized onion flatbread and butternut squash ravioli with sage.

The wild mushroom and caramelized onion flatbread at Birches Roadhouse. Yum!
Note: I was a guest of Travel Wisconsin, which covered my travel expenses. Full belly and near frostbite were all my own.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Tickled Pink at Red Feather: Farm to Table in Cincinnati

Whipped ricotta 

At first glance, Red Feather might not be an obvious choice for vegetarians. And entire section of the menu is 'shells & bones." But the 'scratch kitchen' had more than enough to satisfy several plant eaters, as wells meat lovers.

Vegetarian cauliflower
While we drank our delicious cocktails, we had warm roasted olives with grilled lemon. And whipped ricotta on grilled bread with truffle honey. We might have gone sparingly on the cheese; after we finished all the bread, we still had a mound of soft, creamy ricotta. We were offered, and devoured, more bread.

Red Feather is in Oakley, a developing neighborhood close to downtown Cincinnatired. On a freezing night, the place was packed, but we had a relatively quiet table in the corner. There's a chef's table and an inviting bar.

Unique menu

Roasted beets with arugula
Brussels sprouts and broccoli sounded good except they were served with pig's ears. That's a hard pass. But the excellent salads included one with roasted beets, honey yogurt and baby arugula, and a simple greens salad with pine nuts and shallots.

My husband and I shared the spiced cauliflower with barley, which had an intense sauce. We also had the excellent scallops, on a parsnip puree with trumpet and maitake mushrooms. I could have had the mushrooms and puree as a main course and been thrilled.

There were a coupe of fish dishes and enough interesting cocktails and wines by the glass that I could definitely return.

My friend was disappointed in his $73 steak, but it was cheerfully replaced with an $18 burger that he loved. (And we were paying, so were happy not to pay for that giant hunk of meat).