Friday, November 27, 2015

What Parents Do When the Kids Go Away

Dog approaching WubbleX. 
My nest has been empty since September, though 2 of my kids came home for Thanksgiving. But we have a dog that (sort of) fills the void, and we've replaced our cereal shelf in the pantry with an overflow liquor cabinet.

I satisfy my urge to play by engaging the dog and we recently had good times with WubbleX, a ball that you inflate with helium. It looks like a giant bubble and I can just imagine how thrilled my kids would have been with this when they were little. 

She brought the ball into her already to filled bed.
Since it is filled with helium, WubbleX is for indoor play only - it will float away outside. Once you get it to optimal size, about 9 inches in circumference, you have to pull the straw used to inflate out and quickly cover the hole with a sticky patch. This is really a 2 person operation, and for adults only, but once we got the ball inflated, our dog chased it till she collapsed.

Our labrador is known for destroying her prey - er, toys - so we put the WubbleX away for those cold days when we don't want to spend hours in the park tossing her ball.

Whether you are playing with this with a child or a dog, don't let anyone play with this unsupervised. The ball is supposed to be quite durable, but I wouldn't trust a kid with it alone.

If the WubbleX starts to deflate, you can pump more helium in; we used up most of the can filling it the first time. You can buy the toy at Target or ToysRUs.

Note: this is a sponsored post. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Every Day is Black Friday with Groupon Coupons

Lat year's Toys for Tots donations
When I was younger, my mother was a huge day after Christmas shopper. This was traditionally the day you could get half price deals on holiday cards, wrapping paper and ornaments. 

Then Black Friday became a thing. My youngest daughter, Nora,  is a huge Black Friday shopper and we have driven from Thanksgiving dinner to sports stores so she can stock up on running shoes, running tights and soccer cleats. She also gets up at 5am and heads into Soho with her friends to trawl for the hottest deals.

I often buy toys half price right after Christmas and donate those the following year at Toys for Tots events. So they aren’t the latest toys, but I get more bang for my buck and the toys are all new and shiny.

Haven't found a deal yet for this car
This year is going to Nora’s biggest Black Friday yet - she gets home from her first semester of college the day before Thanksgiving, and that early morning Black Friday shopping excursion will be the first time she has seen some of her high school friends since August.

I prefer to avoid the crowds and I recently found out about Groupon Coupons. This is a new (ish) venture for Groupon. Instead of buying a voucher upfront, and then strategizing about when to use it, you can get these free coupons for lots of retailers.

And you can use these coupons anytime - not just for holiday shopping. Nora’s birthday is right after Thanksgiving, so I can shop now at some of her favorite retailers and spend the day after Thanksgiving letting my pants out and running an extra 12 miles to work off all that Thanksgiving gluttony.

I did a quick check of what's available right now on Groupon Coupons and found deals at 2 of her favorite places: $10 off at Uniqlo and 40 % off at Adidas.

There are also travel deals at Orbitz and Travelocity and since we have not yet booked hotels for our next family vacation, I know I will be able to score some deals here.

The beauty of these coupons is that if you buy them and forget to use them before the expiration date, there's no buyer's remorse: you aren't out any money.  But you can definitely save some.

Note: this is a sponsored post. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Forget Mall Walking: Radisson Blu Mall of America Has a Great Gym

The pool at the Radisson Blu Mall of America
Malls have become popular with walking groups, who power through the climate controlled environments, often just as stores are opening and crowds are thin. But at the Radisson Blu Mall of America you can follow your fitness routine at a big gym, next to a huge indoor pool.

I am not a swimmer, but the clean, perfect temperature pool enticed me. Large windows let the sun stream in, and the families using the facility were all happy. The family-friendly hotel provides special adult only hours for lap swimmers.

The fitness center at Radisson Blu Mall of America
The gym offered everything needed for a great workout; thick yoga mats for stretching, mirrors so you could watch your form, stability balls and bosu balls. There were plenty of free weights, cardio machines and soft towels for mopping up sweat.

Blue light fixtures at the gym
The gym even had blue light fixtures to reflect the Radisson color scheme.

Note: I was a guest of Radisson Blu Mall of America. Opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Forget Farm to Table: Buick Goes Road to Table

On a miserable story day, a bright spot emerged: a shiny new Buick Encore showed up at my door to chauffeur me and a friend to a Road to Table event. A group of about 15 met up on the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange for a yoga class.

The colorful chickens at Brooklyn Grange
But the tropical storm had other ideas. With gusting winds, sheets of rain and no sun to salute, we did a few stretches (under a canopy) and called it a day. For the yoga portion.

The even more colorful bee enclosures at Brooklyn Grange
We still walked around this incredible rooftop farm, where heirloom and organic vegetables supply chefs, a CSA, and a Saturday market. There are bees and chickens, and a greenhouse filled with micro greens.

Look at the rich leather used in the Enclave's interior. Heated seats in the second row!
Though the rain put a damper on our exercise, we were jazzed for our next stop, The Brooklyn Kitchen. For this short journey, we hopped into a Buick Enclave; we wanted to check out the smart slide second row for third row access and we marveled over the double sun roof (alas, it was still pouring, so we couldn't open them, or spend any time examining the exterior).

The point of having these Buicks ferry us around, we learned at Brooklyn Kitchen, is that designers at   Buick use food as their color inspiration.

We used the eggplant, tomato paste, onion and lemon in one dish
Think plum, eggplant and fig; these rich colors inform the exterior color choices chosen by the Buick design team. In fact, we used eggplants to create one of the vegetarian dishes we made for lunch.

First we had to take a knife skills. Turns out, not all of know the proper way to use a knife!
I went a little Sweeney Todd here, but our meal was vegetarian 
We made this gorgeous, very flavorful and healthy dish, but preparing the artichokes took a long time.
Thanks, Buick, for a fun day and inspiration: a new way to prepare eggplant. Plus, now on my bucket list - rooftop yoga when the sun is shining.
Caramelized eggplant, which we added to fresh pasta
Note: My friend and I were guest of Buick for the day. I was not compensated for this post and opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

NYC Honey Day Coincides With New Raw & Unfiltered Honey Release

Raw, unfiltered local honey
At The High Line today, local beekeepers and artisanal honey purveyors celebrate the burgeoning NYC (and Brooklyn-centric) honey movement The pop-up includes samples of local honey and a glass enclosed beehive so you can see the inner workings.

Coincidently, I was sent a sample of L.R. Rice Raw & Unfiltered Honey. The company works with local beekeepers around the country so you can get local honey. With the way my allergies have been this year, I am grateful to get any benefit available from eating local honey.

Or drinking. 

I decided the make a simple syrup with the honey, substituting honey for the usual sugar. For cocktails, I prefer a less sweet simple syrup, so I use a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water; 1 part sugar to 2 parts water.

With honey, which is even sweeter, I used a 1:3 ratio. I steeped fresh mint in the syrup, then used it in a mint julep that both helped beat the heat and included the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of raw unfiltered honey.

The syrup was cloudy, since honey is thicker than water, so the cocktails were not the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. But they may have been the healthiest.

Maybe next week I’ll try kale and gin.

For the mint simple syrup:
1/3 cup honey
1 cup water
3 sprigs of mint
Heat water and honey in a small pot till boiling. Turn off, add the mint, cover and let cool.

Pour into a mason jar and refrigerate.

If you don't use within a few days, strain the mint out.

For the mint julep
Fill a shaker with ice. Add 2 shots bourbon, 1 shot mint syrup. Shake and strain into a martini or coupe glass.
Garnish with fresh mint.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Feel Good About Your Food: The Real Co

The Real Co's Pink Himalayan salt
Buying organic food is great, but when companies like Walmart get into the organic food game, you have to wonder how much the local farmer is being helped.

The Real Co seeks to change that. 

This single origin global food company espouses the mantra “good comes from good.” It just launched with three products: Basmati Rice, Himalayan Pink Rock Salt and Organic Raw Cane Sugar. All of these are sustainably harvested from either a single farm or family with products that can be traced back to their exact origins.

The transparency in food origin extends to transparency in packaging- you can see inside each item.

The Himalayan Pink Rock Salt is handcrafted in the Himalayan Mountains and is a gorgeous contrast in color - I sprinkled it on white chocolate chip cookies for a sweet and salty effect.

The Organic Raw Cane Sugar dissolves in cold liquid as well as hot, so it is ideal for cocktails when you've forgotten to make a simple syrup or for sweetening iced tea.

The third product, white basmati rice, is harvested in Punjabi. It cooked up fluffy and nutty, with each grain holding its integrity.

That integrity extends to the products themselves; the farm workers who help produce these products are paid a fair wage.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Family Vacation: Camping in an RV

Our cabin - and the car that got us there
Growing up with 3 siblings, a stay-at-home mother and a father who didn’t make much money, camping was what we often did for vacation. We had a pop-up trailer that we used for a couple of cross country trips and my summer camp had cabins, but we took overnight hikes with tents.

But the RV experience was totally new to me. For those who have no experience with RVs, is a great website for all-things-camping with tips on what to bring, when to go and even road-trip games for the kids.

The kitchen in our park model RV
My family got to try a ‘park model’ RV, a cabin that theoretically could move, since it was on wheels, at the Mystic KOA in Stonington, Connecticut. But it looked like a cabin, with a wooden porch, and porch swing, a patio with Adirondack chairs and a tricked out interior with a full kitchen, plumbing, air conditioning and flat screen TV.

Bunk beds!
OK, so the Wi-Fi was spotty. But this was nothing like the camping I did as a child, with a thin sleeping bag and a shovel for a bathroom.

Yet it still was a great way to celebrate the outdoors. Some may deride this as camping light, but I prefer to think of this as inclusive camping. Sure, you can stay in a tent if you want (and plenty of people do -  it is cheaper) but if you like having a hot shower, a comfortable bed and AC, you are welcome too.

Best perk of an RV - an actual toilet!
The park models sleep six, with a pull out couch, bunk beds, and bedroom - with a door - for the parents. I was supposed by how comfortable the queen sized bed was and how quiet it was in the woods. I am a city girl, used to sleeping with sirens, cars honking and people screaming. Here, all I heard was crickets. Ah, serenity.

The cabins are fully equipped with sheets, towels, dishes - even a Keurig coffee maker. No one makes your bed, and you only get fresh towels and linens once a week - but really, do you need fresh sheets daily? I am happy when a hotel lets me opt out of daily changes so I can conserve water, so I felt particularly virtuous about this greener way to vacation.

Breakfast - artisanal granola
We met a large family group that included some staying in cabins, some staying in tents, and some staying in RVs - but all having a great time.

For those who like to bring their pets on vacation, camping has another perk - dogs are welcome. The dog friendly campground had a special dog park where dogs could romp, and my dog loved walking from campsite to campsite, meeting other dogs and sniffing around the picnic tables where somebody just had to have dropped a morsel of meat.

Camping is so dog friendly that Karat got a welcome gift
We had a huge barbecue where everyone but my family chowed down on Omaha Steaks burgers, T-bones and ribs - but I have to say, the veggie burgers, also by Omaha Steaks, were delicious. Unlike many veggie burgers, these were able to stand up to the grill and they had a satisfying crunch (I thought it was quinoa, but it turned out to be sunflower seeds and brown rice). My husband also had a juicy salmon burger.

We ate and drank well throughout the weekend - Happy Camper Wine provided the appropriately named vino and Cabin Fever Whiskey a maple infused bourbon. We also had delicious granola from Henry Hudson Bakery

Nearby hiking trails - don't forget the tick medicine
The KOA campground, just outside Mystic, CT, is ideal for families. You can hop on 95 and tour Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport during the day. We opted to hike from a trailhead right near the Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Veggie burger and kale salad - not your average camping fare
But you don’t even have to leave the campground to have fun. There are organized activities daily during the season, and the young, enthusiastic staff, much like camp counselors, were both personable and helpful. One noticed us trying to start a fire with inadequate kindling and ran off to bring some. There are outdoor movies on a giant screen, campfires with s’mores and wagon rides.

There is also a large pool, mini golf and bike rentals. We are already planning out next family camping trip.

Note: this is a sponsored post. Opinions expressed and family fun are my own.