Monday, April 25, 2016

3 Easy Things to Cook in a Vacation Rental

Well stocked kitchen at a Disney Vacation Club resort
Renting a house or a condo on vacation can be a great way for a family to save money, with more space and a kitchen. But you are on vacation - you don't want to cook elaborate meals, and you don't have your usual arsenal of pots, pans and cookbooks at your fingertips.

The first thing to do is see what your kitchen has: is there an oven, or just a cooktop and microwave? Are there big pots for making pasta or boiling lobsters? Is there even salt, pepper, olive oil?

The next thing to check is access to food. I love when we go to the Hamptons, which has farmer's markets and gourmet food shops everywhere. We sometimes just grab a lot of produce, grill it and call it dinner.

But there are a couple of go to, simple dishes that you can make in even the most inadequately supplied kitchen.

A new website, Vacatia, offers access to condo rentals across the Untied States - foreign rentals will come next year. The condos have full kitchens and let a family enjoy extra space, a kitchen and a living room - all for much less than a couple of hotel rooms.

Unlike AirBnB, Vacatia vetts every listing, and you can find condos, timeshares and resort homes with the right amount of space for your family - and the kind of kitchen where you can whip up a great dinner if you want.

But you're on vacation - you don't want to spend all of your time cooking.

Here are 3 easy to make dinners for a vacation rental - or for quick dinners at home.

Dinner One: Frittata
You can make these as packed with vegetables as your kids will tolerate; in fact, the cheese and eggs do a good job of disguising how many veggies you sneak in.

I start by sautéing an onion in butter (or oil - don't buy butter just for this dish). If you are using mushrooms, slice and add after the onions soften. Then dump in any cooked chopped vegetables you have in the fridge - roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant. If you don't have any cooked vegetables, chop up some fresh bell peppers, greens, asparagus, and cook till they soften.

Frittata with mushrooms and greens
This is a great way to use up vegetables if you have leftovers at home, or if you are on vacation, you can take a doggie bag with you from a restaurant.

Beat the eggs with a little milk and season with salt and pepper.  For 4 people, use 6-8 eggs.  Add to the pan and cook until nearly set. If you have an oven, turn on the broiler, sprinkle the top with cheese and broil to eggs are completely set and cheese is melted. If you don't have an oven, just cook till the eggs are done.

If your vacation rental has a cast iron skillet, it's a great stove top to oven dish; be sure to check the pans in your rental to make sure they can go from stove to oven, or finish the dish on the stove, as above.

Voila, dinner.

Beans & rice - added eggs for even more protein
Dinner Two: Beans and rice
Our go to vegetarian meal is beans and rice, on a flour tortilla. You need a can of beans (14 ounce) for about 3 burritos. Brown rice is the best choice and if you don't want to spend time cooking brown rice (it can take 45 minutes) get an order of brown rice from a Chinese restaurant. The one on my corner charges just $.75 for a pint of cooked brown rice.

Generally, I rinse the beans in a strainer, to get excess salt off; if your vacation rental doesn't have a strainer, you can skip this step. Buy low sodium canned beans to cut down on salt.

Our kids ate burritos with rice, beans and cheese only when they were younger; as they got older, we added salsa, cooked veggies, kale. So basically you can go as loaded as you want; you need some cheddar cheese, or spicy Jack, and a jar of salsa. For easy extra veggies, a bag of pre-washed spinach can be put right on top of a beans and rice mixture; the whole thing can be microwaved for each person, or you can bake all the burritos at once. If there are no baking sheets in your vacation rental, use the microwave; make sure the plate are microwave safe first.

One whole wheat tortilla
Brown rice
Grated cheese
Cooked veggies

Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 or microwave for 2 minutes until everything is hot and cheese is melted.

Dinner 3: Use that grill
Once corn is in season, a quick summer meal is super easy. Get at least one ear of corn per person. Pull out the silks but leave most the husk on and grill about 5 minutes per side. We also grill portable mushrooms to go with this, and sliced zucchini; serve with meaty Beefsteak tomatoes sprinkled with salt. You can throw a steak on the grill if you want real meat, but we find the vegetarian version satisfying and filling.

Note: Vacatia sponsored the TravelingMom retreat in Orlando.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How to Get Your Passover On: Welch’s Manischewitz Grape Juice

Welch’s Manischewitz Grape Juice
Many Jews have a love / hate relationship with Manischewitz wine. They can't have a Seder without it, but they really don't like sweet wine.

Then there's grape juice, a children's drink, and what is poured into the cups of kids at Seder.

Now, Welch’s Manischewitz Grape Juice combines both the nostalgia and tradition of having Manischewitz wine at a Seder with the quintessential 100% grape juice. The juice is Kosher for Passover or for year round drinking.

Welch’s Manischewitz Grape Juice
And if you have some leftover juice, try this Passover inspired gin cocktail:

2 ounces gin
1 ounce  Welch’s Manischewitz Grape Juice
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
1 T lime juice

3 Concord grapes, preferably Concord

Fill a martini shaker with ice. Add gin, juices and bitters. Shake till col and pour into a martini glass.
Garnish with grapes

Serves one.

Chag sameach.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Are You Pining for a Great New Handbag?

Instead of a bag in a car, a car in a bag
Good Housekeeping and SheBuysCars have partnered on a giveaway of designer handbags.

When my oldest daughter graduated from college, my husband and I wanted to get her something special. I suggested her first ‘real’ pocketbook and he balked - what a terrible gift, he said.

Reader, she loved it. We gave her carte blanche to choose a bag and she even chose me as her shopping partner. It was a great day of mother / daughter bonding, and my husband got to share her joy when she came home with what she deemed the perfect designer bag.

The Toyota Camry looks great with a designer bag
Some parents mark milestone for their kids with a car, but Hallie didn’t even learn to drive till she was 19 (we live in New York City, and for much of her life didn’t even own a car) and when she graduated, she moved back to the city to work for a couple of years. A car would have been a ridiculous gift.

And I remember when I had my first job, a crummy, low-paying servitude publishing job, but my boyfriend (now husband) and I were couch surfing before it became a thing, so we had disposable income to blow on the more essential items, like travel and expensive handbags.

Good Housekeeping and SheBuysCars understand that pocketbooks and cars go, well, hand in hand. I mean, what woman doesn’t throw her car keys into her pocketbook, and then think about where to place said bag once she gets into the car?

The environmentally friendly Prius
The Toyota Camry is a great car for a style-conscious woman who doesn’t want to spend everything on her drive (maybe she wants to have a few bucks leftover for, say, a nice spring bag?). The car isn’t cheap; fully loaded, it’s in the mid-30s, but it offers a lot of luxury bang for the buck. It features soft leather seats, heated steering wheel, and a wireless charging pad so you don’t have to clutter up your car or handbag toting a power cord.

For the eco-conscious, the new Prius has many luxury touches too, along with upgraded technology and safety features - and you still get amazing mileage. So you don't have to feel guilty taking it to the mall, where you can shop for, you guessed it, a new handbag.

See these cars and more at the New York Auto Show, which runs from today through April 3. And be sure to enter SheBuysCars’ promotion with Good Housekeeping, giving away a handbag a day the entire time. Just take a picture of your handbag in your car (or a photo of with one you love at the car show and tweet or post on Instagram with the hashtag #GHDrives.

There is no purchase necessary, and you can only win one bag.

Oh, and as for my daughter? When she started grad school, we bought her the car.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Brown Rice vs Basmati: Which is Better?

Basmati rice from The Real Co
When I was younger, convenience foods reigned and instant rice was a hit. This packaged, precooked rice was tasty and pretty disgusting, but rice didn't really shine in dishes back then; on Long Island in the 1970s, ethnic food was frowned upon.

Then my mother started making brown rice, but this was also punishment food; she made it with no seasoning, no even salt, and no one I knew even liked rice. It was just there.

But no one denied the health benefits of brown rice, and as a vegetarian, I learned that brown rice plus a bean was a complete protein (thank you Diet for a Small Planet!).

I recently sampled The Real Co aged basmati rice and I wondered why this rice was white, not brown. Since The Real Co promotes the benefits of its single-origin, organic, non-GMO products, I wondered why it had white rice, but it turns out that the aging process, which enhancing the flavor and bouquet of fine basmati rice, is done after the grain is de-husked.

Beer is best with curry
Basmati rice is highly aromatic and the basmati rice, from Pakistan, cooks up light an fluffy - and in only 10 minutes.

I used the basmati rice to accompany a curry.

And for ardent brown rice fans, a brown rice from Argentina will soon debut, along with quinoa from India.

Let the grain wars begin.

Simple Spinach Curry

4 teaspoons canola oil
1-14 oz. package of firm tofu, cut into 2" cubes
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1 onion, sliced thin in half-moons
1 red pepper cut into 1" thin strips
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely diced
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 pound baby spinach
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Cooked basmati rice

In a medium skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add tofu and half of the salt. Cook for 6-8 minutes gently turning every 2 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer tofu to a separate plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add remaining oil to the skillet pan. Add onions, garlic, red pepper, ginger and mustard seeds. Cook until onion is clear, about 5 minutes. Add spinach a handful at a time and cook until wilted through. In a small bowl mix together yogurt, curry, cumin and remaining salt. Temper yogurt by adding some of the spinach mixture until it is warmed through. Add yogurt to skillet. Add tofu; reduce heat to low and stir gently for 2 minutes.
Serve over warm basmati rice.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Do You Need Gorgeous Exercise Clothes?

Marika exercise outfit
Staying fit not only makes you healthy, it makes you look better. So beautiful exercise clothes can be just gilding the lily; if you already look good, ratty old clothes should be fine.


There is something empowering about pulling on a well designed workout ensemble, one that has been engineered specifically for exercise. And while I do feel those endorphin highs after a run, if I start out tugging on my shirt, or feel my running tights bagging at the knees, I get annoyed and then I have a terrible work out.

So I was pretty psyched to try out Marika's Jordan leggings. These black and gray leggings had mesh panels so my knees stayed cool. There is a little hidden pocket and the wicking material kept me dry.

I also got a wicking hoodie that coordinated nicely with the leggings and had those sleeves you could pull down over your hands. What was interesting about these was that when you pushed them up after your hands inevitably got hot, the sleeves didn't look weird. I have other running tops that pool around my wrists when I don't have them pulled over my hands.

Since I am training for my first marathon, these workout clothes were a great incentive to keep me on my work out program

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who Says Muffins Can't Be Healthy?

The Garden Lites chocolate muffin

Healthy muffins for travel, for kids, for hoarding at home.

In today's New York Times, there is a recipe for a healthy muffin, with whole grains and reduced sugar. While I love to bake, I know many people don't like to, or are too busy to light the oven, let alone buy all the ingredients to make these themselves.

But there is an even healthier, and easier option. Garden Lites sells frozen, vegetable-focused muffins that somehow taste as decadent as those from a coffee shop.

The Queens, NY company mades three varieties of muffins that all have vegetables as their first ingredient: Blueberry Oat, Banana Chocolate Chip and Chocolate. They are ideal for kids since they are a reasonable two ounces, not the gargantuan muffins at bakeries.

But they aren't just for children. They are great for anyone who needs breakfast on the go, packed with fiber and other nutrients.

Enjoy your muffin from your window seat
All of the muffins are made of 1/3 vegetables; those chocolate muffins have zucchini and carrots as the first two ingredients. I have made zucchini bread with just a few scattered chocolate chips in it and my kids gobble it down like any other sweet bread; zucchini has this magical ability to disappear in baked goods.

The Banana Chocolate Chip is equally kid friendly; though the Blueberry Oat may read too 'healthy' for children, I thought it was perfect for breakfast in the car.

The gluten, dairy and nut free muffins are sold frozen and you heat them in the microwave. You can also just bring a frozen one along and eat it when it defrosts; I took one on an early flight and was happy to have a much better meal than the bloated corn muffins I saw at the airport.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Ultimate Fitness Challenge - Survivor!

The cast of Survivor
Survivor Kaoh Rong is the 32nd! season of this CBS show

One of the perks of exercising is looking better; another is feeling great. But imagine the ultimate benefit of of being fit - winning the Survivor competition and netting a cool $1 million.
I recently attended the premiere of the new season, Survivor Kaoh Rong, where host Jeff Probst and a couple of previous winners, Parvati Shallow and Stephen Fishbach, chatted about the show and the current crop of cast-aways.

Imagine this - you are on a remote, gorgeous island - in this case, in Thailand, with a bunch of strangers, all competing and strategizing to be the last one standing. I enjoyed my inaugural mud run, but this is way more intense - a grueling 39 days of competition.
Live streaming with Parvati Shallow, Jeff Probst and  and Stephen Fishbach

In this Survivor edition, the competitors are broken into three groups, or tribes: Brains, Beauty and Brawn. The one contestant who looked to be about my age (let’s just say, shall we, “of a certain age”) was in the Brains group but I loved Jeff Probst’s answer to a question about what group he would want to be placed in.

He said that he felt he would be equally at home in any group, and that most people would probably feel the same way. Though the one self-professed ‘skinny guy’ with Eugene Levy eyebrows questioned his placement in the Beauty tribe.

This reality show requires a mental toughness that could elude many contestants- in the first episode, a Brawn tribe member is reduced to tears when an insect burrows deep in her ear. The challenges in Survivor reminded me of the movie The Revenant, where Leonardo DiCaprio had to escape murderous fellow trappers, murderous native Americans, murderous French, extreme cold, a bear mauling and a premature burial. And that was in about the first 10 minutes.

Besides having to swim, dive, and haul a boat up a huge hill, the Survivor contestants had to put together a puzzle. So my crossword puzzle should really count towards my fitness regime.

Thanks to Beth Feldman and CBS Radio for this opportunity to meet real Survivors.