Thursday, October 27, 2016

Free in NY: Watch a Taping of Kevin Can Wait

With Kevin James and Erinn Hayes
Broadway ticket prices go for hundreds of dollars, but you can see free live theater in New York if you plan in advance, reserving tickets to a taping of a television show. This is truly live theater; shows are filmed in front of an audience and an emcee keeping things lively.

One of the perks of blogging is being invited to special behind-the-scenes events, like a recent opportunity I had to go to the set of Kevin Can Wait and meet the stars, Kevin James and Erinn Hayes, and director. But anyone can go online and see a show being taped, for free.

Seat from Shea Stadium!
This is a common experience in Los Angeles, where most television shows are taped. My husband’s cousin is a writer and we’ve gotten to go on set a few times. Back home in New York, we’ve seen the Rachael Ray show and Martha Stewart; both of these are great because they often come with swag. No, not Oprah-sized gifts, but things like cookbooks, aprons, kitchen utensils and food.

At the Kevin Can Wait taping, the studio audience is often treated to fresh pizza. If you haven’t watched the CBS show, (which moves this week to a new time slot, 8 pm ET on Mondays) the main character hangs out at a pizza restaurant. To keep the show authentic, pizza is sent in whenever there’s a restaurant scene.

Long Island, for real
What also keeps the show authentic is filming it on Long Island, where the show is set and where the star, Kevin James, grew up. His last show, King of Queens, was set nearby, but filmed in California; in Kevin Can Wait, the sense of place is palpable.

Kevin loves the Mets
Kevin, a notorious Mets fan, (both the actor and the character) has a stage home filled with Mets and other local sports teams’ memorabilia; actual seats from the old Mets home, Shea stadium, pennants from the Knicks, Jets’ knick knacks.

The Halloween episode (which actually airs ON Halloween; again, at 8pm ET) even guest stars a current Mets player, Noah Syndergaard. Of course, if the Mets had made it past the wild card this year, we would be watching the Mets play in the World Series, but there’s always next year - if Kevin can wait, so can I.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Plan a Hawaii Vacation: 6 Things to Know Before You Book

Sunset in Hawaii; worth the trip
With unrest in Europe and hurricane season in the Caribbean, the appeal of a Hawaiian vacation is growing. Add in the fact that you don’t need a passport or a Zika concern, and Hawaii is even more tempting.

1. Get ready for a lo-o-o-o-ng flight
One of the benefits to Hawaii - its uniqueness - is also a drawback. It is remote. Even if you live on the west coast, you are facing a five to six hour flight, and if you are on the other side of the country? It’s like two back to back trips from NYC to LAX. Plus there’s the huge time difference.

If you are taking little kids, or anyone who frequently gets ants in her pants, your best bet is to tucker them out before you get on the plane. This could mean not pre-boarding; once you get on the plane, kids pretty much have to stay buckled in while every other zone boards. So you might not be able to claim overhead space. My husband and I would divide and conquer before a long flight when our three kids were little - one of us would board early with, say a diaper bag or stroller, just to look legit during that family boarding time, while the other would stay in the airport, running circles around the gate.

2. What is there to do on board?
Let kids watch movies on a long flight. Credit: Jana Seitzer
If you are one of those parents who like to limit screen time, great! But loosen the rules on the flight. If your kid loves the movie Frozen and can watch it a coupe of times in a row, that is hours of stress free flying time.

Long books are great on the flight, as well as workbooks. My kids loved filling those out, and if we gave them pencils, they invariably broke the point. Then we could go through a whole ritual of sharpening the pencil, which eats up more time; this is one of those cases where more is more. Hard to open, individually wrapped string cheese takes longer to eat than a slice of American cheese, so it's a better bet for a long flight.

3. Where to go in Hawaii? Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island?
This is easy - whatever is easiest to get to. That romantic resort where you honeymooned, that required a boat trip, or a short second flight to another island? Out. I say go to whatever island has a nonstop from your home airport, or the least amount of travel time. If you are lucky enough to have a vacation of over a week, you can venture away from the main islands, but for a family vacation with little kids, stick to the most convenient areas. It’s all still paradise.

4. When should you go to Hawaii?
If you are taking school age, even preschool children, you might want to take your Hawaiian vacation over the December holidays, spring break or summer. Any time is fine, just make sure to book well in advance. 

5. What should you do with kids in Hawaii?
This is easy, too - there are so many kids friendly activities, from spending long days at the beach to taking hikes to waterfalls, to learning about Hawaiian culture. 

Cherimoya, one of the exotic fruits you can find in Hawaii
A big part of our travel always involves food and in Hawaii, kids can sample an enormous variety of exotic fruit. Be warned that they can develop an affinity for expensive tropical fruit. My youngest daughter was addicted to star fruit for awhile and we indulged her passion since she wasn’t a huge fruit eater. In addition to the expected pineapple and papaya, you find cherimoya, guava, passion fruit and lichees.

Westin Villas in Hawaii. Credit: Vacatia
This is one of the advantages of having a kitchen when you travel to Hawaii; you can pick up loads of exotic fruit and make fruit salad in your condo (see below). For our vegetarian family, a kitchen means we can prepare food if we can't find enough vegetarian-friendly restaurant food.

6. Hotel or condo: which is better?
Hotel aficionados prefer staying in hotels for all the services; vacationers who like condos point to all the space they get in a condo. Staying in a resort residence offers the best of both worlds: hotel services like daily maid cleaning along with the extras of a condo like a full kitchen and a living room.

If you are booking in Maui, you have a pool and the Hawaiian beaches nearby.

Note: This post is sponsored by Vacatia. Opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy Birthday Jarlsberg: The Norwegian Cheese Turns 60

Jarlsberg cheese crisps: crackers with cheese baked right in
Aged cheese is prized among cheese connoisseurs but Jarlsberg cheese is celebrating a different kind of aging process: its company.

At a party to celebrate Jarlsberg's 60th birthday, I learned a few things about Jarlsberg. The cheese is is naturally lactose free. This is good news for those of us who have trouble digesting dairy. There is a part-skim variety, still tasty, and smoked version.

There are also other cheeses in the Norwegian specialty cheese collection, many of which we got to sample at the party. [Note: Although Jarlsberg was originally made in Norway, the stuff we get in the US is made here; the other cheeses from the company are imported).

Tine Ekte Geitost, a brown cheese made from goat milk, is sweet since the milk is cooked and it caramelizes. It can be used in desserts, which may seem odd until you think about cheesecake and cannolis, other desserts with cheese.

I bought some Geitost for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and served it with apples; traditionally, apples dipped in honey are served at Rosh Hashanah, and this was a nice twist 

There was Snøfrisk cream cheese, made from 80% goat’s milk and 20% cow’s cream; new flavors are coming, including red onion and thyme; horseradish;  and dill and garlic. These are nice spread on crackers.

And speaking of crackers, we got to try Jarlsberg Cheese Crisps, crackers made with Jarlsberg cheese baked right in. Flavors include rosemary and olive oil; chipotle; garlic and herb, and sea salt. Instead of a grilled cheese with tomato soup, you could crumble these into your soup bowl.

The Jarlsberg party was held at Aquavit, a Nordic restaurant that has its origins in Sweden. and, a rarity for New York, a female chef. Emma Bengtsson, a Stockholm native, used the different cheeses in a few appetizers, like smoked salmon with cream cheese and warm cheese puffs.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Open Sesame: New Gluten Free Snacks

Original flavor Superseed Crunch
When I was a kid, my health fanatic grandfather had one weakness: sesame seed candy. He would sneak us the super sweet plastic wrapped candy and hold his finger over his lips: Shhh. Don’t tell.

Of course, we didn’t like the sticky candy - we wanted chocolate, or cookies.  But my grandfather may have been onto something: the new Superseed Crunch is a tasty and early nutritious snack from the makers of Absolutely Gluten-Free.

In addition to being certified gluten-free, the snacks are vegan, organic, soy free and Kosher. And they are made with flax and chia seeds, as well as sesame.
Superseed Crunch comes in three flavors: original, toasted coconut and cinnamon. I am not really a coconut lover (OK, I hate it) but the coconut in all three flavors is subtle enough that it didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. Plus I tried it sprinkled on plain Greek yogurt, so there is even less coconut flavor.

You can also eat it straight out of the bag, though if you have trouble exercising self-control, you might want to portion some out into a bowl.

The Superseed Crunch is a good source of fiber, protein, antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper and calcium. These aren't a health food - they are a snack - but they are certainly better for you than chips or candy and they are nutrient dense.

The Absolutely Gluten-Free line also includes: flatbreads, crackers and a cauliflower crust pizza that should have those with Celiac dancing in the grocery store aisles

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Super Wubble for Super Fun

The contents of the Super Wubble kit- inflator, ball and easy to follow instructions.
Sponsored post

I’ve had a stability ball for years that my kids have had fun with - it’s a huge, lightweight ball that can torture your abdomen. But it isn’t really a toy. The Super Wubble, on the other hand, is a kind of magic ball - it comes flat and you inflate it in seconds. 

After you find the AA batteries, realize they are no good, walk or drive to the store and pick up a pack of batteries that is. Why are my batteries always no good?

Pouncing on the inflated Super Wubble
But I digress. The stretchy Super Wubble, which promises to be four times stronger than the original Wubble Bubble Ball, and more tear resistant, is guaranteed for life, with a replacement if it pops under normal play.

The Super Wubble  is made from this almost indestructible material called Xpandium and though you can apparently sit on it, I would not advise doing this as a core exercise. I would love to see that Xpandium in a pair of jeans - stretch to fit!

Endless play
What you should do it throw the ball, toss it in the air, bounce it, play kickball - but barefoot and with closely trimmed nailed. It can definitely be pierced by a sharp object, so be mindful.

This would be a good toy to take on a beach vacation - easy to bring deflated and hours of fun (plus it wears the kids out!)

And don’t over-inflate the ball - it can go up to 3 feet in diameter. Plenty big. We pumped ours to about 2 feet in diameter and our dog stalked it and pounced on it. We kept it away from the cat and her claws.

Tuckered out after play
The Super Wubble comes in 4 colors: pink, red, blue and green.

Super Wubble is $19.99 here and is also available at Target, Walmart and ToysRUs. 

Note: I received a Super Wubble and compensation in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School, Back to Baking: Healthier Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Although my youngest child just started her sophomore year of college, I am conditioned to start baking at the beginning of school. Back to school means bake sales and PTA fundraisers, cooler temperatures that allow for baking (hello 90 degrees tomorrow in New York City) and the Jewish holidays, when we host a few dinners and need to have a stock of baked goods on hand.

We also have trips to see our middle daughter's first apartment in Washington, DC and another to Minneapolis for Parents' Weekend.

Mixing in the peanuts
Since we are a peanut butter and chocolate loving family, I decided to bake a simple batch of brownies, but with a healthier twist. I took some butter out of my brownie recipe and replaced it with natural peanut butter (I love the 365 organic natural peanut butter from Whole Foods) and used organic whole wheat flour instead of white flour.

I also used raw cane sugar from The Real Co; it's organic and non-GMO verified. With cage-free organic eggs and a Misto olive oil sprayer for greasing the pan, I reduced most of the chemicals in the  brownies, though I couldn't find organic unsweetened chocolate and had to use Ghirardelli.

Healthier Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 C natural (no sugar added) peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 C organic raw cane sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 C whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 C dry roasted peanuts

Put chocolate and butter in large bowl in microwave and heat for 30 seconds, stir, heat again for 30 seconds, stir, and heat again for 10-15 seconds if needed.  Stir in peanut butter and mix till smooth.

Add sugar and stir. If mixture is cooled enough not to cook eggs, stir them in with the vanilla, flour and nuts.

Mix well.

Spray a 13 x 9 pan with a thin coating of olive oil and smooth mixture into the pan.

Bake 30 minutes, at 350, until brownies are set. Cool on a rack.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Luxury Headphones - Avanti on-ear headphone review

Avanti headphones look and sound great
On my last flight, I offered to sit next to a crying baby.

Just kidding. In fact, I actually offered to switch my aisle seat to a dreaded, claustrophobic middle seat in the last row so the mom seated there could sit with her husband and infant, who were, indeed, next to me.

And, I was rewarded for this when the stewardess then moved me up to a premium economy seat so the family could be reunited

The reason I was willing to sit next to a baby was I was testing out a pair of high quality Avanti headphones. The on-ear headphones, by Moshi, are not noise-canceling, but they are super comfortable and I don’t even enjoy noise-canceling (they are called noise-isolating) - the sensory deprivation feels odd.

What the Avanti headphones do is let you relax and listen to your music, or podcast, or a video, without sticking ear buds in and giving you a true stereo sound.

Compactly packed for travel
They have also helped me when I work in my garden, recently redesigned as an outdoor office. I don’t mind some ambient noise, but my neighbor’s son sometimes blasts distracting rap music, not rally conducive to a work environment. In fact, maybe I should get him a pair.

With the money

The headphones aren’t cheap - $199 retail - but they have a luxury feel and sound and they come with a cool carrying case to protect them when traveling or just running around the city. And they fold up compactly so you don’t have to schlep a big tote to stash them in.

Garden office - headphones helpful
The headphones also look pretty cool, with a stainless steel part over the head, and either burgundy or tan ear cups.


Noise-isolating was not a term I was familiar with, but it means that sound doesn’t leak out. You know hone you are on the subway and someone next to you is blasting music though his ear buds? You can often hear it and wonder how the guy is going to hear when he is 40. But usually you don’t want to listen to someone’s second hand music. With the Avanti headphones, you won’t annoy others around you and you will enjoy high quality sound. A win-win.

Note: I received a pair of headphones for review purposes. I was not otherwise compensated and opinions expressed are my own.