Friday, December 1, 2017

Geography Lesson Through Food: Where is Uzbekistan?



The cool lights at Nargis

Quick, can you locate Uzbekistan on a map? And did you know that the Central Asian country has food that closely resembles Mediterranean?
Have you traveled to Uzbekistan? Take a trip via Brooklyn

Nargis Bar & Grill, a new restaurant in Park Slope (there's another Brooklyn location in Sheepshead Bay) was my introduction to Uzbek cuisine. Though it specializes in meat kebabs, there were enough vegetarian choices.

Sadly, we couldn't sample the pumpkin samosas; the dough is made with lard. But we had a huge appetizer plate, the assorted mixed spread, with four different dips and three kinds of pickled vegetables. The spread included hummus and baba ganoush and pickled cabbage.
Two kinds of bread and fresh salad

There was no bread, but we had two kinds; non-toki, a flat cracker that looked like matzo and non, a warm puffy bread.
Pumpkin dumplings

Steamed dumplings came in a vegetarian version, with pumpkin and sour cream. They are served in a steamer basket like one you see in a Chinese restaurant. When I opened the basket, we were enveloped in a cloud of spiced mist. The dumplings were delicious.
My camera lens steamed by the dumplings

We had a big fresh salad with feta cheese and a skewers of salmon. There was also a yummy side dish of potatoes with mushrooms.

Nargis has interesting cocktails. My fig and bourbon came with a fig ice cube.

The restaurant has very fast service, but we weren't rushed. After we paid, we sat for awhile, listening to music and enjoying the atmosphere.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies: Using Up Homemade Applesauce



Vegan chocolate chip cookies


Raw dough
Although a bit of high fat butter can be exquisite on just baked bread, I don't really like butter. So the admonitions to avoid raw dough when I was a kid (raw eggs) and now (raw flour) didn't really affect me. I was unlikely to snag a glob of buttery raw dough. Once baked into chocolate chips, all bets were off.


Ready for the oven

Why not make vegan cookies?

But with a glut of homemade applesauce in my refrigerator (so many upstate New York hiking trips) I needed to bake. I figured the applesauce could substitute for eggs. So I decided to go whole hog, as it were, and eliminate the butter, too. I used coconut oil and made vegan chocolate chip cookies that were every bit as decadent as a butter and egg version.


As a bonus, I cleared up some room in the freezer.


Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 C coconut oil
1 C sugar
1 C unsweetened applesauce, preferably homemade
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt
1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375ยบ F and line baking sheets with silpat.

Cream coconut oil and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the applesauce and mix to incorporate.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to the mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfuls about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 2 dozen


Monday, November 27, 2017

Holiday Gifts: Homemade Vegan Truffles

Treat a friend - or yourself - with these homemade chocolate truffles


Holiday gifts can easily break your budget. Making a treat is a low cost way to show your love to a friend.
Going to a holiday party? Make these vegan chocolate truffles

If you are lucky enough to be invited to multiple holiday parties, you need to bring a gift. Break out of your grab a bottle of wine rut with these easy to make vegan (and gluten free) chocolate truffles. There is no cooking or baking involved! Just get out your Cuisinart!

Vegan Chocolate Truffles


1 1/2 cups dates
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup vegan bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate*
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Inexpensive candy liner cups make your homemade truffles look professional
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain.

Put everything except the cocoa power in a Cuisinart and blend until oats are chopped.

Form into balls about 3/4 inch in in diameter. Roll in cocoa powder.  Refrigerate.

To gift, put in candy liners and pack in an airtight container.

* I used Raaka coconut milk chocolate

Yield: about 2 dozen


Monday, November 20, 2017

Holiday Cocktails: Thanksgiving Recipe

Cranberries aren't just for sauce

We used to enliven our Thanksgiving meal with a special dessert, or kid friendly decoration. But as our children grew, I started to add a specialty cocktail to the mix.

Brandied cranberries
This year, I brandied some cranberries and created a riff on a Cape Codder. This is a vodka drink with cranberry juice and lime. But the brandied cranberries and bitters transformed it to another realm.

Brandied Cranberries

1/2 cup sugar 
1/2 cup cranberry juice or water
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt

1 cup brandy
12 ounces cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, cranberry juice or water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Bring to a low simmer. Simmer, stirring until sugar is fully dissolved.

4. Remove saucepan from heat. Discard cinnamon stick. Add brandy and stir to combine.

4. Add cherries and stir until coated with syrup. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 25 minutes.

Thanksgiving cocktail recipe
5. Pour in a glass jar, with all the liquid.

Best Thanksgiving cocktail


2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce cranberry juice
1 T liquid from brandied cranberries
2 drops orange bitters
2 brandied cranberries

Note: Use 100% cranberry juice, not cranberry juice cocktail

Fill a shaker with ice.  Add all the liquid and shake till cold

Strain into a martini glass. Spear cranberries with a fancy toothpick and garnish.

Serves one.








Friday, November 17, 2017

Holiday Entertaining on a Budget


Inexpensive crackers don't have to be boring

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be a time to shine, whipping out traditional recipes and grandma's silver. But you don't have to spend a ton.

At the Momtrends Holiday Soiree, I picked up some entertaining tips that can keep you on a budget.

Cheese plate: from the Supermarket

Add a drizzle of honey and aspire of rosemary to enliven supermarket cheese
I love cheese, and there's nothing like bit of artisan goat cheese, made from a flock of happy goats frolicking in the Vermont countryside. But some of those cheeses can cost upwards of $30 a pound, and when you are making a platter for entertaining, that can be too expensive.

Likewise, the crackers. Some crackers at my hipster local Brooklyn food boutique cost $10 a package.

At the holiday soiree, we created our own cheese platters, using supermarket cheese and cracker from Jarlsberg. The cheese crips made with chipotle provided nice crunch and just enough spice to transform ordinary cheese.

But the Jarlsberg cheese was also not ordinary. We had a smoked cheese that was a nice counterpart to sliced apples and the Norwegian skiqueen, a brown cheese made with cow and goat milk.

Holiday entertaining on a budget
Another bonus: Jarlsberg cheese are lactose free. One of my daughters is lactose intolerant, so we save on her lactaid pills with a cheese platter built on Jarlsberg.

Good, cheap wine: not an oxymoron

Fashionable jeans, under $20 
Another supermarket find was the Noble Vines wine. The 337 Cabernet Sauvignon and 667 Pinot Noir are only about $9-11 a bottle and are perfect for that 'house wine,' - the wine that you buy by the case and keep on hand for when guests unexpectedly drop by.

Staying on Trend

Since this was Momtrends, there had to be a fashion element, and we got to style our own looks with Riders by Lee. Fashionable skinny jeans for under $20? Yes, you can.

Make your own hostess gifts
Of course, if you eat too much of that cheese, skinny jeans might not be your best bet. But there were boot cut jeans and cute tops, all at attractive prices.

Hostess Gifts for Less

If you are lucky enough to be going to a holiday arty, you don't have to spring for an expensive hostess gift. D-I-Y is thoughtful and keeps you on a budget.

But that doesn't mean your gift has to look sad. Name Bubbles has labels that can perk up a homemade gift.

These labels are also great for leftovers. My freezer is filled with what we call UFO's - unidentified frozen objects. The Name Bubbles labels stick on plastic and stay on in the freezer.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Carbo Shedding: Preparing for Thanksgiving

Skinny Pasta salad with 'crack' dressing


Instead of carbo loading for a marathon, I've been carbo shedding, prepping my body for the Thanksgiving fest and the holiday season.

The holidays are a nonstop bacchanal of eating and drinking, so Skinny Pasta offers an alternative.

Skinny Pasta - easy to prepare
These Konjac noodles are just 10 calories a serving and are gluten free. They are also fiber rich and low in sodium.

But most important, they taste like, well, pasta. I love to have a big salad for lunch or dinner, but sometimes that isn't filling enough. With some pasta heaped on, the meal is complete. There is a rice or couscous shape if you prefer that with your salad, and if you want a more traditional pasta dish, there are spaghetti, lasagna and fettuccine shapes.

Skinny Pasta

Nutritional yeast
Skinny Pasta is also incredibly convenient and quick to prepare. It comes in a bag, and you have to drain and rinse it, then microwave it for two minutes. You can also heat it on the stove, perfect if you have are having spaghetti and meatballs (vegetarian, of course!).

For a hearty salad, I make a bed of greens - often baby spinach or baby arugula. Then I add some roasted vegetables, a few nuts, and either cheese, avocado or a poached egg. Then I dump the noodles on top. If you use cheese, the warm pasta melts the cheese a bit. With the egg, put the noodles on first, then add the egg, and when you pierce it, the egg drips into the noodles.
Vegan & gluten free pasta with crack dressing

But no salad is complete without a good dressing, and this dressing, which my family calls crack dressing because it is so addictive, fits the bill. Nutritional yeast is used to make cheese substitutes. Find it at a health food store.

"Crack" dressing

3/4 C olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar
3 T tamari
3 T water
1/4 C nutritional yeast
2 T tahini

Whisk this all together.

I tend to make a double recipe of this. It keeps well and I could it eat it every day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Restaurant Blooms in Brooklyn: Yellow Magnolia Cafe


Fall at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Museums have long been savvy about keeping their visitors for the day: high quality restaurants and gift shops keep peckish guests from leaving in search of sustenance.

House tacos with mushrooms
It has taken the Brooklyn Botanic Garden awhile to get up to speed. The seasonal cafe had some decent fare, but in cold weather there was nowhere to eat, so you had to leave the premises. Now, the Yellow Magnolia Cafe nourishes visitors with a sit-down, vegetable focuses menu.

Yellow Magnolia even takes reservations. The outdoor canteen, open in warm weather has some of the same food, and both places have a children's menu.

Eggs with a hot sauce dropper
At a recent brunch, I had the house tacos, which came with either fish or hen of the woods mushrooms. The mushrooms were a great option, served on homemade charred blue corn tortillas with shredded vegetables.

Everyone else at the table had the scrambled eggs, served with greens, potatoes and either avocado, sausage or bacon. These are no bargain, at $17, but they were delicious and it was nice that vegetarians could have something instead of just paying for meat and no having it. [Members get 10% off at the cafe]

I should note that our guests, both of them meat eaters, opted for the avocado.

The eggs came with individual dropper bottles of hot sauce. My tacos, oddly, didn't come with hot sauce, though I didn't need it; there was a flavorful cilantro sauce.

For brunch, note that there are no Bloody Mary's. Our out of town guests made do with mimosas, and the coffee is excellent.

Also, the kitchen ran out of biscuits. Be sure to go early, and order biscuits as soon as you sit down.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Marathon Recovery: Carbs Galore at Henry's

Vegetarian pasta at Henry's

Henry’s, a bistro in the upper upper west side, is  just off the bike path along the Henry Hudson Parkway. It is named for its owner, not the highway

But it also calls itself a bike friendly establishment, which to me means a huge outdoor seating area so you can keep an eye on your wheels, and a good selection of beer on tap. 

Grain bowl
I got to go to a celebratory dinner at Henry's when I was part of the NYC marathon charity team, raising money for Transportation Alternatives

Vegetarian friendly fare

There’s also healthy filling food like a vegetarian pasta with mushrooms, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts and a grain bowl with quinoa, brown rice and a soft boiled egg. 

There is also a great kale salad, with grapes, cranberries and a maple vinaigrette. It would be perfect at Thanksgiving. Produce is GrowNYC Greenmarket-sourced or sustainably-farmed.

The butternut squash squash soup was a bit too sweet, with an apple cider reduction, but the pumpkin oil added a nice touch.

Henry's
There is also wild, line- caught fish and hormone free meat.

If you are treating yourself after a long ride (or run) the warm chocolate cake is worth the splurge.

Go on a Wednesday night, when wines are specially priced at just $28 / bottle.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Should You Run a Marathon: Post NYC Marathon


All smiles at mile 7

Last year, I ran what I said would be my one and done - one marathon and that's it. But it was such a great experience, I was suckered into doing it again.

A grey day, but far from bleak

How to get into the NYC marathon

Running the iconic NYC marathon has bemuse so popular that yo have to enter a lottery, or qualify by running 9  New York Road Runners races and volunteering, or do a charity run. I love to bike, so I decided to join Team TransAlt and raise money for Transportation Alternatives.

This became especially poignant when a terrorist attack on the bike path of the West Side Highway killed multiple cyclists.

The countdown has already begun to 2018!
Throughout the run, total strangers cheered Transportation Alternatives. Since it rained through most of the day, and my name peeled off my hat and shirt, it was nice to have that identifier and connection with random marathon watchers.

NYC as one

See NYC by foot: run the marathon
After 9/11, New Yorkers banded together, grieved together, and maybe became a bit more neighborly. The marathon also displays this resilient spirit. It seems like the whole city lines the streets. People spend their own money to buy bananas and oranges and offer them to runners.

On my way to and from the expo on Marathon Monday, strangers congratulated me and every finisher I passed shared a smile with me. Even going home from the marathon, I was offered a free subway ride (then I promptly lost my unlimited Metrocard!).

Would I run again? Never say never.







Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Fun on the Bayou, Without Jambalaya

Getting ready to bike Buffalo Bayou


When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the bayous flooded, and even almost two months later, many of the trails are still closed.

But we were still able to enjoy some of the biking and running paths through Buffalo Bayou. You can rent bikes, but we were lucky that my brother-in-law's friends had a couple to lend us for free, and that Toyota loaned us a Tacoma pick up truck so we could get the bikes.
Not quite a compact car, but...

Usually, there are kayak and canoe rentals on the bayou, but that is also closed post-Hurricane.

Everything is bigger in TexasPost hurricane fun in Houston, Texas

Parking is free at the park, and after I pulled into a huge spot, I saw that I was actually in a spot label 'compact car.' Compact cars evidently mean something different here; the Tacoma fit easily.

Muddy trail on Buffalo Bayou

Mixed bag on the bayou

Buffalo Bayou has water fountains throughout, and miles of paths for running, walking and biking. Many of the lower trails are closed, and bull dozers were moving mounds of mud and debris. But on the upper parts, wildflowers still bloomed.

Southwestern breakfast bowl

Delicious food: The Kitchen at Dunlavy

There's a wonderful restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, on the bayou. The Kitchen at Dunlavy has plenty of vegetarian choices, and though we were there for lunch, we ordered from the breakfast menu.

Outdoor patio at The Kitchen at Dunlavy
The avocado toast had a bit of ricotta cheese and lemon zest, and we made it a bit heartier with a poached egg on top.

We also shared a southwestern breakfast bowl, which had quinoa, wild rice, kale, white beans and a soft boiled egg.  There was hot sauce on the table.

Avocado toast with broccoli side
I also got a side of broccoli salad, which had cabbage, walnuts and a creamy dressing.

My meat eating brother in law loved his turkey, apple and brie sandwich.

Next time, I want to come back for happy hour.

Note: Toyota loaned me the Tacoma, I was not otherwise compensated.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not a Black Sheep: the Standout Black Sheep Deli

Just some of the choices at Black Sheep Deli

The black sheep of the family is the odd member, but the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst, MA, stands out for its excellent vegetarian and vegan menu.

Vintage menu: prices current aren't much higher
Actually, it fits right into the Pioneer Valley, which is larded with meat free choices. Usually we stick to Northampton, one town over, but Amherst has a larger farmers market, on Saturdays, a great local bookstore, and easy access to nearby hiking trails.

It also has this casual deli, where you order at a counter. Sandwiches are huge, and there are gluten free options like big salads or gluten free bagels and breads.

The breakfast sandwich
For three of us, three sandwiches, including a smaller breakfast sandwich, was a feast. We could have ordered just half of one of the sandwiches, but we pigged (or tofu-ed) out.

Make your Own

The large menu has typical deli fare like tuna salad, and make your own options, but we stuck to the specialty sandwiches. Everything here is made from scratch, using local purveyors and farmers.

The Great Garlic

Vegetarian Specialties

There were so many to choose from, it was hard to decide. We went with the messy and delicious  Great Garlic, which was overstuffed with grilled portobellos, roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers, caramelized garlic and goat cheese, on a baguette

East Meets West

Vegan Specialities

We had the East Meets West, a yummy sandwich with roasted tofu, grated carrots and a peanut hoisin sauce.

Breakfast all day

Breakfast sandwiches are slightly smaller. We had the Florentine, a baked omelet with goat cheese, spinach, roasted red pepper and sun dried tomato pesto on excellent focaccia.

"Downtown" Amherst
We weren't crazy about the coffee; it was little weak for our industrial strength standards.

What else is there to do?

A weekend in New England has to include a hike, so we drove the snazzy Kia Optima hybrid I was testing to Mount Holyoke Range State Park in Hadley.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Drive a Kia, Avoid the Rat Race


Have you driven a Kia Optima hybrid?
The Kia Optima hybrid made it from Brooklyn to Northampton on hardly any gas

Like lemmings, New Yorkers head en masse to the country to see leaves changing colors in fall. But unlike lemmings, we don't have suicidal tendencies. So I was thrilled to take a trip in a Kia Optima loaded with all the latest safety technology.

Best leaf peeping car: 2017 Kia Optima hybrid

Kia loves rodents

Kia uses hamsters to advertise its Soul. I think they need to use a cute, cuddly animal for the Optima. The 2017 Optima hybrid EX that I drove was just so lovable.

Start with price - it's a great value

Do you take a drive to see leaves and buy a pumpkin?
The pumpkin patch
The base model is $30,990. Most states and the federal government give a rebate for buying a hybrid car, so your net price is much lower. Also, the car is listed at 42 miles per gallon (39 in the city, 46 on the highway). I drove it in eco mode and got 50 mpg. So there is also tremendous savings on gas, no matter the price of a gallon.

Extras on the Kia

This Kia, in "silky silver," has a $5,000 technology package. Some of these were luxury amenities, like heated and cooled front seats, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats and rear window sunshades.

Bring on the safety

Then there were all the safety extras included in the package: smart cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, bind spot detection, forward collision and lane departure warnings and rear cross traffic alert. My favorite feature, perfect for the winding back roads of the Pioneer Valley: headlights that turn and bend as you curve. Once you've tried this feature, regular headlights seem so inadequate.
Hiking in the Pioneer Valley


Cool features for all

If you don't want to drop the extra 5K, the Kia still has some great amenities. The best here is the smart trunk. Walk around to the back of the car when the car is off and the doors are locked. The trunk automatically opens. But if you forget that you have the key in your bag and you didn't want the trunk to open, step back and the trunk closes.

We stopped at a pumpkin patch and a got both a huge pumpkin and a bushel of apples. I hadn't told my husband or daughter about the smart trunk autonomous feature and they were quite surprised when the trunk popped open.

The Kia also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 2 USB ports and a 12 volt plug.

Great luxury speakers in the Kia

The sounds of silence

Since this Kia Optima is a hybrid, the engine noise is non existent. But you can fill that silence with great tunes. There is Sirius XM radio, and Harmon Kardon speakers for high quality sound.

Low carbon footprint

With global warming, the mid October trip was warmer than in the past. We hiked in short sleeves and opened the sunroof to let in the wonderful (yet disturbing) warm air. We were glad to be driving an environmentally correct car.

We were in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts, where every restaurant is either vegetarian or has an extensive vegetarian selection. And people are biking, or pulling bikes off their hybrid cars (with the split back seat, we could have easily brought our bikes, but we just wanted to run and hike).

Do you get perks with your car?
Reserved parking for fuel efficient cars

Kia perks


The benefits of the hybrid were not just limited to saving money and feeling good. At my local Whole Foods, I even got to park right by the entrance, which is reserved for fuel efficient cars.

The Kia hybrid fit right in with the environmental ethos of both Brooklyn and the Pioneer Valley, yet provided us with enough luxuries that we felt coddled as well.

Note: Kia loaned me the Optima hybrid for this review. Opinions expressed are my own.