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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cumin Scented Acorn Squash: Recipe Follows

Sandwich with roasted acorn squash

Though NYC has yet to get a frost this fall, winter squash is dominating my local farmers market.

I used to just cut a squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast it cut side in with a little olive oil. Actually, before learning to do that I hated every manner of winter squash. Probably because I grew up with both sweet potatoes and winter squash relegated to overly sweet side dishes, often boiled and served with brown sugar.

best recipe for roasted winter squash

Fall and winter foods while summer lingers

But winter squash has an earthiness and richness that make soups sing and salads filling.

The raw ingredients 
And one of the hardest parts of preparing acorn quash isn't even necessary. You don't have to peel the raw squash; if you roast it long enough, the hard skin tenderizes and makes a chewy contrast to the caramelized flesh.

Raw squash, ready for its close up.  And the oven
Just make sure to trim away the inedible stem and surrounding area. But don't toss the hard bits! Use use the hard scraps and stringy flesh clinging to the seeds in vegetarian stock, which thickens it and adds a layer of complexity.

Roasted acorn squash
Roasting squash with olive oil and salt is fine, but adding herbs or spices is also nice. I was sent a couple of Spice Island seasonings to test and the cumin called out to me. Sprinkling it on before roasting made the winter squash stand out in salad [and in a sandwich the next day]. Even on a hot and humid October night

Best recipe for roasting winter squash

One acorn squash, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt


Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the squash and cut in half along a ridge. Slice it along the ridges and discard seeds, stringy flesh, stem and hard bits around the stem [Or save and toss into vegetables you are using to make stock]

Spread the olive oil on a roasting sheet and add the squash slices. Sprinkle on half the cumin and salt, turn slices and sprinkle on remainder.

Roast until flesh caramelizes and skin softens, about 30 minutes. I like to turn the slices over half through so they brown evenly.

Use in salad or a sandwich with blue cheese and baby arugula.

Note: I was sent Spice Island spices samples but was not otherwise compensated. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin: The Perils of Fame

Meeting Pooh. Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The same day I saw a screening of the new movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin, the New York Times ran an article about parents who post their kids every move on Instagram.

The movie poster
Living life under a lens has its drawbacks, as the surprisingly somber and affecting movie shows. A. A. Milne, battling PTSD after fighting in WW I, uses his son as inspiration for his famous Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Milne, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is at times the kind of charming wit seen in The Thin Man movies, along with his socialite wife, played by Margot Robbie. But he is unhappy being a rich London poet and playwright, and moves the family, along with a nanny, to Sussex.

The Fox screening room
The parents don’t come off well, relegating care of their adorable son, Christopher Robin, to the nanny. Christopher Robin, nicknamed Billy Moon, is played by the dimpled Will TIlston as a young boy. He will break your heart.

In this story, father and son are left alone and the clueless dad, who cam’t even make a proper breakfast, begins to warm up and entertain his son. He creates stories around his son’s stuffed animals, and Winne-the-Pooh is born.

Children's literature, adult movie

This is certainly not a children’s movie, with its adult themes, flashbacks to battle and somber tone. But for parents who grew up with the books, or read them to their children, the movie is diverting and intriguing.

I sought out Milne’s poetry and decided to reread the Winne-the-Pooh books to look for subtext. One of my English major friends wrote her thesis on Alice in Wonderland, so I know that there is often more than meets the eye in children’s literature.

And movies.

Live in New York?

And if you live in NY, or are visiting, you can see the original Winne-the-Pooh bear at the New York Pubic Library. It’s on display at the Children’s Center on at 42nd Street.

Note: I ws a guest of Fox at this screening.

Friday, September 29, 2017

More to Love at Chelsea Market: Chelsea Local

Signature cocktail at Chelsea Local opening

Chelsea Market keeps growing its food presence. From more sit down restaurants to the headquarters of the Food Network upstairs, this former National Biscuit Company factory is like a lab for both food start ups and established food vendors.

Now Chelsea Market has expanded down. Chelsea Local is a downstairs retail space. It was mostly a food storage area, but now there are two large markets and a couple of counters.

The staircase down to Chelsea Local
And, importantly, a ton of [gorgeous] bathrooms. We visited this summer with out of town guests and their son needed the restroom. He waited over half an hour. So the large, and, for now, exceedingly pristine bathrooms are particularly welcome.

I got to attend the grand opening with Food52, where there were food samples, a cocktail with Hudson Baby Bourbon and apple slices, a marching band and a DJ.

Manhattan Fruit Exchange is in Chelsea Local, with a huge salad bar and a smoothie station. I tasted a smoothie with almond milk, bananas and strawberries that was delicious.

The Italian market Buon' Italia has specialty olive oils, jarred tuna and excellent artichoke and olive paste, both of which were tasty on crackers.

I passed on Dicksons' Farmstead Meats but I could spend a weekend sampling all the cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers. If you like spice with your dairy, right next door, Heatonist has tons of hot sauce to sample.

And if the spicy sauce upsets your stomach, you can coat it with fresh milk. Donnybrook Farm Dairy is next door to that.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Homemade Bitters: Amazing Cocktails

Some of the roots and herbs needed for bitters

One of my favorite  restaurants, and cookbooks, is Vedge. This vegan restaurant in Philadelphia has outstanding plant based food and incredible cocktails paired with the food.

The cookbook also has great recipes, for both food and drinks. One cocktail, the Sage Martini, has this throwaway suggestions: why not make your own bitters? Of course, there is a recipe for bitters and of course I had to make them.

Then I went on a bitters kick, and made several varieties. If you are a fig fan, these bitters are fabulous in a Manhattan or a drink with amaro. You need both fresh and dried figs, and patience.

You also need a good source for all the exotic ingredients. Luckily, I live in Brooklyn, whereto can source pretty much everything. Even so, I had to go to several place to find cinchona bark and gentian root.

What's next

Now that I've 'mastered' the subtleties of bitters' making, I might try my hand at making my own whiskey, or moonshine.

Holiday gifts

I know, it's a bit early to think of holiday gifts, but homemade bitters make great gifts. I buy small Mason jars and print a recipe using the bitters, which I stick on the jar.

The bitters 'mash' and homemade bitters

Bitters recipe

2 cups over-proof bourbon 
1 cup dried figs (about 6 ounces), halved
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
4 cloves
2 fresh figs, halved
Strips of zest from 3 oranges
1 tablespoon cinchona bark
1/2 teaspoon gentian root
1/4 cup dried orange peel
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
2 tablespoons simple syrup

In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily. 

Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week. 

Transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily. 

Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to small glass Mason bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.

Staying Hydrated: Oon Arvelo

Hair and body hydrated 

Summer wreaks hell on hair. The heat, sun, humidity -and ext sweat - all dry out your hair. But I was invited to Oon Arvelo Salon for a hydrating treatment and blow out.

The hydrating treatment

The salon, named for founders Peter Oon and Elvin Arvelo, is a midtown oasis of calm. On the night I was there, we were offered wine or an Aperol Spritz. Since my hair was getting spritzed, I went with the trendy cocktail.

First, my hair got much needed nourishment from a Phyto hydration elixir. I found out that the dry shampoo I sometimes use weighs down my curls and strips my hair of its natural sheen.
Hairspray and straightener

Next, I needed a straightening cream to relax my curls.

It's hard to drink while getting your hair done

The end result - and cocktail moistly drunk
Then it was on to the expert blow out. My hair was straightened, but lively. and it felt great.

In addition to haircuts and coloring, the full service salon offers manicures, pedicures and waxing.

Note: I was a guest of Oon Arvelo. I was not other side compensated.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Red Hook Initiative: Sampling Social Change

The raffle - a day in a Tesla

Red Hook, Brooklyn has become a hipster haven of pulled pork sliders and artisan whiskey, but it has a long history of poverty and unemployment. The Red Hook Initiative works with local youth, with programs starting in middle school.

The annual fundraiser, Taste of Red Hook, shows off both the best of Red Hook's food and drink and the students the programs help. At Liberty Warehouse, on the water, dozens of local restaurants, bakeries, bars and distilleries offered tastes and sips on September 26.

Vegetarian pickings were slim, Pok Pok had a vegan curry (delicious!) and Added Value, the farm where my middle daughter interned, offered locally grown tomato salad.

Alma had fish tacos and Rick's Picks had samples of their beet, cucumber and bean pickled veggies. We also tried the father / daughter made White Moustache, a savory yogurt with shallots. It was similar to Greek yogurt.

The setting sun
Sadly, it was impossible to photograph the food. There was a scrum around the food tables and if you managed to snag a bite, you had to eat it before you were enveloped in the hungry crowd. We heard of rumor of Mark's pizza and Saxelby cheesemongers, but we just found empty tables.

No matter. There was good cheer (enhanced by Widow Jane bourbon and Red Hook Winery merlot) and tons of sweets.
The scene at Liberty Warehouse

Brooklyn Dessert

Red Hook's Raaka chocolate had samples of their raw artisan chocolate while the local bakery, Baked, had bite sized brownies and cookies. There was also Steve's Key Lime Pie, made around the corner and tiny ice pops from La Newyorkina.

Best Shot at Seattle Vegetarian Restaurant: Single Shot

The accommodating Single Shot

It may seem intuitive that a service industry should be based on, well, service, but I've encountered rude waiters, hotel employees and retail store personnel around the country.

That's one reason I was so happy at Single Shot, a hip Capitol Hill, Seattle restaurant without pretension. This is a 'sharing plate' restaurant with small, medium and large plates. We went with another couple, who had also never eaten there and asked how much food we should order. No eye roll, no up-selling, just an honest answer that resulted in us getting the right amount of food.

Salad with figs
And one medium plate, a ratatouille flatbread, came with bacon. Could we get that on the side for the meat eaters? No problem. It was delicious for the vegetarians, with fresh heirloom tomato slices, eggplant and squash.

We also had a Margarita flatbread, with lots of fresh basil, and the Dungeness crab potato salad because, well, Seattle.

We ordered every small plate. The charred broccoli rabe with cherries was the stand out. But the salad with fresh figs and the cheese with fig jam were fine too. I was the outlier, not really caring for the melons salad. It had goat cheese, a plus, but mayonnaise, which I hat in any form.

My husband and I shared just one large plate, corn with fennel and leeks, and the otter's had steak with mushrooms.

Our free dessert sampler

Sweet tooth?

We were going to skip dessert, but our server had accidentally brought us the wrong cocktail, so she apologized by giving us a sampler plate of deserts: a wonderful biscuit with creme fraiche and berries, ice cream, and a chocolate pot de creme.
Delicious cocktails

Cocktail time

Getting the wrong cocktail wasn't an issue; the waitress left it, so we got to sample the delicious EAC Sling, a bourbon drink with the sugarcane based Batavia Arrack. What I had wanted, and loved, with the Sherry Bebe, also with bourbon, along with sherry and bitters.

My husband had The Second Affair, which was not a harbinger of a cheating spouse. It had gin, honey, lemon, amaro and bitters. Spectacular.

There are also local beers on tap and lots of Washington state wines.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This Cafe is For You: Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

Quinoa cakes with poached eggs

My mother-in-law disparages restaurants she won't like by declaring, "that is not my kind of place." Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is firmly in that camp.

Which means that middle aged and millennial foodies will go gaga for it. At MKB, in downtown Cincinnati, you stand on line to order your food, but in a welcome twist, a hostess shows you to a table and a server delivers your food.

No need to split your group, with one person commandeering a table and fending off customers with food trays and looks of desperation.
Blond wood aesthetic

Food for all

But if Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is beyond the understanding of the Applebee's crowd, it is appealing to a broad base; food is fresh, organic and of the moment. It is vegetarian friendly, yet it has plenty of meat, along with  recognizable dishes like burgers, sandwiches and wraps.

Roasted mushroom toast
We were there for the more uncommon food, like the power bowl, which had quinoa and farro, poached eggs, beets, greens, corn, tomatoes and avocado. It was healthy and delicious. We also shared the quinoa cakes,  with poached eggs, tomato sauce and greens. It needed a hit of hot sauce, which was on the table.

MPK has avocado toast, of course. And though this version sounded great, with pistachios and local honey, we tried the roasted mushroom toast.

My mother in law would call this an open faced sandwich but I just call it scrumptious. It had caramelized onions, goat cheese and ricotta under a bed of tiny mushrooms.

Power bowl - powerfully good
Our friends had the chicken bowl and 'enlightened' Caesar, with kale and romaine, and they were happy, too.

What do you want to drink?

MPK has craft beer on tap, and cokctials made with fresh pressed juices. You can also have the juices with alcohol, of course.

The cafe has taps where you can help yourself to still or sparking water, with leon if you wish. There is even chilled or room temperature water on tap. My grandparents always espoused room temperature water, so they would have been happy.

If, of course, they were open minded enough to give Maplewood Kitchen and Bar a chance.

Rosh Hashanah Cake: Applesauce Raisin

Applesauce cake

For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, cakes with apples and honey prevail. The Silver Palate cookbook has an applesauce raisin cake that I've adapted for the holiday.

The key is homemade applesauce. Seriously, the cake is infinitely better with it, and applesauce is a cinch to make.

My well used Foley food mill

First, go apple picking

OK, not everyone can spend the day driving to the country and picking apples, but if you can, it's worth it to get the crispest, freshest apples.

Make the sauce

Wash and quarter a bunch of apples. Take a giant pot, put apples in, a stick of cinnamon, cover and bring to a simmer. When apples start to sizzle, stir, reduce heat even lower, and cook until apples fall apart.

Then puree the apples through the food mill.  The seeds, skin and core stay behind and you have beautiful applesauce.

Don't forget to remove the cinnamon stick before pureeing.

If you don't have a cinnamon stick, you can use ground cinnamon; about a teaspoon for 3 pounds of apples.

See the fall foliage on an apple picking drive
You get way more applesauce than you need for the cake, so freeze it in small batches and enjoy when apples turn mealy.

Applesauce Cake, adapted from Silver Palate

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature  
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup homemade applesauce 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup raisins

Lemon Orange Icing 

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
A pretty bundt pan - grease it well
3/4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the applesauce and vanilla.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda together then add to applesauce mixture. Sprinkle in the raisins, and blend.
Grease and flour a bundt pan. Pour the batter into the bundt pan and set on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. 1 hour.
Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes Poke little holes in the cake with a toothpick and pour icing over the cake.
Cake for second night; regular old tube pan results in a less pretty cake


Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl.
Dribble in the juices, stirring constantly until the icing is smooth. Drizzle over completely cooled cake.
Happy New Year!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Foodie Tour: Cincinnati Food Tour of Findlay Market

Findlay Market

Findlay Market, in Cincinnati, is the oldest pubic market in Ohio. Open since 1852, the market, in the gentrifying Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, offers fresh local produce and interesting prepared foods.

I took a tour of the market with Cincinnati Food Tours, led by Barb Cooper. Unlike many expensive food tours, this 90 minute tour is just $20, with an optional $5 add-on for wine or beer on weekends. We were eating later at Salazar and intending to sample its cocktails, so we skipped the add-on, but in nice weather, don't. You can sit in the beer garden while a musician plays and sip local beer. Cincinnati is known for its beer and breweries, so don't miss this.
Babushka pierogi

Food only

But we were thrilled with the mix of local history and finely crafted food. Our first stop was Babushka Pierogies, started recently by a young woman using her grandmother's recipes. She hand makes the pierogies at a food incubator across the street and offers a variety of vegetarian and meat pastries. 

We sampled a caramelized onion and potato pierogi with a sour cream dipping sauce. There is sometimes borscht - both meat and vegan. Pierogies pair nicely with beer, particularly the sauerkraut or potato and cheddar.
Dean's Mediterranean Imports

Old time

Last of Belgium waffles
We visited Dean's Mediterranean Imports, a second generation gourmet market with prepared food and fresh spices. We had one of the best falafel sandwiches ever, with pickled turnips and homemade tahini space Of course, the falafel was also homemade. Dean's has a huge selection of seasoned nuts, and we sampled five kinds of cashews. We also had the gigantic Mejdool dates.

Dessert time

At Taste of Belgium, we had a bit of a fresh Belgian waffle, with either chocolate sauce or strawberries. This store has been so successful at Findlay Market that it has a second, much larger location just a couple of blocks away, a sit down place with tons of beer on tap and waffles straight from the waffle iron. You can also take waffles home and heat them up. There are three more Cincinnati locations.

Over the Moon in Over-the-Rhine

The lovely sea bass at Salazar

You don't usually hear of James Beard award-winning chefs in Cincinnati, but Jose Salazar has planted his flag in the eponymous Salazar.

Cheers: Dokie's Trick
The restaurant, in the fast gentrifying Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati, has a small menu of perfectly executed dishes.

The broccoli 'nibble'
We tried two 'nibbles' - fried broccoli with yuzu aioli and an adorable fried oyster sandwich with kimchi on a tiny brioche roll. The sandwich, served on a wooden round, was delicious and easily split in two. And the broccoli was enough for four of us to have a healthy portion of caramelized yumminess.

Tiny oyster sandwich
My husband and I shared a starter of polenta, made with a vegetarian stock, and served with mushrooms and pickled veggies. It had an egg on top that dripped yolk over everything.

Local vendors

Salazar serves the excellent Blue Oven Bread from nearby Findlay Market. But it's $6 and comes with marrow butter. There are also BBQ pig ears. So this is definitely for adventurous eaters.

Spinach potato gratin
My husband loved his sea bass, with a potato puree and preserved Meyer lemon. I went pure vegetarian with a potato spinach gratin. It was full of flavor from the fiddlehead ferns and spring pea puree.

The cocktail list has unusual choices, like Dokie's Trick, which resembled a Manhattan, but had smoked ice. We also tried the Clarify It, a spicy cocktail with gin, green charteuse, basil, jalapeƱo, lime and calcified milk. That last ingredient threw me for a loop, but it was just the whey separated from the curd and added an intriguing note to a fabulous drink.

A nod to the past

Check out the bathroom, where there is a vintage photo of the grocery store that used to be here, and a current one, with the chef / owner standing in the same place the former owner stood.