McLane Creek Nature Trail, Olympia, Washington

4 Dec

We went on a quick trip to Seattle/Olympia to see my dad for Thanksgiving.  It snowed before we got there and we were lucky enough to see snow on the ground before Thanksgiving!

Even with the snow, I knew that I needed to make sure to go to my favorite little hike in Olympia, McLane Creek Nature Trail.  This short, relatively flat hike (about two miles) winds across a few beaver ponds, crosses McLane Creek (or ‘crick’ as my dad likes to say), and has loads of boardwalks and bridges to cross.   My sister, brother and I love this hike and always try to do it when we go home.

The air was cold and wet but the kids didn’t complain at all.  Grandpa was the only one grumbling about the adventure.

I had to beg him to get bundled up and get outside.  “It’s raining.”, he whined.  “Wear a rain coat.”, I said.

“It’s cold,”  he cried.  “Walk faster, ” I said.

“My feet hurt,” he complained.  ” I’ll give you chocolate when you finish your hike,” I said, and that was enough to keep him quiet.

I know that he had fun though—the Bean was so excited about all the dead salmon that we found in the river.  Salmon that had died either after spawning or on their way to spawn.  It was the perfect opportunity for grandpa to teach the kids about his favorite subject—fish!  After a quick discussion of the salmon life cycle we kept hiking.  At the next crick crossing, we even saw a couple of salmon struggling to make their way upstream.

Grandpa was also very excited to point out all the mushrooms.  Too bad we couldn’t eat any of them.

If you are in Olympia and need some time outside, here is a map to the trail head.

Don’t let the winter weather keep you away.  The canopy keeps you fairly dry in the rainy weather.  It was about 40 degrees, gray and rainy when we were there but the parking lot was full.

Washingtonians don’t let a little wet ruin their day.  And neither should you.


Quilted Advent Calender

1 Dec

(Okay, before I even write this post I have to tell you about the horrible thing that happened on our quick trip to Seattle.  As I was waiting for my rental car, I had my purse perilously perched on my suitcase.  One second later, it crashed to the ground.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time—I drop my purse all the time.  Later, I remembered that my brand new camera was in that purse without any protection.  I was scared to open the bag.  And, cried when I did—-my brand new camera lens had broken off the body and was completely ruined! So, not only did I break my brand new toy—I had nothing except an iphone to document our vacation to Seattle.  What a bummer!)

Anyway this post is not about broken cameras or trips to Seattle—-it is about my love for the holidays.  Especially Christmas.

Last week when everyone was doing their Thanksgiving stuff–I was thinking and planning and scheming for Christmas.  And, this advent calender is part of that plan.

You see, I wanted an advent calender that I could fill up myself.  Not one of those cardboard ones with the gross chocolate inside.  I wanted one that I could fill with good candy, small toys and little envelopes announcing some new Christmas activity for the day.  I want the build up to the big day.  Luckily, I was visiting Grandpa (my dad) and Grandma Debbie.

I do not sew.  I am actually kind of scared of the sewing machine.  However,  I mentioned to Grandma Debbie that I wanted  a quilted advent calender and she worked super hard to make sure we had one to take home with us.

Grandma Debbie sews all the time–she has multiple machines and a whole room filled with materials, scissors and other things that come in handy when you want to make a quilt on the spot.  She has awards for quilts she has made and she even teaches classes.  She knows her stuff.  And, she likes it. (It amazes me that we did not need to run to the store for anything to make this quilt.  We used whatever she had in her sewing room—she just happened to have a lot!)

We found a pattern on and got to work.  It might hard to tell from the photos but each little square is a pocket that can be filled.  Today, I put in some chocolate covered frogs I secretly bought at the Harry Potter Exhibition.  I need to figure out what will go in the other pockets.  Some days will be a note like, “Let’s walk to see all the Christmas lights in the neighborhood.”  Another might be, ” Let’s decorate sugar cookies.” or ” Go Ice Skating.”

Debbie did all the work.  I just checked in every once in awhile to make sure she wasn’t getting lonely.  She worked into the wee hours of the night and completed the quilt just before we were to leave.

It turned out so well.  The colors are perfect and it is so well made.  I can’t wait to fill it up with goodies………

Olive Oil Cake

22 Nov

It wasn’t until about 5:30 last Thursday night that I realized I had NO DESSERT for the risoto party.

I had wine.  I had risotto. Bread and cheese.  Veggies.

But, no dessert.

I had remembered hearing a lot about olive oil cake and thought I would throw one together.

And throw it together–I did.

This couldn’t have been any easier and it tasted delicious.

A dense cake with a hint of orange and just a taste of sweetness.

Olive Oil Cake

Adapted from Savuer

Prep Time 10 min

Cook Time: 40 min

1 tablespoon butter for greasing
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoons orange extract (You can use  Grand Marnier or something if you have it.)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease bundt pan with butter and dust with flour. Set prepared pan aside.

2. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for a couple of minutes.

3.  Add remaining 3 cups flour, lemon zest, oil, milk, and orange extract and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and stir until thoroughly combined.

4. Spoon batter into bundt pan and smooth out top with the back of the spoon.

5.  Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

6.  Let cool completely in its pan.

7.  I sprinkled a bit of powdered sugar on top and surrounded the whole thing with a ton of pomegranete.  If I would have had homemade whipped cream–it would have made it all better.

NYC Restaurant Review: Curry Dream

21 Nov

We (my sister and I ) love Indian food and were so happy to find “Curry Dream” very close to our hotel in NYC.

The kids walked in and were thrilled to be in a fancy restaurant.  They determined that it was a fancy restaurant  because of the glass goblets for water and the cloth napkins.  Their standards are pretty low.

And because we were in the city and our motto was to “Be adventurous” they were willing to try more on the menu than normal.

We really did it up with Samosas, Naan, Dall Makani, and Alu Gobi–a spiced mixture of califlower and potatoes.  Let me just tell you that it was all excellent.  The onion chutney served with the samosas was amazing.  Even Little One was eating it—and she is not a fan of onions.

We also ordered a chicken dish for my kids—-Rasmi Malai Kabab which is described as cubes of chicken marinated in yogurt and cream cheese and then grilled.  The Bean LOVED it and couldn’t slow himself down.  It was not spicy but had a unique flavor that he loved.  He is still talking about it.

Everything was so good.  We left nothing uneaten.

The kids were so full–they were in pain.  Delicious pain.

Oh, the wait staff was incredibly patient with us and very kind.  We were the only family in the restaurant and even got a comment about how well behaved our children are. Ha!  If they had only seen us a few minutes earlier.

Curry Dream

66 W 39th St New York, NY 10018

Tel: 212-810-4125

Risotto Party: Four Recipes, One Night

20 Nov

The challenge:  Compare  four different varieties of Italian risotto rice.

The issues:
1) In order to compare the varieties, I would have to prepare them.
2) Risotto preparation is kind of time consuming.
3) After our trip to NYC, the deadline to finish the review was coming up quickly.  I wasn’t sure there was enough time left to actually complete the task.

What to do?

Have a risotto party!

At first, I was hesitant to pitch the idea to some of my friends….I wanted to invite them over to eat but felt a bit guilty for giving them an assignment as part of their dinner.

However, they are all love food and any chance to get together and drink wine.  Luckily, they agreed to the challenge.

The week prior was spent delivering risotto samples, researching  recipes, and buying wine.

Thursday night, (a school night!) they all came over and we had a risotto feast.  (Including a really delicious olive oil cake–recipe coming soon.)

It was so fun to see what each of them came up with and all of the risottos were very different.

The contestants:

Risotto #1:  The purple blob.

Rice: Marx Foods Italian Carnaroli rice

Recipe:  Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Spring Green Risotto

This risotto was not pretty.  Actually, it was a very pretty color—it just looked like a gelatinous blob.  In case you are wondering, the purple came from the addition of red wine instead of white.  According to Marx Foods website, this rice tends to hold its shape better than arborio rice and offers better liquid absorption.  Supposedly, this rice will yield a creamier risotto than other varieties.  And, this one was very creamy.

Comments:    “If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t eat this.”

“Why is it purple?”

“What is that flavor?”

Risotto #2:  The healthy risotto.


Rice:  Marx Foods Organic Italian Arborio
Recipe:  Chef’s creation with lots of spinach and a ton of garlic.

Comments:  “Maybe it needs more salt.”

“Wow, very garlic-y!”

This is the type of rice that is normally used for risotto and just as suspected, the results were a creamy rice porridge.

Risotto #3:   The professional risotto.

Rice:  Marx Foods Vialone Nano Rice

Recipe:  Chef’s creation including asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.

For risotto #3, the chefs followed the basic recipes for preparing a risotto complete with toasting the rice and slowly adding the broth.  They completed the dish by adding asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.  This risotto was dryer than the others and the rice grains were separate.

Comments:  “This looks like what a risotto is supposed to look like.”
“This is the most professional looking of the risottos”

According to the Marx Foods website, this variety of rice and the Carnaroli are thought to make better risotto than the traditional arborio.  Vialone Nano rice absorbs liquid more quickly which is likely why this risotto was a bit dryer than the others.

Risotto #4:  The meat risotto.

Rice:  Marx Food’s Italian Integrale rice

Recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Comments:  “This could be a meal on its own.”

“Too tomato-y”

“The rice is slightly hard”

The Integrale rice is a whole grain Italian brown rice.  Following the traditional recipes for risotto resulted in a rice that was slightly undercooked.  Other recipes using this variety may need to use more liquid.

Our mission:

Our original intention was to compare the different risotto rice and determine if one variety was better than another.  However, that was difficult to do given that each chef chose a different recipe and have different levels of culinary skills.

For example:

Did risotto #1 turn gelatinous because it was prepared the day before and re-heated?  Or was it the starchiness of the rice?

Did risotto #4 taste slightly undercooked because it was a wheat grain or because of the novice cooking skills of the chef?

Did risotto #3 have nicely separated grains due to the type of risotto or because the chefs toasted the rice?

Risotto #2 looked like a typical risotto—like soupy rice—was that due to the preparation or the fact that the chef received the typical arborio rice?

If we had all prepared the same recipe, we may have been able to do a better comparison of the various rice types—but it would have been so much less fun.  However, the rice did behave as described on the Marx Foods website.


Since we weren’t really able to judge the different rice types –we just decided which risottos we enjoyed the taste of the most.

And the winner was………..

The purple blob.

Are you surprised?  I was–I have to admit I was a little bit afraid to try it but it had such a great flavor–likely due to the large amount of lemon zest and the marscapone cheese.

The runner up was:

The professional risotto.  It had great flavors, looked pretty and contained goat cheese.  How can you go wrong with goat cheese?

The healthy risotto and the meat risotto received honorable mention.

Interestingly, the two winners used the type of rice that Marx Foods describes as  Italian’s choice for the best risotto.

Great job contestants!

Thanks to Marx Foods for supplying us with risotto samples and to everyone for agreeing to make risotto.  Special thanks to the kids (all 7 of them!) for not killing each other while we ignored them.

Bakery Review: Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, Little Italy, NYC

18 Nov

I really don’t want to write this post.

I don’t want to tell you to go to this bakery in Little Italy.

We had planned to get to Chinatown early so that we could have some dim sum for breakfast before our flight.  We didn’t realize that none of the restaurants and bakeries would be open until at least 9 am.    We were tourists  and we wanted to get a jump on our day.

The kids were so wiped out that they could barely make a sound.  They were angels.

We had quiet and hungry kids.  We wanted to spend some money.

Yet, our server had such an attitude.  The only attitude we received while in NYC.

The service was just plain terrible. Our server  made it perfectly clear that she did not want us there.

So, I had planned to write this review about her attitude and warning you against visiting this bakery in Little Italy.

But, I can’t.

See that croissant on the top left?  It was amazing.    I don’t even like croissants and I can’t stop thinking about the chocolate croissant we shared.  The cookies were great.  The coffee delicious.  The biscotti perfect.

If I were in NYC, I would go back.  I would deal with rudeness just to eat that croissant again.

From the reviews I have read, there are likely other more intimate bakeries in Little Italy and I was not alone in complaining about the service.   Supposedly, at other times of day tourists line up at Ferraras  for cannolis and gelato.  But, when we arrived they had exactly what we needed–plenty of available tables, clean bathrooms and hot coffee.

And the best chocolate croissant I have ever tasted.

Who cares if the server didn’t like us?

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe

195 Grand Street
between Mulberry & Mott St.
(212) 226-6150

Roasted Kabocha

15 Nov

Do you ever get tired of junk food? Like, really just craving colorful vegetables and healthy choices? That is exactly how I felt after our long weekend in NYC. We tried to make sure that we had at least cupcakes and pizza everyday—and it really took a toll on our bodies.

Roasted Kabocha is the perfect solution for a junk food detox.

Kabocha is also called Japanese Pumpkin and is nothing like our pumpkins. It has a green peel–that you eat–giving you fiber and greens. The inside is bright orange and filled with vitamins.  I have seen it in most grocery stores and the organic market.  If you don’t see it in your regular grocery store, try an Asian specialty store.

When I lived in Japan, my favorite thing to order at the markets were Kabocha Croquettes—basically a pumpkin patty covered with a Panko crust and deep fried. I need to figure out how to make those.  But not today.  Today we want healthy.

This recipe is simple, healthy and delicious. A perfect cure to the winter time blues.

Roasted Kabocha (with Truffle Salt)

1 Kabocha pumpkin
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Sprinkle of Truffle Salt

1. Cut the Kabocha in half and scoop out the seeds. Put them in your compost pile.

2. Cut into slices about 1/2 inch thick. The pumpkin is pretty difficult to cut into but use your sharpest knife and you should be OK.
3. In a shallow baking dish, arrange the slices of pumpkin so they are not touching. Sprinkle with the olive oil and toss around to make sure everything is covered.
4. Sprinkle with the truffle salt.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

6. Serve with Fennel Pollen Chicken with Pasta or any other wholesome dinner.

By the way, I have a little post over at the Marx Foods Blog that has my recipe for the Fennel Pollen Chicken Pasta. If you have time, I would appreciate you visiting the site and voting for me. Thanks!

Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn, W 35th St, NYC

14 Nov

As soon as I had heard that I made it into the NYC Marathon (through the lottery), I started looking into hotels. I knew NYC hotels were expensive and due to the marathon, would be in demand even more than at other times of the year. So, about nine months before the big day I began searching for hotels based on a bunch of specific criteria.

I wanted to be fairly close to the NYC marathon finish–as I knew after running 26.2 miles, I wouldn’t want to walk far. I also wanted to be close to the New York Public Library because the marathon buses would pick up there to get the runners to the start line. I wanted to be within walking distance of the Javitz Center–the home of the NYC marathon expo.

And, I knew that I would be traveling with my kids and my mom (four in total) and wanted to be somewhere central, simple—with plenty of room and no bed bugs!.

The Hilton Garden Inn at West 35th St. met all of my requirements.

The HGI is located about 200 feet from the corner of W 35th and 6th Ave—right next to the world’s most amazing Macys, right above Penn Station, and less than a block from 5th Ave. There are tons of restaurants, shops right near the hotel—including a really good Indian restaurant (which I’ll review in a later post). This was perfect for us because my mom is not that adventurous and there were going to be times that she would have to leave the hotel alone.  Being right next to Macy’s, pizza, and a Starbucks made it easier.

We were all flying into JFK and getting to the hotel from that airport could not be any easier.  We took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station. For about $11.00 per person, we boarded a comfortable train and had a nice (mostly above ground) train ride.  Just about the time the kids were getting bored with the ride (about 35 minutes), we arrived at our stop. Perfect!

They have free Wi-Fi!

The hotel rooms in NYC are small.  They all are.  It is part of the charm of the city.  Our room had two double beds, a desk, TV and stand, and a microwave, refrigerator, and a coffeemaker.  I felt that for the size they had made the best of the space and it didn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable.   It was very clean—since it has only been open a year.  (No bed bugs!)  And the beds were super comfortable (oh, they have a dial on each bed so you can chose the firmness you prefer–the kids loved this feature).

The bathroom was normal sized.  And always had hot water.

Kids standing next to the closet in the little hallway.

There was a tiny closet  and an even tinier closet that held the ironing board and iron.   One perk was the coffee maker, refrigerator, and microwave in the room.  Our last NYC hotel (The Roosevelt) did not have these amenities.  I thought their use of space was very clever.

The view was nothing special—just NYC buildings, but it was just what we wanted.  A view of the city.  (The first picture shows you what we saw….)

The lobby was tiny.  Really– there was only a couple of couches and a couple of chairs—not a destination at all–but a quick meet-up- and- go spot.  (The Roosevelt Hotel had a beautiful lobby.  One that you wanted to sit in and just relax.)  Even though it was small, the lobby was pleasant enough with free hot chocolate, coffee, and really good apple cider.

We got free breakfast as part of the package that I had booked—and it was such a nice way to start the morning.  We were able to go down and get a couple of pastries and bagels for the kids and eat them in our rooms.  Business travelers may want to indulge in the hot breakfast in their restaurant.  It always looked good but we were always on our way out for adventures.

My only complaint was with the concierge.  I called down a couple of times to ask specific questions about shuttles and taxis and was told to just come down and hail one myself.  While I don’t mind doing that, I thought the concierge is supposed to help with things like that.  Maybe I am wrong but I just got the feeling that because I wasn’t asking for fancy dining reservations–they didn’t have the time for me.

In summary, if you need a clean, convenient place to stay in Midtown—the Hilton Garden Inn on West 35th St. is perfect.   Just don’t ask the concierge for anything and you will happy as a clam.

Pros:  Clean rooms, convenient location, comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast with some types of stays, very nice waitstaff in restaurant, well laid out rooms.

Cons: Concierge staff. No safe in rooms (or if there was, we couldn’t find it)

Hotel Review: Hyatt, Orlando Airport (Or: Where I lost a child)

14 Nov

The Hyatt Hotel in the Orlando Airport will always be remembered as the first place I lost one of my children.  I mean really lost.

You see, we were all in the elevator together going up to our room.  The doors opened and we got off on the 9th floor.

And then I heard screaming.

Little one and I had gotten off.  The Bean, struggling with our large suitcase, did not.

The doors closed.  The elevator moved on.

What do you do?  The elevator needed a room key to move from floor to floor and I had the key so I knew he wouldn’t be able to get to another floor.  And, based on his scream I could tell he was petrified.  He was likely not thinking rationally.

Little one and I hurried back to the lobby, and with the help of a desk clerk got the elevator opened.

He was not there.

We were in the middle of the Orlando Airport.  He is only 7.

I had no idea what to do.

Just as we were about to go riding up the elevator to check each and every floor—-I saw the Bean get off another elevator with a friendly hotel woman.

He had done exactly what I had taught him—to find a kind looking woman and explain the situation.  And, luckily the women he talked to were able to get him back to us in a quick and calm manner.

That was scary.

The scariest part was we were in the middle of the airport.  Not just in a hotel next to the airport.  We were in the MIDDLE of the Airport.  The elevator could have taken him all the way down to baggage claim or ticketing.  Right in the center of a busy airport. Alone.

And that is also one great plus side of this hotel.  It is IN the airport.  The balcony of our room looked out into the middle of the airport–at the security lines and the airport restaurants.  When you are ready for your flight, you go down the elevator (be careful! The doors close quickly) and you are there.  No travel time required.  This is especailly important if you are travelling with tired kids.

The hotel is actually quite nice and even has a pool deck and a work-out room.  However, you do feel that you are in an airport once you leave your room.  And when you step out on the balcony-the hum of the airport is all you hear.

You can also get stay and park deals at this hotel which allow you to keep your car at the hotel for up to 7 days usually for the price of one nights stay.  If you are planning on paying for parking anyway—this may be the best way to go.  You get parking, relaxation and convenience for one price.

Bakery Review: Crumbs-NYC

13 Nov

I was so excited to go to NYC to run the marathon.  Not for the experience of running through all five burroughs of the city.  Not for the whole “I set a goal and I accomplished it” feeling.  No, I was looking forward to running the marathon so that I could eat cupcakes in the city.  With no shame or regret.  I wanted to run 26.2 miles so that I could eat 26.2 cupcakes.  So, I ran.  And, I ate.

However, no where near the amount of cupcakes I wanted to sample.

Really, we only had cupcakes twice.  Burgers&Cupcakes was our first stop.  And, as you may remember from this review—they were not good.  Really, at all.

Crumbs, was an entirely different story.

Look at this display case.  (Pardon the photos–at this point I hadn’t purchased my fancy SLR and had to use the camera on my iphone.)

The case was overwhelming with deliciousness.  Almost too overwhelming.  Of course, my little one shrieked with delight with the “Pinkalicious” cupcake.  And the boys were torn between various over the top cupcakes.

I had to make the executive decision.  We were going simple (and slighter less expensive).  Afterall, it was only 10:00 am.  We ordered an assortment of the basic cupcakes–chocolate/vanilla, vanilla/vanilla, vanilla/lemon, chocolate/chocolate, and chocolate/chocolate with sprinkles.

I figured the basic cupcake would give us a true representation of whether or not these were good cupcakes or just cupcakes with lots of stuff on them.

Oh. My. God.

These were the best cupcakes ever.

I can’t explain why but they were 1000 times better than those had a burgers&cupcakes and at least 10 times better than those from Cakes by Ron.

Can someone please help me understand this.  What is their secret?

My sister who hadn’t ordered herself one was very sad when she was forced to lick the cupcake wrapper for more crumbs. (She is usually 100 times prettier than this picture portrays but she had been overtaken by a insatiable urge for these crumbs and became possessed. Sorry you have to see her like this.)

A couple of other things—when we arrived there was no one there.  Not usually a good sign for a cupcake shop in the city but it was 10:00 am–and it was perfect for us.  A bunch of excited kids screaming and constantly changing their minds–my mom was the only one holding it together.   The counter staff was really patient–allowing the kids us to change their minds many, many times.

I know that I needed to go to other cupcakeries while in the city but we didn’t get to them—and I am not sorry.  Crumbs is good enough for me!

And, there are locations all throughout NYC, NJ, California—look here for locations.

You gotta get there!