Long time readers of this blog know that I am always on the lookout for affordable products that actually work. Because let’s face it, while you can buy a beauty cream for $250 that works, what’s fun about that? The sport is in finding something great that works for $20. And then you can spend your savings on a nice pair of shoes…

Anyway here are my recommendations for summer 2013:

cg_natureluxe_glossbalm_lipgloss_1CoverGirl NatureLuxe Gloss Balm in Coral: Summer calls for sheer lip color and spf, and this deliver both. There are several colors, but this coral complements a light tan and feels summery in a lightweight, sheer way. It’s billed as a “gloss balm,” which is pretty accurate. It’s got spf 15 so it’s great for the beach or walking around the city in the sunshine. And it doesn’t have a cloying fragrance, which is the kiss of death for me with a lot of drugstore makeup. My only beef with it is that it doesn’t last too long, but I guess having to reapply more often ups the sun protection. For $6, a bargain. And if you can find one of CoverGirl’s coupons that are floating around different magazines, you can get it for even cheaper.

C. O. Bigelow Mentha Foot Tingling Foot Cream: I am constantly fighting dry heels, probably because I typically pay $24 for a manicure/pedicure and they don’t do the best job scrubbing away dead skin. And I am not very good about consistently slathering cream on at night, probably because by the time I hit the pillow I am out. But these last 2 weeks on vacation I have been putting this foot cream on pretty much every night, and I see huge improvement. Plus it really does tingle when you put it on. $14 at Bath and Body Works or Bigelow on 6th Avenue. (Bath and Body Works typically has some sort of sale going on. When I was there a month or so ago it was buy 2, get 1 free.)

L’Occitane Hand Cream: What I said about being neglectful with foot cream I repeat here about hand cream — typically I can’t be bothered. But the sun and sand takes its toll and so I have been putting this hand cream on every night, which has a lot of shea butter in it. I like it because it’s not too greasy or smelly, and it comes in a nice silver tube, perfect for your purse, gym bag, or night stand, which is where I keep mine. Apparently one is sold every three seconds around the world, so they must be on to something. $12 at L’Occitane stores or online.

300Nivea Lip Butter: Nivea is huge in Europe but I notice it is trying to make more inroads in the US. Their lip butter goes on smooth and not too slick, which makes it perfect to put under another lipstick that might be too matte, or wear it on its own. I swear by putting some on before I go to bed and when you wake up your lips aren’t parched and flaky. I go for the Vanilla and Macadamia Kiss flavor. $3.19 at drugstore.com.

It’s Downton, Not Downtown

After hearing over and over about how much people LOVE Downton Abbey, I left for vacation with DVDs of all 3 seasons and finally started watching. (I am up to episode 5 in the third season so no spoilers please although I think some magazines already have ruined it…) Anyway, yes, the hype was justified, I must say. Season one is just about flawless. I’m finding season 3 a bit too maudlin but still very good. Maggie Smith’s character is brilliant — she really gets the best lines. She’s the Roger Sterling of Downton. Highly recommend, but be warned: you’ll be hooked and will truly binge watch!

Etc.

Next week will be a tough reentry to real life as vacation, though hectic on some days, was a nice break. Hope you are enjoying the summer!

This Badgley Mischka gown from the Outnet is long and 100% silk...bingo!

This Badgley Mischka gown from the Outnet is long and 100% silk…bingo!

When the temps go over 90 and the humidity shoots up there it is hard to know what to wear at any time, let alone to a black tie wedding. Still, I was pretty shocked to see what people put on last weekend at the nuptials we attended, and I thought it was worth a post.

Just because it’s long doesn’t mean it’s fancy: I noticed a trend on the women in attendance: long, ankle or floor length dresses. On the surface, this seems like a nice direction for things to go — a gown can be beautiful. But these weren’t gowns, they were those maxi dresses that are perfect as a cover up for the beach or even a luau, but not a Saturday night black tie affair. Material matters. If it’s cotton and comes in some sort of stripey pattern, leave it on the hanger.

Black tie means black tie, boys: My husband wore his tuxedo and he was pissed at me because hardly anyone else was wearing one. I swore up and down that the invite said black tie, and even pulled the bride aside later in the evening so she could back up my story. Most of the men there opted for lighter suits, we assume because of the heat. But that’s not what was called for. For the record, the bride was not happy. “I was walking down the aisle and I’m like, ‘Really? This is what you wore to my wedding?'” Not cool. Take off your jacket if you’re hot.

Cork wedges are not for evening. Period.: Cork wedges are adorable, but nothing is faster at taking an outfit towards “picnic.” Ditto for flat casual sandals. I am not a heels fan but it really is the only thing that looks right for black tie. If you invest in one pair of mid-heel, black silk strappy shoes, they will take you everywhere.

Just about the only thing you have to lose by dressing appropriately is a large dry cleaning bill!

To The Office

To beat the heat on a commute, I like a dress. Any kind will do. I just do not like to wear pants when it’s really hot. If you’re in a more corporate environment, a sleeveless shift dress works, and carry a blazer that you can throw on once you reach your air-conditioned office. If you’re in a more casual setting, there are so many cute sundresses. Stash a cardigan (or two) in your bottom desk drawer if the air inside gets too icy. Just don’t forget to take it off if you go out for lunch!

Lighter Fare

I cannot eat anything heavy when the temperature soars. So I was pleasantly surprised when we went to the brunch the day after the wedding, and they had a deconstructed spinach salad. I am definitely serving this at the next lunch party I host. They had a large bowl of baby spinach, and then small bowls of everything one might want to put on top: bacon, red onion, chopped egg, sunflower seeds, blue cheese…really you can put out and on whatever makes you happy. Then they had a light buttermilk ranch and a balsamic vinaigrette that you could put on. It was easy and light and much appreciated. You can put some nice rolls on the side, a pitcher of iced tea or lemonade,  and what summer guest wouldn’t be psyched?

Etc.

I am in the middle of a 2 week vacation and enjoying every minute. Last week was a little more hectic with guests, a bbq for my daughter’s birthday, and the aforementioned wedding which involved a lot of traffic. But this week my son and I are hanging out together and it is really nice. I am always busy but somehow it just feels like a different pace.

Hope  you all have time off to enjoy friends and family this summer!

Find Your Bliss

June 22, 2013

My favorite View

My favorite view

Yesterday I worked until about 3pm and then grabbed my beach bag to catch a couple of hours on the sand before I had to run errands (Target! Shop Rite!) and pick up the husband and kids from the bus station. It’s different at the beach this year, after going through the nightmare that was (and is) Hurricane Sandy. The beach is not as wide because the dunes were made larger, to fortify the town from whatever comes next. It feels more crowded because there aren’t as many cut-throughs in the dunes, so people tend to congregate near where they enter. But as I sat there in my beach chair, fully slathered in sunscreen and a magazine on my lap, looking out over the water, there was no place else I’d rather be. Even a couple of hours relaxes me and I managed to fall asleep for 15 minutes or so — the perfect cat nap.

Summer is definitely here, and it’s a relatively short season (my kids don’t finish school for another 3 days!), so if ever there was a time to get outside and find your happy place, this would be it.Even if you can only find an hour in a full weekend, do it! Your mind and body will feel the benefits all week.

Tasty

We were floundering a bit about where to go for dinner to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks back. We had a reservation at Union Square Cafe, but I was underwhelmed. (It’s an excellent restaurant, don’t get me wrong, I just wanted something new, someplace that felt more special.) Someone suggested Marea to us, and it struck a chord because I had heard good things but always dismissed it because it was Italian. I love Italian food, but $35 for a bowl of pasta gets to be a bit much. But when I went to the menu online, I saw that it was Italian but with a fish/seafood bent. Looked good, so we went. And it was great. The atmosphere is nice, very Central Park South if you know what I mean. (If you don’t, think about a nice hotel dining room anywhere in the world and you’re probably close.) It’s done in good taste but with a certain sterility about it. But you don’t go for the light fixtures. The food is the star here. We went for the 4 course $99 menu, which allows you to pick just about anything from the menu. Chef Michael White doesn’t disappoint. I started with a soft shell crab (in season!), then had a pasta with squid and a red sauce so divine I almost never want to have it again to preserve the memory. (Flavored with bone marrow, fyi.) The scallops were tasty, and I finished with a dessert I can’t remember but it was a suitable ending…even the glass of rose I had was standout. We lingered for 3 hours and didn’t feel rushed; the service was attentive but not overbearing. A perfect spot for a special occasion.

Etc.

I’m excited to get the grilled going! Tonight I am preparing a recipe from Bobby Flay for a grilled salmon with black bean sauce, and a mango and soba noodles side dish. Then I think we have to ride our bikes to the new Kohr Brothers frozen custard that opened nearby. It just isn’t summer without a vanilla cone and chocolate jimmies! (That’s sprinkles for all of you who need a translation.)

Hope you’re having a great weekend!

 

 

Chef’n

June 13, 2013

Blogger’s note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago but I forgot to bring the recipe home from my house so I was delayed…anyway here it is in all its time warped glory…more to come soon!)

Tasty -- and easy!

Tasty — and easy!

I was a cooking fiend this holiday weekend, which made me realize that to be a great chef, you need time, tasty ingredients, and a husband who will clean up. Otherwise, forget it.

I love making salsas in the summer, because they really dress up any old fish that you want to throw on the grill. And because the ingredients ration doesn’t have to be exact, you can improvise with what you have in the fridge. But you always need a jalapeno pepper, and depending on the harvest, they can be hotter than you bargained for, especially on your skin. It’s the seeds that carry the heat, so if you really want to be careful, wear gloves when you’re taking them apart or cutting the pepper. (I sometimes put a plastic bag over the hand that’s coming into contact with the pepper if there’s no glove handy.) The deceiving part is that if it does cause skin irritation, it usually doesn’t start for a little while, after you think you’re in the clear. If you start to get persistent burning, forget washing, water, soap or lotion. Believe me, will not work, and potentially makes it worse. Get a bowl, pour some milk into it and submerge your hand. Keep it there until you feel the burning sensation subside. It should only take a few minutes. Then you can rinse and go about things normally. If it comes back at all, try it again. I have used this twice and it definitely works!

Anyway, on to this weekend’s salsa recipe — I put it over tuna but could easily pair with salmon or another meaty, white fish.

Avocado Tomato Salsa

1 ripe avocado cut into small chunks

1 cup of grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup minced red onion

1 jalapeno pepper or serrano chile, seeded and minced (the serrano pepper will give you more heat)

1 lime, juiced

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. I like to refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, but you don’t have to.

Serve over fish or chicken!

 

Salad Daze

Salads are a great and easy way to add vegetables to a meal. My kids have both started eating them in earnest, but only with balsamic vinaigrette. (I’ll take it!) I love to mix things up a little, so it’s not just mixed greens on a plate. Fresh radishes are a great way to do that. They add some zest and some crunch, and some color, which is always nice. Goat cheese also makes a salad a little more special. If you buy a small log, put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes and then flake it with a knife onto the lettuce. The freezing lets it flake easier and more evenly.

Etc.

I am starting TRX tomorrow. Very exciting. I needed a new exercise something to break up the monotony of the machines which I feel like I have become a slave to. (If it’s Monday, it must be the Precor Open Stride.) I will report back.

The other exciting news is that my husband and I gave each other bikes for our anniversary! We had a family ride on the boardwalk yesterday. Loved it.

Hope you’re adjusting to the routine after a few days off…

Who can stop the rain at MoMA? You can.

Who can stop the rain at MoMA? You can.

There really is no better time to be in NYC than the springtime, even if it has been a little chillier than normal. With the sun shining, birds chirping and the flowers blooming in every park and window box, it really makes a stroll to do just about anything that much more pleasant. (And — always look on the bright side — the chillier spring has given me a chance to wear more spring jackets!) Anyway it has given me the chance to get out and do a bunch of fun things around the city.

If it’s a really nice day out, head to Madison Square Park to see the Orly Genger sculptures in the park. She dyes fishing nets and molds them into interesting large shapes. This installation is red, yellow and blue, and the curves are oddly hypnotic and definitely cheery. You can grab lunch at the Shake Shack if the line isn’t too long, or head across the street to Eataly for some tasty takeout to eat in the park.

The punk exhibit at The Met is worth a look, if only for the way they use a/v to create a full sensory overload. My favorite room is the one showcasing high fashion made from mundane objects. It’s amazing what can be done with a plain ‘ol plastic bag. Go early to avoid the crowds — we were there at 10am on a Sunday morning and we sailed through. Check out the gift shop at the end of the show, if only to browse the safety pin rings and the Radarte t-shirt that Rodarte designed for the show. (I liked it but had a hard time justifying the $115 price tag, so I skipped it.) The main Met gift shop has a really good selection of note cards if you’re in the need, as well as an interesting kids section.

MoMA has the rain — literally. The Rain Room lets you feel what it would be like if you could stop the rain. Located in the lot adjacent to the museum, there is water falling and it stops whenever it detects a human. The effect is rather breathtaking and definitely worth a wait in line, as the exhibit only accommodates ten people at a time. If you’re a MoMA member, you get priority access at all times, or, one of the better developments in recent MoMA history, every day only members get access to the museum between 9:30 and 10:30am. Between that and the discount at the store, membership is a no-brainer.

La La Liberace

I saw a preview copy of HBO’s Behind the Candelabra and I will say it is one of the more gutsy performances — from both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon — that I have seen in a while, and yet another example of the quality of content being produced for television. I’m too young to really remember Liberace, except as a punchline for over the top excess, but you don’t really need to remember him to get into the film. The story focuses on the showman and his boyfriend of several years, Scott Thorson, and all of the trials and tribulations of a very flamboyant performer who was in the closet and spending tons of money on cars, furs, jewelry and drugs. At its heart it’s a love story, and it goes there. If Matt Damon doesn’t win an Emmy for coming out of the pool in a rhinestone encrusted thong, then just call the whole thing off. And don’t miss a truly freaky turn by Rob Lowe as a creepy plastic surgeon. (Premieres May 26 on HBO.)

In Case of Emergency

My son has Little League all spring and many weekends just my daughter and me have headed to our house outside of the city. I never like to eat all of our meals out at restaurants — it feels like too much food and you can’t control how everything is cooked. But preparing dinner for just the 2 of us can be a little tricky. My daughter is a good and semi-adventurous eater, so I’m good with a green salad, pierogies (Mrs. T’s frozen ones are the best) and some sort of protein. I’m tired and rarely have time for a massive production, so I keep this Ken’s Steak House Teriyaki Marinade and Sauce on hand. I take salmon or chicken breasts, throw it into a glass bowl, cover it in the sauce, put a lid on it and put it in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours or so. When I’m ready I take it out, put it into a glass square pan sprayed with some Pam, and cook it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. The results are juicy, and tonight my daughter told me, “This is the best chicken I ever had.” High praise! Best of all even if I use a little of it, I can leave the rest in the bottle for the next time.

Etc.

I was hoping it would be sunnier today. We headed out for a walk and it started raining, so we had to turn back, not knowing if it would turn into a full on downpour (it didn’t)…When the sun started to go down I needed to put the heat on and start a fire! I’m hoping I get a good night’s sleep tonight. My allergies have been acting up something fierce and I think it has been affecting my slumber. I need the beauty sleep!

imperial-palace-cherry-blossom_13295_600x450I am hopeful that spring has finally sprung, people. And that calls for some changes in the routine. Some suggestions:

Breakfast: Get out of your cereal rut! Berries are back, more local, sweeter and at better prices. Get yourself some Greek yogurt (the nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s is tasty), top it with some raspberries and either wheat germ or granola and you have yourself a fresh and healthy way to start the day. Still hungry? If you have a favorite a bakery, buy some muffins, a few at a time, cut them in half and then freeze them. In the morning, pull out a half, throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds and voila! You have a delicious treat, with half the calories and at half the price than if you ate the whole dang thing at your desk.

Makeup: Lighten up! Banish the darker colors to the back of your drawer, or mix them with some good lip balm (Kiehl’s makes one of the best; Korres makes a nice natural one) and then put it on your lips with a lip brush or your fingers. That will soften your lips with a hint of color, and take you out of looking like Broomhilda.

Style: This sort of inbetween weather can pose a challenge when getting ready in the morning. I like a nice short-sleeved sweater with pants. That way you’re not sporting bare legs if the chilly morning doesn’t give way to a warmer afternoon, and the short sleeved sweater keeps it professional without seeming over dressed for the weather. (I work in a somewhat casual office and I reserve the sleeveless tank tops and gauzy dresses for the true dog days of summer — when it’s near 100 and no one can argue with the fact that you’ve got next to nothing on…) For guys, a cotton button down shirt in a spring color — turquoise gingham check? — keeps it awesome.

Food & Drink: More salads make sense — particularly for dinner. Arugula from the farmer’s market is the best. (Zesty!) And I figure if you’re saving a few calories, you have some left over to head out for some frozen yogurt for dessert…and pass the bottle of rose! It’s definitely my drink of choice when the weather gets warmer.

Plans: Get your butt outside! In most places, this is really the most glorious weather of the year, so do yourself a favor and plan some outdoor activities. Even if you plan to walk a few places instead of taking the car. Take a walk or a bike ride to Dunkin’ Donuts, where any size iced tea is only 99 cents! That’s a deal. We went to see the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and just that and the magnolia trees were worth the price of admission! (Go early to avoid the crowds.)

Etc.

I can’t decide if I’m liking Mad Men this season. But I am sticking with it, given that there’s only one more season after this!

I was send an advance copy of the new HBO Liberace movie starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, so I’ll let you know how it is…

Why are you still reading this? Get outside already!!

istanbul_mosqueJust back from Istanbul, and I have to say that exploring somewhere new is just good for your psyche. Not that this is a newsflash for anyone, but it was a good reminder for me. Just the small act of finding your way around a strange place and showing yourself how self-sufficient and resilient you can be gives us each a lot of faith in ourselves. I liked Turkey and the artifacts were really something to see — we think the rest of Europe is old, but when you are standing below ground in a 3rd century cistern, or turning the corner to see Moses’ staff from the parting of the Red Sea, you begin to have a whole other understanding of antiquities. The plunder from war was very good to the Ottoman Empire — and they have the emeralds and diamonds to show for it!

My son fell in love with this yogurt drink that they guzzle like Coke: Ayran. (I’m happy to report that we found some here in NYC at a Turkish restaurant on 14th Street.) We had lots of kebabs and these huge overstuffed potatoes called kumpir, We stayed in the Beyoglu area and that definitely felt like the place to be — lots of people out til all hours and just a palpable sense of energy, particularly on Istikial Street. Our favorite restaurant there was probably Konak Kebob, and head to Mado for dessert. It really is amazing how many different versions of baklava there are.

On the Bosphorous you definitely want to have a fish sandwich over the Galata Bridge in Eminonu. They catch it in the river. fry it up on a boat and hand it off to you to eat at a little wooden table, lemon juice optional, all for about $3. (And when the young men come around trying to sell you handwipes, buy them! Your hands will smell fishy.) Nearby is the Spice Market, which I liked better than the Grand Bazaar. Definitely worth a walk through if only for the spectacle of the colors and variety of spices. Further up the river is the Assk Cafe, which is a nice spot in a more quiet, exclusive area.

If you head up that way, the Hotel Les Ottomans has one of the nicest spas I’ve ever been to and if you want to experience a Turkish hammam, this is the place to do it in style. Go for the hour-long Citrus Remedy, where you get exfoliated, cleaned, massaged and moisturized, plus you get full use of the facilities, including the meditation room and steam room with salt inhalation. The ice exfoliation was particularly…reviving!

We took a nice boat ride on the river up to the Black Sea and headed over to the Asian side, where we had a tasty lunch of fresh fish kebabs and then took a bus down through a bunch of small towns. We got off in Kanlica to sample the yogurt.

Of course there’s the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Aya Sophia, and a little off the beaten path is the Istanbul Modern art museum, which had some interesting pieces and a hip vibe. (If you’re not Turkish, don’t be fooled by the “Free Thursdays” promotion — it’s only for the Turks.)

We finished up our trip with a traditional Turkish breakfast at Namli Gurme Karakoy, sitting outside near the Bosphorous, drinking Turkish tea and sopping up cream and honey with some Turkish bread.

All that’s left to say is “tesekkur ederim,” which means thank you and took us about half of our vacation to master. Someone gave us the tip that it’s like saying “tea sugar and a dream” really quickly, all together, so I pass that on to all of you.

Dry Me

Like most things in life, until you actually try something it’s hard to appreciate or understand it. Add towels to that list. I had heard of pestamels and seen people using them, usually as scarves and usually by people who some would refer to as “earthy.” They are thin towels, usually with tassels on the end, sometimes with stripes woven in. We are familiar with our western ways where bigger is better, and an absorbent towel translates to thick and cozy. But the beauty of a pestamel is that it’s super absorbent but never heavy, and it dries quickly. This makes them perfect for beach towels and as a regular towel in the summer. I was amazed how well it worked on my hair, getting most of the water out in no time flat. Like anything, there’s better quality pestamels. Jennifer’s Hammam in Istanbul carries particularly nice hand woven ones, and you can choose from cotton or bamboo. Definitely worth having a few around for the summer. And yes, in a pinch they can double as scarves, wraps…even a tablecloth!

Etc.

Slowly but surely we are getting over the time difference. Our first few days back we were all up around 5am and then ready to crash by 9pm, always fun…Finally the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better. Let’s hope it stays. I, for one, am sick of wearing socks!

NYC, End of Winter

March 4, 2013

It's usually more crowded than this...

It’s usually more crowded than this…

Well I had wishful thinking that the worst of winter was over, and that I could put my parka away, but no such luck. It’s still cold! (And I love how people say, “Stand in the sun, it’s fine.” No, it’s still cold! I actually threw a cardigan over the dress I’m wearing today, and it doesn’t look great. So when I sacrifice fashion for warmth, you know it’s cold.

Anyway, let’s make the best of it, shall we? This weekend I took my daughter ice skating with a couple of her friends. We were going to head to Chelsea Piers but went to The Standard Hotel instead. It’s a cute little rink and for kids it’s $6 for ice time; $3 to rent skates. (Adults pay $12 for ice time.) You can also get a 30 minute lesson for $25. It gets a little crowded but it’s manageable. They have penguins for the newbies to hold onto as they make their way around the rink. Afterwards you can head towards the tables in the back under the heat lamps for super rich hot chocolate and nutella and strawberry crepes at the Apres Skate Kaffeeklatsch. Be prepared for sticker shock — the hot chocolate is $7 a cup, and it’s so deeply chocolatey that most of the kids don’t like it. (Which leaves it for you to imbibe, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing.) You can also order more real food from a menu and a waiter from inside the hotel — the fries are quite tasty.

Sunday was their last skating day of this season, but put it on your list for next year. Even without the skating, it’s worth taking a walk over there with the High Line, the shops and many restaurants. It’s a nice afternoon spent doing nothing, but something, if you know what I mean.

Another One Bites the Dust

I’m very bummed that Mxyplyzyk has closed, the 20 year institution on Greenwich Ave. I loved that place for gifts and home accessories. Apparently they have a place in Jersey City if any of you are over that way.

Dinner in a Flash

If you’re having one of those nights when take out just won’t do and you haven’t got time to fuss, go the market and buy fresh potato gnocchi, a container of basil pesto and some frozen green peas. Boil the pasta according to the package directions, drain. In the same pot, put the frozen peas and cook a little to thaw. Spoon in the pesto sauce to heat through, Put the cooked gnocchi back in, stir together, serve with a side salad and voila, in less than 20 minutes and for less than $20 you have a tasty, healthy dinner for all. And if there are leftovers, someone can bring them for lunch the next day!

Etc.

I will say it is nice that the days are getting longer. I am headed to Texas this weekend so once again I will escape the chill — and maybe then when I return spring really well be poking its head!

Phoenix or Bust

February 27, 2013

Horseback riding -- fun for the whole family.

Horseback riding — fun for the whole family.

Just back from the warm and dry (and did I say warm?) world of sunny Arizona…when we got off the plane I think my whole family realized how sick and tired we were of the cold. If you need a getaway, the Phoenix area has a bunch to do with kids, starting with baseball and spring training! We went to a Cactus League game in Surprise (Rangers vs. Royals) and while the tickets aren’t cheap, for $40 a seat we were right behind the Kansas City dugout, had our chances at a few foul balls and our son managed to snag some autographs.

If you were talking to my children, they would far and away recommend Crackerjax in Scottsdale, which has bumper boats, 3 miniature golf courses, batting cages, a driving range and 2 different sized go karts. You can pay by the ride or for a 4 hour block of unlimited fun — on Tuesdays it’s only $15 a person. It’s right down the road from Scottsdale’s Kierland Commons, where you can get a little shopping in and have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.

Horseback riding seemed to be the far and away favorite activity of the trip. We went to Ponderosa Stables and a group of about 10 of us took a lovely afternoon ride for about an hour. The horses were very friendly and seemed to know the terrain well, so everyone from my 5 year old daughter to my parents were able to ride along relatively easily. The cowboys were incredibly nice and it really allows you to get out and enjoy the desert terrain in its un-strip malled state, which is getting rarer and rarer there as the population explodes.

My son wanted to try the Elephant Bar, which is a chain that we don’t have back east, but we never had time. We did go to La Grande Orange Grocery in downtown Phoenix, which by day is a general store and a counter service restaurant. The food is local, fresh and organic and you can choose anything from a chick pea wrap to sushi or a host of salads. Really something for everyone, at reasonable prices. At night it turns into a full service restaurant with wood burning ovens for pizza. Use the valet service (it’s free) as it gets difficult to park.

Speaking of pizza, we had to try Pizzeria Bianco, which for years now has been voted the best pizza in the country. Yes, in the whole U.S. Apparently the lines to get in can get ridiculous (it’s a small place), but we went for a late lunch on a weekday and it wasn’t too bad. Everything they use is homemade, from the dough to the cheese to the basil that the chef grows in his garden. It’s definitely delish and worth a try, if you don’t have to wait 4 hours. It’s a little hard to find even with Google maps so leave a little extra time.

The Heard Museum, where I hadn’t been in many years, had a lot of different activities for the kids, with different crafts. If you want to learn about the plight of the Indians in the west, this is the place to go. It’s a bit on the high side to get in (adults are $18) but you can save $1 per person if you have AAA. (It’s something!) The main gift store has ridiculously high end items, but there is a separate store across the way that has mostly books but some other items that are much more reasonable.

It’s close enough for most people that you can do a long weekend in Phoenix, and there is certainly enough to fill several days of activities. Sometimes the nicest thing is to grab a margarita and just sit outside in the sunshine.

Etc.

It’s amazing how quickly you lose your vacation zen when it’s back to reality…but what can you do. That’s why it’s always good to have something else planned that you can look forward to, because it all goes so fast.

The days are getting longer here in the northeast, which is nice. A few more weeks and we should be on our way to spring!!

February Blahs

February 14, 2013

Winter_Imagery_Wallpaper_vkhaoIt has been a cold winter here in the Northeast, which is good and bad: good because frankly I was starting to get worried I would never again wear all of my lovely heavy coats and sweaters, and bad because, well, it’s freakin’ cold. And though I am heading for warmer air for the next week (hello sunny Arizona!), it has been a long sludge and just about everyone has the dreaded February blahs. So besides imbibing copious amount of vino, here are some tips to get you through:

Dry Skin Is The Enemy: Nothing makes people look more zombie-like or older than their years than dry skin and hair. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, unless you live somewhere temperate where there are no seasons, you must change up your skin routine between summer and winter. (And newsflash, the older you get, the more this is so, I’m afraid.) I do my regular moisturizer with spf every morning but then morning and night I add some of Tata Harper’s Replenishing Nutrient Complex, which I’ve recommended before on this here Family Favs. It’s light enough to layer but definitely has kept the dry away. I’ve been following the cult product argan oil for a while, and this winter I jumped in by buying Josie Maran’s Argan Oil Hair Serum. (Another recent recommendation from this here blog.) I put a squirt or 2 on each morning after towel drying my hair, and I like that it doesn’t weigh down my hair or mess with my style. It looks healthy without feeling greasy.

Supplements Can Help: I was talking to my dermatologist recently and she told me she was always skeptical about supplements (as was I), but that she really believed there were a few that could make a difference: Fish Oil for skin and heart and lots of other things; Biotin for hair; and Vitamin D for vitality and bone health. (Vitamin D is especially important in the winter given the reduced exposure to sunlight.) She also told me to get them at Trader Joe’s — cheaper than the drugstore!

Head To The Gym: If you can’t get outside to work out, nothing boosts your mood like a good sweat. If you don’t want to lay out the cash for a full on gym membership, there are so many places that offer great classes that you can pay as you go. Yoga, Pilates, Spinning (apparently Soul Cycle recently had a shirtless Bradley Cooper taking part — there’s some motivation for you) — pick your poison and make it a priority. I have become intrigued by TRX, and am going to try it out one of these days. I’m still obsessed with the Precor True Stride, but a girl needs a little variety! I tried a Zumba class a couple of weeks ago, which was fun and a good alternative. Even if the rest of the day is crap, if I can get a workout in in the morning, I feel somewhat productive.

Embrace The Chill: You know what? Sometimes the weather is a great excuse to curl up inside and do things you never have time for. Put that photo album together, watch a movie, read a book, bake a cake. Take a break from running around like a crazy person and get something off your to do list.

Try one, try all — for me, whatever works to keep the winter blues away, I’ll take it! Spring is coming soon…

Etc.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you lovely and wonderful Family Favs readers! Big hugs to all of you, today and always.