Road trip time!!

OK people! The clock is ticking. School is almost out, and it’s that time of year when you pack up your little people and hit the road for Family Vacation.  You’re either counting the days or dreading it (or more likely a little of both).  Personally I LOVE having my kids to myself for a bit over the summer, as I have to share them with school, friends, and endless activities for the rest of the year.  I am excited to be their buddy, their teacher and their exploration co-captain for a little bit before they get back on the growing up train.

Honestly though let’s all agree – there are inevitable complications when everyone is out of their element, jet-lagged, trying to settle in to unfamiliar beds, sampling “interesting” foods, stretching their comfort zones, and adjusting to unaccustomed oodles of “togetherness.”

People always marvel when we tell them how much we travel with our kids, but I need you to know that even on the BEST TRIP EVER usually at least one person in our family loses it at least once a day.  There are glares and huffs and tears and meltdowns and irrational proclamations and cringy behavior, and not just from the kids.  It’s part of the deal, along with grand adventures, fabulous photo ops, beautiful moments of revelation, and once-in-a-lifetime memories.  Like a lot of our parenting low moments we tend to edit them out of our trip stories and even our recollections.  But they happen regularly.  I think if you know this going in to your voyage, you’re more likely to take those bumps in stride.   I also believe the more you travel with your kids, the more you amortize those en-route hiccups and realize the greater enjoyment of venturing out across the world together overall.

I also know from experience that preparation is essential.  And also food.  A lot of food.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Snack early – snack often.  You too grumpy grownups!!!

Here are some tips for family travel that we have amassed over the years:


Creating a travel journal is super fun for journeys large or small. You can collaborate on one as a family or have each kid dream up their own.  This is a free-form project so give them the tools and a nudge and let them get creative!   Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Get a blank notebook (unruled if you can) at MoleskineMuji, or check your local office supply store for mini sized three-ring binders with blank paper inserts.
  • Stock a zippered pencil bag with glue stick, glue dots, multi-colored pens, watercolors, kids scissors, stickers, mini post-its.
  • Bring a re-sealable plastic bag or manila envelope.
  • Throughout the trip, have your kids collect plane tickets, cards from restaurants, hotel keys, postcards, museum ticket stubs, paper menus, pretty leaves, tooth picks, tiny shells or whatever little 2D knick knacks they find along the way. Glue them into the journal as you go!
  • Leave space to draw, make notes, and record funny or interesting things that happened.
  • Bring your journal to a museum and sketch your favorite artwork.
  • Buy postcards and glue on one side, sketch your own version onto the other.
  • Create funny commentary with thought bubble stickers
  • Use a Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera to instantly print mini-pics you can stick right in your journal.
  • Have fun decorating the cover with stickers, photos or pictures of the trip.


My daughter is a huge fan of the Travel Watercolor Kit, and it has become a trip essential for her.  Use the postcards or stationary from your hotel room to paint watercolors in down time before bed.  Bring along a pack of blank watercolor postcards and your kids can create their own postcards to send home.


Put a kid-friendly digital camera on a lanyard and let your kids go snap crazy.  We adults seem to be always caught up with our check list of sights and monuments and tall buildings when we are traveling.  Kids notice the most interesting, poignant little things along their paths.  It is amazing to literally see the world through their eyes in a way they may never be able to tell us with their words.

Celebrate their unique impressions in a dedicated photo flip book at Shutterfly – 20 pages for about $20.

If you can upload them while you are traveling, kids can also use their photos to make instant postcards with customized messages that can be ordered online and sent directly from the road!!

The camera doesn’t have to break the bank!!  Here are a couple of good reviews of cameras for kids.  I recommend finding the smallest most portable one you can that takes semi-decent pictures.  The bigger ones are durable but too heavy/clumsy for kids to really keep track of all the time (read: Mom can you carry this?):


I usually have an arsenal of small surprises that I pack in my kids’ carry-on bag and/or dole out throughout the trip.  Every journey has inevitable doldrums, layovers, long waits at a restaurant or the train station.  A little surprise always breaks the tension when kids get antsy, and my kids now really look forward to these little pick me ups!!

  • MadLibs are always a crowd pleaser…
  • Coloring books – you can find “Zen” coloring books just about anywhere now and they come in small travel sizes great for the car, restaurant or airplane. If you’re headed to a major city, chances are there’s one themed for your destination like ParisLondon or New York.
  • Unveil a new book to read.  Do a little research before you leave and find a book themed for your destination.  There are usually picture books for younger kids, maybe a Magic Treehouse title for your young grade schooler, or local legends/mythology/history for older readers. If you are up for it – get something you can read together that will inspire conversation about your experiences.
  • Magnetic backgammon/checkers
  • Story cubes – I am a big fan of these little cubes – super portable, creative, engaging and endlessly entertaining for all ages. Roll the dice and use the pictures to craft creative stories on the fly.
  • I also love Eeboo’s “Tell Me a Story” cards.
  • Rubik’s Cube – it’s still around for a reason…
  • Mini dominoes – dominoes are super fun and you can create an easy game for youngsters or get a good competition going with the older set.
  • Brush up on your juvenile humor with joke books like National Geographic Kids Just Joking: 300 Hilarious Jokes, Tricky Tongue Twisters, and Ridiculous Riddles or Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.
  • NEVER forget a deck of cards!   From Memory to Solitaire to Go Fish to Hearts, there is nothing easier to bring or enjoy.

OK parents – you’re OFF!!

Happy trails, keep it in perspective, stretch yourselves, be present, breathe, enjoy the unforgettable moments, bear with it through the rough spots, don’t forget to eat, and I hope this summer holds wonderful experiences near and far for your family.








Posted in Family, Family travel, Kids, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cabo Baby!

I have been vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico since the mid-1990s (old I am!), and have watched it grow from a scruffy spring break party town into a destination for families, retirees, cruise ships, grown up getaways, and yes still party weekends!  You’ll get a lot of differing opinions on what has been gained or lost along the way, but I think it has held onto its unique character even as the streets have been paved, and elegant new resorts have sprung up along Medano Beach and the cliffs of Pedregal.  Personally, I love that despite all the new – you can still have a fun silly feast at Mi Casa, dance it off at the Nowhere Bar, and get a plate of fresh seafood and a bucket of beer with toes in the sand at The Office the next afternoon.


There are TONS of dining options in Cabo San Lucas these days – here are just a few of our go to favorites:

Tres Gallos – – I love the beautifully tiled big open kitchen with baskets of every kind of chile imaginable arrayed along the quaint courtyard dining area.  The queso fundido with chorizo and an array of beautiful salsas is a great way to kick off the meal.  Despite my intentions to branch out, I cannot help ordering the pozole with its savory pork and hominy broth topped with fresh crunchy shredded cabbage and radishes.  Truly everything is good, but try the mole if you like mole – it’s the real deal.

Manta at the Cape Hotel – Superstar chef Enrique Olvera (of Pujol in Mexico City) has spearheaded the menu at this spot.  Honestly it’s the best food I have ever had in Cabo, and not so crazy expensive considering the sophisticated quality.  Locally sourced, Mexican inspired, but wholly original.  Stop by the roof bar of the swank new Cape Hotel for incredible sunset views over Medano Beach and the arch at Land’s End.

Carnitas Los Michoacanos – If you are staying in a villa and are tired of eating out, make a run into town for an all inclusive carnitas feast to go, complete with delicious roast pork by the kilo, fresh made tortillas, beans, salsas, peppers, chicharrones (fried pork rind) and more.  It’s a major crowd pleaser!  There are a couple of locations in Cabo, but the most convenient to downtown is on Leona Vicario, between Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon.

Patagonia – We used to love going to this place when it was in a cinderblock courtyard bordering a huge outdoor parilla (grill), with the friendly Argentine owner happily grilling South American cuts of the best beef with a big glass of Malbec in hand.  They moved to an enclosed restaurant just up the street from Mi Casa a few years ago which is a little less atmospheric, but the air conditioning doesn’t hurt… Need your protein fix?  This is it.  If you have a group, try the mixed grill with a sampling of different meats and vegetables. Av. Cabo San Lucas cross Av. 5 de Mayo

El Farallon – This tiny restaurant at The Resort at Pedregal is literally hewn from the cliff, with a champagne bar and the freshest seafood grilled to order as Pacific waves crash at your feet (um, and sometimes ON your feet).  This incredibly romantic spot is definitely a splurge, but it is a beautiful and unique dining experience.

Hacienda Cocina – We have dinner at this elegant/casual beachfront restaurant almost every time we visit Cabo.  Sample the house selection of micheladas or mojitos as party boats below boogie back into Cabo harbor, bustling Medano Beach settles slowly down, and layers of dusk fall over the beautiful arch at Land’s End.  Steps down from the pool level are a small handful of tables atmospherically tucked into the sand.   My favorite bites here are the crab flautas, the arachera steak to share, the “casuela de mariscos” with an assortment of succulent seafood, and the “molcajete,” a molten hot lava bowl heaped with sizzling meats, vegetables and cheese.  Please please save room for the cuatro leches cake (as if tres wasn’t enough?) and the churros with chocolate and caramel sauces.

Flora Farm – The amazing Flora Farm restaurant is a good 50 minutes away past San Jose del Cabo.  It is one of my favorite restaurants on earth and I urge you to make the trek – but if you can’t, at least stop by their new farm shop in Cabo San Lucas.  It’s on the corner at the end of town across from the giant performing arts center that looks like a crumpled up grey paper ball (on Blvd Paseo de la Marina at Calle Cabo San Lucas).  You can pick up fresh made sausages, gorgeous baked breads, organic seasonal vegetables, and herbal balms and soaps.  Best of all, belly up to the wooden bar for inventive infused cocktails like the watermelon julep or a carrot margarita.


I am over-programmed most of the time, and I NEED to be unscheduled for just a minute please!  Unfortunately, after about a day I get itchy just sitting by the pool.  Plus I have two energetic tweens who need a little more to do than just splash in the baby pool for 6 hours. So over the years we have ventured farther and farther afield from our shaded lounge chair paradise.  Here are a few adventures you can slot in to your day, and still be back in time for siesta and sundowners…

  • One of our favorite patch it together yourself excursions is easily achieved right out of the harbor in Cabo if you don’t mind a little negotiating on site.  Head down to the dock near the dolphin experience center and hire a boat from the dispatcher who manages the fleet of water taxis (pangas) parked there.  Make sure they have life jackets sized for your kids.  The driver will cruise you out past the arch, pointing out rock formations, sea creatures and supposed celebrity abodes along the way.  If you have competent swimmers aboard hop off for a dip at Lover’s Beach (yes you can trust they will come back for you!), and then have them ultimately drop you on Medano Beach for lunch at The Office  Make a reservation before you go, and ask for a table near the back to avoid the vendors, or the front if you want to easily hop into the sea between Pacificos…
  • Outside of Medano Beach many of the Pacific Coast and Sea of Cortez beaches are too treacherous for swimming.  There are a couple of good spots for families and beginners not too far from Cabo though.  Santa Maria Bay and Chileno Bay are the two main spots to snorkel along the corridor, and most of the snorkel cruises you book from town will take you to these. If you rent a car they are safe and easily accessible if you’re willing to schlep your own gear, water and towels. There is construction with new resorts going up at both locations, but the beaches are still publicly accessible from the corridor highway.  Last time we were there, Chileno Bay had a nice parking lot, bathrooms, and a few palapas for early arrivers, while Santa Maria had no facilities.  They both offer nice swimming and ok snorkeling most of the time, although it’s always advisable to check the sea conditions before heading out as occasional faraway ocean storms bring larger waves and colder water to this area.
  • Cabo Surf Hotel – A little more than halfway back along the corridor road to San Jose you’ll find the Cabo Surf Hotel on the right.  Enjoy a leisurely lunch at the cliffside restaurant overlooking the sea, while aspiring surfers tackle beginner waves at the Mike Doyle Surf School on the beach below.  If you’re in your own car, as you get back on the corridor road make sure to stop in the pullout at the top of the cliff just above the hotel for a great view down the beach and a fresh cold coconut!!
  • Cerritos beach – About 35 minutes up the Pacific Coast from Cabo San Lucas, Playa Cerritos offers long rolling surf perfect for both advanced and beginner surfers, boogie boarding and body surfing, and even splashing about in the shallows for the littler ones.  With a fun beach bar and restaurant, clean bathrooms, attentive lifeguards, surf lessons, board rentals, inexpensive beach massages, live music on Sundays, and absolutely no crowds, you’re pretty much living the dream.  The recently expanded highway has made this well-kept secret much more accessible and well worth the drive.
  • Los Cabos Horses – My equestrienne daughter and I discovered these stables last year.  Not just the typical tourist shack with sad scrappy ponies for hire, this is a true equestrian center offering lessons and absolutely beautiful trail rides through arroyos and along the beach near Cabo Real.  The owner trains the famous Mexcian “dancing” horses, and also offers horse drawn carriage rides for weddings, etc.  It’s a real horse center, and if you like to ride you’ll really appreciate the lovely horses they offer visitors.





Posted in Family travel, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tokyo tastes…


Japan has been on my bucket list for a long long long long time, and I thought this post would be all about how I am so happy to have checked that box with our Winter trip last month.  My takeaway however was quite the opposite.  After 10 days in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan has now moved UP my list of desired destinations.  There is so much to see, eat, do and take in.  So many beautiful stores with (to me) mysterious products so meticulously packaged, hospitable people bowing and calling out welcome through every shop doorway, fascinating neighborhoods with neon lights and tiny alleys, skyscrapers and traditional wooden buildings, tantalizing displays of gorgeous foods in the windows at every turn.

Tokyo is huge – like 8 Manhattans population wise.  Get a birds eye view from one of the many towers, skyscrapers or top floor bar/restaurants, and you’ll see it stretch to the horizon in every direction.  Even if you diligently hit top tourist spots in a few days, you WILL miss a lot more than you see.  I think it’s a good place to go with a theme in mind (samurais! gardens! technology!), and mine of course was FOOD!!

Before we left I started a list of typical Japanese foods to try beyond the usual sushi and miso soup fare.  Needless to say my list was greatly expanded…


  • Okonomiyaki – Japanese savory pancakes with a flour/sweet potato/dashi/egg batter, rough chopped cabbage and vegetables, meat or seafood, topped with bonito flakes, seaweed, Japanese mayonnaise and a thick sweet sauce. Locals cook their own on a hot teppan grill in the center of the table, but first timers are recommended to ask the restaurant to assemble and cook them for you (no shame they’re used to doing it for guests). Monja is the Tokyo style pancake which is chopped a bit thinner.
  • Soba – hand made buckwheat noodles served hot or cold with or without broth.
  • Yakitori – grilled chicken skewers. There are yakitori restaurants but these are also a delicious street food.
  • Tonkatsu – breaded fried pork cutlets, usually served as a meal with miso soup, rice and other sides.
  • Mixed katsu – we saw this at a street stall. It’s basically breaded fried mashed potatoes, ground meats, fish cakes, veggies, etc. A great two-bite snack!
  • Shabu shabu – Japanese hot pot eaten family style. Can be a homey dish or very elegant and expensive with kobe beef.
  • Ramen!!!!!
  • Marinated boiled eggs – these are soaked in the pork broth base for ramen soup and then served as a topping for ramen. I recommend asking for yours half cooked (soft boiled) so it is oozy in your soup.
  • Kushiyage restaurants – sit at the bar and watch as individual meats, fish and veggies are breaded in panko, flash fried and served one at a time, each with their own little sauce. You eat whatever comes your way until you are full and then they count your skewers to tabulate your bill.
  • Kaiseke restaurants are basically high-end beautiful multi course tasting menus. We didn’t try one, but there are several famous and very fancy ones around town to find!
  • Isakaya – like a mixed restaurant that serves a bit of everything
  • Japanese sweet potato – this staple veggie shows up in a lot of dishes and side dishes
  • Miso soup briny with tiny clams
  • Tempura  – pretty much anything you can think of is turned into tempura and served with a delicious dipping sauce, often as a street food too. Our favorites were the maitake mushrooms and sliced lotus root.
  • Takoyaki – this Japanese fast food specialty is basically balls of fried octopus topped with shaved bonito and mayonnaise served piping hot.  Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, it’s the ultimate street food/bar snack!
  • Raw shrimp sushi – shrimp is usually served cooked at Japanese restaurants in the U.S., but the shrimp is so fresh and sweet in Japan it’s delicious raw.
  • Sea urchin – this buttery, briny little sea critter is such a delicacy to me, but seems to be much more prevalent in Japan. If you love it, it’s a great place to get your fix.
  • Myoga – this little flower-like vegetable is sometimes called Japanese ginger (although it tastes nothing like ginger). Only the flower is used and is usually sautéed or used as a garnish. Pretty!
  • Burdock root – This nutritious root vegetable shows up in all sorts of dishes. It was recommended for us to try cooking them at home – peel, cut into matchsticks, soak, drain, and sauté with carrot, sesame oil, sugar, mirin, sake, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Just need to find a market that carries it!
  • Kogomi – these tender little curled up fern fronds are just around in the early spring, and we were lucky to try them.
  • Cold sticky rice wrapped in tofu skin – Appease hungry little tourists (and grown ups too) with this grab and go snack!
  • Maitake mushrooms – the name means “dance,” I think because they’re so good you want to do a jig.  Yeah!
  • Oden – Vegetables and fish cakes poached in a soy and fish stock.
  • Yakiniku restaurants – Order thin slices of beef and pork to cook yourself on a little grill in the middle of the table.
  • Pickles – Do not miss trying the myriad Japanese pickles you’ll find all over!!  Each vegetable is different – salty, briny, savory and deliciously fun to explore.
  • Sparkling cold sake – Slightly sweet, moderately bubbly and such a refreshing accompaniment to Japanese foods.


  • The Shin-Marunouchi Building near Tokyo Station (accessible underground from the station) has more than 65 restaurants. Seriously… Even crazier is that this is apparently not that unusual for Tokyo!  It’s great for hungry sight seers as there is literally something for everyone… You can just wander the floors and pop in anywhere that looks good to you (based on the pictures – there is very little translation). We spontaneously had one of our best meals of the week at Teppan Yaki Ten Honmaru with a beautiful view of Tokyo station from our table.
  • Fish for your own dinner at Zuao Restaurant which has several branches around Tokyo. Grab a fishing pole and catch fish from your table, which are then prepared to order.
  • Seryna Shabu Shabu – Set in the tippy top of a skyscraper overlooking Tokyo this elegant spot offers gorgeous Japanese beef for you to cook in boiling broth at your table. A splurge but delicious. Ask for a seat by the window! Shinjuki
  • Namiki Yabu Soba – If you’re touring around Asakusa duck behind a little sliding screen door to find tatami mats, saki from a barrel in the corner, best soba you’ll probably ever eat and not a lot else. Amazing hand made soba noodles are served in a delicious smoky broth – you choose the topping like duck and meatballs, tempura, etc.  There’s no website but here’s a good article about the restaurant:   Asakusa
  • Tatsukichi – Sit at the bar of this upscale kushiyagi restaurant and watch the chefs prepare bitesized morsels on a stick for you to be paired with individual sauces. Shinjuku
  • Aoyama Flower Market TEA HOUSE – Tucked behind a beautiful florist is an ethereal tea room serving elaborate desserts, floral teas and cocktails. – Omotesando and Aoyama Street intersection just outside Omotesando station
  • Tanagokoro Tea Room – This zen spot resides on the third floor above the Tanagokoro charcoal store.  Hushed birdsong soothes as you sip delicate teas, mindfully nibble tiny sweets and gaze out the window at bustling Ginza shoppers below. Ginza
  • Ramble through the super narrow streets of Golden Gai or Omoide Yokocho (aka “Memory Lane”) in Shinjuku, each jammed with teensy restaurants and bars. Shimmy in for a little saki and a small plate of yakitori fresh from the wee grill.


Tokyo is an endless retail adventure. You can spend days weaving through ultra elegant department stores, family run housewares and ceramics shops near the fish market, or the underground retail labyrinth in any subway station. There are the most amazingly colorful sweet shops, tea purveyors with little cakes or green tea ice creams, and even the myriad beauty products at the corner drugstore are fascinating. The kids were also delighted by the 100yen ($1) stores, not to mention the awesome vending machines with hot drinks and snacks…

Here are a few of our favorite finds:

  • Masahisa Cutlery – offers a wide array of beautiful hand-forged knives and other cutlery. This family business has been making knives for centuries. Tsujiki
  • Kyukyodo – This epic Japanese paper store has been in business since 1633! Ginza
  • Akomeya – I am in LOVE with this gorgeous Japanese rice and specialty foods store that’s like a high-end Japanese Williams-Sonoma meets Dean & Deluca. It’s not large but it’s beautiful and totally worth seeking out in a little alley in Ginza. Don’t neglect to go upstairs for ceramics and kitchen goods. There is also a little café in the back. Ginza
  • Itoya – many floors of stationary, paper, crafts, sleek office supplies and more with a café at the top. Ginza
  • Tsutaya Books at the Daikanyama T-Site has been called “One of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world.” Three connected architecturally beautiful buildings include a gorgeous book-lined library/lounge/cafe with luxurious leather couches and full bar made out of stacked books. Spend a rainy afternoon perusing vintage magazines, cookbooks, art tomes, videos, English language titles and a whole section on cars and motorcycles. The complex and neighborhood are full of great little boutiques including a Leica camera store and Okura, a store featuring clothing dyed in pure indigo, and made from Japanese paper.   Shibuya (a bit of a walk from the station – Naka-Meguro station is much closer)
  • Shopping Streets
    • Meiji Dori Street – Walk from Shibuya Station up to Omotesando
    • Harajuku – Walk down Takeshita Dori starting at Yoyogi park for lots of cheap trendy little shops, but keep going for more interesting little boutiques as it crosses Meiji Dori and winds its way back to Omotesando.
    • Nakamise dori – This busy street leading up to the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa full of little souvenirs, chopsticks, fans, kimonos, and more. Go early to beat the crowds.


  • We got SUICA cards and took the subway everywhere.  It’s really not hard to figure out even though people warn you it’s complicated. If you have kids, take your passports to the ticket window for discounted SUICA cards for them.  SUICA cards are also good for buses and Japan Rail, plus you can buy awesome stuff from the vending machines with them!!
  • Ninja wifi – We rented this router for the week so we could all plug into the wifi from anywhere around town and didn’t have to use data on our phones.  Super easy pick up and drop off points at the airport, and it was a major convenience!
  • 7/11 banks – Although you can use credit cards to pay for most things, many Japanese banks and ATMs do not take U.S. bank/credit cards to get cash.  Bring some cash, and plan to take money out at 7/11 (randomly they are all over Tokyo).
  • Drink lots of water – Japanese food is SALTY!


  • Many Japanese words do not translate perfectly into English, especially as there are levels of formality in the language and culture that are unfamiliar to us.  Here are a few short words that were useful along the way:
    • Konnichiwa – hello, good day
    • Konbowa – good evening
    • Ohayou (sounds like Ohio)/gozaimasu – good morning/formal
    • Arrigato/gozaimasu – thank you/formal
    • Irasshaimase – welcome/can I help you (what shopkeepers say when you enter)
    • Suimasen – excuse me/sorry
    • Siyonara – goodbye
    • Oishi So! – DELICIOUS!!!!!
Posted in Asia, Delicious, Family travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

(Sugar) Free Lunch


My dear friend and passionate nutritionist Binay (Bacon & Broccoli) is currently leading a super educational five-week sugar detox program that focuses on getting unhooked from unhealthy eating habits and rehooked on delicious, nutritious whole foods.  Now if you know me, you know I am very resistant to cleansing, fasting, juicing, or pretty much anything that involves strict dieting.  I seriously don’t have the will power, I detest stressing about food, and I am just frankly not convinced I need to radically change my eating habits.  I eat pretty well already without majorly fussing about it.  I believe we should all eat a balanced diet, heavy on the produce, moderate but inclusive of most other stuff, and of course avoid processed crap altogether. The end.  This is a diet I can live with daily, generally makes me feel good, and allows me to indulge in lots of small ways without guilt.

HOWEVER, I am really becoming a convert on this issue of excess sugar as a serious toxin to our bodies.  One of the leading researchers on this topic, Dr. Robert Lustig gave an amazing talk last year at Speak To Me on this topic, and the facts just stack up.   I will not belabor the details here, but I urge you find out more for yourself and your family.  Sugar is really killing us – no joke.

Check out Binay’s blog at

Get a video of Dr. Lustig’s talk at and find out more on his FB page:

Anyhoo.  So I undertook to teach a “delicious sugar-free cooking” class as part of this detox program, and thought I would share our lunch menu which DOES INCLUDE DESSERT!   There are a lot of components here, but each one of these dishes is pretty quick and easy.   You could quickly whip up any one of them in no time, and they are very forgiving – so get creative and make them your own!!

Padron Peppers

These mostly mild bite-size peppers from Spain are now pretty commonly available at higher end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Molly Stone. Pepper roulette – watch out some of the big ones can be a bit spicy!

  • 1 pack of padron peppers rinsed and dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • Crunchy finishing salt such as fleur de sel, or I love the hand harvested sea salt from Jacobsen These are also great with Tajin, the ubiquitous Mexican chili lime salt

Heat oil in a large sauté pan – you don’t want to crowd the peppers.   When the pan is hot drop in the peppers and flip them around occasionally until they are nicely browned on all sides. You may need to take the smaller ones out sooner so they don’t burn. Remove from pan, squeeze the lime over them, dust with salt and eat quickly before your spouse or friend hogs them all.


Gazpacho – serves 6

This classic Spanish cold soup is perfect for lunch, and can be kept for a couple of days in the fridge to have on hand when you need a quick snack. Traditionally, day old bread is used to thicken the soup, but we’re skipping the carbs and I truly believe it’s equally good with just the veggies. I find that the sweetness and flavor of cherry tomatoes is more consistent outside of peak tomato season when the big ones are often mealy and bland.   You can add fresh herbs if you like – basil, cilantro, mint are good!

  • 2 packs cherry tomatoes rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper – color of your choice, stem, seeds and membrane removed, rough chopped
  • 1 cucumber – peeled, halved lengthwise and seeds removed with a spoon, rough chopped
  • 1 celery rib – trimmed and chopped into a couple of large pieces
  • ¼ medium size red onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 large clove garlic – chopped roughly
  • 1 ½ cups tomato juice
  • 1 T red wine vinegar – plus more to taste
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 4-6 ice cubes
  • 2 t salt – or more to taste – don’t be afraid to make this nice and salty – the salt really brings out the flavors of the veggies
  • White pepper – couple of grinds

Puree the whole party in a blender or food processor. Taste for acidity and salt and adjust as necessary. Tada! You can make it rustic and chunky or super smooth – whatever you like…

IMG_8155       IMG_8156

Bitter greens with poblano peppers, pickled radishes, toasted quinoa and toasted cumin/lime dressing – serves 6

This salad has a nice range of flavors and textures that help elevate it beyond the old lettuce and cold veggies on a plate staple. The toasted cumin dressing really warms it up and brings it all together.  We omitted cheese, but a tangy fresh feta or shaved ricotta salata would be a great addition as well!

  • 1 red onion – peeled and cut crosswise into 3/4″ thick rounds trying to keep all the layers together
  • 4 medium poblano peppers – seeds and membrane removed, cut into strips
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white quinoa
  • Bitter greens – we used radicchio, baby mustard greens, white and red endive, arugula and spinach – washed and well dried
  • 1 cup jicama – peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small bulb fennel – halved, cored and thin sliced. Reserve the fronds if you want to add to the salad
  • Roasted salted pepitas
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup pickled radishes (see recipe below)
  • 2 avocados
  1. Place the red onion rounds on a grill pan over medium heat, sprinkle with a little salt and allow to slowly cook/blacken for about 10 minutes. Carefully use tongs to flip and cook the other side. The goal is to have them very soft and almost caramelized. Chop into strips.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the poblanos until they are well softened and browned on the outside.
  3. Cover the quinoa in cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Swish and rinse 2-3 times to remove soapy residue from the hulls. Drain. Heat a frying pan and add quinoa stirring frequently until it becomes dry and begins to toast to a nice fragrant brown. They burn quickly once they are dry so don’t walk away!
  4. Cut the avocados into bite size pieces just before you dress and toss the salad to avoid oxidation.
  5. Toss the greens, jicama, poblanos, onion, radishes and fennel together and dress sparingly with the cumin/lime vinaigrette. Top with pepitas, cilantro, toasted quinoa, and avocados and serve immediately.

Pickled radishes

  • bunch red radishes – washed and greens removed, thin sliced
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
  • 1 t yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 bay leaf

Mix the vinegar and spices together and pour over the radishes in a clean glass container, submerging completely.   Marinate for 30 minutes and/or refrigerate for up to a week.

Toasted cumin and lime dressing

  • 1 T cumin seeds
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 t Salt

In a dry pan, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant. Grind to a powder in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.   Whisk together cumin and remaining ingredients, and taste – adding more lime juice or salt as necessary.

Marinated grilled shrimp – serves 6 for lunch

Here’s a quick simple marinade for shrimp.  Of course you can swap out the herbs, punch it up with more garlic, or sub in lemon for lime.  Go crazy. The shrimp are still the star though so use the best quality you can find.

  • 3 dozen large shrimp – peeled and deveined
  • 1 large clove garlic – minced
  • 1 T dried oregano – I prefer Greek Oregano if you can get it
  • 1 t salt
  • Juice of 2 limes and/or tajin (Mexican chili lime salt)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 additional limes cut into wedges to squeeze at the table

Marinate the shrimp for about 1 hour in the refrigerator. Grill in a pan for 2-3 minutes per side until just pink and curled but not tough (please – I hate overcooked shrimp).

Serve with lime wedges and/or Tajin

Guilt-free coconut panna cotta – makes 6-8

I love this dessert and seriously can’t believe it’s sugar free. I had this for breakfast this morning too – utterly delicious! Use canned organic coconut milk – not the “culinary” coconut milk, which is mixed with coconut cream and has a granular texture that is not desirable in this creamy dish.

  • 2 cans (about 4 cups) organic coconut milk
  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 8-10 cardamom pods – crushed gently with the side of a heavy knife
  • Small pinch salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 cup wide flat dehydrated unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Assorted berries

Heat the coconut milk in a pan, reserving 3 T to the side in a bowl. When almost boiling add the cardamom pods, cover, remove from the heat and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain the pods out of the milk and return the milk almost to a boil.   Stir in salt and vanilla.

Dissolve the gelatin in the reserved coconut milk, and whisk the mixture into the hot milk until fully dissolved.

Pour equally into small glasses, cups or ramekins and chill until set (about 2 hours)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a baking sheet and toast for 3-4 minutes until light brown. Cool to room temperature.

To serve, top each panna cotta with a few coconut flakes, a scant ¼ t of orange zest and 2-3 berries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grand Canyon and Beyond: Great Family Destinations in Northern Arizona

Between us, my husband and I have been to all ends of the earth and almost every continent (Antarctica here we come!), but somehow neither of us had ever visited the Grand Canyon almost in our own back yard.  Why?  Honestly I was sort of avoiding it, thinking it was going to be majorly overcrowded, touristy and underwhelming.  Well, we finally took the kids a few months ago and literally had one of our best trips ever.   We visited the Grand Canyon for a few days and then toured a bit around some of the historical and geological sites of northern Arizona.   We had a week but really could have taken so much more time!   I know a lot of people are making summer plans now, so here are our notes from the adventure:


The two main websites to visit as you are planning your trip are the National Park Service and Xanterra Resorts which operates all hotels, mule rides, Grand Canyon Railroad and other concessions within the park.   The nicest hotels in the park and closest to the canyon rim are the El Tovar Hotal or the Bright Angel Lodge.  Seriously you need to reserve asap because everything books up like crazy.  You can cancel anything up to 72 hours before your trip so it’s worth it to go ahead and reserve.

Catch the Grand Canyon Railway into the park from Williams, AZ.  Your ticket includes park entrance fees, and the train drops you right in the middle of the Grand Canyon Village, with FREE luggage transfer to whichever hotel you have booked.   There is a silly cowboy shootout show before you board, and great entertainment and historical canyon information en route during the approximate 2 hour ride.   The view is not that spectacular for a lot of the trip, but do book a dome car for more fun and luxury aboard.  You can park your car and stay at the Grand Canyon hotel in Williams the night before so it’s easy to catch the train.  You do not need a car at the canyon – there are tons of free shuttles all along the canyon rim and most areas don’t allow private cars anyway.

Highlights of our visit

Hitch a ride:  If you can get a reservation, definitely book a Mule ride which is an incredible two hour adventure literally on the EDGE of the canyon.  The ride is totally safe, offers breathtakingly gorgeous vistas around the bend of the canyon, great wildlife viewing (we saw a California Condor, and a herd of rather large elk), and a truly once in a lifetime experience.  We learned a lot about mules too – they are very big, and much more compliant than their reputation suggests…

There is a height requirement for children and it is probably not for people with serious acrophobia.  They also offer overnight mule trips down into the canyon to Phantom Ranch, but you have to book AGES in advance as that sells out quickly.  Next time!

Learn from the experts:  Check in with the Park Ranger station for updates on current programs including free Ranger guided nature, geology, cultural and historical walks along the rim and into the canyon.  There are a couple of great ones for kids too, who can earn their Junior Ranger badges for attending.

Descend!  Surprisingly, the vast majority of visitors to the park only view the canyon from the rim, but it is worth it even to take a short walk down one of the trails that leads into the canyon.  The Bright Angel trail is the most accessible, and amazing petroglyphs are viewable just a few minutes into the walk.  When you are hiking, be sure to remember that you are at almost 7,000 feet above sea level, and it is over 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor.  Be smart – bring water and don’t underestimate the steep climb back out!  Rangers have to rescue well over 200 people a year in the canyon…


After a few days, when you get get your jaw off your chin and recover a little from marveling at the monumentality of nature, there are a number of other very worthwhile sites to explore near the Grand Canyon and beyond in Northern Arizona.  We really just scratched the surface, but here’s a list of some of the amazing spots we hit:

Desert View Watchtower:  Near the East entrance to the park stands this impressive structure built in the 1932 by Mary Colter “architect of the Southwest” who is also responsible for many of the historic buildings in the Grand Canyon Village.  Climb the 70 foot Anasazi style tower for incredible Canyon views.

Sunset Crater Volcano:  Meander easy to moderate trails snaking through lava flow fields, and marvel at this amazing volcano – one of 600 in the area – that blew its top just a short 900 years ago.

Wupatki Pueblo ruins:  Take a walk back through time through this beautifully preserved and very well marked Hopi dwelling site, where you can step into some of the rooms, and visit the geologically mysterious “breathing” blow hole.  The kids LOVED this stop.

Montezuma Castle National Monument: 800 years ago the Sinagua people built a high rise apartment into the cliffs along a fertile creek.  Wander the interpretive trail, learn about how the people used local trees and plants, peer into the windows, and stop for a lovely shaded picnic along the creek near the Visitor Center.

Jerome, Arizona – This copper mining town was built precariously into the hills about 30 minutes to the west of Sedona in the late 19th century.   Today it is revitalized, full of cool shops, galleries, wineries and haunted hotels.  The views all the way back across the painted desert are unbelievable at sunset.  Absolutely do not miss the kaleidoscope store!

Sedona:  The town is VERY touristy, but the red rock scenery is absolutely beautiful.  See if you can find the Snoopy rock!!  And of course you can visit a vortex and get in touch with a past life if you are so inclined…

We stayed at Kimpton’s Amara Resort & Spa which offers yoga, a lovely pool, hot tub, and a good restaurant, right on the creek with beautiful red rock views.   Other ones to consider are L’Auberge de Sedona or Enchantment resorts.   We took a very bumpy and fun 2-hour off-road ride with the locally run Pink Jeep Tours.

Restaurants – Elote for fantastic Mexican inspired dishes (go early the line is horrible but the food is great), and Shugrues Hillside Grill which has glorious sunset views.  If you want to pick up great sandwiches for a picnic/hike go to the West Side Deli.

Definitely stop by the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts village which has lots of lovely shops and galleries nestled into quaint cobblestone streets.

AND FOR NEXT TIME…  Here are a couple of spots we sadly ran out of time to see, but will definitely hit next time:

The Meteor Crater – The world’s best preserved meteor impact site is nearly 1 mile across, offers hiking and a discovery center that sounds very cool.

Lowell Observatory – Founded in 1894, this is the observatory credited with the discovery of Pluto, among many other things.  They offer daytime programs about deep space, and nighttime planetarium shows and star gazing events.

OK happy trails people!!

Posted in Arizona, Family, Travel, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the 10th Birthday Tournament and Ball

Thank you so much great and powerful Internet for helping me throw together a super fun Harry Potter party for my daughter’s 10th birthday.   She is obsessed with those books, and was really hoping all the little details would be authentic.   What did people do before Wikipedia and Pinterest – honestly?   So to pay it forward, here’s a quick recap of some of the party details we created. Hope they help some of you crazy Potter fans down the road…

We rented a little neighborhood cabin so we were able to have a great yard and picnic tables, as well as some good indoor space for the event.   Bathrooms were labeled “Ministry of Magic” and “Chamber of Secrets.”


The kids entered “Diagon Alley” (through the front door) and visited several shoppes which we had set up on different benches. First was Gringott’s Wizarding Bank where they got little golden bags of “Galleons”.  Then on to pick up cauldrons which they used to collect everything else at the party and became their goodie bag.  I had chalk pens and chalk labels out so they could put their names on them, which I highly advise as cauldrons got mixed up throughout the day!

After grabbing feather quill “pens,” they made a final stop at Olivander’s Wand Shop to create their wands.  Yes these wands are plastic, but they were great because they’re hollow so the kids were able to stuff them with a variety of feathers, ribbon, etc. which we called dragon’s heartstring, unicorn mane, phoenix feathers, kelpie hair, kneazle whiskers and the like.  We sealed the ends with painters tape.   Finally the kids picked up their train tickets and proceeded out a side door through a red brick wall at platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts.


Once they arrived, they lined up for the sorting which we accomplished by placing a walkie talkie in the sorting hat, as my son watched through a side window and called out the house assignments. We pre-assigned the kids to different houses to even out teams and friends, etc.   Each child got a house badge which my daughter had traced from images of the house shields, a school ring, and a Spell Book. There are a bunch of sources for Hogwart’s spells online – here’s a good one we used:


Now on to classes.  We had three “classroom” tables (taught by guest professors, aka conscripted grandparents/parents) including:

Divination – where my husband read palms and handed each student a rolled up fortune.  We dressed the table up with scarves, dream catchers, an umbrella, a crystal ball that my daughter had made, and other fortune tellery sorts of things.


Care of Magical Creatures – where each child put together a “Monster Book of Monsters” by gluing furry fabric, felt and googly eyes to little spiral notebooks I picked up at Staples.  Honestly I thought this one would be hard for them, but the kids loved this project and the books were each unique and super cute.


Herbology – where each child decorated a small pot with paint pens and stickers, and potted a variety of magical plants such as venomous tentacula, mandrake sprouts, devil’s snare, gillyweed and mimbulus mimbletonia.   I picked up small flats of vines and flowers at the garden store for these.

Honeydukes was of course open for business all day, and the kids had to use their gold Galleons to buy an assortment of treats such as pumpkin juice (mango lemonade), butterbeer (root beer topped with whipped cream), brooms (pretzels with shredded string cheese at the end), muggle fruit, chocolate frogs, lighting bolt tattoos and pixie puffs (aka pirate’s booty).   Children earned a “free” box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans after they participated in a blind jelly bean tasting of surprise flavors ranging from soap and earwax to earthworm and vomit.  Hilarious.

Then we commenced the Wizarding Tournament – a great way to run off all the sugar!   Events included a relay race on brooms, dashing around cones with “dragon’s eggs” in spoons (finally used up those sparkly Easter eggs I still had in my fridge!), a scavenger hunt in the Forbidden Forest to find colored spiders, and a sort of bean bag toss through Quiddich hoops we had made from embroidery hoops superglued to poles we found at the fabric store.

IMG_6675                 IMG_6677

We shortcut a little and got a chocolate Safeway cake with marshmallows surrounded by kit kats that we called a “Cauldron Cake” and topped with one of those fancy blooming candles that’s like a giant sparkler.  My daughter and I also made Golden Snitch Cake Pops using powdered doughnut holes that we lightly misted with water, dipped in gold sprinkles,  fitted with rice paper wings, and mounted on lollypop sticks .  Personally I thought these were the cutest things at the party.


Wiggly kids wrapped up the day with a “Spring Ball” karaoke dance party back in the cabin while we waited for parent pick up.   Overall a lot of little details, but such a fun day, and a very satisfied 10 year old Potter fan…   As for me, I am all caught up with Harry Potter for the moment – maybe a pizza pool party next year?

Here’s the list of fortunes we made up for Divination class:

You will receive important news by owl tomorrow! Your lucky number is: 3.1415…
You will make the front page of The Quibbler! Your lucky number is: 13
The golden snitch is right behind your ear! Your lucky sport is: Quiddich
You have many cauldron cakes in your future! Your lucky age is: 10
Don’t accept rides in flying cars from mysterious wizards. Your lucky color is: magenta
Beware of hooded strangers in taverns offering Dragon Eggs. Your lucky charm is: Blue Moon
Follow the Spiders. Your lucky day is: TODAY!
Hello. This is Tom Riddle. Your lucky number is: 789
It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live. Your lucky number is: 1 gajillion
Troll! In the dungeons! Thought you ought to know… Your lucky number is: 9 3/4
You ought to be careful. People will think you’re…up to something… Your lucky number is: 123,456,789
There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it. Your lucky number is: 987,654,321
There’s no such thing as magic…(or is there?) Your lucky treat is: Pixie Puffs
One can never have enough socks… Your lucky planet is: Neptune
It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Your lucky sock is: the left one
Anything is possible if you choose the right wand. Your lucky element is: Sulphur
Incidentally, that thing you are dreading – it will happen on Friday the sixteenth of October. Your lucky color is: Puce
Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. Your lucky fabric is: Velour
You will live long and ride many broomsticks. Your lucky day is: February 30th
Pretty colored jelly beans can be deceiving… Your lucky animal is: Hippogriff
Friends are like chocolate frogs. It is good to keep them close by. Your lucky insect is: Dementor Wasp
You have a magical personality. Your lucky food is: Pudding
Solemnly swear you are up to no good and adventure will find you… Your lucky pet is: Thestral
Posted in Kids | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beach hopping in Costa Rica

Here’s a quick recap of our recent Winter Break week in Costa Rica with the kids – great adventure! We spent half the week on the beach, and a few days around the volcanoes (I’ll post separately about that part of the trip).  I could basically set up shop here for months – it’s so easy to slip into the safe, calm, healthy, easygoing lifestyle of CR.  We will definitely add this to our rotation with the familia!!


Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo is an awesome little beach town with lots of shops and restaurants arrayed along a long uncrowded strip of wide, fine, palm-lined sand. It’s a perfect spot for families with kids of all ages. The long crescent bay is bookended by an estuary teeming with wildlife (birds, monkeys, crocodiles!) on one end, and a dramatic promontory of lava rock with tidepools at the other (puffer fish! starfish! crabs!).   The rolling surf is just big enough by day for boogie boarding and beginner surfing, but calm enough in low wind for SUP and kayaks to venture out as well.


securedownload-9               securedownload-5

The Capitan Suiza hotel at the southern end is one of the only beachfront properties with a pool, and just far enough from the center of town to feel quiet and secluded.   Resident howler monkeys frolicked in the trees outside our room, while iguanas, cats, squirrels, leaf cutter ants and exotic birds entertained throughout the lush gardens. I wandered a few doors down each morning for lovely yoga classes at the Revive Wellness Center.  We also popped in for a peek around the newish Diria Hotel in the center of town, which had a nice but busy pool and beach scene.


  • Our favorite spot was Wok N Roll – hip vibe with an eclectic Asian menu featuring oysters, noodles, excellent bibimbap, kimchee, sushi, and more!
  • Bamboo Sushi Club – cozy enclosed courtyard off the main drag with decent sushi
  • La Esquina – atmospheric outdoor pizza restaurant with excellent wood fired pizzas and a small playground for kids
  • For a delicious quick snack, snag fresh empanadas from the Super Compro market at the north end of town.
  • Do not miss: It’s worth the short detour just down the coast to Avellanas beach to log in an afternoon at Lola’s, voted on of the 10 best beach bars in the world. Order an ice cold beer, a fresh organic meal, and a front row seat for world class boogie boarding and surfing. Wave hola to the resident mascot pig Lolita (who apparently enjoys an occasional dip in the Pacific herself!), and rinse off in the hand cranked shower contraption on your way out.


Northern Guanacaste Coast             

      Costa Rica 2015

Bedecked with beautiful beaches, scenic little bays, tiny surf towns, and breathtaking spots for sunset, it’s fun and easy to beach hop along the jewel of a coast up here. Here were a few of our best pit stops:

* Playa Flamingo – Slurp a mango smoothie and order tuna ceviche in a fresh coconut bowl at super casual beach bar Coco Loco. Dig your toes in the sand and cool off in the sea between cocktails…our perfect beach day fantasy realized…

securedownload-10      securedownload-18


* Playa Hermosa – a quiet grey sand beach town tucked between two mountains. Stop in to Roberto’s for a bowl of Costa Rican seafood soup and a game of backgammon under the palms, or book a stay for the views from the rooftop pool.

* Playa Panama – we wrapped our trip up with a luxurious weekend at the brand new eco-chic Mangroove Hotel on super secluded Papagayo Bay. Peace and quiet and pampering is the main attraction here. The restaurant on site is excellent, but it is also worth venturing off campus for dinner at Abbocato.   Surrender yourself to chef/owners Andrea and Paola’s tasting menu of the day featuring the freshest local seafood.

Costa Rica 2015

General tips:

  • We encountered a lot of cool local wildlife, our least favorite being ubiquitous and very determined mosquitoes. Wear bug spray!!
  • Currency – The Costa Rican currency is the Colon, but almost everyone accepts US Dollars, although if you pay in $$ you may get change in Colons. The current exchange is 1$ = 534 Colons
  • Definitely check the weather – along the Pacific coast the dry season is very dry (November-May: Dec-April being high tourist season), and the wet season can be very wet and can make some roads impassable (May-October). The cloud forests are a different matter as they have their own micro-climates.
  • WOW I wish there were better flights from San Francisco.  It was quite a journey for us to get there and back, but it was well worth the effort in the end. The smaller international airport at Liberia is WAY closer to the  Guanacaste coast if you can find a flight there. There are non-stop flights to the main airport in San Jose from Denver, Houston, BWI, Newark and a bunch of other mid-west/eastern US spots.  Car rental is pretty easy throughout the country, or if you are cool with small planes you can hop a Cessna on Sansa Air to easily access many small destinations around the country.
  • Pack light – rental cars and air shuttles are small, and airlines have strict weight limits. Tamarindo has a centrally located 1-day wash and fold laundry service called Back Wash if you need to refresh.

(Note: all pics by our in-house tour operator/talented shutterbug David Barsotti…)

Posted in Central America, Travel, Tropics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment