Things to Do

Best Pizza in Westchester

Posted on May 8, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , |

Today is about Things to Do

On any given Saturday, I often am out with my kids and they frequently get hungry. I don’t want to feed them junk food like McDonald’s, but I don’t want to spend a small fortune to feed them either. So what’s the compromise? Pizza!

We are lucky to have lots of pizza places in Westchester, and one of the best is Sal’s in Mamaroneck. This place was first recommended to me by a friend who is Italian and grew up in Brooklyn. I figured he should know a good pizza when he tastes one.

The last time we went was on a Saturday afternoon. As we walked up the street towards the restaurant, I could see the line of people coming out of the door. Was something wrong? Did the oven break down? Were they rationing the pizza? Nope. It was just a usual Saturday, and with pizza this good, there is often a line out the door. I knew that was a good sign, and was happy to join the line. Fortunately, it was not a long wait.

We ordered a regular cheese pie, with one quarter pepperoni for my meating-eating teenage daughter. You can see that the pie was a vision of perfection. Not too much cheese, baked to bubbly brown colored perfection. Adequate amounts of sauce to support the cheese. Generous crust to hold it all together. Then comes the first test to see if it’s a good pizza: when you take a slice (we don’t eat “wedges” we eat “slices”) from the pie, is the crust crispy enough to hold the cheese? Or is it soft and flabby and melts under the weight of the cheese. This pie crust held up! The first sign of a good, crispy crust.

Next comes a paper napkin to remove excess oil from the top of your pizza slice. You can dab it with a paper napkin, but I prefer to lay the napkin on top of the pizza, apply slight pressure to help it soak up the oil, then gently lift the napkin taking care to not rip it and leave some paper on top of your pizza.

Next comes your condiments–for me, the pizza trifecta is garlic powder, red pepper, and parmesan cheese.

Then you need to decide how to hold your pizza. I like to fold it in half lengthwise. This helps to keep the cheese from falling off. Others prefer to eat a slice unfolded. To each his own. The first bite will tell you if it’s a good pizza. The crust will have a good crunch, and may have a slightly smoky flavor. There won’t be too much cheese, and it will be tasty and not too salty. The sauce will play a supporting role, again not too salty but adding good flavor. If you have ordered additions like pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, or other meats and veggies, they too will play their role in providing you with a sublime pizza experience.

I am pleased to say that Sal’s pizza provided the perfect pizza experience, just as I have described. While they have other great foods on th menu–I suspect the Minestrone soup is excellent because there were so many orders being eaten at other tables–their stand out specialty is their pizza. Thus, I would call this the best pizza place in Westchester. If there are others that you think are just as good or better, then let me know. I will be happy to go and check them out and report back here. Until that time, Sal’s has the best local pizza in my opinion.

Anne

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Lego Fun at Lyndhurst Castle

Posted on April 20, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , , , |

Today is about Things to Do

The warm weather is FINALLY returning, and I am headed back outside with my kids! One of the good things about living in Westchester is there is a lot of outdoor public space available for exploring, playing, and learning. One such place is Lyndhurst, which is a beautiful Gothic Style mansion with surrounding grounds that overlook the Hudson River. They have events open to the public throughout the year, and this weekend held a LEGO festival.

Admission cost $7 per adult, while kids were free. LEGO activities included seeing LEGO Robotics League submissions from NYC school children. After talking with a couple of the teachers who were there with their teams, I learned that there are no teams from Westchester schools, and there are few girls who get involved. My husband is an engineer, so I came home and immediately launched into why he should start a LEGO League Team in our town’s school and reach out to girls to participate. He just nodded and smiled, as he often does when I come home really jazzed about something.

Other activities included seeing the work of master LEGO builder Arthur Gugick, who told me he is a math teacher by day, and LEGO Builder by night. I asked him how he created his designs, and he told me he designs everything on paper and devotes lots of time to mapping out his designs before he begins. I also learned he gets his parts through a huge Ebay trade on LEGOs pieces, and there are 4,000 different LEGOs pieces he uses for his creations.

Other activities included open tables with loads of LEGOs pieces for the kids to build and create, a treasure hunt through the property, and a tour of the Mansion. While there was food available for purchase (bring cash, no debit cards accepted), the weather and the grounds were so beautiful, it would have been a perfect venue for a picnic. Overall, it was a fun and inexpensive outing, with lots of running around, which was great for inducing a good afternoon nap in my four year old.

Anne

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Stepping Stones Museum

Posted on March 24, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester |

Today is about Things to Do

We are now in the last days of winter, and soon it will be warm enough to spend lots of time outside. Until those warm days come, I am still working to find things to do with my kids on the weekends. I recently was introduced to The Steppingstones Museum for Children Norwalk, CT, and consider this a great find and a wonderful way to kill an afternoon with young children. I regret that I have been here for a couple of years, and am just now discovering this little treasure.

Steppingstones is completely hands on and has spaces where kids can play with water, roll balls through mini roller coasters, pretend to be in the rain forest, learn about the human body, and build model cars for racing. Whenever I mention this place, my four year old starts to hound me until I take her there. I think her favorite part is the water exhibit. You walk into this large room, and a helper puts an apron on your child (they immediately won points with me for that detail). Then the kids can run around to different pools where they play with floating balls, boats, a huge funnel, water channels, and all sorts of hands on water play.

Embedded in all of this activity are attempts to teach something to the kids. However, I find that unless they can read, a child will only be interested in the hands on play, and not so interested in the structured lessons they try to provide. In my book, play is work for kids, and it is how they learn so I find this to be a minor limitation.

Despite its location in CT, it is only a 40 minute drive from Westchester–just take route 95 to Exit 14–and is an easy hop from most places in Westchester. In fact, when we went there a couple of weeks ago, we ran into three other families from our town.

So if you you are looking for something to do with a toddler or preschooler, I strongly recommend Steppingstones as a great way to spend an afternoon.

Anne

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The Best Hot Chocolate in Westchester

Posted on February 25, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , |

Today is about Things to Do

Photos by Anneblog-010.jpg
I recently wrote about the Best Hot Chocolate in New York. After reading my post, a friend reminded me that we have great hot chocolate right here in Westchester. It can be found in the village of Larchmont at Cocoa.

This is a cute little shop located on Boston Post road that sells nothing but chocolate–truffles, brownies, non pareils, and of course hot chocolate. The shop is tiny, so it’s the kind of place where you order a shot of hot chocolate, can sit on one of the four stools at the counter and drink, but cannot linger.

The chocolate itself, is very thick, smooth and creamy and is definitely made by melting pure chocolate and adding just enough milk to keep it liquid. It is not served very hot, but you do sip it slowly since it is so rich. The hot chocolate comes in three sizes–small (a satisfying taste), medium (a chocolate addict’s portion), and large (able to induce a chocolate coma), and they offer fresh whipped cream with it.

The prices are very reasonable, a small cup costs $1.95, a medium is $3.50, while a large is $4.90. blog-003.jpgA small is about 3 oz, but since it is so rich it is very satisfying. In fact, my four year old wasn’t able to finish hers. If you are a true chocolate glutton, or just having a party, they also offer cocoa-to-go, an 80 oz container of hot chocolate for $37.

While the hot chocolate here is great, and certainly worth a trip, they only serve chocolate and nothing else to eat. So if you want a place where you can eat pastries, drink great hot chocolate, and hang out, this place is too small and does not fit that bill. However, if you do want a cup of rich, creamy and very satisfying hot chocolate, then Cocoa is certainly worth a visit.

Anne

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Why Does a Middle Aged Mother of Three Support Barack Obama?

Posted on February 4, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do | Tags: , , , , , , |

Monday is about Things to Do

This has been the most exciting election in years!

I think our country has had a hard eight years under the current administration. The war, the environment, the 47 million uninsured people living in the US, the lack of a cogent plan for protecting ourselves from terrorism, the economy, our poor international standing as a leading nation. We are in bad shape and in need of change.

For me, this change is likely to come from our Democratic candidates. They all have spoken about a vision for a new America, about a need to do things differently, and to address our problems proactively. For most of this election, I went back and forth between Clinton and Obama, and was hard pressed to see huge differences in their policies that would lead me to support one over the other. Being a New Yorker, I was leaning towards Clinton.

Since there was little in their platforms to differentiate them, one of my major concerns was who was more electable? Would middle America vote for a Black man? How many people still hate Clinton? This was not about a Black man versus a White woman, but was about a Black man (with no baggage) versus Hillary Clinton (with lots of baggage). Then came the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire, and there were several things that convinced me that Obama was more electable:

  1. Obama won Iowa, and he won by a wide margin (nine percentage points ahead of Clinton).
  2. When Obama won Iowa, it was in a state that is 95% white, showing that white Americans would vote for a Black man (Have you ever been to Iowa? It really is very white).
  3. Hillary didn’t just lose in Iowa, she came in third. This showed me that lots of people really don’t like Clinton. I knew that was the case, but it is hard to know exactly how many people or what effect they would have on an election. Iowa showed us how bad it could be.
  4. Obama lost New Hampshire, but he lost by a narrow margin (two percentage points behind Clinton). This was in a state that was supposed to treat her like a homecoming queen, it was supposed to be a given for her (he did end up with the same number of delegates, which doesn’t seem to get mentioned).
  5. Obama’s performance in New Hampshire showed that a lot of people would vote for him, and again this time it was in a state that was 96% white.
  6. After Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clintons went on the offensive and targeted Obama with their attacks. This was when things started to get ugly, and the debates moved away from debating the policies to discussions of race, innuendo, and attacks using sound bites. People were reminded that the Clintons can be tough with their opponents – something that turns a lot of people off. It also showed that Obama was able to take the pressure, and demonstrate poise and leadership while being attacked.
  7. Obama is an inspiring speaker whose message of change and a better America exudes visionary leadership that is supported by a wide range of groups including young people who are coming out to support him in droves, and the Kennedys who are on the road stumping for him.
  8. McCain emerged as the front runner for the Republican party, and I think he will give his Democratic opponent a real run for their money if he gets the nomination. However, when thinking about moderate and/or independent voters who will play a pivotal role in this election, I think many of them include the “Hillary Haters”. If given a choice of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, I think many middle of the road voters would chose McCain over her.

For all of these reasons, I think Obama is the more electable candidate of the two, and would be a good choice for our country. I read in another blog that he purchased some ad time for the Super Bowl, and the ad can be seen here.

obama.jpg

“But wait!” You may be saying. This is a blog about family life, not politics. Monday is supposed to be about things to do with your kids. Well this week my activities with my kids included going to a rally for Obama. There they had a chance to see who were our neighbors who were helping to support him (here’s a picture of another mother and her child who were at our local rally). They could hear all of the honking cars that responded to our “honk for Obama” posters. My youngest daughter was particularly impressed with the huge truck that blared its horn as it drove past. As a mother of three, I am thrilled that my children get to see our political process in action, and I am trying to demonstrate the importance of getting invloved. As a mother, I think this election is very important for my childrens’ future, so I feel compelled to be a part of it.
Whoever you support, the activities this week should include something related to the election (especially if you are in one of the Super Tuesday states). Any and all activities, ranging from discussing the primaries over dinner, to voting, to doing telephone or door to door canvassing are all important activities for our children to see. Whatever the outcome of the primaries, this is an exciting race!

Yes, we can!

Barack the Vote!

Anne

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The Best Hot Chocolate in New York

Posted on January 28, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Monday is about Things to Do

Photos by Annechocolate.jpg
I love chocolate. There is simply no other way to put it. Not just the kind of chocolate you can buy in a candy store, but the rich dark chocolate that has flavor nuances like good wines. Chocolate that is rich and fulfilling so all you need is a small amount to be satisfied. Chocolate that is diluted with very little milk, and not too much sugar, but is as pure as possible. I am the type who makes an annual pilgrimage to the New York Chocolate Show. I simply love chocolate. So when I recently saw a video on the NYTimes webpage about the Best Hot Chocolate in New York, I knew immediately that I would have to try all of these places.

Being such an avid (or perhaps rabid) chocolate fan, I was already familiar with the Jacques Torres chocolate shop mentioned in the video. It is one of my “must go to” places when I visit friends in Brooklyn. His hot chocolate is certainly one of the best. It is rich and complex, thick and satisfying. Plus he offers two versions: a regular and one that is spicy and pays homage to the Mexican roots of this drink. The biggest plus to his chocolate, is you can buy a can of the mixture (but be prepared for sticker shock) to make your own hot chocolate at home.
city-bakery-flag.jpg

Wanting to try something new, I decided to go The City Bakery on 18th street to taste their version. Bottom line: it’s great! Their hot chocolate is definitely made from a mixture of chocolate that is melted down and diluted with milk to form a thick and satisfying drink. It is very, very rich and heavy, but in a good “chocolate satisfaction” way. They have been able to strike the right balance of intense chocolate flavor, without too much sugar which can make it too cloying, or too much milk which can dilute the flavor. Interestingly, the chocolate was not too hot, so it’s savoring the flavor that makes you sip it, rather than the heat. The picture above is a cup of our hot chocolate after my four year old got to it (she dove right in before I was able to get a picture). They also have huge marshmallows available, that are nice but not necessary for a good hot chocolate treat. Since they serve the hot chocolate at a cooler temperature, the marshmallow did not melt quickly. However, the chocolate has enough heat to make the surface of the marshmallow soft and easy to scrape off with a spoon. If you like a strong marshmallow flavor, then it’s worth it. My four year old was not interested, and wanted to focus all her energies on the hot chocolate itself.

In addition to their signature drink, the City Bakery is a real bakery and offers lots of pastries, cookies, foods and other treats available to satisfy your hunger (my 14 year old loved the mac and cheese). The biggest problem was that seats were hard to find in this place. Some people clearly were there to spend a few hours reading a paper, or working on their laptops. However, I was a mom with two kids in tow and finding a table was difficult. Since we went on a Saturday afternoon, I am not surprised the place was filled, and seating may be better at other times. Also, this place is definitely not a bargain. The prices are high, but if you limit yourself to the hot chocolate and a pastry, you can visit without breaking the bank. If you want to eat (especially with a couple of kids) then I would recommend going to Republic instead, which is an inexpensive noodle place a couple of blocks away.

So overall, this was definitely worth a trip into Manhattan (I live 30 minutes outside of the city), and I will go back to check out the other hot chocolate spots in the city.

Anne

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Home Made Play Dough

Posted on January 21, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do |

Monday is about Things to Do

Photo by CP

playdough.jpgWe were all off from work and school today for the Martin Luther King holiday. My oldest daughter attended a commemorative function this morning, while I was home with the other two. Since it was bitterly cold today, I did not want to go out, but needed to find something to do to keep my 4 year old child entertained.

This is the kind of day when we make our own play dough. If you search the web, there are lots of recipes for home made play dough. Among all the variations, I find the best require some cooking time, and use cream of tartar as the secret ingredient. I let my 4 year old get involved by deciding what food coloring to add before we put it on the stove. We also put in 1/2 teaspoon of a fragrant extract (like vanilla, maple or almond extract) to give it a nice smell. I’ve seen recipes where people added baby oil, instead of vegetable, to get a nicely scented play dough. Whatever scent you choose, this is a great recipe for a non-toxic, inexpensive play dough that your child will enjoy making and playing with.

Home Made Play Dough:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup table salt
1 cup water
1 Tbs vegetable or mineral oil
3 Tbs cream of tartar
Food Coloring

Mix all the ingredients, including the food coloring, together in a pot. The color will be fairly pale at this point. Then cook over medium heat while stirring constantly until it forms a ball, about 5 minutes. The color will become more vivid as it gets heated through. Turn the ball out onto a flat work surface and knead it thoroughly. Adults may want to do the initial kneading since it is hot. When cool, it is ready for the kids to play with.

Store in an airtight container like a ziploc bag and keep at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Anne

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Teenagers at the Opera?

Posted on January 14, 2008. Filed under: Frugal Living, Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , |

Monday is about Things to Do

Photo by judepics
opera.jpgMy teenage daughter really surprised me this weekend when she got a call from some friends who invited her to go to the movies. They wanted to go see Macbeth.

Yes, Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

In addition, it wasn’t just any production of Macbeth, but was an opera…..and a bunch of teenagers were actually going to see it.

It turns out that the New York Metropolitan Opera is hosting a series of high-definition transmissions of several performances to movie theaters across the country. This week’s performance was Macbeth, which my daughter’s English class is currently reading. Her teacher assigned attendance to this performance as an extra credit activity for her class, and a number of the kids decided to attend.

I am not really into opera, but I think this is a great idea and an easy way to get to see high quality opera, at a very reasonable price. The series is being broadcast to over 300 theaters across the US (see full list here). In Westchester County, the series is being broadcast at two convenient locations: New Roc Cinema in New Rochelle, and City Center in White Plains. Lastly, the tickets are very reasonably priced at $15 for kids, and $22 for adults.

Usually she is not allowed to go out with her friends until she has finished her chores, but how could I say no to Macbeth and the Metropolitan Opera?

When she got home, I asked her what she thought. She shrugged and said “It was OK”. She also said it was “weird” because when she and her friends walked into the theater, it was (as she puts it) “a sea of old people, and us”. I think the organizers from the Met would be thrilled to hear that a bunch of young people attended the event.

While I am not really into opera, this series is so convenient and affordable that it’s worth trying out, and I may go later this year with my other children. Anyone interested in La Boheme?

Anne

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Going to the Park

Posted on January 7, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , |

Monday is about Things To Do

Many of the activities I do with my kids are decided upon at the last minute. Part of my last minute approach is to keep things simple and easy, and not have to make a lot of plans. Another part is because I can’t focus on weekend or evening activities while I am at work. Lastly, I like to wait until I see what I feel like doing (as well as what my kids might feel like doing), and want to keep our precious free time feeling “free”, rather than scheduled with a bunch of activities we have to do.

Photos by Walking Geek

jacks-friendship-garden.jpgAn easy outing with my younger child is to go to a playground or park, and I am lucky to have lots of great parks here in Westchester. One of my favorites is the New Rochelle Jack’s Friendship Garden which is located on North Avenue next to the Huguenot Children’s Library. It’s a great playground, and was listed in the New York Times as one of the great places to go in Westchester.

What’s not to love about this playground?

First, it is wheelchair accessible, specifically the entrances, climbing structures and the swings. There is one huge climbing structure for kids up to five years old, and another for older kids up to 12 years old- although kids of all ages run back and forth between the structures. In addition to stairs, each climbing structure can be accessed by ramps that run the length of the structures. There are the usual baby and regular sling seat swings, as well as reclining seats which can be used to support and push children who cannot swing themselves.

Second, the sand pit has a small hand controlled crane which is a favorite of the kids, and another large play structure that I cannot really describe.

Third, there is a large Sway Fun ride that the kids rock back and forth, and I overheard one child describe it as a pirate ship. All of this, plus seesaws, plenty of benches for the adults, and frequent visits from ice cream trucks makes this a great place to spend an afternoon.

I am trying to discover another children’s playground that is better than this one, but haven’t been able to find one yet.

creek.jpgOther activities can be found right next to the park include the Huguenot Children’s Library where you can get books, videos and DVDs—or potty as needed, and there are often planned activities and story time going on there.

Right behind the park is a small creek, and crossing that takes you to the Huguenot Lake, which is great for walking or running, the beautiful New Rochelle High School with its French Gothic architecture, which is great for viewing.

All of this makes it a great setting to spend a leisurely afternoon.

Anne

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New Year’s Eve

Posted on December 31, 2007. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Photo by ms. teaprosecco.jpg
Today is the last day of the year, and I remain committed to making things easy and simple in the upcoming year.

Since it is New Year’s Eve, the Westchester town of New Rochelle is hosting a First Night celebration with lots of activities and things to do with kids. I was thinking about going to the children’s library for their “crazy hat making” event with my four year old, but stayed close to home and had one of her friends come over for a play date instead. After dress up and pretend cooking, they ended up having tea in the kitchen while the other mother and I killed the “supernatural brownies” I made yesterday from a recipe I read in the NY Times. After they left, I cooked up a pot of black eyed peas for hoppin’ john, which we ate for dinner. My husband wants to make sure we have enough left over to eat tomorrow on New Year’s Day for good luck this year.

Now that the night has settled in, I am relaxing on the couch watching the Twilight Zone marathon (another New Year’s tradition in my home). My teenagers are gone—both were invited to parties with their friends. As a result, the house is really quiet. My husband and I are sharing a bottle of Prosecco, while my four year old is thrilled to be allowed to stay up late and play with her crayons.

So no night out, no running around, and no drama. It would be nice to have more nights like this in the upcoming year. Now I am going to watch one of my favorite TZ episodes, Time Enough at Last.

Happy New Year.

Anne

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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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