How to Style Your American Girl Doll’s Hair

When your daughter, niece, or granddaughter’s favorite doll is injured, it’s time for a visit to one of the American Girl Places.

Kaya’s hair was a wreck. So matted and snarled that we thought she would need to go to the American Girl Doll Hospital (to get a new head!). Instead, I was assured that an appointment with the American Girl Doll Hair Salon on 5th Avenue in New York City ($25) just might do the trick.

Kaya (the doll!) sat on a stool while her hairdresser worked patiently and carefully on her hair. My daughter and I watched as her hair was unsnarled, unmatted, and braided. Although she wanted to get her ears pierced, we decided that she was too young. Instead, for an additional $5, we gave her the pampering plus manicure and facial.

To celebrate Kaya’s recovery, we ate lunch at the American Girl Place restaurant. Kaya was seated in her own attached high chair. She was served in tiny tea cups while my daughter and I ate a gluten-free lunch and gluten-free birthday cake.

We skipped the show, electing instead to see Mary Poppins on Broadway.

Trip taken 2008.

Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge

I’d never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge until I met up with some California friends in Manhattan. They were on a mission to see and take in as much of New York as possible in the few days they were there. I tagged along as they ventured to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

We found the entrance to the bridge announced by a hand painted sign,

Brooklyn  Bridge 4

and discovered that we weren’t the only tourists with the idea for a walk.

Brooklyn Bridge 1

We gazed up at the tower,

Brooklyn Bridge 5

and played the ukelele in the middle of the bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge 7

We paused along the way to enjoy the view.

Brooklyn Bridge 3

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, then turned around, saving the exploration of Brooklyn for another day.

Brooklyn Bridge 6

 Trip taken June 2012.

Single in New York in 1954

When you want to be an actress, living in New York City is a dream, especially for a girl from the midwest. For Marialyce Tyler, moving from South Dakota to the Big City in 1954 was exciting. With a couple of college friends, she lived in two different apartments on the Upper West Side of New York, right near Central Park, on West 74th Street and West 68th Street.

West 74th Street

Rusty described the apartment on West 74th Street as the old Borden Mansion. According to Rusty, they lived in what was the old library.

We were on the first floor, a 14-foot ceilinged room with a huge marble fireplace, tall windows draped in dark red velvet and then beyond a huge room that had three twin-sized beds, a very large and long dark mahogany dining table, chairs, etc., a small one-person-at-a-time kitchen, and beyond that a bathroom that had been made out of a closet.

From The Tucker – Tyler Adventure, written by Katherine Tucker and Marialyce Tyler and edited by Nancy Cowan and Tara Taft.

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

IMG_3321

Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

IMG_3334

Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

IMG_3332

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon. The space or line where the sky meets the earth. 

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

According to Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Perhaps that’s why I love to travel. To see beyond my own boundaries, to meet new people and encounter new places, to experience life from a different angle.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Upper West Side, New York City.

So Good Chocolate Chip (Gluten Free) Cookies

I just made the best cookies. No, really, they are so good. They happen to be gluten free, egg free, and if you’re picky about the chocolate chips, they’re dairy free, lactose free, and vegan as well. But don’t let that stop you from trying them.

The cookies are chewy and chocolaty (yes, chocolaty is a real word, also spelled chocolatey), and you can’t stop at just one. So, what’s the secret? The cookies are made with oat flour, which gives them texture and chewiness, and coconut oil, which gives them a hint of coconut (use canola oil if you don’t like coconut). If you’re not gluten free, just replace the gluten-free flour with wheat flour and omit the xanthan gum, though I can’t vouch for that change in the recipe.

Plate of cookies

Have you heard of BabyCakes NYC Bakery? The creator of this yummy recipe, Erin McKenna, is also the founder of that bakery. And next time you’re in New York City, you just may want to make a trip to 248 Broome Street and try out one of their cupcakes, like we did on our last trip. Or you can visit them in Hollywood or in Orlando, too.

Storefront sign

I found the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. You can print it here or read it below. You can also find it in the cookbook “BabyCakes Covers the Classics.” Here it is:

BABYCAKES NYC CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

1-½ cups gluten-free oat flour
1 cup gluten-free all purpose baking flour (Bob’s Red Mill!)
1 cup organic sugar
¼ cup flaxseed meal
¼ cup arrowroot starch (good with cornstarch if you don’t have arrowroot starch)
1-1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (fine without it)
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons melted, refined coconut oil or canola oil
6 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons gluten-free vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free, dairy free chocolate chips (I added a few more)

Directions

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, flaxseed meal, arrowroot starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt. Add the coconut oil, applesauce, and vanilla and stir with a rubber spatula until a thick dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.

Bowl with chocolate chip cookies batter

Step 3: Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1-1/2 inches apart.

Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the baking sheets, and bake for 7 minutes more, or until the cookies are golden brown and firm. Let stand on the baking sheets for 15 minutes before eating.

On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.

IN-N-OUT BURGER

All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

Five Guys

New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.

IMG_0176

Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

My love of color is evidenced by the colors of the home in which I live. My house is red, my car is green, my bedroom is lilac, my bath is aqua.

As I travel, my eye is drawn to color. I found red in a hibiscus in Central Park, in the comb of a rooster in South Africa, in the shirt of a man on the 4th of July in Boston, in the strawberries and radishes at a farmers’ market in California. I found orange in the flames of a campfire in New England, in the wings of a butterfly on Cape Cod, in a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a handpainted sign on the Brooklyn Bridge.

I found yellow in a meadow in the Sierras, on a New York taxi cab, in a candle in Frankfurt, and in bubbling macaroni and cheese. I found green in the leaves and on the wings of a bird, and on a girl’s sunglasses on the beach.

I found purple in the lilacs in front of Louisa May Alcott’s house and inside a hot air balloon. I found blue in the skies everywhere I went.

Road Trip to Upstate New York!

Blue lights flashed behind us as we drove through the small town of Malone, New York, about 11:30 p.m. and just 40 miles from our destination, St. Lawrence University. Our right rear tail light was out according to the chatty young policeman who pulled us over. Less than 5 minutes later, blue lights flashed again, and another friendly policeman, this one from the state, told us the same thing. It wasn’t until after midnight that we pulled into the town of Canton, after 7 hours and over 370 miles in the car.

After replacing the tail light, we drove over to my husband’s alma matter where the trees were turning, the rain intermittent, the buildings old but majestic.

On our semi-private tour, with just one other family, we toured the campus, walking in and out of classrooms, lecture halls, and even a dorm room where a real student studied. (Unexpected bonus: students on the tour receive a giant cookie and their application fee waived.)

We saw the “treehouse” study areas at the library, bought shirts at the bookstore, and ate lunch in one of the dining halls, with meal passes from the admissions office: pasta, pizza, a turkey sandwich (on gluten-free bread), salad bar, and frozen yogurt.

As we drove around campus, we stumbled upon a soccer game and stopped to watch SLU beat Hobart in the game’s second half (3-0).

After gluten-free Mexican at the Hot Tamale in downtown Canton, we joined the crowds at Appleton Arena to watch the Saints’ ice hockey team beat Carleton University in overtime (3-2).

A pizza roll at Sergi’s was the late night snack for the boys.

According to its website, SLU was founded in 1856 and is a liberal arts college offering over 60 majors to its 2300 undergraduates. Seventy percent of the students participate in volunteer or community service while enrolled at SLU, and 50 percent of the students choose to study off campus, whether in the Adirondacks or abroad.

Pizza roll photos by Tommy Taft.

Trip taken October 2012.

Searching for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie in NYC

After finding the best pickle in New York City, my friend was now after the best chocolate chip cookie. According to her Californian rabbi, the best chocolate chip in the world could be found on Manhattan on the Upper West Side.

One morning in June, we met at Levain Bakery on West 74th Street to try a cookie.

What we discovered: the cookies are large, easily two servings worth, which helps justify the cost of $4 per cookie. Full of chocolate, the cookies contain walnuts as well (watch out all of you with tree nut allergies). Gooey on the inside and firm on the outside, the cookies are not crisp and their flavor exudes butter.

The bakery sells more than just chocolate chip cookies. Besides other cookies, the bakery sells bread, sticky buns, and other sweet items.

Since we didn’t try any other chocolate chip cookies in New York, I can’t confirm whether Levain Bakery makes the best chocolate chip cookie in the city, the country or the world. But I agree with the rabbi, its cookie is definitely in the running.

Trip taken June 2012.