Category: Travel

SearSucker ~Where New American Cuisine Reigns Supreme

Posted on Mar 6, 2014 by No Comments

If you live in San Diego, Del Mar, Phoenix, Texas or Austin, Texas you may have heard of Searsucker? Searsucker is more than just a summer fabric from your childhood, it is Bravo’s Top Chef finalist, Brian Malarkey’s restaurant.

It is a foodie’s paradise, specializing in farm to table cuisine. It has a vibrant bar scene and is a fit for your special occasion. Enjoy an eclectic menu and indulge in its wide open comfortable space.

Recently, I had the opportunity to dine at Searsucker in San Diego, California. Searsucker is one of the finest downtown San Diego restaurants. Situated in the heart of the Gaslamp District, Searsucker serves new American Classic cuisine paired with specialty cocktails and unique local brews.

searsucker

Chef Malarkey has created a fantastic eatery full of local fare. The farm to table aspect is strongly reflected in the taste of the food, everything is fresh and clean. The menu includes fresh seafood caught on the San Diego coast as well as locally brewed lagers and ales on tap.

The airy, eclectic design of the 7,000 square foot restaurant in downtown San Diego features an open kitchen and lounge divided only by furniture. It feels part retro barn and part downtown nightclub.

Friends and family can chat with chefs and servers as easily as they can with each other. Searsucker isn’t a place to get away; it is a place to get together. The lighting is warm as is the atmosphere, and the staff are courteous and knowledgeable.

I was there with a large group and the staff handled the dinner, accommodating all of the different diets, without a hitch or complaint. Food was placed in front of each of us without interruption. My conversation with fellow diners was never intruded upon by a waiter leaning between or above us.

searsucker

There is a flow in Searsucker that is felt in everything from the conversation to the farm to table food and even in the atmosphere. You won’t want to leave and when you do, you will be counting down until the next time you come back.

The night I was there I sampled a lot of food, but there were still a lot of things that I didn’t get the chance to try. A girl’s only got so much room in her stomach, after all.

I started the evening with a house specialty drink called a Skinny Jenny. It was made from citrus vodka, ginger beer, lavender syrup and lime. If you like mojitos, you will love a Skinny Jenny. For appetizers, we had a sampling of the brie triple with strawberry jam and currants, artichoke hearts with Gruyere and tomato, and spicy shrimp with bacon grits. Is your mouth watering yet?

For my salad, I had the strawberry, champagne, walnut and goat cheese over a bed of fresh greens. It was as amazing as it sounds. For my main course, I indulged in the loin filet with lobster butter and mushroom demi. It was decadent.

For sides, we were brought a sampling of  butter potatoes, jalapeno chorizo corn off the cobb and fried Brussels sprouts with walnuts. I had never been a fan of Brussels sprouts before that night but now, I prepare them like this and I have them at least once a week.

To top it all off, we were brought samplings of the pig and peanut brownie, banana cake and vanilla bean cheesecake.

searsucker

I must admit that by the time I left, I was sufficiently stuffed but between the ambiance and the amazing food, I really didn’t want to leave. Great food and good conversation with new friends made a memorable impression on me and I would recommend Searsucker to everyone. Bon Appetite!

Photo Source: SearSucker

Top Spots to Take Your Family on Vacation

Posted on Jan 30, 2014 by 2 Comments

Family vacations are something my parents and all my brothers and sisters looked forward to every year. We would load up in our Oldsmobile and head out onto the open road.

Sure, it was hot and sticky and I am sure some of us were whining and all of us were driving our parents crazy at some point or another, but it was unforgettable. I still remember our trips and those memories will be with me forever. I want that for my girls.

Here are some places that I think are great family vacation spots for every family.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Why not step back in time with your family while strolling down the streets of Williamsburg, Virginia? You can walk along with red-jacketed soldiers in tri-corner hats and ladies in powdered wigs and lace dresses. Costumed actors re-enact what life was like in 18th century Williamsburg for politicians, slaves and the towns people around the time of the Revolutionary war.

Williamsburg is the perfect place to get kids excited about history without it feeling like a burden or feeling forced upon them. Instead of trying not to fall asleep learning about the revolutionary war, they will be too busy asking living, breathing towns people of Williamsburg about their loyalty to Great Britain or their desire for freedom from the Queen.

For a real treat, stop at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern that still serves seafood meals that are based on original recipe favorites of our founding father, George Washington. Talk about giving your kids a taste for history.

Washington, D.C.

D.C. is one of my favorite places in the country. There are so many famed national landmarks in our nation’s capital that you will never be short on things to do.

You should start at the heart of it all: the National Mall. The two-mile stretch of land nestled on the banks of the Potomac River houses the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and the White House. Monuments and Memorials are open 24 hours a day, which makes it possible to experience D.C. on your own schedule.

Make sure to allot plenty of time for all of the Smithsonian sites, all 19 of them. They are all free of charge and your family will love it. My girls adored the National museum. To this day, it is one of our favorite places we’ve visited as a family.

If you want to visit the White House or the Capitol, you must schedule way in advance. If you plan on being in town during Christmas time, enter to win tickets to the lottery to attend. It’s a once in a lifetime treat.

New York City

New York is known as the city that never sleeps so plan your trip carefully. There is so much to do that you will have to pick and choose.

Favorite attractions that your child will love are the Empire State Building ( I wouldn’t miss the change to take them to where An Affair to Remember started), Rockerfeller center, Times Square, Central Park or the Statue of Liberty. Then there is MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim, FAO Schwartz and shopping at Barneys.

My girls are into ballet and theater, so a trip to Broadway is a must. And who doesn’t want a Grey’s Papaya hot dog and a thin slice of New York style pizza? There is so much to do and see, it would take more than one trip to see everything and experience New York City.

Grand Canyon

Your children’s imaginations will run wild at the sheer sight of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Cliff walls plunging into the abyss or jaw-dropping canyons that stretch for days will have your children, and yourself, captivated by it’s beauty and splendor.

The Grand Canyon can be viewed from a skywalk, by mule or from a watercraft floating through the Grand Canyon. Any way you do it, the view is magnificent.

There are several ways to experience the Grand Canyon. You can splurge on an adventure at the Grand Canyon Ranch where kids can ride horses, ride in a real wagon while viewing Bison on safari, and gather around a campfire at night to sing and eat before heading off to slumber in a cabin or teepee.

This is a once in a lifetime trip that your children will never forget. Prepare to blow their minds.

Where is your must visit family vacation spot? What was your best family vacation ever?

Photo Source: Ritesh3

Couchsurfing an Innovative Affordable Way to Travel

Posted on Dec 30, 2013 by No Comments

When you hear the term couch surfing you may picture a “couch potato” sitting in front of the television or game station with some kind of electronic control in hand. Couchsurfing couldn’t be further from this picture. Instead, couchsurfing is the term used when travelers stay in someone’s home and sleep on their couch. It’s a cheap way to see the world, but is it safe?

According to Couchsurfing.com, couchsurfing is a service that connects members to a global community of travelers. The service helps travelers connect with a place to stay.

When I first heard about this the hair on neck bristled; something about staying at the house of a stranger. While couchsurfing sounds a little unrealistic or at least unsafe on the front end, there are actually more than 100,000 cities worldwide that offer a couch to sleep on. If it is safe, it could be a great way for our college kids to travel, and meet locals.

Getting Started

I’m still not sure if I’d feel safe enough letting my child couchsurf, yet I love the idea. From what the site says, it takes a little time to search through profiles for the city or cities you plan to visit. Just browse the couches available and then check profiles and references for the homes that interest you. Sounds easy, but my fingers haven’t found the courage to register as yet.

Once you or your child has settled on where to stay, you just send a Couchrequest for the dates. The site recommends sending about 5 requests and to include a personalized message that explains to the host why you want to meet.

Not a New Concept

The couchsurfing concept is really not new. Long ago, travelers stopped by people’s homes to see if they could get a meal and a place to sleep for the night. At dinner, if the knife beside your plate sat with the blade pointing in, that was an invitation to stay. If the blade pointed out, it meant you could eat there, but were not welcomed to stay for the night.

It really could be a great way to meet people, and save money while traveling. Plus you’d have a chance to make friends around the world. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried this.

Photo credits: TijsB

Niu ~For the Sushi Connoisseur in Chicago

Posted on Dec 12, 2013 by No Comments

If you are ever in Chicago and you want to enjoy a sushi experience for the senses, you must try Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge. It is located at 332 East Illinois Street, next to the AMC Theater. This time last week, I was having a delicious dinner with great friends at a fantastic sushi restaurant.

Niu is a spacious pan-Asian eatery in the River East neighborhood within walking distance to the Sheraton Towers Chicago. I should know because that is where I stayed while in Chicago this last week. Niu’s sexy, casually chic dining room can accommodate up to 225 guests.

We went with a party of around 25 and there was no issue in seating us in the back. If you go with a smaller party you can sit in one of the tables facing Illinois street and take in the real Chicago nightlife experience.

The ambiance was perfect, low lighting, candles; very sexy and welcoming. It lent itself to sitting and staying awhile, talking with your company and casual dining but in a relaxed upscale setting. They seated us at two long linear tables.

A round seating would have been more conducive to conversations but honestly, I don’t know if a circular seating would have been possible anywhere with a group this large. Fortunately, the staff was very understanding with all of us moving around to talk to one another. They did a hell of a job keeping our orders straight with all the moving, if I do say so myself and they did not complain or chastise us once.

The food was amazing. There was a huge selection; really something for everyone and any kind of sushi your heart could want was on that menu. I had the Sexy Mexican which was shrimp, spicy Alaskan shredded crab, jalapeno topped with avocado. It was absolutely delicious.

I also sampled the Diablo which was shrimp tempura, cucumber, radish sprout, gobo, topped with baked scallop, Alaskan shredded crab, tobiko and eel sauce. I like spicy and these rolls did not disappoint.

The drink list was extensive. Niu offers a full bar with many house specialties. In case you were wondering, the drinks taste just as good as the food.

The wait staff were like food ninjas slipping in and out of the candlelight, placing our plates of food in front of us without disrupting our conversation. They were courteous and conscious to the fact that we were catching up. Waters were never empty and none of us ever wanted for anything because before we could even notice a deficit, the need had been fulfilled. It was absolutely perfect.

Honestly, I don’t know if it was the restaurant or the company, or maybe it was a little of both, but that dinner was one of the best I have had in a very long time. I have never spent a dinner laughing so hard and sharing sushi, passing around one another’s plates like old friends, even though we had only just met that evening.

My dinner at Niu is not something I will soon ever forget and I hope that your experience there is equally as memorable.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Photo Source: Niu

Best Winter Wonderland Family Vacation Destinations

Posted on Dec 9, 2013 by 2 Comments

Thanksgiving is over and now, it’ time to move on to the next holiday season. If you live in the Midwest or the Northeast parts of the country, you know we are going into rainy/snowy/freezing cold season. Most people in these parts have learned to make the best of the situation and embrace the cold.

Here are some great cold weather destinations, if that is your thing. It’s not mine, I prefer to head south to someplace warm.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is great for the entire family. Kid’s love its impressive Kids Ranch located at the base of the mountain.

Cody House Kids Ranch is an all-inclusive children’s facility with daycare and age-specific activities for kids ages 6 months-17 years old. Once the kids are occupied skiing, snow boarding or doing other fun outdoor programs, you can spend some quality time on the slopes or participate in some of JMHR’s adult programs.

The Canyons Resort, Utah

The Canyons is situated in beautiful Park City, Utah and offers plenty of indoor and outdoor activities. The resort’s clinics offer beginner to advanced ski and snowboard lessons for teens and adults.

For children ages 2-12, The Canyons provide indoor and outdoor childcare plus age appropriate programs at the Perfect Kids Ski School.

Telluride, Colorado

Telluride is a great ski mountain that offers all levels of terrain. Everything in Telluride is within walking distance and that makes it an ideal vacation spot for families.

The Mountain Village Activity Center houses lift tickets, rental equipment and a Children’s Center that has a nursery for infants and toddlers years. The Children’s center also houses children’s ski and snowboard schools.

In addition to clinics for the children, Telluride offers adult ski, snowboard and snow biking lessons.

Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont

Located in the heart of the Green Mountains in Northern Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch has consistently been voted one of the top ski resorts for families. It offers several indoor and outdoor activities for all ages. Programs available include children’s ski and snowboard camps with lessons tailored to certain age brackets. Adventures for teens, outdoor ice skating, and adult lessons will keep everyone busy and enjoying the slopes.

Smuggler’s Notch also boasts a certified childcare center for children ages 6 weeks-3 years. This allows plenty of time for Mom and Dad to take advantage of the resorts indoor activities offered such as swimming in a heated pool, sitting in a hot-tub to soothe tired achy muscles after a long day on the slopes, and relaxing with a soothing massage.

I never thought of a cold weather vacation as a viable option for my family before, but with all the childcare available and different activities, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun for the entire family.

What is your family’s favorite cold weather vacation destination?

Photo Source: Jared Eberhardt

Is Voluntourism for You?

Posted on Dec 2, 2013 by 2 Comments

If you’ve always wanted to travel but finances just haven’t been in agreement, then voluntourism might be just the thing you are looking for, as an individual or as a family.

Basically, voluntourism is an experience where you volunteer some sort of service somewhere that you would like to experience the culture, geography, history, and sights. You go, not only to enjoy the area, but also to serve the people by sharing your talents, resources, and abilities.

In other words, if you are looking for a vacation where you get to spend 24/7 lying on the beach and drinking Pina Coladas, this is not for you.

You might choose to help clean up wildlife areas or use your medical knowledge to help provide children in third world countries with medical care. The opportunities are nearly endless.

You need to expect to pay for many expenses yourself. You’ll more than likely be responsible for your own transportation, although in many areas food and lodging are provided.

For example, here’s an opportunity in the Virgin Islands. A group will be working to fix park trails that have been washed out. Days will be spent outside, creating grades, embankments, and moving gravel. You’ll need to get yourself there, find transportation from the airport to the park, and then you’ll get to spend six days sleeping in four person tents and cooking outside.

Your costs for this would be your airfare, transportation to and from the site, and $290.00 for six days on St. John. All of your afternoons are free to explore the historic ruins and enjoy the sights and culture of the Virgin Islands.

You’d be lucky to get a hotel room and meals for $290.00 a day in that area. It’s a great way to see the world for a reduced rate, build up your resume and life experiences, and get the personal satisfaction of giving back to humanity.

Does this sound like something you’d do?

photo credit: F H Mira via photopin cc

A Man and His Dog Travel 10,000 Miles with Piano

Posted on Oct 1, 2013 by 1 Comment

I like hiking, but I’m not big on carrying a lot of weight in my backpack. It’s just the basics for me. When I read about a musician by the name of Dotan Negrin who has been backpacking around the country with his piano, the story intrigued me.

Dotan Negrin has been backpacking with his piano since April 2011. He calls the project Piano Across America and at this time he has logged in more than 19,000 miles with his dog Brando and his 500-pound piano. All along the way he plays music for people.

Piano Man

Negrin got the idea for this spectacular undertaking after he graduated from a New York City performing arts college. He worked odd jobs to make it through the sluggish economy, but told Fox News, “It was so frustrating waking up every morning doing the same routine working towards someone else’s dream instead of my own dream.”

The 26-year-old musician decided to follow his own dream by playing piano across the United States – on city streets, small towns, and even the Grand Canyon.

Now he has taken his music on the road beyond the U.S. on a 10,000 mile journey from Manhattan to Panama. He is currently in South America where he has already played in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. He sleeps in his truck and lives on a budget. He shops at grocery stores instead of eating out, and doesn’t do a lot of shopping.

I find Negrin’s story inspiring in this day and age. So many college grads find themselves unemployed or underemployed following graduation. This is one young man who showed ingenuity and didn’t settle for that. He has taken a proactive approach to following his dreams and is filming his journey.

He plans on creating a web series that highlights different types of music. Once he returns to the U.S. he also hopes to initiate a free music workshop for kids and maybe even plan a European tour.

Photo Credits: PianoAcrossAmerica

Best Places to See the Foliage this Fall in the Midwest

Posted on Oct 1, 2013 by No Comments

I grew up in the Midwest. The one thing I love most about living in the Midwest is the people and the seasons. I love that we have four and my favorite, like most people, is autumn.

There is something beautiful about the majestic golds, reds and browns as nature prepares for winter. Crisp air, fall colors and sweaters are just a few of the reasons that I love autumn in the Midwest. I want my daughters to take the same joy in seeing nature evolve, and so here are a few of the best places to take your children to see the leaves change in the Midwest.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Twenty minutes from downtown Cleveland is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre preserve. Walkers and bicyclists can stream along the beautiful and scenic 20-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

There are also 100 miles of additional trails to choose from. It’s a beautiful place to bring the family to earn a greater appreciation for the scenic nature that lives right outside the city.

Shawnee Hills Wine Trail

Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is made up of several quaint towns. It is the epitome of fall; fresh-picked apples fill baskets at Rendleman Orchards’ Farm Market. Walking trails around Cedar Lake cross creek shallows; hikes through Little Grand Canyon and Giant City State Park allow you to see nature in all of its glory up close and personal. And what is not to like about wineries and cabins? Sounds like a perfect autumn weekend getaway to me.

Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway

Near Chicago and St. Louis, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway winds through natural areas and past scenic water views, bluffs and brilliant fall foliage that you would hardly expect form Illinois.

Ashtabula County’s Covered Bridges

Benetka Road Covered Bridge, in Ashtabula County Ohio, was built around 1900 and renovated in 1985. It spans the Ashtabula River and is one of 17 historic and reconstructed bridges in northeast Ohio’s Ashtabula County.

In the fall, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival features tours of the bridges plus country music, a parade and other entertainment. Sounds like a good time to me.

Parke County’s Covered Bridges

Parke County Indiana has thirty-one covered bridges – the highest concentration of covered bridges in the country. Located 55 miles west of Indianapolis in the Wabash River Valley, you’ll find the nation’s highest concentration of covered bridges. In October, tour buses will guide you along the Covered Bridge Festival.

Brown County Indiana

I spent a lot of time hiking in Brown County when I lived in Indianapolis. Like me, artists have been drawn to its natural beauty and rolling hills. The area surrounding Brown County, Nashville Indiana, has lots of cool boutiques and an artistic feel. It reminds me a lot of Asheville, North Carolina.

Visitors come from all over to enjoy the arts and the scenery, especially in autumn. Brown County State Park is Indiana’s largest state park and spreads over hills and offers activities for everyone such as horseback-riding, hiking and mountain bike trails.

Where is your favorite place to see the leaves turn this fall?

Photo Source: KimberlyKV

4 Things to Do of Before Leaving on Vacation

Posted on Sep 23, 2013 by 2 Comments

Last month, I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to Florida. It was one of those spontaneous opportunities, and I only had a week to prepare. I pulled out my list of things to take care of when going on vacation and it helped take the stress out of getting ready to leave.

When leaving for more than three days, it’s important to take care of things that don’t broadcast the fact that you’re not home.

Mail/Newspapers

I asked my neighbor to take in my mail and to keep an eye on the house. If you don’t have a neighbor you can trust, arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail. Leaving your mail to pile up in the mailbox not only signals you’re not home, but it is also an opportunity for an identity thief to sift through your mail looking for bank records, credit card statements, and other financial information they can use to steal from you.

Know How Much You Can Spend

It’s so easy to spend more than you can afford while away, but I’m a firm believer in following a budget. My husband and I sat down and discussed our spending limits before we ever packed. In my book, if I have to pay on a credit card for the next year to pay off a few days of fun, it’s not worth it.

Digital timer

Use a digital timer to make it look like someone is home.

Make It Look Like Your Home

I have a couple digital programmable timers that turn on lights when I’m not home. These timers make it possible to have lights come on at different times in different rooms making it look like someone is home to passersby.

Pay Your Bills

Unfortunately, bills don’t take a vacation. I looked ahead and saw the electric bill would fall due while I was gone. This is one bill I don’t pay online, so I went in and paid it before I left. I asked for a receipt just in case anything wonky would result because I paid ahead of time.

Don’t Announce Your Trip on Social Medial

While this isn’t on my list, it is worth a reminder not to announce your trip on Facebook or other social media sites. It’s like announcing that your house is empty. Wait until you get home to share the news.

Photo credits: rhoftonphoto, Amazon.com