Time Out- I’m Still In Shock

This past weekend, my friend Peggy tagged me in a post on Facebook and said, “Go Girl.” I hadn’t seen what it was on Facebook yet, but I was definitely intrigued from the email notification. When I clicked the link, I was in complete disbelief and wasn’t quite sure still what it was I was looking at, even though the title of the Time Out article said, “11 Chicago-based Instagram Accounts You Should Follow.”

Time Out Chicago

Time Out Chicago

Holy cow!!!! WHAT?! I was named a top account to follow on Instagram by Time Out? In ALL of Chicago? Out of the thousands of other amazing photographers and accounts out there? I wish someone could have videotaped the stunned expression on my face as this all dawned on me. I’m sure it was priceless. Here’s the article for your reference:

https://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/11-chicago-based-instagram-accounts-you-should-follow-081916

My Picture Of Takito Kitchen In Time Out

My Picture Of Takito Kitchen In Time Out

The timing of this article could not have been any more perfect. Admittedly, I’ve been feeling a little blah about my passion project lately. I’ve been seriously questioning what I’m doing, why and what it is all for? For as much fun as it has been and all the amazing opportunities I’ve received out of the blog, it’s really tough to not get caught up in all of it sometimes; comparing yourself to others, how many followers you have, what other people were invited to that you were not, etc.

If for nothing else, it was nice to get noticed by a very well-known publication that most people use frequently (I know I’m always perusing Time Out to see what to do in Chicago on any given weekend). Maybe it was the little boost I needed to stay on course, even though I’m not sure where this is all going.  Maybe I just needed some validation that I don’t totally suck (cause let’s be real, even the most positive among us has these kinds of feelings every now and then). Maybe it means nothing at all (which is probably true), but it was just the reminder I needed to keep going and continue to do my thing.

Enjoying Life in Chicago

Enjoying Life in Chicago

Well, whatever the reason, thank you Time Out for the recognition and noticing me!

Cruisin’ In Style

In case you didn’t know already, I took an amazing trip to the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel recently (click here to read about it). What an unbelievable trip. I’m ready to go back!

Beautiful Dominican Republic

Beautiful Dominican Republic

While I spent a lot of time in the sun and water, I also wanted to get dressed up in the evenings and look great. I had the chance to bring a stunning Rent The Runway outfit with me on the cruise and let me tell you, this outfit was a head turner.

I kid you not, the evening I wore this dress to dinner, I had endless compliments on how awesome my dress, clutch and accessories were. Not only that, even a few days later I still had people mentioning the dress and asking me where it was from! Wow, I guess it really was a hit.

 

 

Clearly I had to share the details with everyone that asked, so I thought it made sense to share it with you all as well. Click on the following links for the dress, clutch, earrings and bracelet. And, I have to take a moment to thank my amazing photographer, Peggy. I mean, these fantastic shots are all because of her (it really does help to travel with a fashion blogger)!

All these items are still available and if you use this link, you can save $30 on your first order. Check it out. Oh, and if you go to the Rent The Runway store in Chicago, ask for Jessica. She’s the most amazing stylist and will create an awesome look for you. I mean, see what she did for me?!?!

 

Please Note: While I was provided this opportunity, all opinions are my own.

Chicago Happenings – July Recap

I love summer. I have seriously been having a blast and I just don’t want this beautiful weather to ever end. I can’t remember a more perfect summer (weather-wise at least)! Here are some great things I did in the month of July:

Upton's Breakroom

Upton’s Breakroom

Upton’s Breakroom– I was so excited to be invited to Upton’s Breakroom (the all vegan cafe), not only to try out the awesome array of vegan options they serve, but mostly because I was finally going to try the popular and trendy vegan meat substitute, jackfruit. Jackfruit has been gaining quite the popularity since it is plant-based and all-natural. I tried all kinds of great dishes and absolutely loved the al pastor jackfruit tacos; jackfruit marinated in adobo and pineapple, served with chopped cilantro and fresh onion on corn tortillas. It was unexpectedly spicy and flavorful. I also absolutely LOVED the nacho plate; chorizo seitan, navy beans, salsa verde, cheese sauce, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, crema and cilantro with corn tortilla chips. Also, make note that everything in this cafe is nut-free as well. If you know of anyone looking for vegan AND nut-free options, this is going to be your new best friend. Lastly, you can find Upton’s Natural seitan and jackfruit products at your local Whole Foods if you’d like to make these dishes at home on your own. I’m definitely going to try to recreate the jackfruit tacos at home, but let’s be real, they probably won’t come close to the ones at Upton’s Breakroom.

Umami Burger West Loop

Umami Burger West Loop

Umami Burger West Loop– I feel like for every one restaurant I cross off my list of places I want to eat at in Chicago, 10 new restaurants are added and this list just gets longer than shorter. Umami Burger had been on my list for well over a year and I just never had the chance to make it there. That is until just a few weeks ago. I was so lucky to be invited to check out the new West Loop location before it opened to the public. And, wow, did the staff go all out to give me the best veggie experience ever! I got to try pretty much every vegetarian offering on the menu (and a few that normally have meat but were made vegetarian for me). While there were so many amazing options, I’d have to say that hands-down my favorites were the falafel burger (falafel patty, beet infused couscous, crushed avocado, romaine, tomato, tzatziki and pickled red onion) and the smothered truffle fries. I also absolutely fell in love with the cocktail called the Garden Party; Brooklyn Handcrafted Gin, Giffard Pamplemousse, rose lavender rosemary syrup and fresh fruit. Such a light, refreshing, perfect summer drink. If you haven’t been to Umami Burger yet, you are definitely missing out.

The Drake Hotel Afternoon Tea

The Drake Hotel Afternoon Tea

Historic Hotels of America– I had the chance to attend a luncheon to learn more about the Historic Hotels of America, which are comprised of more than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains and collections. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark, listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as having historic significance. Quite the feat! Our luncheon was at The Drake in downtown Chicago and it was great to learn more about the beautiful hotel and some fun facts (like where all the celebrities like to be seated when dining at the restaurant Cape Cod). Our lunch concluded with the famous afternoon tea in the Palm Court. What a fun, educational and delicious way to learn more about some of the greatest hotels across the nation.

The Blanchard

The Blanchard

The Blanchard– It can be near impossible to stay on top of the sheer volume of restaurants that are in Chicago. The Blanchard is one of those fabulous restaurants that just slipped under the radar for me, but I’m so glad that I’ve recently been to this wonderful and elegant French restaurant twice now. Tucked away in Lincoln Park, I had the chance to enjoy a great brunch on their outdoor patio as well as celebrate Bastille Day with some rosé. While the menu is limited from a vegetarian perspective, there were definitely great options and I did not leave hungry. One of my favorite brunch items were the classic crepes; house-made nutella, caramelized bananas and banana marshmallow brulée. I just couldn’t get enough! Also, we tried the lavender creme brulée which was to die for. The flavor was subtle and perfect and I literally couldn’t stop eating it. Definitely worth getting so make sure you save room for dessert.

Taste of Chicago

Taste of Chicago

Taste Of Chicago– This popular, annual event is one of Chicago’s best known festivals. Bringing together food, music and summertime in Chicago, what’s not to love? One of the main sponsors, Humana, is committed to making sure there are healthier options at the fest, which is really nice to see. The Humana Healthier Choices Rewards Program allows attendees to clearly see what menu items are listed as “healthy” by a green mark next to the item on the menu. These Humana Healthier Choices are a physician-reviewed listing of appetizers, entrees and desserts, which are all under 500 calories. I tried out several delicious items ranging from avocado toast to chili-lime watermelon and a veggie burger. It was so great to eat healthy at a food festival that is best known for items like deep-dish pizza and cheesecake. Keep your eyes peeled at next year’s Taste of Chicago because now you know you don’t have to derail your healthy eating habits while being at a fun food festival.

 

Please Note: While I was invited to these events, all opinions are my own.

Fathom This

Sometimes, you can’t even imagine it until you experience it.

I’m not even really sure where to begin with describing my one week adventure with Fathom to the Dominican Republic (DR) with my dear friend Peggy. I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do; give back while on vacation (also known as voluntourism or impact travel). It’s also near impossible to put all of the emotions and experiences into words… I hate to say it, but you kind of had to be there. But, stick with me and I’ll do my best to convey my journey.

Beautiful Dominican Republic Sunset

Beautiful Dominican Republic Sunset

Just to give you a brief overview, Fathom travels every other week to the Dominican Republic for a one-week long cruise leaving out of Miami. The first two days are spent at sea on the way to the DR, the next three full days are spent docked at Amber Cove on the north side of the island, and then the last two days are spent back at sea on the way back to Miami.

First Views Approaching Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

First Views Approaching Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

Fathom Cruise Aboard The Adonia Boat

Fathom Cruise Aboard The Adonia Boat

Adonia Docked At Amber Cove

Adonia Docked At Amber Cove

Amber Cove

Amber Cove

Beautiful Sunset At Amber Cove

Beautiful Sunset At Amber Cove

I’m not really a cruise person (I’ve been on one before and wasn’t really a fan), but this cruise is very different from your average cruise to the Caribbean. The days at sea are spent learning about the DR, the culture, the impact activities you will partake in, Spanish lessons and in-depth sessions on uncovering your own personal truth. Don’t get me wrong, you can also sit by the pool, sip a daiquiri and enjoy all the other on-board activities. That’s the great thing about life on the Adonia (the name of the ship)…it’s all up to you on how you spend your time. I have to say that it was nice to have more meaningful activities to fill our time, even while we enjoyed the warm summer sun and relaxing on the balcony of our cabin reading a book.

Learning About The Dominican Republic

Learning About The Dominican Republic

Breakfast Aboard The Adonia Ship

Breakfast Aboard The Adonia Ship

Drinks Poolside

Drinks Poolside

Relaxing And Reading On Our Balcony

Relaxing And Reading On Our Balcony

Being Silly With Peggy

Being Silly With Peggy

I knew I would have three full days to split my time evenly between volunteering in several activities of my choice as well as playing in the hot DR sun. And you know that I took complete advantage of doing both of those to the max! For this post, I’m going to focus just on the volunteer activities I participated in so you can get an idea of the one of the real reasons I went on this trip to begin with.

Beautiful Sosua Beach Where We Went Snorkeling

Beautiful Sosua Beach Where We Went Snorkeling

And, I feel like I should share this little tidbit upfront too; I’m normally a pretty positive, open person, but even I admittedly went into these volunteer activities a little skeptical with how much I could really change or make an impact on the people of the DR. I mean, how much can you accomplish in just a few short hours at each impact activity? Well, read on and I hope you will have a more clear answer by the end.

Community English– For this impact activity we actually went into the homes of locals and taught English. We first met at a local community center where we did some ice-breakers and then were paired off to go into a local’s home. Because there were more of us volunteers than locals, it ended up being three of us volunteers to go to one house. It worked out great though because when we arrived at the house, there already 5 others there waiting for the English lesson. And, more came later! I ended up working with two women, Juanita and Dwana, teaching them how to say body parts in English. Seeing that I speak pretty much zero Spanish, I was truly humbled by trying to teach how to pronounce words like hand, feet and ears in English to people who don’t necessarily use the same consonants that we do. At times I felt frustrated by the language barrier, but I also needed to exercise patience as Juanita and Dwana kept repeating words to get them correct. Over the course of an hour and half, we did this lesson on body parts, but also reviewed previous lessons they had learned on shapes, colors and numbers. By the end, we developed a better understanding of each other and found our rhythm and I could tell that they both were so grateful with the opportunity to learn and develop their English skills. I also realized that this was a much tougher task than I thought it would be, and it taught me a new level of patience and appreciation to learn something so completely outside of what you know. It’s funny because I thought I was teaching them something, but they actually taught me more.

The Impact Center To Meet For Community English

The Impact Center To Meet For Community English

In Juanita's Home Where I Taught Her And Dwana English

In Juanita’s Home Where I Taught Her And Dwana English

Peggy Taught These Lovely Folks English

Peggy Taught These Lovely Folks English

Concrete Floors– I hadn’t intended on doing this activity, but because some of the other activities I wanted to do were full, I did this one by default. And, oh the irony…this activity was probably the most impactful one of them all. Why you ask? Because when we arrived, we saw a home with a dirt floor and when we left 3 hours later, this home now had a concrete floor. BOOM. I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own heart the true impact of creating a real home for this young couple and their son and they just could not thank us enough. They said that their three-year old son now had a safe and clean environment to play and grow up in, and it would not have been possible without our help, support, time and dedication. They saved up for over 3.5 years to build this house on their own (out of basically deconstructed wood crates that vegetables are delivered in) where the most costly part was the tin roof. I mean, how do you not feel completely moved by that? It made passing heavy buckets of concrete in 100+ degree weather seem so trivial. All I know is that this activity was a HUGE reminder to not take anything for granted and to also know that this family now has what they can call a home with a beautiful floor. And, that, I will always be touched by.

The "Before" Picture With Dirt Floors

The “Before” Picture With Dirt Floors

Assessing The Inside Of The House

Assessing The Inside Of The House

Part Of Our Group Mixing The Concrete

Part Of Our Group Mixing The Concrete

Getting Ready To Get To Work!

Getting Ready To Get To Work!

Peggy Getting Ready To Work!

Peggy Getting Ready To Work!

The "After" Picture Of The House With Concrete Floors!

The “After” Picture Of The House With Concrete Floors!

The Entire Crew That Worked Hard In The HOT Sun!

The Entire Crew That Worked Hard In The HOT Sun!

My New Little Friend

My New Little Friend

Creative Arts, Music and Sports (CAMS)– For this activity we went to a local elementary school and partook in doing a half day summer camp with kids since they were already on their summer break. When we arrived at the school we did an icebreaker and then were immediately paired up with one kid to do an English lesson. I was working with Isaac (who was probably about 12 years old) and even though his reading and speaking skills were quite advanced, there was still a language barrier between us. About fifteen minutes into the session, he kept asking me something in Spanish that I could not understand, so I had one of the teachers come by to translate what he was asking. Turns out he was asking if I was going to come back tomorrow to work with him. Wow! I was shocked that he was already developing such a bond with me in such a short amount of time (tug at heart-strings here). In a way, I felt like it made the rest of our time that much more special since I knew he really felt connected to me. After our English lesson the entire group went outside and played baseball in the school’s activity court. It was a fun way to interact with more students and do something physical. The time flew by fast and at the end, Isaac said no less than ten times to me, “Please don’t go.” I truly wish I could’ve stayed or come back again to see him and get to know him more. The connection we developed in such a short time was no less than amazing.

A Selfie With Isaac

A Selfie With Isaac

With Isaac And Friends

With Isaac And Friends

Getting Ready For A Game Of Baseball

Getting Ready For A Game Of Baseball

Playing Baseball With The Kids

Playing Baseball With The Kids

The Cheering Section

The Cheering Section

Taking A Group Picture With All The Kids

Taking A Group Picture With All The Kids

So, as I mentioned earlier, I was a little skeptical on how much of an impact I really thought I could make in such a short amount of time. I hope you were able to see that each activity left such an impression on me personally and in more ways than I could have ever imagined. What a special and unbelievable feeling to know that I helped others, even if it was sometimes in the smallest way possible. My trip with Fathom was exactly the kind of trip I have been wanting to take for years…something meaningful while still having fun and going somewhere new. If you have ever wanted to do something outside of your comfort zone, help others or just take a different kind of trip, I can’t recommend Fathom enough. Even us non-cruise people can get on board with something that will make you feel like doing your part to give back to those less fortunate.

 

Please Note: While I was invited to join for the entire week with Fathom to the Dominican Republic, all opinions are my own.

Chicago Happenings – June Recap Part 2

Considering I was on vacation to Miami and the Dominican Republic for 9 days in June, I sure did still do a lot here in Chicago. As always, many great openings this summer and endless amounts of fun…so much so, that I’m going to split up this recap into two parts (read Part 1 here). Here’s Part 2:

By The Park Cookies

By The Park Cookies

By The Park Cookies– This adorable Lincoln Park cookie shop has some seriously tasty treats. Distinctively delicious cookies, bars and biscotti are handcrafted with unique flavor combinations and it’s tough to pick just one out from the awesome line-up. I tried several different cookies and if I had to pick one as a favorite, it was the Boston Common Park cookie which has peanut butter and jam and is actually vegan. It was so good! What I love more is the story behind By The Park and the wonderful owner Isabel who quit her job in investment banking to follow her passion. I’m always inspired by entrepreneurs like her and want nothing more than to see her succeed. Let’s all go get some yummy cookies and help promote a small business while we are at it. #winning

Seadog Sushi Bar

Seadog Sushi Bar

Seadog Sushi Bar– I LOVE finding great sushi places that know how to feed us vegetarian and vegan folk. You wouldn’t expect it to be such a big deal, but a boring avocado and cucumber roll does not suffice as an option for my dinner. Seadog Sushi Bar on the other hand has an entire separate vegan menu and tons of great vegetarian options. I have to say I was truly blown away at the attention and detail they have put into making sure they have plenty of options for us veggies out there. I tried so many great rolls and I have to say two of my favorites were the V3 maki (marinated shiitake mushrooms and avocado topped with Japanese-flavored fried tofu) and the Secret Garden maki (tempura roll with spring mix, asparagus, avocado, mango, kampyo and served with sesame dressing and miso dressing). If you find yourself in Wicker Park, make sure to go to Seadog Sushi Bar, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Rachael Ray Feedback Festival

Rachael Ray Feedback Festival

Rachael Ray Feedback Festival– A beautiful (albeit HOT) Saturday evening in Lincoln Park Zoo with food and music sounds like a perfect evening to me. Famous TV personality and chef Rachael Ray brought this festival to Chicago for the first time. I had a fun evening catching up with fellow foodie friends while enjoying some tasty bites and cool beverages and keeping our eyes peeled for Rachael Ray and other Food Network chefs. One of the fun things we got to try out were the “pie-sicles” from Marie Callender’s. These perfect summer treats are made with Marie Callender’s frozen pies with additional ingredients, all just blended together. And, we found out from the chef that an even better version has some alcohol mixed into it. Hmm, I’m going to have to give that one a try. Anyways, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s Feedback Festival either here in Chicago or at South by Southwest where it is usually held.

Seven Lions Wine Event

Seven Lions Wine Event

Seven Lions Wine Event–  It was a lovely wine tasting event with Master Sommelier Alpana Singh together with Drew Harris of Shop Your Closets at Seven Lions. Drew gave tips on how to get the most out of your wardrobe, featuring de-cluttering techniques, styling tips, and go-to organization rules for any closet (which I REALLY need). More so, the evening also focused on raising awareness about Deborah’s Place, a non-profit that provides supportive housing for single women experiencing homelessness. The proceeds of the evening went to this organization and also allowed attendees to learn about ways they can volunteer and household items that can be donated to Deborah’s Place. I’ve been meaning to declutter my place and I’m glad to have now found a place that I know I can donate to those who need it the most. If you are looking to help those less fortunate, please consider donating to or volunteering at Deborah’s Place.

 

Please Note: While I was invited to these events, all opinions are my own.