Author Archives: vegetariantourist

Just Another Tuesday Lunch

Oh, you know, just another Tuesday lunch.

A three-course meal at Spiaggia prepared by the Executive Chef and Top Chef Season 15 winner Joe Flamm. Also in attendance were Barilla ambassadors Roger Federer and Mikaela Shiffrin. Yes, you read that correctly. Roger Federer, THE tennis player and Mikaela Shiffrin, THE Olympic skier. Is this real life?

I’m 1000% sure this will be coined as the best lunch event of my life so far. Here’s a quick recap.

After arriving at Spiaggia for the Barilla® Collezione Masters of Pasta event hosted by Barilla, we got to nosh on some lovely appetizers, like the beautiful toasts topped with burrata, seasonal fruit, whipped honey vinaigrette, basil and pistachio. Sooooo good!

Gorgeous lunch set up at Spiaggia

Gorgeous lunch set up at Spiaggia

Beautiful and delicious appetizers

Beautiful and delicious appetizers

Barilla introduced all the fabulous stars, followed by a pasta cooking demo from Chef Joe Flamm. Both Roger Federer and Mikaela Shiffrin went into the kitchen with Chef. I was hoping they would take on the role of sous chefs, but alas, they did not! Ha ha. They intently watched the demo as we all did.

Introducing Chef Joe Flamm and Roger Federer

Introducing Chef Joe Flamm and Roger Federer

Now Introducing Mikaela Shiffrin

Now Introducing Mikaela Shiffrin

Federer and Shiffrin head into the kitchen!

Federer and Shiffrin head into the kitchen!

Chef showed us how he was preparing the Barilla® Collezione Rigatoni for our lunch that day. This pasta is extra special because it is bronze cut, which means it has a more rough, porous surface that results in a texture similar to homemade pasta. It also allows sauce to better cling to the pasta, which is perfect for me because I like my pasta dishes saucy!

Chef Joe Flamm's demo

Chef Joe Flamm’s demo

Putting the final touches on the dish

Putting the final touches on the dish

Is the plated dish the star of this photo?!?!

Is the plated dish the star of this photo?!?!

After the pasta cooking demo, we had the chance to sit down to our unbelievable three-course meal. Mine started with a special vegetarian beet salad (the rest of the group had tuna), followed by the Barilla Collezione Rigatoni with fresh and dried tomatoes, and ending with an absolutely yummy Tutti Frutti dessert. My mouth is literally watering thinking of all these amazing dishes!

Beet salad

Beet salad

Barilla Collezione Rigatoni dish

Barilla Collezione Rigatoni dish

Tutti Frutti dessert

Tutti Frutti dessert

The lunch concluded with something I was really looking forward to: a picture with Roger Federer! He will be participating in the Laver Cup this weekend in Chicago at the United Center (September 21-23) and Barilla is one of the official sponsors of the event. You should definitely head to the Laver Cup Fan Village in the lot around the United Center and find the Barilla Masters of Pasta Cucina area (get your free tickets here).  Who knows who you might see there!

With my new friend Roger Federer!!

With my new friend Roger Federer!!

 

Please Note: This post is in partnership with Barilla. All opinions are my own.

A Very Special Mother-Daughter Day

It’s safe to say that Moms deserve to have it be Mother’s Day every single day of the year. They work tirelessly around the clock without one single day off, to selflessly take care of those that they love. This year on Mother’s Day, my Mom was in New Jersey joyously marveling in one of her new titles; Grandmother. She spent about two months in NJ to help out my brother and sister-in-law with their new titles as parents. I was bummed not to get to spend Mother’s Day with my Mom this year, so I decided to do something special for her a few months later.

Mom With Her New Title Of Grandmother

Mom With Her New Title Of Grandmother

I knew my Mom deserved something exceptional and I wanted to plan a day that I knew would be memorable for her. My Mom always thinks of others ahead of herself and she rarely treats herself out. So, I wanted to come up with something that would feel like a real outing and something my Mom would always remember. She is definitely the kind of person that talks about favorite memories for years afterwards.

As I was thinking of what to do, I remembered that my Mom is always asking me where to get great facials. Then the light bulb went off in my head and it was a no-brainer on where to take her; The Peninsula Spa. I had my first facial at The Peninsula back in February and I can’t even tell you how many people told me my skin looked amazing even a few weeks after the facial (my Mom included). I knew this would be the perfect way to allow her to relax while getting an exquisite facial treatment. I also have wanted to take my Mom to afternoon tea for YEARS since she has never been before. So this was finally the perfect plan; facials followed by afternoon tea at The Peninsula Chicago.

We arrived at The Peninsula Spa about an hour and half before our facial time at 3pm, just to relax at the fantastic pool and outdoor spa terrace overlooking the city. It was the perfect way to spend some uninterrupted time together and chill out before our treatments. About half an hour before our facials, we made our way to the serene and cozy waiting area, where we relaxed in our plush robes on the heavenly private beds, while sipping on some hot tea. Even though I knew my facial was coming up, I didn’t want to leave that bed!!

Ready For Our Day At The Peninsula

Ready For Our Day At The Peninsula

Mom's First Visit To The Peninsula Chicago

Mom’s First Visit To The Peninsula Chicago

Arriving At The Wonderful Peninsula Spa

Arriving At The Wonderful Peninsula Spa

Enjoying The View From The Spa Terrace

Enjoying The View From The Spa Terrace

Relaxing Poolside

Relaxing Poolside

Relaxation Area Before Our Facials

Relaxation Area Before Our Facials

Our facials were the Biologique Recherche Facial which is a French luxury skincare line utilizing unique formulas rich in botanical, marine and biotechnical extracts. This facial is considered a cryofacial in that it uses cold therapy instead of heat therapy like most facials. Between that and the top of the line products that are used, you will notice immediate results that make your skin look completely revamped. Definitely the best facial I’ve ever had and my Mom couldn’t stop looking in the mirror at how rejuvenated her skin looked after just one treatment.

The Facial Room- I'm Ready!

The Facial Room- I’m Ready!

That Post-Facial Glow

That Post-Facial Glow

After freshening up, we made our way down to The Lobby for the opulent Afternoon Tea. I’ve been many times before and it is truthfully my favorite Afternoon Tea in the entire city of Chicago. It’s a fun way to cherish this timeless tradition with some of the highest quality tea, tasty food and exceptional service . Another wonderful thing to know is that The Peninsula has specially curated menus for dietary restrictions, like a separate vegetarian and vegan menu. It was so nice to see a menu that we knew we could eat every single item from.

The Beautiful Lobby For Afternoon Tea

The Beautiful Lobby For Afternoon Tea

Vegetarian Afternoon Tea Menu

Vegetarian Afternoon Tea Menu

Because this was my Mom’s first Afternoon Tea, she was just so happy to see the beautiful presentation and indulge in such delicious food. We chatted and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed each moment as we decided which item we were going to try next from the gorgeous silver tower of finger sandwiches and pastries. I could just see the happiness and relaxation on my Mom’s face as she sipped her tea and took in the lovely surroundings and live music.

Love The Rose Tea I Chose

Love The Rose Tea I Chose

The Stunning Silver Tower Of Sandwiches And Pastries

The Stunning Silver Tower Of Sandwiches And Pastries

Mom And I Enjoying Our Afternoon Tea

Mom And I Enjoying Our Afternoon Tea

Doesn't This Look Amazing?

Doesn’t This Look Amazing?

Mom Never Looked More Relaxed And Happy!

Mom Never Looked More Relaxed And Happy!

Luckily I have a bunch of pictures to remember all the moments of the day, but that bright smile on my Mom’s face is something that will forever be etched in my heart. I haven’t seen her that glowing and carefree in a long time. And for that, I’d say that Mother-Daughter Day 2018 was a huge success. I think she’d agree too. Love you Mom!

 

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with The Peninsula Chicago. All opinions are my own.

A New View Of Chicago

Having lived in Chicago for so long now, I was pretty sure I’d seen Chicago from all angles and modes of transportation. Flying over the city many times from both O’hare and Midway airports, from all the trains including the El, Metra and even Amtrak, from boats, buses, cars, taxis, ubers, horse drawn carriages and on foot. I think that exhausts the entire list of options.

Except for one. There was one elusive, bucket-list mode of transportation that I had yet to view the skyline from. And, now I can officially cross this off my list and say I’ve experienced it.

I finally went on my first helicopter ride over Chicago and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve done in a long time! Chicago Helicopter Experience is an awesome way to see the city from a new view and it’s such an exhilarating ride.

Chicago Helicopter Experience

Chicago Helicopter Experience

Gotta Take A Selfie

Gotta Take A Selfie

I thought it would be similar to flying over the city in a plane, but it’s such a different experience. You are so much closer to the city and buildings and almost feel like you are a part of them. It’s so much more intimate than you will ever feel in a commercial airplane and I can’t recommend it enough if you are looking for something different and unique to do. A helicopter ride is great for a special event like a birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. or just a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list thing to do.

Shortly After Leaving The Heliport

Shortly After Leaving The Heliport

Views Over Northerly Island

Views Over Northerly Island

Sitting Right Behind The Pilot

Sitting Right Behind The Pilot

Love The Shadows!

Love The Shadows!

Many friends asked me if I was scared and what it felt like to be in a helicopter. I wasn’t even the least bit worried about it and it was such a smooth ride. The helicopter may sway a little during takeoff and landing, but nothing that made me worried in the least. I actually felt the whole process was smoother than an airplane and because of that, now I wish I could travel everywhere by helicopter…ha ha. I mean, the up close and personal views alone are worth every second of it.

One Of My Favorite Views From The Helicopter

One Of My Favorite Views From The Helicopter

Gorgeous Day Chicago!

Gorgeous Day Chicago!

Up Close And Personal

Up Close And Personal

Flying Over Navy Pier With Cool Shadows Of Lake Point Tower

Flying Over Navy Pier With Cool Shadows Of Lake Point Tower

If you are in Chicago or plan to visit, definitely check out Chicago Helicopter Experience for what will be a memorable and fun way to see the city, while getting the best aerial views. I promise you will love it.

 

Please Note: While I experienced the helicopter ride at a media event, all opinions are my own.

Cuba, The Place That Stole My Heart

Oh Cuba, you mysterious neighbor to the United States (just 90 miles from Florida as a matter of fact).

I knew I was not alone in my lack of knowledge of much of the history of this Caribbean nation and what the Cuban people have endured, but also what it is really like to travel to Cuba. With newly enforced travel restrictions as of November 2017 and lots of conflicting information on the interwebs on actually trying to travel to this beautiful country, I’m here to tell you that Cuba should definitely be on your list of places to visit. And, it’s not as hard to travel there as you may think (or better phrased, as the US government makes it seem).

I can’t predict how the rules will change by the time you expect to visit, but know that it is possible and not difficult to visit Cuba as a US citizen. And you should go. NOW! Check out this article published on Conde Nast Traveler right before I left for my trip, ‘Yes, You Can Still Visit Cuba Legally – and It’s Safe.’

My trip to Cuba was more than just a vacation and another stamp in my passport; it was a culturally enriching, eye-opening and soul awakening trip that has changed me forever. Definitely for the better! I was so lucky to attend and participate in a one week yoga retreat at Mhai Yoga, about 20 minutes outside of Havana along the beautiful beaches of Playas del Este.

Mhai Yoga Retreat

Mhai Yoga Retreat

Mhai Yoga Mural

Mhai Yoga Mural

Yoga Shala Where We Practiced Yoga

Yoga Shala Where We Practiced Yoga

Yoga Class Underway

Yoga Class Underway

Beautiful Beaches of Playas del Este

Beautiful Beaches of Playas del Este

The yoga and mediation portion of the retreat, led by Eduardo Pimental (nicknamed the founder of yoga in Cuba) was introspective, calming and just what this city girl needed to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It was the perfect way to disconnect and reconnect with myself in a beautiful setting with minimal distractions. Mhai Yoga is co-founded by Christine (aka Coco) who is an integral part of the week-long experience with her insight on yoga and the Cuban way of life. What I really appreciated about Mhai Yoga is that you have structured time of yoga, meals and included excursions, but then enough free time for your own leisure activities like taking a stroll along the beach or going kite surfing (which I didn’t get a chance to do on this trip…next time!). Lastly, what I absolutely LOVED about Mhai Yoga is that it is all vegetarian (fish is offered at a few meals for those who choose to have it)! Talk about a dream come true, where I did not have to worry about finding vegetarian options while at the retreat. The food was absolutely delicious and Chef Ernesto and his team are rock stars. Since I’ve been back home in Chicago, I’ve been seriously craving their amazing cuisine.

Yoga Class Led by Eduardo Pimental

Yoga Class Led by Eduardo Pimental

Mhai Yoga Co-Founder Coco

Mhai Yoga Co-Founder Coco

Our Group With Eduardo

Our Group With Eduardo

Morning Cup of Cuban Coffee For a Stroll On the Beach

Morning Cup of Cuban Coffee For a Stroll On the Beach

Guava Chia Pudding Jars For Breakfast

Guava Chia Pudding Jars For Breakfast

Organic Buddha Bowls For Dinner

Organic Buddha Bowls For Dinner

Outside of the yoga retreat itself, the rest of the week was spent exploring Havana and an area about 3 hours outside of Havana called Vinales. Here are some highlights from each destination (trust me, it was tough to narrow this section down because we did SO much!):

Havana– My immediate reaction to Havana was one of being completely in love. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint what exactly it was, but I know for sure one part was seeing all of those beautiful vintage cars against the stunning backdrop of colonial buildings lined with cobblestone roads. The architecture and the city’s presence along the ocean give way to a gorgeous backdrop at each corner. Havana is truly a photographer’s paradise! Even within Havana itself are neighborhoods with unique character and finds, like Fusterlandia, the neighborhood covered in mosaic tile art of Jose Fuster, that is just so fun and wacky. Another example is that of the beautiful parks in Havana like the Bosque de Almendares, where we went for a sunset drive in pink convertibles. In all honestly, I could have spent another week just roaming around Havana, enjoying all the sights, sounds (there is music on practically every corner) and just taking another million pictures! Oh, and definitely drinking a few more of the best mojitos I’ve ever had in my life from El Dandy.

Beautiful Havana

Beautiful Havana

Loved The Colorful Streets and Old Cars

Loved The Colorful Streets and Old Cars

Colonial Architecture of Havana

Colonial Architecture of Havana

Vivid Colors of Havana

Vivid Colors of Havana

Sunset Along The Malecon

Sunset Along The Malecon

Never Got Tired Of These Colors

Never Got Tired Of These Colors

Live Cuban Music Everywhere

Live Cuban Music Everywhere

Had To Get A Shot In A Covertible

Had To Get A Shot In A Covertible

Mosaic Tile Art Work at Fusterlandia

Mosaic Tile Art Work at Fusterlandia

Viva Cuba!

Viva Cuba!

Lunch Views

Lunch Views

Sunset Drive Through Bosque de Almendares

Sunset Drive Through Bosque de Almendares

Best Mojitos of My Life at El Dandy

Best Mojitos of My Life at El Dandy

Vinales– Set against beautiful limestone hills, Vinales is known for it’s laid back vibe and lush tobacco and coffee plantations. While visiting here, not only we did we go horseback riding through these plantations, we got demonstrations on how coffee beans are picked and roasted as well as how the infamous Cuban cigar is made. We enjoyed some very large family-style meals on two separate organic farms with a true sampling of Cuban delicacies like plantain chips, tostones, fresh organic vegetable salad, black beans and rice (congris), taro root with garlic sauce, eggplant casserole and so much more (these were just the vegetarian options). One morning we rose early and started our hike in the dark at 5:30am to reach the top of a mountain in time for the sunrise and a morning meditation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. And, like a true tourist, I found the local market in the cute little downtown area to scope out some souvenirs for family and friends back home. Vinales being the rustic, chill town that it is, brought about a nice contrast to the big city life of Havana, and I’m so glad we had a chance to visit this lush valley area.

The Vinales Valley

The Vinales Valley

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Plantations

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Plantations

Cigar Rolling Demonstration By The Cutest Abuelo (Grandpa)

Cigar Rolling Demonstration By The Cutest Abuelo (Grandpa)

Vegetarian Feast At An Organic Farm

Vegetarian Feast At An Organic Farm

Loved The Cute Houses of Vinales

Loved The Cute Houses of Vinales

Organic Farm in Vinales Valley

Organic Farm in Vinales Valley

Sunrise Hike Views

Sunrise Hike Views

Another Day, Another Fantastic Cuban Coffee

Another Day, Another Fantastic Cuban Coffee

Group Yoga Shot

Group Yoga Shot

Always Love Shopping In The Markets

Always Love Shopping In The Markets

In all honesty, it’s tough to sum up what my week-long adventure was truly like in Cuba and at Mhai Yoga. I’ve listed through words and pictures some highlights, but there is so much that is not captured and indescribable. In the end, I really think it boils down to the Cuban people and the wonderful community at Mhai Yoga. It is their collective compassion, openness and genuine affection that truly touched me. For as much as I have traveled all over the world, I have never felt such a connection to the people as I did in Cuba. The most telling moment for me was when I was leaving the Mhai Yoga retreat with tears in my eyes. I just simply could not believe that in such a short amount of time, I felt so taken care of and so special, by a group of people who I had never met before. Whenever I think of Cuba, it is that feeling of connection that will always come back to me first, and will always bring a smile to my face. Cuba, I heart you and can’t wait to come back again soon!

Tears In My Eyes Saying Goodbye To This Amazing Group

Tears In My Eyes Saying Goodbye To This Amazing Group

Not Ready To Leave, But Cuba, I'll Be Back For You!

Not Ready To Leave, But Cuba, I’ll Be Back For You!

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with Mhai Yoga. All opinions are my own.

A Visit To Yellowstone National Park

Having finally visited one of my dream destinations, Yellowstone National Park, I won’t claim to be any sort of expert. But, I will say that I have a better grasp of the geography and the sheer vastness of this remarkable gift from Mother Nature.

Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Visiting Yellowstone National Park

If I can give you just one piece of advice, it would be to hire a private tour guide for at least the first day of your trip through the park. We were so incredibly lucky to have the absolutely brilliant and knowledgeable MacNeil from Yellowstone Insight as our guide. I can’t even begin to describe what a difference it made to have an expert drive us through the park, educate us on the wildlife and geothermal features all while showing us firsthand things I would have NEVER seen or found on my own.

MacNeil of Yellowstone Insight

MacNeil of Yellowstone Insight

It seems pointless to say, but Yellowstone is a very large park and as a newbie, there’s just too much to navigate on your own. MacNeil asked us pretty much first thing after he picked us up from Elk River Art Lodge at 6am, what our individual goals and interests were for our one day tour together. Can you guess what my answer was? “I want to see everything…ALL the animals and ALL the geothermal features.” #typical…ha ha. I mean, not so helpful to MacNeil, but he did a fantastic job showing us both the wildlife and some amazing landscapes and geology among many other things.

MacNeil will tailor each tour as the patrons want, which is great if you really want to just go on a wildlife safari for the day and learn about the migration patterns of the wolves. Or, if you’d rather learn about how geysers form and what temperature the mud pots are at, he can do that too. That’s what is so great about MacNeil; he’s so incredibly linked in to what seems like everything about the park, he will make your time and money beyond worth it.

Touring With MacNeil From Yellowstone Insight

Touring With MacNeil From Yellowstone Insight

Here are just a few of the many, many pictures I took on our tour with Yellowstone Insight. I promise that these pictures do no justice to the absolutely stunning scenery that is forever etched in my mind. You really must go visit Yellowstone for yourself.

Out By 6am For Our Tour With Yellowstone Insight

Out By 6am For Our Tour With Yellowstone Insight

Stunning Sunrise Over Yellowstone National Park

Stunning Sunrise Over Yellowstone National Park

Our First Sighting, An Elk!!!

Our First Sighting, An Elk!!!

One Hour Later, Snow In The Mountains

One Hour Later, Snow In The Mountains

Then Sun And A Bison Sighting

Then Sun And A Bison Sighting

A Pitstop With Snacks Provided By MacNeil

A Pitstop With Snacks Provided By MacNeil

Beautiful Views Of The Yellowstone River

Beautiful Views Of The Yellowstone River

Mud Volcano At Yellowstone National Park

Mud Volcano At Yellowstone National Park

Beautiful Hot Springs

Beautiful Hot Springs

More From Yellowstone

More From Yellowstone

More Elk Sightings!

More Elk Sightings!

I can’t still can’t stress enough how beneficial it is have an expert take you through Yellowstone National Park. Also, you are just missing out if you don’t go on MacNeil’s tour with Yellowstone Insight. Just do it already! Oh, and make sure you book well in advance, because just like everything else in Yellowstone, things book up quickly. Enjoy 🙂

 

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with Yellowstone Country. All opinions are my own.