December 03, 2016
We Blog the World's Holiday Gift GuideIt's that time of year again and with December comes holiday soirees, cocktail gatherings, family celebrations and whether you have kids or not, it's the season of giving. It's the time we give of ourselves just a little more and buy gifts for loved ones which come in all shapes, prices, categories and colors. If you check out last year's holiday gift guide, you'll see that we tend to discover fun finds across the board, from food/wine, entertainment, technology, kitchenware and accessories to beauty, wellness, perfumes, bags, clothing, shoes and jewelry. When it comes to gear and wear, we try to pick items that match a frequent traveler's lifestyle and I personally look for design, elegance, creativity, value, style, comfort and of course functionality. Our favorite pick of the year goes to the iRobot Roomba 980, (it's under our technology category below) and we also reviewed it earlier this year. While it's not a new product on the market, it saves me so much time and helps to keep our home dust-free. Two thumbs up for the Grillbot as well, which is a bit like an iRobot for your grill. What can I say -- products that automate your life so you can spend more time in nature or traveling is a godsend! In the fashion category, we're huge fans of Aetrex for shoes and Craghoppers for men's clothing. We hope to do Favorite Picks by Category in the near future as we expand our product, fashion/style, wellness and beauty reviews.
Beauty & Fragrance
Raw Spirit FragrancesMeet Raw Spirit, a luxury fragrance brand that works with the unique cultures to weave in the best that their 'land' has to offer, one of the things we loved about this perfume brand discovery. They source some of the rarest and most natural ingredients, drawing inspiration from their captivating travels. The Raw Spirit brand was inspired by Australian photographer Russell James’ collaborative art project, Nomad Two Worlds, which explores the clash of ancient and modern cultures and celebrates the richness of Indigenous and marginalized communities around the world, including Haiti where they source the premium Haitian Vetiver, Florida's Everglades, Australia, Fiji and more. And, they're all about sustainability and giving back. A few of their fragrances include Wild Fire, which we liked for its woodsy, sensual scene incorporating sandalwood, creamy amber and floral notes of Ylang Ylang, jasmine petals, cedar wood and musk. This fragrance was inspired by the Western Australian outback. For each fragrance, there are also a few different sizes to choose from, making it an easy pick for either a stocking stuffer or a more seductive wrapped gift. Their Desert Blush is a warm, sophisticated, floral scent, inspired by the Western Australian desert at sunset. Think wild-harvested Australian sandalwood with the intoxicating floral note of Australian Boronia. Bijou Vert, which French speakers will know, means Green Jewel, no surprise given that the scent is all about sensuality, inspired by Haiti, which was apparently once known as the "Jewel of the Antilles." For this one, imagine notes of Haitian vetiver, grapefruit, mandarin, geranium, lotus flower, black pepper, patchouli and cedarwood. Love! Winter Oak is a smooth, creamy, warming scent, which was inspired by the oak-lined trails of the Chumash Lands of California on cool winter mornings, when crushed oak leaves and twigs release their rich scent. Nice analogy right? It's theirs, not ours, but we LIKE it! This fragrance is all about aged American oak and layers of suede, saffron, premium Haitian vetiver and musk. We are also fans of their creative branding and their mission. Summer Rain invokes citrus, inspired by the Florida Everglades in the summer. There's kaffir lime and grapefruit with a burst of orange flower and jasmine petals, Haitian vetiver and cedarwood while Mystic Pearl, inspired by Bali, is the scent of the 'pearl.' I imagine you're thinking ocean waves about now, so while you're in that visual frame of mind, now conjure up a heady mix of white flowers, jasmine and frangipani, with a hint of coconut and the tropical spices cinnamon and clove. Bravo! All of their perfumes are created in collaboration with Master Perfumer Harry Fremont (Firmenich) and part of their proceeds go to support Indigenous Australian cultural projects. Try a few of them and see what you think. You can order Wild Fire here and of course, there are smaller bottle options on Amazon as well, including Summer Rain, Desert Blush, Bijou Vert, Winter Oak, Wild Fire and Citadelle. For all of their options including more of their backstory, visit their site at: https://rawspiritfragrances.com.
Money Cologne & PerfumeI hadn't heard of the Money cologne and perfume line before recently, so we decided to test it out for both men and women. His Money has hints of warm ocean breezes and bright citrus notes combined with rosemary, grass, and woods. The idea of course is to create an invigorating personal scent of success. In their words, not ours: "Masculine. Daring. Unforgettable." There are now two choices for women and men: Her Money's original scene starts with fresh linen, cotton and silk, not unlike the men's line. The difference with Her Money is obviously the scene, which has a whole lotta floral tones to it. There's also pink grapefruit, mandarin, freesia, passion fruit, Hawaiian wedding flowers and just a hint of melon. They also have a new one out called Her Money and His Money Make it Rain 2017 now available on their site. All of their fragrances are made in the USA and they love to say "Each bottle contains 1.7 fluid ounces of success." The line was started by a technology guy who teamed up with perfumer Larry Murrison and as part of the quirky branding, they add shredded U.S. bills in every Money box - hilarious right? For more information, please visit www.liquidmoney.com. You can order Liquid Money cologne here.
Osmotis Age Prevention Sheer Facial Tint SPF 45Meet one of the skincare products from Osmotis. It's hard to find a tinted sunscreen that has a high SPF factor, so we love the discovery of their SPF 45 that comes in three shades of color, to erase imperfections while enhancing your natural skin tone. The included Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB sheer, oil-free tints are a great tinted option for daily UV protection. The SPF 45 cream has antioxidant vitamins and Sodium Hyaluronate which also helps smooth and soften your skin as well.
Entertainment & Foodies
Juiceman 3 in 1We're huge fans of juicing and tested out the JuicePresso earlier this year which we love - it's oh so elegant!! This year, we put the Juiceman 3 in 1 to the test. Juiceman offers other products as well, however the 3 in 1 combines a blender, juice extractor and citrus juicer all in one, which saves space in your cupboards while being highly functional and diverse. It uses a powerful 800W motor and does a great job at juicing both large and small citrus. We love the fact that they include a seal-tight travel lid, which is incredibly useful for those on the go, which as avid travelers, is more often than not. The juice extractor worked equally well for both fruits and veggies (we do a lot of green juicing over here), so loved the extra large (2 liters) pulp container that comes with the product, as well as the non-drip spout, which can be messy with other juicers. There's also a stainless steel filter basket and they include a useful cleaning brush as well. You can even wash the parts in the dishwasher which you can't do with all juicers, so two thumbs up for its flexibility!
Italian ProseccoWe tried out three bottles of Prosecco from Italy which is a great bubbly alternative to champagne for those holiday parties. Meet the every so delicious Bianca Vigna Brut, Progetti Divini Brut and Piera Martellozzo Extra Dry. The Bianca Brut is 100% Glera and comes from the hills of Italian Conegliano. This fruity bubbly is creamy and dry in the mouth, but there's a whole lotta fruit in the finish, which we paired with a variety of cheeses. Elegant and harmonious, with a hint of pear and peach, the Cantina Progetti Divini is a full bodied Brut that is balanced and dry. It's a great choice as an apertif and goes well with vegetable pastas, light/white meats and fried dishes. You can also pair it with marinated fish dishes as well. Our favorite of the bunch was the Piera Martellozzo Extra Dry Brut. Its barreled in stainless steel for two months and like the Cantina Progetti Divini brut, it is great as an apertif and goes well with appetizers, light main courses and fish. It's super dry which we loved but also has fruit tones throughout, mostly pear and apple. It's a great choice for those holiday cocktail bashes where you're serving light, healthy snacks on a tray. For information can be found at http://www.wine-searcher.com and then search for the above names.
Norman Love ChocolatesA fabulous stocking stuffer is one of the holiday gift boxes from Norman Love Confections. The 2016 limited-edition collection features ten seasonal flavors including Candy Cane, Cranberry Apple Biscuit, Pumpkin Pie, Mint Patty, Linzer Cookie, Cup O’ Cheer, Mulled Cider, White Christmas, S’mores and Gingersnap. They offer an assortment of the holiday flavors in 25- and 50-pc green signature gift boxes and three gift baskets filled with a variety of gourmet chocolate holiday items, are also available. A great gift for your significant other, parent or grandparent is the Santa’s Sweet Ride Basket, which is priced at $134, and contains a ten piece candy cane-shaped gift box, a five-piece box of Norman Love Confections BLACK, a four-piece box of S’more Love, one package of peppermint chocolate holiday nark, a package of chocolate-covered jelly beans, two inclusion bars, a package of candied nuts, gluten-free pretzels, a hollow chocolate Santa and a chocolate-covered gingerbread man. Oh so decadent! They also have an exclusive chocolate club you can join as well. More information including how to order can be found on their website at http://www.normanloveconfections.com.
GrillbotGrill lovers will be excited about the Grillbot, an automatic cleaner for your grill which comes in a variety of fun colors. The concept is relatively new as Grillbot has only been around since 2014. Like the iRobot, you simply place the Grillbot on your grill, close the door and let him go! The grillbot does all the grill cleaning for you so you don't have to. The device goes back and forth across all areas of your grill until it's clean, it's fully-automatic and begins as soon as you push the button. The default time is ten minutes however you can also set it to clean for twice the time if your grill is particularly dirty or larger than average. We've used it at least 20 times so far and each time, ten minutes was ample to get the grill clean. It's one of our favorite product picks this year. We also love the nifty carrying case as well which is optional. The handle is so handy that rather than use valuable storage space in an inside closet or the garage, we simply hang it on a hook on the left of the grill so it's easily accessible. There are replaceable wire brushes which are easy to swap out -- you simply pop them off to clean and apparently you can even toss them right in the dishwasher for cleaning although we haven't tried that yet. There's also a rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery, which they include with your Grillbot, making it easy to charge when he loses steam. The grillbot comes with three strong high-power electric motors, which cuts through the grease to really get your grill clean. Truthfully, we were surprised that it cleaned so well - Anthony was sure that it was a "gimmick" and that we'd have to end up cleaning it afterwards regardless. You can get the Grillbot Automatic Grill Cleaner, Black Bundle with Stainless Steel Brush with the case or a solo red one without the case! More at www.grillbots.com.
Gear & Wear
ecbc HerculesThe ecbc Hercules is a laptop backpack which has been crafted with very tough Kodra nylon, a great choice if you have fragile gear, including laptops and camera gear. We were keen to take a look at this backpack, largely because of its endless pockets and sub-pockets, which if your'e an avid traveler who has a lot of tech gear, is a MUST! Toughness and durability is equally important, especially if you do have tech gear -- keeping it organized is increasingly a challenge and I've tried a number of packs out. Frequent flyers take note: the high quality Hercules backpack features the ecbc FastPass System allowing you to unzip the specialized electronics compartment, lay the bag flat on the security conveyer and go through TSA without having to unpack your laptop, tablet and cables. It can store laptops up to 17” and features self-repairing YKK zippers, high density protective foam pockets for smaller devices, a phone pocket, and a moisture wicking air mesh back panel for superior comfort and best of all, this pack only weighs in at around 2.7 pounds. They tout the pack as durable and rugged as well and we've yet to put that to the test, but will report back if it doesn't "endure." It has self-repairing, water-sealing YKK Zippers, can fit up to 17” Laptop with Removable Modular Insert for Smaller Devices, has a Padded iPad / Tablet Pocket, a 20 Liter Capacity, 21 Storage Compartments (our FAVORITE part of this pack), its high density protective foam for the laptop pockets, a phone pocket, a quick access/ticket pocket, a zippered water bottle holder, multiple organizational compartments, a moisture wicking air mesh back panel, Duraflex adjustable padded shoulder straps and a padded top handle. It is also water resistant, which is a great feature for adventure travelers. I went for the ivory/cream colored pack although they offer a few options: green, a dark blue, black and a berry red. Note that the cream is more like a tan than it is an off-white/cream for those who are color sensitive. More information including how and where to order can be found at http://www.ec-bc.com/.
Body Bark ClothingWe recently discovered Body Bark, a clothing line made from the cellulose fiber of sustainable Beech trees: MircoModal of Lenzing Ag. We love the incredibly soft fabric which is also very durable and retains its shape well, both important qualities for travelers. All made in the USA, the material is eco-friendly, the style sophisticated and the colors neutral so they can be paired with anything in your suitcase. While some of the items come in red, blue and other colors, the line mostly focuses on black and white, which we think is an ideal "go to" choice for any trip. For example, the high neck tank top is sensual and elegant but also functional. You can obviously wear it alone or use it as a layer, making a great staple in your closet at home or when you're on the road. We learned that how the clothing is spun is part of the magic. The clothing is spun using Siro and Royal spinning techniques, which apparently result in stronger yarn, softer yarn and a better drape.
Aetrex ShoesWe love love love this brand! The name Aetrex doesn't quite sound like a shoe brand when you first hear the name, but it's because of it's long history around comfort and wellness. Their mission? To literally create the healthiest shoes on the market today. Let's just say that they're so comfy, it feels like you're wearing slippers. They offer casual, dress, sandal, athletic and therapeutic footwear for both men and women and all styles use their cutting edge technologies and are all about customization and adjustability. Originally known for the landmark development of arch supports and medically-oriented footcare products, Aetrex is known for their PURE comfort but also great design, a rarity to find both in one shoe. Aetrex is also renowned for its over-the-counter Lynco Orthotics that are recognized as the #1 orthotic system on the market which means that they are often recommended by doctors and pedorthists -- what a more perfect shoe brand for travelers, right? While we focus on boots in our Holiday Guide because of the 'season,', please note that we put their sandals to the test during a family travel trip in August, so be sure to check out our review. One of our favorites is the Skyler Boot for women, which comes in a few different color combo choices: barley, black and merlot (shown below). The Skyler is styled with a classic lace-up with incredibly soft leathers and a chic and trendy design. To top it off, the boot has a soft fabric lining and plush memory -- they very well may be the most comfortable boots you'll ever wear. The Autumn Ankle Boot in Cognac was another favorite. This trendy ankle boot has a burnished toe and a stacked leather heel, with a ton of comfort built in like every other model Aetrex makes. In addition to the warm cognac color (my personal fave), the boot also comes in Iron, Black and Merlot. I love the side zip, side stretch panel and soft fabric linings, all of which makes it SO comfy and easy on the feet, which is perfect when you're walking for hours on end sightseeing in your favorite urban destination. There's also rubber outsole for traction and a reasonably sized two inch heel -- no need to be in pain while looking stylin', at least not anymore. We love their variations!! The Dustin Chukka Boot is a lovely soft brown suede but is light-weight, easy to clean, and water-resistant for challenging weather situations, all of which make them a perfect choice for avid travelers. They also have certified slipresistant soles, which make them safe in slippery conditions when you're on the road -- think rainy European city in the dead of winter. Aetrex’s “Healthy 3” is incorporated in each style of their boot or shoe. They're our favorite shoe brand this year -- bravo Aetrex and team! More information including how to order can be found on their website at http://aetrex.com.
Wooden Watches by Original GrainInterestingly enough, we had a few watches in our Holiday Gift Guide last year but only one gem this year: Original Grain. We've been mesmerized by the authenticity of wooden grain watches for over a year now and only just got around to getting a top notch brand in this season. While there are a growing number of wooden grain watches, we LOVE the styles coming out of Original Grain. Have a look and you'll see why! Truth be told, there are more options for men but they are so elegant and so beautiful, we couldn't help but want to dive in. Each watch is handcrafted from a variety of sustainably sourced exotic hardwood from around the world. We also love that with Trees for the Future Non-Profit Organization, they plant ten trees for each watch sold, which provides both food and jobs people around the globe. Bravo bravo! Our favorites out of the men's line are their Ebony wood in black and Vera Wood (both are decadent and so worth having as an accompaniment to your wardrobe!!) And, how about this Zebrawood Rosegold watch out of their women's Minimalist line? OKAY, so they may not offer as many options for women as they do for men, but with a watch option this gorgeous, who needs a huge variety? The watch also comes in Ebony/Gold, Rosewood & Chrome and Dark Ebony & Gold....all of them decadent, luxurious, and chic! The above Zebrawood Rosegold is my favorite pick and it comes in a natural Zebrawood Bezel with an ultra sleek 40 mm case with scratch resistant Mineral Crystal Glass and uses a Japanese Miyota Quartz Movement for time. I love the premium cognac brown Italian leather band and despite my wide range of watches and leather bands, I love the subtly of this style and have found myself wearing it continuously through the holiday season. A huge two thumbs up! For more information, to view their selection for both men and women visit their website at https://www.originalgrain.com. You can order their Maplewood watch (a real beauty) on Amazon, one of our favorites.
Clothing by CraghoppersLast season, we tested a few items out from Craghoppers and love the brand, particularly for men's active clothing -- our favorites are their waterproof and seasonal jackets as well as their long sleeve button up shirts for more durable travel. Take a look at this fabulous jacket they refer to as the Caledon Jacket, which is both stylin' and functional. The coat is a blend of knit-look acrylic wool blend fabric with peached elbow and shoulder patches and it comes in a sophisticated olive green and in soft gray blue. You can get the Caledon jacket in olive moss on Amazon, as well as their slate gray one. Bravo too for their shirts as well, our favorite being the Kiwi Trek Long Sleeved Shirt. They offer a number of women's external gear as well, from jackets and fleeces to long sleeve shirts and pants. We loved their Pro Lite Pull Over with a zip, which is a great choice for that layer of insulation when conditions are rough. The light blue is oh so lovely (they call it Lagoon) and goes with pretty much anything you'd need to pair with it in your wardrobe -- great for those road trips or when you head skiing this season. It's also available in a rosy pink and a red as well and is made from super-light yet highly efficient micro-fleece fabric for added warmth.
There's so much to love about this brand. First off, they have uniquely engineered insoles that are a blend of natural latex and cork that are designed to replicate the shape of the foot, just like the footprint we leave when walking the sand. This is one of the reasons they are so incredibly comfortable, which is a godsend for travelers. Each shoe has Hallux support, an elevated footbed center, great arch support, deep heel indentation, great flexibility, durability and shock absorption and a Latex sponge layer. One of our favorites among the men's shoe line is the ever so comfortable but also stylish Naot MAGNATE, which is a deep rich brown/black leather laceup wingtip shoe.
This clothing brand is a new one for us, one we only discovered recently although they've apparently been around for over forty years. They focus on reliable and durable clothing for tennis, golf, yoga and active lifestyles. They tout that their big value add is providing a great "fit" and high quality materials that last. Their tops, bottoms, dresses, and outerwear are thoughtfully designed to flatter many body types, and I'd argue that they do so with elegant and sophisticated designs, one of the things that really stood out for us. Rarely does elegant and sophisticated meet great fit, quality, durability and work for adventure and "play." They offer their lines by activity (golf, tennis, athleisure, college and so on) as well as by color palettes to make it easier for planning purposes. For example, the have a wide range of collections to choose from depending on the look you want, including Garnet Red, Imperial Purple, Belaire Blue, Allure Red, Pure Gold, Peony, Mauritius and Alegro. Fun and stylish is at the core of their look and feel as you can see and take note of their classic styling throughout.
They have outerwear too, including some great jackets and vests. From fashionable quilted jackets with stylish snap flap pockets and vests in black, white, and truffle colors to sun protection tops and golf and tennis outfits, there's plenty to choose from this holiday season. We tested out one of their oh so cute tennis outfits which can be used for multiple purposes and a pair of their yoga work out pants. We love that their active wear has UPF 40+ built in, which blocks roughly 98% of harmful UV rays, a great feature for avid travelers an d outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
Below, their Kiki yoga pants - oh so fun and elegant. We love the sophisticated design and fit of these but also the creativity in the pattern.http://www.tailactivewear.com/.
King & Stone ShoesA new shoe line for us is King & Stone which operates a little differently than your traditional model of purchasing a solo pair of shoes. They focus on men and offer a subscription model so you don't need to think about shoes for your wardrobe -- they do it for you. For example, when you subscribe to King & Stone, you receive your first pair of shoes right away. Then every season (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter), you can choose one new pair from a highly curated selection of styles and you can skip or cancel at any time. Seasonal subscriptions cost $75, broken up into $25 a month payments. We fell in love with their designs instantaneously and there are so many great styles to choose from, ranging from more casual and comfy to more chic and dressy, depending on your needs. Great for travelers is their Caelbad lace up shoe. We loved their MALACHITE from this line, which comes in a stunning Forest Green Suede, sure to go with a variety of outfits when you're on the road given its neutral shade. Take a look at its multicolored cotton lining and its white rubber sole has a star pattern on bottom. Although we haven't had a chance to try our favorite pair out yet, take a look at this stunning Runo shoe in Cobalt dark blue, also suede, with dark brown detail and a tan rubber sole. Oh so stunning!
Blade + Blue ClothingBravo for Blade & Blue shirts for men, all of which are made in the states for those who care about quality -- they work with master craftsmen whose family has been making shirts since the 1950's -- how cool is that? They tout their they sources premium Japanese fabrics from some of the finest textile mills in the world and that they take great care to work on just the right fit. In other words, their designs provide extra room in the chest and shoulders but is then slightly nipped at the waist so it's more flattering than standard shirts. Focus on design is what they're all about as well as comfort. For example, the height of the collars are slightly trimmed so it's a little sharper and more modern than classic designs. The shirts are made with an interior cuff trim; a navy herringbone tape is tucked just inside the sleeve cuffs -- oh so stunning. Love the attention to detail. Also the slimmer center placket shape of their shirts is sewn in with a stitch right at the edge of the placket. This technique creates a more streamlined look and eliminates the distracting, 'rumpled' effect that occurs with so many other shirts. So cool. The Lucas shirt was our favorite: a design with geometric circles in a deep navy color made from 100% fine cotton. The shirt is trimmed is trimmed with white marbled buttons and and as mentioned above, navy herringbone tape. Their short sleeve shirts are amazing as well. Take a look at their Japanese Indigo Blue short sleeve shirt -- we love this deep and rich color and the fun horizontal stripes that are classic but with a whole lotta creativity as well. For more information and how to order, check out https://www.bladeandblue.com.
Bluff PantsOkay, so we're not new to Bluff -- in fact, we reviewed them two years ago for the first time and Anthony absolutely loved them, so much so that he started asking me about them again in early November. The conversation went something like this: "Hey, any idea what's happening with the Bluff guys? Do they have anything new out? You know that they're still my 'go to' pants for every trip." Hmmm. "No, I didn't know that," I responded. He proceeded to pull an unwrinkled pair of his dark gray very worn Bluffs out of his bag and I couldn't help but laugh. Men and women pack so differently I couldn't help but think and yet, I have to admit how jealous I was at how SMOOTH his pants were despite the fact that they had been bunched up in his bag for four days. And so, we decided to test out their latest -- after all, we already have a true believer on our team. Two years in the making, Bluff's Chinos are built for life on the go and they come in Charcoal, Stone, Blue, Khaki, and Gold. Designed to look and feel just like cotton, they are constructed with a distinct stretch that allows them to bend and move with your every step and yes, Anthony tested them out again on a long weekend trip since we didn't have more time before this guide was slated to be published. They're 100% technical, breathable quick-dry polyester with nylon pockets and just like the previous pairs we reviewed, they dried quickly and YAY, no wrinkles. They have a hidden internal security pocket that is zipped up and out of view (we LOVE this for avid travelers), and a rear zippered pocket sized for an oversized travel wallet. Also a great godsend for travelers is their discrete side pocket storage which fits passports and most smartphones as well as a hidden loop to clip keys or a security badge inside your front pocket. We also love that they're all manufactured in the states and are machine washable. These guys started with traditional style pants in Regular and Relaxed Fit. They're rugged yet refined, which is one of the things that Anthony loved most about them and yet they're super lightweight and wrinkle resistant. They're also built to ward off stains, and thrive in the heat which is great when you're heading to those super hot destinations. Their pockets, like the Chinos, are hidden and secure and have a side pocket for your phone, passport or other gadgets. The other great thing about their traditional pants is that they come in a ton of colors, including dark and light gray, khaki, velvet brown, black and navy blue as shown below, which is the latest pair we opted to review this season. A huge thumbs up for their great range of colors and the addition of their Chino line. Truth be told, we love them both and would recommend ordering one of each for your upcoming travel needs. We remain fans of this brand two years later and couldn't recommend them enough as a great travel buy. More information including how to order can be found over at http://shop.bluffworks.com/. They now also offer shorts, blazers and shirts although we haven't tested those out yet -- maybe later this year. Watch these guys - they're doing great things!! Wellness Meets Mind & Body
Aroma 360 DiffusersMost diffusers work by heating the essential oils and the Aroma 360 folks take a different approach. Since essential oils are very delicate and volatile, they tout that the therapeutic benefits are destroyed when they are heated, as well as their ability to disperse well in large areas. The molecules fall as they come in contact with the cool air, shortening the life of the scent. We’ve been playing around with one of the Aroma 360 diffusers, which uses cold air diffusion. They offer a variety of models, so you can select one that best works for the amount of space you have and they come in both silver and black. The Picasso 360 is larger and the most robust solution is the one they call Museum which will scene every square inch of space via a HVAC system. We tested out the Mini 360, which works with open areas of up to 600 square feet. It is compact enough to put anywhere, especially since it’s tall and slender — only 2.5 inches in diameter and 12.2 inches tall. More info at http://www.aroma360.com.
HEPA Total Clean Air Cleaner from HoMedics to PurifyI only learned about just how poor most of the indoor air quality is in places where we spend the most time this past year when I did some consulting work for Singapore based company uHoo, which is the most advanced air and toxin air detector out there right now. The amount of research that has been done is extraordinary and at the end of reading through dozens of articles, I couldn't help but think -- why is this information so unknown among general consumers? Quite frankly, it's astonishing and shocking that you don't know the quality of the air in your kid's school, your office or even in your own home. When you want cleaner air in your surrounding environment, the HEPA Oscillating Tower HEPA cleaner from HoMedics is a great solution. A powerful tool for ridding your environment of pet hair and dander, pollen, smoke and dust, the HEPA Air Cleaner with UV-C is engineered to make the air in your home cleaner, fresher and healthier. The UV-C light kills bacteria and viruses, and the easy to clean HEPA filter removes up to 99.97% of airborne contaminants. It includes PetPlus odor filters remove litter box odor, wet dog smell and other household odors and their pre-filter captures hair, fur, and large fibers. Here's what we loved: its whisper-quiet motorized oscillation, a very useful three air purifying speed control, a 12 hour timer (useful for busy people) and a great filter replacement indicator (useful for forgetful and busy people like me) and a Smoke CADR. As for what we didn't love, there really wasn't anything, except for the fact that I wish it was a little smaller -- bear in mind we live in a city, so I wish everything was smaller except for my closet space. In the box, you get the Air Cleaner, two True HEPA Filters, a back grill cover, two Odor Filters, and a Pre-filter. A must have device for anyone who suffers from asthma, allergies or suffers any kind of discomfort from dust. I don't know about you, but I find that the dust in our house is worse than it's ever been, so being able to simply turn this gizmo on and let it handle the toxins and particles in the air so you can breathe better is a godsend. What can I say? It's a perfect holiday gift! Available on Amazon, you can get one for less than $200 -- after all, isn't your health worth it?
Book: The Best Meditations on the Planet
Magic Carpet Yoga Products: Have Mat, Will Travel!!
I love finding companies with products that are creative and fun especially with an interesting founder and story behind it. Magic Carpet Yoga Mats Founder and Designer Sophie Leininger grew up in California and Hawaii and apparently loves talking to the moon at night. Sophie now wanders the globe collecting stories and carpets to paint and weave into your daily yoga practice. Her hand-painted designs range from palatial Persian carpets to hand-woven tent coverings and each have their own story. She uses sustainable printing technologies and you'll be thrilled to know that each mat is tested latex, phthalate, lead free, and is child safe -- they even offer yoga mats for kids.
Another important point to note is that their mats are printed with very durable eco-friendly inks and don't ever run so can be used for Bikram/Hot Yoga without having to worry about color bleeds. And, the designs are ever so colorful and ever so fabulous -- have a look!
Edens Garden Aromatherapy
You'll learn that we're huge fans of Aromatherapy around here if you read us often enough or follow our social media feeds. Edens Garden essential oils can be used for a myriad of purposes, from incorporating them with other ingredients for oily hair, as a shampoo, perfume, a hair serum for split ends, as a nail strengthener, for stretch marks, a skin toner, acne or clogged pores. Essential oils can also help with things like cold sores, blisters, tired feet or as a hand sanitizer.
While we could have included this brand in the Beauty section of this guide, we love the health impact that essential oils can have when used on a regular basis. Note that we are not suggesting that they will aid a particular ailment or disease (I'm not a doc) so check with your own healthcare practitioner on what they best suggest for you as each individual responds to things differently. Their bottled blends serve a range of uses for everything from releasing anxiety to promoting flawless skin.
I have always loved lavender essential oil for relaxation which you can put in a diffuser or toss a little on a damp cloth and breathe it in before going to bed. They offer a variety of options from mixed blends to pure individual oils, like Lime, Pine, Rosemary, Lavender, Sandalwood, Pachouli, Sage and more. All have their merits and benefits. A few examples they offer in their literature for wellness include using lavender, coconut oil and honey as a face wash, a combination of Neroli, Sandlewood, Sweet orange, vanilla, EGCO and cane sugar as a sugar scrub, using Bergomot, Vetiver, and Jojoba on your wrists and temples when facing anxiety, or massaging a mix of Caraway, Grapefruit, Peppermint and EGCO on the stomach when faced with indigestion issues. They also suggest that Vanilla Jasmine or Rose Geranium can uplift your spirits, Ginger and Grapefruit can energize you, Clementine and Peppermint can help with fatigue and coffee oil, Neroli and ECGO can help with aging fine lines. Yes, really. I can't speak to whether this works or not since I didn't try it, but I'm game.
They focus on high quality pure oils (also called base oils), which can help dilute and enhance essential oils so you can obtain great results. While they also offer roll-ons, gift sets and even oils for kids, their selection of single oils is significant -- they've curated 135 single oils, so there's plenty to choose from depending on your need or desire. We loved the diversity of their offerings that have so many use cases.
If you want clarity of the mind, they suggest inhaling breaths of Frankincense before bed time and spiritual Spikenard while meditating. Cassia and Myrrh can be used to scent garments and sheets and Lime, Grapefruit, Bergamot or Lemongrass with a little water is great for wiping down the fridge or freezer and freshening it up. Want a natural disinfectant when you're traveling? Edens Garden suggests a blend of Eucalyptus, Lemon and Pine oils, along with 1 ounce of white vinegar to a 2 ounce spray bottle and voila! Lemon, Lavender or Blood Orange can refresh a sponge and Lavender with baking soda can be used as a carpet deodorizer. More information including all of their offerings can be found at www.edensgarden.com.
Quad Action Shiatsu Neck Massager
Okay, so who doesn't have aches and pains somewhere on their body, especially after a long flight or car drive? I tend to hold it all in my neck and shoulders, so the Quad Action Shiatsu Kneading neck and shoulder massage by HoMedics is a godsend. The massager has heat as well which helps to give even deeper deep kneading shiatsu and vibration massage to loosen those tight muscles. The integrated control puts you in control of your massage experience.
What I liked most was the ability to leave it strapped around my neck while I was sitting at the computer which is when I feel pain the most. You can choose between a deep kneading shiatsu massage, soothing vibration massage or a combination of both. The three speed settings allow you to select the intensity of the massage experience. We also love the added heat which not all products of this type have as a feature -- a huge bravo to the HoMedics team!
There's a cool reverse feature which allows you to change the massage direction, similar to what you would experience with a live masseuse. There's also a useful carrying handle as well, which is particularly useful when you're traveling. This is a a must buy for those long drives and you can even get it on Amazon.
Ellia Gather Aroma Diffuser & Essential Oils
The Ellia essential aroma diffuser is one of our favorite new toys, although it's so much more than a toy. We've tested out a few diffusers and frankly, they're all fabulous, work well and do what they say they're going to do -- we're huge fans of essential oils and diffusers since they can really help relax you during stressful times. The Ellia aroma diffuser is a little different in that it combines essential oils, music and color, all exuding from a round white container that looks like a bit of a pumpkin with holes in it. Through the holes, different shades of colored light come through -- soft purples and pinks for relaxing, or blues and greens which tend to be more energizing. You can also set it to a subdued off white if you'd like or simply choose to turn the color off altogether. The sound options are also varied, so if one meditative song doesn't work for you, you can change it to another one and adjust the volume depending on your needs.
We tested it out with their Fight It blend, which we simply added to the bottom of the diffuser -- they suggest around 5-7 drops per experience. Like many diffusers on the market today, it includes a remote. They tout that the run time is around ten hours continuously or up to 20 hours intermittently. It's a bit larger than we anticipated at nearly seven inches long and five inches high. The materials are a combination of ceramic and wood and it needs to plugged in, so you are somewhat limited as to where you can use it. That said, any living room or bedroom seems like the perfect spot or wherever you spend most of your time.
Our Ellia kit came with an Essential Oil starter set of three bottles, two blends and a single orange oil, which is cleansing, purifying, uplifting and refreshing. The two blends include something they call Fight It, which is great for seasonal support when your immune system is feeling compromised. It contains a blend of orange, clove, cinnamon, cardamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. Their Tune In blend includes essential oils of lemon, basil, rosemary, peppermint, and clary sage, which is great for clarifying, centering and harmonizing. While we didn't test it out, I love the blend they call Let Go, which is a relaxation blend, a great one for meditation and concentration. Their Go Blend infuses lavender, basil, mint, marjoram and cypress. Bravo! And, it's also available on Amazon, making it easy for those last minute holiday purchases.
EnviraScape Silver Springs Relaxation Fountain
How cool is this? More tranquil relaxation awaits you with the EnviraScape Silver Springs Relaxation Fountain, also by HoMedics. They mix sleek shades of silver and black with a bed of natural river rocks in an Asian inspired design. We've never taken a look at fountain products and I've personally been wanting to see if they affect your mood on a regular basis, or.....not! Imagine having the soothing, relaxing and serene sounds of water trickling down the fountain while you're working at your computer during the day? I figured it had to make a difference and given how stressed the holidays can be, I turned both the fountain on AND the Ellia diffuser in my office for three days straight -- win win! Need I say more? Let's just say that I'm planning to incorporate both into my regular work day as a way to keep things into balance. What a great gift for the holidays -- what we even love more is that it works for either sex and a myriad of ages as well.
They also incorporate light into the product, so there's a soft reflection of the natural flow of fresh running water down three layers - LOVE this feature! It's small enough to fit on most tabletops (we also tested it outside on our patio) so convenient for smaller homes and apartments as well. It's available on Amazon for under $30.
The TUNG BrushFor those of you who don't brush your tongue, here's a few things to know. 90% of the bacteria that cause bad breath live on the tongue — not on the teeth or gums. But bad breath, or “chronic halitosis” as the creator of Listerine famously labelled it in the 1920's, isn’t the only reason to clean your tongue . The same anaerobic bacteria that are blamed for cavities in your teeth form thick colonies known as biofilm, which allow them to thrive in the nooks and crannies of the tongue. There, they consume leftovers from your meals and emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) as waste. These VSCs are the primary source of the odor we know as “bad breath.” Meet the ever so cool TUNG Brush. According to them, the reason why you shouldn’t use your tooth brush to brush your tongue is because it is a bad practice to brush your teeth with the same brush that was exposed to the high levels of bacteria on your tongue. The TUNG brush and gel were designed by dentist Dr. Wieder and they recommend using a separate gel rather than a toothpaste to clean your tongue, which they make as well. Their gel, which uses a Zinc compound helps to neutralize the sulphur gas (what we smell as bad breath) emitted by the bacteria. More information about them can be found on their website at https://www.tungbrush.com/ and you can order starter kits easily and seamlessly over on Amazon.
Gemstones for Mindfulness & Healing?For those interested in mindfulness, gemstones and crystals can help as odd as that sounds. Truth be told, stones with miraculous properties have been around for millions of years and the unique qualities of various crystals can help to switch off your mind’s chatter, calm your spirit and sooth your soul. Crystals are known to ease your anxieties, dispel your anger, show you how to forgive and let the past be, and so much more. Judy Hall, who has been a visionary in this world for many many years has a new book out called Crystal Mindfulness. In her book, she describes how different crystals can benefit you and why. Flick through the pages until a picture catches your eye and work with the crystal as suggested, or target your crystal mindfulness practice more specifically using the book’s headings. All of her books including her latest Crystal Mindfulness is available on Amazon and so reasonably priced, you'll want to purchase several. As much as meditation and yoga can calm the spirit, so can walking in nature, breathing, a balanced diet and the power of natural resources, like gemstones. This book is a great guide to using crystal mindfulness in your every day life and includes 24 crystals for mindfuless, each with a photography that captures the crystal's energy. Bravo! I love her work -- I also have a copy of her best seller, The Crystal Bible and hope to read more of her work in the coming months.
TechnologyiRobot's Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot Earlier this year, we reviewed the iRobot Roomba Vacuum cleaner which we proudly call Rocky and love, love, love this product --- in fact, it's my favorite pick of everything we'd reviewed this year. If you're busy, travel a lot and like a clean house, then this is a must buy!! Having grown up with a conventional oh so English grandmother, we used to get on our hands and knees and scrub floors before guests would arrive -- a mop simply wasn't enough for some reason! Today, I have less time than ever to clean the house, especially with so much travel on the schedule. Just because I love to travel and travel often, it doesn't mean I don't want my house to be dust free -- in fact, I'd argue that a product like iRobot's Roomba is a godsend for travelers because of the time saving factor alone.Aside from all of its useful features and benefits, imagine having a robot clean your floors for you while you're packing for your next trip? The Roomba 980 is the first of their product line to combine adaptive navigation with visual localization, cloud connected app control, and increased cleaning power on carpets. The Roomba combines adaptive navigation with visual localization for up to two hours, recharging and resuming as needed until it cleans an entire level of a home. The Roomba also features brushless, dual counter‐rotating debris extractors that grab dirt from any floor type while reducing hair tangles and brush maintenance, which is great in the kitchen and bathroom, especially if you have pets. iRobot’s HOME App allows you to connect Roomba 980 to your Wi-Fi network, so when cleaning schedules don’t match social or work schedules, you can start a cleaning job from anywhere, anytime. This was one of the nifty features that we thought would be great for mobile warriors and avid travelers who are constantly on the go. It's available on Amazon and makes an incredible holiday gift -- it's hard to imagine life without Rocky after using this efficient little robot for several months now.
NetGear Routers/ModemsLet's face it -- NetGear isn't a new brand to the market and if you've ever been in the market for a router, no doubt you've been introduced a NetGear and may even be using one. We love the new Nighthawk Cable Modem, which is a router and modem baked into one which not only saves time, but money since you get the value of two devices in one -- this is also great for small spaces as well. One thing to note however is that because we had a separate router and modem initially, it took a little more work to set up a combo unit initially. That said, once you have it set up, it purrs along beautifully. I called Comcast (our provider) to tell them about a new modem since they need to validate it in their system for you to be up and running. Later, I learned that this can be done seamlessly (and quickly I might add), online. We did a second run with it just to see the difference and it saved us about 30 minutes of time, so we recommend going the online route if you can. You'll need to have the registration number and model number and once you enter it, you're good to go. The NetGear unit provides you with a Wifi SSID name which is usually NetGear and a number or series of numbers. It's worth noting that your SSID name can be changed instantaneously which we did of course. If you are running a wireless printer, you'll want to add the new SSID name to the printer as well so they can talk to each other. In our case, we tested it out with both a Brother and Epson printer, the latter of which is included in this guide, and it took less than five minutes to get it connected to the new wifi network. You can get the Nighthawk Cable Modem over on Amazon for around $200 which is a great deal when you consider the fact that you get the router and modem together. Two thumbs up! The Nighthawk X8 is another choice from NetGear if you only want to go with a router and this gem is incredibly fast. It's gotten rave reviews and this tri-Band WiFi and Quad Stream performance boosts X8's combined wireless speeds to up to 5.3Gbps. A whole lotta wow speed for those who care about improved reliability, are gaming or like us, want to be connected in the back of our outdoor patio. Four external Active Antennas plus four internal antennas amplify the WiFi range and six gigabit Ethernet ports means even more wired devices can connect to the router making it a great option for families or households with multiple devices. Their port aggregation 2 ports can combine to double maximum wired speeds as well which is worth noting for the technical among you. You can also get the Nighthawk X8 for about $350 and it makes a great gift for the holidays, especially if you haven't upgraded your router in awhile.
Dyson V6 AbsoluteDyson cleaners are known for their “super suction” and have a variety of stand-up models, including cordless models. Dyson machines now have smaller multiple cyclones than ever before, which create greater centrifugal forces and capture more microscopic dust (this is critical if you have allergies) than any other cyclones. Those if you who have had to push one of those heavy vacuums around know, they’re clunky, hard to move around and can’t make it under tough to reach spots. The Dyson v6 Absolute is a little different in that you move it a bit like a push mower. A Dyson Ball machine is different in that it rides on a ball, pivoting on a single point, which allows the machine to move in any direction. That’s the first godsend but once you get down to different models, there’s a whole lot more. Photo credit: DigitalTrendss One of the coolest parts about this upright machine which comes apart, is that it’s cordless, the first godsend for avid travelers. It’s very quick to get through one room, largely because it IS cordless and because it’s much lighter than traditional stand-up vacuum cleaners. There’s also a lot of options to choose from when cleaning, including a soft roller cleaner head, which is invented for hard floors, another feature that we love! The soft roller cleaner head removes large debris and fine dust simultaneously.
The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 Printer
Lucid Audio Gear
Me Foto Tripods & Accessories
Insta360 NanoWe just discovered this very cool new product that allows you to take incredible 360-degree selfies and capture special moments on vacation or over the holidays. Meet the Insta360 Nano, the world's first video camera which shoots and live-streams perfect HD 360-degree stills and video directly from your iPhone. The compact, sleek camera simply clips onto an iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 6s or 6s Plus and you can then share your images and videos instantly with your social media followers on Twitter and Facebook. Even if you're not a super early adopter and haven't yet picked up one of those virtual reality headsets, you'll be happy to note that the Insta360 packaging is easily converted into a Google Cardboard VR viewer, to let followers, friends and family instantly experience your immersive video masterpieces. How cool is that? They tout their new Insta360 Nano as the most innovative, affordable and convenient mobile panoramic and VR video camera available. It's now available on Amazon for an RRP of only $199.00. Note that it takes TF cards and they recommend the Samsung and Kingston cards.
Beats by Dre's urBeatsWe love the urBeats wireless earphones which are not only high quality but come in a fun range of colors, including silver, gold, white, gray, black, pink which they call rose gold, and purple. And they're oh so stylish! They have solid metal housing; their precision-machined single-billet metal housing prevents vibrations and unwelcome sound from tainting your listening experience. Great for travelers, they're very durable as well which makes them handy for those heavily on the move. Included is a built-in microphone for calls, which means you can switch easily between songs and incoming calls. A godsend for anyone who isn't planted in one location for long is their tangle-free cables which are designed to be flexible and tangle-free. urBeats earphones come in with an in-line control microphone cable, a storage pouch and four pairs of ear tip fittings so you can pick the one that best fits your ear. You can purchase the on-ear headphones over at Amazon as well as their earbuds.
SMARTvr by DodoCaseWe've covered their cases before and look forward to taking a look at some of their newer leather cases with card slots in the not too distant future. At the recent GetGeeked media event in San Francisco, we were able to connect with the DoDoCase team live and experience their latest SmartVR virtual reality glasses for smartphones. SMARTvr is a premium, portable, smartphone virtual reality viewer certified by Google that gives you a surreal virtual reality experience without any work at all. You simply attach the $40 gadget to your smart phone and it will unlock your smartphones virtual reality capabilities anytime, anywhere. There's a whole lotta WOW through those lenses too -- for travelers who don't get enough time in their favorite destinations, download Ascape and be prepared to be wowed. Let's just say that I didn't want to have a smile on my face despite daily praise from my industry pal Robert Scoble who lives and breathes this stuff. Within a few minutes using the Ascape app attached to my iPhone and I felt as if I was in a boat somewhere on the Caribbean and it was so real at times that I thought longer usage could bring on the smell of freshly caught fish. You can capture your life in immersive, interactive 360° video with freely available creation apps or 360 degree cameras that can be shared instantly on social media and relived fully in virtual reality. In addition to travel experiences, imagine similar life-like virtual reality sporting events, live concerts, breaking news, video games, social media posts, family get togethers, awards shows, educational courses, movie trailers and more. This very compact device is made of cast aluminum and ballistic nylon and is the smallest and most durable VR viewer. It supports both Android and iPhone, folds flat, fits in a pocket, has a Microsuede Lens cover and light blocking shield and only weighs 3.2 ounces. Remember too that there are thousands of VR experiences available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.
MyCharge For Extended Battery LifeLet's start with the Razor Platinum, which is crafted from anodized aluminum. What we love about this device is that all the connectors are buried in the device itself so you don't lose the connecting cables or in my case, spend your time searching for them at the bottom of my purse. The 13400mAh RazorPlatinum is the most powerful portable charger in the myCharge lineup and can also power a laptop. The USB-C port delivers a 36W output and is able to fully charge a MacBook in 100 minutes - YAY, a godsend for travelers. You can charge any tablet, smartphone or other device via the RazorPlatinum's standard USB-A port. Additionally, you can recharge the RazorPlatinum via the MacBook 29 watt adaptor in just two hours. It's compatible with the MacBook, Tablets, Smartphones, USB-C and USB-A Devices. Their hyper-charge is ultra-fast....they tout that they're 65% faster than competitors and the device maintains battery power for up to a year. Their Style-PowerXTRA is one of their more stylish versions, which also works with all smart phones and tablets and is 2.5x extra battery. It's also lot smaller and lighter than the MyCharge Razor Platinum and is a good choice for those shorter trips. More information on their range can be found at https://mycharge.com. A great stocking stuffer for a girlfriend, daughter, fashionista or family member is their fun colored 2200mAh Style Power portable charger. It has an integrated USB recharge cable, which allows your smartphone to be charged approximately 500 times. We love its size -- super compact and light, the Style Power is a great solution for people on the go and like to travel light.
Alcatel IDOL 4sWe haven't done anything with phones before, so this is new for us -- we'd like to put the latest Alcatel to the test in a bit more depth on a future trip, but from our preliminary look, we love this phone for travelers looking for an unlocked phone that can easily be used in any country in the world. We were going to 'go to town' with it on a trip to Indonesia last month but the trip was put on hold, so our hope is to use it on the road sometime in Q1 2017. What we did have time to do is look at the user interface, clarity of the screen quality, the camera and the apps, all of which are impressive. We also love that the screen is large (photography lovers will appreciate this) and it's super thin, which also means light, a great quality for avid travelers. Their 16MP camera and 8MP front-facing camera opens up more shooting opportunities when on a trip and let's not forget their pre-installed Fuse app that even lets you take 360 degree photos - LOVE this! Alcatel's 3.6-watt JBL certified speakers provide unreal audio that can fill a room -- who wants to travel with extra speakers when you don't have to? Additionally, the exclusive Boom Key lets you go from pocket to picture in under one second, make instant photo collages, increase volume and bass and more. The IDOL 4S is the first smartphone + Virtual Reality goggles package where you can literally explore VR experiences right out of the box. While we purely tested this from an unlocked phone for the mobile warrior abroad scenario and not the VR capabilities, it's worth mentioning since you can get the phone as a set which includes an immersive 5.5-inch Quad HD 2K display with AMOLED technology makes sure you don’t compromise resolution even in bright sunlight. You can get the Alcatel IDOL 4S on Amazon with Virtual Reality goggles and a JBL Headset for only around $400.
The Galaxy ZEGAWhile we've never tested anything like this before, we thought it was a fit for our holiday gift guide this year when we discovered that not just kids get excited about this realistic tank battle game, but adults as well. It's a great game for fathers to play with their sons since it's such a real-life shared experience given its interactivity. Your smartphone controls the tanks and you can use the app to battle it out on or off magnetic snapped-together battlefield. With mobile and mini-screens consuming far too much of our time, it makes it harder to play games together as a family, a far cry for what it was like when I grew up. The Galaxy ZEGA from SmartX lets parents and kids of all ages remotely tackle each other on or off the Galaxy ZEGA battlefield to gain points, skills, longer ‘lives’ and other treasures. In Galaxy ZEGA, the real and virtual worlds collide as real-world battlefield using palm-sized tanks (called ZEGAs). run around on the battlefield. Players can shoot their opponents with lights to gain points and eventually earn up to 30 more skills so they can disable other ZEGAs with virtual ‘oil spills,’ freeze opponent’s speed and more to win battles. The Galaxy ZEGA game comprises four ZEGA tanks (two come in the Galaxy ZEGA Starter Kit), each with a name, personality, unique strengths, and weaknesses. Their X-base accessory allows users to gain points, skills and treasures when the ZEGA drives over the lighted X-base. ZEGAs can also be upgraded through the app with treasures won in battle as well, adding more fun and creativity to the game. The Galaxy ZEGA Starter Kit includes two ZEGAs, battlefield and chargers and costs around $149.99. Additional products include extra ZEGAs, X-bases and other accessories. More information can be found at www.galaxyzega.com.
JBL Waterproof | Rugged SpeakersWe recently had a chance to play with a few of JBL's more rugged speakers, which are great for avid travelers. One of their smallest and most convenient for trips (it's light and waterproof), the JBL Clip 2 is an ultra-light, ultra-rugged and ultra-powerful portable speaker. Completely waterproof, the JBL Clip 2 provides 8 hours of playtime, allowing you to take your music wherever you go, whether it be on land or water.
With the speaker, you can stream music wirelessly via Bluetooth, or plug it into any smartphone or tablet with its attached audio cable. You can also wirelessly connect two Clip 2 speakers together to enjoy amplified sound. What else is cool for mobile warriors is that you can use the speakerphone to make clear, noise and echo free phone calls. The JBL Clip 2 is covered with durable waterproof fabric as well making it ideal for adventure enthusiasts. You can order it over on Amazon and they come in Black, Blue, Red and Gray.The other fun rugged and waterproof speaker from their line that we like and think would make a great holiday buy is their BL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker. These are also available on Amazon in black, blue, teal, red and gray. This hip looking speaker is as durable as the Clip 2, larger in size but also waterproof. You can connect via Bluetooth up to 3 smartphones or tablets to the speaker and there's a built-in rechargeable Li-ion battery that supports up to 20 hours of playtime and charges smartphones and tablets via USB. Like the Clip 2, you can take calls from your speaker with the touch of a button thanks to the noise and echo-cancelling speakerphone. Additionally, you can build your own ecosystem by connecting multiple JBL Connect enabled speakers together to amplify the listening experience. We tested it out on one recent trip to the beach (sure, you can swim with it) and outside on a patio when it was drizzling out and it continued to play music with great quality despite the wet weather conditions. Bravo -- two thumbs up!!
Video Conversion Suite by VIDBOXSome of us still have videos hanging around from years ago that sit unplayed and unused because we simply haven't had the time to get them into a digital format. Videotapes can deteriorate over time and quite frankly, who uses video tapes anymore? Your old videos will have color bleed, white specks, and other distortions. The Video Conversion Suite provides everything you need to easily convert your videos to digital formats easily and seamlessly. All you need is a VCR/camcorder and a PC or a Mac (they support both) with or without DVD burner, and you can easily transfer your video to DVD or digital files. They offer the product in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese and they support the following video standards: NTSC, SECAM and PAL. Output formats are as MOV, MPEG1, MPEG2, WMV and MP4 file formats. Disclosure: we do get products sent to us by vendors to review from time-to-time, including some of which are included in this guide, however all opinions expressed here are our own -- we were not paid to write about any of these products nor told what to say. We select products that we feel are good fits based on our own personal experiences and inclusion is based on years of playing and working with products.
December 23, 2014
Nicoise & Liquid Nitrogen Cooking at the International Culinary Institute in New York
You don't even have to read this site that often to know that I'm a huge fan of French culture, art and food/wine.
We Blog the World has a ton of content on France in general and I've written about the food in Paris numerous times, the most recent being my trip this summer and fall (yes, I graced Paris with my presence twice this year -- be sure to read my write-up on Michelin star La Cuisine) and Normandy and Brittany in September. Also learn more about Calvados and the foodie scene from my trip. So, whenever there is an opportunity to go deeper into the world of French food, you don't need to twist my arm very hard to say yes. This month at the International Culinary Institute in New York City, Anthony and I attended a food event dedicated to southern French cooking, specifically Nice. What was so magical about it was how it started....in a fog of smoke you wonder? No, not quite, but in a fog of smoking cold and scary looking frozen air so to speak. Yup -- the very cool effect of cooking with liquid nitrogen.
Cooking with liquid nitrogen isn't new but it's certainly not common and you don't get the experience of eating a dish immediately after the process in too many places. Apparently as far back as the 1800's, ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen, but today, it's really only used by the more innovative and cutting-edge chefs. The mayor of Nice (pictured below) and the head of the Nice Tourism board flew over for the event, as did some of the best chefs in Nice.
Below, the head of Nice's tourism board gives liquid nitrogen a try :-)
As does one of the chefs....
The result? Well, it looks a bit like smoke comes out of your nostrils after you take a bite. Below, Anthony and I play around and experiment, after all....we were there to learn, cook and of course eat and liquid nitrogen was part of it.
You might be wondering by now, is liquid nitrogen safe? Apparently so, except for its extreme temperature. It will cause any metal it comes in contact with to become freezing cold, but wearing dry gloves is enough to protect your hands from creating a tongue stuck to the flagpole scenario. Oh joy! And, what about the next question that may be on your mind? WHY cook with liquid nitrogen?
Here is a link to a video showing a chef cooking with liquid nitrogen from 2008 at the Tang Restaurant in Dubai, the only restaurant of its kind in the Middle East that employs molecular gastronomy. And, here's one from the Molecular gastronomy school in Paris, where they taught students how to use liquid nitrogen to make cocktails, instant ice cream and smoky meringues in 2011.
You'll learn a bit more about the process there. Whether you consider it a novelty or more than a novelty, we had a blast with the experience as did our fellow chefs.
The liquid nitrogen experiment seemed to go on for quite sometime (below), which is another great thing about a French culinary experience....no one is ever in a hurry.
What was interesting was the fact that they prepared each dish two ways. Below is the non liquid nitrogen version of the Provencal Onion Tart, prepared by Chef David Faure.
Afterwards, it was time for our cooking class, which was all about pastry. We were given access to a variety of ingredients, showed how to cut the dough and sent to work. I rounded up ingredients from other teams of course since the chef encouraged it.....
The result was a plate of pastries that included a mishmash of berries, spices and chocolate.
Our team below.
All the teams actually fit into the International Culinary Institute's kitchen, the very same kitchen where you can take classes in culinary arts, pastry arts and international bread baking.
Additionally, they do Italian Culinary Experience and Spanish Studies programs, Sommelier Training, cake techniques and design, advanced chef training and entrepreneurship. They also offer unique farm-to-table courses, which include fun field trips in New York and California.
Its hard for yours truly to put her phone away and so I was in fact, Instagramming my foodie shots throughout the evening.
Then, when we were done with so called "class time", the Nice chefs got to work, which was remarkable to see. No doubt, they were having a blast on the other side of the Atlantic, where they had a unique opportunity to work together to prepare a delicious array of dishes for a hungry crowd.
The result? Traditional Niçoise fish soup from Chef Gilles Ballestra, Ratatouille Nicoise (fish and chips) with stewed vegetables thanks to Chef Jose Orsini, Beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs of Provence from Chef Frederic Galland and Niçoise doughnut pastry with fried sorbet.
The main wine that was served with the dinner was a Cotes de Provence from Chateau La Gordonne.
Did we learn a lot? Bien sur, but we had a lot more fun than shall we say, studied....We left as happy campers and a cool French chef apron to boot.
December 06, 2012
Paris: Absorbing the Many Sides & Moods of Her
Paris has a funny way about her and yes, I'm sure she's a her. She's all the things a her can be: beautiful, moody, complex, dynamic, essential, turbulent, pensive, fashionable, delicious and vivacious.
I've been meandering through her alleys, eating her crepes and sipping her coffee every December for years now. I've never shied away from her nor have I ever rejected her....she has that way about her of pulling you in like gravity, the force of which is so powerful you find yourself agreeing with her even if she toys with your patience from time-to-time.
This year, as I thought about her brittle wet days and nights, as she is every December, I realized I was hesitant to go. She wasn't egging me on and part of me feared: Am I done with Paris? Is she done with me? I contemplated the thought but only briefly as I realized my dismissal of her was only because I was so preoccupied with the year 2012 and seeing it come to an end.
Far too many heady reflective messages this year....the ones that call you to challenge things you once believed were crystal clear only to discover they were muddier and murkier than a pond on Detroit's south side during a lightening storm.
It's not as if I needed a 'soulful' place to visit...not that Paris doesn't have its fair share of soul. More than a soulful city however, Paris is an invigorating one, one which re-ignites lost creativity and inspires the artist within. Who doesn't need a creative light and inspiration regardless of what stage in life they're in I thought? And yet, I reflected on one insightful early December night before I boarded the plane, I want silence, not noise, warm balmy nights, not icy windy ones, clear blue skies that hurt my eyes from their brightness, not gray cloudy ones, and warm brothy soups, not sizzling duck with a glass of Bordeaux.
But then I remembered all the drizzly rainy cold days and nights with Paris below my feet and how many of them I spent with her alone. Ahhh yes, Paris alone. Most people don't think about her that way - they head there when they want to propose to a loved one, take in a romantic weekend away, surprise someone with an anniversary present, or simply to experience the allure of her magnificence, the allure Hemingway and other greats have written novels about since anyone could.
Alone is when Paris really shines, I thought to myself and I've more often had her to myself than not, so why would this year be any different? She'll surprise me in a different way like she always does, I told myself. It will rain since she's rarely given me sunshine and I will hover under some broken umbrella on a corner somewhere savoring a piece of dark chocolate that was beautifully wrapped in 3 colored foil with a golden blue ribbon.
I knew the shop, the many shops I could go to for such a delight and marvel in its decadence the moment I stepped back out onto the wet pavement. I knew Paris would be good for that or for a plate of mussels near Saint Germain des Pres. Or for her lights. Her beauty. Her mystery. Her endless cafes where you could sit for hours over a dark roasted coffee in a cup the size of a thumb nail or one large enough to be a soup cup.
I wondered about the latest boot and shoe fashion and what St. Paul's window displays would bring me, or the beer I'd have with a journalist friend who always insists on meeting near the Republique and I always say yes even though I'd take grapes over hops any day. I considered a couple business colleagues who would roll their eyes when I pleaded for old world charm when they simply wanted to take in a modern brasserie or cafe. Then, there is my friend who has lived there for nearly thirty years, who remains as enthusiastic and endearing about life itself as he was when I first met him on that Eastern African island where we were stuck for weeks because there was no boat, rig or plane that could bring us back to the mainland.
I remembered one year where I had more time than most and walked ten miles of her wet cold streets every day for two weeks. At the end of each day after I had killed two or three of those $5 umbrellas because the wind blew them apart, I'd trek back to the apartment where I was staying, which had an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower from its kitchen. Every night, the Tower was magnificent and looked like it was close enough to touch from my balcony, the vibrancy of its lights rightfully overpowering anything else near it. Waiting for me was either a graceful or complex Bordeaux (I never knew which one I'd get) and some dark chocolate.
On the way, I'd stop at a corner near La Motte Picquet Grenelle's metro station and order a crepe with ham and mushrooms and because I was there so often, I didn't have to explain daily why I didn't want cheese, something that confuses anyone who lives in Paris, French or not. I wondered if the same man was there, the same man who'd smile every time I ordered the same thing night after night.
"Poivre?" he asked the first time. "Beaucoup, beaucoup," I responded. As he was about to fold the crepe from the piping hot skillet and scoop into a paper plate, I stopped him and said, "plus de poivre s'il vous plait." He looked at me in disbelief as if to say that any more pepper atop his perfectly crafted crepe would destroy the flavors inside. Perhaps he thought, "damn yank, she doesn't have a clue," on that one cold December night, the first time I bought a crepe from him. Over time, the smiles increased and he even helped me navigate a very long walking route one day on my crumpled damp paper map and although he kept reinforcing that it was too far to walk and why wouldn't I take the metro, he gave me advice anyway. And, we never had to talk about "poivre" again for he sprinkled the perfect amount on my ham and mushroom crepe with no cheese every day until I left.
Why was I fighting her I thought? Reflection time aside, doesn't Paris always take me in whether I am in a state of chaos, glory, beauty or solitude? Doesn't she always give back even if there are some cuts and bruises along the way? You know, the side that many foreigners complain about. The French "attitude," they receive because they aren't sophisticated enough, cultured enough, educated enough, polished enough, fashionable enough, French enough or French at all.
We've all been there and yet, a variation of it exists in many cultures, albeit more common in cosmopolitan cities. Yet, with the exception of Buenos Aires and Tokyo, I've been to all the other major cities around the world and truth be told, Paris does have more attitude. It's France's New York, posing the same directness and attitude but with more charm unless of course if you happen to be British or American.
New Yorkers feel the same way about their city, as if there is no other city greater in the world and why would you go anywhere else, even for a weekend for crying out loud?
I was no longer worried about why I brushed Paris aside this year. Once my flight was booked, the hesitation went away and even after looking at the 70% rain weather report, I moved forward packing warm socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hats and scarves and one of those many mini $5 umbrellas I was due to destroy in the coming days ahead. I wondered as I thought about the cloudy gray skies that would meet my gaze when I landed at Charles De Gaulle, what she had in store for me at the end of this very long year.
February 18, 2012
Is What I Crave Connected to My Heritage, Where I Live or Both?
It always seems to take over a month for those post holidays sugar and fatty food cravings to disappear. I’ve noticed that those cravings are often more prevalent during certain times of the year and when I visit certain parts of the world, and it’s not just because those “cravings” are the only things that locals eat.
I currently live in northern California and have lived in 10 countries, including more than my fair share of cold-weathered cities. There’s no question that colder climates can make you crave heartier dishes and hotter temperature foods, even though Brits argued that soups and curries helped them cool down in India during the colonial years.
Since living on the west coast, I crave more sushi than when I lived in Boston. When I visit northern European cities, I crave more red meat even if there’s fish or chicken on the menu and the weather is warm.
Culture contributes to those cravings and may explain why my Italian-born friends prefer a crisp Sauvignon Blanc over a buttery Chardonnay and how I developed such a tight bond with South African biltong that it’s hard to convince natives that I wasn’t raised there.
That said, there are some dishes I crave that feel like they’re “part” of who I am, such as squash, kobasa, duck, and toast for starters. Call it comfort food but I wonder, is it a craving for “comfort” or is it connected to heritage, where generations of eating certain things gets passed on, embedded in our DNA if you will?
When my grandfather sat down for lunch, his staple to-go plate included cold meats, pickles and onions. My grandmother would add a bowl of onions to the table since he added onions to more dishes than I’d care to admit.
Observing this behavior was subliminal at best, yet here I am years later craving many of the same things my grandfather ate, and have noticed a “craving” increase of some of his favorite dishes as I get older.
There are examples of this across the globe, such as the thousands of banana varieties in Africa alone, not to mention vegetables and fruits not that plentiful in the west like guava and okra. Whatever we have an abundance of, we eat, another reason I’m thrilled the holidays are over.
When we lived in Florida, oranges were a regular sighting in our kitchen as was coconut juice when I hung my hat in Kenya. I lived on curries in London and ate French fries with peanut butter sauce in Amsterdam.
But, how much of our cravings are connected to other factors such as our body chemistry and general health?
Rest assured, there are lots of foods that make me feel better, such as fruits and vegetables. And, when I eat healthier, my body chemistry changes as do my cravings. When I used to juice regularly, I’d find alcohol and low-alkaline foods hard to stomach. Our bodies adapt just as our ancestor’s bodies adapted to different kinds of foods as a result of changes in climate, food availability and the economy. (Think The Depression).
Many doctors and health experts may argue that our cravings have nothing to do with heritage whatsoever. There’s certainly no shortage of doctor-blessed diets that promise to reduce your cravings, decrease your “bad” cholesterol and add years to your life.
D'Adamo suggests that the human blood type is key to the body's ability to differentiate self from non-self. Lectins in foods, he asserts, react differently with each ABO blood type and to a lesser extent with an individual's secretor status.
One source suggests that orange juice is bad for my blood type whereas grapefruit juice and I should shine. The truth is that while I like both, I prefer grapefruit juice and “feel” healthier drinking it.
One of the noted symptoms of adrenal fatigue, a condition where your adrenal glands become “tired”, is a craving of salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese. Some blood type diets observe that Type O’s don’t find dairy products and grains as ‘body-friendly.” It makes you wonder what percentage of people from northern Europe are Type O’s versus those who hail from Africa or Asia?
Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity by Elias & Kethum suggest that I should add more “cool foods” to my diet and avoid red vegetables such as tomatoes and red peppers which can make you feel more “irritable & off-balance” and bitter foods and beverages, which are considered more ‘healing.’ They focus on five elemental types: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. After doing a questionnaire, they recommend certain foods based on your results and tell you to avoid others, with the goal of getting your body into balance and harmony.
Albeit not new, Dr. Barnet Meltzer has written about something he refers to as “food swings”, the reactions in your mind and body to what you eat, a link between your diet and your emotional and physical well-being. Female friends have admitted that they may eat more at times when they knowingly don’t want to attract men into their lives.
Those who have tried the Atkins Diet know that it makes you forget about carbs after the first week and soon, its promise to drop the pounds becomes a reality, for a price that is and not necessarily a healthy one.
A highly alkaline and juice diet made me enjoy raw foods in a way I never thought was possible. Being a vegetarian for awhile made me despise the smell of meat for a few years and Rosedale’s diet argues that Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, tells the brain when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop eating.
The time of day you eat is also a factor. When I returned from Italy several years ago, I craved pasta in the mornings and it wasn’t until I avoided carbs until late afternoon that those sharp cravings disappeared.
The Telegraph’s Science Correspondent Richard Alleyne unveiled research in 2009 that examined how the time of day you eat affects how much weight you put on; eating high fat foods during the day led to a 20 per cent weight gain.
This is just the beginning of an exploration of how cravings are connected to heritage, location, time and health. If you have ever documented your cravings and have insights to share, let’s evolve the conversation. Over to you, health afficiandos, doctors, researchers, experts and those who are as genuinely curious as I am about this topic, to offer your opinions and data.
September 15, 2011
August Capital Food Porn: Bring it On
August Capital held their annual bash this week at their Silicon Valley's Sandhill Road headquarters. They did a fabulous job curating the best of the best in the industry, which equated to a wealth of interesting conversations.
Of course, they are notorious for making sure the food and wine is top notch and as always, they didn't disappoint. Below is a visual journey of what was on the menu, thanks to Taste, based on Third Street in San Francisco.
While I typically have spent my time capturing photos of attendees and fun, social group shots, this year, I only focused on food porn, likely due to the increased time I've been spending covering food, wine and culture over on We Blog the World. (besides, food is a whole lot more fun to cover than gadgets even if I am a part-time geek).
Starting with the fresh peach prosecco spritzer, we then moved onto white wine (chard and sauvignon blanc) to go with some of the lighter appetizers.
They also had an oyster bar with two different kinds to choose from - both from northern California's coastline.
Passed plates included tamarind glazed marin sun farms pork belly, sauteed okra with pimento peppers and sweet corn, roasted local sea bass with compressed melon and cucumber salsa cruda and fried green beefstaeak tomatoes. (yes, time to move onto the Merlot and the Cabernet from Napa).
I loved the hand cut (homemade baby) pasta with summer chanterelles (very fresh), the sungold tomatoes, peas & marjoram and my two favorites of the savory dishes all night: the chilled corn soup in demitasse with chive and la tourangelle avocado oil on the top and the smoked spanish paprika flank steak with arugula and salsa rossa.
April 26, 2011
Ultimate Women's Expo Hits Phoenix on April 30
The Ultimate Women’s Expo hits Phoenix next weekend, which will consist of two full days of events, giveaways and talks designed specifically for women. The conference features keynote speakers Patricia Heaton and Ricki Lake and over 550 shopping booths, along with complimentary pampering and rejuvenation for women in and outside of Arizona.
Exhibits include the very best in fashion, beauty, health, fitness, home décor, careers, financial planning, education and much more. Admission includes an amazing array of complimentary spa services, including free makeovers, haircuts, manicures, massages and facials. They'll have four stages, book signings, celebrity appearances, and cooking and design demonstrations. The Decorating Stage features renown design experts providing new ideas on home décor, while the Cooking Theatre features some of the Valley’s most talented chefs preparing the latest in new and fresh meal ideas.
Emmy Award Winning Actress, Author, Producer and bestselling author Patricia Heaton will deliver an empowering message to women on making the most of everyday and living your best life on Saturday, April 30, 2011, Susan Lucci, the vixen from All My Children, will also speak and then conduct a book signing and award winning actress, author, producer, Talk Show Host and Women’s Advocate Ricki Lake will finish off with a talk on exceeding your own expectations on Sunday, May 1, 2011.
How cool is this? They'll also have a Rejuvenation Tea Garden Lounge, which will feature over 500 trees and flowering gardens, and there within, attendees will receive free champagne, martini’s, margaritas and wine tastings throughout the weekend.
April 03, 2011
Maggie Mudd: An Ice Cream Institution Now Gone
People have been talking about Maggie Mudd's ice cream shop on Cortland Street ever since I moved to San Francisco. Truth be told, whenever there was a conversation about ice cream, someone would say, yeah, I drive from Marin or San Jose or Pac Heights or Berkeley for Maggie Mudd ice cream, which is a bit of a trek considering how Bay Area residents feel about crossing either bridge and coming into the city.
MaggieMudd is an independent ice cream parlor that specializes in non-dairy flavors - made from soy and from coconut milk.
The funny thing is that Maggie isn't the owner's name, who btw, is a husband and wife team: Michael and Changying. Maggie is in fact, a cat who moved in with them.
They have over 55 flavors of ice cream and vegan dairy-free ice cream, as well as sundaes and ice cream cakes, including ones without dairy.
They created fun names for their special shakes, such as Brooklynn's Twisted Mind, Tarmack, or Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice. I was told on the day I went in that Tarmack was a customer favorite.
So, on the day I ventured into Maggie Mudd -- April 3, 2011, I was craving a chocolate non-dairy frozen cone, and threw it into a Google search and there she was in all her glory: Maggie Mudd came up, a place which has become a San Francisco institution yet the only time I had spent time behind its doors was when I first moved to the city. What was I thinking?
It wasn't busy despite the fact that it was a sunny day (a rarity in San Francisco), yet when I asked about chocolate and other flavors, Willeda, who has been working for them for six years, smiled and said, not today. So, I asked, you have dark chocolate at other times right? Yes, she said with a smile, but not after today. Confused, she went on to say that today was the last day Maggie Mudd was open. Forever. For good. Yowsa - did I get lucky or what?
I had the place to myself until a few moms came in to order their infamous ice cream cakes for their daughters, which will apparently still be available to order even though the shop itself will now be closed. I tested the coconut, cookie dough, coffee, oatmeal dough and against my initial judgment, peanut butter and jelly, which was better than I expected.
With no chocolate in site, I went for the cookie dough...a small set me back $4.25 and a pint is $7.50, a quart over $13.00. In other words, it ain't cheap. Their ice cream wasn't fabulous to be honest, then again, they don't make their own ice cream and what their known for is their non-dairy frozen cones which they make on-site. And those my friends, are creamier, richer and yummier than any other soy dairy dessert I've had.
While you can't get an ice cream cone at their Cortland Street shop anymore, you can click on their online catalog to see what kind of a cake we can make for you, order online and schedule your delivery time.
January 08, 2011
Dining at Paris' L'Aiguiere Along Rue De Montreuil
Below are random photos from the evening at Restaurant L'Aiguiere on Rue Montreuil in Paris.
Alliance de foie gras et pain d'épices en terrine at Restaurant L'Aiguiere
The chef is Patrick Masbatin. It is located on 37 bis, rue de Montreuil, 75011 in Paris. Tele: 01.43.72.42.32.
December 30, 2010
Life in the Drunk Lane: America's Top Ten Drunkest Cities
I'm always amused what some 'sights' do on the data collecting front. For example, The Daily Beast revealed 40 cities who drink the most in the U.S. based on the average number of drinks consumed per person in a month.
Jacksonville, Florida was last at #40, Philly was #20 and Seattle came in #30. And number one? The midwest, where else?
Stats for the #1 drunkest American city was Milwaukee Wisconsin:
Average drinks, per person, per month: 12.76
Percent of adults who are heavy drinkers: 7.1
Percent of adults who are binge drinkers: 21.8
Deaths per 100,000 residents from alcoholic liver disease: 3.9
The top ten list below.
1. Milwaukee, WI
2. Fargo, ND
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Austin, TX
5. Reno, NV
6. Burlington, VT
7. Omaha, NE
8. Boston, MA
9. Anchorage, AK
10. San Diego, CA
December 27, 2010
Who Said You Couldn't Get a Heart Attack From Vegetarian?
This year, I joined a friend's annual Christmas Day dinner in Montara, along the northern California coast. I offered to make a salad and little did I know what an excellent choice that was given that 99% of the crew of 20 or so were vegetarians.
Although I went vegetarian for a few years myself many moons ago and get all the merits of doing so from a health perspective (I may not have had more energy but my skin glowed and I felt a helluva lot lighter), I don't associate vegetarian with Christmas dinner.
I grew up with grandparents, great grandparents and tons of great aunts and uncles, all of whom spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and eating dishes with tons of butter, not to mention bacon, sausage, and beef lasagne. And as for the holidays? Split pea soup with bacon, shrimp cocktail, and turkey and ham (we often had both).
Given that I love vegetables and could be happy with an all veggie meal, I set myself up for the let down of NOT having a traditional turkey or ham on December 25, even though I very rarely eat either. After all, something had to compensate for being away from the snow, away from New England holiday spirit and away from all the conventions I grew up with, none of which seem to have transported its way to the west coast.
Appetizers started with some fabulous goat cheese from some fabulous Mediterranean country with the perfect amount of organic cranberries. There was also spinach pie aka Spanakopita(pronounced /ˌspænəˈkɒpɪtə/; Modern Greek σπανακόπιτα, from σπανάκι, spanáki, spinach, and πίττα, pítta, pie), a Greek savory pastry in the burek family with a filling of chopped spinach, feta cheese (sometimes served with ricotta cheese, as it is less expensive, and adds creaminess), onions or green onions, egg, and seasoning.
The filling is wrapped or layered in phyllo (filo) pastry with butter and/or olive oil, either in a large pan from which individual servings are cut, or rolled into individual triangular servings (see burek). Spanakopita is golden in color when baked, the color often enhanced by butter and egg yolk. Other white, fresh, preferably salted cheeses may also mixed with, or substituted for, the feta cheese. Okay, can we just say it was all YUM and move onto the next one. I poured myself a glass of Cabernet from the southern valley and moved on.
The dishes started coming out. First there was my salad which was the least interesting of the lot but it was healthy and included almonds, flax seeds, raisins, and a tangerine olive oil dressing.
Heavy cheese dishes which I couldn't eat but looked and smelled incredible were the cauliflower leek tart and the tomato polenta that oozed with so much sauce and cheese that I had to stay away, or rather my arteries had to stay away. It's not as if there weren't at least ten other choices.
For one, my favorite was an incredible vegetarian stuffing that the host's mother made. As I was making my way through Round One and thinking, this tastes just like my great grandmother used to make, she confirmed that it did in fact have a grandmother's stamp on it and even if I had the recipe, there's no chance in hell I could repeat the same culinary experience. Seconds it was and this time with another homemade accompaniment - cranberries of course. One pound of cramberries mixed with two cups of sugar and one cup of red wine (like a merot). Scrumptious.
Corn and egg were whipped together for another delicacy that was served in a casserole-like dish and cut into squares. Did I mention the sauteed brussel sprouts, peas and bright orange squash that had so much better on it that you swore your great grandmother had returned just to drop off the dish?
Then to top it off, four boxes of chocolates and squares, two plates of homemade cookies (including those dangerous heavy white powdered dots), pumpkin pie, a caramel cream souffle and an apple tart followed on the main stage (aka kitchen counter).
On the table next to the couch? What else but organic gourmet dark and milk chocolate bars from an outfit called Vosges. And how could you not try them all?
Here we go: creole bar is New Orleans style chicory, Sao Thome Bittersweet and cocoa nibs, the Wooloomooloo Bar is roasted and salted macadamia nuts with Indonesia coconut, hemp seeds and deep milk chocolate, the Mo's Dark Bacon Bar (yes I did say Bacon, it's not a typo), is full of Applewood smoked bacon and alderwood smoked salt, the Gianduja Bar has almonds, carmelized hazelnuts and deep milk chocolate.
The Red Fire Bar which was everyone's favorite except for mine consisted of Mexican ancho y chipotle chillies and Ceylon cinnamon, whereas the Oaxaca Bar had guajillo and chillies with Tanzanaire bittersweet chocolate. Two milk chocolate options were the Barcelona Bar which included hickory smoked almonds with grey sea salt, and the Matcha Bar with Japanese matcha green tea and 45% cacao. Lastly, I tasted the Black Pearl Bar, which was 55% cacao and had ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds and dark chocolate.
I had to take a double dose of extra strength Rolaids when I got home. Who said you couldn't get a heart attack from going vegetarian?