About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Idea Festival 2014 For Those Who Are Forever Curious

October 19, 2014 by  

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Imagine an eclectic conference in the heart of bourbon country that brings together thought leaders, big thinkers, educators, scientists, politicians, urban planners, technologists, authors, artists, students and musicians under one roof? And…that is not by all means an exhaustive list.

Idea Festival is the one event that I’ve jumped on an airplane for every year, bound for Louisville Kentucky to make the time for a four day discussion on creativity and innovation. Last year’s event coverage will give you a taste of who they attract and while the focus may change slightly depending on who’s on the main stage, the mission remains the same: to Stay Curious.

Hear from founder and the force behind Idea Festival Kris Kimel; a snippet from a video I shot a couple of years ago will demonstrate his passion for the event and why he started it.  Think of it as an intellectual playground in one of America’s most interesting southern cities where people celebrate ideas, creativity and transformational learning across multiple disciplines, including science, technology, design, education, philosophy, business and the arts.

While not in any of these categories, Walgreen’s Chief Diversity Officer Steve Pemberton received a standing ovation for his talk that not just touched on diversity but what it means to be human.  His childhood was far from stellar, yet he managed to rise above inequality and obstacles thrown in his path to where he sits today.

Truth be told, his talk makes you care about kindness, rethink adversity and if you’re a business, understand the importance of diversity. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, Pemberton has gone from being a forgotten ward of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to becoming a trailblazing Divisional Vice President at Walgreens and the first Chief Diversity Officer for the 113 year old company. Prior to that, he made history as the first Chief Diversity Officer and Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion for an Internet start-up while at Monster.com.

His memoir, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home, chronicles his difficult path through foster care and his determined search for his family. It is an inspirational story that crosses generations and cultures, but specifically whispers to those who have had the odds stacked against them. Pemberton’s relentless journey to overcome his setbacks, find his biological family and right the wrongs of his parents’ past is a model for all families to follow. It is a true testament of faith, fortitude and forgiveness and his talk brought his personal story to life in a heartfelt and very human way. As an audience, we wanted to cry and laugh with him at the same time.

Pemberton believes that who we are, our triumphs over adversity, and our successes begin and end with family. His rivoting talk was an exceptionally powerful sentiment from a man who fought to find his way and who in the end believes that you can choose your family after all. Hear hear.

CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts was also very inspirational, earmarking all the reasons why your status in life isn’t the main indicator of whether you’ll be successful in life or not. As one of the youngest CEO’s within the Virgin Group of companies, he oversees the group’s expansion into the film, television and new media content business.

While he may not have had to overcome adversity in the same way as Pemberton did early on in life, Felts isn’t an ivy league college graduate either. He comes to the business without the external accolades and degrees that a large brand might look for, yet he is now spearheading the Virgin Produced business, successfully bringing it to the next level. Richard Branson saw a gem when he met one and since 2010, Felts has been combining the strength of his raw wisdom, his film experience, his authentic charm and down-to-earth approach to running a business to the Virgin Group.

What I loved about Felts when I first met him was his presence. How rare is it to find someone operating at that level who actually not just has presence on stage, but is truly present with you “in the moment” regardless of what value you can give him. I have met and worked with my fair share of CEOs and celebrities in my life and more often than not, the charm is accelerated only when they realize you can give them something they need. Not the case with Felts.

Like Branson, he hates the status quo, and word has it that “he’ll cut off your tie if you wear one into his office.”  His background is primarily in film and TV production, so it’s ever so fitting that he’s such an instrumental force behind the entertainment side of Virgin’s business. Says Jason on the Idea Festival stage, ”Create content that inspires. Trust comes first, competency second and then creativity.”

He notes that at Virgin Produced, that the culture is a combination of down-to-earth and creative. “People don’t operate from a place of ego,” he says. “We talk issues out like a family.” He sees Richard Branson as a tremendous mentor, a personality which is hard not to love. As a man who who has always led with adventure, he has never let obstacles get in the way of business or life. Branson chooses his partners, not the other way around Felts learned when he came on in 2010.

It was a leap of faith on both sides and it appears to have paid off. The word trust came up a few times, which is a great way to lead your business. Jason says, “Everything else follows trust! If you surround yourself with people you trust, the rest comes. Revenue follows trust!”

The Virgin brand for him exudes a combination of innovation, creativity and value for the money. He says, “with Virgin movies, we want people to leave thinking there’s a sense of fun, adventure and thrill to the Virgin brand as well as a sense of wish fulfillment and social responsibility. We follow our gut and we’ve been winning so far.”

He feels that the traditional trailer is dead….and deceiving. “There’s way too much content out there and it’s a little misleading,” he says.  Content overload is certainly not a new problem but it has now expanded into all areas of digital content including movie trailers. He says that their movies are not going to appeal to everyone, but if it touches a certain demographic, then it’s a check box for them since they lead with quality, not revenue.

Felts thinks we need to start tailoring things to the individual and become more personalized. Later in his talk, I learned that it wasn’t Branson who passed on the heartfelt authenticity and warmth that Felts so naturally exudes; it was his mom.

He shared one of his mom’s sayings: “Love the ones you’re with” and it’s something that Felts practices. I met him at the beginning of the conference and every engagement I had with him throughout the event albeit brief, was genuine. Imagine if all leaders and CEO’s could be that present who they could further inspire, motivate and ignite? He ended with a comment that touches on the infiltration of technology in our lives, something he also practices by not using his cell phone when he’s with his family.

His parting comment: “I think it’s up to forward thinking people to keep us together as a community rather than breaking us apart.” Thanks for being so damn refreshing Jason Felts. I loved your energy, your talk and your very fun suggestion to bring the audience up on the stage with you at the end of your talk for a true-blue selfie!

Wired Magazine and New York Times writer Clive Thompson amused us with his tantilizing talk about technology, social media and the changing landscape; how technology is fundamentally changing the way we think….often in ways we don’t fully understand.

He cites an example from a Clarke college professor who said this of her students: they were often content to get a bad grade from me than have the Wikipedia community tell them their research is sloppy. There’s no doubt that thinking about knowledge, education and the perception of both has changed dramatically over the years. We still gravitate to what we know and feel comfortable with just as we did 100 years ago and today, our peers are doing very different things and communicating in ways that the last generation doesn’t quite understand.

Texting, sexting, facebook pokes, tweets and Instagram shares have become commonplace, not just once a day but regularly throughout the day, whether or not school or work is part of that day. While like continues to find like, multiples exist more than ever in the past. You know — that big idea you’ve got? Well a couple dozen other people around the world also have it and unlike 50 years ago, they can share that idea instantaneously on the web, whether or not they’ve created a patent for it or plan to.

He has learned through his observations over the years, that as social media has exploded, the way we learn and think has changed. Thompson says, “we try harder, think more deeply and analyze more clearly when someone is watching.” Citing another piece of research from “Mimi in Tokyo,” he shares that young lovers in Tokyo in the 1990′s found that texting makes them feel closer than even a phone call.” It makes sense in some ways since texting not only provides the immediacy of a response but its lasting and you can scroll back and look at those whimsical and romantic messages hours later.

For those who don’t understand Twitter, he tries to explain its value in this context: a few ambient signals mean nothing on their own but months of them starts to have meaning which ultimately becomes ambient awareness — kind of like what happens when we have ESP and can sense people’s thoughts.” As a regular Twitter user, I see this all the time and over time, learn more about people I’ve known for over ten years by observing their tweets over a couple of months. It’s astonishing and eye opening, however those who are new to social media or simply don’t want to invest the time, still can’t get their head around it.

Other interesting observations from online behavior found that weak ties in our lives (i.e., people we see once a year perhaps) can be more powerful in some cases than strong ties (people we see every day and are close to). Quite often, the most new and valuable information comes to us from people we don’t know very well. The notion is that people in our closer circles are too similar to us so we don’t necessarily learn something new from them.

The other trend is data gathering and data crunching. Suddenly people are becoming accustomed to monitoring not just any data trend, but their own personal data, on a regular basis. Fitbit and other digital health connected devices such as the Kolibree connected toothbrush are prime examples. Suddenly, you can have data about your behavior in real time on your smart phone, data that you can share with your loved ones, doctor or dentist. Is this trend turning everyone into data scientists? And, if so, what will the impact of that be on medicine, healthcare as we know it and general wellness and being?

What about once all of that data becomes connected? AND, what about when our minds can become “connected?” What is the powerful explosion that we could see in the future when we start collaborating on things that collectively and individually fascinate us? How do we effectively tap into collaborative thinking? People are already doing it in multiple ways, ranging from individual data collection around a regional environmental disaster to solving a medical research problems.

One of the things we talk about a lot in Silicon Valley is the power of collective data and thinking.  Crowd-sourcing, crowd-thinking and crowd-creating are topics that are sprouting up as TED talks, at salons in people’s private homes and in my own tech circles.

If gamers can tackle a ten year old protein folding mystery in HIV research, then what else could we solve from human collective intelligence? I think about the empowerment this approach can have with children. Coming from an era where children were around to be seen, not heard, I know countless people from my generation who have confidence issues as a result of that mantra and way of thinking. I’d love to meet the next generation of students where the power of human collective intelligence is applied in schools and at home.

Thompson points out that private thinking is of course still vital and that we need “metacognition” aka to think about our thinking. Which problems are better to solve in public collectively and which ones to solve privately in solitude? I agree with this, however the problem with the growing interest in an always on world where everything is open and digitized is that people sometimes forget that some things truly remain private and should. It takes discipline and a little reflection (which I feel that we rarely get in an “always on” world) to know where to turn and when.

Philosopher Stephen Cave discussed how the relentless quest to live forever…physically, spiritually or perhaps through a legacy, has influenced and shaped civilization since the dawn of humankind. He points out that its not just our lives here, but eternity, which is what makes every ‘holy war.’

He notes that we think the world is dependent upon our perceiving ourselves within the world, but in fact, its just an illusion in our brains.  Every creature is trying to pass on their genes in order to reproduce and survive, so this is part of our desire and fascination with living forever, at least through legacy. If our time is in fact limited and not eternal however, then the way we spend that time matters.

He humorously says, “imagine that you go to an upload enter every week and upload your mind for a new upgrade or app. You could essentially save your brain to this upload center and then if you were to get killed in a car accident, you would simply re-upload your brain into another body and have a replicate of you. But…it’s still a copy.”

In his book, he tackles all the things that compel humans to “keep on keeping on,” including some mind-bending thought experiments you could do yourself.  He teases out the implications of each immortality gambit, asking, for example, how long a person would live if they did manage to acquire a perfectly disease-free body.  Or what would happen if a super-being tried to round up the atomic constituents of all who have died in order to resurrect them?  Or what our loved ones would really be doing in heaven if it does exist?  Or what part of us actually lives in a work of art, and how long that work of art can survive?

He makes you think about immortality in a very different way and as a result, focus on things that do matter in the process — at least, that’s what his talk did for me. If we could only be present on the hear and now more often, we’d have less fear, uncertainty, doubt and chaos in our lives.

Coming over from London, Claudia Hammond took on the topic of Time, making us think differently about how we perceive time. She talked about how and when time appears to be distorted, such as when we’re not feeling well, are sick and have a temperature, are depressed, or not feeling as confident about ourselves.  She has been so fascinated by this topic that she has gathered research and examples of people’s interaction with time itself.

You could try your own exercise by counting a series of “how am I feeling now?” and Now? And Now? Count up all of these emotional moments and see how you perceive time throughout the process.

What fascinates her about time, is that there have been years, decades and centuries that have passed by before our lives, yet we always have a different idea of the length of time as we get older. Apparently 1 in 5 people visualize time laid out before them. They might see the year laid out in front of them in space and time for example. This is you if you can see in your mind’s eye what you are doing in February of a particular year.

There are 2 different kinds of time metaphors she notes. The Time Moving Metaphor, where you stay still and time comes towards you and the Ego Moving Metaphor, where you see yourself running and going towards time.

Perceptions of time in our personal life are around 3 months. If you think you saw friends 3 months ago, it might actually be 4 or 5 months. For other types of events, it’s a few years. When you think something happened 3 or 4 years ago, it might be a third longer or in some cases, even longer than that, such as 9/11 or a political event. People don’t report that days go really fast, but do report that weeks and months fly by.

If you ask someone when they’re older, what song they love, they’re more likely to pick a song they loved between the age of 15 and 25. Memories seem to be stronger during that period of time. Try this exercise out on a few friends and see it this applies.

She suggests that if you want to make a weekend seem long, do lots of new things you haven’t done before. For example, do something new you’ve never done before in the morning and something entirely different in the afternoon. Doing so in this pattern will create new memories for you. Creating new memories makes you think less about time because you’re too busy having a good time as you create new and fresh memories, not ones that make you feel stagnant and still. If time is going slowly, it may mean you don’t have a lot going on in your life.

Then there’s the perception of time in the future. “There’s been less research on how we perceive time in the future and more on how we perceive time in the past,” says Hammond. “We can actually go back in the past and recall our first day at primary school, but if asked to imagine that you’re going to a friend’s wedding in the Caribbean, you can build visuals of what you think it will be like and how the weekend will go, but it’s a entirely different memory and idea of time.”

The general concensus is that we’re bad about making predictions about time and tend to underestimate how long something will take us. To improve memory and our perception and improvement of time, she suggests picturing yourself doing an activity you need to do over and over again. Fascinating talk. I also loved her energy and it was fabulous to hear a British accent on stage!

I’ve known Virginia Postrel for quite possibly 20 years or so. I have always loved her work as far back as I can remember when she was more focused on politics than style.  Today, and for many years now, she has been focused on style and the power of glamour although her work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture and commerce.

Writing in Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus described her as “a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources.” She has written a few fascinating books worth mentioning. including her most recent one – The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, as well as The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies.

Her talk focused on the Power of Glamour and how it impacts us in our daily lives, from politics and sports to health and fashion. She so beautifully separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous.

What is it that creates that pleasurable pang of desire—the feeling of “if only”? If only I could wear those clothes, belong to that group, drive that car, live in that house, be (or be with) that person? Postrel identifies the three essential elements in all forms of glamour and explains how they work to create a distinctive sensation of projection and yearning.

She delves deep into what glamour really is—not just style or a personal quality but a phenomenon that reveals our inner lives and shapes our decisions, large and small. By embodying the promise of a different and better self in different and better circumstances, glamour stokes ambition and nurtures hope, even as it fosters sometimes-dangerous illusions. From vacation brochures to military recruiting ads, from the Chrysler Building to the iPad, from political utopias to action heroines, Postrel argues that glamour is a seductive cultural force. Its magic stretches beyond the stereotypical spheres of fashion or film, influencing our decisions about what to buy, where to live, which careers to pursue, where to invest, and how to vote.

I saw Peter Van Buren on the Idea Festival two years ago after he launched his book We Meant Well and we all thought he was a brave soul then. His story is a complex one and definitely not short. As a former United States Foreign Service employee, he went through a struggle with the Department of State after writing his first book.  In detail, Van Buren gives an eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge—that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world the U.S. had just destroyed.  Van Buren shared his year-long encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy.

Since then he has been giving talks about his story but now has a new heartfelt mission. His latest book Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent documents the changes happening in America that are negatively impacting the 99% and helping to make the top 1% earners flourish more than ever.

As documented on the web, Ghosts of Tom Joad is a reimagining of Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath, brought into our own era. The book traces the dilution of our middle class, their replacement with the working poor, and examines the effects of this not just on our economy, but on our society, our nation, our America. Like Grapes of Wrath, Ghosts is a factual look at ourselves is wrapped in fiction, in this case, a single Ohio family touched by the changes in America from the 1950s through today.

The book is a story about growth, failure, and redemption, tracing the rise of the working poor and the don’t-have-to-work-rich as it follows the fortunes of the protagonist Earl. A product of the post–Korean War era, Earl witnesses his parents’ kitchen table arguments over money—echoed in thousands of other Rust Belt towns—experiences bullying, relishes first kisses, and comes of age and matures as a man before the economic hardships of the 1980′s and 1990′s wear on his spirit.

On the Idea Festival stage this year, Van Buren brought up fact after fact supporting some of the core changes happening in corporate America, particularly the top American employers and the impact on the 99%. While costs are skyrocketing, wages are not keeping up with inflation and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the now 99% who are struggling to survive in today’s increasingly competitive world. As he did two years ago, he brought this knowledge to life in a very human and compelling way, so rivoting and passionate that you feel as if you want to help in some small way. And as you think about helping in some small way, you realize that you too are being impacted by these economic changes in more profound ways than you may have first realized.

The theme here is the obvious growing divide between the working class and that 1% – in other words, what has happened to the middle class as we knew it? He threw out some stats. 10% of wealth holders own 70% of everything and the U.S. is ranked 85 on the economic inequality scale. Did you know that Bill Gates could buy Boston and have a billion left over? And, did you know that 1 out of 3 retail workers get food subsidies because they can’t earn enough not to? Poverty is a $14b business he cites.

He gave advice to the students in the room – “don’t buy into the myth,” he told them. “The U.S. is in the 20% of nations that doesn’t offer some kind of nationalized healthcare. We have convinced people that if you don’t work, you won’t get healthcare. We’ve convinced ourselves that if we raise the minimum wage that we’ll have less jobs out there. Don’t be afraid. There needs to be more interplay between us and those who control everything. The people who have the most to gain from the system have created the system. We saw the greatest redistribution of wealth in the 2008 recession. The pattern continues. Stand up and have the conversation so that this pattern doesn’t continue any longer.”

He is working on a new book Post Constitutional America, which will cover what we’ve lost as a nation since 9/11, including our privacy.

Insightful, sad and disheartening, yet with knowledge and awareness comes empowerment and power.

Other powerful talks came from Jason Padgett and Joshua Greene (both pictured below). Jason was a former furniture salesman who was violently assaulted, which resulted in a serious head injury. The result was a brain who thinks differently, so differently that he now sees things in complex mathematical structures and patterns. He shared his remarkable journey with us and whether you’re passionate about math or not, you couldn’t leave the auditorium without feeling intensely moved by his story and more keen than ever to understand the hidden capabilities of the mind, learning and the nature of reality itself…

Joshua Greene is a Harvard professor who connects neuroscience, psychology and philosophy to illuminate the root causes of modern conflict in the world, along with the moral, political and ideological fault line that divides us. His talk was entitled Us and Them. The real question at the end of the talk to ourselves was are we the “us” or are we the “them?” and how many of us have been both over the course of our lives?

His talk was based on his book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them. Essentially the notion behind the book comes from the thinking that our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.

Through his research, he reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. His work is important as was his talk.

Geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan talked about the rapidly changing global scene and its potential impact on international business, finance and the U.S., Lee Billings took us into a world of five billion years of solitude, Wynton Marsalis discussed the dynamics and irreplaceable role of art and creativity in America and Julia Whitehead led a conversation on the life, ideas and enduring influence of Kurt Vonnegut.

Andrea Nicholas and Sarah Eichhorn explored how math and science can help ensure our survival in a zombie apocalypse (no typo here and yes, it was a fascinating talk), Sam Van Aken incorporated art and ideation in a way that can transform and confuse the common sense of practices; the established order of things, Ben Malphrus and Roger McNeil took on the subatomic world of quantum weirdness and black holes, Debbie Millman focused on overcoming rejection and failure and how its presence can be a necessary part to your path to success, and Tyler Cowen explained why being satisfied by “pretty good” in today’s innovation-driven, hyper competitive world may in fact be just a fast track to irrelevance.

An annual presentation at Idea Festival for many years now, Creative Capital shows up with a handful of creative artists. Creative Capital has awarded $30 million to 530 groundbreaking artists nationwide through funding, counsel and career development services. This year, Ruby Lerner once again brought their latest artists on stage to show off their creative ideas and projects in a session entitled “Art on the Edge.”

Each year as part of Idea Festival, attendees flock to the annual Taste of Innovation event. This year’s Taste of Innovation had an interesting twist to it – it was a Taste of Innovation + Bourbon, so fitting for a Kentucky based food event.

This food lover’s event is always held at Churchill Down’s Millionaire’s Row, also fitting given that it’s the same venue as the infamous Kentucky Derby where people flock to from around to sip some of the finest bourbon in the country, wear exquisite hats that would make the Epsom Downs attendees jealous and watch horses win races that bring in millions. Below, some of the locals who showed me a night out on the town and introduced me to some of the more interesting bourbon creators and makers.

The Rise Group exuded energy on the main stage, demonstrating all the ways we can operate at a higher level. Their methods are grounded in everyday language of how we present ourselves and how we think, using tactics and tools to enable us to become more creative and innovative in our daily lives. Their presentation was fun, thought provoking and energetic and these principles can be used in corporate America, at a start-up or in our personal lives.

While every year they have bourbon vendors on-site, this year let bourbon led the way with taste and education. Top bourbon experts were on site to answer questions and give pours, with Chef Dean Borbett acting as the Master of Ceremonies. With the help of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association and Kentucky Bourbon Trail, tastings were available from major distillers as you also walked through the history of bourbon and bourbon cocktails. Bourbon was also woven into some of the dishes, the best of which was the bourbon braised short ribs prepared Manhattan style by Churchill Downs.

Be sure to see our more extensive write up on this year’s Taste of Innovation 2014 event. We loved every taste we had, but another one of our top picks this year was Marketplace who served Italian pork meatballs with a tasso ham sauce, polenta, feta cheese and granulated sumac. Everyone was talking about their perfectly made polenta all night and in fact I heard a few say, they’d return just to eat the polenta alone it was so delicious. Hats off to Chef Dallas McGarity and his team.

Also see our write up on last year’s Taste of Innovation, from 2012 Taste of Innovation and 2011. Check out our Kentucky Events section, which will include coverage of Idea Festival from last year (Idea Festival 2013), Idea Festival 2011 and Idea Festival 2012 and also our Kentucky Food & Wine section where you’ll find plenty of recommendations and visual treats on the top Louisville Restaurants.

Louisville restaurants we’ve written about over the years include Proof on Main at the well renowned 21c Museum Hotel, where I stayed this year, Seviche Restaurant (loved their seafood bisque – hats off to chef Anthony Lamas, Lilly’s (I love Kathy’s approach to cooking, her sweet potato gnocchi with country ham, kale and bourbon mustard cream sauce from a previous year was to die for as was this year’s portobello mushroom soup, although we have yet to review Lilly’s)MilkwoodDeccaGame (for every kind of game imaginable), La Coop Bistro, Mayan CafeHarvestJack Frys and The Blind Pig in Butchertown which is no longer open.

This year’s delicious picks include Basa Restaurant for Vietnamese Fusion style dishes and Rye on Market. Also be sure to read our Kentucky Food section for more details. (Top Kentucky Restaurants / Best Food in Kentucky / Best Food in Louisville).

Photo credits: top photo credit from blogs.uoregon.edu, Digital Overload photo www.principals. com.au. All other photos Renee Blodgett.

Note: I was a media partner of the Idea Festival and have been since the very beginning – I’m a huge fan of the event and think it is under recognized for its talent, work and mission. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Tavern Style Fare at Cellar 49 in Tarrytown House Estate’s Biddle Mansion

October 17, 2014 by  

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Ever dined in a cellar or a cavern? Europe has plenty of old world establishments where you feel as if you’re dining in the last century. They’re dimly lit, cavernous in feel and the dishes are old world in their presentation and style. The states isn’t known for old world and in fact, even in New England where you can find plenty of traditional classic restaurants, the cuisine tends to slant more towards family style, romantic or what is often referred to as cosmopolitan dining.

Join us at Cellar 49 in Tarrytown New York, which I wouldn’t classically call upstate New York although some New York City friends of mine would. Tarrytown is in Westchester County but still a stone’s throw from the Big Apple — an hour or so drive away and about the same by train.

Cellar 49 was the original “cellar” of the historic Biddle Mansion, which is part of the grandiose Tarrytown House Estate, where we stayed for the night. (Be sure to read our separate write up on the property — hint hint, we loved it).

While the restaurant may be cosy and tavern-like in its ambiance, it is also energetic, largely because it draws a lot of people who have business functions here as well as weddings. I also found it to be incredibly romantic so while it is a great option for groups, it is equally ideal for a romantic night out.

The setting of stone columns and brick walls along with a rich mahogany bar and crackling fireplace creates a very warm ambiance. Top that with exquisite cuisine with one of their craft beers or unique small production wines and you’ll have a memorable experience that will beg you to come back again and again.

They’re known for unique wines as well as their local and regional ales. I was impressed by their selection and the choice was broad, ranging from the Bronx Brewery to Captain Lawrence Brewery. Other regional vendors they source their food and wine from include Greentree Packing in Passaic New Jersey, Oscar’s Adirondack Smokehouse in Warrensburg New York and Shinn Winery in Mattituck to name a few.

Since we knew we were going to stick to red meat and heavier dishes, we started off with a couple of salads. The Tavern kale salad with smoked garbanzos, corn, carrot and red onion was incredibly fresh – the root vegetables were perfect for the time of year (early October). They served it with a shallot vinaigrette. Even more delicious was the beet salad served with pickled apple, fennel (yum!!),  goat cheese and pomegranate. (both pictured below)

Below are the stuffed mushrooms with creamed leeks. This was out of this world – in other words, crazy and insanely delicious however those who care about every calorie need not apply.

Barbeque duck tacos with coleslaw.

For entrees, you could order scallops served with red lentils, bacon, garlic and white wine or fish (the salmon with black eye peas, orange mustard glaze and spinach looked scrumptious), however we decided to go with a sampling of the smoked pork chop, the beef short ribs and the veal chop. Despite being blown away by all three, we fell in love with the smoked pork chop which was served with grits, chard and peach preserves. (below). They source their pork chop from Oscars in Warrensburg New York and apparently the garlic sausage comes from the same place (we didn’t have a chance to try it but heard great things from another table).

Chef Chris Hettinger and team serve the beef short ribs with potatoes, onion, bacon and mushrooms and the veal chop with smashed potatoes and asparagus.  The balance and presentation of all their dishes were top notch as was the service.

You’re probably wondering what we paired all of this with given that our evening was predominantly meat. Nope, it wasn’t one of those delicious ales. We opted for our waiter’s recommendation, which was the 2012 Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena in California’s Napa Valley. YUM!! It was jammy, oak balanced and smooth and was a perfect accompaniment to every dish we ordered.  BTW, they also have a great 2005 Giacomo Conterno Italian Barolo on the menu I would love to try.

If you don’t think we had enough room for dessert, guess again. While the below shot is a tad blurry because of the light, you get the idea. This culinary team get both presentation & taste and this dark chocolate nutty delight was the perfect way to end an evening with a cuppa nutty coffee. We give Cellar 49 a joyous two thumbs up and would definitely return!

NOTE – the photos are very dark and a bit grainy due to how dimly lit it was in there and we didn’t want to use flash for the sake of other guests and the photos themselves. Bear this in mind as you view these photos – we’re sorry that the photo quality in this case isn’t the best.

Details:

Cellar 49 at the Tarrytown House Estate

49 E Sunnyside Lane, Tarrytown, NY 10591

Note: we were hosted but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

 

Serenity, Wellness & Charm in Spades at Upstate New York’s Old Stone Farm

October 17, 2014 by  

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I randomly discovered Old Stone Farm and Restaurant in upstate New York’s Staatsburg, a stone’s throw from Rhinebeck New York where I visited godparents a few times at their farmhouse in the warmer months as a child. They lived on some rural dirt road in what appeared to be in the middle of nowhere to a 12 year old despite the fact that I was used to the remoteness of the Adirondacks.

My recollection is that they had a jeep and we used it often to get around and even as a child, I couldn’t help but remember its serenity and peacefulness, where bird calls were more prevalent than the sound of cars. It was an easy place to get lost and the trees seemed to keep their colors in the fall for longer than further north where the seasons passed more quickly and it was already chilly by mid-September.

It was late September when we ventured north to Staatsburg, getting lost on a few side streets to marvel at the nearby farms. It had my first return to the area since I was a teenager, so I was mixed with positive and warm emotion as we drove through the nearby towns, so many of which ended in burg, ville or town.

I had corresponded with Waddy Francis, the fairly new General Manager of Old Stone Farm via email before we had arrived, so learned of some of its charm and appeal before we set foot on the farm’s soil and basked in the sun to the views of horses, historical barns, vibrant trees and well manicured lawns that stretched for over 200 acres. Waddy is a wealth of information with an interesting background, so you won’t be disappointed if you take the time to ask him to share a story or two.

After a day, I found myself wanting to leave my cell phone behind when I headed to dinner and on the last day, I didn’t bring it to breakfast, nor did I retrieve it when we went for a walk around the grounds or sat in the porch chairs while we sipped our morning coffee and ate their fresh blueberries and oh so New York bagels with smoked salmon and onions.

Old Stone Farm is where rustic and luxury meet, exuding the kind of simplicity that brings you back to all the things that make you feel healthy and happy. In other words, there’s no frills, no late night bar where you can drink beer and watch a game on TV or 24/7 room service, although Jeff Newman, the on-site Manager of Guest Services who has been part of the farm for 16 years, is only a phone call away should you need anything. Not only is the service top notch but Jeff has a wealth of incredible stories to share and can even orchestrate a nature walk through the property and beyond if you coordinate in advance.

Modern frills and over-the-top features are not what founder Stu Kahn and his wife Sherry had in mind when they created their vision for the farm, which has only been open since 2013. Although Stu has passed away, it’s clear that Sherry’s commitment to the farm and its original mission remains, which is to create a place of serenity, healing and rejuvenation for those who are interested in more than just a romantic weekend away, although it’s a great option for that also.

More than just an inn, it’s a wellness and education center dedicated to social awakening through personal transformation. Perched above well manicured fields in the heart of Dutchess County, this beautiful property has stunning views of a 236 acre natural wonderland. In addition to their individualized guest rooms, Old Stone Farm touts a library, yoga barn, pavilion, horse barn, indoor and outdoor riding rings, as well as a full-service spa including massage, wet rooms and steam cabinets.

Sherry restored the 200-year-old farm with impeccable care, preserving its authentic 18th and 19th century historical buildings, hand choosing the antique furnishings and art, maintaining as much of Old Stone Farm’s history as possible (while powering with environmentally sustainable solar and geothermal energy), a fabulous factoid — I love their commitment to sustainability.

Surrounded by hundreds of secluded acres of gardens, old cedar forests and maple groves, ponds and streams, hills, valleys, hiking and riding trails, and pastures, the farm offers a whole lotta serenity and natural beauty, whether you’re staying for a night or several days. They also have a number of workshops on site as well, such as a memoir retreat, one on yoga and meditation, resilience, dream decoding and whole body healing to name a few. (See http://www.oldstonefarm.org/workshops/).

Despite the fact that you’re surrounded by nature and they encourage outdoor living and walks, it’s not as if they’re anti-technology and in fact, as a way to cater to the New York City crowd who can easily get here in under two hours by Amtrak from Penn Station (they’ll even pick you up from Rhinecliff  station gratis, which is nearby), they tout fast wifi in the main barn. Here is the peaceful haven where you’ll stay. The barn houses their 10 rooms on two floors with a cozy country living area, table and chairs and a bookcase loaded with books on the second floor.

That said, you don’t see people glued to their phones or laptops. In fact, people come here to unwind, so seeing them by day walking around the property, taking in a yoga class, reading a book outside on one of their Adirondack chairs or simply taking a nap is more the norm.

While the farm is vast, the inn itself is small so the ambiance is intimate – no one seems to lock their doors and there’s a small pantry area where you can get bottled water in the fridge, flavored organic coffees or teas and healthy snack bars anytime of day or night. There’s also a landline you can use to dial out since cell phone coverage is limited if not dead on the property itself.

Their nine rooms and one two-room suite are all named after their horses which I found charming. All of the rooms include queen size custom beds with organic mattresses and Frette sheets, private bathrooms, robes, safes, country antiques and original art.

The art is an understatement really since Sherry has been collecting original pieces for decades now and there’s plenty to go around, so much so that paintings plaster every hallway in every building, the bathrooms, every guest room and of course the main house where you go for breakfast and dinner.

 

They have created an exceptional space for people to explore personal transformation and growth in an intimate and exclusive setting. As you’ll see below, each room has its own charm and character and no two rooms are alike. As mentioned above, each room is each named after one of their horses – I’ve included a few so you can get an idea of what to expect. Note – they’re all charming so it’s hard to go wrong with any of the rooms in the barn, which btw, they refer to as Stu’s Inn.

Ginger is a Loft Room on the second floor of Stu’s Inn and features views of forests and horse paddocks. Ginger is named for a Swedish Warmblood who lives on the property and is used in the Epona Program.

Ditto is their two room suite which comes with a sitting room and views of the horse paddocks in the distance.  Ditto features artwork by Ernest Fiene, a Woodstock artist and the bathroom features an antique tub and a large shower.  Ditto is named for a Morgan Horse who is a Blue Ribbon champion.

Dutchess features beautiful paintings of the Hudson Valley — the room faces south with views of the forest and paddocks. Also worth noting is that Duthchess is of course the mother of Duke. :-)

 
Another view of the second floor.

Below is the dining room where we had a couple breakfasts and dinner one night. Note the diversity of art on the walls.

Ahhh, the healthy breakfast spread.

For those of you who are yogis, they have a Yoga Barn that dates back to 1759. Inside there are more historical paintings and a baby grand piano. They hold weekly yoga classes here, one of which we tried on a weekend morning. It was hard not to get into a very peaceful place in this serene barn that exuded such lovely energy and karma.

There’s also a spa on-site. While it’s not massive in size, nor do they have extensive facilities (no traditional steam room, swimming pool or hot tub), it’s incredibly relaxing and peaceful. Below is the sitting room area while you’re waiting for that “shut me down” massage, which you can get from one of their massage therapists, who all seem to approach massage from a holistic and healing place. You can choose from a Soothing Hot Stone, Therapeutic or Relaxation massage, Aromatherapy and Facials as well as Facial Scrubs.

There is a sauna room however (well sort of) and as you’ll see below, it’s a little different from your standard sauna in that the have two amazing cedar “steam” cabinets, so you get the benefit from a steam and a sauna at the same time. What’s also lovely is that there are two “steam” cabinets side-by-side, so you can share the experience with your partner.

Below is one of the outside barns, where when looking for a bathroom, I ran into one of the horses their many rooms are named after.

In front of the main house, they have two outdoor seating areas where you can dine (by day or night) on a separate wooden veranda as well as the outside porch to the main house. The fun part however is sipping tea anytime of day on one of their Adirondack chairs while you take in the natural beauty and watch the horses off in the distance.

Below is the entrance to the main house. The Pop’s Greasy Spoon is of course misleading since their food is organic and fresh and we never had a greasy spoon meal during our stay. How can you not love the sign though and like everything else Sherry so carefully curated, it adds to the charm of the place.

For those who travel as often as I do, you know that in the end, the magic is always in the details! (taken in the back of the house)

Although I’d recommend hitting downtown Rhinebeck for dinner at least one of the nights of your stay, you should absolutely try Old Stone Farm’s on-site restaurant. Their chef Matt is committed to organic, gourmet cuisine and sources ingredients from local farmers in the area. It’s a pre-set meal so there’s no menu to choose from, however since they are so committed to healthy holistic living, they ask for food sensitivities before you arrive, so Matt can customize meals to ensure there’s nothing in any of the dishes you can’t eat or don’t want to….

In our case, we started with a fresh tomato tartare with chive oil, watercress and green beans, and after that low calorie, low carb, and low fat dish, we had a baby kale salad, served with hierloom tomatoes, spinach, basil, mushrooms and a sherry walnut dressing. Yum! 

The main course was a Pollo Loco, which is a pan roasted chicken breast with Spanish rice. It was served with cilantro cumin, pickled tomato salsa and cilantro and they paired it with a light to medium bodied Italian Chianti. 


Since I asked to hold off on “cow dairy,” I was treated to a roasted pear with a chocolate sorbet. Thanks Matt for not taking away my chocolate. Why is it that so many sorbets only come in lemon, lime, melon and strawberry? Don’t sorbet makers realize that just because we may stay away from dairy, it doesn’t mean we don’t love all the same flavors that are embedded into the fattening and “loaded with sugar” ice cream counterparts. If someone were to ever make a Pistachio Sorbet, I’d be singing for days.

Bottom line: if you want a healthy, holistic and transformative getaway from New York City or any of the neighboring burbs…a place where you can truly relax and feel as if you’re being taken care of, Old Stone Farm is a fabulous choice for your “must do” getaway list.

Details:

Old Stone Farm

2434 New York 9G

Staatsburg, NY 12580

www.oldstonefarm.org

Note: We were hosted by all opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

 

6 Places to Lap Up Luxury, Culture & Spa Treatments in Zurich

October 16, 2014 by  

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Lap up the luxury at The Dolder Grand in Zurich Switzerland. The 5 star luxury property touts 176 luxurious rooms and suites, exquisite cuisine, a spa covering 4,000 square metres, generous banqueting and seminar facilities and a remarkable art collection. The original “Curhaus” dating from 1899 presents itself as the luxury-class City Resort. The hotel’s elevated location, between the pulsating life of the city and a refreshingly natural green zone, provides a magnificent view of the city of Zurich, the lake and the Alps.

The rooms are oh tres modern and have stunning views of the rest of the property as well as the city.

Details: www.thedoldergrand.com. 

For the chic and healthy among you, check out the B2B Boutique Hotel & Spa which is located inside Zurich’s old Hurlimann Brewery. The rooms are quaint but funky and two key reasons to stay include the on-site spa which touts all things wellness and the historical 36 foot ceiling library lounge which has an astonishing number of books, 33,000 last we checked.

Details: www.b2boutiquehotels.com

If you have an artsy and creative bent to you, try the Widder Hotel where each room is creatively and uniquely done. If you get bored easily, you could even request to change rooms to get a taste of other rooms if you’re staying for awhile.  

Widder is a 5 star hotel and remember its Switzerland so the service is fabulous as is the attention to detail. Located in the Altstadt, the ambiance a blend of historical and artistic where inside you’ll find color and frescoes from ceiling to floor.

Details: www.widderhotel.ch

Then there’s the Thermal Baths & Spa is a unique find in Zurich since it is far from an ordinary spa. Imagine experiencing thermal baths regardless of season underneath 100 year old vaulted stone ceilings. If you love old architecture and all things unique, you’ll love this spa experience not to mention the fact that you’ll leave feeling refreshed and renewed. During the summer and warmer months, you can also take in the pool on the rooftop which has some stellar views of the city.

The experience allows you to literally bathe between hundred year-old stone vaults of the former brewery Hürlimann inside the mountain, so unique that you’ll be brought into another world.  The thermal water from the legendary “Aqui” source will give you valuable minerals and soothing warmth to aid relaxation and well-being.  

Details: http://www.thermalbad-zuerich.ch/ 

For the heavier partying hipster who is well above the more budget conscious inn or guesthouse, check out the boutique property 25hours Hotel Zurich West.

It’s all things modern both in its design and color palette, from the walls and carpets to the bedding and chairs, a work of art by local designer Alfredo Haberli. Add a little neon and funkiness and you’re in for a real treat if hip and modern is your style. It’s not the best option for the “old world” among you.

Details: www.25hours-hotels.com/en/zurich

Now onto that old world classical and traditional style!  Baur au Lac is Zurich’s prestigious landmark of top notch hospitality, elegance, and impeccable service. Historical and classical in countless ways, the hotel has been owned by the same family for over 160 years. Only recently, every room was thoroughly renovated. The unusually large and light bathrooms, an attractive blend of marble and mirrors, combine practicality with sheer luxury.

From the terrace and the adjoining park there is an enchanting view of Lake Zurich and the Alps. The Rive Gauche, a sparkling blend of chic restaurant and bar, offers Mediterranean grill room specialities for “fine casual dining.” The Baur au Lac features an exclusive fitness centre on the top of the hotel with magnificent views over Lake Zurich and the Alps. A personal trainer or physiotherapy may be arranged. The beauty salon and hair-dresser Vanity offers a wide range of luxury cosmetic treatments.

Details: http://www.bauraulac.ch/en

Photo credits: All photos are taken from each of the hotels websites. Widder Hotel from hotelling.net.

World Responsible Tourism Awards in London

October 15, 2014 by  

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The World Responsible Tourism Awards rest on a simple principle – that all types of tourism, from niche to mainstream, can and should be organised in a way that preserves, respects and benefits destinations and local people.

They’re having their annual awards ceremony in London on November 5, 2014 at the World Travel Market. The event focuses on the shining stars of responsible tourism – the individuals, organisations and destinations working innovatively with local cultures, communities and biodiversity.

Food Aboard the Diamond Princess on Japanese Waters

October 14, 2014 by  

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Imagine Quail & Venison Terrine with a gingered red and white onion compote over a mesclun salad, an elegantly pressed tune and salmon sushi and a twice baked goat’s cheese souffle with garlic to start you off, followed by a Skillet-Fried Orange Roughy or Broiled Scallops with a sweet Japanese wine sauce, mushrooms and asparagus as your main accompanied by a nice glass of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Now imagine the same set of dishes aboard a luxury cruise ship in the middle of Asia while you’re taking in some of the most spectacular historical sites around the coast of Japan.

Imagine while you’re not taking in the sights off the cruise ship, you’re basking in the sun on one of the decks, taking in a jacuzzi under the stars or a late night film? Or, after one of their fabulous margaritas from one of the pool bars, you sit on your room deck watching nothing but the open sea. Then, of course you’re ready for dinner again, and the next night and so on….

Princess Cruises did more than excite my palette aboard the Diamond Princess this past summer as I cruised around Japan with a stop over in South Korea. Every night, I took in savory dish after savory dish, experiencing what I would call “culinary delight,” not an easy task when you’re cooking for well over 1,000 people over the course of only two seating times. Be sure to read up on our write-up of the cruise itself which is loaded with photos and useful details including links for newbies.

And for those of you who didn’t think cruises were for foodies, think again. If quail and venison isn’t your thing, or you’re not in the mood for fish, you could opt for a potato gnocchi, a triology of lamb chop, braised veal breast and chicken kebab, or a Cocoa spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with French ratatouille and truffled mashed potatoes. Yum!! Is your mouth watering yet? That was one night’s offerings to give you a taste.

Below, the Beef Wellington.

Lobster with asparagus in a creamy sauce with capers.

Dessert, so delicious and beautifully presented.

Did I mention you can have champagne brought to the room — with dessert, cheese and fruit, chocolate covered strawberries or whatever else you desire.

The maragaritas were also out of this world – my favorite was from the bartenders who tend bar at the bar in the rear of the ship, adjacent to the adult only pool. Look at the size and presentation! The Australians turned me onto this one — thanks to my friends “Down Under.”

Below, the dining staff doing the Baked Alaska dance one night after the main meal was served in the dining rooms. It involved a bit of a congo line, dancing and clapping. See our video and you’ll get a taste of what I experienced on board.

Other options over the course of the cruise that stood out for me in addition to several salads I loved, included the game & wild mushroom pate, the chilled Granny Smith and cider soup with cinnamon and calvados brandy, the steamed cod over a lentil salad, the Red Snapper mojito ceviche with mint, mango, avocado and a splash of Bacardi Rum (yum!!), the seared Barramundi filet with pineapple papaya salsa, a pork curry and a Tandoori fire-roasted tiger prawn dish with yogurt raita and saffron basmati rice.

Notice the cultural diversity in their cooking — from Japanese influenced sauces, Indian curries and a Latin Ceviche preparation of the Red Snapper to the very English Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Gravy and the very French Coq au Vin served in a burgundy wine and bacon crisps, pearl onions and croutons.

There was also a delicious Alaskan Style seafood soup with white fish, salmon, shrimp, mussels and crostini, a chicken liver tartlet with fried onions, a tropical fruit kabob appetizer with papaya, kiwi and winter melon (bring on the by-the-sea fresh and health options), a yummy Black Bean chowder with golden fried tortilla strips, a grilled calamari steak and poached baby squid and a chilled Spanish Gazpacho with cucumber, bell pepper red wine vinegar, olive oil, tabasco (whoahh) and lemon juice.

Heavier meat options included red wine and shiitake braised beef short ribs, a spinach, mushroom and Swiss cheese quiche, a roast rack of pork with glazed artichokes and the beef pot roast braised in Barolo wine with Tuscan vegetable batons and grilled cornmeal cakes. On Italian night, I had to try the Scaloppine di Vitello al Marsala with green beans, cherry tomatoes and creamy mashed potatoes.

Dessert was always a surprise but if you didn’t want one of the more traditional cakes or richer creation, you could always ask for a lighter option or simply have cheese and grapes or a plate of fruit. It’s no wonder that so many people put on 8-10 pounds after their cruise — in other words, even if you’re not a serious foodie, you’ll likely find that you can’t resist the culinary temptations, whether it be the sit down meal offerings at dinner or the numerous options in the Harbor Court, which is always there for your convenience.

Below the Santa Fe, Savoy, International, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi dining rooms.

In addition to the main dining rooms and  Horizon Court for buffet dining noted above, there is also Sabatini’s, a fine Italian restaurant, the Sterling Steakhouse, Trident Grill for burgers and dogs, the Prego Pizzeria, a patisserie, ice cream bar and wine bar as well as 24-hour room service. Sweet!

For an added romantic touch, you can order a Champagne Breakfast, which includes a half bottle of chilled French champagne, basket of homemade pastries, cold smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and toasted lemon brioche, fresh fruit and forest berries and a Quiche, not to be confused with my champagne and chocolate covered strawberry treat above.

For the over the top romantic, you can line up a Lobster Balcony Dinner, which includes cocktails, canapes, a flower bouquet, an 8×10 photo, a half bottle of chilled Champagne, a Pacific Blue crab cake baked in a puff pastry crown, marinated chevre and mesclun field greens, a broiled lobster tail or a grilled filet of beef tenderloin with chateau potatoes, veggies and a mushroom demi-grace or a Surf & Turf, which includes both the lobster and the grilled filet of beef tenderloin. YUM!!! And, of course they include a chocolate quartet Mousseline for dessert.

Check out Princess Cruises links for more information on how to plan a cruise. They have a great website that allows you to search by destination, length, time of year and so on.

Be sure to check out other posts we wrote on the region, which include the excursions or solo trips we took of the stops on this cruise, TokyoTokyo restaurants in our Japanese Food and Japan restaurants section and hotels in our Japan Hotels (& Lodging) section, which for this trip is focused on the hotels we stayed at before and after our tour in Tokyo. There is also more information, articles, fabulous photos and videos in our Japan (Travel to Japan), Tokyo (Travel to Tokyo) and South Korea (Travel to Korea) section.

Note: I was hosted by Princess but all opinions expressed here are entirely my own opinion.

Rockport’s My Place by the Sea, Where a Romantic Hideaway Meets Culinary Explosion

October 12, 2014 by  

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Perched at the tip of Bearskin Neck, a rocky protrusion of cliffs and seaweed, where seagulls soar through the skies with fabulous views in the distance, you’ll find My Place by the Sea, a charming romantic seafood restaurant. Set in the heart of Rockport Massachusetts on the North Shore, the female duo behind this delicious culinary find is chef Kathy Milbury and partner Barbara Stavropoulos.

Imagine a place where all the details are perfect, the sunsets are stunning and the ambiance is relaxing yet surreal. The lights are diffused making it a perfect choice for a romantic night out or a celebration. In our case, we celebrated Anthony’s birthday, starting on the open upper porch so we could watch the sun set and thereafter moved into what I would call the perfect seat on the downstairs patio. Here, you can still get the view without the wind and the area is sheltered in case it rains.

Ahhh yes, the craggy coastline while you watch the sun sink, something I have done many a’time in Rockport, Gloucester and the neighboring seaside towns when I lived in Boston.

Everywhere I’ve been throughout New England, if they have fresh oysters from the sea, I tend to order them and this trip was no different. We started with oysters and then moved to their Roasted Beet & Heirloom tomato salad, which is served with a Maytag Bleu Cheese, lemon olive oil and sea salt. Yum!! All of their salads are delicious and incredibly fresh as you can see below.

Main course dishes were exquisite. From the cedar plank roasted salmon filet with a ragout of shallot, nicoise olives, scallion and fresh veggies to the shucked lobster and pan roasted cod with braised leek sauce and Peekytoe crab salad, the seafood is fresh and out of this world, both from a taste and presentation perspective.  They also had a roasted swordfish served with a tangy Bearnaise sauce with pecan butter and parslied potatoes.

And, like nearly every seafood restaurant in New England, you can also get steamed lobster, which was served with potatoes. Most New England restaurants offer potatoes of some sort or corn on the cob with their steamed lobster, depending on the place and grade of restaurant.  If I’m at an ocean-side restaurant, I always order a seafood dish. Since we were sampling a few dishes that night however, we also tried the Rubbed Sirloin dish, which you can have on your own OR with Panko Crusted Scallops (our recommendation). Now to make your mouth water…

Dessert offerings include warmed apple crunch with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, chocolate cake with espresso ice cream, hot fudge and crushed chocolate covered espresso beans, lemon sorbet with pecan shortbread, Coco Daniel, a coconut cake with peanut brittle ice cream, creme Anglaise drizzed with butterscotch and toasted coconut, the “Almond Joy” which is chocolate purses with coconut ice cream, creme chantilly and almonds, and a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

Nothing is standard here — everything on the menu is fresh and deep thought has been put into the ingredients and the process.

One of the things that really stood out for us in addition to their fine attention to detail (romantic detail) was their passion for cooking and making customers feel like they’ve had a unique experience they’ll remember for a lifetime. I loved listening to Kathy’s story about how much time she took to refine the ingredients of the Coco Daniel and after countless versions, the result is now “perfect”. I couldn’t help but feel when I tasted it that she created a mouthwatering and memorable balance — the salt versus sweet combo taste was really “just perfect.”

We loved our experience and whole heartedly give it a two thumbs up! If you’re on the Massachusetts North Shore or planning a trip there, make sure to book a reservation.

Details:

My Place by the Sea

68 Bearskin Neck

Rockport, MA 01966
(978) 546-9667

 

Note: We were hosted, however all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Pamper Yourself at the Princess Cruise Lotus Spa & Izumi Japanese Bath

October 10, 2014 by  

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For the serenity seekers among us, imagine a luxury spa in the middle of the ocean with stunning views on all sides? Imagine that in addition to a luxury spa, you have access to heated pools, hot tubs, a gym with the very same stunning view and lots of lounge chairs for relaxing. Imagine that you can order herbal tea as easily as you can a fabulous margarita.

Sound a little more than just enticing? Then, book a cruise with Princess, and experience their Lotus Spa and their Izumi Japanese Bath which was one of my favorite things on the ship.

What’s lovely about this spa is the vast array of services on offer, from teeth whitening (yes really) to doing a detox, losing up to 8 inches of internal toxins in one session. They also have the classic massages as well as a few fun creative ones as well, such as a Bamboo Massage where they use bamboo shoots to massage your muscles, after they soak them in oil. The Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage was very detoxifying — it includes an aromatherapy body mask and wrap, after which they proceed with a more personalized massage depending on your needs, focusing on stress points on the body.

There’s a Coconut Poultice Massage, a Hot Stone Massage, a Cabana Massage (in the cabana where you experience soft ocean breezes, you can choose from Swedish, Deep Tissue, Reflexology or a Couples Massage), and the lovely exotic lime & ginger salt glow that they combine with a massage. They use Elemis Skin, nourishing milk bath and lime and ginger sea salts. It was invigorating and relaxing at the same time.

Like all top notch spas, they offer facials (pro-collagen, oxydermy, tri-enzyme resurfacing and hydralift) as well as a number of spa services. There’s a full salon on site, so you can get hair styling, Phyto hair treatments and scalp massages, conditionings, hair cuts and colorings. Or, you can get a pedicure or manicure after your individualized personalized training session in their extensive gym, the one with the fabulous views! And, apparently Lotus Spa earned the “Best Spa on a Cruise Ship” honors by Spafinder Wellness 365 .

While we’re on the topic of fabulous views, the Princess Izumi Japanese Bath has both indoor and outdoor offerings in which to pamper yourself.

Outside

The Izumi pagoda-covered outdoor hydrotherapy pool was a joy to use. Not only did it fulfill its promise to relax my entire body, but the views were spectacular while you took it all in. The Japanese bath is only available on the Diamond Princess ship so be sure to check when you book your cruise that it is available.

This additional spa feature to the Diamond Princess is nothing short of impressive. Apparently, I learned that this 8,800-square foot Izumi Japanese Bath is the only Japanese bath system at sea onboard a Western-run cruise line.

There’s the hydrotherapy pool outside as I mentioned (LOVED THIS), four whirlpools and two saunas, one more classic in its style and the other which is misted and eucalyptus-infused. They have something they refer to as Utaseyu, which are essentially massaging waterfalls and jetted showers which we loved. The men’s and women’s sections of the Izumi Japanese Bath change regularly so you can alternate and use the features included in both.

The indoor whirlpools are separated by two rooms (two in one room and two in the adjacent one), all of them facing the sea and taking in the beautiful at-sea views. While there is an extra fee to use this area, it’s nominal and worth doing a couple of times during your cruise.

 

Check out Princess Cruises links for more information on how to plan a cruise. They have a great website that allows you to search by destination, length, time of year and so on.

Be sure to check out other posts we wrote on the region, which include the excursions or solo trips we took of the stops on this cruise, TokyoTokyo restaurants in our Japanese Food and Japan restaurants section and hotels in our Japan Hotels (& Lodging) section, which for this trip is focused on the hotels we stayed at before and after our tour in Tokyo. There is also more information, articles, fabulous photos and videos in our Japan (Travel to Japan), Tokyo (Travel to Tokyo) and South Korea (Travel to Korea) section.

Be sure to check out our We Blog the World Spa section / top spas in the world.

Note: I was hosted by Princess Cruises however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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