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

2 Top French Restaurant Picks in San Francisco

December 27, 2016 by  

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A French food lover? What a better place to explore French restaurants than in one of the top foodie capitals in the U.S. For my birthday this year, we headed to Cafe Jacqueline, an exquisite bistro gem in the heart of the city whose owner is also the chef and has been specializing in soufflees for over 30 years. Sweet and savory souffles are the star of the menu at this longtime French eatery.  There’s not much else on this limited menu that Chef Jacqueline Margulis prepares nightly but soufflees are most definitely her passion. I wouldn’t have known just how small, authentic and old school this place was if I hadn’t made my way to the bathroom, with a whole lot of curiosity in the back of my mind. I walked slowly past the open kitchen and there was Jacqueline herself, giving me a friendly nod as I made my way past.  She whips up her soufflees with such precision and passion, you have to wonder how she continues to do so with such enthusiasm after making the same thing year after year for so long.

I learn that she grew up in a convent in France because her mother died at childbirth and it was there she learned to cook. You’ll find her every night the restaurant is open whipping up egg whites in an oh so French copper bowl with other authentic utensils and bowls around her, including one of those massive old fashioned wooden bowls.  For a moment, I felt as if I had been transported back in time. I wanted to start with the snails – as tres cher as the appetizer was, I had to try them — lots of garlic, I had hoped and they didn’t disappoint. Below, the green flecks aren’t pesto but parsley mixed with butter and garlic and a whole lotta experience and love from inside a French-infused kitchen.

Cafe Jacqueline

Alongside the snails, Anthony had to try the oh so decadent onion soup that was perfectly prepared. It’s hard to get that perfect creamy blend of butter, onions, garlic and cheese and she nails it.

 Then came out the souflees, the gourmet savory ones that is. We opted for prosciutto and mushrooms — they are a combination of perfectly fluffy and decadent. Dishes range from around $35-60 depending on what you order and include fresh ingredients like cilantro, tomato, mushroom (often my favorite), asparagus, broccoli and more. You can also have crab and lobster if you really want a rich blend.  We didn’t try it but the corn with ginger and garlic sounded oh so divine and I noticed our neighbors had ordered it.

She offers 18 savory options, which are meant to be shared, and they start at $35 for single add-ins such as mushroom, spinach, broccoli, asparagus or tomato and cilantro, and go up to $60 for crab and lobster.

There’s a whole lotta wow going on here!

Dessert anyone? We weren’t going to splurge but Anthony insisted given that it was my birthday and while they don’t do the “cake” thing, they did put a candle on my soufflee to make me feel a l’il special for my night out on the town. She offered berry choices but I was drawn to the Grand Marnier and Anthony went with the chocolate, though we were told later on that her lemon soufflee would have had us begging for more.   So unique, so authentic and so pure that despite its limited menu of anything else, it’s an experience not to miss.

The eatery is small and romantic, classic in every way from the lighting to the fixtures on the walls and the tablecloths. Seating only 28 in total, you want to book well in advance just in case. There really isn’t a turn over in an evening as dinner can easily last four hours given the long preparation time and what I’d call a specialty experience.

Details:

1454 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, California 94133
415-981-5565
www.cafejacqueline.com

Cafe Claude

In the heart of San Francisco’s financial district near Union Square, this charming French restaurant provides a Paris fix via “très délicieux” cuisine and a kinda Left Bank atmosphere. I’ve dined here at least four times including on my birthday two years ago – seems like we have a French restaurant on my birthday trend, but these very well may be the only two in my lifetime but yes, both in San Francisco. It’s elegant on the inside and oh so French bistro on the outside during warmer months though they do offer heat lamps. The other really charming thing about the restaurant is that its located on Claude Lane, which is a pedestrian only small inset off the main shopping square, which makes for a great choice after a day of shopping. I love their outside terrace especially for a toasty cappuccino after an afternoon of walking around or simply to meet up with a girlfriend late morning and catch up. Cafe Claude is also known for its live music although I was only there on one occasion where they offered it during my meal.

On one such visit, we had perhaps one of the best servers I’ve experienced at a French restaurant in the states and on another occasion, one who was a bit too pretentious for our taste despite being ‘punctual.’ Next time I go, I’ll look for the waiter we had the first time around to revisit that incredibly charming and romantic memory. You definitely get the feeling of old world right away, which is a rarity in the states — a big bravo for maintaining that authenticity in a city that is becoming more about modern trendy cafes where technology innovators hang their hats.  I hope you’re drinking a Bordeaux while you browse through these decadent dishes, starting with a traditional Coq au vin.

Above: Coq au Vin, photo credit: Alena/Yelp

Above Pork au Miel; credit: DebP/Yelp

Above: Croque Monsieur; credit: Scott F/Yelp

Above: Agneau, Roasted lamb sirloin; Emily D/Yelp

Inside, check out the warmth of the decor and attention to detail, from the wall fixtures and paintings to the fresh flowers and hardwood paneling throughout.

Credit: Bay City Guide

The first time through, we started with their classic Assiette de Charcuterie that plates up a variety of Artisanal cured meats, including cornichons, dijon mustard, Rosette de Lyon, pork, salami, saucisson a L’ail, pork and veal, garlic, bologna, Bresaola  beef, salt cured, dry Prosciutto and salt cured duck with aged Assiette de Pate. My favorite pate was by far the truffle and brandy although the Venison with hazelnuts and apricots was a close second.  They also do a fabulous plate of escargots with garlic buttery, parsley, pernod, shallows, and anchovies.  While we didn’t try it, they do offer Foie Gras from Hudson Valley, which they serve with carmelized apples, espelette and brioche toast. Those who prefer something lighter can opt for the Atlantic Salmon with pickled onion, salmon roe and French breakfast radish. There’s also a salt cod with yukon gold potato, olive oil, panko and a salad as well as the Tuna Tartare with avocado, orange supreme, chive extra virgin olive oil and crostini. Want a classic Croque Monsieur? They’ve got you covered, complete with ham, gruyère, béchamel sauce, pain de mie and a side mixed green salad and a classic Quiche Lorraine is also an option with spinach, smoked bacon and garlic.
We tried their farm-raised trout with toasted almonds, haricot verts, golden raisins, capers in a sauce meuniere and Anthony couldn’t resist the PEI mussels, which they served with green garlic, whole grain mustard, shallots, croutons and herbs.  For sides, I loved their sauteed pea‏ tendrils with lemon and garlic. Simple but delicious, fresh and memorable!

Details:

Cafe Claude

7 Claude Lane

San Francisco CA 94108

www.cafeclaude.com

We Blog the World’s 2016 Top Picks Across 5 Categories

December 18, 2016 by  

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Top picks is a new thing for us starting this year and we’re excited to be adding it into our editorial coverage. What does Top Picks mean exactly? Based on our experiences over the course of the year, we have identified our favorites in the following categories: Hotels & Resorts, Food & Wine, Style & Fashion, Products and Wellness, the latter being a growing focus for us. Moving forward, we hope to expand the picks for the year and incorporate feedback from other We Blog the World contributors as well.

HOTELS & RESORTS

Chateau Mcely

In the hotel category this year, we have two favorites: Chateau Mcely in the Czech Republic and Castle Hill Inn in Newport Rhode Island. Let’s start with the exquisite Eastern European chateau. Smack in the middle of the Czech Republic countryside only about an hour outside of magical Prague is the magical Chateau Mcely, an elegant and luxurious five-star castle/eco-chic hotel. To get there, you’ll drive through rural Czech countryside and small villages, with old stone barns that look like they haven’t been renovated since they were built.

The interior is furnished a bit like a castle but using modern decor with soft romantic colors and if you’re someone who loves attention to detail, you’ll love this gem of a find. Meticulous every step of the way, you’ll find a creative discovery at every turn, all of which are extended into their 24 rooms. That’s right — it’s a small property despite its size which equates to peace, tranquility and serenity and a whole lotta decadence in between. My favorite part of the chateau is by far and away, the front porch with its plants and flowers protruding in every direction. While I was there for a few warm days in September, it is apparently open during the winter months and they use heat lamps to keep it toasty.  I was lucky to get there between lunch and dinner, so I had that luxurious and I’d argue romantic porch all to myself. If you’re a poet, artist or novelist, take note — how could you not be inspired by this place?

Chateau Mcely’s inside dining room was about as elegant and luxe as it gets — the owners know how to pay attention to detail and they make sure you reap the benefit in every single room.

Outside, it’s about as majestic as it gets with its perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. People set up croquet while I was there and when a game wasn’t happening, water would spray in all directions to keep the landscape green and lush. The park area nearby can also accommodate football tennis and basketball.

A shot taken from the front lawn with Chateau Mcely in the background….let’s just say that I was a happy camper here sipping my morning tea.

Why We Chose It

Rest assured, you’ll be treated in 5 class style at this privately owned chateau which is great for a romantic getaway, a wellness retreat (the spa is fabulous) or even with your children in tow. It’s rare to find a luxe property that can cater to all three desires and this one does so in spades. Secondly, the food was amazing. Enuf said — check out our review of Piano Noble, their on-site restaurant. Lastly, the attention to detail was out of this world, from the internal design to the impeccable lawns, to the gardens, natural pool, hot tub and the elegant and ever so French covered patio, which apparently they use year round.  Each room is also personalized, so depending on your style, you can opt for one that is a little more modern or a room that is more traditional with an old fashioned tub.  Be sure to see our lengthy review of the hotel as well which has URL’s, useful information, website and more.

Castle Hill Inn

I love Newport Rhode Island and used to get there on many a’ weekend when I lived in Boston in my twenties. I hadn’t been back in awhile so it was a real treat to head back to this seaside town on the New England coast for a luxury family escape this past August. Set in a landmark Victorian mansion on 40 acres of waterfront, Newport’s Castle Inn is 1.3 miles from Brenton Point State Park and boasts breathtaking views of the ocean on all sides. What’s nice is that the property is on the outskirts of town, so it oozes with tranquility and serenity inside and out. Outside, it’s about as majestic as it gets and during warmer months, you can dine on the patio or simply have drinks.

This upscale traditional boutique property has rooms in the mansion as well as beach houses and cottages with kitchenettes. Amenities vary, but may include fireplaces, ocean views and/or 2-person soaking tubs. Full breakfast and afternoon tea are complimentary. Oh so decadent! Also part of the property and an integral part of its luxurious offerings is their spa, The Retreat at Castle Hill, which uses all natural Farmaesthetics products and since we’re big on natural, we loved this great feature of their on-site spa. (not a full service spa but you can get great massages and facials here).  The other piece of magic is the property itself and the breathtaking views from the inn, especially around sunset.

At dusk or dawn, be sure to take in the views on the lawn if you’re there during a warmer month. Sink yourself into a chair, order a nice glass of wine and breathe it all in!! If you happen to be visiting during a winter month, the inside is equally divine and plenty of places to cozy up!!

Why We Chose It

Attention to detail is our first reason. Inside, the decor is very traditional with old wood paneling, flowered wallpaper and old fashioned lights.  Who said architecture and design didn’t make a difference to how you feel when you’re having a drink, experiencing a meal or simply sitting by a warm cozy fireplace with old fashioned antiques in every corner. The other logical reason is the view of the ocean — after all, how many properties can boast five star reviews in nearly every direction? The bar scene is also a ton of fun during the summer months and the food we tried was delicious (fresh salads and seafood are my top picks). Lastly, it feels OH so New England to me in all the ways I miss — it’s as if time has stood still at this luxe property just outside town and in a good way – bravo!

FOOD & WINE

Internationally acclaimed chefs may be upset to find that we have 3 American picks (one in the south, one on the East Coast and one in California) this year and only 2 international restaurants and this is largely because more of my personal travel this year was in the United States. If I had to select some top picks over the last five years, plenty of gems would have made this list from Curacao and Japan to Berlin, Dublin, Montreal, Normandy, Bali and more. With that in mind, be sure to check out our Food and Wine section where you can literally select regions of the world to browse through, restaurant reviews by country and by city and more.

Our top U.S. picks this year go to Kevin Rathbun Steak in Atlanta, Char Restaurant in Greenwich CT and Basil Restaurant in Carmel California.  Our runner up goes to FLUKE in Newport Rhode Island.

Kevin Rathbun Steak

This trendy, fun place is located along the Beltline in Inman Park, so you can stop by for drinks and appetizers after a lovely walk past murals, nature and take in all that it has to offer, from kids playing to cyclists. The inside is chic with brick walls and cool art and when the weather is warm, you can sit outside on their lovely patio which we did when I was there last month. It has apparently been recognized as one of the top steakhouses in the states — I loved the ambiance inside….and out!!

Tasty bites and great wine is an added bonus, such as their Yaya Eggplant fries, Backed Escargot with parsley garlic butter and crispy shallots, Grilled Thick Cut Bacon with Sriracha-Molasses and their Coca-Cola Baby Back Pork Ribs (yes really). They serve those ribs with big green egg smoked and cabbage-scallion slaw, oh so southern style!  There’s also Asian style meatballs with mushroom soy glaze and scallions, Peace Mojo Rock Shrimp with guacamole, Sonoma Jack cheese-pecan fritters with red pepper jelly, Japanese BBQ Wagyu Short Ribs with pineapple Yakiniku Glaze and Miso Aioli, Roasted Bone Marrow with cranberry Grand Marnier Jam (YUM!!), Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Lobster fritters with a lemon zest honey mustard sauce. Unusually creative menu, right? We think so and the service was top notch as well, as we sipped dry Rose on the patio while sampling some of their bites, most of which will add a bit around your middle.

Why We Chose It

I was there during warmer months (the fall) so we stopped after a long walk and started our experience on the outside patio, which was lovely. They greeted us with dry Rose (a rarity in the states) and a variety of appetizers, all of which were out of this world.  I am big on ambiance and service and this hot Atlanta eatery had both in spades. After spending most of our time baking in the late afternoon warmth, I headed inside and the decor was artistic, creative, modern and chic. We loved the combo of a great outdoor space, a creative indoor spaceBe sure to check out the extensive Restaurant and Foodie Guide to Atlanta we did last month for many other delicious picks.

CHAR Restaurant

We fell in love with a seasonal New American restaurant in Greenwich Connecticut on this year’s winter getaway to New England. Old world at its core, the cuisine at CHAR Restaurant is made with carefully-sourced ingredients in what they refer to as a “rustic-chic” space, and we couldn’t agree more.  While we weren’t able to visually capture the romantic ambiance and old world charm of this place when we dined fireside on that cold February night, try to imagine a Tuscan styled restaurant with eastern European and Slavic influencers throughout. Rustic meets elegance in this funky space in the heart of Greenwich, which for those who haven’t spent time in the Northeast, is only a stone’s throw from Manhattan. After dinner, we made it back to New York in a little over an hour.
The chef and his team are all about fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients and they source meat, produce and cheese from local farmers as much as they can. Upscale and casual would best describe the mood at CHAR, which is housed in a funky building on a corner in the Byram section of Greenwich.  The restaurant was built using reclaimed wood throughout the building and the wall coverings are former floor joists from old building that were torn down in Brooklyn. The flooring is water logged old white oak from Alabama, the Cabinetry is antique pine. the bar is made of Antique solid four inch red oak, the lighting fixtures are solid brass, make in Long Island via lights on design and all the walls are painted by local Artist Deb Ryan.

The food is beautifully presented and the service is casual but attentive, the staff being a seasoned staff with plenty of experience across two continents.  While I was in heaven with both the presentation and taste of my beet salad, the Shrimp Stuffed Calamari appetizer stopped us in our tracks. It was so delicious we couldn’t talk for awhile — imagine the combo, but then adorned with white beans, slabs of bacon and grape tomatoes in a light basil broth.

Also worth noting is the Roast Cervena Venison which was so incredibly tender — they prepared it with celery root gratin and vanilla bean glazed beets in a cherry reduction. 

The desserts were insanely delicious, most notably their decadent vanilla bean creme brulee. Wow!

Why We Chose It

We loved the attention to detail at this quaint and old world style restaurant in Greenwich. It’s convenient to Manhattan so an option for those who want to try something a little different on the outskirts and have a car, this would be a great choice.  We loved the fact that you could choose to sit fireside if you wanted (great during those colder months) and that the food was fresh, prepared just a little differently and that the meat was organic and so incredibly tender — it melted on our tongues. While the food was to die for, the hospitality and charm, charm, charm, was the overshadowing reason it made our cut this year. Be sure to read my review of CHAR, which includes a boat load of scrumptious photographs of our dishes, including four desserts.

Basil in Carmel

If you read us regularly, you know we’re huge fans of farm-to-table dining, organic food, restaurants who source from local farms and chefs and establishment owners who pay attention to where food comes from. We applaud restaurants who take the time to think through their menus, buy high quality organic ingredients and support nearby communities and farmers.

Chef Soerke Peters is the co-owner and main chef at Basil, which is officially called Basil Seasonal Dining and located off the main drag in Carmel-by-the-Sea California. Nestled in the middle of an alley off the main shopping street (get there early to view for creative window shopping and cafes), this cute and casual, but authentic and local gem features locally grown produce and organic ingredients. A certified Green European style restaurant, Basil boasts a seasonally rotating menu, which also features gluten-free and vegan alternatives. They also have an elegantly curated list of local wines to complement their fresh, wild and sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef, which have been raised on family-owned ranches.

The place has a whole lotta charm, first and foremost because it’s tiny and has warm inviting paintings on the wall, including a large image of Soerke Peters himself. They compensate for their small space by having a large outside dining area in a quaint courtyard and they have heat lamps for those who get cold easily. Be sure to read my extensive review of Basil from this past summer.

We sat inside by the window to do a l’il people watching while we waited for courses to come, starting with a little pure basil with garlic, olive oil, and spinach sampler.  Their Lamb Meatballs did not dissappoint, prepared with red onions and fresh goat cheese. Blissful!!  The local Monterey Abalone small plate is scrumptious as well. He prepares this dish with vermouth, parsnip puree, sweet corn and an asparagus-potato hash. Note that they tend to use a lot of potatoes in their dishes here, but done in new, fresh and creative ways. Basil too of course!

The Grilled Quail wrapped in Bacon and the Grilled Octopus (first photo displayed above) from Spain spoke to us. The Octopus looks like it was pulled fresh from the boat an hour ago (literally),but if you grew up in an Italian household where your grandmother served Octopus with those crazy white delicious Cannellini beans, then you’ll be all over this dish. He gets his beans from Coke Farms nearby and drizzles it with Quail and Olive basil oil.

He is known for his unique goat dishes which change all the time. The dish we tried was served with creamy polenta, the polenta so smooth it just melted in our mouths. Add to this scrumptious treat, local Chantelle mushrooms and Broccolini and we are still thinking of this flavorful dish over a week later.   It’s worth noting their Organic Beer Selection, which includes IPA’s, Belgian Blonde Ales and Lagers from Salt Lake City Utah. Their cocktails are apparently memorable as well — don’t miss out on their Signature Cocktail, the Passion Fruit Basil-Tini, which is made with rum, passion fruit and of course, fresh Basil.

We We Chose It

This little eatery is a little on the small side, but it makes up for it with its outdoor very Euro-style patio. Bearing in mind that Carmel is typically warm enough to eat outside year around, it’s a huge plus. His food was SO fresh, so organic and so green-inspired (they source from local farms), that it would be enough to select this gem of a find on her entree flavors alone, never mind his exquisite presentation, but when Soerke came out with a bowl of his homemade Vanilla Gelato which he poured some Basil Olive Oil over while we watched, he put me over the edge. OMG! This combination was to die for, so much so that I polished it off on my own and left the cobbler for Anthony. Charming, authentic and down-to-earth with the freshest and greenest food you’ll find in the area. Don’t forget to read more about Basil and see some more fabulous foodie shots here.

Our international top picks this year goes to Valoria in Prague and EPIK in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana.

Valoria Castle & Garden Restaurant

What I had in mind wasn’t quite the chic Valoria Castle & Garden Restaurant when I first arrived in Prague, but my experience at this gem with breathtaking views was above and beyond what I expected. Quite frankly, it couldn’t have been a better choice for my first night in Prague. Thanks to the guys at Lindner for the recommendation.

Located in the top section of Neruda Street in house No. 40, St. John’s Cellar, the restaurant is based on a Baroque cellar. It started as a town house with a terraced garden and it is uniquely based adjacent to the walls of Prague Castle, which ultimately provides for stunning views of the city and an even closer view of Lesser Town Square and Prague’s famous towers on both banks of the Vltava River. There’s a whole lotta WOW in this exquisite view, especially while dining outside on a warm summer or fall evening. You can vividly see the majestic dome of St. Nicholas Cathedral in nearby Lesser Town Square.

The food combines the best of Czech and French recipes and this is extended into their wine menu offerings as well. Their beef carpaccio was served with sun dried tomatoes, capers, arugula and parmesan cheese. A Czech chardonnay was paired with this, which was oak barreled for six months (I asked). It was a Pinot Vinarstvi Gala although I also tasted the Chardonnay Vinarstvi Baloun.

The Czech cuisine list was small but included beef with root veggies, cream, cranberries, bacon and onions and Veal Cheeks made with dill,cream and whipped egg whites. While it was a very warm evening and I was sitting outside, I was too tempted by the Wild Boar since they offered it and I always think of Eastern Europe when I think of boar. I knew it wouldn’t disappoint and it didn’t.

Why We Chose It

While Valoria didn’t deliver the “best” meal I had in Prague, it combined the best ambiance, service, food, views, wine and attention to detail – let’s just say, I was incredibly impressed despite countless other bites and meals during my 2.5 week stay. While the dishes were not quite as mouth watering as michelin star La Degustation, which I also reviewed, the food was indeed, divine. The long open courtyard, which extended from the inside of the restaurant, faced the best of what this part of Prague had to offer the eye.  It exudes old world charm while maintaining an air of elegance; this combo is one of the things that makes this restaurant so attractive, and that’s before you even see the sweeping views. Read my review on Valoria, see my extensive Prague foodie and restaurant guide and of course, another huge favorite from my trip: Piano Noble at Chateau Mcely as mentioned above. Oh yeah and the desserts were to die for, which included chocolate with orange, cocoa, almonds and vanilla, Peanuts with chocolate, caramel and Sabayone, a vanilla creme brulee with fruit, sorbets, a cheeseboard selection and chocolate fondant with raspberry sorbet. Need I say more?

EPIK Restaurant in Punta Cana

You don’t typically think of the Dominican Republic for its abundance of michelin star restaurants or award-winning chefs, however I put this beautifully decorated high end restaurant inside the Hard Rock Hotel’s casino on the list for a couple of reasons, starting with their decadent and memorable  Corazon Espinado cocktail, which was made with oaky and smokey tequilla (my preference), Don Julio, Cointreau and smoked sea salt. And, how about that amazing saffron garnish?

The head bartender was top notch and really “listened,” something that I find less and less the more I travel, so when you find someone who customizes a drink to your taste in a way that delivers punch again and again, it’s worth applauding.  The food options were as healthy as they get, from Grilled watermelon and goat cheese salad and Coconut Sea Bass and salmon ceviche served with passion fruit, mango and habanero to start, to a pan roasted Chilean Sea Bass with edamame and Roasted Chicken Breast with Bourbon mustard sauce and roasted cumin carrots as mains. Oh so delish and oh so fresh!!

Their desserts didn’t disappoint either and we had a pre-fixe menu because I was there with a group of ten or so. Bbelow, we sampled a combo of their Triple Brulee, which included Vanilla bean, chocolate and toffee. You could also opt for their White Chocolate Tiramisu, which combined espresso, Khalua and peanut praline. Can you say decadent and divine? And, the chef’s plates were all so beautifully presented.

Because I was dining with so many, I also had an opportunity to taste their Alaskan King Crab Cakes with lemon and their Mushroom Truffle Pasta, that albeit a bit rich, had me at hello with its housemade ingredients, infused with truffles, and topped with poached egg and parmesan. WOW! Their coffee was also very fresh as well.

Why We Chose It

It’s rare to find such decadence at an all inclusive and while this was one of their high end restaurants in the hotel, it is worth mentioning because of its island location and the fact that it’s part of a large hotel property. After all, it’s pretty easy to find Michelin star options in NYC, Paris, Montreal, Tokyo, Stockholm and San Francisco, but what about at a resort that is far away from an urban center along the Caribbean coast? Secondly, their mixed drinks were surprisingly good, not quite at the award-winning level of one of my local haunts on San Francisco’s Valencia Street, but oh so memorable nevertheless. I was also surprised by the over-the-top service and attention to detail.

PRODUCTS – Technology

iRobot Roomba 980

I’ve known about iRobot for years now, since it’s earliest of days when I was in tech marketing back in the greater Boston area, which is where the company is based. I’ve always been a fan from afar, after all, I have worked on robot products over the years and have my fair share of experience with artificial intelligence and recognition products from my work with Dragon and beyond.  I didn’t have an opportunity to truly play with their iRobot Roomba 980 until this past year however and I’ve become obsessed with it, so much so that I even named it Rocky and he’s become part of the furniture so to speak. This incredibly smart device has transformed my life at home — literally. Be sure to read my write-up from 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. 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! 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.

Why We Chose It

Bottom line: this product changed my life. Rocky (as I call my very own) runs around the house while I get work done or can do something else, whether that be fixing things or simply relaxing. It keeps going and going and is incredibly smart, returning to where you started him off in a room. He is also smart enough to navigate around furniture, clean under beds and couches that are hard to get to and can move seamlessly between throw carpets and hardware floors. It’s simple to use, doesn’t take up a lot of space and works flawlessly.  I LOVE this product! Need I say more? It’s my favorite product pick of the year.

Grillbot

Grill 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! See my write up on the Grillbot.  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.

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.

Why We Chose It

It saves us time…a lot of time. We tend to grill 200 days a year or more, and so having a nifty device we can simply throw on the grill, pull down the cover and walk away, is a godsend. And, it actually works. There are two settings so you can opt for a quick clean or a more thorough clean depending on the state of your grill. It also comes in a variety of fun colors, which we always applaud. I’m so bored of black and silver, it makes me crazy sometimes. It’s as if designers forget that women use these products too. It’s quick, easy and with its convenient carrying case, when we’re done, we simply hang it up to use for the next time.

Dyson V6 Absolute

Another cleaner you might be thinking – really? Hey, given the growing issues of poor air quality, including our homes and offices, it’s no wonder I’ve been paying more attention this year. Dyson is noted for having some of the most powerful cleaners on the market and so, we decided to put one to the test. In particularly, they 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.

Why We Chose It

Included in our holiday gift guide this year, the Dyson also made THIS list because of its ease-of-use and functionality. I don’t know how many times I angst over getting a vacuum cleaner out since I have to plug it in, unravel the chord and then drag it around and quite frankly, they’re heavy. This Dyson simply hangs on a wall and charges when you insert it into its wall slot — the best place for it is obviously a cleaning cupboard or closet with a door. Even in our San Francisco quarters, we made it work. When I want to do a quick clean, especially to clear out stagnant dust in corners, I can grab the Dyson (chord free) and do a quick clean within minutes without the hassle I’ve been facing for years. It’s a godsend for anyone who likes a dust-free house. Between this and the iRobot, I’ve saved hours of time every month on keeping both home and office clean.

Insta360 Nano

Just a month or so ago, we got our paws on this fabulous gadget that allows you to take incredible 360-degree selfies and capture special moments on vacation or while on an adventure trip. 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. They recently announced support for Android as well – YAY!

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. Note that it takes TF cards and they recommend the Samsung and Kingston cards.

We We Chose It

Bottom line, this product is super lightweight and is just SO much fun. I’ll be honest with you, it took me awhile to get the hang of how to use it, but bear in mind that as much as most of my adult life has been working with technology companies, I’m a bit of a luddite if I have to follow a guide. It’s not immediately intuitive however within an hour or two, I started to really get the hang of it, so much so that I got addicted to taking shots even in places that might nor warrant a 360 view. The above shot was taken on a December trip to the Dominican Republic when we did an early dawn air balloon ride and I managed to get about a dozen different angles and variations of the same shot depicted above. Truth be told, I could have kept going! Once you get your creative juices flowing, there’s no end to what you can create. Remember that it supports video too!

MyCharge For Extended Battery Life

Let’s face it, I have a bunch of extended battery life gizmos in a variety of colors and sizes. The Razor Platinum, which is crafted from anodized aluminum, isn’t that lightweight to be honest. That said, it has a couple of outlets so you can charge more than one device and the juice lasts for awhile, which is a godsend for the kind of travel I do. In other words, it’s worth the slightly extra weight. It’s still pretty compact especially given 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 a day pack or 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 which is simply put, 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. How cool is that?

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.  A fabulous choice 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.

 

Why We Chose It

We love the power and the speed of their more powerful chargers and I particularly love the fact that it’s so compact, all of its bits and pieces folding down into the device itself. I hate extra chords…..is everyone listening? I HATE extra chords. I also love the fact that they have a variety of options to choose from including a few fun colored ones for simple and quick chargers like the one shown above, when you simply want a little extra juice for a dinner out on the town. For longer trips and if you’re doing some adventure shooting where your smart phone acts as a back-up, you need to be charged all day long. MyCharge is a godsend for people who fall into that category, which includes me. I’m a fan!

Fashion/Style & Wear

Aetrex Shoes

We 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? See some of the sandals we fell in love with here.

Our favorites include the Skyler Boot for women, which comes in a few different color combo choices: barley, black and merlot and the Autumn Ankle Boot in Cognac (below). 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.   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 slip resistant 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. 

Why We Chose It

There’s a boat load of technology built into the Aetrex brand (aka Healthy 3 as mentioned above and beyond) to make them as comfortable and sophisticated as they are, both from the way they’re made (aka quality) and comfort. Comfort and cushioning is infused throughout and you’ll feel as if you’re wearing slippers when in fact you have boots on — same goes for their other shoe types. We also love their sandals as noted above, so be sure to read our summer review. They are ever so comfortable. Their service is also through the top; Aetrex is responsive, they listen and try to match you up with options that best cater to your taste. They’re beautifully designed but also about as comfy as it gets – this is an award-winning combination in our opinion and we remain huge fans of this brand.

Wooden Watches by Original Grain

Interestingly 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!!)

Check out the Zebrawood Rosegold watch out of their women’s Minimalist line? The watch also comes in Ebony/Gold, Rosewood & Chrome and Dark Ebony & Gold….all of them decadent, luxurious, and chic!

Why We Chose It

I love wooden watches and we haven’t really had a chance to look at this niche yet — Original Grain blew us away with their variety, quality and their exquisite packaging.  While there’s a lot more to choose from in their men’s line, the woman’s choices are elegant and well, just….lovely (see above). We also applaud their attention to detail and color combination variations.  In addition to their beauty, they are sophisticated, comfortable, elegant and incredibly well-made. Two thumbs up!

Naot Shoes

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.

Handpainted treatments on Naot’s new Handcrafted Collection create a one-of-a-kind look and each pair is a little unique since they are individually made. The Magnate has padded technical lining in the front for comfort and moisture absorption and their removable, anatomic cork and latex footbed is wrapped in pampering suede and molds to the shape of the foot with wear. The shoes in Naot’s Executive Collection features a 1.75″ TPR sole with a metal shank and they use a hand-sewn strobel construction making it strong and extremely flexible. Comfortable? You betcha!

 

If you want something a little more elegant but also comfortable, Naot has you covered, from clogs and slip on’s to sandals and boots. If you want a flat boot for long urban walks, then check out one of my favorites in that style, the Naot LEVANTO, which is an ankle boot with laces that comes in three flexible colors: desert, dark brown and gray. This style has a pull tab to ease entry and a padded tongue for extra comfort and they’re a delight to wear. This boot also has padded technical lining for comfort, warmth and extra moisture absorption. Below the boot is shown in desert.

Why We Chose It

We love that they pay such close attention to a combination of comfort, quality and style. Their technology enables natural hold of the big toe, which prevents the foot from slipping forward and improves the foot’s hold on the shoe. The result is SUPER COMFORT but not without sacrificing fabulous design, which is often the case with an overly cushioned shoe. Their elevated footbed center helps to release pressure in the joints of the central part of the foot whereas their Arch Support enables the weight of the body to be correctly distributed which helps to reduce pressure generated by the spinal column and joints. And, their deep heel indentation helps the body’s balance and maintains the natural shape of the pad of the heel that protects your heel bone.  Bravo!

Bluff Pants

Let’s face it, we’re not new to Bluff — in fact, we reviewed them two years ago for the first time and we put them in this year’s Holiday Gift Guide as well.  Bottom line – these pants for men are an avid traveler’s godsend! 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.

Why We Chose It

We’ve been fans of Bluffs for awhile and the fact that the quality remains top notch the second time around, we had to give it a 5 star this year. After all, male travelers should know about this incredibly useful brand so they can travel, wrinkle free.  They come in great neutral colors that make it easy to match with a small wardrobe when you’re on the go. Also, they now also offer shorts, blazers and shirts although we haven’t tested those out yet. Bottom line: they’re well made, don’t wrinkle, dry easily, are flexible options for light travelers and their service is awesome!

PRODUCTS – Wellness

Aroma 360 Diffusers

Most 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. 

Why We Chose It

Bottom line, we love the design. While this was the first thing that drew me to the product, it ended up on this list because it works as well as it looks. Elegant, it seamlessly blends into a home environment. The bottle holds quite a bit of oil so you don’t have to replace it or fill it up as often as you do so many other diffusers on the market. There’s also a nifty remote control which allows you to adjust the intensity of the essential oil aroma in the air and you can also modify its frequency. There’s an option that allows you to turn it on for 15 seconds and then off, and then on again and so on. We love the flexibility and the combination of beauty and wellness benefits in one package.

Edens Garden Aromatherapy

If you read us often enough, you’ll learn that I am personally a big fan of Aromatherapy. 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.

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 tout that they 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.

Why We Chose It

I love essential oils and they had a great selection from blends to pure oils. I was looking for particular oils in this case and they seemed to have them all so I didn’t need to search in ten different places to seek what I needed – bravo! Variety and their attention to detail (benefits each type of oil may deliver, website, etc) was also a huge plus!

NOTE: For other products we love, be sure to check out this year’s Holiday Gift Guide as well as last year’s holiday gift guide, where you’ll discover our precious finds, from food/wine, entertainment, technology, kitchenware and accessories to beauty, wellness, perfumes, bags, clothing, shoes and jewelry.

We Blog the World’s Annual 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

December 7, 2016 by  

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It’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 Fragrances

Meet 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 & Perfume

I 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 45

Meet 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.

What I appreciated most about this sun protector cream is its sheer, natural tints which leave your skin feeling moisturized while adding a nice glow to it. So many of the creams I’ve tried leave my skin feeling chalky and oily — this one can be used alone, under or mixed with foundation as well. I also love the fact that it’s oil-free and comes in three different shades (light/medium and dark) and if one isn’t perfect, you can get two shades and mix them. Unlike most sunscreens, you don’t have that unpleasant film that you often get on your skin, which is something we particularly liked.
Note: these are my opinions only based on my experience with the products — please refer to your dermatologist and/or doctor to see if they’re a good fit for your skincare needs and skin type. More information can be found at http://www.osmotics.com/.

Entertainment & Foodies

Juiceman 3 in 1

We’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!

We love that you can do juicing and blending all in one machine. Bravo! For more information on Juiceman, head to www.juiceman.com and you can order their 3 in 1 juicer here.

Italian Prosecco

We 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 Chocolates

A 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.

Grillbot

Grill 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 Hercules

The 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 Clothing

We 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.

We also liked the droop neck (shown below in dark blue/navy) which has a sleek and elegant look and is made from the same material as the rest of the line with a 96% MicroModal and 4% Lycra split. They also have soft luxe style pants, which are designed to be worn as a pant or you can pair it with a Body Bark top as a pajama set or with the Body Bark Robe. Super comfy, they make great travel pants as well. They’re made from 95% MicroModal and 5% Lycra. They’re all machine washable but they recommend hanging them to dry.

More info including how to order at www.bodybark.com.

Aetrex Shoes

We 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 Grain

Interestingly 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 Craghoppers

Last 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.

Naot Shoes

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.

Handpainted treatments on Naot’s new Handcrafted Collection create a one-of-a-kind look and each pair is a little unique since they are individually made. The shoe has a padded heel cup and tongue for even extra comfort. The Magnate has padded technical lining in the front for comfort and moisture absorption. Naot’s removable, anatomic cork and latex footbed is wrapped in pampering suede and molds to the shape of the foot with wear. The shoes in Naot’s Executive Collection features a 1.75″ TPR sole with a metal shank and they use a hand-sewn strobel construction making it strong and extremely flexible.

 

The women’s KEDMA from Naot is a similar style but a little more feminine looking.  I love the contrasting leathers of this shoe. Like it’s male wing tip version, this style has a heel cup for stability and support which is great when you want to take those long city walks. Naot’s removable, anatomic cork and latex footbed is wrapped in microfiber and& leather and as mentioned above, it molds to the shape of the foot with wear.

 

 If you want something a little more elegant but also comfortable, Naot has you covered, from clogs and slip on’s to sandals and boots.  If you want a flat boot for long urban walks, then check out one of my favorites in that style, the Naot LEVANTO, which is an ankle boot with laces that comes in three flexible colors: desert, dark brown and gray. This style has a pull tab to ease entry and a padded tongue for extra comfort and they’re a delight to wear. This boot also has padded technical lining for comfort, warmth and extra moisture absorption.  Below the boot is shown in desert. We strongly recommend these extremely well made shoes that cater to both men and women – two thumbs up!
Based in Israel, we love that they pay such close attention to a combination of comfort, quality and style. Enables natural hold of the big toe, prevents the foot from slipping forward and improves the foot’s hold on the shoe. Their Hallux support enables natural hold of your big toe, prevents your foot from slipping forward and improves your foot’s hold on the actual shoe. An elevated footbed center helps to release pressure in the joints of the central part of the foot whereas their Arch Support enables the weight of the body to be correctly distributed which helps to reduce pressure generated by the spinal column and joints. Their deep heel indentation helps the body’s balance and maintains the natural shape of the pad of the heel that protects your heel bone. Give them a try before your next trip. More details at https://www.naot.com.

Tail Activewear

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.

Tail Activewear fabrics work to wick moisture away from the body, keeping you dry and comfy, which is a huge plus for those who sweat a lot when they exercise. We love the material of the stretchy yoga pants that I have also worn for a couple of Elliptical workouts as well. They’re great at holding their shape, which I can’t say about a lot of work out gear I’ve tried over the years. All of their clothing can be machine-washed and dried as well. Bravo and two thumbs up! More information including how to order can be found at http://www.tailactivewear.com/.

 

King & Stone Shoes

A 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 Clothing 

Bravo 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 Pants

Okay, 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 Diffusers

Most 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 Purify

I 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

By Dr. Martin Hart and Skye Alexander, think of this book as your own personal encyclopedia of specific meditations for physical, emotional, and spiritual health and healing. They offer 100 techniques to beat stress, improve health and create happiness in just minutes a day. A lot of people avoid meditation because they think there’s ‘something’ to learn, or they won’t “get it” fast enough, or they’re too busy or too frustrated when they start to meditate and start to get antsy real quickly. I’d fall into the latter category more than the others quite frankly, even though I have meditated over the years with success. What defines a successful meditation session? I define it this way: do I feel a little calmer and more prepared to deal with the stresses I get hit with on a regular basis after meditating, even if its for ten minutes?

Breathing deeply can lower your blood pressure, just as you can diffuse anger by learning how to disconnect the buttons that trigger that anger, just two of the things they cover in the book. Have performance anxiety? We’ve all been there — they offer techniques to get you through. There’s an a section on building sexual energy. You can use meditation to exercise your brain to improve concentration and focus, recover lost memories and emotions, heal the loss of a loved one, attract what you designer while you sleep, and even how to use crystals to attract prosperity in your life.

Be open to their suggestions rather than fight them and you’ll find a whole new world will open up to you, whether its dealing with any of the things I mention here, reclaiming your self worth, which we all lose from time to time, learn how to forgive, unblock your creativity, or how to literally turn off other people’s judgments. For more information and to order.

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!

Magic Carpet Yoga Mats also carries a variety of fun and colorful yoga bags that are handmade and sewn from vintage Guatemalan huipils in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Proceeds from these bags go directly to the Konojel Community Center, which provides nutritious meals to 60 local children – bravo! Each piece is 100% handmade and one of a kind. The colors, symbols and textures reflect a form of expression, a story, a visual language unique to the region. Bags are lined and feature a large pocket with beautiful detail stitching on the inside to store your wallet, keys, phone, crystals and other on-the-way-to class goodies. Straps are adjustable and the soft fabric is very comfortable to wear and because they’re soft, they can easily fold up in your luggage, which was a plus for us as a “travel-friendly” find. Bag measures 28″ long and 6.5″ in diameter and 100% cotton.

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 Brush

For 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.

Technology

iRobot’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/Modems

Let’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.

Human Charger

Isn’t it true that we tend to feel better when we spend time in a sunny environment. Sunshine gives us Vitamin D and C and boosts our energy levels, lifts our moods and helps us perform at our best. That said, we need to be careful about over exposure and make sure we’re always plastered with SPF. When you travel between time zones, days and seasons, simply put — you just don’t get enough light. We tested out The HumanCharger, which gives you UV-free, blue-enriched white light when you need it most.

HumanCharger helps you be in sync all the time and helps you feel more energized. Exposure to light helps maintain the rhythm of our natural body clock. HumanCharger uses effective light therapy that will have you feeling clear and bright on those long haul flights. The product reduces the need for excess sleep, and reduces food cravings associated with jet lag, tiredness and low energy levels. The rechargeable battery lasts for two weeks at a time and features a sleek design with one-button functionality and comes in either silver or black. More information at http://humancharger.com and to order one here.

Dyson V6 Absolute

Dyson 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.

More information can be found at More information on them can be found at http://www.dyson.com and here to order one.

The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 Printer

We love this printer for its myriad of fabulous features and benefits, including its revolutionary cartridge-free printing with easy-to-fill supersized ink tanks — bravo! It actually comes with up to two years (yes, really) of ink in the original box, which already offers a huge cost savings off traditional printers. Imagine enough ink to print up to 11,000 black/8,500 color pages, which is equivalent to about 50 ink cartridge sets. They also offer up to 80% on ink with low-cost replacement bottles.
The Epson ET-4550 is wireless of course, so you can print remotely from other rooms in the house — it even works from our back garden, which is super convenient and of course, it works from smart tablets and smartphones as well. Powered by PrecisionCore, it’s also quite a speedy printer and the output is laser-quality black text.  As someone who manages a lot of projects, I loved the fact that it also features auto 2-sided printing and has a 150-sheet paper capacity. What we didn’t mention yet is that this workforce printer which is useful for busy people at home, photographers and those on the go, is MULTI-PURPOSE and has it all in one machine: copying, scanning, faxing and printing.
The Copy Speed for black ink is around 11 ISO cpm and for color, is 5.5 ISO cpm. Copy features include auto 1-sided to 2-sided, fit-to-page, automatic reduction and enlargement (25 – 400%), ID Copies, the ability to collate and adjust the copy density. Although we have a portable scanner which is pretty useful, this machine offers a color flatbed / ADF scanner built in with an optical resolution of 2,400 dpi. For the real techies among you, their scanner bit depth is 48-bit color input / 24-bit color output and the fax speed is up to 33.6 Kbps. In layman’s terms, that’s about 3 seconds per page and it has a memory of up to around 100 pages. You can also save speed dials in the system as well up to about 60 in total, more than you’d likely ever need. Two thumbs up!! For more information, check out http://www.Epson.com and to order, click here.

Lucid Audio Gear

We’re also new to the Lucid Audio line so we decided to take a look at their Amped Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, which has recessed volume control of ambient sound. The sound activated compression activates to protect from loud harmful noises (NRR 21 dB). We love this feature btw. What else is cool is their 9x hearing enhancement, which is great for music lovers and audio gurus alike. They also have omni-directional microphones built-in to the headset and it has a nice blue/black combo design — stylish but also sophisticated.
We also love the fact that they fold up and are very compact, which all avid travelers know, is a godsend feature.  The headphones are also very comfy — they have ultra low profile ear cups, which makes it more form fitting (great for ensuring the best sound quality and protection) and there’s also built in high definition speakers – two thumbs up! And, we love the two color tone design. It’s reasonably priced, makes for a great gift anytime of year and is available over on Amazon.
Also from Lucid Audio, the very cool wireless neckband combined with a wireless audio streamer kit is a great choice for travelers.
You can control the volume of your music, TV show or game separately and outside of ambient sounds (how cool is that right?). They accomplish this with their patent pending (for the early adopter geeks out there) AMPED technology. You can tune into high definition audio without losing awareness of your surroundings or missing a phone call and their Sound Activated Compression instantly protects from harmful outside noise. Also nifty is their ergonomic fingertip controls which allow you to answer phone calls, adjust volume of your audio, outside conversations and ambient sounds, as well as pause or play music on the fly, directly from the neckband.
Like the headset, omni-directional microphones on each side of the neckband which enhance the quality of phone calls and there’s separate microphones located within each earbud detect so you can amplify ambient sounds to whatever best works for you. Yup, and it has HD speakers as well which gives you a sweet sound across a wide frequency range. The neckband comes with an integrated rechargeable battery which provides ten hours of uninterrupted use, although we didn’t have time to test out the battery time before publishing this guide. They include a Micro USB charger, a variety of form-fitting earbuds and pouch for travel.  The neckband comes in both black and in white/gray.

Me Foto Tripods & Accessories

Meet the MeFOTO BackPacker Air, a lightweight and compact tripod that comes in its own convenient carrying case with a draw string — it’s perfect for smartphones, compact cameras, action cameras and small mirrorless cameras.  What we love most about this tripod is that it’s super quick to set up, the price is right and that it comes in a variety of colors from nearly every spectrum of the rainbow, including purple. YAY! We also love their HyperLock leg lock System which makes it easy to lock into place when setting up in just a few minutes.
I own a few tripods and they all take forever to set up and aren’t always that sturdy when it comes to my Canon 7D body and more and more, I’ve been shooting on my iPhone and new Alcatel (listed in this guide) especially for my Instagram feed. While I haven’t been able to put it to the ‘true test’ as it arrived after my last trip, I plan to bring it along on the next one. Super easy to set up however, we tried it and within minutes, it was good to go.  After you pull legs to desired length, you simply twist the leg clockwise until it stops and you’re ready to start shooting.

They also have the very nifty Sidekick 360 accessory, which is a must have if you own a smartphone. It’s essentially a smartphone adapter for tripods, a godsend for mobile photographers and filmmakers who want to get a crystal clear shot without carrying a heavy SLR on a trip. It’s also great for videos as well as shooting time-lapse and long exposures. And, again, they come in a myriad of fun colors so you can mix and match. More info including how to order can be found at http://www.mefoto.com/.

TrackR

Let’s face it – we’ve all experienced misplaced keys, phones, wallets and more, whether we’re trying to get out of the house for a meeting or we’re in a hotel room and can’t remember where we packed it. TrackR allows you to attach the coin-sized TrackR bravo to any item and then use the TrackR app to locate it in seconds. If you’ve lost your phone (how often have you had one of those panic attacks?), simply press the button on your TrackR device to ring your missing phone, even if its on Silent Mode!  TrackR’s Crowd GPS Network updates you of your item’s latest location on a map and it has a long battery life as well — they say a CR1620 battery lasts up to a year. They even tout that they’ll provide free replacement batteries for life — you simply pay postage.

Available in a variety of fun colors (above), Battery Type: User replaceable CR1620 battery that lasts up to 1 year depending on usage. Free replacement batteries for life, just pay postage. It uses Bluetooth to connect (roughly 100 feet is what is suggested), and a phone can track up to ten devices at once.Travelers will be thrilled to know that it works worldwide and it has an app for both iPhone and Android smartphones.
TrackR has a number of useful case scenarios for travelers too. Imagine being able to attach one of their devices to your check-in bags to receive an alert when they are loaded onto the plane or when they are coming down the conveyor belt at your destination airport. You can also adhere a TrackR to your passport or your day trip bag in case it’s lost or stolen. While you’re traveling, it can become easy to leave something at a pit stop, gas station or hotel. With TrackR’s Separation Alerts, you’ll be alerted if you’re walking away from an item — I love this for cell phones. The app actually talks to the TrackR so you easily track your lost items quickly and painlessly. More information including how to order can be found at: https://www.thetrackr.com.

Insta360 Nano

We 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 urBeats

We 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 DodoCase

We’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 Life

Let’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 4s

We 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 ZEGA

While 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 Speakers

We 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 VIDBOX

Some 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.

The Hofsas House in the Heart of California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea

December 4, 2016 by  

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When locals to the San Francisco Bay Area think of Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and the nearby peninsula, they may think of it more of as a romantic getaway or a serenity escape and there’s no doubt they are, but the area also offers some rich things to do with kids in tow. We discovered a great family stay called the Hofsas House Hotel right in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a boutique family-owned inn with 38 uniquely decorated, spacious rooms, many with ocean views overlooking the pines in the village. Yes, for those who didn’t know, Carmel-by-the-Sea is actually a village and it most certainly feels like one as you walk through the town center with its myriad of trees that graciously loom over people’s homes on side streets and the shops on the main drag.

Hofsas House also has an outdoor heated pool, which is a great family-friendly feature and one worth noting since apparently they’re only one of a few centrally located properties that have one. While there’s no hot tub, there’s also a women and men’s dry sauna on the property as well.


Dutch doors appoint each room so if you want to take in the fresh ocean air, you easily can. Our room had a view of the Pacific Ocean  as well as an outside deck. Some rooms and most suites have fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars or kitchens and we were lucky to have all of the above.

While the rooms may have Dutch doors, the clear influence here is German and as it turns out, the third and fourth generations of the original owners are now running the hotel. Carrie is at the helm today who loves to talk about the property and the village of Carmel.  She’s about as hospitable and warm as it gets, guiding you to the best gems in town, from where to go wine tasting and see incredible art to cafes, restaurants and quirky shops.

The German influence is felt throughout as you walk around the property. Carrie’s grandparents were the original owners and their wifi network is even named after her grandmother Donna, who I thought might be the family dog when I first saw the network attribution. I couldn’t be more wrong but what I couldn’t be more right about is Carrie’s continued passion for running the hotel and her pride for the long history that the property holds.

Below, artist Maxine Albro who was also a friend of Donna’s, was commissioned to paint a mural and other highlights to the front of the building to enhance the Bavarian theme in 1957 and it has been there ever since. Maxine also painted three pictures hanging in the lobby.

Each room is uniquely and traditionally decorated and if you pay attention, you’ll fall in love with the details of old. Since the property has been around for awhile, it doesn’t boast modern newly appointed rooms nor is it about luxury and decadence; it is however, authentic, sweet and conventional and because there’s a variety of family-friendly rooms to choose from, you can spread out and even cook in one of the small kitchenettes if you wish. We tried two different rooms during our stay and each had a fridge. The first room, which was smaller but on an upper floor with an ocean view, had an old mahogany dresser (below) and a wood stove. Who doesn’t love a wood stove?

Okay, so we were lazy and used one of those auto-light logs that are in flames within two minutes, but it was a perfect addition to a cool foggy November night with rain on the horizon.

Whether you go for one of their quainter rooms or a larger suite, you can be assured that each one will be unique.

The lobby area albeit small is quaint and has its own list of warm and friendly frills, from the autumn colored decorations to the fresh tea and French roast coffee every morning between 8 and 10 am. They also offer croissants and pastries from a local bakery as well as yoghurts, juice, apples and bananas. You can cozy up on the couch near a blazing fire and read the paper, a local magazine or chat with other guests who may have a few useful stories and insights to share, part of the charm of staying in an inn rather than a larger hotel.

The Hofsas House is located three blocks north of Ocean Avenue, the main drag which is lined with some of the more luxurious art galleries and shops. It is also only eight blocks from Carmel beach, which is known for its lovely white sand and only one block from a child-friendly City park. We were surprised how easy parking was anywhere in the center of town (although most signs say that your spot is only good for two hours and it’s electronically monitored), so be sure to time your smartphone alarm clock and move it after two hours, as I’ve heard that they love to ticket on the southern Peninsula.

Other amenities include the heated outdoor swimming pool and two dry saunas as mentioned above, view deck areas and free wireless Internet access. They’re proud to tout that they’re one of the dog-friendly hotels in the area but not all rooms are, so be sure to mention that you have a dog in advance.  Carrie tells us about the dog-friendly history of Carmel; not only is Carmel a dog friendly town where dogs can run off-leash on Carmel Beach but apparently there are many restaurants and cafes that are pet-friendly as well.

Because Hofsas House was built into a hill, you can get great views of the ocean from the fourth floor and it’s a great place to sit, read or sip on a glass of wine or cuppa Joe while watching the sunset or the rain, which was the case for us. It was a lovely spot to see the luminous clouds come in after a long leisurely day exploring the village.

Our second room was a suite so had two bedrooms, each divided by a door and there were two bathrooms, making it a flexible choice if you’re on a family adventure. Deluxe rooms also have microwaves which is a nice feature if you want to heat up leftovers from dinner the night before which is often the case with me.

We loved the Bavarian-style architecture and it’s a fun addition for kids as well — that, the complimentary pastries in the morning and the heated pool of course.

While it’s within easy walking distance to the main drag so you can leave your car in their complimentary parking lot, it’s also located at the edge of the village, which means it feels a bit more secluded than some other nearby hotels, which is an important “good-to-know” for those light sleepers.

The other thing we loved is the abundance of pines that not just surround the village but fill it — it does at times, feel as if you’re walking through a forest when on a stroll through Carmel.  Below, a view from our first room on the fourth floor looking in a westerly direction….

We recommend Hofsas House as a hospitable family stay in the heart of Carmel for those looking for convenience, reasonable rates and warm and authentic service.   If you go, say hello to Carrie from Renee and Anthony.  Also be sure to read our write-up on two restaurant gems we reviewed during our stay in nearby Monterey and Pacific Grove, although for those who want to dine right in town, we absolutely love Basil Restaurant. If you’re into all things organic, this is the place for you. Known as first green restaurant in the area, chef Soerke Peters takes great pride in sourcing from local farmers. Tell him the San Francisco-based travel writer who was in foodasm heavy over his homemade vanilla ice cream and basil oil sent you.

DETAILS:

Hofsas House Hotel
Between 3rd & 4th Avenue
on San Carlos Street
P.O. Box 1195 
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921

800.221.2548 

http://www.hofsashouse.com/

Note: we were hosted by the hotel but all opinions expressed were entirely our own.

2 Restaurant Gems on the Monterey Pacific Grove Penisula

December 3, 2016 by  

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If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or go there on business or pleasure, you’re bound to drive down the coast, whether you’re heading to the infamous Big Sur, driving down to Los Angeles or just want a long weekend away on the peninsula along the coast south of Santa Cruz, which serves gems like Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Located a stone’s throw from the more well-known Monterey is Pacific Grove, a ten or fifteen minute drive away.

Photo credit: Beach House.

Tucked in a grove, it’s a lovely place to reflect, meditate, take a walk and finally have dinner. If you’re off on a romantic getaway or just love serenity and stunning views, then the Beach House at Lover’s Point is your spot. Steak lovers can head into directly into Monterey and check out Whaling Station Steakhouse. We review both of them from our recent visit in November below. Be prepared to be hungry after seeing our oh so luscious food photos.

Beach House at Lover’s Point

When you drive up to the Beach House at Lover’s Point, you’re immediately struck by its view of the ocean in all directions. It’s hard to find a bad seat in the house given the wide open windows on three sides however be sure to request a table front row center and if possible, try to book a slightly earlier dinner so you can catch sunset as well. There’s a bar area where you can hang around while waiting for your table or to have drinks afterwards and boasts a panoramic view of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Appetizer options are varied from the oh so fresh and healthy Seared Yellowfin Tuna below, which they serve with a sweet chili glaze, wasabai-honey mustard and fermented asparagus to a Chilled Artichoke with tomato remoulade mayo!

They also offer several salads, from traditional caesar (you can also get this as a side with any of their entrees) to a classic Beach House salad with dried cranberries, apples and goat cheese to a Wild Organic Arugula salad with beets and gorgonzola crumbles. Note the below is that very same salad but we went with goat cheese instead. On top? Fresh toasted hazelnuts of course.

Then, there’s their Charred Brussels Sprouts which they make a little differently. Chef Matthew Farmer and his team toss them with locally made Chorizo (yes, really) and a lot of it, and then bring in roasted butternut squash, garlic confit, arugula (my fave) and some shaved parmesan. It all seemed to work somehow – a great choice if you want a more hearty appetizer on a cold evening. Pair it with any of their glasses by the wine — perhaps a Pinot Noir for starters.

I went for their Charbroiled Pork Chop as a main, which they traditionally serve with crispy marble potatoes, apple-cranberry sauce (oh so yum!), bacon-creamed spinach and a hard cider glaze. Because I tend to avoid heavy carbs, I substituted the taters with fresh sauteed green beans and it was a perfect combo! Other veggie sides include fresh spinach and glazed carrots or for the Italians out there, classed Broccolini.

Below is their Roast Half Chicken with almond-cranberry wild rice pilaf, green beans, butternut squash and sage-leek gravy.  For the traditionalists among you, try their Bacon-wrapped meatloaf with yukon gold potatoes, glazed carrots, sauteed mushrooms, green beans, and crispy fried onions – YUM, right? You can also get a Ribeye Steak sandwich and if you have kids in tow, they offer an American Bacon cheeseburger or Scampi and Fries. There’s also a Scallops Pot Pie with peas, carrots, mushrooms and cipollini onions.


Fish lovers will appreciate their Grilled King Salmon Filet with asparagus, glazed carrots, smashed yukon gold potatoes, and roasted lemon in a dill cream sauce, which we loved. (below).

They also offer a Crab Stuffed Petrale sole with watercress in a citrus beurre blanc sauce and Hazelnut-crusted dabs with charred brussels sprouts, pumpkin gnocchi, cipollini onions, beurre blanc and prepared with a balsamic glaze and arugula pesto. This one is delish but perhaps not for those on a diet. Then again, if you’re on a diet, you’re probably not reading this review. Meat lovers will love their Grilled Filet Mignon with broccolini in a port reduction with horseradish cream and bearnaise butter.

Chocolate lovers will love their chocolate pot de dreme (aka chocolate pudding) or their Mud Pie (both pictured below), which they make with chocolate ganache and toasted almonds. I hadn’t had mud pie in years so it was a treat albeit very decadent.

The mud pie…..

Southerners will love the fact that there’s key lime pie on the menu, except they don’t serve it in the traditional way — it’s in a glass instead but still with the classic graham cracker crust. There’s also a Blue Ribbon Cheesecake with a sour cream vanilla top, ice cream cake and a luscious Grand Marnier Creme Brulee. Oh so scrumptious!

DETAILS:

Beach House at Lover’s Point

620 Ocean View Boulevard

Pacific Grove, CA 93950

www.beachhousepg.com

Whaling Station Steakhouse

Steak lovers, head to Whaling Station Steakhouse when you next head to the northern California coast. Located in Monterey California, this gem of a steakhouse sources their steaks from smaller packers in Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa and all of their meat dishes are served with bacon-spiked spinach, garlic-mashed potatoes and fried onions. You can add your own sauce if you’d like: Bearnaise, Green Peppercorn or Roquefort Butter. For the prime rib fans among you, they offer a slow-roasted prime rib that has been roasted for eight hours, which they serve with Yorkshire pudding, roast beef jus and horseradish cream.

One unique thing about this steakhouse is that they show the cuts in advance and explain where they’ve been sourced and how they’re prepared.

From Sirloin Chateau USDA Prime (center cut), Beef Wellington baked in a puff pastry with truffled red wine sauce and a Petit or full Filet Mignon to a New York Steak, a Rib Eye, a Cowboy Rib Steak (with bone-in), or a Porterhouse for two, you have plenty of options. They also offer Rack of Lamb, Short Ribs, and a Filet Mignon with an Australian Lobster tail — in fact, you can add a half-pound Australian lobster tail to any entree if you wish.

On the night we were there, they offered a special dry aged ribeye as a special so it’s not typically on the menu — it was so tender and delicious, served with garlic mash and fried onions. They’re open, more than most, to substitution so if you’re not a carb fan, you can substitute those taters for veggies like we did.

Abel, our adorable and incredibly gracious waiter, albeit Mexican by birth, touts that pasta is his favorite since he spent his early days in the states living with an Italian family. With a big authentic grin, he reminisced about his early days in the states and how his family today is all in the restaurant history, most of them on the culinary side of the house, not in the dining room. It’s clear why he is outward facing and not in the kitchen — his charming outgoing personality is a win with customers — his warmth made my evening.

We went for the deep fried calamari and fresh oysters on the half shell to start.

The oysters are from the Pacific Coast, not east or Canada, so were on the small to medium side, but oh so fresh and delish! You can also get Oysters Rockefeller if you’re a fan — they serve them in the traditional style with spinach, bacon and Pernod, topped with decadent hollandaise sauce.

If you want to keep it light, they offer plenty of salads, from classic tossed greens and Caesar to Warm Burrata and Wild Arugula with oranges and pistachios to an Italian Caprese with basil and aged balsamic vinegar (displayed below). I can honestly say that there’s never been a Caprese salad I didn’t fall in love with and Whaling Station chefs didn’t disappoint. The preparation was beautiful as well – bravo! If you go with caesar salad for the table, they bring the Romaine out to the table and toss it in front of you, which is a lovely treat.

If you’re a fried food fan and are yawning over the salads, then they have prime rib egg rolls with caramelized onions, Escargot with garlic cognac-parsley butter (nearly opted for that one), short rib raviolis, all house-made with herbed butter sauce in a red wine reduction or Pancetta-wrapped sea scallops with a roasted corn puree. There’s also crab cakes wtih a roasted shallot-tomato salad and hollandaise sauce and one of my favorites — Carpaccio which they serve with extra-virgin olive oil, capers and garlic toast. YUM!!

Italian lovers will appreciate the Steamed Artichoke on the appetizer menu, but instead of garlic, lemon and olive oil, they serve it with tomato remoulade and mayo. Want something a little richer, then try one of those home-made raviolis or their to-die-for Gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce.

Anthony went for the dry aged ribeye and I went for their Wild Pacific King salmon since I had started the evening with a lovely buttery Chardonnay from Sonoma. Here, they serve it with faro pilaf, wild mushrooms, bacon and swiss chard in an herb beurre blanc sauce. Seafood lovers will be thrilled to know they have a Sesame-crusted Ahi Tuna with sauteed julienne zucchini and yellow squash on the menu as well as a Dungeness Crab Risotto with meyer lemon zest and fresh mint. In November, they also offered a Wave Street Cioppino which came in a rich tomato broth and included fish, prawns, clams and mussels and a Wild Abalone, which they panko-dust and pan-fry.

Inside, it is somewhat formal with dark red tablecloths on every table and a classic bar as you enter, but the walls and decor have Italian infusion with a little French culture and fun colors thrown in to warm the ambiance.

 They are proud enough of their desserts to display all of their offerings on a side table as you enter the dining room. Whether you’re a creme brulee or fruit fan or love your cheesecake or dark chocolate cake (theirs is flourless btw), they’ve got you covered.

Cappuccino with that creme brulee anyone?

Oh so decadent, oh so beautiful, oh so scrumptious!!

Their cheesecake and flourless chocolate cake served with fresh raspberries and strawberries.

This one had me at hello and was a perfect way to end a late fall evening in Monterey.

DETAILS:

Whaling Station Steakhouse

763 Wave Street

Monterey CA 

831.373.3778

www.WhalingStation.net

 

 

Square Cash, a Seamless & Easy Way to Transfer Cash to Friends on the Road

November 30, 2016 by  

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When you’re traveling with friends or even family, chances are someone may pick up the bill for something where you’re sharing the costs, such as train tickets, dinner or activities. Many people I know use PayPal for this kind of quick transaction between friends but fees for transferring cash between each other exists and they’re annoying — after all, it’s a digital transaction and your money — why should you have to pay for something that should be free? With Square Cash, you can transfer cash quickly and seamlessly and yup, there’s no fee.

Available for both Android and iPhone, it’s simple and quick to do in real time while you’re on the road. Square Cash on-the-go makes it easy for one person to book a group’s flights, hotels or other activities at a destination and be immediately reimbursed without having to deal with it later.  If you’re traveling with family, the same thing applies, whether you’re using it to transfer cash to a family member while on a trip or at home for a product or service you took care of for a parent or relative.

Also think about the same scenario for that girl’s weekend getaway or at home when you’re getting together socially and ordering take-out food for a leisurely evening at a friend’s house. I downloaded the app to put it to the test on both an Android and my iPhone 6, which was about as easy to set up as it gets. After you download the app, it will ask you for your phone number and then later, your email to validate for added security. (below on an Alcatel device)

While it’s free for personal use, they do charge for an exchange of cash for goods and services if you use it for your business for 2.75% per transaction. The Square Cash app is compatible with iPhones running the latest iOS version and Android devices running the latest operating system. You can download the iPhone app here and the Android app here.

After you download the app, you have an option to choose either Personal or Business to accept payment for goods or services — from here, it will allow you to link to your bank account so you can send and receive money. They have a list of transaction fees for non-personal use over on Cash.me which includes their sending and receiving limits. For example, there is a 3% fee when payments are sent from a credit card.

Additionally, you can create different Cash accounts for personal and business use however each account must be associated with a unique email address or mobile phone number, but you can link the same credit or debit card to multiple accounts. They recommend double checking which account you’re signed into before sending or requesting money if you regularly use more than one account which can be viewed in your app settings and preferences can be changed at any time.

Easy to access at your finger tips, Square Cash makes it easy to handle those useful transactions when on the road.

When we tested it out, it only took a few minutes to set up and transferring cash was quick and easy to do — it makes for a more efficient way to handle those transactions when you’re traveling with friends or family or for simple cash exchange at home.

 

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Square, Inc. The opinions and text are all mine.  #CashApp #ad

 

Mark Your Calendar for January 27, the New York Times Travel Show Trade Day

November 29, 2016 by  

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Globetrotters, be sure to put the New York Times Travel Show on your list for a must attend show in January. Held every year at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City, the event attracts travelers, industry peeps, media and more across three days, starting on January 27, which is solely dedicated to TRADE DAY, the New York Times Travel Show announced today. We love the event so much that I board a plane and head to the cold and snowy east coast every January to participate in the festivities and starting last year, we came on board as a media partner.

The 2017 New York Times Travel Show kicks things off for their annual show with Trade Day on Friday, January 27, which is a trade-only viewing of 500 exhibiting companies in the Exhibition. Travel professionals may register for the Trade Day here.   The keynote panel for the Travel Show’s Trade Day on the state of the travel industry will be moderated by James Shillinglaw, travel editor and journalist. Panelists include Ninan Chacko, CEO of Travel Leaders Group, Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, Alejandro Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group and Brian King, global officer, digital, distribution, revenue management & global sales of Marriott International.

Trade Day will feature more than 270 speakers including, among others:

  • Ben Baer, managing editor, Forbes Brand Production
  • Steve Dumaine, president & CEO, CheapCaribbean.com
  • Rainer Jenss, president & founder, Family Travel Association
  • Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president United States and Canada, Tourism Ireland and chair of the European Travel Commission’s Operations Group in USA
  • Ken Muskat, executive vice president, MSC Cruises
  • Edie Rodriguez, president & CEO, Crystal Cruises
  • Eduardo Santander, executive director, European Travel Commission
  • Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer, City of New York
  • Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures

The Travel Industry Conference offers a comprehensive education program designed for travel professionals and features 24 Focus Conferences across diverse travel categories. New to this year’s show are Travel Trends: Focus on All-Inclusive Resorts; Focus on Cuba and Focus on Luxury Travel.   As presenting sponsor of the Show’s Taste of the World stage, a representative from Costa Rica will be the featured speaker of the Culinary Tourism seminar for Trade Day, focusing on healthy sustainable culinary travel.

The weekend of January 28 and January 29 will be open to all attendees and feature global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts and special discounts and offers for consumers of all ages from over 500 exhibitors.

Industry Sponsors include: Adventure Cycling Association, Adventure Travel Trade Association, Africa Travel Association, American Society of Travel Agents, Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association Education Foundation, Caribbean Tourism Organization, Cruise Lines International Association, Cruise Planners: An American Express Company, Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association, Family Travel Association, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, Millennials in Travel, National Association of Railroad Passengers, New York State Tourism (I Love New York), Pacific Asia Travel Association, Professional Travel Bloggers Association, Society of American Travel Writers, United States Tour Operators Association and Well-Being Travel.

Go Nomad, Healthy Aging Magazine, ManAboutWorld, Off Metro, Passport, travAlliancemedia, Travel to Wellness, Travel Market Report, Wander Magazine, We Blog the World, Where Traveler, WNET-TV and WVVH-TV serve as media sponsors.

The Travel Show is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, featuring the Travel Industry Conference, Consumer Seminars, and an interactive Exhibition including more than 500 exhibitors from Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Mexico and the United States.  In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provides educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals, couples and seniors.

 

 

 

 

Magic Carpet Yoga Products: Have Mat, Will Travel!!

November 16, 2016 by  

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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!

Each one speaks to you in different ways, and there are so many choices, it’s hard to choose – they’re all so incredibly beautiful!

Magic Carpet Yoga Mats also carries a variety of fun and colorful yoga bags that are handmade and sewn from vintage Guatemalan Huipils in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Proceeds from these bags go directly to the Konojel Community Center, which provides nutritious meals to 60 local children – bravo! Each piece is 100% handmade and one of a kind. The colors, symbols and textures reflect a form of expression, a story, a visual language unique to the region.

Bags are lined and feature a large pocket with beautiful detail stitching on the inside to store your wallet, keys, phone, crystals and other on-the-way-to class goodies.  Straps are adjustable and the soft fabric is very comfortable to wear and because they’re soft, they can easily fold up in your luggage, which was a plus for us as a “travel-friendly” find.  Bag measures 28″ long and 6.5″ in diameter and 100% cotton.

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