About Valerie Swiderski

Valerie Swiderski

Valerie is a born and bred Midwesterner who loves to travel and explore other cultures through food. She enjoyes learning about this small world we live in and wants to enjoy life on her terms. Valerie is a freelance travel writer and writes for her blog, Trips or Treats.

Latest Posts by Valerie Swiderski

The St. Louis Arch at Sunset Along the Mississippi River

August 28, 2014 by  



Arch at Sunset

This photo was taken from a sunset dinner cruise on the Becky Thatcher from Gateway Arch Riverboat Cruises. It had been raining all afternoon but finally cleared off in time for sunset as we floated down the Mississippi River.


Just How Serious Are You About Food?

July 20, 2014 by  


A foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger. (Wikipedia)

I can’t put my finger on an exact time when I realized that I was a foodie. It has come on slowly over the years as I learn about new foods. I adore learning about culture through food and how it is a part of their traditions. Here are 5 signs you might be a foodie.


It may not even be unusual to some people, but maybe it’s something you have never tried before. Case in point, one time while in Colorado, I ordered a Yak burger.

Yak Burger

Yak Burger


Me: Hey, do you want to see a picture of this amazing dessert I had? Or how about this one with the alligator meat?

You: Um, sure…

Most people don’t get super excited about what they put in their mouths, but a foodie will look back at their food pictures and reminisce. Is that weird?

Ah, dessert

Ah, dessert


Have you ever had a croissant? Of course you have, but how about a croissant sandwich bun? I had one bun leftover and I really hate to waste food, so I made French toast with it. It. was. good.

Croissant French Toast

Croissant French Toast


Always the adventurous food eater, my step-son has loved seafood (I’m not talking about frozen fish sticks) from a young age. We couldn’t get him to eat pizza but put some grouper in front of him and watch it disappear. On his birthday this year he chose a seafood restaurant with an oyster bar. Yes, oysters…raw oysters. I didn’t even have the courage to try them myself until last year. The verdict? He made a face that let you know he did not like them, but am I proud of him for trying? Hell yeah.

First Time Trying Oysters

First Time Trying Oysters


Food is a necessity for all of us. However, foodies love trying new places as a hobby.  And then you proceed to take lots of pictures of said places…


Do you consider yourself a foodie? Or is eating just a means to an end for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Exploring Missouri’s Wine Country

July 10, 2014 by  



With rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see, it’s hard to remember that this is Missouri.  Hermann is located one and half hours to the west of St. Louis and just under 3 hours east of Kansas City.  The town of Hermann was founded in 1836 by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia.  Finding the climate to be similar to that of Bavaria, the settlers brought their wine making knowledge and turned this area into what is now one of the oldest wine making regions in the United States.

Sunrise over the Missouri River

Hermann Wine Trail

There are 7 wineries in Hermann and its surrounding area that are a part of the wine trail.  You can explore on your own or participate in one of the 5 wine trail events throughout the year.  At these events, you will sample preselected wine and food pairings.  Being that it is a German settled town, Oktoberfest takes place the first 4 weekends of October.  Lodging sells out fast, so plan ahead.

Hermannhoff Winery & Adam Puchta Winery

Where To Stay

There are hotels, campgrounds and numerous B & B’s to stay at while in Hermann.  For luxury and pampering, stay at Hermann Hill Inn & Vineyard.  For a traditional B & B experience, stay at the Inn where you will be treated to a glass of wine and snacks upon your arrival.  Perched up on a hill, you will have a view from every room with either your private patio or balcony.

In the evening, warm shortbread cookies are served with vanilla ice cream drizzled with their signature chocolate raspberry port sauce and delivered right to your door.  The next morning, a hearty breakfast will be delivered to your room at the time of your choosing.  The most popular breakfast offering is the French Toast with German sausage, cheesy potatoes and a fruit cup.  Take the time to enjoy the spa located in the basement of the Inn.  With only 1 spa room, you will have complete privacy for your couples’ massage.

On the other side of town, Hermann Hill Inn & Vineyard also has cottages overlooking the Missouri River.  These rooms have decks with a hot tub and BBQ grills.  The fixings for breakfast will be left in the refrigerator for you to make at your leisure.

Where To Eat

For the best German food in town, go to dinner at Vintage Restaurant located next to Stone Hill winery.  Vintage Restaurant is a restored carriage house and horse barn.  Request to be seated in a booth and you will actually be sitting in an old horse stall.  Before heading to the restaurant, stop at Stone Hill Winery and grab a cold bottle of wine to take to the restaurant with you.  This will save you a few dollars rather than buying a bottle at the restaurant.  Enjoy traditional dishes like Pork Schnitzel and Sauerbraten.

For lunch, try Hermann Wurst Haus.  Step up to the bar and sample the handmade brats before choosing which ones you want for lunch.  If you are driving distance from home, take a cooler and stock up on brats and sausages to take home.   They offer over 40 different flavors to choose from.

If you prefer BBQ, eat at Montague’s.  The owner is from Texas and serves Texas style BBQ, salads and soups.  Go the non traditional route and try a pulled pork or brisket wrap with salsa, sour cream and lettuce rolled into a spinach tortilla.

Montague's, Hermann Wurst Haus and Vintage Restaurant

For your sweet tooth try Ricky’s Chocolate Box or Sugar Momma’s.  Ricky’s makes homemade chocolate candies, turtles and clusters.  Mix and match what you want, they sell it by the pound.  Sugar Momma’s features old fashioned and Amish candies, pies and cookies.

If you want to add to the adventure, take the train from the Amtrack station in either Kansas City or St. Louis. Wine country in the Midwest is an experience any foodie and wine lover should try.


David’s Been Here Toiletry Bag Product Review

April 24, 2014 by  


Do you love to travel but despise packing?  I know I do, but the worst part for me are the toiletries.  I end up with 3 or 4 different plastic bags that I have acquired over the course of buying travel size toiletries.  Juggling all of these bags and trying to fit them into my suitcase is a nightmare.  I have now found the perfect solution: David’s Been Here Toiletry Bag.  The beauty of this bag compared to most other toiletry bags is the fact that it lays flat in your suitcase taking up very little room.  Even if it is packed to capacity, it remains flat, leaving you the ability to lay it across the top of your clothes and know that you have everything you need.

After using this bag on 2 different trips, I recommend this toiletry bag.  I was able to pack toiletries for both my husband and I with room left over.  I fit 2 toothbrushes, travel size toothpaste, a sleeping mask, 2 deodorants (one of them full size),  razor, face wipes, toning spray, face moisturizer, travel size mouthwash, travel size shower gel and body lotion, jewelry, a comb and a full size aerosol bottle of dry shampoo.  With an expansion zipper on the right side, it adds even more room.  The only thing I could not fit was a makeup bag, but if you are traveling alone, you might be able to fit it in depending on the size.


After arriving at your destination, there is no need to unpack your toiletries.  Simply unzip the middle portion and hang your bag on a bathroom hook or towel rack.  The David’s Been Here Toiletry bag is water repellent and I never experienced any leaks.  It comes in 5 different colors and sells for $29.99.  It is also sold on Amazon.  This bag works well for road trips or checked luggage if you are flying since carry on requires it to be in a clear plastic bag to clear security.


This will be my go to bag from now on.  I am curious to see how much I could fit in one bag if it was just for me!  Give this bag a try, it’s only $29.99 and it has changed the way I travel and made packing easier.  We could all use help with that, couldn’t we?

New Orleans Style In Kansas City

March 22, 2014 by  



I have never been to New Orleans, but I have experienced the tastes of the city. I have always imagined walking along the French Quarter, a cup of chicory coffee in my hand, taking in the sites and architecture. Never did I think I could experience this in Kansas City.

Beignet is located in the River Market district of Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a fun atmosphere on a Saturday when everything is open. There are fresh fruits, produce, spices and various ethnic restaurants to pick from. You can browse all of the stalls while listening to live acoustic music. It’s not New Orleans, but it will have to do until I make it there someday.

Beignet offers sweet crepes with flavors like Lemon Berry Cream, Nutty Nana, Campfire, and Peanut Butter and Jelly to name a few. They are served with a side of Sabayon cream, which is a sweet white cream sauce.

Lemon Berry Crepe

Beignet also offers savory cornbread crepes with flavors like Benjamin Buford Blue (crispy shrimp), Daddy Duke (spicy Cajun Andouille sausage) or try the signature savory crepe – the Muffalleta crepe. This one comes with Genoa salami, Mortadella ham, provolone, mozzarella and olive salad. I think next time I go, I’m going to order this one!

New Orleans French style donuts are on the menu, but so are loaded donuts. How does Chocolate Truffle, Bavarian Cream or Caramelized Peach sound? Maybe the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup is more your style. It’s hard to pick just one and I think they know that because you can get a mix and match dozen. I think I can feel my waistline expanding just thinking about it. We chose to try the traditional style since we ordered the Lemon Berry Crepe.

Traditional French Style Donuts

Traditional French Style Donuts

Of course, it’s not all about my sweet tooth so my husband and I ordered two savory beignets to share. He ordered The Bronx (Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs and smoked mozzarella). I got The Cajun (spicy Andouille sausage, crawfish, chicken, candied jalapenos and olive tapenade). You guessed it, it was pretty spicy. So spicy, I thought about stopping in the middle of it and eating a donut just to balance it out.

After being forced to eat all of this, I thought I would order a Chicory coffee to go. I tried Chicory coffee once before when a co-worker brought some back from New Orleans. I had no idea what to expect and I kept thinking it was going to get better, but after about 8 sips I gave up.

It was pretty gross and I have no idea how to even describe the taste. After doing some research, I found that a lot of places in New Orleans mix it with regular coffee. The result was still nasty and I ended up throwing out the rest of the bag. I only tell you this to paint the picture of how hesitant I was to try Chicory coffee again. Reluctantly, I gave it a try…and it was good. They use a chicory/regular coffee blend and mix in spices. I would definitely have this again. I guess the trick is to leave it to the professionals.

Chicory coffee

Chicory coffee

I would recommend Beignet to anyone wanting to enjoy a taste of New Orleans. As you enjoy your loaded donuts, crepes and savory beignets, enjoy the quirky artwork found on the walls. You can almost hear the jazz…

Beignet artwork

Beignet artwork


Midwest Wine: Missouri’s Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery

March 18, 2014 by  


A glass of wine is necessary on days that end with y. For me, there is nothing like enjoying a glass (or 3) while cooking dinner. Although I don’t live in the major wine regions, I have come to love and even prefer a good Midwest wine. We can’t grow Merlot, Cabernet or Shiraz. Why? Because it’s too freaking cold here in the Midwest and I am okay with that (the wine, not the cold).

When I first started drinking wine, it was in a box (don’t get me wrong, some of those are pretty good nowadays) and boy did I feel classy…because classy people drink wine, right? I have come to learn that there are all types of people who love wine. I have even seen a group of bikers in their Harley gear enjoying a wine tasting.

When I first introduced my husband to Midwest wine, he was very skeptical. He was familiar with California wines and he didn’t care for them. Now, it’s his drink of choice just like it is for me. We love to visit wineries and try new wines native to that region. Enough about us, let’s get on with the review.

Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery- Platte City, Missouri

Located about 30 minutes North of Kansas City, Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery is Missouri’s first “green” winery. Using a variety of green tactics, they make everything from dry to sweet wines. The sheep help out in the vineyard by “mowing” in between the vines. Of course you can’t have sheep without a sheep dog too.

The Mow Crew

The Mow Crew

Chickens and bats are also utilized for pest control. The more pests (i.e. bugs) they eat, the less chemicals go onto the fruit. Less chemicals = happy consumers.

Bat House

Bat House

The owners, married couple Jason & Colleen Gerke, have made their mark on the wine industry in Missouri by using these techniques, but the best part is what is created by these techniques. Do I have to tell you that I am talking about the wine?

Here are our personal favorites:

1. Butterfly Blush - It’s semi-sweet and goes great with roasted chicken, white cheese and lighter desserts like angel food or pound cake (sounds like a picnic wine to me).

2. Critter Cuvee - A blend of white Missouri grapes (no, I don’t know which grapes, that’s part of the secret). It pairs well with mild cheese, tart fruits or BBQ chicken.

3. Vignoles (vee-knoll) – This varietal is the Midwest’s answer to a Riesling. Bursting with flavors of honey and pineapple, this pairs great with spicy foods and seed fruits. I like to take a mix of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and marinate them in Vignoles over night. Drain the berries and serve over angel food cake, add whipped cream and voila, a perfect summer dessert. The last step in making this is VERY important. While no one is looking, drink the remainder of the wine right out of the bowl. Don’t look at me like that, you shouldn’t waste good wine and you know it.

If you are in the Kansas City area and are a wine lover (if you are not, then we can not be friends), check out Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery for a tasting or for one of their many popular events. I’m going to try to make it out for the grape stomp this year…

Jowler Creek Tasting Room

Jowler Creek Tasting Room

Just remember when pairing food and wine, it’s okay to throw out the conventional (wine snob) ways to do it. You don’t have to drink red wine with red meat and white wine with fish. There are some pairings that do complement each other and bring out the flavors of the meal. Some foods smooth out the acidity of certain wines. If it tastes good to you, drink it. Nobody is going to get mad at you if you drink peach wine with steak (I might have had this the other night). Do you know what else goes good with wine? More wine…

What are your thoughts on wine? Do you have a favorite?

Zip Lining It Thru The Trees of the Dominican Republic…

March 15, 2014 by  


The journey through the town of Puerto Plata passes by the Atlantic Ocean, the city congestion where motorcycle taxis are hauling up to 4 people on the back of the bike, the factories (I think I see a rum factory) and continues up into the hills. We pass by small villages, each with roadside food stands until we reach our destination: Yasika (like Jessica but with a Y) and boy, is it remote. Is it crazy that we just paid to jump off of a wooden platform?

After receiving brief instructions, I put on the leather gloves 4 sizes too big…with a HUGE hole in them. I tell myself I can do this. Thousands if not millions of other brave souls have done this. My husband, step-kids, myself and two sisters from New York are in this together. Halfway through the first zip line, I feel myself start to relax, maybe even enjoying it. Oh yeah, definitely enjoying it. I feel like a kid again. I feel free. It’s like nothing I have ever experienced. Wind whips through my hair as I fly by the tops of the trees. It’s like a dream, all until I realize that I am nearing the end of the line and I am desperately trying to remember how to apply the brakes.

The tour guide’s eye grow bigger as I near the end…which is where he is standing. My survival instincts kick in (like I’m in the outback in Australia, right?) and I have an ace landing. Whew, that was close! When can I go again? 7 more zip lines to go and I am already wondering if they will let us do the whole thing again. “Steven Spielberg”, our videographer lost his shoe on one of the lines. I’m glad I don’t have to go down there and get it! There were wild horses and cows down there. In my limited Spanish, I tell him the horse ate his shoe. I know, I’m funny, right?

They all laughed…probably more so at me and not my joke. But later, when a helicopter flies over and my husband asks if it is a military helicopter, one of the tour guides turns to me to try to translate. Hmm, maybe my Spanish is better than I thought… As we wrap up our adventure, I’m sad that it is over. They provided us with a huge platter of fresh native fruits and incredible memories.

I am a professional.  Don't try this at home.

I am a professional. Don’t try this at home.

Missouri’s Ladoga Ridge Winery, the Gem North of Kansas City

March 13, 2014 by  


Exploring wineries is kind of a hobby of mine. It may not be a “traditional” hobby, but it’s one of the things that I like to do, therefore I am calling it a hobby. My husband and I check out everything from the vineyards, the architecture of the tasting room and of course, the wine. We talk about what we like about the place or what we would change if it were ours. A few Saturdays back we ventured out to Smithville, Missouri to check out Ladoga Ridge Winery. This little gem is just north of Kansas City but feels worlds away from city life.

When we first drove up, I was pleasantley surprised by the tasting room. I was not expecting this small winery in the country to be so well designed. I loved everything about this place from the decorative arched wood door to the landscaping. The inside of the tasting room was quaint but very tastfully arranged. The staff was friendly and knowledgable about their wines, which is something you would expect, but you’d be surprised how some aren’t.

Ladoga Ridge Winery Collage

The majority of Ladoga Ridge wines are semi-sweet to sweet, right up our alley! If you are not familiar with Midwest wines, then you should know that the Midwest makes great sweet wines.

Ladoga Ridge does offer a handful of semi-dry whites and reds, but the sweet wine is where they shine. Sweet wines go great with dessert, and since I am pretty partial to dessert, perhaps that’s why I prefer it over the drier wines.

B Cause – 100% Catawba grape which has a nice pink color to it and is a great picnic wine.

Toad-A-Lope Red – blended reds to make a semi-sweet finish. It’s best served chilled. No, I’m not crazy, I did say chilled. Sweet reds are better this way. It might take a bottle or 4 to realize this, but you’ll come around. You can thank me later. This wine would be the perfect substitute for water in your brownie recipes. It helps enhance the chocolate flavor. Since you opened up the bottle to make the brownies, you might as well finish it.

Peach – This is hands down the best peach wine I have ever had. Not too sweet or overpowering. I think next time I will have to marinate some fresh peaches in this and serve them with some pound cake.

Strawberry Rhubarb – Like the pie, but better because it’s alcohol.

Blackberry – On the day that we visited, they had their Blackberry wine in the crockpot with mulling spices. If you have never had warm wine with mulling spices (which is a mix of spices like cinnamon and cloves and others I can’t identify but it’s so good) then you are missing out. There is nothing better to warm you up on a cold winter night.

Chococherry Kiss – Dark cherry wine with chocolate flavor mixed in. Do I need to say anything else? It can be served room temperature or chilled. This is most definitely a dessert wine.

Peach Wine

Peach Wine

We will definitely be returning to Ladoga Ridge. We adored everything about this place. I can’t wait to see the vineyards when they are green and lush. With a nice outdoor seating area, plan to bring a picnic and some friends and stay a while.

Outdoor Seating

Outdoor Seating

Even the bathroom has grapes in the sink!

Bathroom Sink

Bathroom Sink

Are you a wine drinker? I’d love to hear your food and wine pairing tips!

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