Monday, December 30, 2013

10 Places I Hope to Go Next Year

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m torn between having spent too much time in the air and having not made it to some of the places I wish to go. The “bucket list” seems to get longer every year, but it also changes as I hear about locations that I hadn’t originally thought of.

My goal is to make it to all 10 of these destinations for their beaches, wine, spirits, food and/or spectacular accommodations. I’ve already been to the last three, but I’m long overdue for a return trip.

Happy New Year no matter where or when you travel! Feel free to add your ideas to the comments.

Panama-This is one of the hottest destinations right now and as more new and unusual hotels get built, my desire to visit grows.

Fiji/Tahiti-If I’m going to head to the South Pacific, I’d like to get as much for the trip as possible. Don’t ask me to choose from all the marvelous islands there.

Tuscany-I have loved every Italian wine region I’ve been to and can’t wait to get to this one. Maybe I’ll even find a house and check out life “under the Tuscan sun.”

Asia-I know, it’s a whole continent, but I’m having so much trouble narrowing it down. It looks like I’ll be doing this one on a cruise with a fellow travel writer, but we haven’t yet picked the ship/itinerary. I’d like to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Hong Kong – at least.

Belize-This has become another hotspot as it becomes developed, but not too much. I’m looking forward to finding out for myself.

New Zealand-As if seeing this beautiful country wasn’t enough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite wine category.

South Africa-Ditto on the wine and scenery, plus I can add in the roar of a lion and stomping of elephants in some of the most luxurious glamping spots in the world.

Hawaii-My last trip to Hawaii was years ago on a Norwegian cruise. The trip went from Honolulu to Honolulu so I got to spend a full day on each of the major islands. Now I’m ready for more exploring.

Israel-Food, wine, history, the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea… one trip in my childhood was definitely not enough.

Montreal-I remember going to Montreal quite a few times growing up as it was close to New York. As an adult, I’ve had too few, too short trips. I’ve been hearing about everything Montreal has to offer a lot lately. It’s time to check it out myself.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holiday Getaways, Cocktails and New Year’s Extravaganza

Think you’ve seen all the Thanksgiving leftover recipes out there? Think again. I bet you haven’t seen cocktails made out of leftovers:

The 56 Holiday feast:
2 parts Jägermeister
2 scoops of cranberry sauce
10 mint leaves
1 lemon slice

Combine in shaker with ice.
Shake well.
Strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig and a lemon wedge.

Sweet Potato smash
2 parts Bärenjäger honey and bourbon
1 scoop of leftover sweet potato puree
3 sage leaves
1/2 part of orange juice

Combine in shaker with ice.
Shake well.
Strain into a rocks glass full of fresh ice.
Garnish with a sage leaf or an orange slice (optional)

The Cosmopolitan Pilgrim
1.5 parts American Harvest
2 scoops of leftover cranberry sauce
3/4 parts fresh lime juice
1/4 part orange liqueur

Combine in shaker with ice.
Shake well.
Strain into a martini glass.
Add ice and shake well, strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a lime wedge

If you are in Chicago this holiday season (and you should be), check out what two chefs are doing with gingerbread.

Executive Chef Randy Reed at the Intercontinental Magnificent Mile built a 10-foot tall gingerbread house from scratch, using 500 lbs of flour, 110 lbs of butter, 1,020 eggs, 320 peppermint candles, 300 carmels and 36 candy canes. You can see the house displayed in the hotel’s lobby.

At the Trump International Hotel Chicago, Executive Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy worked with his team to create a Gingerbread Express – one elevator designated to traveling up to the Sixteen restaurant. To get to the elevator, you’ll pass through four-foot high candy canes, holiday music and 1100 gingerbread bricks.

La Quinta Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria property, has a Chestnuts & Capra package for those heading to California this holiday season. Among the special treats are roasted chestnuts and cocktails (including the George Bailey, Mary Bailey and the Poinsetta), interactive cooking and fudge making demonstrations and, of course, weekly screenings of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which Capra wrote while staying at this resort.

The Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago will be having quite the NewYear’s Eve party this year as they celebrate their 10th anniversary in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of Playboy. This formal gala will include music from Black Cadillac as well as local DJs, and will be hosted by an assortment of Playboy Playmates. Top-shelf cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, gourmet chocolates and desserts will be passed. There will also be before and after parties. Tickets are going fast.

If you’re staying home this New Year’s you might want to consider serving some punch, made with Grand Marnier’s luscious Raspberry Peach…

GM Raspberry Peach Holiday Punch
Created by mixologist George Carney

2 quarts Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
1 ½ cups cinnamon syrup
2 quarts water
1 quart lemon juice
1 quart overproof rum
4 oz apricot brandy

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and serve. 

Optional: freeze raspberries and pieces of peach in purified water and add to punch bowl.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween and Day of the Dead Cocktails

Halloween is a day of costumes and collecting candy for kids. Adults may prefer their sweets in cocktail form, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This year I’ll be in Los Cabos, Mexico, for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a festive holiday that takes place just after Halloween. It seems only fitting that I include some tequila-based libations to cover the Spanish celebrations.

Kahlua Pumpkin Martini
1 ½ parts Kahlua Pumpkin Spice*
1 ½ parts ABSOLUT Vodka

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

*Just tasted this recently and it’s delicious. Try some in your coffee!

Hocus Pocus Punch
1.5 oz Belvedere Vodka
1.5 oz Pomegranate Juice
1.5 oz Orange Juice
Dash Tabasco
Pour orange juice into a highball glass.
Shake rest of ingredients and layer over the top of the orange juice.
Garnish with a small orange disguised as a hallo-lantern.

Spooky Swizzle
2 oz Belvedere Bloody Mary
Pulp from one passion fruit
1 oz Blood orange juice
Dash Simple syrup

Build ingredients over crushed ice into a rocks glass.
Garnish with a slice of ruby red grapefruit.

Malibu® Skulls & Bones
1 part Malibu® Black
1 ½ parts Orange juice
1 ½ parts Pineapple juice
1 ½ parts Cranberry juice

Build in a pint glass with ice.
Garnish with black licorice.

Fright Night in the Grove
2 parts Jägermeister
½ part Reposado tequila
½ Part Simple Syrup
1 part fresh grapefruit juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker.
Add ice and shake well and strain into a rocks glass full of fresh ice.
Garnish with a grapefruit slice and a pinch of salt.

Jalisco Buck
2 oz Piedra Azul Blanco
1 oz Fresh lime juice
1 Large strawberries
3 oz Ginger ale
Muddle strawberries and lime juice at the bottom of a highball glass.
Add tequila and ice, and top with ginger ale.
Garnish with a lime wedge.
Optional: Use a salt rim.

P.S. Take a peek at my appearance this week on CILiving, a local CBS affiliate afternoon program. I made an indoor tailgating menu. Recipes for my Ciao! Guacamole, Almost Mole Chicken and Blackberry Passion Mojito follow the video. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Plan for a Thanksgiving Getaway

While many think of Thanksgiving as a day to fill the house with family and turkey with all the trimmings, that doesn’t always work for everyone. I happen to have a small family scattered around the country. I also know of others who have no family, or just prefer to get away from all the hassle and turn the four day weekend into an ideal vacation.

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Book the perfect cruise Book the perfect cruise
Holiday travel can often be very expensive. This isn’t usually the case with Thanksgiving, especially if you look at places that don’t celebrate the holiday. I once took my mom and daughter to Paris for the long weekend and had no problem using points and miles, and getting bargains on the rest.

This year it will be Mom and me on a Seabourn cruise through the Caribbean. I can’t wait to check out this luxury line. I’ll be tweeting and doing social media along the way and writing lots of stories when I return.

Here are some other ideas for planning a Thanksgiving getaway….

If a cruise of your own sounds good, another one that I may squeeze in before the end of the year is a Viking River Cruise through the Christmas Markets of Europe. There are a number of different itineraries. I’m leaning toward the one that goes through Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. You’ll find some great deals on select cruises before and during the holidays.

 What could be better than Thanksgiving in a castle? AshfordCastle in Ireland, a five star property, is offering a chance to spend three nights for the price of two (and let someone else prepare the feast). This castle is on 350 acres along the shore of the River Cong and Lough Corrib. With only 83 guest rooms, you’ll received personalized attention.

New England is an obvious place for a Thanksgiving celebration. Check out the Hartstone Inn in Camden, Maine. This bed and breakfast has begun offering an “On the Rocks” package that includes welcome cocktails, an hors d’oeurves filled reception, a personalized glass blowing adventure, a five-course tasting dinner for two, deluxe accommodations and a gourmet breakfast for two. Details are available at, or call (800) 788-4823.

If it’s Canadian Thanksgiving you are looking to celebrate, you should check out the Chefs on the Edge Thanksgiving Weekend” at the FogoIsland Inn. It takes place October 11-14. Chefs Todd Perrin, Jeremy Charles, Roary Macpherson, Michelle LeBlanc and Shaun Hussey will join Fogo Island Inn’s Chef Murray McDonald for a weekend that includes: a welcome reception and bonfire; guided hike; seven course gourmet dinner; brunch; dialogue with the chefs; artist-led drawing session; and a private film screening.

Friday, September 6, 2013

CANvitational, Golden Corks and a Masquerade Ball Contest

A few new and exciting events and offers came through my inbox recently that I thought were well worth passing along. Wish I had more free time to check them out myself.

Sun King Brewery, the first brewing in Indianapolis in fifty years, is hosting the inaugural CANvitational on September 28th. This is the first canned craft beer festival to be presented in the Midwest.  More than 30 craft breweries from 16 states will be participating in this street fest, which will also have food trucks lining Georgia Street.

For tickets and more information, visit

Wine lovers should check out the Golden Cork Contest Keel and Curley Winery is having to celebrate their 10th anniversary, which coincides with their millionth bottle. In the spirit of Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket, customers will be looking for golden corks.

If you find a golden cork in any of the bottles from Keel and Curley, you will gather with other winners at the winery on October 10, 2013. There will then be a competition for a grand prize trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley that will include a steam train tour of California wineries.

Keel and Curley, the second largest winery in Florida, has more information on the contest on their website.

One of my favorite wineries in California’s Sonoma region has what looks like a fun event coming up, The Masquerade Ball at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The October 26th event has been dubbed “Sleepy Hollow meets Gatsby.” There will be a DJ, costume contest, themed lounge and even a fortune teller. Most of all, there will be plenty of Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Wines.
The Ball is for those 21 and over and will be held in Coppola’s Barrel Room. You can purchase advance tickets before they sell out at

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Contests You Will Want to Enter

My Keurig was the best present I ever bought myself. I use it every day and – by shopping around for the k-cups and never wasting any coffee, it’s not costing me much. I highly recommend a single cup coffee maker for anyone on the go, living alone, or with a significant other that doesn’t share the same taste in coffee.

I haven’t seen the Suncana brewer by Blu Tigres yet, but I can tell you not to give up a chance to win one. This single service machine claims to offer better quality than its competitors and has environmentally friendly coffee pods. After you make your coffee, the pods, which are 100% biodegrable, can be used as fertilizer for your garden!

If you got to the Blue Tigres website and sign up for their newsletter, you will have a chance to win one of their Suncana coffee makers. Hurry, though, the contest is over July 1st.

From coffee to vodka (why not?), I have another offer and this one is an even better prize. Russian Standard Vodka has launched an “Incredible Pursuits” competition. This nationwide search is looking for extraordinary innovators. If you are an entrepreneur – from any industry – you can compete to win $10,000 to finance your endeavor. In addition, the winner will receive mentor sessions from an expert in their field, a party in Miami (with three of your closest friends) to celebrate your achievement and a two page feature in a number of regional magazines.

Russian Standard Vodka, which was started by Roustam Tariko using top quality Russian winter wheat and water of glacial origin, is now available around the world, selling nearly three million cases a year.  It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has launched the contest,
Enter the contest by creating a profile at and to garner support from their friends and local communities. 
Ask supporters to vote for your project. The voting process continues through August 9th. Voting will account for 25% of the overall score and entrants will also be judged by Russian Standard Vodka for Passion, Perseverance, and Ingenuity.

Visitors will be able to review their peers submissions and vote up to five times each day. There will be a prize for frequent voters of a set of four of the brand’s signature Moscow Mule copper mugs. Voting for round one ends August 9, 2013, and then semifinals will be voted on August 19-September 13. The winner will be announced October 1st.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Design Your Own Luggage

Once in a while, something comes into my inbox that I just can't resist. That happened this morning when I found out about MyFly Bag.
I've seen offers of customized luggage before, but they are always either priced very high or require you purchasing a large quantity (or entire set). MyFly Bag is nothing like that. You can order one piece of carry-on at the very reasonable cost of $129.99.

MyFly Bag Personalized Carry-On With MyFly Bag, you can choose from more than a dozen colors or you can upload a photo onto your luggage. The photo can be of your family, favorite destination or family pet. You can even put your company logo on the luggage and/or add your own line of text. The MyFly Bag is 22 x 13.5 x 9, meeting the carry-on requirements of most major airlines. It is a lightweight shell with multiple pockets inside and 360 degree spinner wheels.

I'd love to see some of the interesting custom suitcases so send me a photo after you design one!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom’s Day Continues All Month with Spa Giveway

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hardworking mothers out there who sacrifice a lot. Spa Week, Smarter Travel’s SniqueAway and  have teamed to help honor moms throughout the month of May with a Shop. Spa. Stay. Giveway.

Throughout the month of May, you can enter for a chance to win this ultimate prize package by visiting the Spa Week website.  The Shop. Spa. Stay. Giveway will continue throughout the month of May.  
The winner will be announced in June and receive a $1,000 shopping spree to Shoptiques to pick up a new wardrobe, $200 in hotel credits from SniqueAway for a well-deserved vacation and 1 $1,000 spa & wellness gift card to use to be pampered all year long at your choice of 7,500 spas.
Complete rules are available on the website and you do not need to purchase anything to win. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Follow the Spirits to Cinco de Mayo

It’s funny how my favorite holidays seem to be based around food and drink. Cinco de Mayo is no exception. While I am perfectly happy with a shot of tequila or a mango margarita, I also welcome some new uses for the Mexican spirit.

Here’s some recipes to try in celebration of the fifth of May…

To start your day:
Bloody Maria
1 oz Tequila
6 oz Tomato juice
Horseradish, tabasco sauce, worcestershire sauce, lime juice, celery salt and pepper to taste
Celery stick

Pour ingredients into a shaker.
Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with ice.
Garnish with a celery stick instead of a stirrer.

For the afternoon on the porch:
Blue Lagoon Margarita
1 1/2 oz
3/4 oz Blue Curacao
1/2 oz Pineapple juice
Splash of Lemon/lime soda
Splash of Lime juice

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake well and strain into a rocks glass.

Before dinner:
Mojito Lamaica
2 oz Casa Noble Crystal Tequila
2 oz Hibiscus simple syrup (see below)
3 Mint leaves
½ oz Lime juice
½ oz Lemon Juice
Lime wheel for garnish

Hibuscus Simple Syrup-
2/3 cup Sugar
2/3 cup Water
¼ Cup Dried hibiscus flowers
In a saucepan, combine water and sugar and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves.
Remove from heat and stir in dried hibiscus.
Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Strain into a glass jar and cover.
Refrigerate until needed (for up to two weeks).

Fill cocktail shaker and double rocks glass with ice and mint sprigs.
Add tequila, hibiscus syrup, lime juice and lemon juice and shake vigorously.
Strain into glass and garnish with lime.

For dessert:
Brave Bull
2 oz Blanco Tequila
1 oz Kahlua

Pour tequila into an old fashioned glass filled with ice.
Add Kahlua and swirl to mix ingredients.

If for some reason you aren’t a big tequila fan, try this:
South American Margarita
1.5 oz KAPPA Pisco
0.5 oz Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
0.5 oz Agave nectar
1 oz Lime juice
Lime wheel for garnish

Pour ingredients into a shaker with ice.
Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
Garnish with lime.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Just Gin and Dessert Vodka

I’ve been sampling and mixing again. This time it was some unusually flavored vodkas. It involved some creativity, but it was worth it in the end.  Before I get to that, I’d like to share a piece of news that came across my inbox.  It looks like my favorite spirit is getting more popular in the Big Apple.

The New York City restaurant Oceana has unveiled a “Just Gin” program, created in partnership with Simon Ford. The former ambassador to Plymouth & Beefeater Gin put together a list for the restaurant that includes 40 varieties of gin.

Ford made sure the list included a selection of gins, including London Dry, Navy Strength and Genever. He also worked with Oceana to create four types of house-made tonic waters.  To make get more people to try the spirit, the restaurant has also put together a five-course tasting menu that is also available with gin cocktail pairings.

I’ve enjoyed almost all of Van Gogh’s vodkas, finding their flavors to be quite realistic. This was definitely the case with the PB&J. While peanut butter and jelly vodka may sound quite odd, it really wasn’t. I sampled it straight and with some grape juice. Both were very good and not overly sweet. If you’d like to get more creative, here’s a few recipes to try:

PB&J Frappe
Created by Cooking Channel’s Nadia G, Star of “Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen”

½ oz Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
1 cup of milk
½ cup of your favorite vanilla ice cream
½ banana
1 heaping tbsp. of smooth peanut butter
1 heaping tbsp. of raspberry jam/or fresh strawberries

Blend all ingredients together.
Serve in a tall glass with a banana slice or raspberry garnish.

Salted Chocolate Peanut Shooter
Created by Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru

¾ oz. Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
½ oz Van Gogh Rich Dark Chocolate
½ oz. Chocolate Milk

Shake ingredients together well with ice.
Strain into a shot glass.
Garnish with whipped cream and salt.
To drink, moisten surface of your skin, add salt, lick the slat and shoot the shot.

I also received two bottles from Three Olives, one Cake Vodka and one S’mores Vodka. I honestly didn’t find these flavors great straight, but I did try some recipes with them. The Campfire Martini was my favorite with the S’Mores.  

Campfire Martini
3 parts Three Olives S'mores Vodka
Crushed graham crackers
Chocolate syrup

Dip the rim of martini glass in chocolate syrup and coat with crushed graham crackers.
Pour Three Olives S'mores into martini shaker filled with ice.
Shake and strain into martini glass.
Garnish with a skewer of three toasted marshmallows!

As for the Cake Vodka, it was not enough to stand on its own, but did add a bit more flavor to the S’mores in the Want S’more Cake recipe.

Want S’more Cake
1 Part Three Olives S’mores Vodka
1 Part Three Olives Cake Vodka
Whipped cream
Graham cracker

Pour all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously.
Strain into a shot glass.
Garnish with whipped cream and a graham cracker.

Photos of Oceana by Paul Johnson

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grab the Luck of the Irish with these St. Patrick’s Day Treats

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun holiday full of celebrating, which turns into serious imbibing for some people. Here are some suggestions if you want to play it safe by staying off the roads and getting some friends together for a party at home.

Kilbeggan’s Irish Whiskey was one of my big finds over the last year. The double-distillation gives this whiskey a smooth, but distinguishable flavor. It’s fairly new to the U.S., but worth looking for. Try it in this St. Patty’s Day cocktail with another thing I’ve recently discovered I love – ginger beer.

Kilbeggan Irish Storm
1½ parts Kilbeggan® Irish Whiskey
3 parts Ginger Beer
1 part Fresh Lemon Sour

Add ingredients one at a time in a tall highball glass.
Garnish with a lemon wedge.

My friend Claire Smith has done some of her magic again for the upcoming holiday. Here are two of the recipes Belvedere Vodka’s Head of Spirit Creation & Mixology created  to keep you thinking green.

Green Tea-ni Thyme
2 oz  Belvedere Lemon Tea
¾ oz Lemon Juice
¾ oz Green Tea Syrup
3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme

Gentle press thyme in base of shaker.
Add remaining ingredients and shake hard over ice.
Fine strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a sprig of thyme.

Kiss Me I’m Irish
2 oz Belvedere Vodka
Dash Elderflower cordial or syrup
3 chunks pink grapefruit
Muddle grapefruit with elderflower.

Add crushed ice and churn.
Re-top with crushed ice and garnish with a pink grapefruit wedge.
And, for those who want to stick with wine regardless of the holiday, try this from Diageo.

Pot Of Gold
0.5oz Orange liqueur
1 oz Sour mix*
1 dash Aromatic cocktail bitters
Splash Soda water
Orange wheel

Add ingredients one at a time in a glass filled with ice and stir
Garnish with an orange wheel.

*Simple Syrup:
Boil 1 cup of water.
Add 1 cup of sugar, stir until dissolved.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Store in a container in your refrigerator.