My Kind of Town: Chicago

I am knee-deep in an extended project for Travel + Leisure magazine, spotlighting all that is fabulous in my hometown of Chicago. The best part? I get to explore the nooks and crannies of my city to cull  the best experiences for locals and tourists alike. Here are some of my favorite finds.

Wrigley Field, View from Tilt, the New Attraction at the John Hancock Center

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Caffe Streets, Wicker Park

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Hyde Park – 57th Street Books, Robie House, Plein Air Cafe

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Lincoln Park – Nature Walk, Green City Market

logan square

Logan Square – Longman and Eagle, Scofflaw, Billy Sunday

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Family Travel Must-Haves!

Since I travel so much with my family, I field a ton of questions from fellow parents on how to navigate the travel process. Here are some answers to common challenges of travelling on an extended trip with kids.

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Q: What are your travel must haves? kid travel must haves?

In order to aim for a stress free trip, kids need to be equipped with activities to get them through transit and  potential lulls in activities and depending upon your child’s age, pack up an array of books, coloring books, small games, crossword puzzles, etc. of course, video is essential to nip issues in the bud. It’s always a good idea to have a few movies pre-downloaded. Also, it is critical to pack double the amount of food you think you need for flights, car rides and even a day out. This means snacks, meals and, most important, “forbidden” foods to use as bribery to coerce good behavior.

Q: Tips to get kids excited and engaged with the destination?

I like to show them the map and discuss the destination and how it is different from where we live. If they are a bit older, I think creating a worksheet with questions about the destination is a great way to get them invested in the trip. You can (pretend) to put them in charge of explaining the background of the destination, the culture, the food and even specific activities. I also like to present an array of activities and let them help pick out what we will do.

Sample Worksheet:

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Q: What preventative measures can you pack in case of illness?

Always have a “pharmacy in the sky” stocked with Kids Advil, Tums, band aids, ear plugs, benadryl cream and cortisone. My new must-bring are the Be Kool stick on sheets; they cool the head and calm headaches in minutes. http://www.drugstore.com/be-koool-soft-gel-sheets-for-kids/qxp88938

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Have a great trip!

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The Ideal London Apartment

Home rentals are an attractive option for a travelling family. That is, when the property matches the images on the internet. Having had a recent bait and switch in Provence where a dilapidated farm house had been substituted for the “villa” I had rented, the predictability of hotel rooms has been attractive. But, hotel rooms can get claustrophobic, especially when travelling abroad. While making plans for Spring Break in London, I heard about something new. Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living had packaged the idea  of a prime apartment rental with all of the benefits of staying in a five star hotel. The rewards of a rental without the risk? In Mayfair? I booked on the spot.

Read the rest of my piece on home rentals abroad here.

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London with the Family

Sometimes the best trips are the most laid back; the leisurely afternoons where random wandering yields the stuff of scrapbooks (or, pinterest boards).Having hustled my kids to every landmark last year, I decided to ditch the psychotic sightseeing and spend our week in London exploring the city with minimal structure.

Here is the full story which appeared in Travel & Leisure:

london with the family

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Parenting With A Passport

Have Kids, Will Travel. Just Not To Disney World.

I am one of those parents who consider a trip to Disney pure punishment. Instead, Our family trips (I have 2 daughters) are culture & foodie fueled getaways designed for parents and kids to get inspired and have a blast. At this stage in my life, I spend every extra dollar on international travel with my kids. Why? Wanderlust defines me. Since the age of 14, I have finagled international trips-air courier, exchange student, covering fashion shows for magazines-on a whim. I have ridden elephants in Thailand, driven to Morocco from northern France, Hitch hiked through Spain and stayed in the Sex & The City suite at Plaza Athenee, Paris. Then, I had kids. Glamorous getaways came to a screeching halt. For five years, travel –if we dared-was based on the availability of kid camps. Then, as if by magic, everything changed. Diapers and strollers became accoutrements of the past. International travel was on the horizon.

For the past four years we have dedicated three weeks off the summer to globetrotting. Provence? Budapest? London? Florence? Corsica? We have divided and conquered them all. Yes , the process of planning such a getaway is daunting. It requires research and effort. But, as a working mom of two, I can attest to the do- ability factor. And the payoff. Travelling requires kids to step outside their comfort zone.  Seeing and doing the unexpected inspires question asking and curiosity on every front. Engagement and interaction (versus burying one’s nose in an ipad) is the foundation of learning.

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There are rules. The kids have to try every type of food I give them and cannot moan and complain about lifestyle differences. E.g. eating late, siesta, (nothing open from 2-4), annoying cigarette smoke, slow service. And, before we go, they have to fill out worksheets about where we are visiting and historical significance of each location. This way, they are invested in the trip. This year we have an incredible itinerary: Iceland, Amsterdam, Spain, Morocco and England.

Fasten your seatbelts! I’ll be blogging from the road, so stay tuned!

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Best in Glow: My Afternoon With a Target Beauty Concierge

I am a beauty warrior. From anti-aging serums to avante-garde sunscreen potions, I have an unquenchable thirst to hunt and gather products to make women look and feel their best. As every woman knows, the beauty industry is vast encompassing hair care, makeup, skincare, body cleaners/moisturizers and an endless parade of accessories to accompany the products. Even for a beauty editor, it can be overwhelming. Last week, while out hunting in downtown Chicago, I discovered an incredible resource: Target offers complimentary beauty concierges! Strolling the aisles in a chic black apron are hard core beauty enthusiasts employed to help match products to customers’ needs. In contrast to the commissioned-based sales staff manning counters in department stores, these employees are not affiliated with a single brand. They offer unbiased advice. And, they are equipped with mini iPads to easily access the minutiae of product information often requested by shoppers. My concierge –Keisha Taylor — really knew fact from fiction. I asked her a slew of questions. Which conditioner is best for color treated hair? (L’Oreal Sulfate- Free Everpure Moisture Conditioner) How can avoid parabens in sunscreens ?(La Roche Posay/Neutrogena). Is expensive prestige mascara much different from the mass version? (no) Then we got to the hair tools aisle. I needed a new hair dryer to manage my super thick mane. Instead of pointing me towards the most expensive option, she recommended the titanium ceramic Con-air which she uses. Why? This light-as-air version would save me time and energy with each blowout.

In this age of virtual, faceless consumerism, it is nice to experience old school customer service.

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MY PICK WITH KEISHA (ATK+ Keisha Taylor-Target Beauty Concierge)

Beauty Buddies: I was so impressed with Keisha that I asked her to supply me with her 5 top beauty picks at Target.

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Skincare:

VichyLiftActiv Serum 10 - This little product gives you an initial lift and plumpness to your face but it’s even more than surface effects. So while it gives immediate results it also works over time. It’s great for anybody who’s ever wondered if they should be using anti aging products–anywhere from your early 20’s on up.

Laneige BB Cushion – Everyone is loving the 5-1 products these days and this one is very light weight. I can’t use foundation because it makes me break out. From this BB Cushion I get the coverage of a foundation but it’s still very light and hydrating. I use medium but I’ll swap to dark in the summer when I start to get more color.

SPF:

La Roche Posay Anthelios 60 Face & Body Melt In Sunscreen – It’s totally lightweight and has a nice, light fragrance that fades away after awhile. It covers UVA and UVB spectrum damage and it’s not sticky, even though it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Cosmetics:

Pixi Large Lash Mascara – It doesn’t clump and it separates the lashes amazingly while giving natural looking volume and length. If you’re looking for natural looking length and volume this is your pick.

Hair Care:

Umberto Repair Treatment Masque - For $12 it’s a complete steal. If you color your hair or heat damage this product does salon quality repair on your hair. It truly does wonders!

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Best in Summer Beauty

Au Revoir Memorial Day, Bonjour Summer! After this bone-chilling winter, I could not be more excited for balmy climes and the beach. First step? A beauty switcheroo. Similar to swapping out one’s seasonal wardrobe, women to need replace the ultra heavy winter potions and lotions with products that jive with summer needs. That means bold nail polishes, lighter weight moisturizers, coral glosses and hair spritzes to prevent hair color from fading.

Here are my go-to products:

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1. Urban Decay Naked 3 Palette, $54

2. Kerastase Huile Celeste, $40

3. Derma MD sunscreen, $37

4. Kat Burki Beauty Elixir, $42

5. Essie Nail Polish in “Lapiz of Luxury”, $8.50

6. Pixi Beauty Bronzer, $18

7. Chanel Reflets D’ete De Chanel Levres Scintillantes Glossimer, $29.50

8. Pantene Hair Mask, $7.99

9. Olay Micro Sculpting Face Cream, $30

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Mom Must Have: Beauty SOS Kit

How On the Go Gals Can  Prevent Beauty Break Downs

Beauty crises happen every day. How to prevent being caught in a mascara free zone? Always keep a beauty kit filled with five minute fixes in your car or office. This way, when the call for a last minute rendezvous occurs, you can freshen up in a flash. Here is my story published on She Knows.

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“Trendy” Entertaining

MY DINNER PARTY BASED ON SPRING FASHION TRENDS

It all started with a show stopping 11 course meal at Grant Achatz’s gastro palace NEXT in Chicago last month. The intense flavors and crazy modern pairings were the stuff of food porn fantasies. The innovation of the meal left my meat muddled mind (the meal was a steakhouse theme ) reeling. I wanted to take this idea home and reinterpret it on a smaller scale for an intimate group of high concept loving friends. I thought about spring runway trends and the correlations between food and fashion. Why not compose a meal entirely based upon spring trends? I contacted my friend Charlie Baggs, acclaimed chef and founder of Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations, who develops flavors, menus and products for an international array of brands and restaurants. I sat down with his team and tossed out some adjectives: “edgy”, “contrasts”, “global accents”, “elegance” and a creative firestorm erupted. For “global accents”, why not a colorful roasted beet salad with skordalia and a goat cheese mousee to kick things off? Then, for “edgy”, a toasted farro salad with tangy morel mushrooms, grilled ramps and a piece of dehydrated pancetta that resembled leather. For the “elegance” entrée, a veal tenderloin sous vide would be served with pickled radish and fiddlehead ferns beautifully arranged atop a red wine yogurt demi glaze. With the menu sorted out, I called my friend Alyssa Vitrano to compose drinks pairings. The mastermind of popular wine blog Grapefriend, Alyssa  has a cult following for sassy  narratives that fuse wine with pop culture “moments” that capture the royals drinking in New Zealand, the Oscars’ champagne orgy, the presidential trail  and shows like Scandal and Game of Thrones. Without hesitation, Alyssa booked a flight to Chicago and charted out a plan. A fruity Greek Rose (Kir Yianni Akakies) would enhance the “global accents” of the beets. A hoppy saison ale would bring out the earthiness of the grains. A lush Pinot Noir (Domaine Carneros Famous Gate) for the juicy and elegant entrée. Of course, the meal would be preceded by a bevy of bubbles.

Spring party menu

Glamour is always the driving force behind my dinner parties. The key? Fabulous florals (thanks, Bukiety!) groovy place settings, romantic lighting and just a touch of quirk. I love homemade touches and asked my 8 year old to craft “bespoke” name cards for each guest with an artistic flourish hat captured his/her personality. A candlelit Buddha would preside  over the festivities.

Cocktail hour is key to set the tone for a dinner party. Must haves: Lots of champagne and a tableau of interesting nibbles that include  a cheese board, crudité and something unexpected like maple and bacon potato chips. If possible, invite a trumpet player to kick up the energy. Musician extraordinaire Stephen Burns of Fulcrum Point New Music Project tooted everyone into a grand mood.

The meal was sublime, a creative tour de force of food, fashion, music and wine. It was a lot of work but the payoff of spending time with great friends was well worth it.Viva the dinner party!

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Mother’s Day With Birchbox

A BEAUTIFUL MOTHER’S DAY SOIREE WITH BIRCHBOX

I am  a huge fan of Birchbox. I love the idea of a curated $10  beauty box showing up at my door each month.  I love the idea of discovering under-the-radar brands from distant lands, And, I absolutely love not shopping for beauty products on line and avoiding a trek to a retailer. So, when Birchbox asked me to host a Mother’s Day event for them in NYC, I jumped at the chance.

Birchbox Invite

A select group of mom bloggers and media were invited to usher in spring weather by partaking  in a morning of pampering at the Gramercy Park Hotel. After dropping off their kids, it was all about talking beauty and getting glam. There were makeup touch ups by Jouer Cosmetics (obsessed with the primer) , manicures by Color Club Nail Lacquer (it’s all about baby blue) and style tips distributed freely by yours truly. Bonus: the lovely and extremely pregnant-with -twins Birchbox founder Katia Beauchamp was on hand to get glam and chat with the ladies.

Birchbox Collage

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Everyone left with perfect nails, a flawless face and a most excellent swag bag.  What can I say? Moms and Birchbox are a match made in primping heaven.

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