The Newbie Guide to Airbnb

A few things to learn from our experience here: it needs to be the right place to be worth it. Don’t get me wrong, every place we stayed was nice but we felt most comfortable in locations that were clearly vacation properties or made to be guesthouses. While staying in Boston, we stayed in someone’s home that felt a little too much like we were staying in a stranger’s home. When I woke up in the morning and saw a picture of her family member on the nightstand, it just felt like I was trespassing, I struggled to feel comfortable in her home. She was very welcoming and hospitable, it was just a learning curve for us with AirBnB.

AirBNB Newbie Checklist:

1. Set up clear expectations on arrival times and how to access the property. (make a plan B for if you need a late or early arrival, especially if the host does not live near the property).
2. Provide a description of your party when booking (if you have a child, if they need childproofing, how many are traveling, etc). Make the post personable.
3. Ask some questions. (Do they live there? If you plan on preparing any meals, is the kitchen stocked with any basics?)
4. Learn about the local area. (Ask the host if there is public transportation near by. Ask for take-out or local restaurant suggestions. Ask about the exterior of the property if it is in a hard to find location).
5. Treat the property as if it were your own and remember the basics you learned in kindergarten: Be respectful, be kind and clean up after yourself.

Our Newbie Experiences: (we recommend every place we visited with 5 stars!)

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 11.34.44 PM

Burlington, VT (our favorite of the bunch)
I think we had an outstanding first experience in Vermont at the Carriage House in Burlington. Mary Ann left a chilled bottle of wine on the table to welcome us. Provided access to the property through a keyless code entry (that she sent ahead of our arrival). She stocked the pantry with spices and some Vermont products (coffee, cream, jam, peanut butter, soaps) and made sure we had laundry detergent. She checked in on us, but it never felt overbearing. The suite was beautifully designed and was clearly a guest house (with no personal belongings). It felt like renting a furnished condo with a fantastic welcome.

Wells Beach, ME
Our second experience was a vacation rental property steps from the beach. It wasn’t fancy, but it was good for what we needed. The kitchen was furnished but they didn’t provide any welcoming basics like Mary Ann in Vermont. They had a lobster pot which was perfect, but we did learn that we need to ask before we go to see if we need to bring a condo kit (spices, cooking stuff, cleaners, etc). There wasn’t a view but we knew that going in to it.

Boston, MA
Our third property of the trip was in Boston. When we drove into an industrial looking area I was a little nervous. Casey’s place was on the third level and I wish we would have talked a little more, there was a dangerous stair case and it stressed me out with Maggie, but Doug figured out a solution and we kept a close eye on her. Like I said earlier, it was a very cool space, but Casey clearly lived there and we couldn’t get over how it felt like we were living in a stranger’s house.

So our personal guidelines for AirBnB:
1. Vacation Rentals – Yes
2. Guesthouses – Yes
3. Personal homes – not for us.

So will we use AirBnB again? Absolutely. You can’t beat the unique vacation experiences. However, our suggestion is to overly communicate with the hosts to have clear expectations and enjoy to the fullest.

Chicago Skyline

Chicago: Top Chef Guide

So I am a big fan of Top Chef. I have watched it from the original episode and have found that the talent on the show delivers when you visit their restaurants. I put together this guide for some friends about a year ago and was reminded of it when I had the chance to visit a Rick Bayless restaurant on a recent layover in O’Hare. This is a city that loves it’s food and has seen a number of chef-testants over the years on Bravo’s hit show Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. Here are a few of my favorite characters from the show and their restaurants:

Chicago Top Chef Restaurant GuideGirl and the Goat 
season 4 winner: Stephanie Izard
809 W. Randolph

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 4:30pm – 11:00pm . Friday – Saturday 4:30pm – 12:00am

Girl & the Goat has been serving fun foods, craft beers, and making wine in a rustic and bad ass environment since summer 2010. The restaurant opens at 4:30 every day, and stays open until 11pm on weeknights and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays (until those last late night eaters scrape their fork across the plate for the last time, or finish licking their plates until they’re shiny and clean). The Goat’s menu is divided into three categories: Vegetable, Fish, and of course Meat–while vegetable, fish, or meat are respectively the main stars of their categories, there are crossovers in each area so you’ll get a little bit of everything. Bread is baked daily, and there are always new creations on the menu.

Doug and I loved this place. We sat outside with Maggie and enjoyed our community table style experience. Mag’s was a fan of the goat (we got an incredible pasta dish that was a special that night). The bread was a “I will remember this for years” flavor experience, so make sure to make room for carbs when you visit! 


Frontera - Rick Bayless Top Chef Frontera2XOcO
season 1 winner  Top Chef Masters: Rick Bayless
449 North Clark Street (enter on Illinois St.) 

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 8am–9pm, Friday & Saturday: 8am–10pm, Sunday & Monday: Closed

Part of Mexican street food’s allure is it’s rustic immediacy—experiencing the aromas, sights and sounds of each dish being crafted, interacting with the cooks, customizing your choices. That’s why your first step into XOCO is a step into our kitchen, where each torta is built, each baked good is fashioned, each hot chocolate is whipped to a froth as you watch. Just as street food stalls attract passersby with the rustic allure of wood fires and boldly aromatic offerings, the centerpiece of XOCO’s kitchen is its wood-burning oven where tortas get crisped and suckling pigs for cochinita pibil and lamb for barbacoa are braised overnight in banana leaves.

Tortas Frontera
O’Hare International Airport:
Terminal 1 / B11 – 5:30am-9:30pm **
Terminal 3 / K4 – 5:30am-9:30pm **
Terminal 5 / M12 – 6:00am-9:30pm **
** Depending on flight schedules. Restaurants will remain open until the last scheduled flight.

Tortas Frontera features hand-crafted tortas, fresh-made guacamole and hand-shaken margaritas. Now, the type of quick-service gourmet you expect to find in a downtown hotspot is available (to go!) at the nation’s busiest airport.

I will now gladly stop over in O’Hare (which used to be one of my least favorite airports in the country). This has got to be the only time I have ever seen a chef tasting on the line at an airport restaurant. They have a dedication to quality flavors here that makes it clear that this is not just a celebrity chef endorsement (like the wolfgang puck stands). The housemade chips and guac was some of the best I have ever had. Can’t wait for my next trip! 


GE Bistro
season 1 Top Chef Masters: Graham Elliot
841 W. Randolph St.

Hours: Sunday: 11am-4pm, Tuesday – Thursday: 5pm-10pm, Friday -Saturday: 5pm-11pm, Monday: Closed.

A host stand made from a Marshall amplifier. Devotional candles dedicated to “saints” Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Trotter and many more. A cocktail named for Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Background tunes recognizable by their bass lines — which is good, because when the restaurant is full, subwoofer sound is all one can discern. It’s fair to say that G.E.B. revels in its rockin’ inclinations. The monogram stands for Graham Elliot Bistro, and by all appearances it’s the casual counterpart to Graham Elliot’s eponymous two-Michelin-star restaurant in River North. In reality, G.E.B. is the restaurant the chef had in mind in 2008, when he opened Graham Elliot after leaving Avenues, at the time one of Chicago’s most experimental restaurants.

Haven’t been here yet, but it is on the top of my list for our next trip to Chicago. If you make it here – let me know!  

What are some of your favorite foodie places in Chicago?

#series: 5 tips for the business traveler

5 Tips for the Business Traveler: Always remember your parking spot - take a picture on your phone of the wayfinding - the latest pic will lead you back to your car. -

5 Travel Tips Travel Tips 55 Travel Tips5 Travel Tips

I have some go-to things I do for business travel. I have a system for packing that maybe crazy but I am a speedster through security. I have every pocket organized so I know where I stashed my favorite pen or the gum when my ears start popping at 5000 feet. But these are things everyone does (well at least I hope I am not the only crazy out there). Here are the tips I try to follow as I travel about the country…

1. Remember where you parked.
Seriously – you don’t want to be wandering the parking deck at midnight pressing the panic button (been there). I now have a system – I take a picture of the location I parked with my phone and then grab my phone as I head out to the parking deck, look up the last dated photo and it leads me to my car (without having to reach for the panic button) every time.

2. Stop and Enjoy.
I purposely fill my travel days with non-stop work. Some of this is due to necessity and some of it is so I won’t miss my family. But even when I am traveling solo, it is important to realize that I am blessed. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel and see the world.  So take a moment – write an email while overlooking the Bellagio Fountain, walk down to the beach in the morning before work while in Santa Monica or grab coffee in bustling downtown Cincinnati at Coffee Emporium with the locals. 

3. Wifi is your bff on flights
I think I am most productive on my flights from DTW to LAX. I work furiously until the battery dies. I feel like I get almost 2 work days out of 5 hours. I am ninja focused and the wifi is so slow, I can’t do anything but email. (pinterest is just painful to load at 10k feet). Spring for the wifi – it’s worth the peace of mind.

4. Yelp and eat like a local
If you are not fortunate enough to have a local guide (client or co-worker), hit up yelp to find the best new restaurants, hidden happy hours or killer views. Sit at the bar, make friends and feel like a local. I make my selection based on a place that has over 50 reviews with a rating of 4 or higher. When you find the negative reviews are things like: they only have microbrews on tap… or the food is too snobby – well I know I have found my place.

5. Remember the family and always bring something home. 
It is easy to forget when I am tired of traveling that my husband would have loved to have seen this restaurant or liked this shop. While I can’t bring along Doug and Mags on every trip, I can bring something back to let them know that I thought of them. I always try to find something unique to the city – no lame postcards allowed. This picture is courtesty of Bottega Louie – a place I ate at and then brought back some of these wonderful cookies to Doug.

And yep, I am typing this at 4 in the morning LA time because I am on another business trip and the time change gets me everytime! Happy Travels.


labor day welcomes cider, donuts & fall

In my small midwestern town, a single tree is responsible for signaling the onset of fall. And with this first burst of fire engine red leaves, we also welcome cider and donut season. Our town is surrounded by apple orchards (I have 8 within a 5 mile radius of my house). My husband and I set out on a Saturday or Sunday and scout out our favorites and then proceed to accumulate the calories while judiciously critiquing each stops cider and donuts. We have developed a score card (an analog version of yelp if you will) that will help to denote the subtleties of the cider (clarity, crispness, sweetness, spice and finish) and the characteristics of the cake donuts (sweet, crunchy, soggy, soft, spice and freshness). This may be a Michigan thing, but as summer fades away and fall blankets the country, there are many scenic drives that can include an orchard along the way.

our itinerary:

Last year, I utilized the mapquest app on my iphone and entered in each location avoiding all highways (this helps to ensure we hit some scenic routes along the way – not too mention that most of these orchards are located on winding roads surrounded by changing leaves).

Westview Orchards: Home of the climbing goats. (no I am not kidding, they literally have goats that climb) This place is a beacon for families, which also means it can be pretty crowded on the weekends. They offer a petting zoo, hayrides, corn mazes and also offer a country store. It offers quite a bit of entertainment, but most everything has a small fee associated with it. As for the cider and donuts: The cider tastes spiced and doesn’t have a distinct crispness. The donuts are slightly crunchy and they load on the sugar and cinnamon.

Verellen Orchards: Don’t be fooled by the lack of hoopla surrounding this store, they offer the best cider hands down. It’s crisp, refreshing, not too sweet. There isn’t much more than a parking lot here – but it is worth finding a spot. The donuts this year are wonderful – crunchy and light with the perfect amount of cinnamon and sugar.

Millers Big Red Orchards: These guys offer stuff for the kids on the weekends (ranging from a petting zoo to bounce houses) and they have a good selection of fresh produce as well as their cider and donuts. Their cider is on the tart side but it compliments their donuts which I find a bit heavy. Perhaps the best item on their menu is their tomato soup. These guys are known for their heirloom tomato festival every August and they have mastered this recipe.

Hys Cider Mill: Located quite a bit north of Detroit, these guys are truly a great place for picking apples and having cider. A couple of years they even advertised having some of their staff dress up as storm troopers – so you got to believe they have a sense of humor. The cider was sweet and spicy and the donuts were some of the best – crunchy, light and fresh.

Rochester Cider Mill: Located off Rochester Road, this cider mill is surrounded by subdivisions (so I am not sure where they get their apples) but they have the best donuts around – hands down. Their cider is good – sweet, slightly crisp and spicy but their donuts are a work of art. Consistently they are the crunchiest crust of cinnamon and sugar with a light and fluffy cake.

Stony Creek Cider Mill: With apple crates greeting you and a hand-painted sign, this is perhaps the most picturesque cider mill for me. When I drive by this mill, I often think this is what a cider mill would look like on a movie set – nostalgic and genuine. The cider and donuts are average but I feel the ambiance makes up for it. They also have dog shows just about every weekend.

Hope you enjoy this fall – make sure to post your favorite cider mill here and give a review.