I have spent a lot of time flying this year. Nearly 64,000 miles jetting from here to there. I have had insightful conversations, learned from million milers and have had my fair share of the middle seat. Some may think I would get tired of flying but every time I break through the clouds and see the wonder and beauty of this incredible world, I am awestruck. #wheelsup
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!)
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.
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.
We were looking forward to all things lobster on this trip and our many lobster rolls did not disappoint. However, my favorite #lobsterfest experience was our impromptu lobster broil on the beach. We were getting an epic lobster roll from the 5 Islands Lobster Company (found through this wsj review on the best lobster rolls in Maine). The location is probably a postcard somewhere. It was beautiful, hard to find and quintessentially Maine. The marina had a fry shack, creamery stand and a lobster shack at the end of the dock where you could buy the “bugs” fresh from the boat. Something new that we saw throughout Maine was the soft shell lobster (only available fresh because they can’t be shipped). The meat inside is sweeter and a bit smaller than the traditional hard shell and it surprised us how easy it was to just break open the shell when cooked.
Maggie and Doug picked out the lobsters in the back room. We found a fantastic recipe online as our foundation and added some of our favorite ingrediants, and picking up some fresh clams, sausage, corn, garlic, beer, potatoes and onions. And in about an hour, we had the makings of our feast.
We cooked the boil in our condo (because open fires weren’t allowed on the beach). We were only a few steps away from the beach so we packed up the finished product in a box with two wine glasses, some fantastic Vermont Cider and our beach bag.
Maggie had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and played in the sand while we had quite the feast while watching the sunset. It was a gorgeous night and the lobster was some of the best I have ever tasted. It was the perfect vacation moment. I felt loved, fulfilled and happy to be with those I love most in one of the most beautiful places in America.
Recipe: Beer Lobster Boil
2 Live Lobsters
1 Pound of Clams (Make sure to clean them properly)
3 Garlic Gloves, sliced
Medium Onion, diced
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Can (tall boy) of Pilsner Beer
2 Ears of Corn (Cut in halves)
1-2 Pounds of Small Redskin Potatoes
Half Pound of Andouille Sausage
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large boil pot, sautee onion and garlic in the butter until translucent. Add quartered sausage and sear for about 3-5 minutes. Add the beer and deglaze the pot. Add corn and potatoes to the pot. Layer the clams and Lobsters on top. Squeeze half a lemon’s juice into the pot. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Steam for about 15-20 minutes or until the lobsters are bright red (make sure they are fire-engine red in order to be done). The clams should also be open (if there are some that are not – be sure to discard). Remove the corn, potatoes, sausage, clams and lobster from the pot and reduce the liquid in the pot for about 3-5 minutes. Reserve a cup of liquid for dipping sauce. Assemble all the elements into a picnic basket with shellfish crackers/kitchen shears. Take a white wine or great craft beer and enjoy boil on the beach with a beautiful sunset view.
Today, a co-worker and I were talking about an upcoming trip of mine and he mentioned he would like to use one of my guides. We started opening up some files (San Francisco, Scottsdale, Alabama and Route 66). Our cross-country roadtrip in 2008 is one of my favorite family memories. The sunsets we witnessed driving along route 66 were breathtaking. Some of the highlights include the tourist traps (world’s largest – just about everything…), random art installations (cadillac ranch) and mountain vistas that help you see the fingerprint of God.
We are headed to Arizona in less than a week and a couple of things I can’t wait for:
1. The view looking over the grand canyon. I think I am going to cry, again.
2. A hug from my mom. I dream about the safety of her hugs. I really have missed her since Christmas and I hope Maggie will love my hugs as much as I love my moms.
3. Seeing my dad look at Maggie with love that only a grandpa can give.
4. Doug and I enjoying a beautiful Arizona sunset together, building more memories and experiencing another adventure as a family.
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:
Girl 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!
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.
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!
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?