Sweet Escape

It’s time to dream again. Imagine yourself traveling by boat to your own private island. The turquoise waters are calm, the 2 dolphins on the port side of The Truman, playfully zig zag around the wake . The sun has warmed your skin and is so bright you have to squint to see the approaching white sand beach and thatched huts that await you on Little Palm Island.

In a short 20 minute boat ride, you are transported from Key West to this exclusive private island. The escape for the rich and famous is finally open after the damage of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and a multi- million dollar renovation. Grab your S.O. and let’s go ashore.

We are greeted by one of the friendly staff members and ushered into the Welcome Station. A tropical looking drink is placed in our hands- the island signature cocktail- known as the Gumby Slumber. Julie, the helpful concierge, shares all the possible activities and pampering we can enjoy during our stay. There will be some tough decisions to be made; snorkeling, deep sea fishing, or shall we take some sailing lessons? Of course, the spa, which we must schedule a massage and facial before we leave. It might be the rum, or the calypso music, not sure which but there is a huge smile on your face and I think you are humming along.

On the way to our bungalows, we stroll through the resort, pausing to stop by the pool. There are a few other couples there, laughing and enjoying the light breeze coming off the ocean. One of them looks like a little like George Clooney….and could that be Matt Damon that he is enjoying a drink and cigar with at the Palapa Bar? It wouldn’t be the first time that a Hollywood celebrity was spotted here. Famous past guests includes Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and even a past President and VP.

I have reserved the Island Romance Suite (bungalow). There is a view of the ocean from the the private verandah covered in bright pink bougainvillea, reminding me of the time I spent in Barbados. The white sheer curtains wrapped around the deck, add a bit privacy for the outdoor shower ( there is an indoor one too!). On the beach below, there is a fire pit for a quiet evening on this secluded part of the beach. The bungalow is tastefully decorated with a British colonial feel. A bottle of champagne is on ice with a fresh fruit plate to tide me over until dinner.

Your bungalow, is one of the Island Grand Suites- over 1000 square feet of luxury with beautiful tile floors, French doors, his and her bathrooms, and the casual elegance of the Caribbean. The large bedroom with its giant four posted king-size bed has magnificent views pf the beach. The private deck with your own little hot tub to enjoy has a day bed perfect for relaxing or meditating. For an even more memorable experience, arrangements can be made to enjoy a private dinner prepared by the Executive Chef Alex Rosados in your large dining room. There is no TV in the living room but who needs TV when you have your own little piece of paradise?!

Reservations for dinner are all set for 7pm. The Dining Room, once described as “extraordinary to perfection” in every category – food, decor, and service is lively tonight. A table in the center of the room is the perfect place to observe the festive atmosphere. If you are hungry for some seafood, The Dining Room offers an excellent Yellow Tail Snapper or Lobster Stracci. The patio doors remain open giving the feel of outdoor dining and a great view of the sunset. As the night plays on, the music and laughter grows. Conversations between tables ignite new friendships. Time passes quickly and soon dessert is being offered. The Key Lime pie is the specialty of course , although the Chocolate Frangelico Mousse sounds delicious as well. It is with great satisfaction that we leave the dining room for a stroll on the beach.

Has morning come already? A good night rest for an eventful day ahead. A little deep sea fishing brings success with the snagging of a large Marlin like a scene out of Hemingway’s , The Old Man & the Sea. We are exhausted after the outing so a visit to the spa is needed. After a relaxing spa treatment, some time by the pool to read and nap. Tonight is dinner at the Chef’s table.

The dinner is prepared and hosted by Chef Luis Pous. We are dining in a busy resort kitchen but somehow the experience is elegant and undistrubed. The Chef’s menu has our taste buds bursting with pleasure from course 1 to the final 7th course. Each course is carefully paired by a wine chosen by him to perfectly compliment the flavor. I think this is what dining must be like in heaven.

It is close to midnight but I am not ready for bed. A walk along the beach is a great way to wrap up a fabulous day and night on Little Palm Island. The night sky lit with the bright constellations fill in the darkness. The moonlight offers a path back to our bungalows. The soothing sound of the ocean is the perfect lullaby as you sink into a deep sleep.

Eventually we must leave and head back to the mainland. This will be an experience that we will never forget. We bid farewell to new friends and with much gratitude we leave a note of thanks behind to all the wonderful people at Little Palm Island that made our stay so delightful.

https://www.littlepalmisland.com/

What’s in a name?

In 1919 on 12 rue de l’Odéon, an American in Paris, named Sylvia Beach decided to open a bookstore. I can’t imagine that she knew at the time, the lasting impact she would have on thousands of writers for more than a century later. Le Mistral became a home away from home for struggling writers and a hangout for famous Americans like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F Scott Fitzgerald (sound like a familiar scene from Midnight in Paris?). She offered writers a place to stay, the occasional loan and provided inspiration to many. Ernest Hemingway referred to her in “ A Moveable Feast”, noting her kindness and generosity to strangers. The bookstore thrived until the Nazi’s occupied Paris. She was taken away in 1941 to an internment camp in in Vittel, passing away in 1962, in Paris. Sylvia would never open the store again but the story of Le Mistral does not end here.

In 1951, an old Algerian grocery store became the new home for Le Mistral . Another American, George Whitman, who had moved to Paris after serving in the US Army and attending the Sorbonne, decided to carry on in Sylvia’s footsteps. The new location on rue de la Bûcherie, along the famous left bank of the Seine, became a haven for a new generation of writers He opened his doors to starving artist, writers, actors, and poets. The agreement with George was in exchange for an overnight stay, each guest was expected to read at least 1 book a day, help stock bookshelves, and write their own autobiography. In 1964 on William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, he renamed the store to Shakespeare and Company.

Today it is estimated over 30,000 people have overnighted here including well known actors; Geoffrey Rush and Ethan Hawke. There are thousands of autobiographies of those who have passed through the doors. In 2006, George’s only daughter, Sylvia Whitman took over the daily operations of the store. He passed a few years later at the age of 98, leaving behind a legacy that will carry on for decades to come.  

Each week, Shakespeare and Company hosts at least 1 free literary event and has also launched a publishing company. There is an online shop where you can order rare books, best sellers, children’s books and of course, merchandise toting the famous name. If your travels take you to Paris in 2021, be sure to stop in. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris continues to welcome people to come for the day or spend the night as long as you promise to read 1 book a day

.https://shakespeareandcompany.com

I Miss Broadway

Have you ever had one of those days?  There was nothing really wrong, but yet it felt like there was something missing or off about the day?  Today was that day for me, it took me awhile but then it realized what was bothering me….

If 2020 had not turned into the year of Covid, I would be in New York right now. I would be sitting in the Hudson Theatre, watching Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite. I would be dressed up. I would be surrounded by other people. I would be laughing at the Neil Simon comedy and things would be “normal”

I think about the toll that Covid has taken on so many. All the actors (actresses) on Broadway that are without jobs. I am sure Sarah and Matthew are fine but what about the set designers, costume designers, the supporting cast and all the men and women that are an intricate part of the production?https://broadwaycares.org/fundraising-campaign-helps-theater-community-during-covid-19-pandemic/

My hope is by late Spring of 2021, life will start to normalize. We will be able to; gather with friends and family, eat in restaurants, go to concerts, and sit in legendary theatres in New York, Chicago, Detroit and many other great cities and watch our favorite musicals and plays.

In the meantime, Broadway has kept the lights on via your favorite streaming networks. Enjoy some of your favorite musicals via Disney Plus, Amazon, or Netflix.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/offers/signup/?ie=UTF8&benefitID=broadwayhd

My Secret Love Affair

I dream. I long. I count the days until we are together again. The attention, the gifts, the catering to my every need. The romantic dinners with exquisite wines and desserts. I miss you and hope to be reunited soon.

The love I speak of is not for a person, but for my favorite place to stay when I am in Chicago. Away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy areas , nestled in the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, you will find The Waldorf Astoria.

I discovered this little gem when I was living in Chicago a few years ago. It was a beautiful fall day in Chicago and I was out wandering around, in search of a new place for coffee. A place that I could sit undisturbed while I worked or wrote. Enter, Petit Margeaux.

As you enter into the courtyard of the Waldorf, you are immediately transported to a quaint boutique hotel off Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. Through the main lobby you can enter into the cafe. The options are plentiful and delectable – croissants, macarons, madeleines, and palmiers. A simple choice of cappuccino and au pain chocolat is my indulgence and I settle into a table in the corner. I can sit undisturbed yet have a perfect view to watch early morning unfold for guests, residents, and the locals that stop in each morning.

My relationship with the hotel grew as I then dined in Margeaux, the French Brasserie by Michael Mina ,located inside the Waldorf. I love to sit at the bar. The conversations are lively, the bartenders are attentive, and it is the same great food that you would receive in the dining room. The Sommelier , Nicole stops by to see what wine I would like. We chat about one of my favorite topics, France. She begins to share her knowledge of wine from the Bordeaux region and I learn the difference between left and right bank wine. The night transitions into a fabulous meal that includes a filet finished with herb butter and béarnaise and a side of haricot verts almondine. At this point, a dessert is needed to top off a perfect evening. They bring me my favorite- Affogato- the perfect pairing of a scoop of vanilla gelato and a shot of expresso poured over.

I reached a pinnacle in the relationship when I traveled back a year later. I had moved back to Michigan and I was in Chicago for a long weekend. I finally was going to stay and be a guest at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria.

I was not disappointed. Every moment in the hotel was perfect. The room with a view of Lake Michigan that also had a cozy fireplace. A bottle of wine with a cheese plate was waiting for me, sent from a dear friend that made all the arrangements. The marble bath was perfectly appointed and I was definitely geeked about the TV that was in projected onto the bathroom mirror. The bed was covered in white linens and engulfs you in comfort and luxury the moment lay down. I promise you; you will never want to leave.

The Waldorf Astoria in Chicago will always hold a special spot in my heart as it was there I decided to write my travel blog. I sat in Petit Margeaux and wrote my first post. It took several cappuccinos to build up the nerve to hit the publish button but I am so glad I did.

What are some of your favorite family vacations?

I have so many great memories from family vacations that my kids and I have done over the years.

There was the one time that our dog locked us out of the car at a gas station at the Florida Georgia Line.

Or the time that my mom got into the wrong car when we made a stop at a rest area coming back from Washington DC.

Seeing the happiness in my children’s eyes when we found the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris and they could have chicken tenders and a hamburger.

Sitting around the bonfire at the The Inn at Bay Harbor singing songs and roasting marshmallows

The hours spent on road trips playing games, listening to the radio, and laughing so hard we couldn’t catch our breath.

I would love to see your family photos and hear your stories. Please feel free to post on my Facebook page, Instagram, or in the comment section of this blog.

Peace be with you

I have everything I need-sunblock, sunglasses, and a cute hat.   It’s is just a little after 7am on the gulf coast of Florida and it is already 75 degrees. I have the top down on my little white convertible and I am heading to my favorite spot, the beach. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than a walk on Vanderbilt beach in Naples, Florida. I arrive and discover I have the beach to myself. I slide off my sandals and wander down to the water’s edge. The soothing sound of the waves rolling in and the warmth of sun has a calming effect on me. I take a deep breath and a peace comes over me.  Gone is any anxiety of my new job, the angst of the global pandemic, and the challenges of every day life. 

After a long walk, I decide to make my way over to the Ritz Carlton https://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/naples/naples-beach to grab a coffee and croissant. I am still comforted by the lobby of a hotel after years of working in the industry. It is like a second home for me. I am not ready to leave, so I find a little cove to sit in that overlooks the ocean and enjoy my breakfast.

I leave tomorrow for home and a return to my normal routine.  I close my eyes and breathe in deep; I want to savor this moment hoping that it will hold me until I can return.

Under the Tuscan Sky

There is a villa, about 1 hour south of Florence, Italy that sits a top a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside with spectacular views of vineyards and olive groves. The Apennines mountains are off in the distance and the town of Figline Valdarno is just down the road. For years it sat in ruins until a couple from England decided to buy it and restore to its original grandeur. This is the story of Il Palagio.

Il Palagio dates back to the early 1500 when it belonged to the Martelli Family. In the early 1800’s they sold it to the widow of the Duke of San Clemente. The estate remained in the family for over 150 year as a working oil mill and grain store. By the late 80’s /early 90’s the estate and fields were left unattended and is disrepair. It was in a very “Fragile” state and in desperate need of love and restoration. A lovely Englishman and his wife purchased the home in 1993. They began the painstaking and costly process of restoring it. This became their summer home to enjoy with friends and family for many years to come.

Today there is the main villa and 3 other homes; Casa Colonica, The Red House, and The Chalet on the estate. The homes can accommodate up to 49 guests overnight and 400 guest to celebrate a wedding, birthday, or other milestone event. The working vineyards produce six blends of wine: four Sangiovese-forward reds, one Vermentino white, and Beppe Rosato, the estate’s first rosé. You may have heard of some them: Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, Sister Moon, and When We Dance.

There are 80 beehive colonies, producing 8 varieties of honey, and fields of olive trees harvesting cold-pressed organic oil each season. When you are not wine tasting, wandering through the olive gardens, or enjoying the chestnut honey, you are invited to go for a swim in the pool at the main villa or take a dip in the lake on the premises. Arrangements can be made for cooking lessons or a private meal with the resident Chef. Perhaps in such a serene setting your prefer sunrise yoga? A walk in the traditional English gardens surrounding the villa may inspire a poem or song in your head. Thank goodness for the state-of-the-art recording studio on site if that is the case!

As you may have determined on your own , this is no ordinary villa and these are no ordinary hosts. This is the home of Sting and his wife Trudie. They opened their private home in Tuscany back in 2013 for 3 months a year for visitors to enjoy. Since that time it has become a popular wedding destination and retreat for Sting fans and wine lovers alike. It is quite easy to get to from Florence (1 hour away) or Rome (3 hours) and the perfect spot to celebrate life’s important moments.

I am convinced Sting would personally want to host a milestone birthday I have coming up in a few years (hint,hint). And a private concert…..This gives my family and friends ample time to plan, https://www.il-palagio.com

Provence 2022

It’s 1970 and you find yourself in the South of France, gathering around a table for dinner with James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, Judith Jones, and Julia Child. Perhaps you are feeling intimidated? A bit out of place? Yet extremely lucky to be part of a moment that will forever be known as the meal that changed the way we eat and experience food today. After reading Luke Barr’s account of that historical meeting and all the events leading up to it , in Provence 1970, I felt inspired to do a little more research. I am really glad I did as I came across- The Courageous Cooking School, hosted in Julia Child’s summer home in a little French provincial village in the South of France. Grab your apron and Chef’s knife and let’s go.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021. You have jetted across the Atlantic and landed in Paris. After some time in Paris, you board the TGV at Gare de Lyon station for the 5 hour journey. From your window seat on the train, you watch beauty of the countryside of France unfold before you. The train travels along rivers, over rolling hills, through fields of lavender, and past small picturesque villages. The terrain begins to change as mountains appear and you spot the terra cotta tile rooftops from the seaside villages of the Mediterranean. The train pulls into the station, you must change trains in Cannes. With the few moments you have there, you step out into the city. The sun is so bright that you pull out the black Jackie O glasses that you brought with you and wrap an elegant silk scarf around your hair to keep it from blowing in your face. There are street cafes, designer and boutique stores around every corner. If only you had more time. You don’t want to miss the train so you hurry back to the station, making a mental note to return here one day.

Approaching La Pitchoune, Julia’s summer home in Provence ( or “La Peetch” as you will come to know it ), awakens the hopeless romantic in you. ” How do you find yourself to be in such a magical spot?!” You pause for a minute to soak in magnitude of the moment. Imagine if you will; all the conversations that Julia and her husband Paul had here as she worked on her cookbooks and built her empire, the guests that have dined here, the recipes that were created and perfected here. I bet if you listen closely, you hear laughter coming from the kitchen, it must be Julia herself! Behind you are a group of women from California , all filled with that same sense of amazement and excitement.

The week begins with introductions and overviews of what to expect. At the Courageous Cooking School, no recipes are used. You are cooking with inspiration and intuition while guided by accomplished Chefs and the culinary director. A new way to cook that seems rather risky..but you are in France, and you are standing in the legendary kitchen of Julia Child so just go with it! As you sip your Rosé , you notice the pegboards on the kitchen wall. There are copper pots and pans, cooking utensils, and things you don’t even recognize but hope to use this week.

Each day is more exciting than the previous as you learn new techniques with your favorite dishes and explore new flavors from meals created in class. You begin to rely on your instincts, becoming an expert at blending herbs to create that perfect flavor. The meal preparation is like a performance. You are gliding from one step to the next with the ease of an artist or dancer. The grand finale– a masterpiece of sense, sight, and taste. You are proud of your work; your creation , you join fellow students at the table in the courtyard to enjoy the feast that you created together. What is even more glorious is that you get to wake up and do this again tomorrow!

When you are not perfecting your culinary skills, you can enjoy the beautiful gardens or relax and catch up on your correspondence (sounds better than email) in the courtyard of La Peetch. It can get quite warm during the days so perhaps a dip in the pool may be just what you need? If you are feeling adventuresome, a trip to the “fragrance capital of the world” , Grasse is just a short drive away.

This charming town, nestled along the French Rivera can keep you busy for hours. Explore the perfumeries, the 18th Century Costume museum or wander through the lavender and olive farms that are sprawled out over the hills and valleys of Provence.

The week has come to an end. It is sad yet a part of you is excited to come home and share the stories of the week with your friends and family, You, have joined a community that is rather exclusive and will impact how you cook and entertain for the rest of your life.

If you would like more information on the 2021 and 2022 trips available, please let me know. I am thinking of going in the summer of 2022. I think it would be the perfect girlfriend’s getaway, don’t you? https://www.lapeetch.com/cookingschool

Where in the World am I?

It’s Christmas time but the snow has been replaced by sand, the evergreens by palm trees, and the warm air reminds you that you are far from home. A weekend in the sun is just what you need to wrap up another busy year.

A glass of champagne is placed in your hand as you enter the hotel. “The sun is starting to set, you won’t want to miss it” The charming front desk clerk states. “Don’t worry about your bags, we will take care of them. Raya, our lobby bar is the best place to watch!” The floor to ceiling windows provide an excellent view of the ocean. There is a warm orange and yellow glow as the sun drops below the horizon and the stars begin to appear in the night sky.

It’s been a long travel day so a relaxing evening at the hotel is a great way to unwind. It’s December but dinner is outside on the terrace at 180BLU. The breeze off the water is warm but you wrap a summer scarf around your shoulders as you glance off over the railing to the beach 150 feet below. There are people gathered around a fire and a faint sound of a guitar and singing. A glance at the menu reveals a selection of small plates ranging from Brazilian Cheese Rolls to Ahi Tuna Ceviche. A light Chardonnay from Sonoma to complete the meal and then it is off to bed for a good night sleep.

The morning light reveals the perfect spot to spend your day. You grab your book and AirPods ,throwing them in your yellow beach bag, and head down the steep path to Salt Creek Beach.

A royal blue chair is placed in the sand for you. There are surfers waiting on the perfect wave, kids building sandcastles, and people walking along the waters edge soaking up the sun. You have found paradise .

Where is this magical place?

What lessons have you learned in 2020?

I have learned a lot of things in 2020. I have learned that security does not come from money. My identity does not come from a job. How important it is to to spend time with people you love. A Zoom gathering cannot replace the warm embrace from a dear friend. And how blessed I am to have the love of my children, family, and friends.

My hope for you is that you have found some good in 2020. That the forced pause in our world has brought you some peace and joy with rekindled love and friendships.

Let’s continue to dream of traveling to far off places and exotic destinations. I would love to hear about some of your plans so we can dream together. Please share your comments.