How To Take Better Travel Photos: An Interview With Family Photographer Justine Knight

Fifi+Hop’s Corey Cook talks to the talented family and portrait photographer Justine Knight about the secrets to taking better travel pics.

I am very pleased to have on the blog today the talented photographer Justine Knight! Justine is a family and portrait photographer in Westchester, New York. She and her family travel quite a bit, often times to far flung places, so I thought she would be the perfect person to provide some insight into some useful tips on travel photos. I know we all, myself included, could use some advice on how to best capture those precious family vacation moments in photos!

 

Family photographer Justine KnightPin this image on Pinterest

 

Below is my interview with Justine where I’ve asked her some questions on how to take great photos while traveling. I love Justine’s work, and think you will too (just look at her photos!), and am so glad she can share her knowledge with us all. Justine loves to photograph families the way she photographs her own family – relaxed and being their own (sometimes crazy) selves. From timeless portraits to kids rolling around in the grass with a dog, she loves to photograph it all!

WHERE ARE SOME PLACES YOU AND YOUR FAMILY HAVE TRAVELED? WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME FAVORITE VACATIONS?

We LOVE to travel!! I am Australian and my husband is South African so we spend a few weeks each year travelling to either country. We also love exploring the US.

Over the last few years, we have been to Australia, South Africa, the UK, France, Turks & Caicos, St Martins, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Arizona, Massachusetts and Washington DC.

The more we travel, the longer our list of places that we want to go to next is!!

Our next trip over the summer is to Utah for a family biking and camping trip in Canyonland.

Mountains and wildlife in South Africa.
WHICH CAMERA DO YOU TRAVEL WITH MOST OF THE TIME AND WHY?

I always carry too much camera gear and recently I have realized that I don’t need to carry it all! On a trip to South Africa earlier this year, I principally used my film camera and my iphone. I love shooting film for my family as it looks beautiful and ensures that I don’t take too many photos as I have to pay for every photo to be developed!

I also always carry my iphone. The quality is amazing and is so effortless to take great photos without carrying lots of gear around. It also makes sharing images with family and friends so quick and easy.

Playing in the water in Turks and Caicos
MOST PEOPLE USE THEIR PHONES TO TAKE PHOTOS WHILE TRAVELING BECAUSE THEY’RE EASY AND COMPACT – DO YOU HAVE ANY PHONE CAMERA TIPS?
  1. As with all cameras, looking at the light within the environment you are photographing can make a huge difference to your images. Take a minute to look around you and look at the direction of the light. Sometimes moving slightly left or right of your subject can really improve the way you utilize light on your subject.
  2. Take some steps back and use more of the environment around your subject to tell the story. This is so important when on vacation – as much as I love a nice portrait, capturing your family within these different surroundings really adds visual interest.
  3. Tapping on the screen to set the exposure on your subject makes a huge difference to your photos.
  4.  Use some of the really fun app editing tools – I love using VSCO to edit my photos on my iPhone.
Wading in the ocean on the beach.
MANY OF US TRAVEL TO THE BEACH, WHICH CAN BE A VERY DIFFICULT PLACE TO TAKE PHOTOS DUE TO THE SUN REFLECTION OFF THE SAND AND WATER. ANY TRICKS?

The most perfect times at the beach are sunrise and sunset in terms of light but this is not always practical when you have kids. Most days we are not at the beach at these times so you need to embrace more tricky lighting conditions.

Use the reflections to your advantage! If your subject has the sun behind them, use the sand or water as a giant reflector to reflect the light back on your subject.

Try not to have your subject facing the sun when you are taking their photo. Eyes will be squinty and shadows can be harsh. Engage your subject in an activity so they are not staring into the sun.

Beach walk in Maine.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PLACE/ LANDSCAPE TO TAKE PHOTOS WITH OR WITHOUT THE KIDS, AND WHY?

I love the beach. It’s my happy place as I love the open space and the water.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO FAMILIES WHO WANT TO CAPTURE THOSE PERFECT FAMILY VACATION PHOTOS?

Perfection is overated!

Enjoy your time with your family BUT the most important thing for creating memories for your family is to get those photos off your hard drive and iphone and PRINT them! Make prints, make a photo book! You will be amazed at how much you and your family will enjoy looking at these images over the years if they are printed.

Someone once told me that a photo does not exist unless you can hold it in your hand!

My favorite company to make vacation photo albums is with Blurb. The quality is amazing and the software easy to use.

Other photo album companies include Artifact Uprising, Shutterfly and Chatbooks.

Car driving by in Cuba.
Thank you for joining us Justine, such helpful tips! I particularly like the last piece of advice about the albums because I think that is something most of us are guilty of – we take a ton of photos, but then, what about the albums? It’s so easy to procrastinate. Which is why I look forward to having Justine on the blog again with a dedicated post about making family vacation albums. So look out for that post, coming soon!

You can see more of Justine’s work on her website at www.justinesknight.com and/or on Instagram at @jsknight.

Q&A with Maria Zec, General Manager of The Peninsula Chicago

Pursuitist presents its Q&A with Maria Zec, Regional Vice President, and General Manager, at The Peninsula Chicago. Named one of the top luxury hotels in Chicago, renown luxury travel expert Christopher Parr interviews Maria Zec as the celebrated Peninsula property celebrates 20 years of luxurious travel, spa, and dining experiences on Michigan Avenue.

Maria Zec’s legendary hotel experience throughout the United States makes her a particularly valuable leader to manage operations in New York and Chicago, having worked at a number of luxury hotels in both cities and understanding the markets, communities and hospitality industries well. She also possesses considerable knowledge and expertise of five-star culture and what it represents to the hotel’s customers.

Zec joined The Peninsula Chicago in March 2002, shortly after the opening of the 339-room property, located at 108 East Superior Street at North Michigan Avenue. Under her leadership, The Peninsula Chicago achieved the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Five Star and AAA Five Diamond awards within her first year as General Manager for the property. The hotel has continued to receive these coveted awards since 2002, with recognition from Conde Nast Traveler to Travel+Leisure.

Christopher Parr, Q. By the numbers, what does 20 years look like at Peninsula Chicago?

Maria Zec, A. In 20 years, we have hosted 2.4 million hotel guests, which is an average of nearly 120,000 per year, 10,000 per month. We have served more than 8.3 million guests in our restaurants in 20 years, which averages to 35,000 per month, 1,100 per day. 20% of our staff have been here for 20 years. Very few people work for the same company for 20 years. In fact, our entire laundry department, have all been with us for 20 years.

Q. As the Peninsula Chicago turns 20, what does that milestone signify to the Peninsula Hotel brand?

A. Bringing Peninsula Hotels’ renowned hospitality to the Midwest, provided the company with the opportunity to build awareness for the brand in a region that would likely have no knowledge or familiarity with Peninsula Hotels. Over the past two decades, guests and residents are now very much aware of The Peninsula Hotels’ brand either via The Peninsula Chicago’s reputation or their personal experiences at the hotel. This exposure to a midwestern audience has broadened the brand’s reach with more customers.

Q. Compared to the other luxury hotels in Chicago, how has the Peninsula Chicago remained distinctively different and unique?

A. We describe our service approach as ‘Midwestern Hospitality combined with Far Eastern Graciousness.’ This is represented in the reserved, discreet, refined type of service style one would experience in Asia, blended with the genuine, warm, caring, and friendly nature you find in Midwesterners.

Our service style is also anticipatory. We engage guests during the reservation process to understand more about what brings them to the city and through this brief conversation, we can anticipate the types of services and amenities the guest will likely need, and we mobilize from here.

 

Pursuitist Q&A with Maria Zec, General Manager of The Peninsula ChicagoPIN IT

 

Our goal is to create beautiful, lasting memories for our guests. This starts with our compassionate employees who are genuine and considerate, taking great pride in their work to go above and beyond for our guests and their co-workers at every opportunity.

Q. Luxury hospitality means a lot different things to a lot of different people, but what does it mean to Peninsula Chicago?

A. We strive to provide an attentive, personalized service experience in line with each guest’s individual expectations. In some cases, visitors don’t require or want much interaction. In other cases, they seek our advice and assistance throughout their time with us. We are thoughtful in our approach to ensure we understand the personalized needs of each guest and then tailor our services around them. We aim to create a memorable and meaningful experience and want all our guests to feel welcome and at home at The Peninsula Chicago.

Q. The property has received many awards and accolades over its celebrated 20 years, what honor has meant the most to you?

A. We’ve been honored to have received numerous awards over the years, every one of which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our incredible team members. Many of these accolades have been awarded by various travel-related organizations which demonstrate how The Peninsula Chicago is viewed by our industry colleagues. But for us, our main focus is always on the feedback provided by our guests.

Q. In looking back at 20 years, how has Peninsula Chicago transformed luxury travel on Michigan Avenue?

A. Our goal is to constantly remain the leader within the industry and not a follower. To do this successfully one has to evolve and adapt to the changing expectations from travelers. We’ve never been ones to rest on our laurels; we’re always thinking about what we can do next. An example of this was conceiving and building Z Bar. It was a few years in the making, but this new venture has kept us relevant and allowed us to expose The Peninsula brand to the next generation of luxury travelers.

Q. And how is The Peninsula Chicago going to transform and evolve for the next 20 years?

A. It is important we evolve with the changing times—ensuring we develop our products and services based on the future of customers’ desires and passions (while still providing for our current customers), providing the very best in terms of accommodations, cuisine, wellness, and cultural experiences.

Herbal Remedies

One of the greatest elements of summer is the garden–may it be on a rooftop or balcony, in a backyard or wherever else the sun shines. There’s nothing like grabbing a ripe tomato from your garden and putting it directly into a salad. But summer’s spoils are not just relegated to the dinner table. Continue reading

Interview with Travel Flights Analyst Adam Kwan of TomFlies.com

TomFlies.com is an NYC-based, new-concept travel agency that aims to provide several essential aspects of travel that may have been overlooked throughout the years. Not selling exaggerated experiences, but rather leading their clients to genuine discovery is a key goal at the new age travel agency. We asked their Lead Flights Analyst, Adam Kwan some questions about the future of travel and how TomFlies.com plans to be a part of it. Here is what he had to say.

 

Q.It appeared for a while that the Internet (and D.I.Y. booking) would deal a major blow to travel agencies, however they have actually seen a strong resurgence in recent years. Why is this and how does the pandemic factor in?

 

A.What we try to do for each one of our clients is to identify where we can add value above and beyond the services they can book themselves. Whether it be monetary value from negotiated rates or service-oriented benefits such as expertise and personal vetting of providers and vendors, we think this goes a long way in showing clientele the benefits of booking with us.

 

People nowadays are inundated with what are essentially cookie cutter options that provide instant gratification. Just go on Amazon and you’re a couple clicks away from getting whatever you want, shipped straight to you from a warehouse containing hundreds of the same whatever-you-wants. We believe that this type of standardized mass merchandising is not befitting of people’s travel needs. People don’t buy vacations as nonchalantly as they do household goods. They want to be sure that they will get the best experience and best value for their travel. Especially since, for many people, a vacation is a significant expense relatively.

 

Right now, travelling in a pandemic-stricken world, people are more nervous than ever. Their confidence has been shaken and many people are unsure what will await them when they exit their plane. Making sure that people are confident that their travel will go off without a hitch has always been one of our main goals, so we view travel consultants as more beneficial than ever. There is a deluge of information out there with each country having different regulations. The last thing someone wants to do is spend their hard-earned money on a trip, only to find out they cannot board the plane or leave quarantine during their stay. That’s where we step in, making sure that our clients are making completely informed decisions with confidence.

 

Shutterstock

 

Q. Loyalty and rewards programs play a much larger role for airlines and hotels than meets the eye. Can you discuss how and why these programs are so vital for the travel industry, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic?

 

A. We see two main benefits to loyalty programs. The first is obvious—reducing customer churn and encouraging purchases with your company over your competitors; i.e. customer loyalty. The second benefit is liquidity through corporate partnerships.

 

Reducing customer churn (the rate at which customers stop buying your product over time) is important for every industry, but even more so in leisure travel where each individual customer may only purchase something once a year or less. It is tantamount that a travel company remains prominently in view of their clientele. Regular newsletters, deals, and targeted ads help with this, but a loyalty program will take this a step further. Loyalty programs create a sense of investment in your clients and strongly encourage them to return to you for their travel needs. There have been many detailed studies done on the psychological effects of loyalty programs, but the benefits are essentially the following:

 

  • Goal Anticipation – Creating something for your client to work for. By giving them a concrete goal and a way for them to track their progress towards that goal, people will be strongly motivated to complete that goal; i.e. purchase more. Not only that, but customers will invest more to complete the goal the closer they are to achieving it.
  • Positive Reinforcement – Encouraging customers to stick with you by giving them rewards is an obvious example of positive reinforcement. But just as important is the converse. Not only are you encouraging people to purchase through your company, but you also create a sense of “lost value” when they book with your competitors. Studies have shown that people generally tend toward being risk-averse when faced with a value-loss proposition.
  • Creating a sense of exclusivity – Simply put, people like being in exclusive groups and feeling unique and appreciated. Top-tiers of loyalty programs offer this prestige. If you make JetBlue Mosaic, you’re going to feel pretty good being the first one on the plane.

 

 

The second main benefit is more simply explained. Airlines and hotels will create liquidity by selling their points to corporate partners. When Chase or American Express offer their cardholders point exchanges or deals with specific travel partners, that likely means the bank has purchased points in bulk from the travel provider. This accounts for a surprisingly significant portion of the liquidity for several travel companies and is important in supporting daily operations and business development.

 

Both of these benefits are eminently important during the pandemic. When your clients are ready to travel again, you want to make sure they come back to you. And while traditional sales dry up, you want the extra liquidity from corporate points sales to keep things running.

 

Q. Should consumers be thinking any differently about their loyalty/rewards memberships during this period? Are there any tips or strategies you have for people who travel frequently and accrue a lot of points?  

 

A. There are a few tips and tricks we have for maximizing the value of your points, however more so in general rather than specifically during the pandemic.

 

First is to absolutely do your research. There’s no way of knowing if you’re getting a good value for your points unless you know the baseline value of them. For example, TrueBlue points are worth 1.1 cents each on average. I would only book flights with points where you meet or exceed that exchange rate. During COVID, we’d suggest to make sure that there is no expiration on your points and benefits, at least until you’re ready to travel again. If there is, ask the airline or hotel if they can extend the expiration for you.

 

Second is to shop around. Just because you have points with American Airlines doesn’t mean you can’t buy a British Airways ticket with them. Airlines have partners which often allow you to book the same exact flight through them. For example, Alaska Airlines offers many of the same flights operated by its partner American Airlines, however the flights usually cost fewer Alaska Airlines miles than AAdvantage Points. You can simply transfer your points from AA to Alaska and use them there for more value per point.

 

Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock

 

Q. What have been the most frequently asked questions by your clients during the pandemic and how are you advising them? 

 

A. Far and away the most asked question is whether a traveler will have to quarantine when they arrive at a destination or if they will have to take a COVID test before travelling. We’re keeping track of the ever-changing regulations for each of our most popular destinations so we can make sure all of our clients are fully informed.

 

Q. What destinations, US and international, do you expect to see the most interest in once virus fears subside and travel returns to pre-pandemic levels—or close? 

 

A. Hard to tell, but it’s between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in our opinion. We’re already seeing a large uptick of interest in the Caribbean, especially for all-inclusive resort destinations like Cancun and Punta Cana. The amount of interest can only go up from here. We think that the private and comprehensive experience offered by all-inclusive resorts does add a sense of security for their guests. Knowing that everything you need is in an environment you’ve seen being sanitized goes a long way towards making people feel safe during a pandemic. They can have it all without having to go out into unfamiliar surroundings that may not be clean.

 

Positano at sunset/Shutterstock

 

We also think people are just itching to head back to the Mediterranean, we know we are. Italy, Spain, Egypt, Israel, and Greece et al have always been some of our most requested destinations, and people miss those places more than ever now that travel is restricted.

 

Q.What is the single biggest reason to use a travel advisor?

 

A.Simply that the cost to benefit ratio is great. With our agency’s negotiated rates and worldwide reach, we can offer prices competitive with OTAs while also offering the added benefit of travel planning expertise and dedicated e-concierge services and support before, during, and after travel. Essentially, people will be able to pay roughly the same amount of money for their travel as if they booked it themselves, without actually having to do anything themselves.

 

Q.In just a few words, what is your philosophy at TomFlies.com?

 

A.“Always wander!”

 

See our full report on The State of Travel: 2021

The Many Reasons to Eat Local

Have you ever wondered why it might be good to eat foods according to the season?  You probably notice how there are certain fruits and vegetables available in the fall (apples, pears, squash) versus what is seen in the spring/summer (melons, papaya, asparagus). Continue reading

Tales From a Chocolatier

Located high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range in the heart of the Rockies resides a small chocolate company—with huge arms —that produces some of world’s best chocolate.  Meaning “by hand” and “they love” in Italian, Amano prides itself on sourcing only the world’s very best cacao beans and ingredients.

Their beans, of course, are not sourced in Utah but rather the lush rainforests and tropical regions of the world. In fact, all cacao beans are sourced between 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Amano visits plantations in these regions, buying from the growers, and when necessary working with them to improve their skill in properly growing, fermenting and drying the cacao beans to meet their exacting standards.

Through working with small, carefully controlled batches and lots of love and attention, Amano seeks not to be the largest chocolate company, but simply the best—and their myriad awards over the past decade reflect this commitment. So do the many Michelin-starred restaurants that use their chocolate—usually in melted form from discus shaped melting wafers—in their deserts.

 

 

I recently met with Amano’s founder and CEO Art Pollard and talked about chocolate and the many adventures that come with this trade. Here is what he had to say.

GLR: How did you get in the chocolate business?

Art: I grew up a die hard foodie and with a background in the hard sciences bouncing back and forth between Los Alamos, N.M. and Seattle. Both New Mexico and the Seattle area are great homes for food. When I was attending my university I worked for the physics department. One day while eating a German chocolate bar, I made an off-hand comment that it would be fun to make my own chocolate. My co-workers (who were working on space shuttle projects and particle accelerators) all said it was too hard. I thought that if it was that hard, it had to be insanely interesting. I love things that are hard and interesting.

A few years later, while on my honeymoon in Hawaii, I found an outlet for what, I thought at the time, was a truly spectacular chocolate. It was then that I realized that chocolate could be so much more than “chocolate”. Immediately upon our return, I started experimenting and designing and building my own machinery. Little did I know what sorts of adventures it would set in motion. It turns out that making a world class chocolate is indeed insanely difficult; in the end, my co-workers were right. However, by the time I discovered that my co-workers were fundamentally correct, I already had a factory.

GLR: Your chocolate has won many awards including gold, silver and bronze medals at the “Olympics of Chocolate.” What makes Amano so high quality and good?

Art: Fundamentally, like all world class products, it is about attention to detail.  Even before we started Amano, I experimented for over ten years on different manufacturing techniques and how they affected flavor. Much of this was on machines that I designed and built. I credit my failures during this experimentation phase for teaching me many of the techniques that we now use today. Your successes never teach you the “whys” but your failures do.  Even today, I am constantly experimenting with different ways of processing ingredients.

Like all food, it is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. To make a world class chocolate, it takes world class cocoa. Everything fights against it. The weather can interfere with the fermenting. Cocoa farmers often aren’t skilled at fermenting, after all, they don’t use the cocoa they produce. Genetics; the large chocolate companies encourage the planting of high productivity strains of cocoa with no regard to flavor. Plant diseases; the cocoa trees are particularly susceptible to. Never mind the problems caused the political unstableity of many cocoa growing countries. Given all this, I have found that having really strong relationships with the farmers is immensely helpful. When needed, we help train them to increase the quality of their cocoa. It is good for them and it helps us get the quality we need.  And hopefully, we can instill the same sense of pride in their cocoa as we have for our chocolate. When people care about what they do, when they truly care, amazing things can happen.

GLR: Where are some of the most exotic places you have traveled, looking for cocoa beans?

Art: We currently purchase beans from: Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, and Madagascar. I try to work with all the farmers from whom we buy our cocoa. I’ve also traveled extensively through Central and South America, especially Peru and Honduras looking for cocoa. But one of my favorite places was visiting the tinyisland of Guanaja off the coast of Honduras.  I was lucky enough to go with a group of some of the world’s finest chocolate makers.  Guanaja was where Christopher Columbus first tasted cocoa. It was on his fourth voyage to the New World. Off the coast, he encountered a Mayan canoe laden with cocoa. He couldn’t figure out what it was for and ordered the cocoa dumped out. He couldn’t figure out why the Mayans were so upset.  Now we know and I believe, we treasure cocoa just as highly as the Mayans. It was an amazing experience to be in such an important place in the European history of cocoa. And it was on Guanaja that we discussed how we can work together to ensure that the farmers that we work with could earn enough through their cocoa that they could have a livelihood. We dedicated ourselves to working together to ensure that cocoa would remain a sustainable crop and not stoop to using factory farming and to focus on flavor rather than stooping to high-productivity varieties as the large companies do. It was truly an amazing experience.

GLR: Some of the countries you have to visit to source cocoa beans are not exactly stable. Have you ever felt in danger while traveling the world for work?

Art: Yes, it is quite frequent that I end up in situations where if I were not with locals, it could have ended up in a very bad way. Many times the locals that I’m with are armed. I think we often forget that much of the world isn’t in a position to call law enforcement every time they are in trouble.

One time, I laugh about, was during a trip to Venezuela. We pulled into a small town where our hotel was. The entire town was deserted. It was like a scene from a Western movie. We became concerned that perhaps the town was run by drug lords. Right before our hotel, there was an enormous mob which we had to drive through. The mob parted slowly as we drove through. We found out later that yes, the entire town was run by the drug lords and it was the drug lords that were keeping us safe. The last thing they wanted was the Federales to be coming around. What a strange world we live in.

GLR: You don’t just sell chocolate “bars” but also chocolate wafers (discus form used for melting) that restaurant clients melt and use ON or as the primary ingredient IN desserts. What are some of the restaurants using your chocolate for their desserts?

Art: We have been blessed to have some of the world’s finest restaurants using our chocolate. Of course, every chef brings their own interpretation to their creations. But we are particularly proud to be working with Chez Panisse. We have had a long standing relationship with this legendary restaurant. Chez Panisse is the creation of Alice Waters who pioneered America’s fresh food prepared simply movement. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse have had an enormous impact on the way we eat in the United States whether we recognize it or not. Our chocolate Dos Rios (that naturally tastes like burgamot orange and lavender) has historically been a favorite among the chefs at the Fat Duck. Located just outside of London, the Fat Duck has been rated as high as the number two restaurant in the world. (And having eaten there, it deserves its amazing reputation.) The chefs we work with love the fact that our chocolates have such a wide range of flavors and it allows them to pair foods with chocolate in ways that they never were able to before.

GLR: I gather you are foodie. What other foods do you love besides chocolate?

Art: I like simple foods done well. I’m a big fan of steak and I cook a really mean steak.  What I find fascinating is all steaks start with a simple piece of meat. The finished steak can be magic or not – all depending on what you do with it. Same with a good crème brule. It’s amazing how beautiful such a simple dish can be. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to eat at some of the world’s finest restaurants and while I’ve had some amazing meals where a lot of work goes into them, the most stunning are the ones where simple foods are prepared exceptionally well. It takes a masterful chef to take something simple and turn it into something world class. Along those lines, Thomas Keller has said the way you can judge a chef’s skill is to order the roast chicken. Even so, the true king in my book is an exceptional chocolate. Chocolate after all is the “food of the gods”.

GLR: Have you ever traded your chocolate for other goods?

Art: Yes, one of my favorite trades was for a camera backpack from F-Stop. When I was in college, I worked through the photography program (even though it wasn’t my major) under an amazing photographer and professor John Telford. As I travel the world visiting our farmers, looking for cocoa and working with great chefs, I get to practice my photography. It helps me to always see the world with fresh eyes and appreciate the moment. It is hard to find a good camera bag. One day I found F-Stop to absolutely amazing reviews. I called and the sales person discovered I run Amano Chocolate. It turns out that they were regularly giving our chocolate to their suppliers as gifts. I proposed a trade and their response was: “Done.” I have been absolutely thrilled with my F-Stop camera bag and have taken it all over the world and on many adventures.

GLR: What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Art: I believe that chocolate touches us in ways that few other foods do. It is there for births, deaths, weddings, birthdays and our day to day lives. When people taste chocolate that is truly extraordinary, it touches them in a way that is often surprising. It isn’t like regular store bought mass market chocolate, it is sooooo much better. I love being able to see the expression on people’s faces when they try our chocolate. I especially love taking the finished chocolate back to the farmers we work with. It is rare for farmers to be able to taste chocolate made with their very own beans. The expressions on their faces of pure joy when they taste chocolate made with their own beans is priceless. Then when they learn that their cocoa has been turned into chocolate that has received some of the world’s highest awards, you can see their sense of pride grow in their eyes. Nothing is more special than that.

GLR: How was chocolate first invented?

Art: The cocoa beans in the cocoa pod are covered by a sweet white pulp. It tastes like a flowery lemon-aid. It is delicious. Animals will often burrow into the pods to eat this beautiful pulp. The cocoa beans on the other hand are bitter and tannic. They are literally spitting bad which is of course how the tree propagates when the animals spit the beans onto the ground. The current state of research seems to indicate that the first cocoa was harvested for the sweet pulp not to eat but to ferment into alcohol. Or as I like to say: “Never underestimate people’s ability to find a new way to get plastered.” When the cocoa beans are fermented with their pulp, they change. The fermenting breaks down the tannic and bitter components and the flavor of the beans change into something beautiful and wonderful to eat. It is hard to find farmers that ferment cocoa well, but when cocoa is, it is amazing. From the roasted cocoa we had drinks for a few thousand years. Some Catholic nuns in Oxwere the first to sweeten it with sugar and honey in the late 1500’s. By the late 1600’s the prelude to what we now recognize as chocolate bars was beginning to be sold in Europe. Chocolate has a truly amazing history. And like history, it has its demons and heroes and every time we eat a chocolate bar, we become part of that amazing journey that is chocolate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=JhErfS8LF0I

Wellness Warriors

They say you can foretell future trends by looking at what the big thinkers and pioneers are doing now.  So what’s up with wellness warriors in 2020?

 

Let’s start with an example of the future of business travel in the wellness arena.  In spite of in-person events being canceled across the board, the Global Wellness Summit—an international organization that brings together leaders and visionaries to positively impact and shape the future of the global wellness industry—had the fortitude and determination, in spite of some resistance, to go forward with their first ever hybrid (both in-person and virtual event ) Nov 8 to 11 at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.

 

The organizers of the event—which included 17th Surgeon General of the U.S, Dr. Richard Carmona—felt that since the pandemic could, by some estimates, continue to affect our lives for at least another year, a model needed to be created for a safe, in-person gathering.  Their thinking was, who better than the wellness community to do that.  Everyone was tested upon arrival, mask wearing was strictly enforced at the event; the conference rooms had socially distanced seating, exercise balls and stationery bikes to sit on; and Far UV Light was quietly cleaning the air all around us. No cases were traced to the event afterwards either.

 

While there and interviewing Fred Maxik, the lead scientist of Healthe Inc—a company pioneering Far UVC light’s role in combatting Covid—for the GWS Podcast which I host, I asked him why he thought the entire in-person attendee list of about 124 people from all over the U.S. and Mexico tested negative for Covid upon arrival at the summit.  He said “Check their Zip Codes, their lifestyles and their established medical care.”

 

In the destination spa category, I refer to my well-heeled, regular spa-going friend who has been uber careful during Covid—groceries always delivered and the only activities done outside her home were masked hiking and masked golfing.  Before the pandemic she had booked a trip to a hiking-forward destination spa in California for this December.  Since she’d been before and knew the lay of the land, she knew each guest would have their own bungalow.  She said she also trusted that management would follow the Covid safety protocols they had put in place – private massage bungalows that were disinfected between treatments, smaller exercise classes and more buses driving guests to hike trails each morning so they could space out as well as the option to eat their vegan, delicious meals outside, which she and a friend always did.  She said after months of lock down she made a conscious decision to choose a local travel/wellness experience that would reinforce her immune system and overall health.  She also said that she has just rebooked her cancelled trip to the Galapagos Islands for 2022.

 

It also stands to reason that with so many people “giving up” on healthy eating during the pandemic and gaining that extra “Covid-19” pounds, they will be seeking out ways to shape up after things open up.  Look for spas that specialize in weight loss to find a strong uptick in business.

 

Also, with depression and suicide at record levels even before the shutdown, resorts and wellness retreats know full well that it is just straight necessary to have spiritually and mental wellness rooted activities on the menu.

 

And, while it may sound simple enough, let’s not forget that humans are intrinsically drawn to the healing power of nature.  With Apps like CALM taking us to streams and mountain tops and rain forests virtually during Covid, we long even more to get out to the real thing; the wide open spaces, and take a really deep, mask-less breath.

 

In fact, Douglas Drummond, Healing Arts & Somatics Director at the iconic Esalen Institute in Big Sur, the birthplace of the Human Potential Movement, predicts that besides being Nurtured in Nature, travelers in 2021 will be looking for ways to do the following four things:

 

 

-Be Intentional: Help in setting realistic goals.  Taking inventory of what is now and setting a course for the future.

 

-Have Real Talk:. This pandemic has underscored the value of truth and what really matters. Wellness centers will teach us how to be honest about how we feel and how to interpret what that might mean for the road ahead.

 

-Practicing Movement as Medicine: Hike, Dance, Swim, Do Downward Dog  study after study shows that at least 30 minutes a day makes a real difference in longevity.  Wellness retreats need to show us HOW to WANT to move everyday.  Interestingly, Esalen was a bit prescient on this.  Somatics—which is the mind/body connection enhanced by movement – was built into the Institute’s 1963 charter.

 

-Experiencing the Power of Touch—Masks are always welcome.  But, never before have we needed to connect and rejuvenate as much, and there’s no more effective way to help the body heal itself than with a fabulous massage.

 

And what about the best kept secret of soaking in a hot spring as Mother’s Nature’s way of boosting your immune system?  In fact, a peer reviewed study by Australian-based, hot springs aficionado, Dr. Marc Cohen, shows that raising the body’s core temperature from a hot springs soak – and hopefully a cold dip to seal off the contrast bathing experience—does all the right things a fever does to kickstart the body’s immune system, but without the negative side effects.  There’s a reason Native American warriors followed a code of: “No fighting in a hot spring.”  It is the most natural way to just be still and let the healthy minerals rejuvenate body and mind.  And, more often than not, hot springs vacations are among the most affordable options available.  For a road trip with the bonus of immune boosting magic, check out this historic hot springs loop in Colorado:

 

 

A friend who is a Business Travel Manager says that people are definitely rethinking the necessity of traveling for business in the near future but—with a lot weighing on the vaccines providing herd immunity—they are also already booking destination weddings and travel adventures for Summer 2021 and beyond.  And airlines and hotels are to be commended for offering ongoing flexible fares and generous cancelation policies.

 

Travel—both internationally and domestically—has been a way of life for so many of us for decades.  But as the founder of Ageist.com said to me in an interview recently, “If you’re not in the Wellness Business now, you’re really not in business.”  So travel destinations, take heed.

 

The figure that always amazes me is that the travel industry was the number one employer in the world before the pandemic.  Let’s face it—whether we work in the wellness travel or hospitality industry or are happy participants in it, we’re all ready to have that joy and delight in connecting with each other again—whether it’s a bellman, a massage therapist, a yoga instructor, a hike guide or a seat mate on a plane while we’re on our way to one of our “bucket list” adventures.

 

Wellness Seekers Unite!  2021, here we come!

Take Your Tequila to the Garden Party

Tequila sometimes has to struggle with its brawling-bikers-under-a-hot-sun reputation. Rarely do people write on their garden party invites, “tequila drinks being served.” Which is a shame, because even though a shot of tequila may be the drink of choice for those wearing leather jackets in July, this base spirit also plays well in a variety of cocktails, from traditional numbers such as the Margarita to lighter and less-known summer fare that pairs tequila up with intriguing ingredients.

 

One such lesser-known tequila recipe that’s getting more popular by the minute, and one that’s perfect for backyard gathering when the mercury has risen up the thermometer, is the Green Garden from Paul Abercrombie’s wonderfully green cocktail book “Organic, Shaken and Stirred.” The Green Garden mixes organic Blanco tequila with a cucumber-infused syrup (if your own garden isn’t overflowing, pick up English cucumbers – what Abercrombie suggests using here – at a local farmer’s market), a hint of lime and Italian sparkler Moscato d’Asti. The end result is a drink that doesn’t sacrifice anything in tequila taste, but one that also stays light on its feet. Because even a biker doesn’t want to be weighed down by their drink when the summertime dancing starts.

 

Green Garden

 

1-1/2 ounces organic blanco tequila

1/2 ounce Cucumber-Infused Organic Simple Syrup (recipe follows)

1/4 ounce freshly squeezed organic lime juice

1 ounce organic Moscato d’Asti

Several edible organic flowers (such as small roses or lavender blossoms)

 

1. Combine the tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice in an ice cube-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass or champagne saucer.

 

2. Add the Moscato d’Asti and garnish with the flowers.

 

Cucumber-Infused Organic Simple Syrup: Juice one English cucumber (leave the skin on for flavor and color). Place the juice in a small glass bowl with an equal volume of Organic Simple Syrup (see below) and 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed organic lime juice, and stir to combine. The syrup will keep, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to one month.

 

Organic Simple Syrup

 

Makes 2 cups

 

1 cup organic granulated sugar

8 ounces water

 

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. The syrup can be stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to one month.

 

Recipe Copyright 2009 by Paul Abercrombie, “Organic, Shaken and Stirred,” The Harvard Common Press; photo copyright 2009 by Jerry Errico

Trying To Find The Silver Linings During COVID-19

As I sit down to write this, we’re (my family, friends, and fellow New Yorkers) heading into our 4th week of stay-at-home orders and remote learning due to the Corona virus, Covid-19. For other states it’s been longer. It’s April 5, 2020, and never did anyone think something like this would happen in our country, in our world, in our lifetime.

Covid-19 has devastated the globe and its people on so many levels, it’s hard to begin to comprehend and process the situation. For that, I’ve been very quiet on this blog until now. “Where do I even begin?” I’ve asked myself so many times. I’m certainly not going to post my guide to my latest international vacation destination.

More than that, though, it’s been difficult to write. The news has been changing every day and every hour. Every minute. There’s been so much to take in, and so much to learn. Social distancing, remote learning, shelter in place, stay 6 feet apart…all completely foreign things until now. Needless to say, it’s been hard to focus.


Hike in the woods with our dog

 

In the very beginning – when news of the corona virus first came out – there were times when I came close to writing a post. I thought of writing a post on best places to visit on the East Coast within a drive’s distance from New York. As the news changed, that idea quickly went out the door. Then I thought about writing a post on best day trip ideas, but then that idea quickly went into the trashcan as well. Perhaps I’ll write a post on nice places to go hiking – but my fear is that some places might get too crowded, and I don’t want to misguide anyone. We shall see.

When the first week of stay-at-home happened, it was paralyzing in a lot of ways. I was glued to the news from my sofa in my den, and that seemed all I could do. My kids were learning how “to learn” remotely (which so far, I must say, has gone well. My girls’ teachers have been unbelievable at figuring out how to teach from afar in such a short period of time), and every time there was a glitch or they didn’t understand something, I begrudgingly pulled myself away from the sofa to help them. I was lethargic, lazy and completely consumed by the news. Let’s face it, it’s depressing!


Stationed on my den sofa

 

Then there’ve been the things like the dishes and the 20 meals a day for the kids and the cleaning. The cabin fever, the rainy days, the trying to monitor screen time (I’ve given up). These are tough times and they are a true test!

But as time has continued on, the active and positive person that I am has started to fall back into place. Like so many others, I’ve taken this opportunity to do projects that I normally don’t have time for. I’ve turned my house upside down and gotten rid of a ton of clutter and unnecessary things, and it feels good. Maybe I’ll learn some lessons from this too – no more random junk from CVS! Seriously, enough is enough!

Donations

 

 

 

 

It feels good to be donating so many clothes and books and unopened games to those in need, and to be contributing in that way too. I usually do it, but have been way behind. I’m finally going to put those photos in my stack of photo frames, clean out my kitchen cabinets, and go through the garage (currently incomplete projects).

My girls and I are in discussion about how we’re going to redesign our basement, and they’ve been perusing design websites, which I find totally cute, not to mention productive and educational as well. We’ve been taking daily walks with our dog – something usually relegated to just me when they’re in school, and our dog has loved it. He’s loved all of the family time. We even enacted an episode of the cooking show “Chopped”, where the girls each made a dessert. The strawberry shortcake won, and the Reese’s chocolate bars got “chopped”.


“Chopped”

 

As Governor Andrew Cuomo says, there are silver linings to take from all of this. Of course, no one wishes Covid-19 and all its death had happened to begin with, but it’s important to see the good things, if you can. For instance, a new family ritual has arisen, something we never did before. Most nights these days my family eats dinner together and then plays B.S., the card game. It gets raucous and competitive and is a blast. Normally, on school days, we’re crazed with after school activities, then I’m trying to get dinner on the table in a rush, and then it’s homework time. There’s no time; it’s been nice to have the time.

Another silver lining is of course all the online social connections. I’ve connected with people I haven’t talked to in 20 years. Facetime, Zoom and the good old-fashioned phone have been a god-send, catching up with everyone from my current life to my childhood friends. Cocktail hour via Zoom with my college roommates was the best. Sending texts and memes to and between my earliest friends, so fun. Side note: a shout out to all the comedians and funny people on Instagram – you have seriously gotten me through this! Laughter seems to have been my medicine.

No, these are not laughing times, but if we can’t laugh, then where does that bring us? We have to find comfort in the little things. Whether it’s through de-cluttering, walking, running, cooking, reading, working on our homes, making art, writing, spending time with our kids, playing with our pets, re-connecting with family and friends, gardening, doing home work-outs, and simply laughing – those are going to be the silver linings in all of this. The things we’re normally too rushed to do or appreciate.

 

When I was cleaning out my closets, in the last closet I was cleaning, I found an old bag I hadn’t seen in years. It says: Silverlining. I viewed it as a sign.

 

This article was originally published on fifi + hop (Travel and Adventure, with Kids). Republished by permission.