Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chicago: Let's Eat

Avery and I spent a fantastic November weekend in Chicago. We celebrated my stepdad’s birthday. Visited my brother, Mike. Saw a Bob Dylan concert. And enjoyed Sunday Funday watching football with our fantasy league. But most of all, we ate. Lots and lots of delicious food.

We landed in Chicago around 10pm Friday and started our search for a late-night kitchen. We found ourselves at Longman & Eagle. And boy, was that a great decision. I really enjoy fresh, farm-to-table restaurants, but this one was different. The menu was more adventurous. We started off ordering some cocktails and olives. Followed by a shared spread of Beef Tartare, Braised Rabbit, Wild Boar Sloppy Joe, and a cheese plate to end our meal. It was all quite delicious and vanished rapidly. L&E, I look forward to returning.  

Next we ventured to the Slippery Slope and made our entrance through the back alley, true VIP-style. My brother Mike helped open the Slope back in May and I was happy to finally see the place. Their hard work definitely shows. I loved their beer taps made out of old vintage refrigerators, the bottled cocktails, and the glittery bar. They also have skee-ball, which is way cool. And a photo booth. Who doesn’t love photo booths?

Saturday morning was a bit rough after our night at the Slope (I blame Mike). Then came the question, “Should we do brunch?” We headed to Reno. Another great choice offering fresh, local ingredients in a fun atmosphere. I ordered the “Hook” sandwich, which came on a bagel made in-house. Their large wood fired oven was busy, cranking out these delicious bagels and scrumptious pizzas.

After brunch, we headed to our Wrigleyville Condo where we stayed for the duration of the weekend with our family. It was a neat location and the condo featured 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen, dining and living area. We made ourselves at home and enjoyed some pre-dinner cocktails. My mom whipped up some Roast Beef and Gravy Sandwiches for the group; a meal that always reminds me of the holidays since it was my Grandmother’s favorite. It was nice to have a home cooked meal before our big night out to see Bob Dylan.  

We ordered our Uber XL ride and climbed in, off to the show. Bob Dylan fans were already gathering outside The Cadillac Palace Theatre, well before show time. We headed across the street to Randolph Tavern and passed time over a drink or two. Then back to the theater, we were all anxious to see Dylan. The theatre was small, seating 1500. A much more intimate experience than the last time we had seen him at the United Center. It was quite the concert with many songs from his album “Tempest.” His two encores included “Blowin’ In The Wind,” which he rarely performs these days and “Stay With Me” from his next album, “Shadows In The Night” to be released in 2015. I was left teary-eyed and happy-hearted by the end; what a show, Bob.

Next, our group headed for Scofflaw for some after-show cocktails and to see my brother, Mike, at work. When he isn’t working at the Slippery Slope, you can find him here. Scofflaw offers gin-focused cocktails and craft beers in a neat atmosphere. We found a place for our group in the lounge area, with cozy couches, coffee tables, and candlelight. My favorite part of the evening was when the clock struck midnight and the staff began serving warm chocolate chip cookies to all of their guests. Roast beef, Bob Dylan, gin, and cookies… My night couldn’t get any better than this.

The next morning, we began our search for eggs-benedict, my stepdad’s all-time-favorite breakfast meal. We searched brunch spots near Wrigleyville and wound up at Lulu Belle’s Pancake House in Lakeview. They offered 4 varieties of eggs-benedict; he was very pleased with “The Basic.” Our good friend and Chicago-resident, “Pork Chop,” joined us for brunch. And afterwards, with full bellies, we headed back to Wrigleyville and secured our seats at Sluggers to watch Sunday Football. We had about half of our Fantasy League with us and were all busy checking our smart phones for point updates (nerd alert). We ended our evening back “home” at the condo with more football and Pequod’s Pizza. They make an excellent deep dish and a really enjoyed their yummy caramelized crust. We also snacked on this amazing cheese ball my mom had made… But that deserves its own future post.

Realizing that our trip was coming to a close, we joined Mike and Natalie for one more night out and had drinks at The California Clipper. The former theater was reopened as a bar in 1937 and renovated in 2002. It was also recently “rebooted” by Chicago Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff who we had the pleasure of meeting that evening. The menu offers more than 70 drinks, needless to say I was pleased by the gin selection.

Monday morning I awoke realizing we only had a couple more meals left to enjoy in Chicago. We started off with breakfast at Salt andPepper Diner, just down the street from our condo. They didn’t have eggs-benedict, but I did enjoy their BLT. After breakfast we packed our belongings and checked out. Goodbye, Wrigleyville Home, we’ll miss you.

We joined Mike at his place in Logan Square and discussed lunch plans, serious stuff. He and Natalie decided to take us to Kuma’s Corner, one of their favorite burger joints. It was a pleasing last lunch in Chicago, in an unexpected place. Don’t let the heavy metal band vibe scare you, their burgers are delish and made from local and homegrown ingredients. They also have a “Charity of the Month” that guests can donate to, how presh.

After lunch it was time for Avery and me to head home. We had seen a legendary performance by Bob Dylan. And we fulfilled our goal of eating as much as we could. The weekend was a success.

Off to the airport. Adios, Chicago. 

- Anna Adams | Condo Hotel Marketplace 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Leaving Las Vegas: 10 Side Trips

1.     Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (25 miles)

Once an ancient sea bed, this scenic area is home to beautiful red rock formations and is just moments from Las Vegas. In fact, you can see Las Vegas and its high-rise hotels from the many overlook points throughout the park. It has an excellent Visitor’s Center and a convenient one-way loop road circles all major park areas. The most prominent feature of the park is the Keystone Thrust – 3,000 foot sandstone cliffs that jut out of the desert floor. The Calico Tanks Trail and Icebox Canyon are two other popular areas to explore. Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area is also well known for its superb rock climbing.

2.     Lake Mead National Recreation Area (25 miles* - closest point to Las Vegas)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has access just 25 miles from Las Vegas, but the area spans 550 miles of shoreline. The two lakes here, Lake Mead and the smaller Lake Mohave, provide year round swimming, water skiing, camping, boating, fishing, tours, and cruises. Many visitors rent a houseboat and just cruise around for several days. Lake Mead NRA offers beautiful desert hiking terrain and is also a great stop-off point for visiting the Hoover Dam. And if camping isn’t your thing, overnight accommodations are available in the nearby town of Boulder City.

3.     Hoover Dam (35 miles)
The Hoover Dam, named after President Herbert Hoover and formerly named the Boulder Dam, was constructed 1931-1936 during the Great Depression. It is located in Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the Nevada/Arizona border. Hoover Dam is 1 of 7 Man-Made Wonders in the U.S. and forms Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the U.S. by volume. Take the tour; you will be greatly impressed by the engineering and construction of this magnificent structure. And if you decide to stay the night in Boulder City, there are several charming hotels including the historical Boulder Dam Hotel. “Old Town” also offers boutique shops and antiques.  

4.     Mount Charleston (45 miles)

A true mountain escape, just 45 miles from Las Vegas! Mount Charleston has an elevation of 11,918 feet and is usually 20-30 degrees cooler than Las Vegas. Camping is available May through September and hotels are open year round. Tours are also offered. Mount Charleston is a popular destination for picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and even snow skiing. The Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort offers passes, rentals, and classes during snowy months.

5.     Valley of Fire State Park (55 miles)
Valley of Fire is the largest and oldest state park in Nevada, dedicated in 1935. It consist of 42,000 acres of desert land, canyons, and red rock formations. It gets its name because as the sun sets or rises, the red sandstone appears to be on fire. The park is relatively small, so you can see most of the park within a day. Many of the hikes are under a mile and accessible from the main road. Tours are also available year round. This is a great destination for camping, hiking, picnicking, and photography. Rock climbing is allowed but limited to specific areas. Stop by the Visitor Center for more information.

6.     Death Valley National Park, California (135 miles)
Most people associate Death Valley with steady droughts and record summer heat. But in contrast, Death Valley also has beautiful frosted peaks and oases that are home to small fish and wildlife. After rainstorms, one can also discover endless fields of wildflowers here. The lowest point in this National Park is 280 feet below sea level and the highest point is Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet. That difference in elevation is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! Camping and lodging is available within park limits and in the towns to the east or west of the park. 

7.     Zion National Park, Utah (158 miles)    
Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park has beautiful Navajo sandstone canyons, rocky deserts, and forested plateaus. Mormon pioneers named the area “Zion” which is a term for “sanctuary” or “a place of peace and refuge.” A popular hike here is The Narrows where you actually hike through the Virgin River over slippery rocks in a canyon that is 20-30 feet wide and over 2,000 feet tall. Stop by the Visitor Center or Zion Lodge for current weather conditions and information before beginning the trek – it can be dangerous if storms bring flash flooding. Zion National Park also offers horseback riding, bicycling, backpacking, climbing, canyoneering, and many hikes with spectacular views. Cars are not allowed in the Upper Zion Canyon during peak season (April-October) but there are environmentally friendly shuttles that run every 7 minutes. Hotel rooms and cabins are offered at Zion Lodge and the park offers 3 campgrounds.   

8.     Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (210 miles)
Also located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is another must-visit park! The Red Rock Amphitheater is 12 miles long and overlooks along the rim are easily accessible from the main road. If you visits May through October, you can take the free Bryce Canyon Shuttle which stops at different viewpoints, trail heads, and park facilities. The Hoodoo Towers throughout the park are unique rock formations formed by a process called “frost wedging.” These pinnacles are up to 200 feet tall and form slot canyons that make the hikes below seem like a maze. This park has endless hiking trails and offers two campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also available but permits are required. Be sure to stick around for the sunset, the lighting on the formations is truly amazing! 

9.     Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (300 miles)
Formed by the Colorado River over millions of years, The Grand Canyon is one mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long. Bus tours from Las Vegas are available that also stop by the Hoover Dam. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can book a helicopter tour from Las Vegas which is about an hour flight away. About 90% of visitors see the park from the South Rim and only 10% make it to the North Rim (another 220 miles around the canyon). The North Rim is only open May through October, but the South Rim is open year round. The Grand Canyon is a great destination for hiking and backpacking, and riding mules through the inner canyon is a popular activity you won’t want to miss! You can also book river rafting trips which range from several days to three weeks. Lodging and camping are available within the park or just outside the park. Grand Canyon also has a complimentary shuttle connecting lodges with restaurants, shops, trailheads, and overlooks.

10.  In-N-Out Burger
If you’re unable to venture outside of Las Vegas during your next visit, then a stop by In-N-Out Burger may just do the trick! This fast food destination is a true southwest favorite and has been family owned since 1948. Cars line up here on their way to and from McCarran Airport so Las Vegas visitors can get a double-double, some fries, and a milkshake before they hit The Strip or depart from Sin City. In-N-Out burger has 12 locations throughout Las Vegas; the closest to The Strip is 4888 Dean Martin Dr. Feeling adventurous? Order you burger “Animal Style,” you won’t regret it. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Condo Hotel Cooking: Italian Pressed Sandwiches

I made this sandwich a few months ago for a winery trip with friends. It was a hit. Beyond a hit. In fact, I think it may have saved us (well, me) from a “hangry” episode. In case you haven’t heard the term, being “hangry” is when you’re hunger leads way to anger and you become, well… less fun to be around!

We were on our 3rd or 4th winery and had started early in the day, just after breakfast. As we arrived at this next destination we were more anxious to use the facilities and find food than we were in more samples. (Who am I kidding, bring on the wine tasting!)

As my husband and I waited for our group to gather again, we reached into our bag and brought out this miraculous sandwich. It gained attention. Lots of attention. “Where do I buy one of these?” “Can I have some?” “That looks delicious!”

So we cut our sandwich into little portions and shared it amongst our group of friends. Smiles returned and energy was renewed! After our impromptu picnic, we were revived and ready for the next tour and tasting.

Since the winery trip, I’ve also made this sandwich for float trips, boat outings, weekend getaways, and any other opportunity I have. It travels well and always pleases. So today I’ve decided to share my Italian Pressed Sandwiches with our Condo Hotel fans!

When staying in one of our condos, you will have all the comforts of home. Which means you’ll be equipped with the tools to prepare meals, snacks, and “hanger-prevention” sandwiches! Just a little bit of prep work is sure to keep your group happy, whether you’re relaxing at Barefoot Beach or have a full day planned touring the Las Vegas Strip.

What you’ll need:
  • One large loaf of ciabatta or a pack of ciabatta rolls - sliced lengthwise
  • Basil Pesto – homemade or store bought, I used half a jar of store bought pesto
  • Prosciutto – I had two 3 oz packages which was more than enough
  • Salami – get the good stuff, I used 4oz of Romano peppered salami from my deli’s gourmet section
  • Mozzarella cheese – about 8 slices
  • Provolone cheese – about 8 slices
  • Roasted Red Peppers – one jar
  • Plastic wrap and/or zip lock bags          
These ingredients aren’t set in stone. You can used more or less of whatever you’d like. I used red peppers for an extra kick this time. But I’ve also thought you could substitute the meat for eggplant or portabellas to make a yummy vegetarian version.

My mom has also made these sandwiches and recommends using individual ciabatta rolls. They fit nicely in smaller hotel refrigerators and can be individually wrapped for perfect-portion sizes that easily fit in a cooler or a tote bag.

Using a large bread knife, slice your bread loaf (or rolls) in half lengthwise.
Add a generous layer of pesto.
Layer on your prosciutto, then the salami.
Next is cheese. And more cheese.
Top it off with some roasted red peppers.
And voila! Your sandwich is now ready to be wrapped and pressed.

The pressing is the fun part about this sandwich. You can press it for about 4 hours and that will be fine. However, I usually make my sandwich a day ahead and let it press overnight.
My kitchen fridge was too full for such a mighty sandwich, so I had to find space in the “beer fridge” in our garage. You could stack books and weights on the sandwich for pressing; or you could use the beer that’s already in the fridge!
After the pressing is complete, remove your sandwich from the wrap, cut into shareable squares and enjoy.

Happy Travels,
Anna Adams

Condo Hotel Marketplace 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Next Destination: Belize Ocean Club

Come enjoy the Caribbean and much more from this beautiful boutique resort! Belize Ocean Club is the perfect location for your next family vacation or romantic getaway.
The Suites offered at Belize Ocean Club have all the comforts of home: full kitchens, living rooms, and flat screen TVs. They also have private patios and balconies for you to get some fresh air or take in the stunning views around you.
And you won’t need to leave this resort in order to enjoy fine cuisine or quench your thirst. Delight in breakfast, lunch, and dinner at The Ocean Club Bar & Grill. Sip your favorite cocktail at the Maya Beach Bar, located right on the Caribbean Sea and complete with a swim-up bar. Or visit the Lagoon Restaurant for appetizers, entrees, or desserts while watching the sun set.
When you do decide to venture off property, there will be several tours available for you to choose from. Explore ancient Mayan ruins or visit the world’s only Jaguar Preserve. Trek through the Cockscomb Basin and enjoy a refreshing swim beneath a beautiful waterfall. Or explore the world’s second largest reef while snorkeling and scuba diving.

The following excursions are offered at Belize Ocean Club:

            SCUBA DIVING
Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, making it a popular destination for SCUBA Diving. Favorite destinations include Laughing Bird Caye, Silk Cayes, Glover’s Reef, and Columbus Reef. And in Belize you can sometimes be accompanied by the Whale Shark, but don’t worry – Belize is known for having friendly sharks!
Packing List: Bring an under-water camera. The disposable ones work well and you will love looking back on your colorful Caribbean pics.
Belize Ocean Club offers 20 locations for snorkeling, including the Sapodilla Cayes. Just a short boat ride, and then you’ll find yourself in the most beautiful shallow waters. The Caribbean is perfect for snorkeling if you have never been. And your group is sure to love the beautiful coral formations and marine life.
Packing List: Snorkeling all day can leave you with a mighty sunburn, so come prepared! Bring sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher. And if you have a rash-guard, it will also protect you from the sun (a T-shirt would also help).
Whether you enjoy deep sea, fly, trolling, or bone fishing – Belize Ocean Club has you covered! And they offer multiple locations for you to catch tuna, group, snapper, and other species. Once you’re done for the day, take your catch back to the resort and the Chefs will be happy to prepare a fresh-fish dinner for you!
Packing List: Sunscreen is always necessary, but don’t forget your favorite fishing hat for this excursion!
Hike deep into the rainforests of Belize. Take in the views of Victoria’s Peak, the highest in the country. Learn to track Jaguars and keep an eye out for exotic bird species. This tour will be fun and educational as you learn about different flora and fauna found in Belize and the tropical ecology.
Packing List: Wear comfortable hiking shoes. This tour isn’t flip-flop friendly.
An indigenous Maya from the region will guide you on this excursion. Learn their traditions and explore their history at Lubaantn and Nim Li Punit. At the end of the trip, you’ll get to explore caves at Blue Creek or Rio Blanco Waterfalls. Rio Blanco is a 15 ft waterfall that pours into a deep swimming hole. This is a popular jumping spot for thrill seekers – but use caution as the climb up can be very slick!
Packing List: At the end of the day, you’ll want your swimsuit so you can splash around. Bring it along or just wear it under your clothes – Belize is as casual as it gets.
Running from the Mayan Mountains to the Caribbean Sea is the Monkey River. This river is named for the Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey that lives in the region. Watch for these and other animals along your cruise! This special conservation area is also home to toucans, herons, manatees, and crocodiles. The Monkey River cruise is one of Belize Ocean Club’s most popular tours and is sure to please the whole family!
Packing List: Bring along a set of binoculars to get a closer view of the birds and animals.

Adventure awaits you… So grab your passport and get packing! We look forward to making your next trip a memorable one. For reservations please contact Condo Hotel Marketplace at 866.469.6060 or email us at reservenow@condohotelmarketplace.com

Monday, July 21, 2014

10 Fun Things to Do for FREE in Las Vegas

Whether you have gambled away the last of your cash or just want to save a bit of dough, this list of 10 Fun Things to Do for FREE in Las Vegas will certainly keep you entertained:
  1. Gambling Lessons - Many Las Vegas hotels offer free gambling lessons for visitors. Learn the rules and object of each game, then play a few hands for practice. Even if you're a seasoned gambler, you can still pick up some new techniques or learn a game you've never tried before. Poker lessons are offered at the MGM Grand each day at 10:30am and 6pm and many other hotels offer lessons for various games. Make sure you reserve your spot ahead of time or arrive early - classes are limited and fill up quickly. Good luck and happy gambling!
  2. The Bellagio Fountains & Conservatory – The Fountains of Bellagio are one of the most famous free attractions along the Las Vegas Strip. This show features multiple fountains and lights choreographed to music. They run every half hour during the day and about every 15 minutes during the evenings (after 7pm). The music changes too, so the show may be different from the last time you visited Vegas! While the fountains take a rest, head inside to the Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. The gardens are magnificent and change throughout the year for holidays and seasons. There are live musical performances from 5-6pm daily too. You can also meet Mr. & Mrs. Green Thumb between 10:30-11:30am to ask questions or get gardening tips.
  3. The Volcano at Mirage – Another Strip-Side attraction you cannot miss is the Volcano at Mirage. This fiery performance takes place every half hour after 8pm (with the exception of 8:30) until midnight. And of course, no Vegas attraction would be complete without music: Greatful Dead’s Mickey Hart and Indian tabla sensation Zakir Hussain will you keep you grooving during the eruption!
  4. The Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo – The 15 acre Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo will make you feel as if you’re in a distant land, far away from the Las Vegas Strip. This attraction features koi ponds, turtles, and of course flamingos! They have two live feedings per day for nature lovers and children to enjoy. Take a rest to relish the scenery or strike a pose for a fantastic photo-op.
  5. The Aquarium at Silverton – Visit Silverton’s 117,000 gallon aquarium, home to over 4,000 tropical fish and several MERMAIDS! Did we say mermaids? Yes! Stop in Thursday – Sunday to try and spot one of these majestic creatures. You can also catch interactive fish feedings daily at 1:30pm and 4:30pm.
  6. CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand – Stop into the CBS Television City to give your two cents about television programs from Viacom networks such as CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon. Screenings typically last about 45 minutes and are followed by a 15 minute touch-screen survey.  Television City has also offers testing for commercials, websites, and consumer electronics such as gaming systems and computers. After you’ve given your opinion, you can stop into the souvenir shop for merchandise from your favorite TV shows.
  7.  The Auto Collections at the Quad Resort & Casino – Stop into The Auto Collections between 10am and 6pm to view their plethora of vehicles, worth over $100 Million. This eclectic showroom features 250 antique, muscle, famous, and historically significant cars. This is a must-see for any vehicle-buff visiting Las Vegas. They even offer a free audio guide so you can get the full history and hear the unique stories behind these cars! All vehicles at the Auto Collection are for sale so inventory is constantly changing.
  8. Carnevale di Venezia – The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and The Shoppes at Palazzo are both fantastic places to window shop. And each day, they come alive thanks to the Carnevale di Venezia. A 15 minute performance features operas and Italian folk music. There are also several other entertainers such as gondoliers, livings statues, and jugglers on stilts. The shows create a “Streetmosphere,” taking you into the heart of Italy. See one of several daily performance at St. Mark’s Square (Venetian) or in front of Barney’s New York (Palazzo).
  9. The Fremont Experience – Fremont Street just isn’t what it used to be. It’s better! Visit Downtown Las Vegas to see the Viva Vision Light Shows every hour from dusk til midnight. The light shows take place on a large overhead canopy that’s the length of 5 football fields. And it’s all set to awesome music! New shows are added each year, so Fremont Street Experience staff currently have about 15 options to choose from. And while you’re there, you’ll notice people launching themselves from a giant slot machine known as “Slotzilla,” down a zip line through Fremont! The zip-line does require you to buy a ticket, but it’s free to people watch. Which brings us to our final topic…
  10. People Watching – Las Vegas is by far the BEST place for people watching. You’ll find costumed characters all along the Strip. And you never know when you’ll catch an impromptu street performer breakdancing, juggling, or performing magic tricks. Wherever you are in Vegas, keep your eyes peeled. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to take a selfie with Batman or Alan from the Hangover!