Coney Island Nostalgia

coney island Home to the first enclosed amusement park in America, the famed Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest,  and the site of countless American tales Coney Island, New York was once billed as “Heaven at the end of a subway ride.” After decades of neglect this once vibrant sea side attraction has been given a major face lift, but  has that caused it to lose it’s historical charm?

My first trip to Coney Island was almost two decades ago when my husband – a Brooklyn native who grew up blocks from the famous boardwalk— and I spent a quasi-honeymoon weekend eating Nathan’s, watching a guy hammer a nail into his nasal cavity and holding on for dear life in Deno’s Spook-A-Rama. For a kid from the California coast, this place was a dirty, gritty, rundown piece of nostalgia. You could almost see actual fleas in the Flea Market. It was every stereotype I’d imagined Brooklyn to be… and I loved it!

In the years since that first visit many of the things that gave Coney Island it’s uniqueness have vanished. The Nickle Empire, a nickname it earned back in its heyday when visitors could enjoy a knish and rides for five-cents each, is quickly becoming a Jackson Hole. {try to get out of there without spending at least $20} Gone are the rickety stalls selling oddities and baubles, carnival games with chipped paint facades and character. In their place sparkle the glowing beacons of chain stores and restaurants.

Come to Coney Island, eat at Applebees?

My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island
My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island

As goliath thrill rides designed by the same folks responsible for Six Flags crowd into the new Luna Park, I wonder how long the Cyclone  has left {not that I’d actually ever get on the thing}. It’s not that the “new” Coney Island won’t be a wonderful place in its own right, but rather that with gentrification of the area comes the end of an era.

Certainly there must be enough chain restaurants to sustain the appetite  of those who love an afternoon outing at Applebee’s, endless bread sticks and bottomless appetizers. As dubious as eating fresh oysters from a stand on the Brooklyn boardwalk may sound, I’d still rather give those a go when in Coney Island.

The thought of heading to Whalburgers for fries in the shadow of the Cyclone is simply bonkers. Then again most people in Brooklyn are Mets fans and might not have a problem with South Boston’s own serving them up meat on a bun. You Yankees fans should be ashamed.

It seems that progress is steaming along down Surf Avenue. Sigh

Coney Island Mermaid ParadeI suggest you go visit Coney Island now. Soon the only mermaids marching in the parade may be Disney princesses and not Drag Queens.

 

Last Minute Gifts from Your Smartphone

So this is Christmas, and what have I done? Forgotten teacher gifts, failed to mail holiday cards and let the Big Guy down in the stocking stuffing department. In short, I’m failing Christmas this year. Or maybe not. Did you know you can get last minute gifts from your smartphone? No shipping. No wrapping. Nobody has to know how very Grinchy it got.

Generally I’m the very model of Merry and Bright. Most years the halls have been decked by the day after Thanksgiving, shopping finished by December first, by the week of Christmas the oven is  continuously cranking out sweets and savories for friends, family and public servants too.

This year… not so much.

I’m not sure if it’s the 70 degree weather in Maryland – Maryland NOT California! Or loosing one of our fury family members of 13 years the day before Thanksgiving. It could just be seasonal lazy. Who knows. All I do know is that I’m every so grateful that modern technology has my back. Otherwise people might be on to the fact that I don’t really have it all together… any time of year.

Last Minute Gifts from Your Smartphone

Last Minute Gifts from Your Smartphone

Smilebox Holiday eCards

Didn’t have time to create that cool holiday card, stick a stamp on it and mail it? No worries, you can send an equally awesome eCard with your own photos and personal touches straight from your smartphone. Smilebox has an easy app with lots of customization available through templates and more.

You can create cards, build slideshows, and create collages. Plus this is an Eco-friendly way  to send those holiday wishes.

Text A Gift Card

I can’t even tell you how awesome this feature is. Imagine no shipping charges, not having to fight crowds, no wrapping. It’s a holiday miracle.

I forgot gifts for the kids’ teachers this year. I always give them Starbucks gift cards, because coffee.  This oversight came to my attention sitting in the drop-off line this morning… the last day of school before the break. That’s the level of fail we’re talking about here.

I’m a Verizon customer and the messaging app on my phone allows me to click on a cute little package which then opens up a window with gifting options. Three clicks and all the teachers got texts wishing them a Merry Christmas and happy caffeinated New Year.

Google Store has a similar option as does iTunes. Helpful little elves that they are.

Last Minute Holiday Gifts from Your SmartPhoneBe There, Even When You Aren’t

My parents live in California, where I grew up. We are all the way on the East Coast. It gets pricey to fly four kids, two grownups, and an ostrich in a bear tree across the country at the holidays. Airlines with inflated holiday fairs are the real Grinch, huh? 

Live video streaming is a built-in feature on my Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. All I have to do to let Memaw and Papa see the kids open their gifts, is tap a few buttons and we’re all in the same room.

Sing and Dance Together

Music is a big deal in our house. It seems everything we do from hiking to house cleaning has it’s own playlist. The holidays are when we turn it up to 11.

The kids and I put together playlists for cookie decorating, Christmas dinner, and even to send to our Marine who is stationed far from home. Spotify let’s us all contribute our favorite tunes and share them. We play this music through the audio in the car on the three hour drive to see my husband’s family in New York city, and beam it to our smartTV while we unwrap gifts. The teen even rocks the tunes from her phone while she’s doing dishes… cuts down on the complaining… sometimes.

Even if you’ve totally failed the holidays to this point, if you’ve got a Smartphone you’ve got it covered. Merry Christmas from our family to you and yours!

Disclosure: As member of a pretty cool team of influencers, I occasionally receive cool products to test drive and share my honest thoughts on. No additional compensation is provided, neither were any favorable comments promised.  All opinions are my own. 

 

Global Cookie Recipes from Omni Hotels

Taking a recipe with you is the best sort of travel souvenir. It lets you recall the memories with all your senses. Omni hotels are bringing it all back with some great global cookie recipes and personal stories.

Dulce De Leche Snap Cookies“This family recipe stems from growing up with my grandmother in a small village off the coast of the Pacific, a few hours from Acapulco. She was a great cook and baker. Everything that she produced was done from scratch including one of the main ingredients that was used for this particular cookie, the “Dulce de Leche” which was made from sugar cane molasses.” ~ Executive Chef Gabino Acosta, Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas

Dulce de Leche Snap Cookies

8 oz Sugar
5 oz Brown sugar
0.03 oz Salt
12 oz Shortening
4 oz Butter
4 oz Whole milk
.5 oz Baking soda
22 oz Molasses
20 oz Bread flour
20 oz Cake flour

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together sugars, salt shortening and butter till smooth and soft. Dissolve baking soda in milk and add to the mix. Add molasses. Sift together flours and add it to the mixer, slowly till smooth. Roll 1.5 ounce balls, then make the dough in the shape of mini bowl. Scoop the Dulce de Leche into 0.8 ounce. Add the Dulce de Leche into the dough, close it and shape the cookie in 2 inches rounds. Freeze the cookie dough for about 20 minutes, and bake them frozen 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Amaretti Cookie RecipeIn my husband’s Italian family, Amaretti cookies are a holiday staple. I’ve been asking my mother-in-law for her recipe for years. Like the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond she always seems to be unable to find it or recall it from memory when I ask. Our cookies are either shipped by her, or store bought… until now!

Amaretti Cookies

12oz almond paste
2oz egg whites
¾ C powdered sugar
½ C granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Put the almond paste in the bowl of your mixer and, with the paddle attachment, paddle to break up
3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a sticky dough
4. Scoop the cookies with a cookie scoop (or alternately just scoop with a tablespoon) and roll into a ball. Place the balls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Slightly wet your fingers in warm water, and press the cookies down using 2 fingers (you want to see the finger marks)
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until just starting to show color

“The holidays always remind me of baking with my Italian Nana. We would make pies, rolls, and cookies. The first thing she ever let me do in the kitchen was whip the cream for the pies, and every year when I am making my holiday desserts and whipping that cream, I think of being a little girl baking with my Nana.”  ~ Pastry Chef Kristina Kent, Omni Dallas Hotel

Omni has put together a great collection of global cookie recipes that you can enjoy at their hotels, or visit their Pinterest page to find some to try at home!

Disclosure: This post was only sponsored by my taste buds and love of trying new recipes. I was not compensated in any way. We do love to stay at Omni hotels – Berkshire in New York City is our favorite – because they always treat everyone in your family like you’re in theirs.

 

Double Chocolate Espresso Brownies

Double Chocolate Espresso BrowniesCould there be anything more celebratory than a deep, rich, chewy chocolate brownie? Um, yeah. If it’s a brownie with double the chocolate and kicked up with some espresso. Nothing brings out the full flavor of really good chocolate like coffee.

This recipe is actually a cheat on my Italian mother-in-laws famous from-scratch brownies. Honestly, who has the time to sift flour, measure dry ingredients, and all that jazz. Okay, maybe I do but if I can get out of the kitchen faster and still look like a baking rock star, all the better.

Want to up your WOW factor? Serve these with some gelato on the side. The hubby loves pistachio but I’m a bit of a purist, make mine espresso or vanilla, thank you. 

 

Double Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Rich, chewy, indulgent brownies with half the effort.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. Boxed Fudge Brownie Mix (your favorite brand)
  2. 2 Large Eggs
  3. 1/4 Cup Espresso Coffee (room temp)
  4. 1/4 Vegetable Oil
  5. 1/4 Olive Oil
  6. 1/2 Cup Dark Chocolate (shaved off bar)
  7. 1/2 Cup Milk Chocolate Chips
Instructions
  1. Brew espresso and allow to cool to room temperature. You can use instant espresso, but brewed has a deeper flavor. Whisk eggs and oil together. Beat into dry brownie mix along with cooled espresso. Fold in chocolate. Place in a glass baking dish 13"x9" that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 27-30 minutes until toothpick inserted an inch or so from the edge comes out clean. Remove and cool on a wire cooling rack.
Notes
  1. Do not over-work your brownie batter that will result in a cake-like brownie rather than a chewy one.
Adapted from Her Mother-In-Law's Super Complicated Recipe
Adapted from Her Mother-In-Law's Super Complicated Recipe
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

 

White House Travel Bloggers Summit: A Year Later

White House Travel Blogger Summit A cold rain gently fell streaking the windows with of threads of color. I stood in the State Dinning room and looked above the mantel.  As I gazed at the portrait of Lincoln, I’d never felt smaller. How did this kid from a one-tumbleweed town end up as an invited guest, standing in the same State Dinning Room where world leaders have gathered?

Travel brought me to that moment of awe one year ago today. Attending the White House Travel Bloggers Summit was one of those surreal moments in life. I felt both humbled and emboldened.

We came from all walks of life; television personalities, editors of respected publications, thought leaders, government officials, entrepreneurs, creators, storytellers, each with stories as different as the pages of our dogeared travel journals. Yet here we were one. Each of us bonded by a shared passion for helping others understand the true power of travel as a force for change in the world.

The State Department hosted this event as a thunderclap announcement for the opening of the U.S. Study Abroad Office and to pose the question to the world… Study Abroad Because?

“…we want to ensure America’s future leaders have opportunities to experience the world beyond their border…” ~Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

In the year since the summit my family has chosen to take up the mantle of spreading the word on how travel can better the world. Be that study or volunteering abroad, connecting with the history and traditions of new places {far and near}, or welcoming others into our lives to share who we are.

My teen and I attended a virtual study abroad campus fair where we connected with educators and students from Australia to Georgia {the country not the state}, Italy to Russia. For her it was great to hear college students talk about their personal experiences, I felt bolstered by learning that these programs weren’t just about seeing the sights.

white house travel blogger summit As a family we visited the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, busting a few myths about Canada.  Immersed ourselves Georgian, Latvian, Turkish, and Jamaican cultural experiences … and food. Oh the food.

I even talked myself into being okay with the teen headed to Korea or Russia this summer to study language in an immersion program. Okay, if we’re being honest a small part of me still hopes she doesn’t get in… my baby alone in a foreign land?! Practicing what you preach is tough, yo!  

The best part of the last year though has been getting to know my fellow summit attendees and following along as they make the world a smaller place.

white house travel blogger summitCome join the journey…

Why Taking My Daughter to Haiti Was an Investment in Her Future as a Global Citizen – Leticia Barr

White House Travel Blogger Summit Miniseries – from Nathaniel Boyle’s Daily Travel Podcast

Finding the Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship at the Center of Dalí’s Universe – Brad Bernard

Life Coming Full Circle at the White House Travel Blogger Summit – Colleen Lanin

My Turkish Love Affair – Elena Sonnino

The Moment That Cuba Opened Its Secret To Me – Lillie Marshal

15 Lessons I Learned from Traveling Around the World – Angie Orth

Emotional Travel: Revisiting Places of Personal Importance in 2015 – Matt Long

New Year, New Life: You’re Never Too Old to Study Abroad – Jackie Laulainen (for Yahoo Travel)
Study Abroad Because… There are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better – A Wandering Educators Student Interview
Why Your Teen High School Student Should Go Abroad (The Parent’s Guide) – Dr. Jessie Voights
 

“Travel can change you. It should change you.” ~ Brad Bernard MyWanderList

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT