While in Mexico last week the Chef and I decided to check out some Mayan ruins. Every tour guide, book, blog, website, or tripadvisor talked about Tulum so we headed there first. I had read about the Coba runis briefly but tossed the idea aside due to it being about an hour further from our hotel. We got up at the crack of down in hopes of missing the tour busses and hit the road.
We arrived at the Tulum ruins about 30 minutes later, took a wrong turn from the parking lot and drove directly to the front entrance. FYI. This is highly frowned upon and actually quite illegal. Our Spanish is pretty bad and there were no igns indicating the road we were driving on was for pedestrians. Tulum 1, Team Sawyer 0.
We paid the entrance fee, about $20 for both of us, grabbed a map and entered the ancient ruins. We hiked up and found that ruins were laid out over an expansive pece of land and each ruin was heavily roped off. Our dreams of climbing to the top of a Mayan ruin were dashed and although the park was beautiful it didn't match the romantic dream we had both envisioned. We snapped some selfies and decided to leave. We would check out Coba, the ruins 30 minutes into the jungle.
And thank god we did.
If you have are going to Mexico and want to see, feel, walk on, embrace a real life Mayan ruin, go to Coba. It's in the jungle and it is one of the most captivating places I have ever been.
The Chef and I might be turning into the same person. This year for Christmas we agreed to buy a very small gift for each other. We set a budget and agreed not to go over it. Mostly though, we agreed to actively spend time together, not working, not talking about work, and not thinking about work.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my gift to find a spa day at The Walden Inn and Spa in Aurora, Ohio. Better yet, imagine his surprise when he opened his gift to find a three night stay at The Walden Inn and Spa in Aurora, Ohio. How ridiculous is that? I had no idea the Chef even knew what a spa was. We bought each other the same gift. At the same place. Like I said, we are totally turning into each other.
We decided to go the day after New Years to start off the year with a bang. I shared my spa day with him (back waxing CHECK) and went spent three glorious days together. It was unbelievably amazing.
The spa itself is gorgeous and the shared couple rooms are ridiculous. The wonderful thing about doing a treatment is that you get the room for an hour before and after. The room is huge with a giant hot tub, two massage tables, sauna and steam, a reading nook, and a wintery view of the woods. We most definitely enjoyed our spa day.
I knew about The Walden thanks to my bff getting married there a few years back. While I didn't stay for the wedding it was hard to forget the simple beauty of the atmosphere. The Inn is large but not overwhelming and the staff has a way of being all encompassing but never intrusive. For the most part we barely saw a soul. Each night we watched a movie in the private theater all by ourselves. We made popcorn and drank cider and watched cheesy stoner comedies. It was so much fun! We also found ourselves taking an exorbitant amount of baths. I think in our entire marriage I have known the Chef to take a bath once. In three days I think he averaged two baths per day. We were very clean. We were also very very happy. It really felt like a second honeymoon.
We ended up eating out a few times as The Walden's main restaurant The Barn was closed for winter holiday and the room service food was meh. We had two meals out and both were not super exciting but I'm glad we did it. We never ever get a chance to see what other people are cooking. Our time at The Walden was easily the best Christmas present either of us have ever received!
If you have a chance to spend a weekend at The Walden, I highly recommend it. I know that the Chef and I plan to start our new year off every year at The Walden, it is good for the soul and great for the marriage.
The Chef and I get to do some pretty rad stuff. We've travelled our butts off these last two years and that doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Last year the Chef spent a month in Italy headlining a culinary tour and then he hung out in my families hometown for restaurant research. It turned out to be a phenomenal learning experience for him but it was pretty hard on us. Thirty days away is way too long for our little family.
So when the Chef was approached again to headline an Italian tour we knew we had to be a part of it. The In Cucina & In Famiglia Custom Tour was born!!
We leave in June and will be spending a week cooking together as a family, hanging with our family (and hopefully yours) all while in the beautiful homeland of my family. The itinerary put together by Diana is simply spectacular and the Chef and I are beyond excited to be a part of such an amazing trip. We hope you can join us!
June 22-29, 2013
Day 1 Saturday June 22, 2013 Depart Cleveland
Depart Cleveland for Florence, Italy.
Day 2 Sunday June 23, 2013 Florence, San Gimignano
Arrive in Florence, Italy. Private transfer to hotel in San Gimignano. Time at leisure to stroll through the cobbled streets of this true Tuscan jewel. Renowned for its bell towers and strategic location over a hilltop, this will certainly be a place to remember. By late afternoon we will meet with the Sawyer Family as they will spend some time talking to us about their ideas on nutrition and how good food can be made fun for children. We will end the short discussion with a lesson in the Italian Language and then we will learn how gelato is made. At the end of our discussions, we will sample some true Italian gelato from Diana’s favorite Gelateria located on the Piazza Della Cisterna in San Gimignano. More free time to explore the narrow streets of San Gimignano before dinner and then overnight.
Day 3 Monday June 24, 2013 San Gimignano, Florence
Breakfast at hotel and then transfer to Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. Today we will discover the beauty of this elegant city par excellence with a special tour for children with our bilingual, private and certified guide. This morning we will visit the Galleria Academia to view the beautiful sculptures by Michelangelo, the slaves or prisoners of the rocks and the unforgettable statue of David. The Academia houses some of the most important sculptures of Florence. (to avoid the long lines, we will prearrange entrance tickets). Then we are on to the famous Duomo of Florence (the fourth largest church in the world), with its grandiose cupola by Brunelleschi, Giotto's bell tower, and the Baptistery with its famous bronze doors. Our guided tour will include the Piazza Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio. Part of the walking tour will include a climb up through the Duomo’s cupola to the top. Children will certainly enjoy this adventure and the 360 degree view from high above. At the end of the tour, you will have time at leisure to enjoy Florence. During your free-time, you may choose to rest at a local trattoria or visit the open air markets of the San Lorenzo or the Mercato Del Pulcinello for some genuine Florentine artifacts, leather goods and souvenirs. Upon our return to San Gimignano we will join the Sawyers in a pasta making session. Of course we will feast upon our creations for dinner. Overnight in San Gimignano.
Day 4 Tuesday June 25, 2013 San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Orvieto
**For those interested, you may partake in a hot air balloon ride over the gently rolling hills of Tuscany….as the trip draws near, we will have more details!!
Breakfast at hotel and then morning departure for Monteriggioni, a tiny city in the heart of Tuscany which was built over 500 years ago as a military outpost by Siena. The entire town is intact as it was and as a result, the children will be able to walk the original observation wall which circles the town to enjoy incredible views of the rolling hills below. On our journey south, we will stop in the country side for a rustic picnic and have a brief lesson in Italian. By Mid-afternoon, the adults will enjoy a wine tasting of the coveted Brunello di Montalcino accompanied by local cheeses, olive oil, prosciutto, and vin Santo. By late afternoon, we will make our way towards the city of Orvieto, in the heart of Umbria. The origins of Orvieto date back to the Etruscan Civilization. The first Etruscan settlements, going back to the 9th century B.C., in fact were found inside the turfaceous caves in the bedrock upon which today rises the city itself. Dinner will be in an ancient cave. Overnight in Orvieto.
Day 5 Wednesday June 26, 2013 Orvieto
Breakfast at hotel. This morning you will have free time to explore this wonderful city. During your free time, you may choose to visit the Duomo as it is the most famous Cathedral of the city. Construction of this Italian Gothic style structure took 100 years to complete and dates back to 1263. The Duomo houses the blood soaked cloth which is the relic related to the miracle at Lake Bolsena which occurred in the same year. The modern day Roman Catholic Festival of Corpus Christi is a result of this miracle. Another possible sight could be Saint Patrick’s Well or you may simply enjoy sitting and sipping a cold glass of local white wine as you observe the local color of the town. If shopping is your goal, there are many beautiful shops to explore as well. One of my favorite things to do is to sit back and observe the Orvietani (citizens of Orvieto) themselves as Orvieto is a very tranquil and contained city and independent exploration is a pleasure. Today we have arranged another fun afternoon in cucina, but first, we will explore the extensive underground city of Orvieto. This is a fascinating labyrinth of tunnels and twists where we will learn about the activities which took place in them for countless centuries. Mid-afternoon, we will meet one of our favorite “pizzaiolo” (professional pizza maker) in Orvieto for a private pizza lesson. It is another day to get down and dirty, this time in cucina – so come prepared! After preparing the dough and delicious toppings, we will also get to enjoy our pizza creations together. For dessert, we will have gelato together in the main piazza. Overnight in Orvieto.
Day 6 Thursday June 27, 2013 Orvieto, Civita Di Bagnoreggio, Rome
Breakfast at hotel and then by early morning, we will begin our journey towards Rome. On our way to Roma, we will stop in the almost abandoned ancient town of Civita Di Bagnoreggio. This tiny town is perched upon an ancient tufa rock and is accessible only by crossing a foot bridge to get there. This town dates back over 2500 years to the fascinating Etruscan civilization. Before arriving in Rome, in the outskirts of the city, we will stop at one of Diana’s favorite “agriturismi/campagne” for a special day in the Italian countryside. Here we will see live animals and many crops which sustain the typical Italian diet. The Sawyers will talk to us about their ideas on the importance of the concept of “0 kilometers” and genuine food and how a farm functions in harmony with nature. We will all have a chance to plant some seeds and harvest some crops before we indulge in a true Italian style country lunch. Our lunch will be very hands on as we are guided by the Sawyers in the preparation of our meal. At some point this afternoon we will sneak in an Italian lesson as well. In the late afternoon we will arrive to Rome. Check in our hotel. The remainder of the evening is yours to explore or to rest.
Day 7 Friday June 28, 2013 Roma Antica
Breakfast at hotel. This morning we will gather for a tour of Ancient Roma and all its glory. As we plunge into the vivacious traffic of Rome, our senses will be simultaneously stimulated by antiquity and modern day society. We will feel the heart-beat of the city as we pass through the Piazza Venezia where we will admire the huge monument dedicated to the first Italian King Vittorio Emmanuelle II. Today, this has been dedicated to the memory of the unknown soldiers with the eternal flame. We will pass the Teatro Marcello and The Circus Maximus, the site of many chariot races. We will take a stroll through the Roman Forum, rich with antiquity. Through the main square of Rome, crossing the Via Sacra (the Sacred Way), the most important street in ancient Rome where many triumphant processions took place. We will see the ruins of some ancient monuments as well as the Triumphal Arches of Titus and Septimius Severus, the Curia, seat of the Roman Senate, the Basilica Emilia and the Basilica Julia which were both used for business transactions. We will also see The Vesta Temple with the house of the Vestal Virgins, and finally the Temples of Antoninus and Faustina, Vespasian and Saturn. If you choose, you may enter The Coliseum the magnificent Flavian Amphitheatre where we will envision the gladiator duels, wild beast fights and naval battles which were arranged for the entertainment of the Roman people. The Arch of Constantine is visible from here as well. At the end of our guided tour, we will have time to relax at an outdoor café or discover something new in the Eternal City. the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, The Piazza Venezia and the Trevi Fountain. Afternoon at leisure and then Farewell dinner at one of Diana’s favorite restaurants in Roma and then gelato at her favorite Gelateria in Roma. Overnight in Roma.
Day 8 Saturday June 29, 2013 Depart Rome
Transfer to Fiumicino International Airport for overseas flights. Arrivederci Bella Italia!!!
This Once in a Lifetime Custom Journey Includes the Following:
- 6 Nights stay in hotels
- 6 Breakfasts
- 2 Lunches which include wine
- 5 Dinners which include wine
- A private driver throughout entire journey
- 2 Private airport transfers: Upon arrival in Florence on June23rd and upon departure from Roma on June 29th
- Several Cooking lessons and kid friendly culinary discussions
- 2 or more Lessons in the Italian language
- 3 private certified bilingual Guides: Florence, Orvieto, and Roma
- 4 Entrance tickets: to the Galleria Academia in Florence, to the military observation walk in Monteriggioni, to the subterranean caves of Orvieto and to the Coliseum in Roma
- 1 Pizza Lesson
- 3 if not more gelato treats
- 1 wine tasting (for the adults) which includes a light meal
- The accompaniment of Diana Maiola Cirino and Jonathan and Amelia Sawyer and family
- A Kick-off Party hosted by Diana Maiola Cirino and The Sawyers to include a lesson in the Italian language
If interested in travelling with us, #teamsawyer, to Italy please email Italian Tours by Diana as the trip is quickly filling up.
This past Monday the Chef and I celebrated our 6 year wedding anniversary! Hard to believe it’s been 6 years but hot damn has it been a crazy fun ride. The Chef loves all of me, all of the time. No. Matter. What. I can’t say that about anyone else in this world. We are total lifers and I couldn’t be happier. Sure sometimes I want to punch him in the face and shave his beard of while he’s sleeping but if that’s not love, I don’t know what love is. Totally kidding. He’s the man and it’s dope that he’s mine.
Normally, we tend to forgo presents on our anniversary and usually try to take a trip somewhere. Just the two of us. No work, no kids, just us.
Last year the Chef surprised me with a trip to our friends restaurant in Virginia. This year I surprised the Chef with a road trip to Chicago. We packed our bags and hit the turnpike.
In under 6 hours we crossed two state lines and found ourselves in the Windy City with no kids, no reservations, and most importantly no work.
Check out or whirlwind weekend in The Windy City:
I picked Chicago for two reasons: the proximity to CLE (5 hour drive for us) and the awesome rate I got on Jetsetter. As I was perusing for hotels, I saw the special for The James. Their website looked cool and they responded to my questions about their gym on the Twitter, so I booked it.
We checked in and immediately noticed the super hip vibe. Being not so hip, I demanded that the Chef take ridiculous pictures of me posing with art chairs. He complied as evidenced above. Because we had absolutely NO SCHEDULE for the weekend, we headed up to our room to relax after the long drive.
Honestly we found ourselves a bit disappointed with The James. When we arrived on the 7th floor we noticed immediately the overpowering cigarette smoke waffling through the hallway. As we opened the door to our room, we were greeted by two double beds. Nothing says anniversary like two double beds! I called the front desk to let them know I reserved a kind room and would like to move. The front desk informed me that unfortunately they were sold out of kings. Obviously it being our anniversary celebration I was a wee bit ticked about the bed situation. I also picked The James because of an interaction I had with the hotel on Twitter. The Chef and I have been working out religiously every single day and I didn;t want our trip to slow down our momentum. Before I booked with the Jetsetter I took to social media to ask if anyone had stayed at The James and if so how was the gym? Did it have a sauna, steam, or spa? Within a few hours The James Twitter responded that yes it had all of the amenities I was looking for and they looked forward to my stay. I booked the hotel.
Fast forward to the first morning of our trip. The Chef and I awoke and headed to the gym. We were completely disheartened as we paraded through the lobby down a flight of stairs in our gym clothes. Once we walked in we were greeted and asked where the locker rooms were. The girl at the desk informed us that there were no locker rooms and if we needed a restroom there was one in the lobby. I asked about the steam and sauna and was immediately shot down. Apparently I had been misinformed on Twitter the girl explained. Feeling a little steamed that I had specifically based the booking on the rooms and the gym I hit the treadmill with a furious vengeance.
The James had it’s issues and I would probably never stay their again however it does have some major pluses. The location is the jam. You are literally in the heart of the city surrounded by shopping, restaurants, theatres, the river walk, and anything else you heart possibly desires. The staff is also fantastic. The front desk worked really hard to get us in a king room and lucky for us they managed to on day #2 of our trip. They also moved us to the top floor so we wouldn’t be surrounded by smoke. The staff really improved on what could have been a really shitty stay.
Our good friend Koren runs Avec in Chicago. The Chef has eaten there multiple times but I hadn’t been so lucky until now. Koren’s food is simple, beautifully executed, and delicious. The Chef and I sat at the bar nibbled on specials as Koren ran around the restaurant, touching every aspect of service. She is James Beard winner and it shows. Girl got it going on.
I may or may not have totally convinced a patron of PK Meats to buy a few bottles. We stopped into Paul Kahan’s awesome new butcher / sandwich / speciality food shop before we hit up Publican for brunch. The shelf was full of all 6 of our vinegars and a woman was reading the above tag. I walked up and picked up a bottle of rose vinegar when she asked me if I had ever had it. Naturally I gushed about the Chef’s product and let her know my favorite styles. After brunch we came back to see if any of our vinegar had sold. Half the shelf was empty. Crazy exciting to see!
Brunch is the bomb. Publican is the bomb. ‘Nuff said.
It’s kind of funny how we ended up at GT Fish. Earlier in the day we had brunch at Publican with two Chicago culinary staples, Roderick from Rare Tea Cellar and Ellen of Soapbox fame. As we ate thru the menu, Ellen and Roderick informed us that it was restaurant week in CHI and hopefully w had a reso for that evening. Being that our trip was intentionally under scheduled we began to worry that our celebratory anniversary dinner would be a bust. Luckily for us, Ellen and Roderick worked their magic and later on that evening the Chef and I were enjoying our share of to die for oysters and lovely cocktails. At the end of the evening we met Giuseppe Tentori, the Chef of GT Fish & Oyster. He was beyond adorable as he offered up his advice and suggestions for the next time we visit the city. This past week, I was pleased to see his name on the James Beard nomination list alongside my Chef’s.
This coffee is pretty freaking spectacular. So spectacular that we are going to be serving it in The Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat starting this week.
Koren snuck out for a moment after dinner at Avec and introduced us to her local. We downed a few drinks and talked shoppe. A great end to an already perfect evening. I will definitely be calling this my watering hole the next time I’m in town.
The Chef and I accidentally went to Sepia. And thank god we did. We only got to experience the cocktail side of the restaurant but what an experience it was! The entire restaurant is super cool and my cocktail was fucking amazing. Next time I must go back for dinner especially since I saw their Chef, Andrew Zimmerman, also appeared alongside my Chef’s name on the beard list last week. How weird that two places we visited in CHI had Beard semifinalists running them?
‘In Theatre’ Movie Rental
Our final Chicago memory is one of my favorites. The Chef and I had contemplated going to a movie on our last afternoon in the city. We went back and forth on the idea and decided against it mainly because of the health kick we have been on. That is when I had the brilliant idea of renting an ‘in theatre’ movie in our hotel room. We walked across the street to Trader Joe’s, bought some fruit, snacks, and a little dark chocolate, and headed up to the top floor of The James. We rented The Descendants and snuggled up for a relaxing afternoon. Pure awesomeness my friends. If you’ve never rented an ‘in theatre’ movie in a hotel room, I highly, highly recommend it. Lounging in a hotel room is WAY better than sitting in crappy theatre seats while eating disgusting ‘buttered popcorn.’
I definately fell a little in lurve with the city of Chicago. Having only been there once before I definately did not have a great view of what the city actually offers. Spending Columbus Day weekend with the man I love in Chicago was absolutely what the Chef and I needed and introduced me to a brand new city. I can’t wait to go back!
What are your favorite places in Chicago? Kid friendly? Resto’s? Museums? Hidden gems? Show me some Chi City love!