My Favorite Travel Items

Some unglamorous (but practical) travel must-haves:

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Field Notes Notebook, Sony Alpha A6000, S’well Bottle, Anker Portable Battery, Shampoo Packets, Travel Pouches, Muji Garment organizer, Turkish towel, Small Suitcase 

Most of the time, my monthly shopping list features a lot of thoughtfully-designed, bespoke pieces.  This month it is a little more basic, just a few practical items for travel.

I always travel as light, because it is so much easier.  I’d rather repeat outfits than check a bag.  I like to be prepared (I always travel with a towel, you might need an extra one!  Plus, Turkish Towels can serve other purposes, are easy to pack, and dry quickly).  I never assume anything will be provided. I try to bring just the basics and plan ahead to do without.

I started packing sample packets of shampoo and conditioner instead of little plastic bottles.  I usually have some on hand from my Sephora free sample stash, they are available on Amazon.  This is great because as you use them, they take up less room.  Also, a little sachet of shampoo takes up a lot less room than a mini bottle.

I stay organized while packing by partitioning everything into little baggies.  I bought this set off Amazon and use it to sort my cables, beauty products, and other miscellaneous small items.  I even used the largest bag to separate dirty clothes.  These packing cubes from Muji also help keep my suitcase organized.  I only ever travel with a very small, hard-sided, four-wheel spinner.

A few nice-t0-haves: I like carrying this S’well water bottle with me on trips because it is my only bottle that reliably fits in all sorts of pockets and cup holders.  It also keeps things hot or cold very well.  I pack it empty and fill it up with water at the airport.  Even though I have an iPhone with a very nice camera, I still pack a “real” camera.  I recently (after a lot of research) picked up a Sony Alpha A6000.  This model is a few years old, but takes great pictures and is very comfortable to hold and shoot with.  I like that it charges in a standard USB port, so I don’t have to bring another charger.  While traveling, I charge almost exclusively off of an external battery.  This one from Anker can last me for several days and charge two things at a time.  And finally, I always travel with a little notebook and pens because I really like to put pen to paper when jotting down any thoughts or notes.

Third Wave Coffee Shops in Pittsburgh

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My favorite little pick me up is a well-crafted cup of coffee.  I know, the caffeine is literally a stimulant, so that’s why it always makes me perky and productive, but I really appreciate the care that goes into the coffee.  I like that more and more we know where beans come from, the roast date, the flavor profile, the terroir— it is a real craft.  I’m a total sucker for a cappuccino with a little leaf in the foam.  Third wave coffee shops also tend to pay attention to all the details – the thoughtful interior design, the cups, the snacks – everything, not just the coffee, is elevated.  I’m happy to spend $5 and tip 20 percent on the experience and quality.

Since moving to Pittsburgh I have come to love all the options for craft coffee.  We are really spoiled with gorgeous, thoughtful, independent cafés all over the city.  I love venturing across town to try them all.  This is not an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites, in no particular order.

 

Commonplace Coffee House – Squirrel Hill 
This is my neighborhood coffee shop, I love to bop in for an after dinner espresso, tack it on a trip to the library, etc.  Squirrel Hill is far from their only location, Commonplace Coffee Houses are dotted all over the city, and their roast is sold throughout southwest pa.  I love that the serve a little cookie with an espresso, because that is really common in France it feels extra special to me.


Constellation – Bloomfield / Lawrenceville cusp 
I love this minimalist cafe.  The interior features huge windows that let light from Penn Avenue pour in.  The tin ceilings are my favorite detail.  It is a great place to study or read because it feels kind of homey.  The menu is not exhaustive, but everything I’ve ordered has been really excellent.


Espresso a Mano – Lawrenceville 
Great espresso and atmosphere.  I like Espresso a Mano because isn’t trying too hard to have Instagrammable vibe (even though I’ll admin I always fall for that!).  Every time I’ve been here all the tables are full, so I that they have like a counter to just stand at and shoot back an espresso.


4121 Main – Bloomfield 
This place has the most gorgeous feel to it.  Plants everywhere !  Artisan chocolate / goods!  Dreamy music ! (Deerhunter’s Desire Lines was playing when I walked in, It instantly put a smile only face to hear an almost decade-old song that I love).  I wouldn’t expect to find 4121 Main where it is, because frankly it is kind of on a dumpy street.  It mixes parts of old world glamour, shabby-chic, minimalist and wabi sabi.  That doesn’t make it sound cohesive, but it is.


 

The Bureau – East Liberty 
The Bureau is an outpost  of one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, The Vandal.  It is  located within Schoolhouse, one of my favorite stores in Pittsburgh.  I always seem to order cold brew at The Bureau, probably because I got it the first time I went and it was so good I keep ordering it.


 

Arriviste – Shadyside 
Arriviste takes a very technical approach to brewing. Everything is precise, measured, made to order – and thus takes time.  Expect to wait for it.  The cafe has a midcentury-inspired interior, with a friendly / collaborative atmosphere.  I think it is nice that people share tables.

Fall Destination Guide: Hudson River Valley

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The Mountains cradling the Hudson River are not intimidating as a name like Storm King would suggest. The tall walls of fall foliage wrap the little river towns like a scarf. Independent shops, art galleries and cafés dot the walkable streets. Bountiful farms, orchards and wineries lay just beyond the towns. Many restaurants in the area proudly source ingredients almost exclusively from the valley. Hiking trails through forests, up mountains, and along cliffs lead to panoramic views.   Hudson Valley embraces both the old and the new serving as a backdrop for opulent estates of the gilded age and modern conceptual sculpture. It’s a great place to spend a long weekend and take in the very best parts of the fall season.

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Recipe: Baked Coconut Shrimp

Baked Coconut Shrimp

 

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Eating healthy while on vacation is absolutely a challenge.  For me it’s so hard to pass up the opportunity to try new things.  Back in April on a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, I made a point to cook a healthy (Whole 30-compliant) meal.  Inspired by Florida flavors, I made coconut shrimp with an avocado-lime slaw.  I love this dish because it has a great balance of protein, healthy fat and nutrient-dense vegetables.  To cut down on cooking time I bought a pre-made slaw mix and just made the dressing.  Simplicity is key when cooking in someone else’s kitchen.

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Jerome, AZ

View from the MountainLast year I visited Phoenix, AZ and one of the more memorable day trips was to a little old mining town called Jerome.   Location wise Jerome is Southwest of Sedona and Flagstaff but directly North of Phoenix / Scottsdale.  The drive, like anywhere in the American Southwest, is stunning.  Cactus-lined roads wind up and around mountains trails and bright cerulean skies pop against the rocky terrain.  I’m from the midwest and am used to flat fields as in all directions so to me Arizona is practically another planet.  I’m grateful my hosts drove, allowing me to gape moronically at the striking natural beauty that never seemed to end.

A big J marks the side of the mountain you drive up to find Jerome, I guess this is an old Southwest tradition. While scaling the trail we stopped and pulled over to check out an old car abandoned in a ditch. I’m not skilled in dating old cars but it looked at least 60 years old. This was the first forgotten old thing of many we saw that day.

Here's the car we saw in the ditch.
Here’s the car we saw in the ditch.  Who knows how long it has been there just covered in rust like that.

The actual town of Jerome is just like any other old, rural town in America. Relics of the past are not pristinely kept for the sake of preserving history but rather survive because of a, “if it ain’t broke” mentality. We drove past old saloon and shops, an ice cream parlor, police station… the staples of any small town, and kept on up the hill. At the very top we stopped at one of many local haunts, the Jerome Grand Hotel.

The Hotel has been the big draw since the being featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters or something like that. During it’s past life the hotel served as a hospital for the miners and surrounding town. It was considered a good hospital with modern technology but the death toll is massive, averaging out to at least one per day for the about twenty years it operated. The death count, an the original Otis elevator, and years of rumors have won the hotel a spot on the list of the country’s most haunted places. We asked politely and were given some keys to go exploring. I didn’t get the haunted vibe and none of my mirror pictures had orbs. But I don’t know if I’d want to stay there overnight.

The next stop on our trip was the old ghost town. The town is really just an old junkyard with some buildings and just a few residents. I have no idea what the few people who do live there do other than charge admission to look at an old one-room school house and gas station. We met a man with a little dog who was using a machine to saw logs I think. The dog was friendly but the guys living there were not—there were a lot of threatening signs to back my theory.

Jerome is a memorable and worthwhile trip. The drive from Phoenix is beautiful and the old town is definitely an interesting slice of life in the old Southwest. While the haunted aspect might be a little blown out of proportion but the town is definitely full of antique charm. We didn’t stop for dinner or drinks but there are plenty of places for that, too.