How to Win at the Kentucky Derby

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The 141st Kentucky Derby is less than a week away, and the question on everyone’s mind is: how do I win big? 

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Luckily, you found your way to this post, and I’m here to help detail exactly how I won $$$ at Churchill Downs last September.  Continue reading

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The reason for my trip to Louisville was to attend a friend’s wedding – but, you don’t care – you’re here to learn how to win. So, here my three easy steps to betting on a winning steed. 

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Step 1: Go it alone… 

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Or choose your partners “wisely”. 

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Walter and I were joined by two of our college friends. Stephanie (below, far left) and Christen (to the right). 

Since none of us wanted to pony up the $50 for a single betting ticket, we decided to join forces and choose a single horse together.

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Step 2: Choose your horse “wisely”. 

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Our combined knowledge of horseracing added up to just about what we were comfortable spending on a bet (clarification: hardly any at all).

Instead of pretending like we knew what we were doing, we chose our horse based on its colors (in this case, blue and white for Penn State – all of us are alums) and then placed our bets (accidentally on the wrong horse).

Our mistake also happened to be our gain, and we ended up winning $125 (less the $50 spent), making our total profit $75. 

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Step 3: Spend your winnings “wisely”. 

Instead of divvying up our small win, we chose to treat ourselves to mint juleps and hot browns at The Brown Hotel, and I suggest you do the same. 

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I hope you enjoyed my betting “tips”. If you have any of your own, leave them in the comments below, and Happy Derby Day!

Day Trip: Thimble Islands, CT

IMG_4714Let the countdown to Memorial Day begin!

My favorite time to live in this blue state will be here in just a couple of weeks. And, while most people are already familiar with Fairfield County’s beaches, just a half an hour east of New Haven is a the little archipelago known as the Thimble Islands.

Once known as the “The Hundred Islands” twenty five tiny, rocky islands dot the Long Island Sound, and although they are entirely inhabited by private owners (except Outer Island, an ecological preserve), and only accessible via private boat, it’s a great choice for a unique New England day trip, or a stopover on your way to the Cape.

Thimble Island CTSuggested Itinerary:

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Getting to the Thimble Islands is easier than you might imagine. Driving is always an option, but public transportation is also a viable option.

Take the Shore Line East train to Branford and it is a short (and inexpensive) cab ride from there.

If you’re coming from New York City, you can take the Metro North train to New Haven and transfer to the Shore Line from there. 

Once you arrive, enjoy lunch where the islands get their namesake, The Thimbleberry. This local favorite is right in Stony Creek village and serves traditional American cuisine such as burgers, homemade soups, and locally made ice cream. 

After lunch, enjoy a relaxing 45 minute tour of the islands on Captain Bob’s Thimble Islands Cruise.IMG_4725

Operating daily (except Mondays), Captain Bob Milne is a longtime resident of Stony Creek, and is extremely knowledgeable about the islands and their (sometimes) famous residents. 

IMG_4727You’ll get up close to the beautiful Victorian-era summer cottages, and learn more about the natural flora and fauna of the area. Tickets for this tour are just $12 (cash only) and advance registration isn’t necessary.

Now that you are cooled off from the boat ride, it’s the perfect time to hit the beach. 

IMG_4717Stony Creek Beach is open to the public, and just a short walk from the dock. Here you can swim (lifeguards are on duty), enjoy a picnic, and launch a kayak or canoe for a closer look at the islands.  

After visiting the beach, I recommend getting out of the sun for a while and visiting the Thimble Island Brewing Company, just a 10 minute drive away.

Sample their seasonal brews along with their year round classics, because this beer is not easy to find outside of Connecticut. 

When you’ve had your fill of Thimble’s offerings, drive another minutes to the beautiful Stony Creek Brewery right on the shore of the Branford River. 

Stony Creek’s beer has big hop flavors and is perfect for the craft beer aficionado of your group. 

IMG_4715As the sun begins to set, this would be a good time to call it a day, or if you’ve had too much to drink, settle down for the night at the Thimble Islands Bed & Breakfast. This inn offers gorgeous panoramic views and comfortable guest rooms, and guarantees a delicious breakfast the following morning. 

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Thirsty for Travel: Tequila

Mexican Tequila

Hearing the word tequila conjures up two thoughts. Three, actually. Mexico, college, and this little cinematic gem:

I have indulged in this south of the border spirit from time to time (and paid for it dearly), but it wasn’t until I experience a genuine tequila tasting in Puerto Vallarta that I truly began to understand it.

Contrary to popular belief, drinking copious amounts of tequila will (obviously) get you sloshed, but it shouldn’t give you a headache – unless it is not pure tequila. 

Most of the American brands we know well are cheap substitutes for the Mexican varieties and laced with various chemical additives.

Truly authentic tequila is made from just one ingredient- the blue agave plant. Like champagne, Mexican laws state that the spirit can only be produced in the Tequila region and the surrounding area in Jalisco county (Puerto Vallarta is nearby).

To drink tequila like a true Jaliscon, choose a tequila that says it is 100% agave on the label, made in Mexico, and preferably aged (reposado and añejo are both good choices). 

Fill a standard sized shot glass with the tequila, and instead of downing it, take your time to sip it. This ensures that you will be able to taste the subtleties of the flavors, and keep hangovers at bay.

If you must have lime, wait until your glass is empty. Salud!

Jennifer Lawrence Louisville

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As I mentioned in this post, my first visit to the Bluegrass State was last September.

Besides the Derby and bourbon, my knowledge was pretty limited.

Walter, knowing full well that I have a liking for The Hunger Games (see this post), took noticed of the magazine cover story in our hotel room: The Lawrence Family’s (yes, J Law’s parents) favorite Louisville spots.

It didn’t take much for me to declare that we would be following at least some their suggestions, but with less than 24 hours left in the city, we only have time to try out one. 

If you have limited time Louisville, here is my recommended timeline for a surprisingly relaxing day in Louisville filled with a lot of local treasures.

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Thanks to the Lawrence recommendation, we started our day (after coffee, of course) by walking over the Big Four BridgeThis pedestrian only bridge stretches over the Ohio River and connects Louisville to nearby Jefferson, Indiana.

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The beautiful September weather had locals and tourists flocking to bridge, but its large size accommodate crowds without feeling cramped. There is a beautiful riverside park on the Louisville side, and plans to build a similar public space in Indiana. 

IMG_4803The bridge will undoubtedly attract more people now that a multicolored lighting system with nightly shows was installed in February.

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Gina:

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Next, we headed to Churchill Downs for the second time that weekend to visit the Derby Museum
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Included with admission ($14) is a 30 minute guided walking tour of the Churchill Downs grounds, a short film, and two floors of permanent/special exhibits.
I suggest taking the time to do all three, and also opt in for the Barn & Backstable Tour ($11), which is your only opportunity to see any of the active horses and their stables. 
 
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We worked up quite an appetite by this point so instead of going to The Brown Hotel again for hot browns, we chose to stay at the museum and order it at the attached Derby Cafe (pictured above).
 
If you’re a vegan or a craft beer fan, I suggest heading downtown instead and visiting Against the Grain Brewery. Walter and I enjoyed their smoked porter and seitan honey “wings” a day earlier. 

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We finished our day by touring the immensely cool 21c Museum Hotel.

Staying at this hotel is an opportunity to live amongst the hundreds of modern art pieces scattered throughout the hotel floors and housed in the – 24 hour and open to the public museum – on the bottom floor. 

The museum pieces are a mix of bold choices including paintings, films, and installations – even an industrial alleyway smoke ring exhibit (below).  

IMG_4822It’s rare to see a hotel open itself to the public as much as 21c does, and I think it’s something more properties around the country should consider.

Walter and I stayed for dinner at Proof on Main, and we were very impressed. The entire menu – drinks, food, dessert, was extremely diverse in its offerings, and had many local options we were not familiar with. 

We shared the Sunday supper option ($38) and ordered a few items from the ala carte menu, and we enjoyed all of our selections. 

IMG_4832Although my time spent in Louisville was short, I definitely hope to return again and experience even more of the modern gems in the city. 

What’s your favorite place to visit in Louisville? Let me know below or on Twitter!

 

Beyoncé + Jay-Z Vegan Challenge Day 17. Grown Woman: Choose Your Own Adventure!

beyonce vegan challenge

I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want.

Today, you will exercise your adultdum by eating whatever you want. Craving a salad? Or maybe a hearty vegan chili? Today is free for whatever you like, and here are a few suggestions:

Enjoy your own selection, grown ladies!

Today’s Activity: This is the most dance-able track on the album, so go ahead and shake that booty so fat!

April Adventure Challenge!

Live below the line

I added “making videos” to my new year’s resolution list this year, so with spring here and April not too far away, I bring you the first video of my new series, Adventure Challenge!

Each month, I will come up with five different tasks that I hope to complete. I invite all of you to participate with me, and I would love any suggestions for challenges that you have.

Vlogging isn’t something that comes naturally to me (at least yet), so I also plan on participating in VEDA (Vlog-Every-Day-(in)-April) to sharpen my skills (challenge #5). Continue reading

I am also thrilled to be traveling to Morocco this Friday to step outside of my comfort zone and visit a new country AND continent (challenge #2)!

The other challenges are to celebrate Earth month by communing with nature (challenge #3), finding your funny for April Fool’s Day (challenge #1), and complete the Live Below the Line challenge.

I’d love to get your feedback on this series – do you like the title? Is 5 too many challenges per month? Is there anything you’d like to see on my channel? Let me know in the comments!

Tropical Escapes 2 Hours or Less from NYC

tristate area nycThe long awaited vernal equinox came to the western hemisphere last week, and with it we received snow instead of sunshine.

Do not let this get you down. Last week I shared the top spots in NYC to mimic a tropical escape, and for those ready to get out of concrete jungle, here is my roundup of paradise places within two hours of the city:

  • Terrain: Westport, CT. A lush green garden awaits at this Anthropologie owned concept store. I’ve mentioned my love for this truly unique shopping experience in the past, and find excuses as much as possible to visit (it’s also the place I bring friends from out of town). What you need to know: come for the vast array of plant life, and kitchen/beauty items, and stay for the coffee/snack bar and beautiful full cafe with outdoor seating in – what else – the garden.

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  • The Pool at Harrah’s Resort: Altantic City, NJ. Say what you will about the ever declining tourism in this south Jersey town, but a trip to this beautiful, glass encased pool is downright healing with its salt water swimming holes and a controlled atmosphere that mimics the humidity and temperature of a rainforest. It is only open to hotel guests during the day, and has poolside cocktail and lunch service. At night, in true Jersey style, it becomes a crowded, fist pumping nightclub, so be forewarned. harrahs atlantic city pool
  • Biosphere Pool Complex at the Grand Cascades Lodge: Hamburg, NJ. Just a few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit this popular ski lodge in northwestern New Jersey. The hotel has many great assets including a its award winning Restaurant LaTour, an incredible collection of over 10,000 wines in one of the areas most elaborate wine cellars, and absolutely stunning mountain views. If all of those amenities aren’t enough, they too have a rainforest-like pool that was just heavenly to bathe in while we watched the snow fall outside the windows. There is also a steam room and a sauna, hot tub (pictured), full bar/snack bar (with house made gelato) and, perhaps my favorite fixture: a large fish tank situated in the pool that feels like you are swimming along with the many tropical fish (Nemo and Dory are among the selection).IMG_7374
  • The Brown Room, Congress Hall, Cape May, NJ. The last location on my list is the furthest away from NYC, but one that holds many childhood and more recent memories for me (see my full Cape May guide here). This bar reminds me of a swanky study in a grand mansion in Miami. The large palms, dark wood, and exceptional cocktails make this downstairs must a visit every time we venture to exit zero. Order the beach plum cocktail and enjoy the nightly local musicians. the brown room congress hall

Where are your favorite spots to “get away” without going too far? Let me know in the comments!

Birthday Brunch: The Garden at the Four Seasons Hotel

Four Seasons NY Garden Restaurant For the final post in my birthday series, I detail my Sunday brunch experience at The Garden restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.

Before heading to the Museum of the Moving Image for a screening of North by Northwest and the Mad Men exhibit, Walter and I, along with our good friend, Marcos enjoyed a two hour meal in this beautiful and iconic lobby-side restaurant.

The brunch service here is, as expected: decadent, and expensive, so I was happy to find a great voucher deal on Gilt City.

Our voucher included a bottle of house Prosecco, a bakery basket to share, and one entrée per person.

After pouring our flutes full of bubbly, we were presented with the bakery basket: a chocolate croissant bread pudding, traditional apple strudel, and a savory cheese scone.

The bread pudding was served in an adorable mini cocotte (French oven), and was disappointingly cold, but still enjoyable. The same could be said for the strudel (chilly, yet tasty), but the scone was a clear winner in taste, texture, and temperature.

Four Seasons Bakery Basket

My entree choice was an easy one – the lobster hash. This dish is served with giant chunks of tender lobster with a perfect, runny poached egg and hash brown potatoes covered in Choron sauce, and was my delicious.

My only complaint is there a few tough, chewy pieces of lobster (my guess is the tail pieces) juxtaposed with the more buttery, melt in your mouth claw pieces. Whether that is a cooking or quality issue, I’m not entirely sure, but it is something to be aware of, especially given the price of dish ($42).  

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My gentlemen diners chose the fried chicken and waffles, and smoked salmon eggs Benedict, and had clear plates and complaints to note. 

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After a bit of snafu with Prosecco spillage (and a prompt refill), I finished the meal with an amazing beach plum gin cocktail…

Four Seasons Beach Plum cocktail

And a sweet birthday surprise of chocolate covered strawberries, a coffee mousse tart with an adorable coffee gelée with gold leaf garnish, and a song from our server :) 

Four Seasons Birthday Brunch

The takeaway: Overall I, along with Walter and Marcos had a nice time dining at The Garden. 

The dotting of live African acacia trees and flower arrangements throughout the restaurant, and gentle lighting make for a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere.

The wait staff was very friendly, but could have been more attentive (especially after spilling Prosecco on my dress). 

Overall, we enjoyed the food (but please serve the bakery basket warm!). The portion size was generous, but not overdone, and I appreciate the focus on organic and locally sourced items.

Like many brunch menus, the selection cannot be called adventurous, but I was pleasantly surprised by the creative cocktail list.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, want to impress a business associate/client, or just want some peace and quiet during brunch, The Garden is a solid choice.

Four Seasons Live Trees

Food.Fashion.Travel.Fun

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