Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Importance of Friends with Itz Spritz

*This is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting those who support Chow Down USA! Photography by Brad Bahner.

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With its warm weather and endless fun activities, summer is the perfect time to get together with friends. Sometimes it's easy to take them for granted, but friends are honestly invaluable. Even the most independent people can benefit from the community of your closest pals, and studies have shown that friends can literally extend your lifespan and make you healthier (more on that below)! 

We got together with Itz Spritz for a summer hangout on the Charles river docks to celebrate the importance of good friends. If you haven't tried Itz Spritz, I cannot recommend it enough! It's a fun and bubbly alcohol spritzer with delicious and unique flavors like Elderflower Citrus, Cucumber Lime Twist, and Golden Pear! The Elderflower was our favorite, but they're all phenomenal! 

Read on to see why friends are so important, including scientific studies to back up the importance of your pals!

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Dress: Madewell


1. They Make You Laugh & Live Longer

Friends are great for comedic relief and to put things in perspective. Whether you're feeling upbeat or blue, your pals are there to put you in the right mindset and laugh for hours on end. I really believe that laughter is the best medicine, so this is a priceless gift. It's no wonder that a 2010 study showed that the effect of social ties on lifespan is twice as important as how much you exercise.

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2. They Listen & Problem-Solve


Nothing is better than a group of friends when you have a story to tell. Whether it's an adventure story or something small, your friends are there to experience life with you and share each other's hopes and dreams. Sometimes it's nice to bounce ideas off of others, and your friends are always there to help you problem solve everything from careers to relationship advice. 


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Dress: Madewell

3. They Keep You Healthy


You know how when you're with friends you feel a general sense of happiness and safety? Studies have shown that those with strong social ties are actually physically healthier than those without. This seems intuitive but there's actual science to back it up! 


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4. They Support You and Keep Your Mind Sharp


When you need a leg up, your friends are there to lift you up and support you. Apart from keeping your body healthy, interacting with friends and combating loneliness actually reduces the risk of dementia - so stay social to keep sharp! 


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5. They Challenge You

Another important form of support is to have friends who challenge you. From trying new things, to being true to yourself, you can count on your pals to push you to be the best version of yourself.

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6. They Bring New Experiences

Friends bring new experience to the table, from travel to activities to foods. Growing up in the super diverse San Francisco, I'm grateful to have friends from many different backgrounds who showed me so many different foods and cultures, all of which shaped the person I am today.


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7. They're Fun

Friends are the best form of stress-relief because they always bring the fun! Whether we're traveling the globe or just chilling on the docks of the Charles Esplanade, you can count on your pals to bring laughter, great conversation, and fun antics.


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Itz Spritz was the perfect way to elevate our hangout on the Charles. They're made with just 5 all-natural ingredients, all of which are gluten-free. There is zero malt, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, or coloring in these drinks, just simple ingredients. Plus, I love supporting a female-founded business! The founder Kate comes from a family-run beer business, and set out to make her very own sparkling adult beverage that caters to modern tastes without compromising on calories. Basically, Itz Spritz is everything you want, and nothing you don't!


Comment Challenge: What Makes Your Friends Important To You?


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Monday, July 31, 2017

DAVIDsTEA at the Pru: So Matcha to Love

*Note: This is a sponsored post, thanks for supporting those who support Chow Down USA! All opinions are my own. Photography by @NishatNguyen

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Fun fact: I'm more of a tea drinker than coffee - anyone else?? Coffee often makes me feel like I need to go run in circles, while tea offers a more subtle energy and focus boost that works better for me personally. 

Enter DAVIDsTEA: a brightly-colored, loose-leaf dreamboat of a tea brand, which is based in Montreal and just opened a brand new store at the Prudential Store in the heart of Boston! I got to take a peak inside for a quick tour with the wonderful Jim Burnett, NE District manager / tea expert / all-around super friendly guy. Read on to see why there's so *matcha* to love about DAVIDsTEA and their newest store at the Pru!

DAVIDsTEA at the Pru: So Matcha to Love


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1. Friendly Staff

Good service is more important to me than anything, so this is at the top of my list. The staff at DAVIDsTEA is always grinning ear-to-ear, and are as friendly as they are knowledgeable - which is saying a lot! Some tea stores can feel pretentious, but DAVIDsTEA is the exact opposite - they're super fun and approachable. You can walk in and just browse around with your earphones in if you want, or you can chat with the staff if you have any questions.

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2. Open, Bright, & Colorful Branding 

DAVIDsTEA stores, like their products, are filled with bright, pastel colors, crisp white walls and an open, airy feel. As someone who is energized by bright colors, I absolutely love their branding!

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3. Self-Serve Tea Wall

Rather than being behind the counter, the Pru location actually has all of their teas out for your perusal. They practically have more varieties than you can count, so it's fun to browse around, smell all of the various teas, and find new flavors that you didn't even know existed (I'm looking at you, caramel corn)!

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4. Innovation

I mentioned the incredible selection of flavors available at DAVIDsTEA, and the background behind their innovation team is just as exciting. There's an entire team dedicated to selecting and scheduling new tea flavors 2 years ahead of time. Yes, two whole years! Another example is how their iced tea tumbler took 1.5 years to design to perfection - including a graphic which changes colors when exposed to cold water. They really go above and beyond, creating innovative tastes and teaware that border on works of art. 

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The lilac iced tea tumbler above has an elegant lace design that transforms to purple when filled with ice water!  

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Left: Cotton Candy Iced Latte | Right: Blueberry Green Iced Tea

5. Great Deals


DAVIDsTEA is affordable and has good deals on top of their usual prices. They currently have a 50% off semi-annual sale, and if you get the below tumbler, you can order iced teas off of their in-store menu for $1, as many times as you want, through September!

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6. Summer & Cocktail Collection

The Summer & Cocktail collection is as fun as it sounds, including flavors like cotton candy, sparkling sangria, rose all day, strawberry lemonade, and raspberry mojito. The cocktail varieties mix well in adult beverage recipes, how fun is that for summer!

I've tried a myriad of flavors, and my faves so far include the Berries n Cream Matcha, Rose All Day, and Passion Punch!

The Passion Punch is a crowd favorite. With a subtle sweet / tangy flavor and tropical aroma, it's perfect to have at a summer soiree!


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The Rose All Day is part of the cocktail collection and is best as an iced tea. it has a pretty pink hue and the tea leaves smell amazing before you even make the tea. It can be mixed with adult beverages and would be perfect for a summer sangria, with subtle floral and sweet notes.


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The Berries and Cream Matcha is a wonderful combination or fruity berries and natural vanilla. It's super smooth, light and refreshing, with a great consistent energy boost!


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7. Mucho Matcha 


On a previous trip to DAVIDsTEA in Lynnfield, they gave us a great matcha tea demonstration, and taught us about how you get great sustained energy from matcha (as opposed to a sudden boost as with coffee and other teas). There are tons of health benefits to matcha, reflected in it's natural green hue. DAVIDsTEA has multiple varieties which you can prepare hot or iced, including honeydew, berries & cream, and Hawaiian punch! They also offer a tumbler that can be used for tea or matcha (on the left below), how cool is that?

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Left: Matcha-Friendly Tumbler | Right: Iced Tea Tumbler

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8. Accessories

From brithday cake tea-infused lip butter to tea-infused chocolate, DAVIDsTEA branches out from the beverage world into other creative accessories to enjoy!

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From iced teas, to matcha and summer & cocktail blends, DAVIDsTEA has every tea tool and flavor you could hope for. Their modern, colorful packaging, accessible tea wall and friendly staff will make you the hostess with the mostest, and are all waiting for you to visit at Boston's Prudential Center!


Comment Challenge: Have you tried DAVIDsTEA and visited their store? What's your favorite tea flavor?


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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bookmarks Rooftop Bar: Library Hotel NYC

*Note: This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

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What's better than hanging out on pretty rooftops on warm summer days? Bookmarks Bar is in the middle of Manhattan in NYC, situated within the Library Hotel (which is the same hotel group as the Hotel Elysee, where I stayed during this trip)! This rooftop lounge is the epitome of rustic-chic, with wooden benches, exposed brick, greenery and flowers, and a killer view of Manhattan.

Bookmarks Rooftop Bar Library Hotel NYC




Left: Lychee Rose | Right: Bookmarks' Hemmingway



My favorite part about The Library Hotel Collection is how they cater to the creative - writers, artists, actors. Bookmarks Bar is a fun embodiment of this. The menu is mostly based on artistic and literary terms, like The Pulitzer and Tequila Mockingbird (think about that last one - too good)! 


Above is the Lychee Rose, with lychee-rose puree, Combier liqueur de rose, and sparkling wine. On the right is Bookmarks' Hemmingway, with  Barbancourt Five Star rum, lime juice, muddled mint, and champagne. 



I just love the creativity that goes into the menu and the theme here. Bookmark's Bar and the Library Hotel Collection as a whole really caters to artists and offers an inspiring respite and oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city!


Comment Challenge: Have you had a chance to visit Bookmarks Bar? Which literary drink would you order here?


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Top Nordstrom Sale Picks Under $50


Holy sales, Batman! Everyone has been waiting for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale to go live to non-card members, and that day has finally arrived. I know there are a million NSale posts flying around so I promise not to spam you with too many. My main focus is the top pieces under $50 - be sure to check them out while your size is still in stock since they're flying off the shelves!

Top Nordstrom Sale Picks Under $50

Dresses


Skirts


Tops

Jeans


Workout Wear


PJs


   Accessories


Shoes

Comment Challenge: Do you like NSale roundup posts or are you over seeing them?
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

NYC Michelin Star Restaurant: Aldea

*This is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own.

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Secret diners, intricate presentations, phenomenal flavors and creative textures - this is what great restaurants like Aldea are made of. In a city like NYC, a certain level of expertise is expected in fine dining, and Aldea absolutely steps up to the plate - with a Michelin Star to show for it!


NYC Michelin Star Restaurant: Aldea


Stepping off of 17th Street into the cool, swanky, dimly-lit Aldea is like entering an urban oasis filled with good drinks, great service and fantastic food-slash-art. 

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I spy a Michelin Star!

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Cheers! We were seated at the Chef's Table and ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu - highly recommend both of the above for a special night. Here we could see each dish being made, the camaraderie of the staff, and the slight-of-hand expertise needed to create the works of art that are the plates at Aldea, inspired by Chef George Mendes' heritage and the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain).

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Aldea's menu is populated by pestiscos, or small snacks - similar to Spanish tapas but with different flavors and dishes originating in Portugal.

The cute little bites above were compliments of the Chef, so they are not on the menu and I can't give you an exact description of them. I kept calling them Chilled Foam Macaroons since that's exactly what they tasted like! Cool to the touch, they dissolved like foam in your mouth as a refreshing palate cleanser to start the meal. I really liked the texture of these, and the sensation of eating a dissolving, cold macaroon was so fun and different. The food/art show had already begun. 

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 This pretty beet salad with goat milk yogurt was another great light start to the meal.

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These oysters whetted the appetite for the oyster dish that followed.

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The next act on the menu was this oyster and green apple tartare, with oyster gelee, cucumber and meyer lemonade puree. As an oyster lover, this was such a fun and different way to eat seafood. The crunch of the green apple and cucumber juxtaposed with the oysters was the perfect balance, and the hint of citrus connected all of the ingredients in an invigorating way. 

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This pretty dish is the Makerel en Escabeche, with Hokkaido sea urchin, kombu broth, radish and shiso. I'm not a big fan of the texure of sea urchin, but this plate placed it in such a pleasant presentation that I enjoyed it more than usual. The makerel was very scrumptious as well. 

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This shrimp-lover fully enjoyed the Shrimp Alhinho, with garlic, pimenton, red bell pepper juice and pressed shrimp jus. It was a tad spicy but not too hot, and the plate itself was one of the coolest I've seen - it looked like a napkin folded up at the corners! Just another part of the art show of Aldea's menu.

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This charcoal-grilled bacalhau was some of the best cod I've had. Perfectly flaky, with pickled pearl onion, white bean puree and cilanto, this dish was cooked perfectly.

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This plate almost looks like dessert, and for good reason. It's the most tender Duck I've had (which is hard to do since duck can be pretty tough). It comes with black trumpet mushroom, swiss chard, daikon radish and glazed with blackcurrant. I'm a big fan of duck, and this one quickly rose to the top of my all-time duck plates! It was almost as good as dessert, which is saying something for this sweet tooth!

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This zimbro cheese with meyer lemon marmalade and green apples (gluten option is grilled sweet potato bread), was a great light dish after the hearty duck. The cheese was creamy and as good as it looks!

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Loved the chilled sorbet with fresh melon!

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Yum! This hazelnut chocolate mousse comes with milk ice cream, caramelized bananas, and calamansi curd. 

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Ok, but really how pretty is this presentation? The Guanaja Namelaka (Japanese for "creamy"), is gluten-free and comes with blueberry, caramel, and milk ice cream. It's *almost* too pretty to eat!

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Just when I thought I was as full as could be, I dug deep and managed to make room for these cute truffles and salted butterscotch treats to finish of an intricate and epic meal!

It's no wonder that Aldea earned an esteemed Michelin Star. From the friendly service to the detail-oriented meal for both the eyes and palate, Aldea is an experience to write home about. I absolutely recommend it for a night on the town!


Comment Challenge: Have you been to a Michelin-starred restaurant? How was it?


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