NYTimes: Meet the Man Championing Lebanon’s Culinary Traditions

Meet the Man Championing Lebanon’s Culinary Traditions https://nyti.ms/3nK4XyN

2021 Travel Trends: The Most of Up-to-Date Stats Show the Top Travel Destinations, Trip Costs, and More

Younger generations more likely to take micro-cations while older generations spend more per trip.

My friend Paige, who works for Seven Corners, a leading travel insurance and specialty benefits company, always has the latest. This time she shared the most up to date data available about travel trends in 2021. For those who want to know, it’s fascinating to delve into what last year revealed in terms of travelers’ purchasing habits, how their age influences behavior, average trip cost, and top travel destinations. Recently Seven Corners gathered all the relevant information needed to show the following key trends for 2021.

Buying patterns for travel insurance vary according to the age of the purchaser. Travelers who buy direct from the website, as opposed to using a licensed travel insurance agent, tend to skew almost eight years older, with the average age of a website purchaser at 42 and the average age of consumers who use an insurance agent at 50. This preference for older consumers to seek assistance for a travel insurance purchase is the highest for 66 and older, with this age group representing almost 20% of plans sold by insurance agents. 

Additionally, older consumers typically spend more for trips, with the average trip cost increasing for each generation starting with millennials. Younger baby boomers spend an average of 45% more than millennials. The over 66 age group spends even more, averaging 76% more on trip expenses than millennials. The average trip cost for millennials is $1,843, and the average trip cost for those 66 and older is $3,243.

Micro-cations have increased in popularity

Based on policies sold by Seven Corners, micro-cations grew in popularity in 2021, with a 74% increase compared to 2019 and a 66% increase compared to 2020. A micro-cation is defined as a vacation of less than five nights. These short trips are especially popular with millennials, with 30% of their insured trips being five days or less in length. Generation X and Generation Z follow next with micro-cations representing 20% and 19% of their vacations, respectively. This trend with baby boomers is drastically different, with micro-cations representing only 12% of their insured vacations.

Destinations for micro-cations have changed, mainly due to the influence of COVID-19 and resulting travel restrictions. In 2021, Turks and Caicos was the No. 1 micro-cation destination, and it was the most popular option for all generations except travelers 66 and older, who favored Mexico as their first choice for travel. Millennials preferred Turks and Caicos, choosing it for 61% of their international micro-cations. Turks and Caicos was not in the top 30 most popular destinations pre-pandemic; this change represents a significant shift for travelers.

Mexico was the second most popular travel destination in 2021, falling from No. 1 in 2019. Costa Rica was the third most popular location in 2021, jumping from 15th place in 2019. Micro-destinations that lost favoritism include Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland and the United Kingdom, which all fell from the top 10 spots, most likely due to the restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

 Introduction to Interruption for Any Reason (IFAR)

From 2019 to 2020, the travel insurance industry saw a large increase in consumer preference for Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR), as travelers learned it is the only option to cancel a trip due to fear of travel. While this helps travelers before they depart on a trip, it does not address a similar need that could arise while traveling.

 To provide a similar option to consumers for unexpected events that can occur during a trip, Seven Corners added a new benefit, Interruption for Any Reason (IFAR), to their trip protection product line in early 2021. To date, the adoption rate is strong, with a little more than 17% of direct consumers choosing to add it to their purchase.

 Generationally, Seven Corners sees that IFAR is most popular with millennials and Generation X, each having adoption rates of 26% and 28%, respectively. The addition is least popular with baby boomers, who have an adoption rate of only 12%.

For more detailed information on purchasing travel insurance to cover COVID-19, Seven Corners has information on the coverage provided by their RoundTrip products related to potential quarantine considerations. To learn more about how Seven Corners’ travel medical and trip protection products address the continuing impacts of the pandemic, visit their specific Coronavirus page.

About Seven Corners

Founded in 1993, Seven Corners, Inc. is an innovative and service-focused travel insurance and specialty benefit management company that serves a global market. Based in Carmel, Ind., the company offers a variety of customized travel insurance solutions to domestic and international travelers. Seven Corners also administers benefits for U.S. government programs.

Northern Exposure: Soft Adventure Under the Aurora

It’s time to go adventuring with Off the Map Travel’s Reconnect under the Aurora—the ultimate soft adventure Arctic Northern Lights glamping experience for families and friends.

Designed for one group traveling together to ensure safety and social distancing, the Reconnect under the Aurora experience in Sweden is a bucket list adventure taking place in the land of the Northern Lights.  

 Created for families with children four years and older, the luxury four-night program starts with a flight into Lulea Airport and then transferring for a snowmobile safari through the majestic countryside and across a frozen river to Aurora Safari Camp. Here the luxurious accommodations begin with a stay in a new aurora lavvu, a traditional tepee used by the nomadic Sami people. Each 325-square-foot lavvu has room for up to four guests and is winterized with a large “aurora window” which delivers awe-inspiring views of the Northern Lights. The lavvu also features wood and automatic fuel burners to keep guests cozy during their stay. 

“The newly upgraded lavvu accommodations are not only warm, inviting and beautifully furnished, but they also all face north to get the best views of the Northern Lights,” says Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel, the designer and exclusive provider of the experience.  “The large, clear Northern Lights panel in the side of the lavvu brings an immersive connection with the wilderness and the Arctic culture meaning you’ll never miss a second when searching for the Aurora.”

The second part of the experience features a stay in a log cabin at Arctic Retreat deep in the sub-Arctic woods. Other Instagram worth parts of the holiday include interacting with reindeer, dog sledding, a sled ride, a sauna experience frozen into the lake and more snowmobiling.  

Children aged 4-eleven are entertained by an expert Sami guide who teaches traditional survival skills such as how to make Gáhkko bread over a campfire. Older children have the opportunity to learn how to ice fish as well as how to stay safe and dry in the Arctic winter climate. 

Reconnect Under the Aurora is a chance to unwind, be together as a family in a totally immersive experience unlike any other.

The five- day, four-night, “Reconnect under the Aurora” package is available until March 2022 and is offered exclusively by Off the Map Travel. Priced from $9145 per person and based on six people with total exclusivity for all activities. The package includes all meals, transfers, two nights in an Aurora lavvu, two nights in a luxurious private cabin at the Arctic Retreat, and more. Flights are additional.  

Flavors of the Sun: Middle Eastern Ingredients from a Century Old Family Business

“Herby and garlicky, with a bright jolt of sumac, this is everything you want in a one-pan meal,” says Christine Sahadi Whelan about her recipe for Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash.

         Whelan, a fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi’s and a lifelong Brooklyn resident, grew up in the James Beard Award-winning specialty grocery store that first opened in 1898. A graduate of NYU with a Degree in Finance and International Business she also trained at the Institute for Culinary Education, she also made mamoul with Martha Stewart. She brings all this to the table as Sahadi’s Culinary Director and now with her new book, Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients with its more than 120 recipes. The flavors of the Middle East are just steps away from your kitchen with this book.

         Sahadi’s is truly a family affair. Both her children as well as her husband work at the store which is an integral part of their neighborhood and the city of New York as well. Their excellence was recognized as a true American Classic by the James Beard Foundation.

         Whelan notes that the ingredients in her Sheet Pan Chicken like many of the recipes in the book can easily be substituted.

         “Kabocha and delicata squash are good options because they don’t need to be peeled, but acorn squash or butternut work, too,” she says. “I sometimes use a couple of different kinds for visual interest. Either way, you’ll have folks wanting to eat directly from the pan the second you take this out of the oven.”

         The book is an amazing introduction to the wide variety of ingredients such as sumac, pomegranate molasses, aleppo black pepper, and halvah that are best sellers in the store. Whelan shows us how to use them in easily her accessible recipes that are a great way to learn the nuances of Middle Eastern cookery.

Warm Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

“We are always happy to share recipes with customers who want to try their hand at our family favorites at home, but we love it even more when customers return the favor! This recipe is a variation on one that came to us from longtime patron Steve Marcus, who devised a hearty cauliflower side dish incorporating all his preferred Sahadi’s staples,” writes Whelan in the introduction to this recipe. “It’s well-spiced and tangy, with a hint of sweetness from dried apricots, and a nice cold-weather option when there aren’t a lot of fresh green veggies to choose from.”

SERVES 6 TO 8

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the cauliflower into 2 in [5 cm] florets and mound on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with ¼ cup of the oil and the za’atar, ½ tsp of the salt, and the Aleppo pepper. Spread the cauliflower in a

single layer and roast, turning once or twice as it cooks, until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cauliflower is roasting, whisk together the tahini, yogurt, remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with the remaining ½ tsp of salt and the white pepper. Add 2

Tbsp of water to thin to drizzling consistency, adding more by the tsp as needed.

Add the warm cauliflower and toss to coat with the dressing. Gently stir in the parsley and apricots to distribute evenly. Serve warm.

Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Pat the chicken pieces dry and, if you are using breasts, cut each in half to make 2 smaller pieces.

Whisk together 2 Tbsp of the sumac with the salt, dried thyme, dried oregano, and garlic in a large bowl. Add the oil and stir until well blended. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl, turning to coat them with the mixture, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half through the stem end and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into ½ inch thick slices and arrange them in a single layer (or overlapping slightly) on a large baking sheet. Scatter the herb sprigs on top, reserving a few for serving. Arrange the chicken on top of the squash, skin-side up, leaving a bit of room between the pieces and tucking in red onion chunks here and there. Dot the lemon slices around the pan. Pour any remaining marinade over everything.

Roast in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Baste the chicken and squash with pan juices and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sumac and the reserved herb sprigs. Serve directly from the baking sheet.

Sweet and Spicy Nut Brittle

“One of the best parts of working in this business is that I always have top quality nuts available for snacking or baking,” says Whelan. “This is a fun way I like to use them that also doubles as a nice holiday gift.

MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS  

  • 2 cups roasted unsalted mixed nuts (about 1/2 lb, coarsely chopped 11/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup Amaretto or bourbon
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

On a separate rimmed baking sheet, spread the nuts in a single layer and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl and cover to keep warm. (Warming the nuts helps the caramel flowover them more readily.)

In a 1 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, amaretto, honey, and butter. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, then continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300°F (hard crack stage).

Carefully pour the sugar mixture over the nuts and mix quickly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, coating all the nuts. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in a thin layer.

Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and salt. Let cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

The above recipes are excerpted with permission from Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients (Chronicle Books, 2021) by Christine Sahadi Whalen. Photographs © 2021 by Kristin Teig

The Cake Boss Cooks!

Here’s what I learned about Buddy Valastro aka the Cake Boss and star of TLC’s Cake Boss and Kitchen Boss, after meeting him and watching him cook a fantastic meal for the five grand winners of the KitchenAid Make the Cut Sweepstakes by hhgregg at the Senior PGA several summers ago in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The first is that he’s warm and witty, the second he can whip up a multi-course dinner in an amazing short period of time, and the third is he doesn’t measure.

Chopping up a big pile of pancetta (a type of Italian bacon and no, we didn’t learn how much), he adds it to a big pot (“I like to cook family style”) along with finely chopped shallots and minced garlic.

“If you don’t have shallots, you can use onions,” he says. “It ain’t gonna kill you.”

Next come the tomatoes that the Valastros can each fall – some hundred bushels and a large pile of basil – an ingredient he describes as the most important.

“When you cut it,” he says. “It releases all the flavors.”

And next – well, let’s just say it was lucky there wasn’t a heart specialist in the group.

“You’re going to go crazy when you see how much salt I put in this,” he says, scooping up what looks like a huge handful of salt from a bowl and throwing it into his pasta sauce. “But believe me you need it.”

Watching Valastro, we all wonder how much salt he used.

“I don’t measure,” he says after someone asks. “I ain’t going to lie to you.”

Indeed, when Buddy cooks, several of his crew watch him, trying to estimate the amounts he uses to translate them into recipes for his food shows and cookbooks.

“Anytime I cook with tomatoes, I always put in a little sugar,” he says. “Maybe because I’m a baker, maybe because I’m a sweet guy.”

He also likes to keep a piece of bread nearby to dip in the sauce to taste for seasoning.

While he’s talking, he brings us up to speed on Cake Boss, the reality show based upon Carlo’s Bakery, his fourth generation bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. There are now more Carlo’s Bakery locations as well as Carlo’s Bake Shop Vending Machines including one in Las Vegas.

“It’s pretty wild,” he says. “I do a life sized Betty White cake.”

Next, he adds cream to the pasta sauce so the red turns pink.

“Sometimes I do what my dad used to do which is whip the cream before adding it,” says Valastro. “This is old school Italian.”

After throwing in a “smidge” more basil and telling us we can add as much cream as we want, we get to eat the sauce after he ladles it over bowtie shaped pasta.  Served with a round of polenta, a caprese salad – freshly made mozzarella layered with tomatoes and basil leaves and drizzled with olive oil, Buddy starts on the cannoli – rolled pastry shells stuffed with a thick rich cream made of ricotta cheese, cream, sugar and a touch of cinnamon oil.

“Don’t be cheap with the cannoli cream,” he says, using a pastry bag to extrude a large amount into the rolls. “The trick to making the rolls is lard. But it’s hard. You have to fry them and wind them around a stick. I did a demo of it once at DisneyWorld and I was like stressing. This is one of the recipes in my book that I say good luck. Better to buy some good shells somewhere.”

Buddy Valasco with big smile.

When Buddy finally is finished cooking a meal that seems like it should have taken days – the elapsed time is about an hour — he has produced a warm tomato basil soup, garlic cheese bread, veal picante, the pasta dish, the caprese salad, polenta as well as cannoli for dessert.

“I want to bring back a time,” he says in closing, “I want to let the basil talk, the garlic talk, I want to cook from the heart.  That’s what it’s all about.”

Caprese Salad

  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cut 1/4″ slices across the equator
  • 1 pound best quality fresh mozzarella cheese, cut 1/4″ slices
  • Fresh whole leaves of basil, approximately 15-20 leaves of assorted sizes
  • Best quality flavorful extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • Coarse salt
  • Coarse grindings black pepper

 On a serving platter, lay down the slices of tomato and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes until tomatoes exude some juices. Lay mozzarella on top of the tomatoes, season with sprinklings of salt and grindings of pepper.

Drizzle olive oil to taste over all. Oil will mingle with the tomato juices to create a flavorful sauce.

Scatter fresh basil leaves decoratively over all.

Pasta with Pink Sauce

  • ½ pound pancetta
  • 2 – 4 shallots
  • 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 to 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup or more fresh basil
  • ¼ to ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • ½ to 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt, pepper and sugar, to taste
  • 1 pound farfalle or bowtie pasta

Finely slice up the shallots and garlic. Cut the pancetta into chunks. Sauté the shallots over medium heat.

After a couple of minutes add in the garlic and the pancetta. Cook for a few minutes and then add tomatoes.

Add a dash of sugar, salt, pepper and bring it to a roaring boil for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and let it cook for another 5 minutes.

Next add the heavy cream. You can cook your pasta at any time but you only want to cook it al dente because it’ll continue to cook in the pan with the sauce.

Cook for another couple of minutes. Then drain the farfalle and dump it right into the pink sauce.

Cook it at high heat for another minute so that it absorbs the sauce. 

Finish with fresh basil and some grated Romano cheese.

Hauntings, History, Chocolates & Cheese: In Vermont’s Green Mountains

          I follow the aptly named Covered Bridge Road which winds and twists its way to Emily’s Bridge that spans Gold Brook in Stowe Hollow not far from Stowe, Vermont where I’ll be spending the week. It’s an old bridge, built in 1844 and I wonder, as I park my car and grab my camera, about Emily. As I go to shut my door, I suddenly hesitate, listening to an internal voice telling me not leave my keys in the ignition. That’s silly, I tell myself as I put the keys in my pocket, who would steal my car out in the middle of nowhere. Who is even around on this narrow road? Even Emily has been gone since 1844.

          That’s where I’m wrong. Emily, it seems, despite her sorrows, has a mischievous streak. She wouldn’t take my car for a joyride—after all back in her day it was horse and buggy not Rav-4s. But she might have locked my door with the keys inside. That, it seems, is one of the mischievous tricks that Emily likes to play, though others have reported more vindictive acts such as shaking cars with passengers in them and leaving scratch marks, first upon the carriages that once rode over these boards and now cars.

          Who was Emily and why has she spent almost 180 years doing these things? In Stowe I learn there are several tales, all with the same theme. Jilted or maybe mourning her dead lover– Emily either hanged herself from the single-lane, 50-foot-long bridge or threw herself into the creek below. Whatever happened, it ended badly for Emily and now, at night, people sometimes hear a woman’s voice calling from the other end of the bridge—no matter what side they’re on–and see ghostly shapes and sometimes, Emily obviously being a spirit who has 21st technological knowledge, maybe their keys will get locked in the car. As for the romantic name of Gold Brook, the answer is prosaic enough–gold once was found in the water.

          But those who live in Stowe, Vermont, a picturesque 18th century village tucked away in the Green Mountains, don’t let a ghost, no matter how fearsome she might be deter them from selling Emily’s Bridge products such as t-shirts, puzzles, paintings, and even tote bags. Etsy even has an Emily’s Bridge Products section. I wonder if that makes Emily even angrier.

There are no ghosts as far as I know at Topnotch Resort in Stowe where I’m staying. It’s all hills and history here and each morning, I sip on the patio, sipping the locally roasted coffee named after the nearby Green Mountains.

Located on 120-acres in the foothills of Mount Mansfield on what was once a dairy farm, the sleek resort still has traces of its past in the silvery toned whitewashed barn and vintage butter tubs found in the resort’s public rooms counterpoints to the sleekly designed furniture that manages to be both cozy and comfy at the same time.  

The local and locally sourced mantra is stamped on this part of Vermont like the differing shades of light and dark greens mark the mountains. Organic animal and vegetable farms and small cheeseries, chocolatiers and dairies dot the countryside.

But before heading into town, I have the resort’s experiences to explore.

Though I haven’t played tennis for many years, I take a private lesson at the Topnotch Tennis Center, ranked by Tennis Magazine as No. 1 in the Northwest and among its Ten Best U.S. Tennis Resorts.

As we work on general ground strokes, the pro, one of about 10, all of whom are USPTA/PTR certified, helps me correct an awkward backhand.

“It’s all about muscle memory,” he tells me noting that I need to reintroduce myself gradually back into the game, as my muscles relearn lessons from long ago.

Retraining muscles makes me sore, so my next activity — a gentle horseback ride on one of the experienced trail horses at the Topnotch Equestrian Center— seems perfect.

We an hour-long path that meanders across a wooden covered bridge—one that isn’t haunted–spanning the West Branch of the Lamoille River, climbs Luce Hill past patches of shamrocks and weaves through wavy grasses dotted with pink yarrow and painted daisies.

Then it’s on to my own self-created food tour. At Laughing Moon Chocolates in downtown Stowe, I watch as salted caramels are hand dipped into hot chocolate and ponder the difficult decision of what to buy. It’s a delightful place, in a century old building, with wooden display cases and such yummy and intriguing chocolate fillings such as blue cheese using an artisan blue cheese made by a local creamery.  Who could resist?

Following the winding Hill Road, I stop to chat with Molly Pindell, who co-owns, with her sister Kate, the 27-acre Sage Farm Goat Dairy. We walk amongst the Alpine goats that look up from the sweet grass and fall apples they are munching on to watch us. Goats, Molly tells me, are friendly and loyal. Think dogs with horns.

          After watching the goats frolic, we head to the creamery where Molly needs to pack up her latest cheese, Justice, a 100% raw goat’s milk, bisected by a layer of vegetable ash, and aged just over 60 days. It’s truly a family farm with Molly’s husband Dave and their two children and Katie’s partner Bob, the couples live I think how great would this life be? Cute goats, great cheese, and a chance to get back to the land.

          Though, on second thought, milking goats everyday early in the morning when it’s cold and snowing may lose its appeal pretty quickly. Better just to buy goat’s cheese at wonderful places like this.

          To relax after my endeavors, I head to Topnotch’s spa for their signature massage and then a swim in the slate lined outdoor pool. Slate being another Vermont product. I have just enough energy to end the night as I began my morning, sitting on the patio near the outdoor fire pit with its flicker of flames highlighting the garden art on the grassy hillside, while watching the Green Mountains fade into dark.

The following recipe is courtesy of Laughing Moon Chocolates.

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • 1¼ pounds Yucatan chocolate chunks
  • 1½ ounces sweet (unsalted) butter
  • 1½ ounces vodka
  • ⅓ ounce or 500 milligrams Elmore Mountain Therapeutics CBD oil or other CBD oil

Pour the cream into a saucepan, stirring over medium heat until it begins to steam (190 degrees). Turn off heat and add the chocolate, butter, and liquor, stirring with a wire whisk until mixture is blended smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain. Add CBD oil and whisk well. Pour mixture into shallow baking dish and let cool overnight. When ready to prepare, scoop chocolate mixture with a spoon and roll in cocoa powder.

Additional flavor options are endless! Some favorites include:

Chamomile and Lavender: Steep ⅛ cup tea with the cream on low heat until it steams. Strain into a larger pot to remove herb or tea. At Laughing Moon, they use Vermont Liberty Tea Company’s Moonbeams and Lavender.

Maple: Add Vermont maple syrup to taste.

Substitute vodka with raspberry liqueur, peppermint schnapps or a liquor of your choosing for a subtle additional flavor.

Freelancing Equals Freedom: How to Become a Writer as a Digital Nomad

Freelance opportunities have always been attractive to people who crave freedom and flexibility in their professional lives. Thanks to technology, it’s now easier than ever to work remotely from the location of your choosing as a writer. You may even have such success that you end up morphing your freelance gigs into a bona fide small business opportunity. Guest blogger Lisa Walker of Neighborhood Sprout shares some tips on how to make it happen.

Assess Your Skill Sets

There are a number of different occupations that can be done in a freelance or independent contracting capacity. Before exploring the potential for your industry, make a self-assessment that includes an honest appraisal of your ability to work and write in a sometimes challenging environment. Being knowledgeable in your field, having enough industry contacts, and being well prepared can all help boost your odds for success. Good time management skills and a self-starter personality are essential to being a freelance writer.

Where Will You Work?

As a freelancer, you won’t be working a 9-to-5 office schedule, but you will need to have the appropriate workspace and equipment to be able to do your job effectively. This typically means a quality laptop with reliable internet connectivity as well as access to private and quiet work spaces you can use as necessary. You may also need a noise-blocking headset or private workspace that allows you to conduct Zoom or phone conversations with potential clients. You may even be able to work on-site for some of your clients, reducing the need for your own office space.

When first starting out, choose a handful of job boards where you can detail your work skills and experience as well as share your portfolio. For example, you can offer blog writing services through a site like Upwork. Here, potential clients can read reviews from other clients and learn more about what you have to offer.

Traveling as a Freelancer

According to Influence Digest, many freelancers decide to work in this capacity so they have the ability to travel and to build flexibility into their lives. Others travel because it’s related to their particular line of work. For example, if you’re a freelancer who reviews vacation destinations or different points of interest across the globe, you may be traveling on a regular basis. If costs are not covered as part of your assignment, look for low-cost rentals and off-season travel times, and make sure tech capabilities are adequate so you can efficiently do your job. Travel via public transportation or fly standby. According to CNET, having a credit card that gives you rewards points toward travel can also be beneficial.

Building a Business

You may find that demand for your writing is expanding to a point where you’d like to establish yourself as a small business. In this case, taking the steps to register a business name and establish a formal business entity is a good idea. A DBA, which stands for “doing business as,” is the way to name your company without necessarily having to attach your own name to it from a public perspective. A DBA makes it easier to branch out into ancillary services if you decide you would like to do work for different industries under the same business umbrella. You can also use the DBA to establish banking and online accounts, as well as use it in billing statements and in cashing checks.

Working as a freelance writer provides numerous opportunities for flexibility and choosing work you find personally and professionally rewarding. As a small business, you may also have a greater degree of control over your earnings. Careful budgeting will be essential to ensuring success. Also keep in mind that as a freelancer, you’ll have to pay your own share of taxes as well as that of your “employer” (you) in making contributions to your Social Security account. Keep these matters in mind for long-term planning, budgeting, and expense tracking.

The Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

Flamenco, that artistic expression of music, movement, song, and dance originating in Andalucía Spain and possibly dating back to the 8th century, is on display during the Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021 presented by the Instituto Cervantes de Chicago, a non-for-profit center for the Spanish language and cultural exchange.     

Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

“Flamenco is a dance of passion,” says Teresa Hernando Rojo, cultural activities coordinator at the Instituto Cervantes and director of the festival which runs until November 13 “It takes great skill and dedication.” 

Best described as a solo dance with three components, canto (song), baile (dance) and one of three forms—intense, grand, and intermediate, flamenco is also an energetic and a highly expressive art form incorporating hand clapping, fancy footwork, elaborate hand, arm, and body movements all accompanied by music. It’s enthralling to observe—percussive footwork and clicking castanets, elaborate and richly colored costumes often patterned (at least for the women; the men seem to prefer black) with the music and movements expressing a wide range of emotions.

The attention to detail is amazing, even the way the bailaora or female dancer ties her long hand-embroidered shawl is representative of differing moods. Adding to the visual impact are ornate fans, perfectly coiffed hair, ruffled dresses cut high in front to enable movement, veils, and combs.

“Even the costumes are very traditional,” continues Hernando, noting that the costumes often worn during the performers at the festival are handmade by people who specialize and only make flamenco clothing.

It’s also a family tradition, flamenco is often passed down through the generations. Performers learn from parents who have learned from their parents, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters.

Performers during the five week events include Kati Golenko, one of the few women professional flamenco guitar players, and Miguel Reyes Jimenez, a master of the flamenco cajon who has written books on the subject. Golenko, who was born in Chicago and Jimenez, who is from Mexico City, met in Madrid and believe that flamenco is not only for people who were born into the tradition. They invite foreigners to join what they describe the clan of flamenco bastards, ‘The global tribe of #flamencobastards are all of us who were born outside of Spain, lacking flamenco purity in our veins, but for some strange reason, palpating with flamenco in our blood. We can´t speak to purity, but we can share what’s ours: technique, feeling, and strength.”

Other performers include Nino de los Reyes who was nine years old when he performed in “Campanas Flamencas,” directed by Paco Sánchez, founder of the legendary Cumbre Flamenca and Amparo Heredia, known as “La Repompilla,” who premiered her own show, “Herencia Flamenca,” at the Tío Luis de la Juliana festival in Madrid in 2017. This year she won La Lámpara Minera, the most prestigious and highest International flamenco singing award.

“The great thing about flamenco is you don’t have to understand the language to understand its power and beauty,” says Hernando. 

For information on the Flamenco Festival and shows, click here, or contact the Instituto Cervantes at 312-335-1996; chicago.cervantes.es.

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) Now Helps Visitors Explore Chicago

The Tale of The Bean

Located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture made of brilliantly polished stainless-steel plates, now does more than just reflect the Chicago skyline and clouds above and the perfect Instagram backdrop for selfies on the ground. The sculpture, nicknamed The Bean because of its shape, now is also an AI powered chat bot capable of answering questions about the city.

It all began when Covid hit and the constant stream of visitors stopped. The Bean, which is decidedly not good at knitting or baking bread, became focused on moving beyond being the most beautiful gigantic drop of mercury-looking statuary–though we must say it did a great job at that. Eager to be a vital part of the visitor experience, The Bean worked hard at becoming a digital communicator—wanting to interact with the millions of visitors who come to Millennium Park each year.  

When my fans come back, thought The Bean, I want to be ready. There were a few bad moments particularly when The Bean learned about other non-Bean art and culture for humans to enjoy in the city. This was a tough realization at first and The Bean did have an existential crisis but thankfully it was quickly dealt with after a few counseling sessions. Another glitch was that The Bean learned more than The Bean really wanted to know about intense fan rivalry between the Cubs and the Sox and how it splits the city into two regions: North of The Bean and South of The Bean. Being wise, The Bean refuses to say which team it likes best and denies reports that it was seen in Wrigleyville wearing a Cubs hat.

“We were surprised, and quite frankly, a little alarmed, when The Bean came to us and asked if we would be open to this new idea, after all we did not know The Bean had become sentient,” said Scott Stewart, Executive Director of Millennium Park Foundation. “However, after talking with Choose Chicago, we realized that our friend, The Bean, could be a great help to all of the visitors to Chicago so we are happy to be part of this project.”

Call it The Bean Knows All. Want to know where to get your favorite style of pizza? What’s happening in the city? Head to explorewiththebean.com to ask The Bean about anything from neighborhood restaurants to what events are happening next weekend as well as the latest in child-friendly activities, things to do, museum exhibits, and more.

Turning this 66-feet long by 33-feet high sculpture, one of the largest of its kind in the world, into an AI powered chat bot called for team work. A partnership was developed between Choose Chicago and Northwestern University Medill School’s Knight Lab, a diverse, multi-disciplinary and multi-generational community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces says Glenn Eden, Board Chair of Choose Chicago, the official organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination.

“Our team of students was thrilled to have this opportunity to explore the design questions involved in making a conversational system that works well for visitors to Chicago,” said Joe Germuska, Executive Director of Knight Lab. “And if, in the future, The Bean needs us for new projects, we’re ready to help.”

The Bean Ups Its Game

Now that it’s also an AI powered chat bot, The Bean isn’t going to just sit back and relax. That’s not Bean-like. Instead, it wants to make even more friends and provide more information and so is continuously working to take its knowledge base to the next level. And by the way, The Bean loves when people take photos of it or pose with The Bean for selfies. But though The Bean thrives on attention, its goal is not to be The Bean-all when it comes to Chicago.

Instead, The Bean loves to share all that Chicago has to offer. All you have to do is ask.

Cloud Gate sits upon the AT&T Plaza, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.

Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago, is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the north and Monroe Street to the south.

Photos are courtesy of Choose Chicago and The Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Safe Traveling During COVID-19

For many travelers, packing away their suitcases and trying to get airline ticket refunds really put a damper on the last year. However, with vaccination rates increasing and many areas open, travel is becoming safer once again.

If you have a bug to hit the road, you’re probably wondering what you can do to have a great trip while still staying safe. Well, it doesn’t take much, Guest Blogger Lisa Walker offers these five tips for COVID-friendly travel.

1. Choose the Less-Beaten Path

Instead of booking a vacation to the most popular tourist attraction around, opt for a location that is less well-known and will thus be less crowded. The fewer people you are around, the less likely it is that you’ll end up testing positive for COVID-19.

2. Consider a Road Trip

Getting on a packed flight for several hours probably doesn’t sound like fun, whether there’s a pandemic or not. Instead of flying to a destination, choose somewhere a little closer that can be reached by car. Hitting the open road is a great way to see the sights, but it also allows you to keep to yourself and stay safe.

If you decide to go on a road trip, you may want to invest in some tech gear to improve your travels. If you aren’t convinced that your smartphone is truly up for the job, a GPS system can ensure you are on the right track and will get to your destination without having to stop and ask for directions. And don’t forget to invest in an extra car charger or two to ensure your battery is always powered up.

3. Go Camping

While some people balk at the idea of sleeping anywhere but in a hotel bed, camping is a great option for those who want to avoid coming into contact with others. If you’re already a fan of camping, you likely have all the gear you need, from tents to camp stoves. If not, you can either purchase all new items or rent some. There are websites that specialize in outdoor gear rentals, a great tactic that can help you decide if you like camping enough to buy your own gear.

4. Book a Vacation Rental

As mentioned above, there are many travelers who don’t want to risk bumping into others in the narrow hallways of a hotel. Vacation rentals are ideal because they allow you to have a comfortable place to stay that you can call your own. Most are cleaned extremely well between guests, so you can rest easy knowing that everything has been sanitized. Airbnb even requires hosts to follow CDC guidelines or risk losing their ranking.

5. Spread Out in a B&B

As more vacation options open up, bed-and-breakfasts are ideal for those who want the luxury of a hotel without the hassle. Some locations are still not at full capacity, making it easier for travelers to have space to enjoy time away from home. Plus, when you stay in a B&B, you’ll have easy access to activities like wine tasting, antiquing, horseback riding, and more.

Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely something you’ll never have to deal with again, but it is possible to do it safely if you’re willing to be flexible and think outside the box. Don’t wait to book your next getaway; just do so with safety and comfort in mind.