5 Books to Hibernate With

Whenever I get a weekend to myself during the winter (which lately has been rare), I love to curl up with a good book. Over my holiday break, I peeled through the second half of Night Film by Marisha Pessl and got a head start to Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Because the nights are long in winter, you want to stay in but it seems impractical to go to sleep before a certain time. I know that if I’m in bed before 9pm (unless I’m sick), I’ll be up in the middle of the night ready to start the day at 3am and that’s never a good routine to get on. These are the nights I’m in my bed by 8pm, sometimes earlier, and grabbing a book. Inspired by my own reading kick lately, I’ve put together a list of five book recommendations to keep you busy the rest of winter…

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Paris Ever After by K.S.R. Burns | A Review

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review but with the latest I conquered, I couldn’t resist. It’s not secret I have a soft spot for Paris and all things French. It’s a city and a culture that spoke to me in a way few other things have and it will always hold a special place for me. Earlier this year, the author of a new book reached out asking if I would give it a chance and share my review. I agreed foolishly thinking that I’d be able to handle this in time for the release. HA! With my reading habits I should have known better. It wasn’t until recently that I made reading a priority. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed and this year I’ve gotten so lost in life that I almost never took a minute to myself. So while it might have been a slow start, I rapidly finished reading Paris Ever After earlier this month and I have quite a few things to say about it. Before we get to what I have to say, take a look at the description from Goodreads first.

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Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort - Checking In

Nothing beats a mid-week staycation, especially during a busy few weeks. It’s a reprieve from the craziness of life whether you need a break from the office or the kids. Earlier this week, I shared a part of a recent mid-week staycation that I had the pleasure of enjoying. The Chicago Lincolnshire Marriott Resort invited me to dine at the newly redesigned and reconcepted Three Embers restaurant which was a treat in itself. They also invited me to stay the night which was a no brainer. I invited my cousin to come along and it served as a mini celebration of sorts for her earning a Masters degree. The resort recently went under a $25 million transformation from completely redesigned restaurants to a gorgeous outdoor patio. It’s an oasis in the Chicago suburbs and an ideal landscape for anyone looking to escape the fast-pace of city life and take a moment to breathe.

**I was invited to stay at the Chicago Lincolnshire Marriott Resort and enjoy a dinner at Three Embers complimentary. All opinions expressed belong to Lattes, Life & Luggage.***

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Checking In
The Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort is tucked away on a large campus that is home to the resort, the Marriott theater, an on-site farm, greenhouse, and apiary, and more. The secluded location guises the fact that you’re in suburban Chicago. The entire property is surrounded by forest area and the grounds are expertly landscaped. My cousin and I were running late for the Three Embers dinner so we had to take it in rather quick. We entered the lobby which has plenty of space and comfortable seating for lounging, and checked in seamlessly. The front desk staff was welcoming and very helpful in providing information about our room and stay. We passed the full-service Starbucks Cafe, new to the resort, and doors to the outdoor pool before going up one floor to our room.

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The Room
We stayed in a double room with full-sized beds and were greeted with a little note and a few chocolatey treats upon arrival. There was plenty of space for two of us with a desk and small seating area. The bathroom was clean with a modern design and plenty of counter space. A large window overlooked the resort grounds. I’m so used to city views whenever staying in a hotel. It was refreshing to have trees and all kinds of green on the other side of the window. The beds were unbelievably comfortable. In fact, when we were checking out, I asked if we could take the bed with us. It was like a pillowy cloud but still firm enough so that your back didn’t ache in the morning. Simply put, everything exceeded our expectations.

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The Resort
What do you think $25 million could get you? Other than not having to work for the rest of your life. For the Marriott Lincolnshire, it got them a completely transformed resort. They added two new restaurants: Three Embers and Wrights Brew & Bistro, a full-service Starbucks Cafe, a new day spa - The Spa at Lincolnshire, completely renovated guest rooms, an upgraded “Great Room” lobby, and the Lakeside Plaza. It seems like a lot and it is. You can tell a lot of care and consideration went into each of the changes and the money was well spent. The Great Room serves as the lobby and so much more. With the Starbucks Cafe right off the Great Room, it’s the perfect location to take your computer, grab a latte and scroll through your emails in the morning. There’s enough foot traffic to make it feel alive but not in an overwhelming way so that you can’t hear yourself think. It gives a grand first impression to anyone arriving for the first time as well.

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I did not experience Wrights Brew & Bistro but we had a lovely dinner at Three Embers which started on the Lakeside Plaza. The plaza is a 2,500 square foot patio featuring breathtaking views of the resort lake, fire pits, outdoor seating and more. It’s the ideal spot to start the night with a cocktail in hand. Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer, Lakeside Plaza features live acoustic music performances to add to the ambiance. We were able to enjoy one of those performances and it was nothing short of fantastic. The menu at Three Embers features Midwest cuisine with simple, locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, while integrating influential flavors from various regions throughout southern Europe. Get a more in depth review and look at Three Embers by visiting our post from earlier in the week.

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The Verdict
We only stayed at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort for one night but it was long enough to give us a taste of what the hotel has to offer. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I have experienced many of the suburban hotel options and none of them live up to what the Marriott Lincolnshire provides. Because of its secluded location, even in the heart of a suburb, it actually feels like you’ve escaped into nature to get away for awhile. It’s ideal for anyone looking to take a staycation within the area but it’s also a great spot for those visiting from out of town. Lincolnshire is less than an hour from Chicago by car or a quick drive from the nearest Metra stop to take the train into the city. It’s also a quick 20 min drive to O’Hare International Airport, which, if you’re familiar with O’Hare - there are few places that can be considered quick drives. Overall, the Marriott Lincolnshire has plenty to offer including live theater performances. If you’re traveling to the area, I would recommend to at least consider allowing the resort to host you during your visit.

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Summer Nights at Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort

There are some meals that are so good they stick with you for a long time. Every single dish is memorable and your mouth salivates thinking about it. Unfortunately for me, the meal on my mind lately is almost a two hour drive away but worth every minute there and back. It’s the new summer menu from Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort and if it’s not on your summer bucket list, it should be. Located in Chicago’s North Shore area, Three Embers, the resort’s signature restaurant, celebrates Midwest cuisine with simple, locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, while integrating influential flavors from various regions throughout southern Europe. My cousin and I had the pleasure to dine with other influencers at a special event to preview the new summer menu at Three Embers. It was a gorgeous night that was miraculously not suffocating given our current summer record and the company was fantastic.

**I was invited out to Three Embers for a special event with all food and drink provided complimentary. All opinions expressed belong to Lattes, Life & Luggage.***

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We started with cocktails and appetizers on the brand new Lakeside Plaza at Three Embers overlooking the resort lake. The Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort recently went through a $25 million transformation which includes the Lakeside Plaza featuring a dramatic wood-burning grill, plenty of outdoor seating and gorgeous views all around. The fountain in the center of the lake provides a peaceful ambiance and a great backdrop for photos! We were greeted with a Blueberry Coconut Lemonade (malibu, blueberry-coconut lemoncello, fresh squeezed lemonade), a drink that was made for me. It went down way too easy and I’m a picky cocktail sipper so that says a lot. Passed appetizers included the Lamb Croquettes with mint pesto, black mission figs and a goat cheese mousse and the Burrata with heirloom tomato, balsamic, basil and EVOO. Everything was tasty which should have prepared us for the five-course meal that came later but believe me when I say we were all blown away.

The Lamb Croquettes

The Lamb Croquettes

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The pre-fixe menu began with the Honey Badger Glazed Pork Belly with miso sabayon, pickled blueberries, and bitter greens. It’s probably not a great idea to lead with the best dish but since we’re going in order of courses, that’s how it works today! The glazed pork belly was by far my favorite dish of the night. And that is not to say I hated the others. I loved everything but if I picked favorites, and I am, the pork belly wins. The meat was so tender it melted in your mouth. The flavors were out of this world. Sweet met savory in the best possible way. The meat had this beautiful caramelized crust that I will forever be trying to replicate at home. I should also take this time to mention the bread and butter. Three Embers has a pastry chef that makes all of their baked goods and pastries in house. The bread was so good, I should write a paragraph dedicated to it but I'll control myself. The butter was also a delight because it had honey and a little salt. Two things I will never complain about.

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The pork belly was followed by the light and delicate Grilled Farm Vegetables with tomato jus, shrimp, and basil. The presentation was stunning - summer on a plate! This a perfect dish for dining on the patio during a warm summer night. Next we dug our forks into the Alaskan Halibut with risotto, charred leek, and preserved lemon. Risotto is a fickle friend and if you think about it, so is fish. If you cook it too little, you’re in trouble. If you cook it too much, you’re in more trouble. Both the halibut and the risotto were cooked to perfection. The halibut was flaky and light, not a morsel was dried out. The risotto was creamy and comforting, just how I like it. The charred leek and preserved lemon add a nice balance of flavors to an otherwise light dish. Don’t let risotto fool you. Even though it’s comforting doesn’t mean it will overwhelm the stomach in the heat of summer. Cooked well and with the right flavors, it’s an all-season side dish.

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The last main course was the Veal Tenderloin with milk poached, ricotta dumpling and mushroom. This might have been the most tender piece of meat (other than the pork belly) that I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I’m trying to think of words to describe this dish but all I can think about is my stomach growling even though I just had a very satisfying smoothie. Where do I even begin?! The veal tenderloin was cooked perfect. It had a crisp, caramelized crust and tender, juicy inside. The dumplings were gummy and delightful but 10x more irresistible dipped in the jus that covered the veal which was so flavorful every single taste bud was tantalized. This is about as hearty as you should get for a summer dish and Three Embers did not disappoint for a second.

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Finally, we were treated to the Dessert Duo of Chocolate Pave with raspberry sorbet, rhubarb, and chocolate crumble and a Honey Creme Brulee with blood orange, pistachios, and white chocolate. It was interesting to go around the table and see which was everyone’s favorite. Not having a crazy sweet tooth myself, I was satisfied within a few bites but I still had the opportunity to appreciate the delicate quality of each dish. The Chocolate Pave was my personal favorite. The rich chocolate balanced beautiful with the tart raspberry sorbet. The Honey Creme Brulee was the kind of dessert that got better with each bite. It was very sweet but the blood orange and pistachios helped with the balance.

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It was an incredible night with great company and outstanding service and food. The staff at Three Embers and the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort were very welcoming and it was a treat to be able to get away mid-week. Another reason I love Three Embers is because of their passion for locally sourced and farm-fresh ingredients. The resort has an on-site farm, greenhouse and apiary where they source much of their fresh fruits and vegetables as well as their very own honey! They’re making a wonderful contribution to the environment and anything they cannot source themselves, they try to source local from produce, livestock and dairy farms. It’s one thing to enjoy a great meal but another altogether to enjoy a great meal from a restaurant doing its part to impact the environment and support local businesses.

Dining on the Riverwalk | San Antonio, TX

There are dozens of restaurants to dine along the riverwalk in San Antonio. Almost all of them have outdoor patios to take advantage of the gorgeous south Texas weather and views of the river. The riverwalk in general is colorful, it’s lively and it’s bustling. People walk through the dining patios getting to their destinations. Birds are fluttering around everywhere you look. The riverwalk is full of life and energy making it a perfect spot to take a seat and enjoy a meal. My Noni and I ate at three different restaurants, two of which I’m spotlighting today!

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Rita’s on the River is a must-visit restaurant in San Antonio according to plenty of food round-ups. They serve up Tex-Mex and Mexican food including margaritas and fajitas featuring homemade tortillas. They have gluten free and vegetarian options so even those with dietary restrictions can enjoy a local favorite. Rita’s is also fur-friendly! They welcome friendly pups in case you’re traveling with a four-legged friend or visiting friends or family with one. Overall, Rita’s on the River has a fun, welcoming environment for a great experience and the food is fantastic as well.

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My Noni order the Taco Salad: a large taco shell filled with your choice of chicken or beef, fresh lettuce, topped with diced tomatoes, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. Her eyes were way bigger than her stomach and she took half of it home but she loved it. I actually haven’t seen her eat as much as she ate while we were in San Antonio. It was hilarious. Not usually one for Mexican or Tex Mex either, she was really impressed with Rita’s. We loved being able to sit on the patio and people watch. She also tried guacamole for the first time! I was so proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone during our first dinner in Texas.

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I had the Chicken Flautas: three crispy rolled tortillas, stuffed with shredded chicken and a hint of cheese, fried to perfection and served with sour cream. They came with refried beans and fiesta rice. There’s nothing mind blowing about flautas, they’re pretty standard when it comes to Tex Mex but it doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious. It was exactly what I wanted and that Fiesta Rice was amazing! I love rice but am not the best at making it myself so it’s a treat when I have it at restaurants.

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One of the last restaurants we ate at while in San Antonio was the Hard Rock Cafe. Just a tad farther down the river than Rita’s the Hard Rock Cafe is like any you’d find anywhere else in the world. We weren’t looking for much, just a snack and dessert. We were under the impression that there would be a river parade that night which was the whole reason we chose this particular spot. Spoiler alert: there was no river parade. We still had a great time though! We had a visit from a friendly family of ducks that my Noni just loved.

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For our “snack,” we ordered the Margherita Flatbread: crispy flatbread with sliced Roma tomatoes, basil and herb sauce, roasted garlic, romano and mozzarella cheeses, fresh basil and a drizzle of garlic aioli. It was enough for the two of us and quite tasty I might say. But let’s be honest. We really came for the dessert. We split the Homemade Apple Cobbler: thick, juicy apples are mixed with the finest spices and baked until golden brown. Served warm with vanilla ice cream, topped with walnuts and Ghirardelli caramel sauce. And we also split a Molten Fudge Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream that doesn’t look to be on their menu anymore. They do have a Brownie a la Mode type of treat though which is similar. Both were AMAZING. I don’t prefer caramel sauce so I went for the cake more but it was a nice balance of fruitiness and decadent chocolate. It’s a great thing both desserts come with vanilla ice cream because it helps with the sweetness. Let’s just say, we both left with a very satisfied sweet tooth.

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With the amount of options there are to dine on the riverwalk, it can be a bit intimidating to choose where to eat. I would suggest going with your taste buds and your budget. Some restaurants are much more affordable than others like every other city in the world. Some are more casual, some are more adventurous. It just depends on your persona taste. There’s one more riverwalk restaurant I’ll be sharing and a fourth restaurant not on the riverwalk but by far my favorite from this particular visit to San Antonio. Stay tuned!

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The Ranch: A Review | Dining In Irving, TX

The Ranch at Las Colinas is one of the many phenomenal spots to grab a bite to eat in Irving, Texas. A Texas-style steakhouse, the Ranch is a farm to fork restaurant using locally sourced ingredients and providing a seasonal menu. This restaurant visit was part of a press tour I participated in with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. The meal was complementary and let me tell you, they pulled out all the stops including ordering every single dessert on the menu! While everyone had the chance to order their main course, we did have several shared appetizers and sweets. There’s a lot of food to get through so I’m just going to dive right in.

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My visit to the ranch was provided complimentary as part of a press tour with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions remain my own.

We started with appetizers for the table including the Chef’s “Favorite 4” which consists of Queso Blanco, Branding Iron Rings, Mini Elk Tacos and Fried Green Tomatoes. The Queso Blanco is exactly what it sounds like, traditional Texas-style queso cheese with crispy tortilla chips. Delicious and creamy, I am not surprised this one is a favorite. The Branding Iron Rings come with adobo ketchup and chipotle ranch, both of which I couldn’t get enough of. I love my sauces and these gigantic onion rings were the perfect opportunity to keep dipping. The Mini Elk Tacos had spicy elk picadillo, caciotta cheese, grilled corn pico, cilantro crema and micro greens. They were a unique twist on a traditional appetizer. Finally, who can ignore Fried Green Tomatoes. I’ve only had these once before and it was when I made them myself. Their FGT are local beer battered and served with avocado green goddess and gremolata. TASTY!

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After one too many recommendations, I ordered the Smoked Fried Chicken, a specialty at The Ranch. It’s served with warm roasted marble potato salad, cornbread and coleslaw. Not a potato salad fan, I asked to sub mine for the Buttermilk Chive Whipped Potatoes which they were out of at the moment and so I had the Cadi-Mac’N Chz instead. Much to my satisfaction, they were able to whip up a batch of those potatoes to deliver within moments that I received my meal! Talk about a carb overload.

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Here’s what I have to say about the Smoked Fried Chicken. It’s definitely a unique dish and I don’t recommend taking it home because it’s not the same left over. The chicken is smoked and then fried for the best of both worlds. The flavors are super intense so if you’re not already a fan of smoky flavor, this might not be for you. I personally LOVE smokiness so this was right up my alley. Add the super crunch from the fried skin and you’ve got an almost perfect dish. They give you a ton so I wouldn’t be beneath splitting this with someone if the opportunity arose again. As for the sides, no words. Texas knows how to whip up bomb mac n’cheese. Creamy noodles were topped with buttery, crispy breadcrumbs. It was absolutely divine. And I’m really glad I lucked out on the mashed potatoes because they were probably the creamiest I’ve ever had.

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Dessert was memorable for sure. When you have a wonderful hostess who insists on ordering the entire dessert menu, it’s obvious you’re in good hands. We all tried small bites of each treat for a well-rounded dessert course. And when I say that I tried a bite, I really mean a bite. I was about to burst by the time dessert came. For chocolate lovers, the Old Fashioned Chipotle Chocolate Layer Cake with Sweet House ice cream was decadent and rich with an interesting subtle spice to it but balanced thanks to the vanilla. Country Style Fried Pies gave a true taste of the south. The filling changes to use seasonal ingredients. Ours were apple which was fine with me. You know? I didn’t know what a fried pie was until this particular Texas visit. I hadn’t even heard of them before.

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Next up, another southern favorite...the Route 66 Pecan Pie with praline caramel and a cinnamon crust, served with Sweet House ice cream. Pecan Pie will always be one of those desserts that I will only eat one bite of. It’s so sweet that I feel like I need to dive into a bag of potato chips immediately afterwards. That’s not to say it’s not tasty though! My fellow tour guests who grew up with pecan pie even loved it. The Haywire Homestead Cake is The Ranch’s take on carrot cake from local harvest made with molasses buttercream and spiced pecans. It’s a very rich version of carrot cake with several layers but it’s surprisingly balanced well. Carrot cake is one of those desserts that I’m warming up to the older I get and this particular number is at the top of my list.

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Finally, last but very not least, my personal favorite: the Berry Bundt. It would make sense considering it’s the lightest dessert that we had, fruity and not overly sweet or rich. A classic bundt cake with mixed berries is topped with a lavender cream cheese glaze that is out of this world. The lavender gives the cake an interesting twist with a subtle floral flavor. It’s really quite tasty and this is most definitely the dessert I’d order when I return. Unless of course their seasonal dessert happened to be a cobbler or something else of interest.

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Other than their bountiful lunch, dinner and dessert menus, The Ranch additionally has an impressive craft cocktail, wine, beer, and spirits menu. I had a Riesling with my meal along with several tall glasses of water and a delightful coffee with dessert. The service was friendly and accommodating. The atmosphere is casual yet sophisticated and welcoming. It’s the perfect spot to come with a group of friends, for an intimate date, or even with family. I’m very fortunate I had the opportunity to take part in the Irving press tour to enjoy this restaurant because I may not have found it myself!

Denver Dining | Linger: A Review

Would you dine in a restaurant that used to be a mortuary? Well, I did and I can say that the experience was far from gruesome. Before heading into the mountains, my friends and I used the one night we were all together in Denver to go out to a restaurant the locals love for dinner. Located in the Highland neighborhood, Linger is a swanky, hip restaurant with a multi-level space and tables to fit parties of two all the way to large groups. Linger doesn’t believe in the traditional single entree. Their entire menu is comprised of “small plates” meant to be shared among friends. Representing cuisine from around the world, Linger has made it its job to not be pigeon-holed as one type of restaurant. They have a versatile and unique food menu complemented by an equally original cocktail and drinks menu.

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Since there were quite a few of us, we had the opportunity to try many different dishes. A few of my favorites included the Lemongrass Pork Potstickers, Wagyu Sliders and Italian “Coffee” & Doughnuts. Sometimes when restaurants take you around the world through their menu, things can seem out of place or scattered but Linger makes it work. For starters, the menu is organized by region. There is a section just for Bao Buns (which are my newest obsession, in case you’re interested), Europe & Eurasia, Americas & Caribbean, Asia, Africa & Middle East, and India. I think it’s safe to say that we went almost all the way around the world.

Colorado Lamb Kabobs with cucumber, tzatziki, cilantro, chapati bread, and Turkish chimichurri. I’ve found that people either love lamb or hate it. I’m one of those people who love it. It has a gamey flavor that pairs really well with heartier dishes. On the contrary, this dish is super light but bursting in flavor showing you just how versatile lamb can be. The cucumber and tzatziki vs. chimichurri are almost opposite when it comes to flavor profile which provides a nice balance for the kabobs. It's an overall well-balanced dish.

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Chicken B’Stilla with crispy pastry, almonds, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, harissa, cumin labneh, fennel salad, and preserved lemon. African and Middle Eastern cuisine is something that is new to me. I’ve only started to taste their dishes in the last few years and even tried my hand at a few for a series earlier this year. Most likely because of their climate, a lot of the flavors are warmer: cinnamon, harissa, sumac, etc. It’s a different flavor profile than I’m used to but so delicious. The Chicken B’Stilla is one of those dishes that when they arrive you think, what is this? It’s interesting and almost looks like baked brie until you cut into it and see all the yummy goodness inside (that’s not brie of course).

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Organic Sweet Potato Waffle Fries with chipotle ketchup. I do not have a photo of these but they were definitely worth mentioning. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, these are some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. And let’s not forget that chipotle ketchup made in house! It adds sweetness mixed with a kick of spice. To. Die. For!

Wagyu Sliders with peppered bacon, aged cheddar, curried sour cream, pickled onion, sweet potato waffle fries, and chipotle ketchup. I never thought sliders could outdo a full-sized burger btu there’s so much flavor packed into these little guys that you don’t need a full-size. Peppery bacon meets the sharpness of cheddar cheese and is balanced with sour cream. These might not be outside my comfort zone but man were they delicious. Not to mention they come with the killer sweet potato fries and chipotle ketchup. That’s a big win if you ask me!

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Lemongrass Pork Potstickers with sambal, crispy shallots, garlic, ginger, and sweet soy. If you haven’t tried sambal yet, you need to. I have a whole jar of it in my cabinet and love dumping a few spoonfuls on any Asian-inspired dinners that I make. A potsticker is a potsticker. There’s not a huge difference no matter where they’re made but the quality is definitely something worth noticing. For example, these potstickers were not greasy, they were almost fresh in a way. They balanced sweet and savory perfectly and the sauces on the side made each bite even better. Someone pass the sambal please!

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Masala Dosa - crispy lentil crepe, winter squash, long beans, brussels sprouts, apricots, potatoes, sambar curry, tamarind date sauce, coconut mint chutney. Of all the plates we ordered, this one was probably the most out of the box one for our regular eating habits. I don’t even know how to explain this dish. A large, crispy crepe is filled with all these not-so-random ingredients. Not sure how to eat it, we broke off pieces of the crepe and treated it kind of like chips and salsa. Whatever the proper way to eat this dish is, it’s still delicious. Definitely on the sweeter side so if you’re more of a savory person, take a bite and keep moving.

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Italian “Coffee” & Doughnuts - caramelized white chocolate mousse, whipped espresso ganache and dark chocolate pearls. I could have dove into this cup of heaven. I’m not a sweets person but bring me Italian doughnuts with dark chocolate and I’m like a kid in a candy shop. This was rich and decadent, exactly how a dessert of this caliber should be. And I want more! Those dark chocolate pearls with the espresso ganache and white chocolate were almost too much to bear. Almost, I said almost.

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Taiwanese Snow Ice. For $9, you get three different choices to dress your Taiwanese Snow Ice, otherwise known as super delicate shaved ice. It looks like a bowl of snow and it’s super fluffy like snow as well. There are three different flavor options although I don’t remember which one we got. This is not my cup of tea so I had one bite and moved back to my Italian doughnuts. My friends went crazy for it though so it had to be delicious.

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Linger has a huge wine menu and lots of weekly specials including Happy Hour Monday through Friday with $6 wine by the glass and $5 shared plates. Indulge in a pre-fixe menu on Tuesdays, grab lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, or Brunch on weekends! If you have dietary restrictions, there is no restricting at Linger. They have Vegan and Gluten-Free options throughout their menu and the option to substitute many of the dishes that are not. They make sure to accommodate every single diner from carnivore to plant-based.

At Home Teeth Whitening That Actually Works

It’s time for a confession. My smile is not something I’ve ever been particularly confident with. Braces were a no-brainer for me as a kid and afterwards, I was so conscious of how not white my teeth were it became something I always felt insecure about. This was a time when all the characters on TV shows had blinding smiles and whitening products were popping up left and right. I tried all the classic whitening kits but the results were never anything to write home about, especially on the bottom where I could never get a whitening strip to take hold since I had a permanent retainer for a while. So it’s been a long time coming for me to have a smile I can feel confident about.

Thanks to Smile Brilliant for partnering with Lattes, Life & Luggage for this post! Product was provided complimentary for a review, no compensation was received. All opinions remain my own.

This post may contain affiliate/referral links. It’s a way for this site to earn advertising fees by advertising or linking to certain products and/or services.

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When Smile Brilliant approached me asking if I’d be interested in working with them, I was skeptical at first. After reading reviews and browsing through their website, it was clear to me that Smile Brilliant wasn’t just another whitening company. They had a product that is far greater quality than what you would find on a drugstore shelf. It’s professional grade whitening at a reasonable price. I won't tell you that your smile will be white overnight, but if you stick to it and let the product do its job, you’ll find a whiter, more confident smile in no time at all.


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Getting Started
Once you sign up for Smile Brilliant, you’ll receive a package in the mail with almost all of your materials. The unique thing about this company is that instead of providing generic strips or trays they create custom trays. The first package that comes in the mail includes: whitening gel syringes, desensitizing gel syringes, trays for dental impressions, 3 sets of the base and catalyst for the dental impressions, and materials to help guide you.

Step 1: Create your dental impressions. For those of you who’ve gotten braces or any kind of mouth equipment, you’re probably familiar with these. Two materials combine together (the blue base and white catalyst) to create the putty for your impressions. It feels kind of like play dough. Once the white material is no longer visible, the putty gets shaped into the trays. I recommend only doing one at a time because it will start to harden as soon as the materials touch. There’s a small window between mixing and getting it into your mouth before the putty is unusable. Secure the tray to your teeth firmly. You want the best impression possible otherwise they won’t be able to create the trays properly and you’re back to square one. Once the impressions are done, they get shipped back to the company for the trays to be made. Postage is included as part of the package.

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Step 2: Start whitening! Whitening is simple. Once you receive your trays in the mail, they’re ready for use. Each syringe should be able to provide at least three full whitening sessions (both top and bottom). I actually got more than three whitening sessions out of my syringes but I also have teeny tiny teeth and a small mouth. You can whiten anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. Because whitening (of any kind) can cause sensitivity and I feel like I’m a little more sensitive than normal, I started whitening at only 45 minutes and increased it to 1.5 hours when I had time. Depending on how white you are looking to go and how dull your smile has become will determine how many whitening sessions you need before you’ll get the result you’re looking for. It took me 10 whitening sessions at 45 - 90 minutes each.

The Whitening Process
For the best results, Smile Brilliant provides directions for applying the whitening gel. It goes like this:

Step 1: Brush teeth without toothpaste. Why? You want to clean the teeth as much as possible so the gel can do its job.

Step 2: Fill the front side of your trays with the gel. A thin line should be enough. If the gel is pouring out of the tray when you apply it to your teeth, you’ve used too much.

Step 3: Place the trays onto your teeth. Try not to scrape it along your teeth because the gel could get all messy.

Step 4: Sit back and relax or go about your day while your teeth whiten!

Step 5: Once you finish the whitening session, remove the trays. Rinse your mouth, brush your teeth with a non-whitening toothpaste and proceed to applying the desensitizing gel. This is recommended but not required and it only comes with the sensitive kits.

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It’s important to note that you can’t eat or drink while whitening and it’s best that you don’t afterwards. The cards that come with the Smile Brilliant package suggest whitening before bed which is what I did. A few things that I did to occupy my time include reading, working on the site, meal planning, writing, etc. My favorite part, it gives you an excuse to not talk to people. You can! Absolutely you can have a conversation. But I pretended that I couldn't so I got a little blissful silence which is a rare thing at night in my house.

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The desensitizing gel is another unique aspect to the Smile Brilliant whitening kit. Like with any other whitening treatment, sensitivity is something that can be expected. The desensitizing gel is formulated to help eliminate tooth sensitivity caused by whitening and prevent re-staining in the process. Confession: I didn’t use this gel for the majority of my initial whitening sessions because I hadn’t experienced any sensitivity. After I revisited the kit materials and realized it helped prevent re-staining, I started to incorporate it into the whitening routine. So while it took 10 sessions, it might have taken less if I had been using this gel at the beginning. The process is similar to whitening but much less time consuming.

Step 1: After brushing your teeth from whitening, rinse out the trays and dry as best as you can.

Step 2: Apply the desensitizing gel to the trays as you did the whitening gel.

Step 3: Apply the trays back to your teeth. Let them sit for 15-20 minutes.

Step 4: Remove the trays but do not brush or rinse afterwards. The gel needs to do its work overnight (another reason why whitening at night is recommended)

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As someone who has tried many different whitening options, I’m impressed with Smile Brilliant. They’ve made a professional quality product accessible to anyone for a decent price. Whitening is a process. It takes patience and dedication so if there’s a store-bought product trying to sell you instant results, I’d be cautious. Whitening a smile takes time when done right. You don’t want to bleach the teeth, you want to lift stains and that is exactly what Smile Brilliant does.

Top: Before - Bottom: After

Top: Before - Bottom: After


  • The customized trays ensure even application of the whitening gel. Unlike strips or other products, you don’t have to mess with it every five minutes to make sure it’s still on your teeth. The trays stay in place so you don’t have half-whitened teeth.
  • Unlike other whitening products, the desensitizing gel takes care of the after effects from whitening.
  • The kit comes with plenty of whitening gel and desensitizing gel (depending on which you buy). If you feel the need to refresh your smile at a later date, you have extras!
  • The kit comes with step-by-step instructions with photos t hat make the process super easy and almost impossible to mess up .


  • The whitening gel tastes pretty nasty. You can’t taste it too much while you’re whitening (unless it seeps out a lot, in which case you’re using too much) but once those trays come out before you rinse and brush, yikes.
  • Chemical burns are possible on the gums. If this happens, applying a little Vaseline should help. I didn’t experience this at all and I feel like I whitened more than others. It’s important to note this is a possibility though.

Here’s the bottom line. If you’re not confident in your smile, have tried other products on the market, and don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars at the dentist, consider Smile Brilliant. I am smiling so much more since I’ve started the whitening process. You might not notice results right away but there’s one whitening session in the process where you wake up in the morning and your smile looks noticeably whiter. It’s a great feeling and you’ll find yourself smiling a little more than usual that day.

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Notes From Smile Brilliant
You’ve read about my experience, but now I want to share a few specific pieces of information from Smile Brilliant.

  • There are two types of kits to choose from: non-sensitive or sensitive. Each system has three different levels to choose from: heavy stains, average, and light stains. The only difference is that one kit is designed for those with heightened sensitivity and the other is not.
  • Smile Brilliant’s teeth whitening process is recommended by more dentists than any other procedure in America.
  • The whitening process with Smile Brilliant is safe and does not damage your teeth. It uses active ingredients to temporarily open pores in your teeth and lift stains. After each whitening session, your teeth naturally remineralize and rehydrate.
  • Sensitivity after teeth whitening is normal. Did you know more than 60% of Americans have naturally sensitive teeth? There are many different causes but it’s not something to be alarmed about generally speaking. During the whitening process, teeth become temporarily dehydrated which is one of the causes for sensitivity. It reduces the tooth’s ability to insulate the nerve from changes in temperature. Sensitivity will disappear 12-36 hours after whitening.
  • Not everyone’s teeth can be perfectly white. Regardless of your stains, the natural color of an individual’s teeth are set at birth. All the whitening product can do is remove all the stains that have accumulated over time.

Smile Brilliant as a 45-day money back guarantee. They have a 2-year tray replacement warranty beginning on the initial order date of your kit. If, at any time, you need an additional set of your custom-fitted trays, you can request a replacement for $30. If you ever need a quick refresh and have run out of the whitening gel or desensitizing gel, both syringes can be purchased separately in packs of 3, 6, or 9. For more information about Smile Brilliant, visit their website or FAQ page.

Smile Brilliant is giving away $149 in Smile Brilliant credit to one lucky reader! The giveaway is open for one week (closes Wednesday, April 11th at Midnight). Entering is simple, all you do is visit https://www.smilebrilliant.com/g/latteslifeandluggage. Enter your first name and email address for one entry. Get an additional entry by following Smile Brilliant on Instagram. Follow the link to enter!! 

*TERMS: the giveaway with Smile Brilliant is managed through Smile Brilliant and the prize will be distributed by Smile Brilliant. Lattes, Life & Luggage is not responsible for the giveaway prize in any way. The giveaway is open to USA, UK, Australia and Canadian residents only.