Sedona, Arizona: the Ultimate Weekend Getaway

The United States possesses its own unique collection of hidden gems. One such place is Sedona, Arizona. Though it is not hidden, per se, it provides a welcome respite from the busyness of one’s day-to-day routine.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of this southwestern sanctuary is its stunning red rocks. Layers upon layers of glorious red, orange, and tan hues color the cliffs and spires that surround the town. My family stayed in Boynton Canyon, so we were actually surrounded by the rocks, which rose to impressive heights all around us. We had to crane our necks to capture the canyon’s entirety.

The geological splendors of Sedona also serve as an intriguing link to the past. One can only imagine how old the layers of rock at the bottom of the cliffs are. As time progressed, more layers were continuously added. The spires and unique formations were created from years and years of weather, shaped by the wind and rain. Pondering the history of one’s physical surroundings is certainly exciting, especially when the evidence of aging is so visible.

The Enchantment Resort, approximately 15 minutes from town and tucked away in the canyon, was an absolute delight. The distance from town was in fact an advantage, adding an element of privacy and intimacy. Large windows allow guests to fully take in the splendor of their surroundings while tasteful southwestern décor adds to the hotel’s allure. The Enchantment also boasts delicious, sophisticated cuisine.

Mii Amo Café serves fresh, healthy, and seasonally-inspired dishes in an unfortunately cafeteria-like setting. While it is a perfect spot for breakfast or lunch, I would forgo the café for a more elegant option come dinnertime. This place is more intended for pre- and post-spa nourishment.

Tii Gavo is a casual restaurant offering delicious food with a nod to traditional southwestern flavors. A good place for groups, picky eaters (like myself) can find a dish to their liking while sports fans enjoy the latest game at the bar.

Che Ah Chi, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves breakfast and dinner in a rather hotel-like atmosphere but, at breakfast, the views make up for it and at night, the room is dimly lit. Perhaps I am being slightly harsh, as the restaurant certainly is elegant, but it would be even more so with a more modern and fresh makeover. The food, however, certainly steals the show and quickly eclipses any ambience-related qualms. Che Ah Chi celebrates Native American and southwestern flavors, especially with their divine vegetable dishes. Unfortunately, dessert was slightly lacking, as the ice cream was a bit gummy and unimpressive flavor-wise.

If you do decide to venture out into town for an evening, the Elote Café is an excellent option. The atmosphere is certainly nothing special, but the liveliness of the place more than makes up for it (they take no reservations, so expect a LOT of people and long wait times), and the food is more than worth the daunting wait. I have always possessed a deep distaste for (Americanized) Mexican food, as I always viewed it a heavy and bloat-inducing. The Elote Café converted me. While the restaurant is certainly still indulgent, the food is bright, flavorful, modern, and absolutely delicious. There are more options than tacos and enchiladas. I ordered the sea bass adobo–a perfectly tender, and very spicy, grilled fillet of fish with salsa verde and pickled onions. Everything from the guacamole to the vanilla agave ice cream was perfectly executed. Each component of the meal had so much thought put into it, making it a truly satisfying and memorable meal.

Indulging in a spa treatment is also a lovely way to fully immerse yourself in the wellness-y vibe of Sedona. The Mii Amo Spa, though world-renowned and highly acclaimed, was unfortunately underwhelming. The treatments themselves, as well as the kind and amiable therapists, were outstanding, but the physical atmosphere of the spa was tired and outdated. Significant improvements could have been made regarding the spa waiting area, which was rather small. Things one would expect from an award-winning spa, such as cleanliness, aesthetically-pleasing massage rooms, and appropriately warm hot tub temperatures, seemed to go overlooked. I know how blessed I am to even be able to go to a spa. While back from college for Winter Break, a massage was a lovely–and much appreciated–treat, but for the exorbitant spa prices, however, the physical atmosphere was lacking.

Sedona is certainly a lovely place to visit. I was taken aback by its beauty, as I was not expecting such vividly-colored, nor beautifully shaped, rocks. The nature alone makes Sedona an extraordinary getaway, but the people, hotels, cuisine, and spas add a unique element that renders it even more enjoyable.

Winter Self-Care Products*

Self-care is an essential aspect to one’s overall health and wellbeing. With the upcoming Holiday Season and chilly weather, personal wellness could not be more important. Listed below are products that will inspire both an internal and external glow, as well as soothe the body during these wintry months.

Kopari Coconut Melt: This organic coconut oil is meant to be used as a moisturizer. It is perfect for hands and legs–commonly dry areas during this time of year. Kopari is 100% natural and smells divine, making it the perfect addition to one’s self-care repertoire.

Saje’s Sleep Well Oil: This oil is perfect for facilitating a sense of calm prior to bed. It is best to roll it on the inner wrists, the bottom of the feet, the temples, and behind the earlobes. After doing so, breathing in the oil’s lovely lavender-chamomile-valerian scent will help promote an even more restful sleep.

Hemp Garden’s Elevate CBD Lotion: This quaint shop on Cornelia Street sells products containing hemp or CBD, including lotion, candies, and bars. The Elevate lotions contain CBD and are perfect for soothing fatigued muscles. The lotion physically relaxes the body and can facilitate a deeper, more restorative sleep.

The Base Collective’s Magnesium Oil Spray: This spray works similarly to the CBD lotion in that it, too, provides relief for sore or fatigued muscles. The calming effect of magnesium can also help with sleep.

Live-Live & Organic’s Bee Yummy Skincare Line: Live-Live & Organic is a lovely health food/skin care store in the East Village. Its Bee Yummy products contain natural ingredients such as wildflower honey and royal jelly to promote healthy skin. The Bee Yummy Skinfood and Honey Mask are particularly divine.

Marie Veronique’s Gentle Gel Cleanser: This cleanser is perfect for sensitive skin. After using it, one’s face feels soft, clean, and moisturized. It also smells lovely and lasts for a considerably long time, as a single pump will suffice for a thorough and indulgent clean.

*Please note that these product recommendations are based upon my personal experiences. Everyone’s bodies and skin types are different and may react differently. Please know, however, that I have personally tested every one of these products and love all of them. If you decide to try some of these products for yourself, please do enjoy.

Aussie Cafés of NYC

It is officially Fall here in New York City, and with this particularly cozy season comes a bout of chilly weather and a plunge in temperatures. Though the cool and crisp air is certainly refreshing and only adds to the excitement of the upcoming Holiday season, it is nevertheless desirable to experience some warm and summery vibes.

Luckily, the city’s latest gastronomic trend has helped combat the blues that people may experience with such a drastic weather change. Who better than the Aussies to add some warmth during these upcoming wintry months?

Australian cafés seem to have become the new “hotspot” for New Yorkers seeking a relatively healthy, but slightly indulgent, meal or snack during these cooler days. Two Australian restaurants in particular have been able to fully deliver on everything that one might expect, including delicious food, incredibly friendly staff, and a comforting, yet aesthetically pleasing, atmosphere.

In the heart of SoHo, Ruby’s Café offers a bright and airy sanctuary for a leisurely breakfast or lunch amidst a much-needed break from one’s shopping endeavors. The menu is diverse, making it the perfect spot for a group with varying tastes. Complete with a vast selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, and “brekkie” items, Ruby’s Café can satisfy the pickiest eater while also pleasing that family member or friend who couldn’t care less about the food’s nutritional value.

What to order:

The kale salad is delicious but also indulgent. The crispy quinoa adds a satisfying crunch element. It is even more delicious with a side of avocado, for it makes the dish more substantial and also provides a dose of healthy fats.

The roasted Brussels sprouts were good, and slightly sweet, but they could have been far better had they been crispier. This dish had a funky acidic/sweet element which rendered it unique in comparison to traditional roasted brussels sprouts, although I prefer the latter to the former.

The pasta dishes looked heavenly. Though I did not order any pasta, several tables around me did. Each dish was colorful and satisfying to look at, especially with the extremely generous pile of grated parmesan cheese that crowned some of the customers’ glutenous meals.

A more homey and genuine Australian café, called Good Thanks, is located in the Lower East Side, just a few doors down from Russ & Daughter’s Café. The staff here was refreshingly genuine, kind, and attentive. There were some Aussies at Ruby’s, but it seemed that everyone working here was an Aussie, and the traditional Australian friendliness definitely showed–more so than at Ruby’s.

The food at Good Thanks is absolutely delicious. It is not fussy, but everything is made with the utmost care and is presented in a way that resembles an unpretentious piece of art. The micro greens that adorn the seasonal fruit bowl–which comes in a beautiful shallow wooden bowl–as well as the perfectly poached eggs on the avocado toast, are but one example of the admirable amount of thought put into each dish.

Their small wooden tables, ceramic plates, and quaint carafes of lemon water all add to the warmth and coziness one feels upon entering, but Good Thanks is not just another trendy café that mindlessly grasps onto fleeting trends, hoping to stay afloat in New York’s culinary battlefield. They are authentic and genuine. They take no shortcuts and ensure that everything–from the flavor to the atmosphere to the presentation– is executed mindfully and purposefully. The staff treats their customers like old friends, but a strong familial-like bond is evident among the staff members themselves.

The congenial atmosphere is reason enough to visit this LES gem, but the food is truly impeccable.

What to order:

Any of the egg dishes were delicious. I ordered two poached eggs with avocado and smoked salmon. Just be sure that, if you want to skip the toast that accompanies the eggs, to ask specifically for no bread. The salmon was not overpowered by salt, as many varieties unfortunately are, while the avocado was perfectly ripe and the eggs deliciously jammy.

My sister ordered the homemade, gluten-free banana bread, which came with a side of spiced butter. The bread, appearing gloriously dense and moist, was bejeweled with banana chunks and was, according to her, sinfully delicious.

Though I don’t drink coffee, my dad does and is rather particular about what constitutes a good cappuccino. He certainly expressed high approval of Good Thanks’ version of the classic café essential.

These two Aussie cafés are worth a visit–especially Good Thanks. In an age defined by ruthless culinary competition and stuffy restaurants lacking any character, Ruby’s Café and Good Thanks proved to be the perfect breaths of fresh air.

Natural Skincare

Our skin, the body’s largest organ, is constantly bombarded with myriad chemicals and pollutants, especially when living in a large city like New York. Because of the seemingly constant daily exposure to harmful substances, it is best to avoid skin products that would only cause further damage. The modern skincare industry produces countless products that are rife with harmful chemicals. Our skin is able to absorb topical products, so it is crucial that one takes into account the body as a whole when pondering various skincare avenues. Luckily, there are many natural ingredients that greatly benefit the skin. Listed below are some key ingredients that can be uses to care for the skin in the healthiest, most wholesome manner possible. Each ingredient is a nutrient powerhouse and will flood your skin with nutritional benefits. Self-care is essential, and the skin is indeed a major part of it.

Raw Honey

-honey contains antibacterial properties and aids in the skin’s pH regulation. It also helps regulate the production of the skin’s natural oils, which, when disrupted, can cause acne, oiliness, and dryness

Matcha

-matcha is rich in chlorophyll, which helps slow the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Its caffeine content also aids in the tightening of the skin and shrinking of pores

Apple Cider Vinegar

-apple cider vinegar’s pH is very similar to that of the skin’s, thus helping to keep it in check

Cucumber & Mint

-both cucumber and mint aid in reducing redness and inflammation. As an added bonus, cucumber seeds contain Vitamin E and potassium, therefore delivering essential nutrients to the skin

Blackberries

-blackberries are an extremely good source of antioxidants which protect the cells from free radicals. Free radicals are produced as a result of radiation exposure, pollutants such as smoke, and the breaking down of food and pose a great threat to the health of the skin

Incorporating these ingredients into one’s skincare routine will undoubtedly benefit the skin in myriad ways. They are a welcome alternative to the many chemical-laden commercial products on the market. All of these ingredients are edible, and simply eating them is a powerful first step towards taking better care of your skin. However, to further reap their benefits, topical application is highly effective. For ingredients that are slightly more difficult to apply manually, there are several vehicles that aid in facilitating the process, such as natural Greek yogurt. One can mix any of these ingredients into the yogurt to create a more economical way to apply them to the skin. Raw honey is another useful vehicle as are smashed banana or avocado. Hopefully these ingredients will bring you much joy. Please always remember the importance of self care and how our bodies always welcome a respite from the noise and pollution of modern life.

For further information and inspiration regarding all-natural skincare, the blogs Kale & Caramel, The Beauty Chef, and Hello Glow are all lovely resources. Much of the information in this article was inspired by their wisdom and provided an abundance of knowledge to aid in natural skin care.

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

It is difficult to even attempt to understand the experiences of the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. One can try to imagine the horrors of the gas chambers or the ready incineration of supposedly “weak” prisoners, but it is perhaps more difficult to ponder the daily routines at such camps–the habits of the prisoners and guards. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl provides much insight on the brutal nuances of the concentration camps which render them even more horrific than once believed. The long barefoot treks in the snow, the urine-soaked straw bunks, the sharp pang of constant hunger, and the lack of basic personal provisions are but a few of the more specific details which made the prisoners’ experience all the more nightmarish.

Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, provides a highly detailed account of what life was truly like as a camp prisoner. Several of such accounts indeed exist today, but he retells his story through a psychological lens. By sharing the behaviors of the guards and prisoners, the physical conditions, and several anecdotes, Frankl analyzes human behavior and seeks to optimize human life by learning from such behavior.

Suffering is a central point of discussion in the book. Frankl asserts that one’s meaning can indeed be fulfilled in the presence of suffering, yet such fulfillment is certainly not contingent upon it. He states that if the source of the suffering can be removed, it is selfish and irrational not to remove it. However, if suffering is beyond one’s control, one can find peace amid the chaos and still proceed to live a meaningful life.

Most human beings wish to live a meaningful life. It is sometimes difficult, however, to find such meaning or to even define what meaning is. Frankl takes a far more reasonable approach to this profound question. Rather than asking what our meaning is in life, we must realize that life is asking us this very question. Therefore, we must discover life’s meaning for ourselves. Life need not divulge this to us, for we are the ones intended to discover it. Life consistently questions us. Instead of doubting it, we should learn to listen and answer back.

One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most famous quotes is, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Frankl repeats this statement several times throughout his book. It is pleasantly simple and easy to understand, and yet it is something that humans constantly struggle with. In order to find the “why” that is unique to an individual, one must be willing to answer the questions life is asking us.

Man’s Search for Meaning certainly inspired me to live life differently with more love, gratitude, and enjoyment of each moment. If every person could attempt to live like Frankl, the world would instantly improve in every respect. Please be ready to answer life’s questions, remember that necessary suffering does not prevent one from finding meaning, that having a “why” makes life far more endurable, and that love transcends physical existence and is indeed just as, if not more, powerful than death.

Hotel Review: Angama Mara

When we landed on the small patch of dirt which constituted the Maasai Mara airstrip, we were kindly escorted to dsc_1460-1.jpegAngama Mara, a beautiful hotel consisting of wonderfully private safari “tents.” However, the rooms were far more sophisticated than any generic tent. The walls were canvas, yes, but a large portion of the walls were composed of bricks. In addition, there existed large glass windows equipped with a sliding door that led to a balcony overlooking the plush mountains that bejeweled the flat and grassy Maasai Mara.

Each room included a large bathtub and open shower with beautiful vintage gold faucets. The toilet was located in its own little enclave with brick walls and a window that revealed the natural beauty of the Mara, but because each room waIMG_4389.JPGs so private, one never feared the presence of prying eyes. The amenities were also impeccable. All-natural Africology products IMG_0104.jpegincluding bug spray, bubble bath, lotion, soap, shampoo and conditioner added to the luxurious atmosphere of the room.

At Angama, the small details were what truly made it special. In the privacy of each room, one could read Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, or delve into a book covering animal behavior or indigenous plants of the Mara. There were stamped postcards ready to be filled out and sent to loved ones, a whistle to be used to summon a guide should one feel the need for an escort, and a blow-horn for any potential (but highly unlikely) emergency.

All of the food was spectacularly fresh and healthy. Buffets were happily absent, and at each meal, guests had the opportunity to choose from a daily menu of wholesome dishes. For breakfast, one could pack a scrumptious picnic to be taken with them on the morning game drive. Dining in the open-air lobby was also available. I really appreciated their breakfast because there was a selection of fresh fruit, yogurt, muesli, smoothies and juices brought to the table, IMG_4040.JPGbut also a menu complete with warm dishes. I ordered egg shakshouka which was absolutely divine–two baked eggs in a skillet of spiced tomato sauce with feta and Middle Eastern spices. From chilled avocado soup to tabbouleh salad with grilled halloumi to a selection of fresh salads, lunch was a delightful respite after a long morning game drive. As for dinner, a simple and unfussy menu was prepared with few–but perfectly executed– options. For me, fewer options ensures greater quality.  My family and I also had the opportunity to participate in a traditional Swahili barbecue which was located at a site a few minutes away from the hotel. Among a small grouping of trees, tIMG_4438he staff had set up wooden tables with padded benches. String lights zig-zagged among the tree tops and kerosene lamps added to the magical ambiance. Appetizers such as chapati, local cheese, hummus, a garden salad, traditional Swahili tomato “salsa”, avocados, tomatoes, and more commenced the delicious meal. Then we chose between chicken, prawns, or beef as a grilled-to-order main course. The night was truly magical.

Though the amenities and meals were incredible, the staff at Angama made the entire experience far more memorable. It is difficult to articulate just how kind, hospitable, welcoming, and caring they were. Each party of guests had their own “butler.” I don’t like to use this term because it demeans the staff members. For my family and I, each staff member treated us like a member of their own family. Rather than referring to them as “butlers”, I believe that “dear friends” is a far more accurate descriptor. They knew all of us by name, and we learned theirs as well . This special first name basis added to the familial culture of the hotel. Calling it a hotel even seems inappropriate, as it was more like a home away from home.