Custom Song, Gift Idea

Songfinch Custom Songs – For Any Occasion!

When my Mom recently celebrated a milestone Birthday, I wanted to give her something unique – more of a story-worthy moment rather than a material item. Enter Songfinch.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Songfinch is a Chicago-based company that brings stories, feelings and memories to life through one-of-a-kind, personalized songs. Songfinch has a community of songwriters and musicians who take your ideas and preferences, and write the lyrics and record the perfect song, all within 7 days. Best friend getting married? Have a sweet song written about all of your favorite memories. Want to propose in a special way? What about a custom song? Your favorite boss is retiring? Why not gift a song that makes him laugh and reflect? After reading about Songfinch and listening to some sample tunes, I knew this was the perfect unique gift for my Mom.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

My experience with Songfinch was smooth and effortless. I wanted to create a light-hearted yet meaningful song for my Mom that was would make her laugh with reminders of all the things she did to embarrass my sister and me growing up. The process starts with completing a fill-in-the-blank “Mad Libs” of sorts, followed by the opportunity to tell stories and describe the person to whom the song is directed. One has the option of a male or female artist, the mood of the song, as well as the type of genre – or you can leave these options to the songwriter to decide. The mood I chose was comical and lighthearted, and the songwriter controlled the rest.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Once I submitted the easy-to-use online questionnaire, my custom song was delivered via email within 7 days, and the outcome was perfect! The songwriter picked up on all the little details provided, and created the perfect song that made my Mom both laugh and cry. She immediately wanted to share the song with her friends and family. The song, titled “Wine and Water,” plays off the point that sometimes we laugh so hard that wine or water comes out my Mom’s nose – sorry Mom!

Feel free to have a listen to or read the lyrics of the song written and recorded for my Mom. It is a pretty catchy tune!

Interested in having a personalized song written? Head to Songfinch and use the code CHRITIQUES25 for $25 off. It will be the most unique and meaningful gift anyone has ever received.

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary product to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

River North, Mediterranean

Ēma River North

Working in the Loop, I am always looking for new lunch destinations – especially those located outside of the business district. Lately, I have been finding myself finding any excuse to make my way to Ēma in River North for its delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and clean, minimalist decor, which always seems bright and sunny, despite the gloomiest of weather.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

While dinner at Ēma focuses on shareable small-to-medium plates, the lunch menu focuses more on individual entrees – salads, sandwiches and kebabs. However, if sharing is your thing, plenty of spreads, mezze and large plates are available to share.

On any visit, a sampler of Ēma’s spreads must be ordered. All six of the options are flavorful and fantastic, but among my favorites are the Spicy Hummus, topped with marinated Fresno peppers and sweet roasted chilies, the Avocado & Sweet pea, with jalapeño, lime, cilantro and mint, and the Toasted Almond & Garlic, with Castelvetrano olives and fresh herbs. If nothing else, order at least one just to have the warm and addicting house bread – essentially the best pita bread ever tasted.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Chritiques at Ema

Of the salads, the Mediterranean Chopped is my favorite, especially when topped with the perfectly cooked grilled salmon or green falafel. Made with arugula, romaine, shaved cauliflower, capers, dates, Parmesan, olives and red peppers, the salad is sizable and filling, but will not put you in a coma when you return to your desk.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

The Grilled Octopus is a must as a shared plate, appetizer, or side dish. Tender octopus is served with fried kale, fingerling potatoes, and topped with a zesty preserved lemon vinaigrette.

The Winter Squash Risotto is another perfect sharing plate. The current iteration includes Parmesan cheese, crispy sage, and a butternut squash vinaigrette. Naughty in the health department, but so nice in taste.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

Other lunchtime favorites are any of the kebabs – chicken, lamb, beef and salmon are all available, and are served with rice and an Israeli vegetable salad.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

If dessert is an option, do not pass up the Frozen Greek Yogurt. Smooth and creamy, and topped with a drizzle of California Olive Oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, it is a refreshing end to the meal and combines a perfect balance of sweet, salty and savory.

I hope that Ēma will eventually serve breakfast and brunch, but for now, lunch is offered Monday through Friday, and dinner is available seven days a week. Reservations are accepted, and encouraged, especially during the busy lunch and dinner hours.

Ēma

74 West Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654

Tastefully,

Christina

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Brunch at Taco Joint

Taco Joint has always been a favorite spot for a quick, casual dinner of well-executed guacamole, tacos and margaritas. In fact, I previously wrote about some of my favorite things on the dinner menu. And now, brunch is served on the weekends, complete with two hours of bottomless drinks and an entrée for $32 per person!

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

Given my proclivity to the Grapefruit Margaritas, a bottomless brunch is a dangerous proposition. Good thing plenty of hearty food options are available to soak it all up. On my visit, we went with the Chilaquiles, which can either be served vegetarian or with pulled chicken. It had fantastic flavor and was quite filling with whole black beans, Tomatillo salsa, crema, queso fresco, and a perfectly fried egg with a runny yoke. Crispy hash brown were served alongside.

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

Equally as good, but even more filling, was the Breakfast Burrito, stuffed with scrambled eggs, hash browns, grilled Canadian bacon, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. Mexican rice and chipotle black beans complete this dish.

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

The entrée options are limited – Steak ‘N’ Eggs, Carnitas Pancakes, Chorizo ‘N’ Eggs and a taco platter round out the menu, but most dishes can be prepared vegetarian, as well.

Service can be a tad aloof. On my visit, my drink was served in a very dirty glass which the server did not notice, and it took about 10 minutes to finally flag someone down about it. But, the food was satisfying and it is a good spot for a casual Mexican brunch with tasty drinks.

Brunch is available weekends from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. All entrées are priced at $11 per dish, and the Bottomless Brunch Package is offered at $32 per person.

Taco Joint

Two locations: Lincoln Park and River North

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

Museum, Tours

Museum Hack Renegade Museum Tours

This isn’t your grandma’s museum tour. It is fun, interactive, engaging, and insightful. And gets you in and out of museums in Chicago, New York City, D.C., and San Francisco in two hours. And there is laughter, games, prizes – and candy. This is Museum Hack.

Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting museums and acting cultured and taking in the newest touring exhibit. But sometimes those visits are boring, and you get shushed by serious-acting visitors, and you don’t have any fun. And then there is that nasty side-effect of museum fatigue. Museum Hack wants to change all that, along with people’s perceptions of art and museums. It wants you learn in a fun environment.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

Our guide, Elise, was awesome. She was lively, passionate and entertaining, and our group was laughing and smiling and engaged the whole time, even as we were rushing through the Art Institute of Chicago trying not to lose each other.

Each guide personally picks out 5-10 pieces in a museum and tells stories about the artist, the painting or the sculpture. Some of the pieces are connected in a theme, while others are random. We took pictures of our own favorite paintings that we then told stories about at the end of the tour, and also stopped in a hall of sculptures that we each imitated and had captured by way of old-school Polaroid picture.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

Day time tours are perfect for tourists and locals alike, and niche group tours can be arranged for families, VIPs, youngsters, and corporate team building outings. Museum Hack even offers a 110% money back guarantee – if you don’t love it, you get your money back, and then some.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

While we had fun and made new friends running around the Art Institute and annoying people along the way, we left with a new appreciation for the diverse art housed in the museum, the stories behind each piece, as well as certain details that we would otherwise not have noticed had our guide not pointed them out.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

So, on that next bad weather day, or when looking for something new to do around town, check out Museum Hack. You’ll enjoy it. Guaranteed.

Museum Hack

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received complimentary tickets to a Museum Hack tour to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

Khao Lak, Thailand

Cross Over to X2 Khao Lak, Thailand

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

I recently returned from an epic trip to Thailand, which was not only my first trip to that wonderful country, but my first visit to Asia, as well. I would be lying if I said that I have not already been looking into plane tickets to return. I loved everything about my time there – the culture, the people, the lush, tropical landscape, the food, the beaches, and discovering towns off-the-beaten-path, such as Khao Lak.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

When visiting Khao Lak, located in the heart of the Phang Nga Province, we stayed at the X2 (“Cross To”) Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort, which opened only five months ago. Situated directly on the white sandy beaches of the Andaman Sea, “Khao Lak” literally means “Lak Mountain,” which is one of the main peaks in this small mountainous region. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the General Manager with cold refreshing towels and beverages mimicking the blue Sea.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

With just nine private bungalow suites, each with its own breathtaking view of the central pool and Lam Kaem beach, guests receive personalized, five-star service, complete with on-call butlers catering to guests’ every whim.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Rooms are modern, comfortable and extremely spacious, and offer every amenity both necessary and extravagant, including aromatherapy lamps, two-person soaking tubs, beach mats, toiletries, and personal Samsung Galaxy tablets for use during one’s stay.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Each private bungalow follows an open floor plan, and has been designed to bring comfort and allow for exquisite views of the surrounding nature. Deluxe rooms have high ceilings and large windows that lead to open verandas where you can enjoy magnificent sunrises and sunsets. Suites open right onto the Anda Mani garden with a view of the pool and beach just beyond. The Beachfront Villas offer the epitome of luxury and infinite views of the Andaman Sea.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Being at the center of the resort, the swimming pool is its heart, and it is where your private butler will serve you drinks and treats during the time the resort dubs “Sip and Nibble” while lounging below the towering palm trees.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

One of the best things about our stay was the beachfront massage, which blended both traditional Thai massage techniques with the more familiar Western style of massage. Listening to the waves while being pampered in such an idyllic atmosphere is an experience I will not soon forget, and will definitely return to.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

For a small resort catering solely to its own guests, the food at X2 Khao Lak was phenomenal. A poolside snack of cured salmon with seasonal melon and mango was the perfect refreshing meal to hold us over until dinner.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Dinner at the poolside 4K (“Fork”) Restaurant was perfect, and offered some of the best food we tried in Thailand, made even better with a refreshing Singha beer. Combining Thai and international flavors, only the freshest seasonal ingredients produced locally are used.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Breakfast is served poolside every morning, and includes fresh fruit, including the best papaya I have ever tasted, fruit juice, yogurt, muesli, and more.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani provides the Cross To atmosphere, which is a perfect blend of design and dedication to place, and caters to a cosmopolitan group of creative and stylish guests who enjoy living life and are looking for the ultimate holiday experience. X2 provides only the highest service standards in first class accommodations, and allows one to Cross To a whole new dimension of designed luxury. A winning combination in my book.

Khao Lak, Thailand

Photo: Chritiques at X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani Resort

Learn more about X2 Khao Lak Anda Mani, as well as other X2 properties, by visiting its website.

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary stay to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own.