Recently I visited one of the U.K's most celebrated cities and there enjoyed the old and the new in hotels and cuisine. I must admit I do try to find little known places where grace and charm can still be enjoyed, and the passion of chefs is translated into wonderful food. Edinburgh is a truly lovely city. Glorious buildings abound built in grey stone and there are many townhouses which have been converted into elegant hotels.
The Howard is one of the Edinburgh Collection Hotels and offers luxury accommodations unparalleled in Edinburgh. Besides providing traditional Georgian pampering with your own dedicated butler service, each one of the eighteen individually characterized rooms uses the finest of fittings, fabrics, paintings and antique furniture and features exquisite body care items, thick white cuddly towels and towel coats – you know all those things that make you feel pampered and cared for! Of course for the techies, there are e-TV, DVD, video, games and hi-fi systems.
Downstairs you can enjoy high tea and, a little later, cocktails in the warmth and comfort of the Drawing Room with its wood burning fire, deep comfy couches and armchairs in deep golden hues. Breakfast and dinner are served in 'The Atholl', the small, elegant restaurant which is the original dining room of this once private residence built in 1820 – naturally it has been renovated but a mural painted in 'Watteausque' style at that time still survives.
So I had some time to kill in Europe before my boyfriend (now husband) was to join me on our first international adventure. While I "knew" French from high school and college, I was not proficient or confident enough to spend two weeks by myself in a country where I could not really understand or be understood. I could kick my wine-loving self now, but c'est la vie. England was too expensive as a solo traveler, so I decided to go to Ireland.
I didn't know much about Ireland, but it looked beautiful, the people had a friendly reputation, the food wasn't too weird (I was a picky eater back then) and most of all they spoke English. Plus the train system was so extensive and affordable I could see the sights without having to drive on the wrong side of the road - though I would consistently try to get in the passenger / driver side when I was over there, much to the cabbies irritation and my embarrassment.
While this was many years ago, these are a few things that have stuck with me from that trip.
1) Nature can't reach that distinct color of green - and it is unparalleled - without it raining…a lot. Like everyday. Not ALL DAY, every day, but for some time every day. It was nice coming from a place where it rains maybe 15 days a year. You don't see that color in Southern California EVER. On the flip side of that, 70 degrees is a perfectly acceptable temperature to sunbath as long as it's sunny. I was wearing a jacket, the Dubliners were as naked as they could get away with in a public park. I guess you have to take your sun worshipping when you can get it.
There are two faces of Carnival. Friday night my husband and I stood next to Hermes parade newcomers from Dallas, and when they asked where to eat I peppered them with questions to find the right restaurant. It's my favorite food writer challenge. They were looking for casual so I recommended SoBou from the Commander's Palace family for cocktails, Crescent City Brewhouse for brunch with a balcony, and Elizabeth's for fried chicken if they make it out of the French Quarter to the Bywater -- ask for Erin. We parted friends, and I hope their bellies benefited from the exchange.
On Samedi Gras, the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day, I had two goals: 1) See my artist friend Shannon Kelly's American Eagle in the Krewe of Tucks Parade; and 2) Stock up on coffee. Enter the other face of Carnival. A woman walked a wheelchair next to the parade barricade and stood on it as floats passed by, while flashing her pasties for beads. This was during a day parade surrounded by families. When a throw didn't make it close enough, she jumped the barricade to grab it and climb back over.
That was a bridge too far for the policewoman patrolling the parade route. “The next time you do that, I'm taking you to jail,” she told the reveler. “I'm DISABLED!” Pasty shouted as she angrily climbed back atop the wheelchair. I hope she really does need the wheelchair and was miraculously healed for two hours by the Ghost of Friar Tuck. But I doubt it. And I miss the Friday couple.
ANGELI CAFFE PASSOVER POP-UP - MARCH 21st
In preparation for Passover, EVAN KLEIMAN, host of KCRW's "Good Food" and former owner of the much-missed Angeli Caffe, and SEAN SHERIDAN, Executive Chef of the Skirball are hosting a sumptuous Italian-inspired Passover meal on Friday, March 21 at 7:00pm at the Skirball Cultural Center.
This special Passover dinner, served family-style, will reflect the bounty of the spring garden. Wine will be available for purchase, and select recipes will be provided. This meal is not certified kosher.
To see the menu and purchase tickets, click here. Registration closes on March 17th.
One of London’s most elegant hotels is The Royal Horseguards situated on the paved Embankment overlooking the mighty River Thames flowing sedately along to the sea. This grand property has been the center of the seated establishment for many a decade and still offers warmth, glamour and service to its many patrons. Many politicians and statesmen frequent the hotel today because of its closeness to the Houses of Parliament and Ministry of Defense.
Standing on the site of Whitehall which once was one of the most famous Tudor royal palaces – I am sure Henry V111 would have loved to look out at the now London Eye twisting it’s quite ugly façade in space. The Tudor Palace was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1698 but the Banqueting House escaped the conflagration and is still used for banquets at the corner of Horseguards Parade.
For those of you who are movie fans you might like to know that Whitehall Court was featured in the 1983 Bond film ‘Octopussy’ and also in ‘Skyfall’ the latest James Bond flick.
I like to think I have a decent grasp on the 7 deadly sins. I’m not overly vain, anger isn’t an issue for me, and sloth & laziness have never fit into my neurotically busy life. But when we headed to La Cabrera in Buenos Aires for dinner last night, that one little tiny vice-o-mine came crashing into full view.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gluttony.
Yea yea yea, I know it’s a sin. But it was my birthday and I’ll find any excuse to indulge and overdo it on every possible level. And last night I think we all exceeded our goals.
Buenos Aires is packed with parillas, the traditional Argentine meal of grilled beef that makes the Texas barbecues I grew up with pale in comparison. It’s not my goal to incite a riot here, but you can’t deny the love and passion the porteños have when it comes to their beef. I figured there could be no better way to celebrate than with wine, beef, and good friends.
Right up front let’s just say Death Valley is not a destination trip for foodies. Don’t fool yourself for a minute on that score. Death Valley is where you go to see extraordinary beauty, hike mind blowing rock formations, find God or ingest mushrooms (not particularly in that order), but one does not go for culinary arousal. Not that you can’t eat well and enjoy some surprisingly good meals but as my illustrious travel companion (i.e. foodie daughter) pointed out, that is because we weren’t expecting much.
Having said that, Death Valley is an absolute must see. Take it off your bucket list and move it straight to your “to-do” list. Now. The shame about Death Valley is its name. And the older one gets the less fun it is to say, “I’m going to Death Valley.” It was my daughter’s idea. At 63, I couldn’t bring myself to suggest it. Palm Springs was the closest I could come on my own. And we all know whose waiting room that place is!
My daughter, home from the east coast, freezing east coast, I should say, in between jobs and exploring her options (read sleeping & being fed by mom) could have proposed Bosnia as a mother/daughter road trip and I would have blurted my “Yes” out. Death Valley sounded perfect! For those who have never experienced a mother/daughter road trip, once the daughter half of the team is over 21, it is a wonderful thing! Totally different from those nightmare road trips back in the day when they were teenagers and being in the car with them for more than ten minutes gets ugly. A road trip? Only a total masochist on a pain run would attempt it.
We go up to Paso Robles a lot. We started visiting long before it's current claim to fame as Wine Enthusiast's "2013 Wine Region of Year". Tell us something we don't know.
So I thought, as someone who's practically a local, that I had seen and done everything cool in what we, and all of our Facebook friends, consider our second home. Yet even, I clearly don't get around as much as I thought because otherwise I would have had the pleasure of spending a lazy lunch at Kiler Ridge Olive Farm long before now.
Olives are big in Paso Robles. Sure ranching and wine reign supreme, but olive oil production has gained serious ground in the last decade as well. Inspired by the oils they tasted on a cycling trip through Tuscany, Audrey and Gregg Burnam planted their first 835 trees on their westside property in 2005 and processed their first oil in 2010. They currently have 2500 hundred trees of all Tuscan varieties.
For many years as a youngster my Mum and Dad would take me to tea at this superb property deep in the heart of Warwickshire. Only a stone’s throw from Stratford-Upon-Avon the hotel offers all the many delights that country house hotels are famous for.
The 157 acres grounds themselves are glorious with many secret pathways leading to extraordinary sights of the rolling hills of this shire. Growing up in Warwickshire was for me always an adventure; the woods of Sherwood Forest that reached through bringing history alive and it was only later in life that I learned that J.R. Tolkien lived nearby and I often think that he based some of his detail on this magical area.
The origins of the Hamlet of Welcombe are lost but it was built in Anglo Saxon times. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it was often visited by William Shakespeare and since then has been owned by members of high society.
In 1931 the house became a hotel with all the blandishments enjoyed by guests who visit from all over the world. The Venice Simplon Orient Express Hotel chain took over in 1983 and many opulent alterations were made to both the interior and grounds. In 2003 the Menzies Hotels acquired this fabulous property adding their unique touches to an already splendid resort.
From Casablanca on the coast to the inland city of Fez in the northern part of Morocco, the area looks very much like the American Southwest.
Looking out the window of the van, there's not much to see.
A well-paved highway cuts through the flat, dusty farmland, passing villages remarkable only for the number of flat roofed houses with satellite dishes and the occasional donkey cart.
I'm with a group of travel and food writers visiting Morocco. Some of us are here for the first time.
Before we leave Casablanca we stop at the Mosque Hassam II, the 3rd largest mosque in the world, the largest in Morocco.
The scale of the doors makes visitors look very small. The detailing on tiles and metal work on the tall doorways is beautiful. The mosque overlooks the breakwater and harbor. A few blocks away, restaurants and clubs share the same view. We grab a quick breakfast after our all-night flight before we climb in the van for a three hour drive.