Travel

Bringing Honor to My Family

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by Carly Santiago

carlyLike my ancestors before me and their great ancestors before them, I like love food. The members of the Santiago clan aren’t known for being particularly picky about their cuisine. Eat first, ask later (or ask while eating). But eating anything in China is like a blindfolded taste test. The labels are written in Chinese, so I sit and I poke and I prod.

While I come from a long line of low maintenance eaters (and pride myself for it) I still must inspect the mystery meat that is tossed onto my personal safe haven of choice, white rice. Just because it looks like beef, photographs like beef, and is doused with similar sauce does not guarantee beef.

However, there comes a point in every young adult’s life, where you realize your budget restraints, stop questioning and start eating. I’m not saying I gave in to eating turtle or even chicken claws for that matter, but like the Donner party would have said, “When I’m starving, I will eat almost anything”.

Lunch is promptly at 12pm every day. Like any daily activity, it is a large, public game of charades in which I act out what I’m thinking, the Chinese guess, and occasionally someone bilingual steps in to finish the job. 2 words! Hot? Cold? Hot Tea? Two Sakis? Hot Water? Ice Water? Ding ding!

Unfortunately, this isn’t foolproof, but, in general, I've discovered that China has great food. Especially, if you trust a native Chinese foodie to lead your American taste buds in the right direction. Here is a mini-guide to my food adventures thus far:

220 Minutes

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by Brenda Athanus

bistro-1900-paris france 1 1024x1024I always measure bliss in minutes. Our 220 minutes ticked away at the restaurant on Rue de Bac in Paris. We were meeting our friend, Nicolas outside of the closed restaurant on a Saturday afternoon where he worked. He was the ‘Chef of the moment’ in a city where that accolade can be very fleeting. We had made plans to have dim sum and afternoon tea with dessert at one of his favorite secret places. We would spend the afternoon walking and talking about food, like we often did.

When Nicholas met us he flung open the door of the closed restaurant. He was panicked. Perspiration dripped off his forehead, his scent equaled his stressed appearance. “Come in, I have a big problem” in an unusually loud voice. My sister and I immediately asked what was the problem and how could we help.

Being the chef of the moment, he had caught the attention of a wealthy Japanese investor who planned on opening a 3 star restaurant in Paris. The investor’s secretary called Nicolas and announced that he was to create a lunch for Mr. X and 5 other guests in two hours. This was his interview, death by fire or not. What can we do? “I need someone to serve and help me cook.” He was beginning to yell.

Eavesdropping

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by Fredrica Duke

eavesdroppingI admit it. I eavesdrop. I love it, but sometimes I end up a buttinsky. I start chatting with random people in a restaurant, and it’s so transparent that I have been leaning way far over in order to hear it all. One time, in New York, I overheard a first date. They met on Match.com. Two middle-aged people (pushing 70, so maybe not middle age) were having a conversation and the cuckoo bird woman was telling her date she was a princess in some obscure country no one has heard of. I’m not kidding. I wanted her to go to the bathroom so I could tell the guy to make a run for it. And it was SO none of my fucking business. And yet, I continue this pursuit even though the hearing is now diminished in my right ear and I have to be seated just so in order to overhear everything.

I’ve been in Quebec the past week and can’t often eavesdrop because everyone is speaking French, damn them -- and me for not learning the language. But, the other night I did spend a great deal of time totally engaged in other diners’ conversation. We were in a small room, three tables of families. The middle table asked the couple by the window how long they’d been coming to Gibby’s. I perked up because hey, it was in English. Apparently, the couple drove many miles, from Laval, to come to this small village, Saint Sauveur, as did the family in the middle who came from Saint Agathe. They agreed it was a wonderful experience and worth the drive. Then the conversation went into a whole boring part with questions from the middle table about the window table’s drilling business. Don’t you hate when other tables’ conversations get boring?

The Perfect Paella

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by Brenda Athanus

cataloniaA couple of summer months filled with many beachside lunches of paella so good and so long ago that I am still chasing the memories of a perfect paella. My sister and I were in the Catalonian village of Arenys de Mar for a good part of the summer. On the wide, white beach surrounded by rugged hills were a handful of rustic 'restaurants' that made only paella over wood fires. They were makeshift structures covered with bright pieces of miss-matched canvas tacked down to keep the strong Spanish sun and ocean breeze at bay. These little makeshift restaurants were always busy for lunch, the only meal that they served and I had my favorite one.

The beach side paella restaurateurs were waiting like gulls as the little boats motored back to port around 10 o’clock in the morning. Each boat filled with the fresh caught fish and shellfish still moving violently seeking to be set free. There was fish to fillet and chunk, stock to make, onions and peppers to chop and most importantly the wood-fire had to be started, time was of the essence.

My favorite restaurant had a round stone fire pit built on the sand. A variety of wood collected from the beach was piled into the pit covering yesterday's scrunched up newspaper which was barely visible in the center. A wooden match was struck and the day's cooking commenced. When the flames burned down, the cook balanced a grill on top of the stone pit.

Wining and Dining at Sonoma's Farmhouse Inn

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by David Latt

sonomawildflowersThirty miles from San Francisco, Sonoma County is one of the world's great destinations. With beautiful farmland, a dramatic coastline, fields of wild flowers, world-class wineries and upscale restaurants, the valley offers travelers, especially oenophiles and foodies, the best of the best.

My wife and I needed some serious R&R. We wanted a trip somewhere casual, where we wouldn't get stuck in traffic jams, could enjoy beautiful countryside, have some good meals and do a bit of wine tasting. So we put our suitcases in the car with a plan to explore Sonoma County, from the inland wine growing valleys to the coast. There is nothing like a road trip to clean out the cob webs and refresh the soul.

Driving on Sonoma County's two-lane black-tops in summer, the sun owns the sky, shining down on well-tended fields and big-sky landscape. Mustard flowers blanket the fields, corn grows tall, the vines are fat with ripening grapes and cattle stroll lazily across green pastures in search of shade.

Largely agricultural, mom and pop businesses are much more common in Sonoma than in Napa, which is dominated by wealthy investors and large corporations. The 200 wineries along Route 12 and Highway 101--near the towns of Schellville, Sonoma, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Sebastopol, Graton, Forestville, Fulton, Windsor, Healdsburg and Geyserville--are family run, for the most part.

Better Than Butter

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by Annie Stein

pure-irish-butterBefore leaving on my recent trip to Ireland I was thinking that while there, I’d write about the butter. I even remarked that I thought I had a “butter piece” in me. Limited thinking, that’s what that was!

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t, nor will I ever, lose my taste for Irish butter. It is truly the creamiest, dreamiest butter on earth. Truth be told I am a girl who could and would be happy to spend the rest of her days eating bread and butter. Fresh French baguette, slathered in Irish butter washed down with an ice cold American coke in a glass bottle, now that’s my heaven!

Once in Ireland, though, going from county to county with my brave husband behind the wheel of our rented car with said wheel being on the wrong side of the car and himself (as the locals say) driving on the wrong side of the road, I discovered two new Irish loves.

One could be called a relative of butter; a third or fourth cousin several times removed. The second, funnily enough, could be called the anti-butter or even the antidote to butter.

A Taste of Bermuda

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by Amy Sherman

bermudaBermuda is pretty pink beaches, dazzling turquoise water, lush vegetation, touches of British style, pastel painted homes and truly friendly people. It’s posh yet casual and while not a bona fide culinary destination, it offers some delicious things to eat and drink that you won’t find elsewhere.

Here are my top picks:

FISH CHOWDER
This scrumptious soup, considered the national dish, was originally poor people’s food, made from fish bones. It’s a rich broth, with vegetables including onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots and a variety of spices and herbs. It's a little bit like Manhattan style chowder but with bits of fish instead of clams, but what makes it most special is the black rum and sherry pepper sauce that’s added to it, often at the table.

Where to find it: I loved it everywhere I had it, and it’s on just about every menu, but I’m told, the best version is sold at the Rubis gas station near the airport (get your taxi driver to take you!). I tried it at Bonefish, Henry VII and Wahoo’s Bistro.

Tortillas in the Mountains: a Honduran Story

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by Jessica Dixon

hondurascookingGoogle Maps will tell you that "we could not understand" the location of Las Aradas, Honduras. Weather.com advises to check your spelling. My trip coordinator suggested looking up the "nearest town over" which was a two and half hour drive away.  Packing for a trip like this was a bit of a moving target. Las Aradas is a mountain village, six hours out of San Pedro Sula. For those of you who haven't been browsing the State Department's travel warnings lately--Honduras is not a stable country. The PeaceCorps pulled their volunteers out last year.

Was I scared? Yes. Sometimes. We joked about it a lot. Honduras is the murder capital of the world. Like, actually. Reference the state department website.  San Pedro Sula, where I flew in and out of and stayed two nights has more homicides than any other city in. the. world. However, the people that I was traveling with were INCREDIBLE. They make me want to change my life. They make me realize what is possible to do in life. 

Anyway, back to Las Aradas. Remote. Good tortillas. Minimal gun shots.  (You have to celebrate St. Patty's day or a soccer win somehow.) They have running water, but no electricity. The roosters start crowing at 3:00 a.m. That sort of thing.

Visiting Diamond Head National Park

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by Cathy Pollak

visiting-diamond-head-national-parkDiamond Head is just about the most prominent landmark visible when you are in Honolulu and Waikiki on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. As you lay on the beach, it is a great reminder that the beautiful Hawaiian Islands were all formed from volcanoes. It's kind of amazing. Diamond Head crater itself is said to have formed with a single, brief eruption about 300,000 years ago.

My boys were dying to get to the top of the crater on our last trip to Hawaii. This was my third time taking the historic trail to the summit. And it had been about twelve years since I had done it last. To my surprise the trail had been improved since my last visit. The tunnels are now lit and the crazy spiral staircase can now be bypassed.

Overall this is not an extremely difficult hike if you are prepared. It is only 1.5 miles round trip. However, the trail to the top is uneven and steep, with lots of stairs, make sure you are wearing the appropriate shoes.

I saw so many people wearing thin sandals and wedge heels. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable this could be, not to mention how easy to twist your ankle. And don't forget a water bottle for everyone on the hike. Hawaii, is warm and humid. Water is a necessity when it comes to getting to the top.

It's Not a Bird, It's Not a Plane

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by Alison Wonderland Tucker

hawaii-tour-bookThe tremors began on the couch.

Shannon and I were leisurely thumbing our way through an Hawaiian tour book, making lists of potential activities for the trip we had just booked.

“Swimming with dolphins sounds like fun.”  We wrote it down.

“Let’s go to the volcano!” More notes.

“How about skydiving?”

Palpitations.

Dry mouth.

Quaking.

I clasped my hands together so that he would not see them shake violently.

“Sure.” I replied, nodding robotically.  “Sure.  Sure.”

“You okay honey?  You look a little pale.”  Shannon got up to get me a glass of water and I tried to calm myself down.

I think skydiving is one of those things that everyone considers for at least a moment or two.  It’s a thrill that you might feel 100% capable of or interested in when you’re sitting, say, at a bar or a restaurant in the middle of New York City in the dark depth of winter.  But here it was on the table for real. 

 

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