Arizona Biltmore - Jewel of the Desert

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by Brenda Athanus

biltmoredinnerAlmost every night for the last month I keep having the same dream: I am biting into a smoked grape, enrobed in a soft Arizona goat’s cheese and covered with chopped pecans and pistachios, served on a long skewer. Typically, I panic at some point in my dream because the platter is getting empty and that’s enough to wake me. Usually it is 4am, I sit up and try to comfort myself by saying “well, you ate the other 6, though saying that doesn’t help me get back to sleep. I was served these sleep altering morsels at a Heitz Cellar wine dinner at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. I never would have tried them with what I know now. “Just one more” I heard myself saying to several waiters! Have these amuse-bouche changed my sleeping pattern forever? I am no longer amused...

The two very young chefs created this amuse-bouche by smoking red and green grapes, lightly. Then, they are chilled and covered with a creamy goat cheese and rolled into a 50/50 blend of finely chopped pistachios and pecans. It wasn’t the only thing I ate that night but it’s the only thing that haunted me. There was a 5-course dinner to accompany the smoked grapes along with a line up of all of the Heitz wines for each course.

When the main course of Veal Osso Bucco arrived I heard guests at all the tables that surrounded ours say “they didn’t bring the Martha’s Vineyard this year!” This revelation circulated around the dining room like pouring water on a grease fire. Talk about ‘wining’! I was fine with it, I still had the smoked grape taste in my mouth and nothing mattered.

Seeking WI Bearded Cheesemongerer

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by Jessica Dixon

wisandwichHave you ever tasted Limburger cheese?  So you think you're eating a pair of regular socks.  Then you realize you're eating your brother's socks. 

How did I come to enjoy this delight?  As it turns out, flights around the holidays to Costa Rican crunchy granola yoga ranches are unusually pricey when you attempt to book them a few weeks in advance.  Vacation #1 scrapped.  Vacation #2 born - depart home-base (Chicago) with my partner in crime and spend a few days enveloping ourselves in the beer and cheese of Wisconsin.

Day 1. Monroe, WI

In Monroe, I fell in love with an unattractive older swiss man, seduced by his cheese tour of the Roth Kase plant.  Did I know that parmesan sat in the salt brine for 2 weeks?  No, sir.  I didn't even know what a salt brine was before this tour.  I'd been consuming passionately but ignorantly for 30 years.  The tour group discussed and debated what gave cheese it's flavor -- the cultures!  the aging!  the milk!  the land!  whilst I peppered them with questions and succumbed to the brain tingles.

Eating through LA

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by Kelly Klein

tumblr mebhegjlyz1qejh4oo2 1280When I landed at LAX I didn’t have the heart to tell my father all I wanted for dinner was some delicious Prime Rib from Lawry’s. But, I didn’t need to wait long because just as we entered the house he announced we would be getting dinner there that very night. Needless to say, the Martini, Lawry’s Cut, and all the sides had me full, content, and very sleepy after a long day of travel. 

I also had a mission on my LA trip. I really wanted to find some delicious tacos. As luck would have it, my dear friend Almie moved to Loz Feliz and suggested we try Ensenada’s Fish Tacos. We were not dissapointed. For a mere 6 dollars we got Fish, Shrimp, and Potato Tacos with fresh homemade salsas and a particularly interesting radish slaw. 

A couple days later my dear friends from Birthright, Mike and Julie, toured historic Downtown with me where we saw the new Grand Park, and many beautiful buildings, on foot. We stopped in to Mr. Ramen to grab a quick lunch and it was delightful. Just the kind of excellent Ramen I remember LA having. 

15 Tips for Traveling with Your Little Ones

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by Blythe Lipman

kidstravelbagIf you are planning a holiday trip with your baby or toddler, make sure to plan ahead. Here are fifteen sure-fire ways to make traveling easy and fun.

1.    Before your trip, visit the dollar store and stock up on coloring books, paint with water books, and age appropriate toys for your toddler. And save them for a trip. There is nothing better than something new!

2.    If you have a small video player, stock up on age appropriate movies for your little one. Baby Einstein has some great videos for a younger baby.

3.    If you can plan your plane schedule around your child's nap time, your trip will be a breeze.

4.    When traveling on a plane, feed the baby while the plane is taking off and landing. This keeps the Eustachian tubes open so the baby’s ears won’t hurt.

5.    When traveling on a plane with a toddler, it's sometimes difficult to sit still during takeoff and landing. Give him a Sippy cup and some goldfish crackers and play a counting game with the crackers. It will be fifteen minutes of fun, instead of fifteen minutes of tantrums.

A Holiday Afternoon in Portland, Maine

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by Brenda Athanus

browncompanyMy sister and I went to Portland for the annual Champagne and caviar tasting at Browne Trading Company, a world class purveyor of high-end fish, caviar, smoked salmon, wine and cheese. Browne Trading Company is a Portland, Maine treasure like Petrossian is to Paris.

This little city on the harbor is only an hour ride from my home in Belgrade on a two-lane highway with hardly any traffic at this time of year. Portland is beautiful with many old restored brick buildings and a nice harbor view of small islands off in the distance.

To me, it looks like a mini San Francisco but much more manageable and the food scene is starting to be as exciting. A new restaurant, brewery, distillery or specialty food store have been opening every week or two for a while. Things are changing at warp speed!

I really like food shopping in Portland and love how close it is. Yesterday our first stop was the tasting and to do a bit of shopping at Browne trading. I bought a package each of Iberico Ham and chorizo, an iridescent fillet of farm raised halibut from Scotland that beckoned to me from the iced filled case and a baby octopus salad. We tasted four different champagnes from Riedel flutes accompanied by four different small spoonfuls of caviars. Life is good!

It's Beginning to Look Like the Holidays in NOLA, Cher

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by Ashley Merlin

dec12 roosevelt003New Orleans, founded in 1718, has many long standing traditions. During the holidays, many of these still exist and there are even a few new ones! There is always a reason to have a celebration in New Orleans but from November - January, traditions and celebrations truly shine.

The sound of the trumpet heralds the opening of New Orleans' holiday season at the Fairgrounds Race Course on Thanksgiving Day. The Fairgrounds is the third oldest and continuously operating thoroughbred racetrack in the United States. It's first race was in 1852. Turkey, hats, horses…it's off to the races!

The Roosevelt Hotel opened in 1893 and has seen a number of famous people walk through it's lobby from politicians to royalty. Beginning in the 1930s, The Roosevelt Hotel became a destination of delight for children and parents alike with their beautiful lobby filled with holiday lights. At one end of the lobby is Domenica Restaurant run by Chef Alon Shaya, an Israeli-born chef who has created a special Hanukkah menu for the holidays. Shaya's latkes, short ribs and Hanukkah doughnuts are a new tradition not to be missed.

My Inner Jerusalem

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by Kelly Klein

israelfoodWhen I landed in Israel I had no idea what to expect. I was there on a Birthright-Taglit trip through Israel Outdoors, an organization that sends Jewish youth to Israel to study the history of the land and the Jewish people.

I set no expectations for my adventure. I simply wanted to take this leap of faith, take advantage of this truly once in a lifetime experience, and see what the opportunity had to offer.

Simply put, I was floored by my experience. The people, the food, the hikes, our group. Everything and everyone inspired me to push myself, soak in as much as I could, and appreciate this beautiful land.

Our first meal was breakfast at a kibbutz. Tables were laden with platters of vegetables, hummus, labne, baba ganoush, eggs, and Turkish coffee. I couldn’t believe my luck! What flavors! What generosity! I filled my plate up with a sampling of every dish they had to offer. And, I do believe I helped myself to two fragrant cups of Turkish coffee. 

The Food of Israel

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by Amy Sherman

israelcollageThe Israel we know is a land of contradictions and conflicts and common ground can be hard to find. But having just been there, I can say the notable exception to this, is the food. The food is really, really good, and something everyone enjoys with gusto whether it's fine dining or street food. Like the country itself, the food is very diverse. And while the history and scenery might be enough for some tourists, I came for the food. Not just because it's good, but because it provides a window into the culture and the people living there.

While there is diversity in people, politics, heritage, beliefs, religion and more in Israel--enthusiasm and appreciation of food surely is universal. Frankly, it's hard to think of a place with more diverse cuisine; their most famous dishes come from all over the world and use the great local ingredients that are readily available thanks to the climate and often innovative agricultural techniques not to mention Israeli tenacity. 

I thought I knew what food in Israel would be--hummus, falafel, olives and the like. I did find all of those things, but I also discovered so much more. Israel is a country of immigrants and refugees from all over the world and they bring their culinary traditions which become woven into the fabric of a modern country that is thousands of years old, but was declared the State of Israel some 64 years ago.

Here are some common and delectable dishes I tried in Tel Aviv that were (mostly) new to me.

Sol Lewitt at Mass MoCA

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by Michael Tucker

sol-lewitt-300x225I know I'm usually focused on food, but there are many kinds of sustenance to be savored in this world. This week, we were treated to a feast for our eyes and our souls at the brilliant MASS MoCA in its complex of late 19th century factory buildings in North Adams, Mass.

An entire three floors of the museum house this retrospective of Sol Lewitt’s astonishing wall drawings and the old brick of the buildings plays off the sleek surfaces of the art in a stirring dance of line, texture and color.

We almost knew Sol Lewitt. He and his wife, Carol, lived in Umbria not far from where we have a house. Many of our ex-pat friends were close friends of theirs. Many are artists who drew inspiration from Sol. But by the time we arrived, Sol had returned to the states for health reasons. He and Carol lived in Connecticut until he succumbed to cancer in 2007.

Utah's Dinosaur Bonanza

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by David Latt

dinosaur1When my sons were young, we loved to read dinosaur books. They turned the pages pointing at the scary tyrannosaurs rex attacking a hapless three-horned triceratops or a silly looking long necked brontosaurus eating the leaves off a tall tree.

Wide-eyed, they asked the obvious question, "Are dinosaurs real?"

Those oddly shaped monsters didn't look like the lions, tigers, elephants and zebras we saw at the zoo. Without the fossil record, nobody would believe dinosaurs ever existed. Recently I was offered a tour of dinosaur sites in Utah, one of the best places on earth of view the fossil record. I jumped at the chance.

My journey back in time began with a trip to the Natural History Museum on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Opened in 2011, the stone colored building is built into the hillside as though it were an ancient creature only half-excavated. The museum focuses on the history of Utah so the creatures and artifacts on display came from excavations in nearby areas. Studies of the earth (geology) and long dead animals and plants (paleontology) can be difficult to understand.


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