irelandviewSo 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.

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eating_ribs.jpgI grew up in the deep south, a small town called Hawkinsville, GA, population 3500. Probably the best thing I have ever eaten in my life is the BBQ we had on special occasions on our farm. I know, you can get BBQ everyday. Yes, I have been to those famous BBQ joints in Memphis and those in North Carolina. Not impressed; it's all about the sauce and good BBQ needs little sauce. My dad employed an old man named Clayton since I was a child until he died a few years ago. Great BBQ is an art, like the glass blowers in Murano, Italy or a small farmer in France making cheese. There is no recipe, just talent and experience. 

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morongo-2.jpgLast weekend I did one of those things that’s really not fair to do to your boyfriend. I told him I wanted to do something extra fun and that I wanted him to plan it. I do this to him a lot and we often end up happily watching a movie and eating take-out instead, so I didn’t think anything of it when I canceled on him last-minute. He waited until I got home from dinner to tell me that he had actually come up with a plan, “What is it??” “It’s no big deal.” “What is it??” “We can do it another night.” “What is it?!” So he told me that he was going to ask me if I didn’t mind not sleeping at either of our houses.  Where would we have slept?…A fancy hotel in Santa Barbara? …His parents’ beach house in Ventura? …Paris??,

“Morongo Casino.” Morongo Casino???? Was he serious? That wasn’t romantic! But he told me that he was going to take me to the fancy restaurant on the top floor and that he’d show me the rooms online and even I’d think they were pretty nice. And when he brought it up again at breakfast the next day, I could see that he really wanted to go and maybe I should just suck it up and go. And anyway, we could stop at Hadley’s for date shakes on the way back.  And he thought maybe I could wear that green dress I wore the night we met because it was lucky. And where else would he fit in with that ridiculous moustache he’d recently grown?

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rio_de_janeiro.jpgRio is a city of many contrasts, light and dark, mountains and sea, poverty and wealth. They mingle together as does the light at dawn or dusk, then separate, giving glimpses of glorious beauty and extreme ugliness. One might say, 'like life' and just so, pulsing through this cosmopolitan city, with its sprawling environs, dazzling beaches and majestic mountains you can sense the exciting rhythm of its spirited people. A conglomerate of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural beings who truly believe in their way of life and give thanks daily to the Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvellous City.

Founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, this guttural language is still spoken by its inhabitants, Of course, for visitors, translations into English are everywhere and most people have a basic understanding and are able to communicate, on one level or another.

There is a multitude of interesting sites for those with intellectual leanings. The Cultural Corridor in the heart of downtown Rio includes a number of historical buildings such as the National Library built in neoclassic style where the smallest book in the world is on view. The gorgeous Municipal Theatre is modeled on the Opera Charles Garnier in Paris. It was known as Rio’s most luxurious and extravagant building and, lit up at night, 'tis a glorious sight to see, being the center of Rio's cultural activities.

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ImageNorcia is a secluded, walled city in the mountainous region of the Valnerina in southeastern Umbria. Its history dates back to the fifth century before Christ. St. Benedict and his twin sister were born there in the year 480. Other than that, Norcia is famous for its pork products and its black truffles. It’s the pork capital of Italy – so much so that the shop of a pork butcher anywhere in Italy is called a norcineria.

There are two very different pasta dishes that go by the name alla norcina. Version one — often made with fresh pasta like fettucine or the local Umbrian pasta, strangozzi – is simply pasta with fresh truffle grated over the top. Of course, it’s not that simple. Actually you chop a clove of garlic together with a couple of anchovies, put them into olive oil in your pan. Heat and stir into a paste. Toss the cooked pasta into the pan, stir and then grate the truffle over the top. That’s one version. Alla Norcina version two is a whole other kettle of macaroni. It’s generally served over dried pasta – usually penne or rigatoni. It features pork sausage and it’s one of the most satisfying recipes in the repertorio – especially in the winter when you want to warm yourself from the inside. So simply, it’s pasta with crumbled sausage, cream and truffles. But once again, it’s not that simple.

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