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.

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rio-sidewalk.jpg“We’re sliding smack dab into the inevitably expensive tourist trap,” you say as the taxi driver curses and swerves through the gridlocked traffic of Ipanema Beach’s main drag Avenida Vieira Souto (with its famously geometric-patterned sidewalks) and onto the narrow traffic-choked streets of the city.

Your destination was suggested by our hotel’s concierge whom you had asked for a suggestion for authentic Brazilian food. You were hoping for a cozy hole-in-the-wall filled with smoke, grumpy locals and slow waiters.

The restaurant, Porcão – which you immediately translated to Poor Cow – was just the opposite of that. Poor Cow was all you feared, expensive and a tourist trap (adding to the blah decor was a wall-size TV playing a silent futbol match), exactly like those places that have popped up all over major U.S. cities where frantic waiters bring huge stumps of grilled meat to your table, where they slice off chunks in perpetuity until you feel as if you’ve ingested a small cow. But you were hungry and jet lagged and needed to get out of the hotel or you would have gone right to sleep only to wake up in the middle of the night, hungry and jet lagged. You felt like a bad tourist, but the outing served its purpose and besides, you have something special to look forward the next day – Cook In Rio – a one-day cooking class at some lady’s house in Copacabana that you had found online. An authentic Brazilian experience was promised and this time you are not disappointed.

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irelandlIt's no secret that my best friend, Missy and I love to travel. We met 25 years ago in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie grocery store in Valdosta, Georgia. I was in college there and she was home on Spring Break from Pepperdine in Malibu, CA. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen and never imagined that we'd grow up together and travel the world.

She put a damper on that for a few years when she got married and had 3 boys back to back. But I think we've pretty much made up for that in the last 6 months as we have been to Italy, Tuscany, Rome, the island of Capri, Spain, the South of France, Nice and Monaco. Tunisia is in Northern Africa. I hated it, she loved it. We spent a week in Paris in December, with 5 of our best girlfriends in a rented apartment on the Seine.

As many places as Missy and I have traveled to, we both have such a huge love for Ireland. Come Spring and Fall, we both feel a need to go there, to have some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness. Her middle child was doing his class project on Ireland and my 18 year old nephew, his Grandma's favorite child (my only nephew) is about to graduate from high school.

I talked my nephew into telling his grandma that he wanted nothing more than a trip to Ireland with his favorite aunt and Missy talked her son into telling his Dad that it would mean the world to him to go with his mom and me (his Godmother) to Ireland to complete his school project.

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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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pebblebeach.jpgI become the biggest sports fan for whatever I am exposed to for the moment. Sort of a lucky combination of being a stewardess for a major airline and being able to travel the world for free has put me in a position to be in the right places at the right time. This week I will be absorbed in the World Baseball classic series as I am taking the USA team to Toronto. Two weeks ago it was golf at the AT&T tournament in Pebble Beach. 

Last summer I was in New York City. My flight got in so late that the only room the hotel had left was the Penthouse suite. I am sure they balked, giving it to me who was paying nothing. I got in the elevator and happily pressed the PH button. The other two guys in the elevator commented on how the heck I got that room, how was it, how did I get so lucky. Later on I wandered down to the free coffee station and ran into the same two guys. They said instead of having coffee that I should join them and their friends in the bar. So I did. They said they played golf and not until I looked up at the TV in the bar and saw one of them being interviewed on ESPN, did I realize they were 'real PGA golfers.'

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