ImageI’ve just returned from a quick trip to Tokyo, where The Hub was promoting a new film and where we were both doing our best to eat from morning to night.

Eating in Japan is serious business, and sushi is no less than an art form.  The Michelin Guide expanded to Japan for the first time in its history in 2008, and in its debut year, it awarded more stars to the Land of the Rising Sun than any other country, including its native France.  In fact, there are now more than twice the number of cumulative stars found in Tokyo (227) than in Paris (97)!  (Not that any of the Japanese chefs really cared.  One 3-star designee apparently asked, “Why does a French restaurant guide care about what we’re doing in Japan?”).

Over our four days and nights, we ate like kings.  We sampled hot oden noodles, hot ramen noodles, cold soba noodles, mounds of tempura, shark fin soup (supposedly very good for your complexion), skewers of yakatori (basically chicken on a stick, though our selection included chicken skin on a stick, which was inedible), and all sorts of other delicacies that I’ve now lost in a haze of sake and jet lag.  Speaking of sake, we knocked it back – always cold and dry and delicate.   We were also given a shot of something that looked like a weak Bloody Mary but turned out to be 40 proof vodka laced with turtle blood.   My arm hairs were on end for about 10 minutes.

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dumplingstea.jpgWe cut through the sprawling, meticulously manicured park amidst the morning haze, humidity and blare of cicadas and car horns. By 11am we had reached the stark wrought iron and glass doors to Grandmother’s towering apartment complex, a node of Shanghai’s stupefying development. We took off our shoes in the narrow halogen lit hallway outside her 12th story apartment and stepped into plastic slippers waiting at the door. The warm smell of an active kitchen beckoned. The dining table was set with teacups and chopsticks. We were asked to take our seats.

Since we had arrived in Shanghai as the guests of our dear friend Lynn, Noam and I had been trying to navigate the customs and culture of the city by way of its incredible cuisine. Lynn’s grandmother pressed in universal grandmotherly persistence to discover the favorite food of us two foreign Jews. We responded with an immediate and unanimous call for dumplings, or gyoza. And so here we were, the privileged guests of a personalized dumpling brunch.

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garden-of-eden.jpg Ischia, the biggest of the three islands in the Gulf of Naples, isn’t big.  You can circle its rocky, 34-kilometer perimeter by boat in less than an hour. 

And while you’re doing that, may I suggest you pause, as everyone does, to leap into the Tyrrhenian Sea, where you’ll encounter (1) volcanic thermal waters, and (2) the fish you’ll be eating later that evening.

Ischia differs from its more famous neighbor, Capri, in ways that are readily apparent.  You can feel it’s more laid back.  You can see there are far fewer yachts anchored in its bays. You can walk down every one of its cobblestone streets and never pass a Prada, Ferragamo, or Dolce & Gabbana shop.

Instead, it has terme – spas – rich with rejuvenating mineral salts from underground hot springs.  Most of the bigger hotels have at least one pool filled with these healing waters.  And then there are places like Giardini di Poseidon, a kind of elaborate therapeutic theme park set down along the beach of Citara, where every 'ride' – and there are 22 of them – is a plunge into a thermal pool of a different temperature.

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fog.jpgI went snowboarding at Big Bear yesterday with a friend.  As we drove up the mountain, we were immersed in a fog so thick that you couldn't see more than 5 feet in the distance.  We figured a gloomy day was sure to be our destiny.  We continued to drive into the higher elevation as we got closer the ski area.  At about 7000 feet, the fog disappeared instantly and gave way to the clearest bright blue sky I've seen in ages.

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airplane-applesWhen you board an airplane and walk past the first-class passengers settling into their double-wide seats, it’s difficult to avoid feeling like a second-class citizen. The issue isn’t only personal space. As the curtain closes behind the lucky few, you know the crew is preparing a nonstop feast for those with plenty of disposable income.

You can almost see the French cheeses and crackers on a tray with glasses of bubbly Champagne, an opulent first course meant to stimulate the appetite before a gourmet entree — chateaubriand, perhaps, or line-caught salmon with roasted asparagus. If you listen closely, you can hear the flight attendant whispering to leave room for the hot fudge sundae with fresh whipped cream and toasted almonds.

In coach, nothing is free. Sure, for now the sodas, water, and coffee are still complimentary, but if you’re hungry, have your credit card ready. Alaska Airline’s cheeseburger with chips is a relative bargain at $6, but Delta charges $9.49 for their hamburger and $10.99 for one of their wraps, and a vending-machine-type sandwich or salad is $9.99 on American Airlines.

You’ll do a lot better if you brown bag it and pretend you’re on a picnic.

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