hominygrits2.jpg I think I stopped giving grits a chance many years ago when Lucy became our family pet. She's an amazing bird, a Yellow Naped Amazon parrot that has an unbelievable vocabulary, an infectious laugh, can tell my identical twin brothers apart and eats grits every morning for breakfast. Sounds charming but think about being awakened by a bird with a loud, piercing voice calling my name every morning demanding her grits.

By golly, you better get them right or she gets mad and starts screaming. She likes her grits a bit runny, butter, salt and pepper with a sprinkling of cheese. They need to sit for a few minutes so they won't burn her beak because that really makes her mad. Get it right and she turns into this loving soul who will say in her lovely southern accent "Praise the Lord" and "You're a very pretty girl." Gee thanks.

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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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hyatt-regency-churchill.jpgWhat do you look for when booking a hotel in one of the most tourist attractions of the world, namely London. Perhaps it is good service, perhaps the ambiance, perhaps the restaurant and bars, perhaps the location, and for lovers of comfort, the bedrooms and their amenities. Whatever it is would it not be quite wonderful to find all of these things in one place!

And you The Hyatt Regency London, better known as The Churchill.

A little pricey perhaps but as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Just stepping into the foyer transports you to a world of glamour, a world of fascinating artwork and enviable service. I say enviable because many other hotels vie for staff as well trained and service oriented as the Churchill staff are. They truly do make a difference to your stay.

Michael Grey, the General Manager, has made his mark in many hotels including the Hyatt Regency Singapore, the Carlton Towers in Knightsbridge and now after a recently completed multi-million pound renovation program, squires his way around this quite stunning property.

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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.

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tarte01.jpgWhen I told friends I was going to spend four weeks in St. Tropez last summer, more than one of my foodie friends told me I must try the Tarte Tropezienne—which was described to me as a giant brioche filled to the heavens with a creamy vanilla custard. This sounded like a dream come true. As I child I loved pudding—homemade butterscotch pudding, or bread pudding, or crème brulee, were the best—but mostly we ate packaged pudding, the Jell-O Brand. I liked vanilla and my brother, ten months older, liked chocolate, and my father told us that as toddlers we would sit facing each other in twin highchairs and smear our respective puddings all over our faces, smiling in ecstasy. 

So naturally, finding and sampling this so-called Tarte Tropezienne went to the top of my “list of things to do” while I visited St. Tropez. That’s what one does when one travels to France—you get obsessed with pastries. And wine. And bread. And olives. And cheese. Plus, we New Yorkers tend to become obsessed with finding “the best” (primarily so that we can go back and tell our friends at dinner parties that we found “the best” goat cheese or the best rosemary-and-olive fogasse or the best early-season figs. 

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