Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Into the Dark I Go ...

I know that there hasn't been any new content on the blog for some time, but I have an excellent reason! You see, I've been in pre-production on my first documentary feature, New York After Dark, and it has completely taken over my life in every wonderful and stressful way you might imagine.

For more information on the film, which is about how blind New Yorkers navigate their city, please check out this link to our Kickstarter campaign, as well as the video plea and link below.

We should have a website for the film up-and-running soon and I will let you know as soon as it's ready. You can also touch-base via my website any time, if you interested in any film updates or just want to say hi!

I'm so excited and, even though I miss blogging regularly, I'm really glad to share some film art with all of you soon!

And, never you worry, there will be more travel and food hilarity in our future together!

Until then,


Monday, July 15, 2013

Some Local(ish) Escapes for Townies, Foodies, Naturalists, Romantics and Oenophiles

Well, it's about time we caught back up with one another! It's been a busy summer and, lately, I haven't had the discipline to sit at my computer and share my adventures. I blame cocktails. I think it's just too hard to blog when our bar is this well stocked. I honestly think someone should look into the phenomenon of: when June hits, gin tastes better.
(Don't even get me started on Mai Tais! Those start tasting better in March and are fully to blame as to why I don't dust until October.)

Luckily, though, I'm officially back into the swing of things AND I come bearing gifts! A gift list of destination suggestions, which I crafted for a friend looking to get out of NYC for a short, luxury getaway with his wife. He was looking for a place that would suit her needs -- lounging, spa, in-house fine dining -- as well as his -- mild adventure, great wine, and local culture. Also, he was willing to drive, rail it, or fly, as long as whichever mode of transport they utilized was within approximately 4 - 5 hours of NYC.

Personally, I look for 4 essentials at every destination -- great food; VERY nice accommodations (with special attention paid to a comfortable bed); potential for outdoor activities; not too wallet-busting. In that order.

So, I mulled it over a bit and came up with the following:

1. The Finger Lakes:

You won't have to go too far. The B&B's are amazing. It's serious wine country. And, it's far enough north that the weather should be gorgeous right now. Also, the gorges in the north of NY State and the town of Ithaca are breathtaking.

2. Bedford:
This one is a bit of a stretch, monetarily speaking; but, you wouldn't have to go very far. Richard Gere is one of the owners of the Bedford Post, an amazing, luxury inn, in Westchester County. The restaurant on-site is supposedly amazing and there is a yoga loft as well. The inn, itself, only has 8 rooms. I've definitely thought about a trip there for a special occasion, but (so far) it's been a little too pricey for us.

3. New Orleans:
If you're willing to take a short flight, one of the best down-low, summer deals is the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton. Their prices are REALLY shocking through September, because it's typically so hot in the bayou that you just may burst into flames! That said, the food, romance, ghost tours, ambience, local color, and hotel itself are beyond amazing.

Here's a link to a current deal they're running for $169/night! You'd have to buzz the reservations line to see what the price would be for each additional night; but, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. Truly, if you've never stayed at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, you should.

4. Rhinebeck:
Here's another option that's close to home, but gives you so much of that idyllic & historic vacay vibe. The Beekman Arms is America's oldest hotel and it's lovely. And probably haunted - though not in a scary, The Shining kind of way -- where tv's turn themselves on and off. In more of a 'Hey, I had a whole bottle of rye over here last night and now it's half gone' kind of way.
(Apparently, I'm only okay with ghosts whose appetites for craft spirits are similar to mine.)

Allegedly, George Washington commanded his troops from the grounds, so I truly wouldn't be surprised if you spied a redcoat in the hall, on the way to your room. The bar downstairs is not to be missed, even if you stay elsewhere.

And, you MUST dine at Terrapin, the nearby Zagat-rated restaurant. They have an upscale dining room as well as an attached, casual cafe side. Also, there's wine country up there as well as horse-back riding.

5. Niagara Falls (The Canadian side):
If you've never been to Niagara Falls, it's a classic choice for a quick getaway! This is especially nice if you'd like to feel International for the weekend, as I'm a firm believer in the Canadian side of the Falls being the one worth visiting. The nearby town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is super charming and there is fantastic wine to be had everywhere -- especially ice wine, if you're into it.

Bobby Leach and his barrel, after his trip over the Falls (1911).
I wouldn't recommend this particular tour.
My recommendation for a B&B would be the Lion's Head -- within walking distance of the Falls. It's run by a woman named Helena and her advice is to be followed to the last detail. I won't mince words -- she's pushy, but she knows what she's talking about -- if you go into your stay telling her exactly what you want out of your time there and trusting her advice at every turn, you won't be disappointed! Also, don't be late for breakfast -- she will literally bang on the floor to wake you. (It's kind of hilarious!) That said, you won't want to miss her breakfast. I'm talking stuffed french toast and caramelized grapefruit with Meyer lemon semifreddo and fantastic coffee. Yes, please!

6. Bar Harbor:
It doesn't get more poetic than Maine. The view will make you want to write a novel and smoke a pipe, all while trying to figure out how the heck so many people get those darn ships into those tiny bottles! Situated on Frenchman Bay, Bar Harbor is a fishing town with an easy pace and as beautiful a backdrop as you could hope for. Lots of hotels to choose from and you're absolutely set if you love lobster.

Cadillac Mountain (in Arcadia Nat'l Park) is the first piece of land to see the sun in the US, every morning; so, a hike or drive up to the top to see the sunrise is a MUST DO! Also, in the park, is the Jordan Pond House, a restaurant famous for its popovers -- a very fun tradition!

So, there you have it -- my top 6 for now. Though, some seriously honorable mentions worth looking into, are: Boston & Mexico City. I love both and both are GREAT choices for a quick getaway with maximum impact for just a little time.

Hope one of these inspires you to look into a great getaway spot!

(Feel free to let me know if you have a nearby pick to which you'd like to give a shout-out.)

Until Next Time,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Drinking it All In...

Hooray, today I'm turning the podium over to my favorite traveling partner and teacher of many things...my husband, Ed.

This last year, we've had the pleasure of sampling location-specific libations on several continents. It got me to thinking ... about how food and drink culture at home are probably the most directly influenced by our travels.

Sure, I may love the head scarves in Jordan; but, I'm not necessarily going to don one the moment I return home from a trip to Petra. However, I will stock my pantry with pandan leaf, kefir lime, and shrimp paste after a trip to Bali.
(I have the overstuffed freezer to prove it.)

The memory of travel infuses our kitchen with just as much impact as when juniper infuses gin -- and our potential enjoyment of cocktail hour has never seemed brighter, as a result.

I call this pic of Ed, in St. Maarten, "Triste de Coco" (Sad Coconut)
Perhaps he thought it should be full of rum!

So, I'll hand the pen over to my own Master of the Mix, whose understanding of the liquid arts never ceases to impress.




Noted mixologist, botanist, and author Eben Klemm once said to me, "everything starts out as beer." Looking past me at the bottles situated neatly atop a glowing lit shelf, he continued. "I mean originally they were plants. But you can make anything with sugar into alcohol. In theory you could make cocktails out of this chair."

He was right. Trees are plants. And they make great chairs. Some even make good spirits.

Then, he asked me to pull a draft beer into a pint glass for demonstration.

"The Egyptians used to take rye or wheat and shove it into a clay pot. They would fill it with water and add some yeast to hasten its spoilage. Then they would rest it in the sun. Those were the first vats. Then they would stick a reed in it and suck the beer from the bottom. It was a simple process. And it took the edge off after a hard day of building the pyramids." Then, at 9:30am in his place of employment, he took a satisfying sip of modern, craft beer. The juxtaposition of images was perfect.

We've come a long way, since reeds in clay pots!

Persians would later discover distillation, or how to evaporate only the alcohol out of this substance, and use it as a base for their valuable perfumes. (Eventually some folks started drinking their perfumes. Many Arabs still do to avoid getting busted in Conservative States).

With this knowledge of distillation, spirits were born. Political factors drove drinking away from what is now Iran (as well as the versatile grape Syrah). But Europe would refine these ideas in their monasteries and on their powerful ships. Those ships would discover the new world where, as all good things that go in your mouth, necessity created the cocktail.

At Ilana's speakeasy-themed prohibition birthday party.
We drank out of teacups to disguise our tipples.

If Jazz is America's only true art form, the cocktail is our only true cuisine. Sometime during the westward expansion, local whiskey was predictably horrible -- if not dangerous -- to drink. Ice was not available. Fresh fruit or juice was scarce. But there were bottles of other stuff in most saloons. Fortified wines like Vermouth had indefinite shelf lives. Pickled items like olives and cherries could be counted on not to kill you weeks later.

Occasionally an orange or a lemon from a new place called California could be muddled in a sugar cube and balanced with bitters. Add even your least favorite whiskey and kick back. Thus the original cocktail was born. A recipe so antique that we now refer to it by its nickname: an "old fashioned."

I have been trained by famous sommeliers and managed fashionable wine cellars. But my love and knowledge of where these libations all come from would change forever when the love of my life decided to drag me all over the world. She's an anthropologist and a world traveler. And her love of what makes us who we are and my love of what makes us forget who we are all came together in far away locales, both exotic and familiar.

Some choice bottles from our recent stay in Tuscany.

Brunello in Tuscany? Yes please. What goes well with Palm spirits? Turns out it's aromatic ginger and pandan leaf. Where is the best ice wine in the world from? Canada. Everywhere in the world something can be washed down, knocked back, and simply savoured. Even the chair, should it come to that.

The Green Pandan & The Carambola, at Mozaic Restaurant
(Ubud,  Bali)

Remember, it's a big world -- drink it up!


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Touching Up My Roots

This past October, I had the extreme pleasure of traveling to Italy with some of my family members, including my mom. I'd been there previously for a hosting project; but, while on location, I had little to no personal time to explore and connect with the country from which my mother's side of the family hails. This time, there was no business on the agenda, other than rolling a little blog tape here and there. And, most importantly, until October, mom had never been.

She couldn't look more Italian if she were holding a plate of spaghetti!

Though, we covered a lot of ground during our visit, our pilgrimage to Carrara was the most significant. My mother's family comes from the mining town in the northwest corner of Tuscany, which is best known for the marble quarried there. Fun fact, Carrara marble was used in ancient Rome to construct the Pantheon; and, Michelangelo's Pietà and David are both carved from it.

Just to give you an idea of how much marble we're talking, check out this shot of Carrara, from above. Those mountains at the top of the photo aren't snow-capped...it's pure marble!

It was a transcendent experience, just not in the way I had initially anticipated. I typically try not to put too many expectations on a travel experience; but, when you know that your family comes from Tuscany, it's hard to not fill in the blanks with vino and villas and a spa-like atmosphere befitting both pairs of the flow-y linen pants you packed (even though you know you'll be a little too chilly for them in October). 

As we drove further into the quarry-laden landscape, with the family in tow, I was struck with the notion of how tough my Italian family members must have been. (And still are, I imagine.) It's not a terrain or a climate ideal for, let's say, a 30-something, city-loving, travel blogger who likes to sleep in and get facials occasionally. Truth be told, as we drove deeper into Carrara's marble-scarred countryside, it was hard to feel a connection to the foreboding panorama from which I was literally sculpted.

Though, not to worry, we were planning on making a lunchtime stop in Colonnata, where they're known for one thing...lardo! And, if there was a culinary item that could make me feel connected to my birthright, it would likely be bacon.

Colonnata is a tiny, bewitching, ancient village within Carrara. There were clotheslines hanging with clean white sheets, incredible views of the nearby marble quarries, and lots of winding, narrow staircases. It was a charming backdrop against which to not eat lunch.

That's because (while it sure LOOKS delicious) the Lardo di Colonnata that we had the displeasure of sampling is simply fat. Not heavily marbled pork. Not blubber that has been cooked slightly into a delicious, buttery spread and then transferred to a piece of mind-numbingly delicious focaccia. Not lard that has been cured with rosemary and truffle; but, just thinly sliced fatty, fatty, fat.

Sure, try and dress it up with anchovies & honey,
but fat by any other name...

C'mon, world, what am I not getting about this?

But here's the thing about family. Just when you've reached the end of your lardo-covered rope -- when you're at the base of the Apuane Alps, you're cold, hungry and cranky, and you really just want to be left alone -- they're there. I was truly agitated and I was surrounded by them. Of course, the family that took the trip to Italy with me was there alongside me, but it was the family who had never left Carrara that struck me in that moment.

Here I was, on the verge of a Grande meltdown, and I had to laugh at the view. Not my view of the marble from the amazing vantage of Colonnata, but the marble's view of me.

And, just like that, Carrara had me. Before I could count to dieci, I was marveling at my surroundings with a keen respect for my Tuscan forebears. That, or the lardo was laced with something amazing!
(Heck, before we left, I purchased two packages to give as gifts.)

Then, my brother Will braved some very controversial terrain to deposit us right in the middle of the action. He crossed through a terrifying tunnel, across a one-way bridge (below), and dropped us off in a marble quarry. At that point, my sense of adventure was back to a full tank and I would have gladly challenged any authority figure who questioned how we got there: Don't you know who we are? We're Carraresi!

Who knew? Two people talking at the same time,
creates the perfect Italian photo!

I even perked up enough to roll tape and capture a little bit of Carrara for you.

Here's to exploring your roots, embracing the sometimes cranky traveling moments, and always perking up in time to enjoy the view!


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following or something close to it:

    Tuesday, April 9, 2013

    Somebody to Lean On

    Greetings, Pisans! Today's quick video jaunt is bringing us all the way to the often under-appreciated Tuscan city of Pisa.

    She's truly a stunning site...especially from this angle.

    It's worth a trip for many reasons outside of it's most famous leaning bell tower, and I intend to give it a full "Top Seven Tips" blog post in the very near future; but, today, I join the ranks of all other fanny-pack wearing tourists and skip to the goods.

    Any building that elicits THIS reaction from people is worth the trip!

    So, here she is, in her holiDAYtrips cinematic debut...and I bet you'll learn a thing or two that you didn't know before watching:

    I'm sure I'll be eating gelato until we meet again,


    The “Packing List”

    This week, we were rocking the following:

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013

    Oh So Quiet!

    For shame! Even a most loyal Bali-lover like myself can get forgetful. And, that means that Nyepi came and went a scant 2 weeks ago and I didn't know it. So, I'm hoping the bhuta kala accept this blog on my behalf and don't torment me for the rest of the year!
    (Don't know what I'm talking about? Then, the below is definitely for you!)

    In honor of the holiDAYtrips blog going to Bali last May, today’s entry is all about the Balinese Day of Silence, or Nyepi. A Hindu holiday observed every year on the first new moon after the spring equinox, Nyepi is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation.

    Observed for a full 24 hours, from 6am to 6am, Nyepi is reserved for self-reflection and requires those participating to stay indoors and refrain from anything that might impede their contemplation. This means no working, lighting fires or cooking, entertaining, and any other strenuous activity, including any type of hanky-panky! And, some very pure devotees don’t utter a word or eat anything for the full 24 hour period.

    Need a visual?! Well, Ed and I were happy to help break this one down for you!

    Out of respect for their fellow Hindu citizens, many of Bali’s non-Hindu residents also observe Nyepi. And, Pecalangs (Balinese security officers) literally keep the "peace," as they patrol the streets, watching for any activities that may derail Nyepi. Even if you’re merely a wandering tourist, a Pecalang will usually escort you back to your hotel; since streets are closed to pedestrians as well as vehicles. Even the airports are closed on Nyepi.

    Now, the Day of Silence is pretty fantastic in itself; but, in my opinion, the beauty of the shift into the Balinese New Year can only fully be understood through the days surrounding Nyepi.

    The day before Nyepi, the Tawur Kesanga ritual is held. First, a payment is offered to pacify the evil spirits (bhuta kala). Then, villages erect large bamboo versions of Ogoh-ogoh (evil troll-looking fanged monsters that represent the evil spirits) and parade them around.

    Ogoh-ogoh and Balinese children in Ubud
    (Photo: Jack Merridew)
    In the evening torches are lit, the Ogoh-ogoh are burned, and things get loud! This scares away any remaining evil spirits and represents the island being cleansed in the New Year.

    And, of course, all of this ends as total silence falls over Bali, on Nyepi -- in an effort to trick evil spirits into thinking the island is empty so they will not come back.

    The day following Nyepi is one of my favorite cultural observances. It’s called Ngembak Geni and it’s a day of forgiveness. People visit their relatives and friends, seek understanding and absolution for the wrongs of the previous year, and pledge to work together to meet the trials of the New Year.

    Pretty astounding, isn’t it?

    Happy Balinese New Year! Now, get off the computer! You’re not supposed to be working today. Go read a book! (Make it a book on Bali.)

    Selamat Jalan,


    The “Packing List”

    This week, we were rocking the following:

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    My Big, Fat, Greek, Clean Monday

    This week, we're revisiting one of our very first blogs -- Clean Monday! The spring season is about to bust wide open, and that means we get to share some of the insights we learned at this time, last year. We've changed a few bits here and there to keep things interesting, but the heart of things is basically unchanged. And, heart is really what Clean Monday is all about!

    For this particular celebration, Ed and I decided to have a bit of a staycation to commemorate the Greek Eastern Orthodox Christian holiday that marks the first day of Lent, Clean Monday or Kathari Deftera. While other Christian denominations started their Lent seasons on Ash Wednesday, many Greeks have been busy cleaning house, planning picnics, and packing their kites in preparation for the beginning of the Easter season and the coming of spring.

    The reason we decided not to venture out wasn't because we just HAD to show you our cozy attic kitchen; but, rather, we wanted to try our hand at baking Lagana, a traditional Greek bread only served on Clean Monday.

    There are some hard and fast rules to what observers may eat on Kathari Deftera. For starters, any animal that bleeds is out. Dairy is out (this, sadly, means butter). Fish is out, though shellfish is fine (and quite popular). As for the Lagana, it is traditionally supposed to be unleavened, but I wasn't able to find any recipe that didn't include a little yeast.

    This is the recipe that I ended up cobbling together from all of the top contenders out there in the foodiverse:
    • 3 envelopes active dry yeast
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 7 cups bread flour
    • 2 1/3 cups warm water
    • 1 tbsp. salt
    • 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
    • Sesame seeds for sprinkling
    And these are the ingredients I added to my (separate) focaccia-style Lagana:
    • Sub out evoo, for 5 tbsp. butter
    • 25 Kalamata olives, pitted
    • 1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
    • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
    • 1 tsp. oregano
    • 1 tsp. thyme
    • 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. sea salt sprinkled on top

    1. First, I combined the flour and salt. Then, I made a well for the evoo.
    2. Once the yeast started bubbling up (from the sugar/water mixture) and looking strangely like a cappuccino, I mixed it into the flour mixture.
    3. Next, I kneaded the dough for 5-10 minutes, rolled it into a ball, rubbed it with evoo and set it aside for 2 hours, under a tea towel, to double.
    Of course, all of this was executed with one glass of Greek wine tied behind my back!

    After the dough doubled and we'd had our fill of wine, it became clear that further bread making antics would have to wait until the morning. This included rolling both doughs out, as thin as possible. A little bit of a squishy affair when working with the olive-filled focaccia.

    Now, watch and be amazed as the master bread maker perfectly executes her Lagana:

    Once the bread was finished, we needed to prep the table for our Clean Monday feast. This meant setting out our favorite Greek spreads, olives, grilled octopus, and stuffed grape leaves.

    Ain't no party like an octopodi...
    Not sure how to tell your taramosalata from your melitzanosalata? Not to worry, Ed has all the answers!

    Finally came the magical moment when I got to sample the Lagana. It truly was a labor of love and really drove the idea of Lent and family effort home for me.

    Happy Kathari Deftera, everybody! (May you have great breezes for kite flying!)

    And, here's to the beginning of a lovely spring,


    The “Packing List”

    This week, we were rocking the following...or close to it: