Tag Archives: wine

Green Light for Tourism Ireland: Delicious Dublin

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There may be a touch of rain as you stroll the storied streets of Dublin, but the Emerald Isle is enjoying sunny times in tourism.

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Restaurants, hotels and attractions are teed up to greet visitors with their legendary Irish charm, including new enthusiasm for sharing Ireland’s culinary scene.

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A survey conducted by The Leading Hotels of the World found that 89 percent prioritize culinary experiences as a main motivation for travel, and Ireland is set to satisfy.  Survey here. 

There are lively pubs to enjoy folk music…

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I thought this place looked O’good.

…..a pint of Guinness, perfectly poured…

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with traditional Irish stew or Cottage Pie…

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Or Hey! even gluten-free fish and chips!

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One of the most popular taste tours in town is Dublin’s own Guinness Storehouse…..

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…..where visitors learn how the world famous brew was born and continues to be the best. And I had my first sip of Guinness ever. Honest.

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I really got into being a Guinness fan.

Cafes, bars and restaurants within the Guinness Storehouse (including a bar with floor to ceiling glass panoramic views of Dublin)

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……serve up food and beer pairings, of course. Including the perfect pairing of oysters and Guinness.

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Or maybe you’d rather indulge in chocolate dessert…..paired and made with Guinness. 

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But the big draw for those who go to for the gastronomy is the local-meets-modern cuisine created by Dublin’s innovative chefs.

Dynamic Dublin Dining 

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Cosmic Apple with Pistachio Dessert  at  Michelin Two-Star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin exemplifies contemporary Irish cuisine.

Irish Art at the Table

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Art Afternoon tea in the elegant Georgian Drawing Room at The Merrion Hotel Dublin (a member of Leading Hotels of the World) surprises guests with intricate little cakes by executive pastry chef Paul Kelly designed to mimic paintings in the hotel’s extensive collection of 19th and 20th century Irish and European art.

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Kelly, a judge on Ireland’s TV series The Great Irish Bakeoff, paints and sculpts with confections to create edible works of art.

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Stepping into this hotel is a step back into Irish history. Originally built as four townhouses in the 1760’s, the Merrion preserves old world architectural charm with antiques and landscaped gardens enhanced by modern luxuries including a spa and swimming pool.

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At the hotel’s Cellar Bar you can tuck into Irish Halibut with Dublin Bay prawn broth, barley and peas for lunch and walk to nearby Trinity College or St. Stephen’s Green.

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Return for dinner at two-star Michelin ranked Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud….

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…where Ireland’s beef, lamb, and seafood are globally inspired in dishes such as Turbot Poached in Aromatic Milk
 with Leeks, Ginger, and Yuzu Hollandaise. Now these are delectable lucky charms…..

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Modern-Day Dublin

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If you crave a contemporary perch in Dublin then head to the trendy Docklands district, the Irish home of Facebook and Google and The Marker, an ultra modern hotel (and member of Leading Hotels of the World) with hip lobby lounge, sleek brasserie and panoramic city-views from the roof top garden.

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Enjoy a sunset cocktail on the rooftop over looking the Dublin skyline and country hills in the distance.

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Then watch out! Things can change in seconds as clouds roll in and pelts of hail fall from the sky!

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But in the time it takes to enjoy that last sip of Champagne the Marker staff doesn’t miss a beat picking up cushions and guiding guests to the elevator where dinner waits below in the The Marker’s chic brasserie.

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Executive chef Gareth Mullins pleases palates seeking healthy alternatives such as a green salad with Broccoli sprouts, bee pollen and wheatgrass.

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The menu also celebrates the rich tastes of Dublin Bay lobster with Irish country butter and locally raised Wicklow Lamb with delicious dots of a savory sauce of roasted onion and stout.

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Next post from the Emerald Isle adventure takes me into the Irish countryside for elegant and exciting outdoor pursuits. Oh, and several tastes of Ireland’s fabulous farmhouse cheeses.

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Where are my falcons????!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Southern Vegetables Celebrated at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

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Rebecca Lang, author of Southern Living’s The Southern Vegetable Cookbook

 

“The larger the radish, the spicier it is. Who here is afraid of radishes?” asked Rebecca Lang, author of The Southern Vegetable Cookbook. Leading a sold out class on ‘Vegetable Versatility” at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, Lang saw there were no hands in the air. This was a room full of enthusiastic food fans eager to taste and learn veggie-centric cooking tips from chef Todd Richards of Atlanta’s White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant and visiting chef Digby Stridiron of the U.S. Virgin Islands. While Stridiron sliced into plantains and advised, “Buy the green ones in the market and let them ripen at home”, Richards passed samples of his English pea soup garnished with fresh pea tendrils and shared, “We try to use as much of the whole vegetable together.”

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In its sixth year, the four-day festival features chefs from the southern region and entertains guests with lavish southern themed dinners, cooking classes and wine, beer and spirits tastings.

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Cold beer and hot chicken!

Please note my food festival balancing act skills as I carried a Honeysuckle cocktail made with Cathead Vodka and chicken liver pate with a cup of ice in the middle to keep things cool!

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How it’s done.

Sure there’s plenty of BBQ pig and peach cobbler to please, but there’s a sizable celebration of the lighter side of the south, too.

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Golden Lentil Salad, Odette

 

“Everyone things of pork first, but vegetables are the surprising foundation of southern foods, said chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Holman & Finch Public House, Restaurant Eugene and newly opened Linton’s in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “I love vegetables and right now I’m excited about the in-season peas, especially lady peas.”

 

Even the Grilling Terrace at the Loews Atlanta Hotel -home base for the festival classes- put vegetables in the spotlight. Chef Rob McDaniel of the Spring House on Alabama’s Lake Martin smoked whole beets in a Big Green Egg to build a beet sandwich with celery and blue cheese slaw. “You can substitute eggplant or zucchini. Grilling is a great way to enhance vegetables because earthy and smoky flavors go really well together,” said McDaniel.

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New Southern Styles

No longer destined to be ‘cooked to death’ and coated in bacon fat, vegetables are elegantly prepared by southern chefs today. Instead of ham hocks, McDaniel prepares greens and beans with smoked turkey or chicken legs. The crisp and refreshing golden lentil salad served up in the tasting tents by chef Josh Quick of Odette in Florence, Alabama was garnished with a Gulf shrimp relish and tiny touch of ham.

 

Salt and sugar are still part of the recipe when cooking a ‘mess of greens’ but Arkansas chef Mark Abernathy of Red Door restaurant in Little Rock cautioned, “You can always add more salt and more sugar later. You can’t take it out. The sweet and salty flavors will concentrate as the greens cook, so have a lighter touch.”

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Chef Mark Abernathy gets excited about greens!

 

 

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Let’s River Cruise 2016

This is how we roll…..on the river!

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If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like on a river cruise then hop on board and take off with me along the Rhone River on the elegant Scenic Emerald. Best part?

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Well there are so many best parts…but if you’re like me  you’ll really relax and enjoy the cruise from morning to night because Scenic is all-inclusive.

IMG_5712That means no pesky bills to sign for shore excursions or adult beverages.

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Pop goes the Champagne from breakfast to bed time.

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All aboard who’s going aboard!!!!

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The first difference you notice is that the river ship glides along calm waterways instead of riding choppy seas often associated with ocean cruising.

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These long sleek ships built to transport passengers along wide European rivers, past picturesque villages and vineyards are gaining momentum as a sought after vacation experience.

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Virtuoso ranks river cruises in the top five 2016 travels trends.

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On a seven-day cruise on the Rhone River in France aboard the Scenic Emerald, I discovered many delightful advantages of traveling by river.

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The pace is leisurely with pastoral scenery in view from large windows or on open decks.

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There’s an impressive display of crew navigation as the ship traverses river locks with only inches to spare on either side of the ship!

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On the top deck you can chat with the Captain as he guides his Scenic “Space Ship” carefully through the locks.

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Please don’t try to distract him.

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Another bonus for travelers ready to explore, when docked in town you’re in walking or biking distance to most of the sights.

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Scenic provides electric bikes for passengers to do solo exploring and get some exercise.
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Your castle or mine?

In Arles…..or Arlys…

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…we walked in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps.

IMG_5088The wharf here inspired the artist’s iconic painting “Starry Night.”

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The bakeries in Arles inspired me; where fresh strawberry tarts are a culinary work of art.

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France on the Menu

On board the Scenic Emerald, meals feature the regional foods and wines of France with many of them produced in the Rhone River valley.

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Menus are hyper-local with cheese selections changing to include varieties from the area we were cruising through that day.

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Don’t know the difference between a goat’s milk Rigotte from Lyon and a cow’s milk Charolais from Burgundy? Join the cheese class with a dozen French cheeses to sample.

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Adding to the laid-back luxury, wines and cocktails on Scenic cruises are all inclusive. Pop some bubbly for breakfast and end the evening with a cordial in your coffee. It’s all part of the gastronomic experience included in the fare.

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For passengers craving a deeper dive into what’s for dinner, executive chef Tamas Kiss leads a tour through the bustling Les Halles market in Avignon.

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He chats with butchers and bakers and offers sample tastes of local breads, cheeses, and produce of Provence.

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“It was great to see the foods of summer,” says Kiss.

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“But now it’s autumn and there are exciting new things like mushrooms and different olives in the market.”

IMG_5091Chef Kiss caps off the visit with a tasting of freshly shucked oysters.

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Hey look! Someone found a pearl!!!

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Meanwhile back on board the Scenic Emerald things are really cooking!

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It’s literally all hands on deck to provision the ship as boxes delivered to the ship in Avignon are loaded into storage areas near the galley by all of the crew. Even the bartenders, housekeepers and piano player help in the ‘bucket brigade’ to get the groceries on board!

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All of this exceptional teamwork leads to exceptional meals from beautiful buffets…

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…to elegant dinners.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are highly anticipated adventures for the palate.

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This Scenic culinary team is serious ……

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…..without taking themselves too seriously!

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Thank you Chef Tamas Kiss. You can take a little break now.

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The menus are inspiring and exciting and miraculously appear from this tiny galley!

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One evening we’re treated to dinner featuring dishes from the great chefs of France.

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Your every whim from sushi to sensational desserts are on the Scenic menu.

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Baked Alaska? Of course!

Late night craving for BLT with fries? Whoops, that was for me after a night of dancing to the late night disco music. (:

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From artichoke truffle soup to whole roasted lamb, menus are marked with indications to alert those with food allergies. Even more good nutrition on the “Vitality Corner” vegetarian menu with entrees such as bulgur risotto with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and spicy basil salad.
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As the river flows …..

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so do the fabulous foods and wines on Scenic.

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Maybe just one more small glass of rose….
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Wine with Your Veggies?

Wine Pairings for Vegetable Focused Menus

The restaurant trend reports are tumbling in with predictions for what will be “in” on menus in 2016. Topping the charts are vegetable focused meals. The National Restaurant Association puts “locally sourced produce” in their top ten. And food industry trend specialist Andrew Freeman says, “People want less animal protein and are requesting that veggies are ramped up to their fullest creative potential.”

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That taste trend has already emerged on Atlanta menus as vegetable side dishes multiply and vegetarian entrees get more chef love. Along side the meat centric South African inspired cuisine at newly opened Cape Dutch, chef Philippe Haddad offers a vegetable curry with South African spices and butternut squash ravioli with a peri-peri sauce.

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Even if you begin your meal at Cape Dutch with a bite of Biltong, traditional South African beef jerky, registered dietitian Sharon Palmer author of Plant-Powered for Life says you can practice ‘flexitarian’ eating by ordering the vegetarian entrée.

“It is hopeful to see the trends going on where meat is now at the side of the plate and veggies are front and center,” says Palmer. “Chefs are in love with farmers’ markets and post the farms where their produce hails from all the time. This has made an impact on consumers. Look at what’s going on with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. They’re cool!”

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Wine Pairing with Produce

A sea change from menus focused on meats and fish first to vegetables on center stage means morphing wine list suggestions too. At the Century House Tavern in Woodstock, known for locally sourced produce, general manager Jon Hayano suggests pairing the Butternut Squash Soup and Spaghetti Squash salad first course selections with brut Champagne.

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“We often think of animal products such as cheese, red meat, and fish when it comes to wine pairing, but with plant foods you can also make beautiful pairings,” says Palmer. “Try pairing the seasonings and sauces with wine. A citrus sauce or Asian flavoring goes nicely with white wines; tomato and chili sauces pair well with red wines.”

Wine director and co-owner of Flyte World Dining & Wine Bar in Nashville Scott Sears, who is a vegetarian, says, “In general, when pairing wine with vegetable-based meals, you want a low-alcohol, low-tannin, not-overly-oaked, balanced wine.”

More Sip Tips from Sears:

-“Make note of the spice level. To balance the spice, select wines with a touch of sweetness to them, such as Riesling or Rose.”

-“Avoid highly tannic reds made from grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon to avoid the dry, course mouth feel tannin causes when it can’t bond with fat. Tannins can overly-emphasize any earthy favors present in the vegetable dish.”

-“The wine should add dimension to the dish without adding any elements that clash with the texture. Sparkling wine is a great option for just about any vegetable dish, as are bright, light, crisp whites.”

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Food & Fitness Escape to Mexico

Under the Tecate Sun
Although my first choice for a vacation usually would not include all the flaxseed you can eat and dinner without a wine list, my week at a health spa in Mexico was an escape to a place dedicated to the joys of fitness and relaxation. 

My pretty little casita. I was told Robert Redford stayed here! 

Before

After…just kidding. This is me in the middle of a morning hike up the mountain.

Founded in 1940, Rancho la Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa is south of San Diego in the border town Tecate.


Set on 32 acres of lush gardens with hummingbirds flitting among the flowers, 
Literally on the wagon….there is no alcohol served with meals at the Ranch…but stay tuned…
the resort attracts visitors interested in improving their well-being through sunrise hikes on mountain trails 
Ssssstrrrreeeeccchhhh…after the uphill, then downhill hike then race everyone to breakfast.
and days filled with yoga teachings, Pilates lessons, fitness classes, spa treatments and — welcome in the desert heat — swimming pools and water exercise workouts. 

The quiet villa pool where I spend solitary afternoons listening to birds.
From body sculpting with weights to actual sculpting with clay, there are classes to stretch body and mind.

Sculptor in residence, Jose Ignacio Castaneda, helps turn clay into creations. 

I was just walking by one afternoon and Jose invited me to join the class. Next thing I knew
…..I was a sculptor too.

The beauty and bold flavors of Rancho La Puerta Spa Cuisine

Salads are a thing of beauty

Bold flavors of Mexico highlight the menu
All of the physical activity certainly helps work up an appetite, so it’s rare to see anyone late for a meal in the dining hall.

Just in case you’re so hungry you lose your way…..
The four-course dinner the first night started with leek potato spinach soup with caramelized carrots and an heirloom tomato salad with smoked cheese, baby greens and basil dressing. 

Fresh shrimp from the Baja California on the menu at Rancho La Puerta
It’s a principally vegetarian menu here, with many dinner meals featuring fish dishes such as citrus garlic tilapia with red mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a roasted red bell pepper sauce. There’s no sugar in sight. Beverages and desserts including a dark chocolate tiramisu with mango sauce are sweetened with agave nectar.

The beautifully presented plates are prepared with produce plucked daily from the ranch’s organic farm where there’s a cooking school called La Cocina que Canta (the kitchen that sings). 

Virginia Willis, far right, as guest chef at the cooking school. My recipe pal is Lorren Negrin of  Seattle.
Atlanta cookbook author Virginia Willis was the guest chef during my vacation week. Her hands-on cooking classes featured a spa-style Southern menu. “Saying that Southern food is only fried chicken is like saying Chinese food is only egg rolls,” says Willis, author of “Bon Appetit, Y’All!”
Lorren (a registered dietitian like me) and I were asked to create a dish from seasonal vegetables picked just moments before.
The pink things are lightly sautéed radishes! 
Cook healthy, eat healthy
Laura White and Becky Jackson, guests from Atlanta, learned Willis’ recipe for bread-and-butter pickles using the organic garden’s cucumbers. Jackson said, “I’m making these at home. Most people think making pickles is hard, but in 20 minutes, we’re done!”
Don’t worry, you get dessert too. Virginia Willis’ recipe for strawberry shortcake was light and luscious!
Her secret- no sugar in the whipped cream and canola oil with butter in the pastry. 
Also on the menu: asparagus salad, cornbread-crusted halibut, and stone-ground grits with fresh greens.
“I didn’t know about stone-ground grits before,” said Lorren Negrin, a registered dietitian from Seattle. “Now I can tell my patients who are originally from the South they should try these, because they’re healthier than refined grits and they taste better.”
Guests get to keep a beautiful embroidered apron.
Deborah Szekely, 91, who founded Rancho la Puerta and still presents inspirational lectures to guests, says, “Your body makes new cells all the time, so every day you wake up a little younger. Take care of your body so it can take care of you.”

Alex’s tree, a focal point at Rancho La Puerta seen with a full moon still hanging above the mountain at 6am. 
I gave my guy a beret. I couldn’t figure out how to make the hair.

 Lessons learned at the Ranch



> Try to limit meat. Plant foods are the stars of the meal here with small but satisfying servings of fish or shrimp. The typical American plate is dominated by large servings of meat.

> Try something new. Gina Christman, of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine tried acidopholus milk (good for digestion) at Ranch La Puerta, “I’ve taken this habit home. It tastes like buttermilk.”
  I tried flaxseeds sprinkled on cereal (good source of healthy omega 3 fats) because I heard it’s good for shiny hair and healthy skin! 

Gina Christman and I successfully reach Alex’s Tree on a morning hike. Yes, it’s already really hot!

> Try less sugar (and alcohol). A vacation away from favorite indulgences is an adventure, too. I drank water and hibiscus tea instead of wine this week. —- think of the calorie savings!

OK, we did find a wine lounge with Baja wines!

The wine lounge in a cute little casita is a new addition at The Ranch.

Guests can taste Baja whites, reds and roses in the afternoon before dinner, or after dinner.
My definition of health and happiness! 

> Try mindfulness. Appreciate the colors, textures and tastes of each component in a meal. It slows you down a bit and gives your body and mind time to appreciate a meal.

Tasting the variety of produce at the Ranch’s organic farm will help you appreciate dinner even more!

> Try keeping track. Guests wear pedometers at the Ranch to measure how many steps taken each day. Aim for 10,000 steps a day as a fitness goal. Wow, that morning hike got me half way there even before breakfast!

Don’t worry there’s plenty to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and look how much I piled on my tray for lunch. 

Yes, that’s a cookie with a chocolate kiss in the middle. Friday treat of the week.

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Summer Grills & Thrills in Aspen

Don’t you just love sweet and juicy July watermelons? 
I do, especially with Patron Tequila and a little jalapeño.


Welcome to the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Did I mention wine?
And in fact wines from all over the world ready to be discovered.
Let’s start with a party celebrating Wines of Spain.
Now let’s start eating…..

I know it’s out of focus. I was getting kind of excited.
……..and eat some more.



What I learned from the pros in Aspen.
Fire up the grill and prep the fresh produce – it’s summer time!!!

Summer meals with a bounty of salads, just picked vegetables, fruit based desserts, seafood and lean meats serve up the delicious and nutritious win-win of taste and health.  Many recipes are as easy as sliced tomatoes topped with basil, a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. 

But, food fans gathered to acquire savvy secrets from celebrity chefs at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen learned that what can look like a no-brainer actually takes some thought.

Rub, Season or Marinade?

A steak recipe or menu description may include the word ‘rub’ to describe the coating of herbs and spices added to meats but, Texas chef Tim Love warned the crowd at his cooking class, “Don’t rub it in!”  
Love, executive chef and owner of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, explained that rubbing a mixture of spices, salt and often sugar into the meat can create an undesirable crust, “They tell us rub it so we rub it. But we want to leave the pores open. Rubbing will close the pores of the meat. Then the meat won’t taste like the crusted seasonings because it stays on the outside.”  So, a rub isn’t really a rub, it’s a seasoning to spread on lightly.  

Chef Tim Love with fans at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

 

For leaner cuts of beef, such as a flank steak, Love recommends a soy sauce based marinade to help tenderize, “It breaks down the connective tissue.” But, he advised against using it on expensive cuts of beef, “They’re already tender and the soy sauce will actually take away the velvetiness of high dollar steaks.”


Food and Wine Classic in Aspen goes from dawn to dusk and into the night.

Veggie Master

There’s something mesmerizing about watching a skilled athlete or musician perform with ease. 
Claudine and Jacques Pepin share secrets and sips with their foodie fans
The same thing can be said of witnessing cookbook author and TV food personality Jacques Pepin slice an onion or peel as asparagus spear. “We’re in awe,” I overheard a fan exclaim while attending Jacques Pepin’s cooking class with daughter Claudine called Techniques to Create a Great Meal.  “He makes it look so easy, “ says daughter Claudine who adds, “He is the food whisperer.”  In less that forty five minutes the elder Pepin slices, dices, chops, stirs, whips, and whirs his way through a dozen different techniques and ends up with a roasted chicken, quick cured herbed salmon, a mayonnaise, a grapefruit segment salad and a tomato rose.  All while drinking Champagne.  (Well actually Gruet sparkling wine from New Mexico.) 

Watch the hands of the maestro, Jacques Pepin season raw salmon for a fast cure. 
“It’s a question of practice,” says Pepin who’s been a headliner for the Food & Wine Classic for many of its 31 years in Aspen. “A sharp knife is important of course but did you know that when you slice an onion with a sharp knife there are less fumes?” Another veggie prep tip- lay asparagus flat on a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to trim off the tough exterior flesh at the end of the spears. And don’t toss vegetable trimmings. Pepin keeps an empty milk carton in the freezer and adds bits and pieces, “Keep pressing it down, adding more, pressing it down and when it’s full you can make a wonderful vegetable stock.” Cooking class in your own kitchen: Jacques Pepin’s cookbook, “Essential Pepin” includes a DVD demonstration of culinary techniques.

Lexus dressed for Aspen chic
Basil on the Grill?

 Tim Love’s meat centric cooking class on best ways to season for the grill, did allow for a little dinner time diversity when he tossed in a shrimp recipe, “Eating seafood in Texas is like being a vegetarian! But, shrimp of all seafood does love a rub.” He even grilled some fresh basil to finish the dish. “Charred basil is fantastic. So is asparagus. Yes, I’m going to talk about vegetables. I don’t want to shock people.”
Another kitchen tip from Love, think of onions as another way to add heat to a dish.

And use your grill pan to create a mélange of vegetables. Slice potatoes so they grill as quickly as other veggies on the fire.  Love’s cooking demo drink of choice? Tequila shots at 10am. And all that after he ran the Food & Wine Classic 5K run, “Check with me at 5pm today and I’ll either be a hero or a zero!”

We say hero, Tim. And in your cute words, “Damn Skippy!”

OK Foodie Fan Time!
Guess which celebrity chef these gals are excited to see?

And my friend Liz McDermott, wanted to show her son Ford just how cool she is by posing with Ford’s favorite chef Andrew Zimmern.
And look a Thomas Keller sighting! He is as gracious as he is talented.

Ok the camera was shaking a bit. I think he’s actually taking photos of his dish, a creation of raw seafood.
No not Rocky Mountain Oysters in Aspen, this time.

As long as we’re having some fun. How about a musician in the tasting tents? 
Guitarist from Train

Woody Creek potato vodka is new this year, distilled just outside of Aspen near, you guessed it,
Woody Creek.  How about a sample? Gondola ride sized. 

New eatery in Aspen, Above the Salt.
New foods, new flavors, new wine adventures and new friends at the 31st Food & WIne Classic in Aspen.
Lindsay Feitlinger, Liz Moore McDermott, Carolyn O’Neil, Bridget Daley McDermott and
I don’t know who that guy is.

Congratulations Food & Wine Magazine for another great June weekend in Aspen.
Publisher of Food & Wine, Chris Grdovic Baltz salutes Devin Padgett, special events producer
for the annual party for 5000 food and wine lovers. 

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Pleasures of Pantelleria

In the salted caper room at Bonomo and Giglio on Pantelleria

 

One of my favorite ingredients – whether sprinkled on pizza, tossed into a salad or paired with olive oil and lemon to adorn grilled fish – are capers.  Slightly sweet, mostly salty with a tangy bite capers add a bright note to many dishes.  

Caper plants clinging to the earth bound for Bonomo and Giglio 


Capers are the unopened flower buds of bushy plants that cling to stonewalls or are cultivated close to the ground. On the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily just 36 miles from the coast of North Africa, the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sun produce high quality capers prized for their flavor. “They are the best capers and I like them because they are cured in salt and not pickled,” says chef Piero Premoli of Pricci Restaurant. Premoli is featuring a menu of Sicilian dishes throughout October including a cured tuna with capers and the region’s classic caponata stew with eggplant and capers.
Olives, tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil love in Pantelleria


Pleasures of 

Pantelleria 

If you haven’t been to Pantelleria or even heard of it, join the club.  I was invited by a non-profit food and nutrition organization called Old WaysPreservation and Exchange Trust to join a group of writers and culinary experts for a symposium to discover the island’s uniquely healthy food and lifestyle habits.  
It’s a desert out there. The island of Pantelleria gets very little rain fall. 
The rocky island is pummeled by the wind forcing olive trees, grape vines and caper bushes to lie low growing outward not upward. Citrus trees are cradled in walled gardens to protect the fruit.

“There’s still a little magic out there,” says Phil Meldrum of Food Match a specialty foods importer attending the symposium. “When you find something with a taste particular to that area it gives me goose bumps.”

 Pantelleria capers on freshly caught swordfish makes me swoon. 
Stone cliffs, stonewalls, stone buildings, and piles of stone create a harsh landscape surrounded by the crashing sea. Minimal rain means cactus blooms and bougainvillea blooms offer the only color. 

“It was frozen in time,” says dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, “We had very little red meat. It’s primarily a plant based diet that’s nutritionally really balanced with carbs from pastas, healthy fats from almonds, olives and olive oil and dishes flavored with herbs, fennel and capers.”  
Sharon Palmer and I enjoying ‘studying’ nutrition on Pantelleria.
Other common cooking ingredients included eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Since cows were not a traditional part of farm life here, there is very little cheese and pasta dishes and potatoes are sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs instead of parmesan.  
Just so you believe me. Pantescans add breadcrumbs to pasta.
Palmer notes, “We had traditional dishes handed down through the generations in an isolated farming environment so we had what they have there.” 
Even though there is a tradition of sweet cookies made in intricate patterns and shapes, the principal sweetener is made from reducing grape juice not refined sugar. 
“It’s nice that the healthiest traditional eating patterns happen to be the most delicious,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways.   

Mediterranean Medicine

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil – are well documented. Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “Since this diet is not low in fat people enjoy the foods more, lose more weight and they tend to eat more vegetables because they can add olive oil.”  The Mediterranean lifestyle leads to longevity, too. 
Olive oil contains more than healthy fats, it’s rich in plant nutrients and antioxidants to promote good health.
Ligia Dominguez, MD of the University of Palermo says, “We want an active life in old age not frailty. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants which can add years to your life and life to your years.”

Dominguez says being “kissed” by the sun for at least 15 minutes a day boosts vitamin D levels naturally and getting enough sleep is important too. “I took a nap every day in Pantelleria,” admits Baer-Sinnot, “It’s the joy of resting to reduce stress.”

Grape harvest bonanza during my stay on Pantelleria.


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The Italian Island of Capers, Olives and Wine

The gateway to discovery. Atlanta to Milan. Milan to Pantelleria.  

The Pleasures of Pantelleria. 
I’d never even heard of Pantelleria until I received an email inviting me to join a group of food writers, food purveyors and nutrition researchers for a trip with Oldways Preservation Exchange and Trust in September.
Oldways was founded to study and preserve the healthy ways folks used to eat and gather their food – from the mountains to the sea. 

Pantelleria. Don’t you just like saying it?Now find it. It’s an island off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea not too far from Tunisia. This is about as south in southern Italy as you can get. There’s something irresistible about an invitation to someplace you’ve never heard of before. When I read that the island was famous for capers I replied to my hosts, “You had me at capers.”

Benvenuto!

Arriving alone at the slightly modernistic looking Pantelleria airport (most folks in our Old Ways group traveled from New York or Boston or LA through Rome) my 30-something taxi driver who spoke only “hello” and “thank you” English was quite busy chatting in Italian on his flip cell phone while we crossed the island past lots of rocks and cactus in bloom and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

I took a photo of him and he smiled shyly. No, I don’t have a crush on you – I just haven’t seen anyone on a flip phone in a while. OK, on my best behavior. For now.

A tiny island of rough black, umber and grey volcanic rock soon softens to the eye with cascades of glorious flowers.

Purple and white bougainvillea abound.

 Stone walls are everywhere – Pantescan people are really good with rock. Tumbling out of crevices are long green tendrils that I soon learn are the mighty little plants that give us capers.  A little lemon and olive oil with this edible landscape and I’m ready to toss with pasta.
But, don’t be tempted to pluck a wild caper and sample – I’ll explain why later.

Caper plants spring boldly from boulders on Pantelleria.
This might be my favorite photo.
Sunset over the Mediterranean from my patio at The Mursia Hotel on Pantelleria. 

Alora, we arrive at the Mursia Hotel. The white washed building with a Moorish look  (we’re only 36 miles from North Africa here) rises above the black lava rock majestically without need of embellishment. Entering the breezy lobby my eye is drawn beyond the reception desk to what I had been dreaming of all day. A swimming pool. Palm trees were a bonus. It’s about 85 degrees outside.

Let me explain. The huge pool in the foreground is empty – an old pool once filled by the sea.
The new pool at The Mursia surrounded by palms and lounge chairs is nearer the hotel bar. Nirvana- a salt water pool.

So far the only Italian word I really like is “Alora!” which I think means OK or implies “what’s next?” or “then…”….which is like my favorite Spanish word “Entonces!” I will never work as a translator at the UN. But, I do know how to rally a group. “Alora! Time for a drink folks.”

Winery Owner Cologero Mannino of Abraxas offers up a taste of the island’s specialty – slightly sweet, nicely balanced  passito de Pantelleria wine.
How about another glass of wine? This is Italy. That’s better.
Alessandro Luchetti bound for Florida International University in January demonstrates his handsome host skills.
Starting to relax into the Mediterranean lifestyle. 
Stay tuned for the next post……as the pleasures of Pantelleria continue. 

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Get IN the Kitchen on Vacation



Executive Chef Elijah Bowe’s Cooking Class at Graycliff Hotel in Nassau



Most folks go on vacation to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking.

But, when Atlantan Lydia Connerty began planning a bicycle tour of Vietnam with several other girl friends she chose a group cooking experience as one of their activities, “The first thing I did was sign us up to take a hands-on class in Vietnamese cuisine. What a fun way to get introduced to the country and its culture. And then we’d know more about what to order from menus on our trip.”

From cruise ships to resort hotels, cooking classes are joining spa treatments and zip line adventures as popular vacation activities. Joe Carlin, Associate Editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, has sought out cooking classes on his world travels with wife Julie for years, “We I took a class in Bangkok on green and red curries back in 2008 and found it a very positive experience. The class served as a nice introduction to the foods of the country. The class was a success because the instructor was knowledgeable, knew her audience and did not try to overwhelm us with too many dishes.”

Chefs at hotels and restaurants also find that inviting guests into their kitchens to cook is a great way to promote their properties and build customer loyalty. Executive chef Elijah Bowe, of the historic Graycliff Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas welcomes his class with a flute of Champagne and then hands out the aprons and knives. After a review of culinary vocabulary associated with the evening’s recipes from “al dente” to “roux” he leads the group through a step-by-step lesson in how to clean a whole fish.

Then the group of six separates into duos to get dinner ready including blackened grouper with tomato compote. While his students slice and dice Bowe, a native of the Bahamas, shares stories of growing up in the islands and his enthusiasm for teaching, “Some people are very skilled and others are kitchen novices. It’s fun to see the teamwork develop. Eventually we do get dinner on the table!” Then the aprons come off and kitchen duties are left behind as guests take their places in the elegant colonial dining room and enjoy the courses they created with sommelier selected wine pairings.
The wine cellar deep beneath the floors of Graycliff Hotel with thousands of bottles of buried treasure! 

If you’re still craving time to cook on a trip to Nassau, the One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island has added cooking classes and mixology lessons to their menu of things to do at the beach.

Pretty Dune Restaurant at One and Only on Paradise Island, Bahamas

The evening I visited, executive chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune restaurant showed us how to make plantain crusted grouper and led us through a tasting of spices used in Bahamian cooking before sending us off to the ocean front dining room where the classroom experience really added to appreciation of the Caribbean spiced fresh seafood dishes. 

Fresh caught seafood of course! Chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune speaks fluent fish.

Kitchen Clean Lessons


One of the things that impressed me is the attention to sanitation before, during and after these amateur hours in professional kitchens. Everyone is firmly instructed to properly wash their hands, avoid cross contamination between raw meats and fresh vegetables and to wash their hands again before entering the dining room. During the Chefs Plate Gourmet cooking class at the Royal Playa del Carmen resort in Mexico, the lesson in proper hand washing technique included nail brushing and scrubbing up to the elbows. Good moves considering you don’t really know the other guests in your group or whether they’ve just come off the golf course or shopping in town before helping to cook your lunch. It was apparent the food and beverage staff of the hotel, part of the Real Resorts of Mexico, were trying really hard to dispell any fears of Montezuma’s Revenge. In fact, the kitchens were gleaming clean.  
So, whether you’re traveling to India or China or taking a cooking class at a restaurant in Atlanta, keep an eye on kitchen cleanliness as well as the cuisine to get the most out of the experience. The only souveniers you want are a few new recipes and new found appreciation for world cuisines.

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Veggies Culinary Stars in Aspen

What happened to the foie gras and caviar?

It seems top chefs are excited about vegetables. Three days of cooking seminars and wine tastings at the 29th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen – one of the world’s most exclusive and star chef studded culinary events in the world – enthusiastically embraced the beauty and benefits of Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, zucchini and kale.

Jose Andres, chef, cookbook author and owner of celebrated restaurants in Washington, DC’s including Jaleo and Zaytinya put his passion for cooking produce right up front with a seminar titled, “Sexy Vegetables.” Andres, known for his love of Spanish cuisine, zealously addressed a packed ballroom of enthusiastic foodie fans at Aspen’s St. Regis Hotel and expertly prepared eight vegetable dishes in under an hour including a radish and grapefruit salad with shrimp, watermelon and tomato skewers with a sherry vinaigrette, cucumber and tomato gazpacho with Spanish sherry and Brussels sprouts tapas with green apples and grapes. “Most people cook Brussels sprouts too long for 20 to 30 minutes,” Andres admonished, “Are we nuts? It should be two to three to four minutes! Don’t over cook them; it releases the sulfur smell and that is not sexy!”

Risotto for All Seasons
Sustainability expert and Connecticut chef Michel Nischan who is a culinary consultant to Atlanta’s Terrace Restaurant in the Ellis Hotel presented four risotto recipes –one for each season’s harvest of vegetables- featuring ancient grains called faro and spelt. Nischan, whose restaurant Dressing Room is known for local and organic menu items, centered on the health and taste advantages of eating with the seasons. He shared his definition of sustainability, “It means you give as much back to the earth as you take. For instance, composting leftover vegetable peelings creates more soil to plant more vegetables.”

Drink Your Salad


Andres, who was named 2011 James Beard Award Outstanding Chef, certainly knows about quality but he credits his recent 25 pound weight loss to focusing on quantity, “It’s really about the calories. Learning how much you personally should be eating.” Filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit is the latest diet advice from nutrition experts as illustrated by the USDA’s new My Plate icon. Filling your glass works too as Andres said about his gazpacho recipe, “You don’t eat the salad, you drink the salad!”

Aspen’s summer time vibe is lively with folks headed out hiking, biking, river rafting and fly fishing. The beauty of the wild flowers and Aspen trees spills over into the city’s cuisine. At The Little Nell Hotel, an epicenter for those devoted to dining, Montagna’s menu features great steaks and fabulous fresh fish but vegetables seem to rank just as high in the kitchen. A salad of greens, sliced radishes, fava beans and thin asparagus was so fresh it nearly leapt off the plate.

Wine with Vegetables


“Times they are a changing,” remarked registered dietitian Ashley Koff who noted that one of the Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs Joshua Skenes of Saison in San Francisco chose to feature a vegetarian dish of cauliflower and sea lettuce, “It was clear that the days of all animal all day are a thing of the past. As for what wines go best with your veggies, wine writer Mark Oldman helped me choose a delicious Spanish Rueda – the new “it” wine he said.” More than five thousand food and wine lovers converge to sample the best vintages and victuals each June in Aspen.

Isn’t That Jacques Pepin?

It’s a weekend where the majestic scenery of the Colorado Rockies is closely matched by culinary icon sightings. Jacques Pepin having lunch at Ajax Tavern with Atlanta chef and recent Bravo Top Chef winner Richard Blais. (Try the truffle fries!)

The French Laundry’s chef Thomas Keller having dinner at Aspen’s chic Cache Cache restaurant with chef Daniel Boulud of New York. My favorite food memory of the weekend- enjoying a grilled vegetable salad of marinated artichokes, butternut squash, Portobello mushrooms with arugula and chards of parmesan cheese at Campo de Fiori with Atlanta friends including winemaker Rob Mondavi and his wife Lydia of 29 Cosmetics. Taste, health, beauty and good fun. All that and plenty of vegetables being celebrated in Aspen this summer.
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