Food, technology, and travel. Those three stand alone elements dictate my day-to-day. Sometimes they work seamlessly and get along really well. Other times, sadly for me, they clash and get in each other’s way. However, as my life would go, I’m superbly blessed to travel for a living. Most of it involves exploring and diving into the culinary scene. Most times it’s deliciously divine. And so it’s no surprise my my last 18 months were particularly occupied with spectacular trips around the world, mostly exploring food, food culture, new culinary concepts, and food & wine festivals.
But technology got in the way of sharing every bit of the 8 major trips I’ve taken since June of 2012. There were a few others in 2011, I never got around too either. It’s sad, I know. It’s borderline embarrassing, I know. I wish I didn’t have to admit it. But, as my trips piled up, my private cooking work grew, and my lifestyle entertaining engagements and gigs lined up, my pictures in iPhoto filled fast, causing my queued and scheduled publishing dates on this blog to suffer setbacks.
And then the tragedy of all technical tragedies happened: my pretty MacBook Pro crashed in August. Does that even happen to Apple machines? I thought they were world proof! I lost every single picture in my Pictures Library, not just iPhoto. All 140 thousand photos. Very long and painful story short, I sent off for emergency data recovery, only to retrieve 40% of them in good condition. That other 60%? Well, yeah, it’s a mystery and very disturbing how corrupted such beautiful images are.
Now that we’re in a new year, hopefully in a place of blissful idleness and renewed energy, I’ve hunkered down to painfully sift and organize my pictures — mind you, this just on my laptop; let’s not talk about what’s on my desktop — focusing first on the trips. My goal is to share with you a series of lovely recounts of each trip, culminating in a broad view of what I experienced, learned, and ate.
Every country had something different to offer. And while I had committed to a similar travel series last year to cover Monaco, France, Italy, and Spain from personal trips going back as far as 2006, long before I was blogging here, to as recent sat 2009 (my 2nd trip to Monaco, which took me into France and Italy & which I never shared in depth). Perhaps once these most work recent trips, which are more relevant to this space, are squared and beautifully set up enough to entice you to travel, I’ll go back to those older viajes. My fear is that it’s too late to tell a story. Tell me it’s not, please! It’s not a belated opportunity to virtually show you the lovely wonders around the world, right?! Consider it a time of real reflection so I could accurately share the awesomeness that was.
Channeling my sexy Anthony Bourdain — yes I really am his female counterpart — and I even speak several languages — I’ll be as illustrative without being too verbose or crass. I’ll go in chronological order, writing two travel stories a week, with a goal of having all done by April, exactly one year from my return from Australia and Fiji.
So I’ll use this time and blog post to tease you and invite your return. My synopsis of each below is a super skim view of the experiences. Enjoy!
In June 2012 I went to Modesto, California with the California Milk Advisory Board to study their milk industry. I was fascinated to learn the statistics on milk and how much Americans consume, and that most of it comes from the sunny state. We ate cheese, and more cheese, and drank plentiful wine during tastings in between dairy farm visits. But the best part for me was getting up close and personal with beautiful and totally adorable Jersey cows. That visit, coupled with the previous one to Nebraska, changed my perspective on not only how cattle are raised and cared for, but how milk and dairy impact our culture and society. Ultimately, I was impressed to appreciate their big cow in the room commercial. I mean, that friendly speaking cow just knows how to treat a body right.
(Clockwise: Dad, blogger friend Dariela, and me on a photo walking tour; monkeying around at a sustainable farm; platoons verdes at a farmers’ market; Dad chillin at playa in Sosúa, DR)
Hands down, my best trip in 2012 was in August to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. But first, I’ll remind myself I have written about a breakfast a while ago… perhaps you’ve heard of mangú?! I spent 8 days on the super hot island learning everything you could possibly want to know and more about la vida caribeña. I saw it all! And, it was my first all-Latino press trip. Everyone on the trip spoke Spanish, lives a Latin culture to some degree, and understands the greatness in our food. That means our trip was the most vibrant, gut-wrenching laughter filled one, replete with food from dawn to dusk and tours of lavish hotels and resorts. We even had time for some fun in the sun, having kicked sand before elaborate dinners. To boot, I took my dad on that trip with me, which was extremely fun, but also eye-opening! He’s so smart, initiating conversations about the blatant corruption in Latin American politics every time we hopped on the bus.
(My dad contemplating coconuts; One of the resort grounds we visited in DR)
The most fun, non-working part of the trip was an off-the-record day trip a few of us took to Sosúa — preceded by a janky, super shady 12 am-hour cab ride the night before — a hipster town where all you want to do is buy arts and crafts and sip pretty drinks out of pineapples. And that’s what I did. Oh, but I also enjoyed a full morning at the bustling farmers’ market at 7 am, exchanging with the sweetest yet most intensely focused elderly women as they peeled green plantains. In 103F.
It was horrid, but the most exciting part of my trip. I’ve never seen anything like it. Wait til you see that madness. I swear. I’ve never felt so dirty and comfortable at the same time!
(Clockwise: Dragonfruit, crickets, worms, morels collage at farmeers’ market; pretty confections at a pastry shop; crispy crickets to munch on; fresh morels)
And then there was Mexico City just a few months later in Nov. That trip was all about their exploding food scene. A 2.5 day super quick turn around tryst with a city I fell in love with but not the other way around. I got so sick, I thought I was going to die. A 24-hour stomach bug got to me and I had to sit out one full day, blasting my sister’s cell phone every 45 minutes asking what I should do. I missed out on a decadently gorgeous breakfast set in a bucolic yet rustic restaurant, hosted by two young ladies whom had just launched food tour company. I mustered through, sipping café and ignoring the table offerings as everyone else noshed and smiled. I made it to dinner at an exquisite Italian restaurant which reminded me of my first time in Italy back in ’98.
But, I did get to visit Frida Kahlo‘s home and ate crickets! Oh, yes I did! And looooved them! I can’t wait to share with you the special surprise restaurant where I ate and also suggest must-dos an sees when you go! Like their farmers’ market. Or the newly erected tequila museum. It’s a fascinating city with marvelous history you can’t escape.
(Clockwise: Sidney Harbour Bridge; Sydney Opera House; Latte in Sydney café; cured kangaroo at Victoria farmers’ market; Heirloom tomato salad at Hotel Metropole, Melbourne)
But then the most exciting and exotic trip I’ve taken to date was to Australia after having won best dish in a recipe contest hosted by Victoria Tourism. I wrote about that surreal win in this lively post. I took my sister with me and the the two of us lived life in Aussieland to the fullest for 9 days first in Melbourne. Their Food & Wine Festival, now it’s 23rd year (then 22nd), was most amazing the the most elaborate, all encompassing event I’ve ever attended. Celebrity cooking sessions were fully designed, not just informative. The setting was fancy, with gourmet offerings all day long at the Langham Hotel. Tea time is real there. Pure bliss as sis and I snuck out of a session to watch a pastry chef delicately arrange the prettiest petite fours on an Eiffel Tower. But the coffee scene there is what blew my mind. Their coffee culture blindly stomps ours. I saw it more in Sydney, where we hopped over for 5 days.
(Gorgeous cherry petit fours served at the Langham Hotel, Melbourne)
13 hour long days, walking to and from Sydney Harbour, admiring the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, visiting the zoo and nearing ‘hoods, I was sure to need coffee every few hours. No shortage of long blacks kept me wide awake, especially for a day on which we haphazardly met an extra friendly traveling quad from Adelaide, where they adopted us and insisted we spend the entire day with them, bouncing from Irish pubs, to Italian restaurants, to cocoa bars. Oh, and let’s not even talk about the beaches there. Sublime.
(A green pasture along a destitute byway in Fiji as we drove back to Suva from the remotest part of the island)
No trip overseas, that far anyway, would be just if we hadn’t gone to Fiji. I don’t have many fitting words to describe what really is paradise on Earth. It’s no cliché, no imaginary desires to experience what commercials and post card illustrate. It’s all oh-so-very true. It’s far from a figment of our unreachable imagination. It exists in all its glory.
From the time we landed in Nadi, picked up by a private driver, who meandered us through the coast line for 3 hours until we arrived in Suva where our childhood friend received us, I knew I was going to be back. Soon. There’s so much to share and show you about Fiji; so much culture, so much poverty; so much life!; all in a 4th world island inhabited by the nicest people on this planet.
And that’s not lie either.
(T to B: Beach rest stop while snorkeling; curry chicken at our friend’s house; throwing peace signs with little kids at farmers’ market)
This super breve mention is intentional because that trip, though only 5 days, was replete with things you should see and learn. The pictures, especially of the private and wildly secluded snorkeling day trip, are simply breathtaking and because sharing with you is part of my own story. I’ll explain later. But mostly, the humility contrasted by the military state they live in, despite being only a few hours away from 1st world nations like Australia and New Zealand, is impressive.
(Pure bliss on the islands)
And it seems as though St. Croix is becoming my 2nd island home. I’ve now been there twice to cover their Food & Wine Experience, an event of epic proportions, boasting food galore and spirits enough to liven the lethargic. My last visit in 2011 was novel and I soaked it all in, taking copious notes of their cooking styles. But this time, under the same guise and assignment, I relaxed a bit, revisiting some of warmest hosts I met last time and enjoying more of their land. My perspective last April was to see how Crujans live life and take advantage of their agriculture versus being a full out glutton. The differences in those two trips will help you book a ticket there.
(Clockwise: Chicken and waffles for brunch; Crispy peppers at Peter Changs; Lunch menu at Le Maire at the Jefferson Hotel; The Byrd Theatre)
I’m equally embarrassed to admit I’ve never spent time in Richmond, VA, just 90 minutes away from where I raised and live. Shameful. So shameful. So when I got the invite to go spend 5 days eating what I never imagined could exist there, I was giddy. From hands on cooking demos with the countriest chefs to more farmers’ market visits, and a good hour long tryst with the single female butcher shop owner in town, the entire trip was busy with vintage context and amazing food. I learned things I never knew about a city that holds meaning in American history and culture. It was like a small pop up modern city with Southern charm set on the James River.
I’ll introduce you to my background real soon.
(Clockwise: La Mezquita in Cordoba; random cathedral in Malaga; sunflower field on the A-1 on way back to Malaga from Seville; Plaza de España in Sevilla)
And then there was Spain in July. As if Australia and Fiji weren’t magical enough, going to Spain with Eddie was the icing on the richest cake. Our trip was impromptu and unplanned. We just went. And it was the epitome of true romance. My dad’s best friend’s daughter, whom I’ve known since she was 6 or so, got married to a French man. There was no way were going to miss that fairy tale wedding. It was at La Alhambra. If you don’t know what the Alhambra is, Google it, or just wait until I do my 3 part series. When I tell you a fairy tale wedding, I mean the whole 9. A Cuban father and Spanish mother can only mean a fiesta to be recorded in the books as the sassiest.
(Sun setting at La Alhambra, Granda, Spain)
Though the wedding was our purpose in going, we enjoyed 9 days road tripping between Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Malaga. Our takeaway was a cultural journey of first hand looks at Arabic traditions mixed in with an infectious Spanish joi de vivre. The juxtaposition was almost too odd. While the food wasn’t everything we expected, though jamon hung on every imaginable corner, with visitors and locals alike pausing in amazement, we found some holes producing solid eats; like the best rotisserie chicken saturated in whole garlic cloves and olive oil and a potato side salad to pummel down like the best Sangria. There’s an awesome story behind that pollo!
The hottest 9 days of my life, with temperatures reaching 105 in Seville, couldn’t have been cooler with the accompaniment of the man of my dreams. Dreamy of dreamy. I took other trips in 2013, but Spain was the most special trip I’ve taken in 15 years. Still pinching myself over that. And another to boot, we spent a romantic night in Munich, Germany. That’s a separate story altogether.
2012 and 2013 were filled with extraordinary sights, smells, encounters, learning opportunities, and accumulated miles I’m begging to use this year!
There are new trips in the works for this year, but for now, let’s get these out there! Thanks for following my journeys! This is just the beginning. And while it’s taken a bit to get started, know that what’s to come on all of these recent destinations is pure joy, full of life and love for the beauty that’s in the world.
Other trips in 2103 I wrote about, or not, but on which I’ll share mas:
Ann Arbor, Michigan on this super fly, super lush trip.
Wisconsin for this cheesy job!
Arizona for fun in the sun!
Avery Island, Louisiana for hot sauce work.
Keswick and Charlottesville, VA to learn how to horseback ride and other newness, but more later on this blog.
Detroit for an immersion weekend with OnStar. More on that soon!
TRAVEL, FRIENDS! It’s the best gift God could give us to our own accord. Really. You only live once! See the world! Meet people. Ask questions! Eat really good food. Throw caution to the wind. Learn a new language. Experience their lunch and dinner culture. Simply travel!
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.