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Manarola.

I slept through most of our relatively short train ride to the Cinque Terre, missing what my husband later reported was a great, if fleeting, view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With his seat facing backwards, his view was of what the train had already passed, and he couldn’t wake me in time to see it so he decided not to. I was excessively disappointed, and I asked all about it and why not wake me, but I could tell he felt bad about it and I was just making it worse. It was a good moment early in our marriage — he repeatedly said he was sorry, but in the end, I realized I was the one who needed to apologize.

The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso comprise the Cinque Terre, from south to north. Each is impossibly built into the craggy coastline where the top of the boot curves west toward the south of France. The region is both a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, and because vehicle access is either limited or nonexistent, most visitors access the area and move between villages by train, ferry, or walking trail. Read the rest of this entry »

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The tunnel from the Uffizi to the Medici family’s palace over the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence

My husband said he went for the upgrade to first class on our high speed train from Rome to Florence because it seemed like a good idea at the time. That time was around midnight the night after our wedding and hours before we’d fly to Italy. He had to book four separate trips from more than one rail company, and the user interfaces, not designed for Kentucky hotel wifi users (or, potentially, anyone else), caused the whole process to take more than two hours. We had complimentary wine from our hotel to help pass the time that night, and we had it again on our high speed train with almost the entire car to ourselves. First class seemed like a good idea all of the time, and when done right, it can pay for itself.

We stepped out of the train station and into Florence around midday with the rose-colored lenses that complimentary morning Prosecco so perfectly produces, until my husband realized he’d left his camera bag containing a top-of-the-line Canon 5D Mark III with professional lenses under his train seat. He dropped everything on the curb at the taxi stand and, without saying a word, took off at full speed toward our train, which the conductor told him was set to depart in exactly one minute whether he was on it or not. I didn’t even know what my husband had gone back for, so I just prayed hard enough for smoke to come out of my ears until I finally saw him emerge from the station with the camera bag strapped over his chest. The rose-colored lenses resumed.

Our cab driver had to give us a scenic route around the famous Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile of the Florence Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, to get around labor strikes, and I was in total awe. I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and seemingly ancient homes. I felt like there was a castle on every block. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Forum.

My husband and I got married on October 18 in Louisville, Kentucky at St. Boniface Catholic Church, followed by dinner and dancing at 21C Museum Hotel. It was everything I could have hoped for. I just wanted to carry my gorgeous Technicolor autumn bouquet and eat endless canapes with bison tartare, quail eggs, and truffle oil, surrounded by art, with my husband, forever and ever.

But this series of posts is about my honeymoon in Italy, which turned out to be a natural extension of what we loved about our wedding. We enjoyed fall foliage in Piemonte and unfamiliar flowers and trees in Rome. At wine bars in Florence and Venice, we helped ourselves to aperitivi and cicchetti, buffets of complimentary appetizers. We ate steak tartare and eggy pastas all over Northern Italy. We visited Alba at the height of its short white truffle season. We saw so much art. And we took part in the Catholic ceremony of all Catholic ceremonies.

Almost a year has passed since the trip, but all of the details I abbreviated to a word or a couple of words in my daily log of the trip — written around 6:00 in the morning each day because I was sick for the duration and never recovered from jet lag — I still remember in full. So without further ado, the story of how I fell in love with Italy.

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Om curry with dill from LAcha Somtum in Thai Town.

I attended a highly educational and also highly entertaining Zocalo Public Square lecture about food fads on Monday, with journalist David Sax of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, and it got me thinking about foods that could easily become trendy. My fellow home-cook brother and I exchanged a few emails about it, and here’s my list.

Gochujang
My brother and I are both a little obsessed. Miso, MSG, and fish sauce have all had their moments in the food media spotlight as ways to add flavor, umami, and saltiness to food, so, we wondered, why not one of the most ubiquitous of Korean condiments? Among foodies, it’s not for lack of trying. Gochujang — also known as hot pepper paste or red chili paste or some combination thereof — is a thick, sticky paste of red chilis, sweet rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s been in (near constant) use in Korea for about 500 years, since trade routes opened up in the far east, and it is traditionally fermented in the sun. To me, it’s equal parts sweet, salty, and spicy, felt in that order. Some ascribe a fermented stink to it, but I don’t get it. It’s no kimchee. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve made it to about three hundred restaurants in four years in LA, and only one of them was vegetarian, so I’m pretty serious about these meat dishes. Pro: they’re all cheap. Con: none of them photograph well. (And in one case, photos aren’t even allowed.) So, pardon my textiness.

Kitfo
Rosalind’s Ethiopian Cuisine, 1044 S Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles 90019

$11

Rosalind’s is one of my favorite Friday date-night restaurants, and my guy and I buy up Groupons for it as often as they come along. Kitfo is hand-chopped beef served nearly raw with butter, chiles, and other northern African spices. It gets sauteed for mere seconds before being delivered to the table with roll-ups of injera, the light, spongy pancake used to pick up food in Ethiopian dining, the sole utensil in this fun and casual culinary culture. We usually order fried appetizers and a lamb stew besides, and the portions are enormous, so we end up with leftovers. In the morning, we scramble eggs with the leftover tartare for breakfast. And the morning after that, I’m craving Rosalind’s all over again. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reykjavik

Iceland didn’t feel exciting to me at first. Disembarking to a wet runway at Keflavik International Airport not long after sunrise, at what felt like 11:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, I thought it was flat, barren, and colorless. I worried I was at the southwest corner of a small and uninteresting island, adrift between continents.

But after spending almost two weeks circling the perimeter of the country, I’m grateful for my uninspiring introduction to the country. Iceland is a cold bath and a hot tub all at once, both alarming and comforting, best eased into slowly. Only hours after that initial misreading, everything about Iceland was surprising to me, and to extents that I’d never experienced in my life before then.

Turns out, Iceland is pretty exciting.

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pickle guys,pickle,essex,les,lower east side,nyc
Barrels of pickles at Pickle Guys, 49 Essex between Hester and Grand

1. With a slice of history. Today, New York’s Lower East Side is known for its lively nightlife, restaurants whose hype exceeds their collective square footage, and fashion boutiques I wish were my walk-in closet. But as importantly (and arguably more so), the Lower East Side is home to the history of New York City’s Jewish community, and few gastronomic remnants are left — like Katz’s Deli (1888), Kossar’s Bialys (1936 and the US’ oldest bialy bakery), and, arguably, a few places to buy a great pickle. But whose pickle?

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bell peppers,bell pepper

I get a kick out of television and movie families’ holiday food traditions. National Lampoon’s Griswold family sips egg nog from souvenir Wally World cups. The fictional Constanzas have a sobering (also sober) meal of meatloaf for their Festivus feast; the TV writer who based the holiday Seinfeld episode on his own family’s actual Festivus tradition would have had a Pepperidge Farm cake topped with m&ms for dessert. Paula Deen’s studmuffin sons and Food Network stars Bobby and Jamie presumably get down on their hands and knees and thank God for their metabolisms.

And my family took its cue from TV’s Iron Chef when it came up with a new holiday tradition, the Malay Family Cooking Challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

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