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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 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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New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

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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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A recipe for sweetbreads in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cookbook.

Tripe Alla Parmigiana ($10)
Osteria Mozza

6602 Melrose Avenue, 90038

Tripe has enjoyed quite the rags to riches story over the last fifty years, especially for a cut I’ve heard likened to a wet rag. When my grandmother took my mom to a taping of Julia Child in the late 1960s wherein she prepared tripe, my grandmother reportedly declined to try the dish because it was considered such a throwaway. Today, it can be found on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the country. Case in point: Osteria Mozza. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mývatn to Akureyri

Rarely had I seen a bluer sky or whiter snow than the landscape I woke up to. We got our first view of Mývatn that morning in daylight, no snowstorm or winds, and we observed that the lake itself is only part of the draw of the region — huge volcanoes with deep snow-filled craters circle the lake at a distance, making for a dramatic landscape in the winter and, inevitably, an inviting hiking destination in the summer.

The complimentary breakfast at Vogafjós Guesthouse was the best of our trip. We helped ourselves to Read the rest of this entry »

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Klaustur to Höfn

My guy let me sleep in a little while he looked into driving conditions, doing research on the internet first and then consulting with the concierge at Icelandair Hotel Klaustur. We had no good options, only poor ones in varying degrees of risk and expense. 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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Not just any beach day.

My mom has been bringing home an interesting flower bud or two from her morning walks each day and placing them in water in a shallow palm-sized dish shaped and painted like a flower, provided by the condo. Neither plumeria nor hibiscis nor something yellow and pretty has survived until morning. The petals turn brown or the whole flower drinks up so much water it shrinks into a wet little ball. The flowers, the cats, the locals–no one wants to be indoors in Hawaii.

Today, we are going to the beach with the paved road, north of the “lava road” beach and farther from the airport. It’s also part of Kekaha Kai State Park, with its many little bays with difficult-to-pronounce names, and we hope this bay makes for a good beach. But we worry a little–if you don’t almost destroy your rental car getting to the beach, how great can it be?

It could be the best beach in Hawaii.  Read the rest of this entry »

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