Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

What will you eat in Greenland? Part 1

Research shows that 50% of travelers chose a destination based on the food. That may be true when you are planning a trip to countries that are globally renowned for their food – Italy, Spain, India, Mexico, Japan and many more. But Greenland may not make it to the list of foodies travels.

It was actually quite a challenge for me to research what I should expect to eat in Greenland before I headed there. A few wiki articles indicated towards the fishing and hunting bounties, warning me that availability of fruits and vegetables would be limited. Surprisingly, Greenland turned out to be a food paradise! Yes, supply is limited as many ingredients are imported from Europe, but there is also an abundance of local products. Greenland actually exports seafood such as shrimp, halibut, cod, redfish, seal. Hunting consists of reindeer and musk ox; and lots of vegetables are now being cultivated in south Greenland.

More on farming in Greenland…coming up.

Here are some of the dishes that you can expect to eat when touring around Greenland. The first of the two-part post focuses on breakfast, which always included lots of freshly baked bread, cheese, homemade jams, tea and coffee. Many different kinds of bread are made with rye, seeds, wheat, poppy seed, etc. Some are quite hearty in flavor.

Greenlandic Breakfast –

Greenlandic pastries for breakfast
Assorted savory pastries at Hotel Arctic
homemade jams served for breakfast
Homemade jams and jellies at Hotel Arctic
fresh cheese with slicer
Fresh slice your own cheese served at every restaurant
breakfast buffet at Hotel Arctic
Buffet breakfast at 4-star hotel
Greenlandic breads for breakfast
Different kinds of bread loves, served self slice style

bed and breakfast

at B&B Hansine
Breakfast at B&B Hansine (private home) in Nuuk

Read part 2 of What will you eat in Greenland?

Discover Artisans and Food Traditions in Le Marche, Italy

Many visitors to Italy have enjoyed the wonders of Tuscany, but relatively few have discovered and experienced the unique charms of neighboring Le Marche.

Le Marche is the region in east-central Italy nestled between Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Umbria. Our destination is the bustling village of Mercatello sul Metauro, located at the foot of the Tuscan-Umbrian- Apennine mountains, only a couple of hours east of Florence.

Luisa Donati invites you to share a week with her at Palazzo Donati, her family’s home, which dates to the 1700s. Situated on the main square of Mercatello sul Metauro, Palazzo Donati is a private home upgraded with modern amenities.

Luisa opens the doors to her family’s Palazzo and invites you to enter the peace and authenticity of a by-gone time. You’ll discover and experience a way of life which preserves the grace and culture of the Renaissance, in a small town largely undiscovered by tourists.

Here are some of Luisa’s favorite things that she will share with you. . .

  • Tasting of Le Marche wines
  • Renaissance ceramics in Urbania
  • Lunch at Isabella’s organic farm, “La Pieve del Colle” with a view of the landscape depicted in Piero della Francesca’s painting “I Trionfi”
  • Cooking class using local wild herbs and flowers
  • Hands-on class in the traditional art of fabric painting
  • Clara, Princess of Carpegna, hosts a private tour of her palace
  • Feast prepared by members of the Accademia del Padlot, a fraternity of nine men dedicated to food preparation, wine tasting, and good times
  • Tour of the stunning underground caves at Grotte di Frasassi
  • Shopping for foodstuffs at the market followed by cooking class taught by a local mama
  • Visit to the paper-making museum in Fabriano and a workshop on the ancient craft of making paper
  • Plenty of free time to shop, meander, and day-dream

To book, contact Luisa Donati:  info@palazzodonati.com; Skype: luisadonats; Mobile +393394016247 to inquire about this tour.  

 

 

10 Things You Must Eat at Your Tuscan Villa

Last week I wrote about staying at a Tuscan Villa in Italy where I enjoyed very authentic meals using ingredients that were grown on the farm or sourced from nearby villages. During the one week stay, I was able to get a glimpse of what Italians eat and the proper etiquettes to eat them. I was also dining with the locals during all of the meals, so it was easy to verify the technique of cooking and eating these dishes. Some of the recipes are available on Go Eat Give.

1. Prosciutto and Cheese: A Tuscan meal starts with Salumi and cheese platter. An appertivo cocktail, prosecco or Rose wine accompanies it. Besides your table cheese, you can also serve rich cream of pecorino and sheep cheese from Sardinia.

cheese tasting Italy

2. Raw Fava: Whole raw Fava beans are generally stacked in the middle of the table for everyone to share. You are suppose to grab a few strings, peel them, dip the beans in a little salt, and eat with bread and cheese. The beans are hard and dry so much of the flavor comes from the salt.

fava beans with salt

3. Olive Oil: We always had generous portions of salad, generally served toward the end of the meal. This simple salad of rugola (arugula), black olives, chopped tomatoes, red bell peppers and shaved pecorino cheese is dressed with Montestigliano brand olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. All the olives are grown and pressed at the farm, and has a spicy sharp flavor. I highly recommend doing an olive oil tasting so you can distinguish the color, fragrance and taste of different kinds of olive oil.

Mediterranean salad

4. Spianata: Hearty foccacia is cooked in the oven with a hint of salt, rosemary and olive oil. I especially liked Spianata al forno a legna con ciccioli di maiale (flat bread with pork fat made in a wood oven) which had a flaky buttery texture.

Spianata al forno

5. Farro Salad: Grains are a big part of the Italian diet. The farms grow and harvest wheat, faro, arborio and store them for year round consumption. Farro salad with roasted red peppers,  chopped parsley and olive oil served on a baby bib lettuce makes for a visually appealing yet healthy side dish.

farro

6. Conchiglie al Forno: During one of the al fresco lunches, I had baked conchilie pasta al forno, pasta shells cooked with zucchini and benchémel sauce, sprinkled with pecorino cheese and baked in the oven till light brown. It was garnished with fresh basil leaves and tasted divine!

Conchiglie

7. Pinolata Senesce: For Easter dinner, the family prepared a special treat – pinolata senesce or Tuscan pine nut cake from Siena. The creamy cake had a light flaky crust and soft jam center. It was dusted with powdered sugar and lots of toasted pine nuts.

Pinolata Senesce

8. Torta Budino al Cioccolato: This was not your ordinary chocolate cake, as the bottom was a little soggy and bursted with strong dark chocolate and orange flavors. I pleaded the chef to tell me what was her secret ingredient – vanilla, orange liquor, rum? Find out for yourself as she grudgingly shared her recipe.

Torta Budino al Cioccolato

9. Crostata: I ate a lot of crostatas during my week in Tuscany. A crostata is an Italian cross between a tart and a pie. It is a rustic pastry made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs and filled with  whatever fruits that are available in the season. Apricot jams, apples, plums, elderberries, tomatoes and nuts are some of the inspiring flavors for the crostata. It was served for breakfast, dessert and snacks, but I’m not complaining!

Crostata

10. Cantucci: Otherwise know as almond biscotti or Italian cookies, the only way to eat them is by dipping in Vin Santo dessert wine. The hard biscotti become moist and sweet after a few seconds in the late-harvest wine. It melts in your mouth with a delicious alcohol kick to it. Please do not dip cantucci in coffee or order a cappuccino after a meal as this is a no-no in Italian culture!

CantucciI went for a food tour of Tuscany as a guest of the Donati family. You can book a similar trip directly through Luisa Donati. Rent one of the villas located on the family farm, Montestigliano. During your stay, visit the bio gas station, do a blind olive oil tasting, talk to local producers, go Truffle hunting, learn to make pasta, have a home cook prepare your meals, and dine with the locals.

Read more about my travels in Italy.

A Week at a Tuscan Villa

Have you dreamed about renting a villa in Tuscany or going on a food tour in Italy? Both of these have been on my bucket list for quite sometime and it was a dream come true when I received an invitation from Luisa Donati and Nancy Krabill, who run tours in Tuscany and Le Marche, Italy. More details about the tour in another post. Here I share my experience staying at a real Tuscan Villa.

tuscan villa Sienna

I was picked up from Maria Novella, the main train station in Firenze and we drove off into the Tuscan countryside. We passed by Chianti area, stopped for a brief look at San Gimignano (a small Medieval town), and went through beautiful hills of Siena. An unmarked sign led us into Montestigliano, a privately owned farm estate spread over 2475 acres. We drove into a long narrow pathway with cypress avenues, olive groves and fig trees till we reached Villa Pipistrelli.

Villa Pipistrelli is a magnificent 17th century Tuscan farmhouse restored with modern day amenities while maintaining the architectural integrity of Tuscan countryside architecture.

Villa Pipistrelli Tuscany

The ground floor of Villa Pipistrelli has a cozy living room, dining room, spacious kitchen, two master bedrooms with attached baths and a laundry room. Staircases lead up to the second floor which opens up to another sitting area and three more rooms with baths and a balcony overlooking the olive groves.

room at villa in tuscany
The two large master bedrooms seemed perfect for couples as they had king size beds, high ceilings, wood floors and oversized tubs. I stayed at the smaller one in the corner which had exposed beam ceilings, lime washed walls in soft colors and  touches of modern Italian design in the bathrooms. It felt like I had stepped back in time sleeping on  antique carved bed adorned with floral bedsheets, yet having the luxury of modern living.

The living area is the communal gathering place where guests enjoy a glass of prosecco, chat about their day and connect home with WiFi internet. A fireplace constructed from the original rocky foundation of the home becomes the cherishes spot on chilly nights.

Our meals at the villa reflected home cooked Tuscan cooking using only farm fresh ingredients. We had a local lady come in to cook breakfast, lunch and some dinners at the villa’s rustic open kitchen.  Handmade tagliatelle Bolognese, spinach and ricotta nudi, baked ziti, tiramisu, crostata and other specialties cooked with olive oil, pecorino flour and ham sourced within 0 kilometers enhance the flavors of simply prepared dishes.

breakfast at Villa Pipistrelli

We would enjoy breakfast of fresh baked pastries, eggs, fruit and coffee indoors and lunch al fresco in the patio.

dining room at Villa Pipistrelli

There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a delicious authentic Italian meal during pleasant spring time temperatures on a quiet farm in Tuscany. One of the aspects I liked most about this trip was that the members of the Donati family (including Luisa, her brother and her daughter) would join us for the meals. It was a more personal experience to eat with the locals and be able to talk to them about everyday life in Italy.

dining area at Villa Tuscany

Outside the villa is a quaint garden and infinity pool (open seasonally) with a backdrop of rolling Tuscan hills as far as the eyes can see. In fact the nearest village is about 30 minutes walk so its not likely you can see or hear any traffic during your stay.

morning mist at tuscan villa

There are plenty of paths to go walking, hiking or biking though. Some of the gusts would wake up early morning to take photos of the rising mists in the hills. I enjoyed long evening strolls trough the canopies of trees and often got lost on the lush property.

walking in Tuscan CountrysideI walked through the olive groves and tasted the Montestigliano brand of olive oil in the food I ate everyday. It was spicy and rich, unlike any other table olive oil I have cooked with before. The olives start growing in the summer and in November, guest can help with harvesting. If anybody is interested in learning more about the working of the farm, Massimo Donati, the family farmer, is eager to give lesson and even host a blind olive oil tasting at the farm’s granary.

Montestigliano olive oil

Montestigliano has several other properties right on the property that were a few steps away from our villa. At one time, the entire place was a working farms and the Donati’s had the farmers living in these homes. Now the homes have been renovated and converted into property rentals. There is Villa Donati  – Casa Luisa – Virginia 1 – Virginia 2 – Casa Marta – Casa Adriana – Ropoli Sopra – Villa Pipistrelli, each of which is equipped with multiple bedrooms, private baths, living rooms, kitchens and lots of view of the Tuscan countryside. You may rent a room, a villa with your friends, or the entire estate, as people do for weddings and special events.

pizza dinner in TuscanyThe common kitchen also prepares special dinners, happy hours and pizza nights where one can socialize with other vacationers. I happen to be in Montestigliano during Easter so the family prepared a special meal for all of the 80 guests staying on the premises that weekend.

family dining in Tuscany

How much does a villa rental in Tuscany cost, you may ask. Prices start at only 700 Euros per week (2 bedrooms at Casa Damiano). A total of 70 beds are available at Montestigliano, and the prices differ by the size of the houses. Villa Pipistrelli rents for 7,400-9,900 Euros per week and accommodates 10 people.

Receive 30% off 1 week and 50% off 2 week rentals at select properties in Tuscany with discount code TUSCANVILLA. For more information or to make a reservation click here

Read This Before You Rent a Car in Europe

Securing a vehicle for ground transportation at my destination is something I have done numerous times.  I research the rental companies as well as third party offers through Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and other online agencies.  Careful consideration is given to selecting the appropriate pick-up location, the dates the car is needed, best amenities, and best price; and then, finally, I book a car.  Very soon the confirmation is delivered to my inbox.

Now, most people would put a check mark by “rental car” on their to-do-list.  I put a check with another date, because a few days before the trip, I will call the rental agency to make sure everything is in order.  Oh, I do not expect any problems, but I just like to make sure. With that said, I had obviously never tried to rent a car internationally, until preparing for my recent trip to Europe.  Renting a car for my stay in Italy proved to be time consuming, nerve wracking, and an oddly rewarding learning experience.  Here are 6 important things I learned.

Italian Car Rental

1. Choose stick or automatic:  The first and most formidable obstacle was the scarcity of rentals with automatic transmissions.  Availability and the best prices await travelers who can drive a stick.  Manual transmission vehicles rent at a significantly lower rate than their automatic counterparts.

2. Begin your search early:  If you are like me and a stick is out of the question, I would strongly encourage you to begin looking for a rental car at least two months in advance.  What I have learned is that only in the United States, Canada, and Australia do automatic transmissions reign supreme.  Not to worry though, a limited number of rentals with automatic transmissions are in stock for us Americans, but when they’re gone, they are gone.  The ambience of casually touring the Italian Riviera will not be the same from the backseat of a taxi or from a tour bus.

3. Understand insurance coverage and options:  The next lesson I would learn was the difference in the rental insurance requirements and mandates.  In Italy, Collision Damage Waiver Insurance is mandatory.  It is almost always included in the rental price quote.  If this insurance is not a part of the quote, it will be added before payment is made.  It cannot be declined.

Excess Insurance is an optional insurance to cover payment of “excess damage assessments” should dings, dents, scratches, or any other type of damage be found outside of what is included in the Collision Damage Waiver Insurance.  This is the insurance we never really think we will need, but we are afraid not to get.  For this trip the optional insurance was purchased, but not through the car rental company.

4. Shop around for optional coverage:  Many car rental companies will try and convince buyers that they will not accept third party excess damage insurance.  Do not fall prey to this tactic.  Third party companies such as iCarhireinsurance.com sell this optional insurance at a much cheaper rate.  Frequent road warriors may purchase it annually and their coverage is available globally.

After much back and forth deliberation, I booked an automatic transmission vehicle, which was covered by the mandatory CDW and the optional Excess Insurance through the third party company, rentalcars.com.  Finally, I breathe a sigh of relief, feeling empowered with the accomplishment of navigating an international car rental.  I could just picture us cruising along the Italian Riviera.

5. Check for holidays that may affect your visit:  A few days before leaving the United States, I contacted rentalcars.com to verify the booking.  Everything was confirmed, the reservation had been booked with Thrifty and I was told there was no cause for worry.  Despite this assurance, I felt very uneasy, I tried but I could not shake the feeling that something might go wrong.  Not having a car in the US is one thing, but to be without a car, or without one with an automatic transmission on a foreign continent would be a disaster.  Perhaps my tension was further fueled by something I have not mentioned.  The day we were to pick-up the car was a national holiday and most major rental outlets and other businesses across the entire country would be closed.

6. Confirm your reservation with the pick-up location:  I needed relief from the awful feeling within me, so I called Thrifty and to my dismay the representative informed me that there was nothing in their system for me.  After countless hours on hold, more than four representatives, and several transfers, not one representative could find my booking.  Panic set in, but I quickly called rentalcars.com and explained the situation.  To my relief, a very knowledgeable agent told me exactly why there was no need for all my anxieties.

To get the best prices, rentalcars.com collaborates directly with the car pick-up location.  Therefore the confirmation number was specific only to the Thrifty location in Florence, Italy, where I would receive the vehicle.  In my final attempt to be assured that we would not be on foot during this vacation, I loaded $10 onto my Skype account and called the Thrifty pick-up site in Florence, Italy.  When I asked about a reservation for Kaylah Burks, I heard the sweet sound of, “Si, Signora Burks, we have your car rental reservation in our system.”

For more information on international car rentals, check back for my next article featuring great tips on must have gps options, the pick-up process and pumping gas.

~ By Kaylah Burks, an athlete, who enjoys traveling the world while staying health conscious.  Follow her on Instagram @jadenlie

Eating and Drinking with the Padlots

Picture my surprise when I was told that a group of 9 Italian men were coming over to cook dinner for us (a group of journalists) in Italy! The group is called Accademia del Padlot meaning the academy of “a giant ladle that is used to pour wine.” Founded in 1996, a group of men in the village of Mercatello sul Metauro, nestled between Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria, decided they needed a formal organization to eat, drink and forge friendships.

academia padlot

The groups consists of men of different ages, political views and professions, but are united by their love for gastronomy. Their programs consist of a daily drink, monthly dinners and yearly trips. Renting a little bus, the group has traveled to Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Chianti, Amarone, Sauvignon, Gewurtz-Traminer and many more regions of Italy.

Mission Statement: The Academy of Padlòt is the free association of all those who, moved by a passion for learning, explore and transmission to future generations of all that concerns the good drink, want to put a glass of good wine in good company.

padlots

An article in their bylaw says: The “drunk Plenary” is the most solemn moment of the life of the Academy, where academics find themselves in harmony taste. Plenary decided that the drink is done on a weekly basis, on the day Thursday beginning at quarter past six p.m. (approximately). At that time the academicians can express themselves freely.

This group of men rarely prepare food for outside groups, preferring to cook for themselves and their close family and friends, but they cooked a special feast for us – their visiting friends from US and Canada.

The Padlots came marching into Palazzo Donati (a 8-bedroom villa where I was staying) prepared with an ambitious menu. I was certain they had done this before, for the dishes were well thought out and ingredients already sourced from local farms.

Padlot dinner menu

They started working hard in the kitchen making sauces, boiling fresh pasta, roasting vegetables and sautéing cuts of meat I had never seen before. They ensured we all had our glasses filled with Prosecco as we watched them cook and chit chatted in the kitchen.

Palazzo Donati kitchen

The first course or antipasti was simple yet flavorful creations: Charcuterie – salami and various cuts of meat; Bruschetta – toasted bread slices rubbed with  garlic, olive oil and salt; Crostini con Paté – sliced baguette with sausage and liver pate; and Fave e Formaggio Fresco – Fava beans with holiday cheese. They instructed us to peel raw Fava beans, dip them in salt and eat them with farmers cheese and bread. Torta pascuela, a traditional Easter cheese bread (made with gruyere, pecorino and romanesco) from Umbria was brought in for the special occasion.

Palazzo Donati has two kitchens – one for commercial use and the other a rustic open hearth with family style tables. We convened in they instructed us to peel raw Fava beans, dip them in salt and eat them with farmers cheese and bread. Torta pascuela, a traditional Easter cheese bread (made with gruyere, pecorino and romanesco) from Umbria was brought in for the special occasion.

padlot7

Meanwhile Lanfranco stirred Coradella – lamb’s liver with young garlic. This kidney and lungs combination looked pretty scary to me but I’m sure it was a carnivores delight. On another stovetop, they cooked Goletta con salvia e aceto o vino bianco – pig’s jowl with sage, vinegar and white wine. And a third tended to wild boar stew called Spezzatino di Cinghiale. We were definitely in for a manly meal!

lamb liver and kidney casserole

A local resident named Lina has supposedly won every tagliatelle pasta challenge in this part of the world, so a meal would be incomplete without trying it. It came through well together with the succulent guinea pig ragout and tomato sauce.

Fresh tagliatelle pasta in Le Marche

The open fire was well utilized. For sides, Italian red Chicory known as Radicchio rosso in graticola was grilled to where it was crispy, and whole potatoes wrapped in alumni foil were cooked in the ash from the firewood, rather than baked. This ash potato was called Patate Sotto il Fuoco.

grilled hearts of palm

The party got bigger once friends from the village joined in. The prosecco gave way to a fruity Rose, then a full bodied red wine, followed by after dinner Spumanti.

Palazzo Donati Italy We ate Italian-style, which meant the food never stopped coming and not accepting seconds was an insult to the chefs. Many of the nine men were posting photos on Facebook already, so I dared not offend their culinary skills (which by the way, were simply outstanding) or be publicly shunned on social media.

academia padlot men prepare dinner

Alas the dessert was a homemade Crostata prepared by by Elizio (one of the Padlot’s) wife. A delicately laced tart made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs and filled with an interesting combination of plums, elderberry and tomatoes played a sweet-tart melody in my mouth.

elderberry crostataNo family style Italian meal is complete without some singing. It was a real treat to sit around the table, singing old Italian tunes with a bunch of locals who were passionate about food and wine.

It is almost impossible to book this experience online through a travel agent, as Academia del Padlòt exclusively hosts guests of Palazzo Donati. The villa is available to rent throughout the year and one-week packages include cooking classes, language course, wine tasting, walking tours, one on one with local artists and of course, a dinner with the Padlots!

Photo log from Dublin

Metro Rush Hour

Dublin Metro Rush Hour

The Dublin metro is a speedy and reliably way to zip around the city. Locally called the “Luas,” this light-rail tram can take you from the pedestrian friendly city center, past the medieval mummies of St. Michan’s Church at Four Courts stop, and all the way to the Guinness Storehouse at James’s on the other side of the River Liffey.

Rainy Afternoon puddles 

Rainy afternoon puddles in Dublin, Ireland

One of the best spots in Dublin for quiet reflection is Trinity College. With its protective walls and tranquil courtyards, the 400 years of history at Trinity College are alive and tangible at this calm oasis within the city.

Walking the streets of Temple Bar

Temple Bar district in Dublin, Ireland

The Temple Bar district has a high concentration of colorful pubs and narrow streets. Exploring this area and drinking at the traditional pubs is one of the quintessential experiences for any visitor to Dublin. Temple bar is alive with music and people all throughout the night. The atmosphere is joyous with people singing and mingling. It’s the only place you can walk into a bar, start to sing a song, and the entire place joins in!

Early Morning Silence

Dublin's famous O’Connell Street

O’Connell Street is the main artery of the city north of the River Liffey. In the early mornings the stillness and quiet here can belie the fierce history that took place on this street. In 1916 the General Post Office building was taken over by Irish Rebels and led to intense fighting with the British. Many believe that this conflict helped build wider sympathy for the fight to gain independence from Great Britain. The bullet holes from this battle can still be seen in the pillars today.

Magnificent Dublin Library

Magnificent Dublin Library

Nestled within Trinity College is the Old Library, where the gorgeously illustrated Book of Kells is kept. In addition to this 1,000 year old manuscript the library also includes the Long Hall, which is a magnificent tribute to writing. It has a rich smell of old leather and oak and will give you that strong sense of wonder that traveling is all about.

~ By Joy Hmielewski. Joy is an ex office worker with a love for adventure. A few years ago she picked up a camera and learned everything she could. She never wanted to spend her days in a cubical so she started a photography business and traveled anywhere she could go for cheap. She now travels extensively with a backpack and a small budget. 

Macedonia’s Galichnik Wedding Festival

The Galičnik Wedding Festival is an annual festival held in the Macedonian village of Galičnik, in which a selected couple gets married in the traditional “Galička” style wedding. Traditionally the wedding lasted for 5 days with the main activities on St. Peter‘s Day (12 July) every year. It was the only period of the year when couples got married. Today it is part of the festival “Galičko Leto” meaning Galičnik Summer. It is a two-day event held on the weekend nearest to July 12th. Tourists in Macedonia flock to Galičnik to witness this beautiful ceremony and take part in the festivities. Each year, couples from all over Macedonia enter a competition run by the organizers to be the couple that gets to have a Galicka style wedding.

The five day event comprises of the following program….

Inviting the dead relatives to the wedding:
The bridegroom, along with a group of his closest relatives, visits the graves of dead family members where he proceeds to invite the deceased to his wedding.

Inviting the ‘kum (literally: “godfather”, though the closest equivalent in English is “best man”): After returning from the cemetery, the bridegroom, his friends and closest relatives invite the best man to the wedding.

Shaving the bridegroom:
In front of the “Upija” fountain, one of the friends shaves the bridegroom; an act which makes the closest relatives rueful because the shaving is a symbol of the separation of the boy from his mother and father.

Off to the bride’s house to formally ask for her hand in marriage:
From the bridegroom’s house, an entourage of over 50 in-laws goes to the bride’s house. The entourage is led by a bajraktar (flag bearer) and his friends on horses. The horses walk slowly in front of the entourage. Before their arrival, one of the bridegroom’s friends goes to the bride’s house to ask for permission for the arrival of the in-laws. He then returns to re-join the procession.

Arrival of the marriage brokers:
After the arrival of the in-laws, the flag bearer hands over the flag which is hung by the window. Then one of the bridegroom’s friends leads his horse in front of the bride’s house where the bride looks at the bridegroom through her ring. The bridegroom kisses the hands of the bride’s parents and then they put a towel over his shoulder.

The bride welcoming the marriage brokers:
In front of the house the bridegroom’s closest relatives sit at a table. The bridegroom’s mother gives presents to the bride and then the bride kisses her hand. The bride gets dressed and ready to go.

The bride sets off with the in-laws:
A bridegroom’s friend informs the in-laws that the bride is ready and they all prepare to go. The bride mounts a horse. The procession is then led by the flag bearer.

Welcoming the bride:
The bridegroom’s mother welcomes the bride with a sieve, a cake, and a goblet full of wine. She circles around the bride three times tapping her on the head with the cake. Then she puts a bridle on her and on the bridegroom’s cap. The bridegroom helps the bride to dismount the horse. Then she walks into the house.

Macedonia’s Galichnik Wedding Festival

Marriage ceremony:
The bride, the bridegroom’s mother and father, the flag-bearer and the other relatives walk up to the church. The bridegroom’s mother carries a kettle and a basil bouquet. She spatters the young couple and other guests on the way from the house to the church. A carpet is laid in front of the church and a flag is hung to the right of the entrance.

Marriage banquet:
After the wedding ceremony there is a wedding banquet at the “Upija“. The best man resides at the head of the table and the bridegroom calls for a toast.

Taking the bride to “Upija” where she leads the brides dance:
The bridegroom’s father and the best man lead the entourage. The bride is taken to the fountain where she fills water jugs. After that, the bride leads the bride’s dance.

Farewell to the musicians:
When wedding ends, the closest relatives say goodbye to the musicians.

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What to eat in Macedonia?

The national dish of the Republic of Macedonia is called Tavče gravče. It is a stew made of lentils and spices served in traditional earthenware.

Tavče gravče

Ćevapi (kebab chi) are mini-kebabs made with ground beef and grilled without skewers. They are served with chopped onions, salad and pita style bread. Generally, 5-10 kebabs are served on an individual plate. Cevapi is a popular late-night snack in Skopje.

Ćevapi

Polneti Piperki is green bell peppers stuffed with rice and meat and baked in the oven.

Polneti Piperki

Ajvar is a type of dip made with roasted red bell peppers and garlic. Sometimes, eggplant and chili peppers are added. It is also served as a side dish or starter with bread. Preparing Ajvar is a tradition in Macedonia and households often compete on who makes the best one!

Ajvar

Pinđur is another dip made with eggplants and roasted peppers. It is served as a side or with bread for dipping.

Pinđur

Turli tava (vegetable and meat stew) is made with potatoes, rice, okra, eggplant, carrots, peppers, pork, beef or lamb. The ingredients are mixed, topped with cheese and baked in an oven in a traditional pottery dish (known as tava).

Turli tava

Börek is a flaky pie stuffed with cheese, mincer meat or vegetables. A large pie is first baked in the oven and cut into serving size pieces. Influenced by Turkish cuisine, Borek is a delicious recipe prepared at homes throughout Macedonia.

Börek

Zelnik is similar to Borek, but the crust resembles more of a phyllo than pie. It is also stuffed with meat, spinach or cabbage and served warm with yogurt.

Pljeskavica also known as hamburger is basically a meat patty made with a mixture of lamb, pork, beef or veal. It is not served like a typical burger between buns, rather open faced with salad, flat bread and sliced grilled onions.

Pljeskavica

Tulumba is a popular dessert found in pastry shops across the Balkans. It is a similar to a tube shaped doughnut batter, deep fried and soaked in heavy sugar syrup.

Tulumba

Turkish delight or Lokum is available grocery stores and confections and makes for good gifts to bring back home. The texture of Lokum is similar to gelatin but much firmer. It is made with starch, sugar, nuts and flavoring such as lemon, rose, orange, etc. It is dusted with powdered sugar and served with hot tea.

Turkish delight or LokumRead more about Macedonia