Truffles, Trips and Toasts with Chef Patricia Wells

Posted in Foodie or Wine Experience, Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by Stephanie

patricia-wellsA few months ago, my husband and I were of a lucky few to sit down and share a very special 7-course dinner and wine pairing with the iconic French chef, instructor, journalist and author, Patricia Wells. Wells spent over twenty-five years as the global restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, was a New York Times reporter, and is the only woman to serve as restaurant critic for a major French publication, L’Express. She has won three James Beard Awards for her cookbooks, “The Provence Cookbook”, “Patricia Wells at Home in Provence” and “Simply French”, and has been honored by the French government as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, recognizing her contribution to French culture.

Simply truffleTraveling to and thru the U.S. on a book tour for her latest (thirteenth!) cookbook, “Simply Truffles: Recipes and Stories that Capture the Essence of the Black Diamond” (forward by Joël Robuchon), we joined Chef Wells, her husband, Walter, and a handful of other foodies at The Inn at Langley on the hauntingly beautiful Whidbey Island, WA. The evening began fireside with appetizers and bubbles, then settling in for a magical exploration in an intimate, candlelit setting, enjoying one of my favorite delicacies, the flavorful and aromatic truffle.

With an indescribable woodsy, earthy flavor, the truffle enters a recipe as a flavor component, and ends up finishing the meal as the lingering, haunting aroma and essence that continues to fill your whole head (mouth, nose, sinuses and breath) long after your plate is depleted. The flavor qualities of the truffle are so unique that the moment it’s encountered in a dish, you know it! And the earthiness of the truffle so beautifully offsets a mellow, lightly-aged pinot noir or burgundy red wine… each lending to the subtle-yet-distinct flavor of the other… that a food euphoria is created that foodies everywhere celebrate. Such was the case this evening.

Tip:
Pull double-duty with yo
ur expensive truffles by storing them in a jar of plain basmati rice, or amongst fresh eggs, to delicately flavor an otherwise simple dish, while keeping them fresh and dry for use in another recipe.

Flashback: Paris, France – March, 2008

I first met Patricia Wells in 2008, when my husband, Andy, and I were traveling thru France on our honeymoon. Older and wiser, entering into our second marriages, we were enjoying a rather sophisticated honeymoon which can maybe only be appreciated by someone in Phase II of life, pretenses dropped and in search of true fulfillment and real experiences. We were in Paris, enjoying a trip we couldn’t have imagined in our 20’s (let alone afford!), and we were determined to get into a little restaurant called Au Bon Accueil, located just adjacent to the Eiffel Tower on Rue de Monttessuy, close to where we were staying. Paris loves a couple in love, and sure enough, our concierge shared our story and was able to get us in. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that my husband speaks the language fluently, a quality that reaps huge dividends with the French.)

Much like The Inn at Langley, Au Bon Accueil is a small, intimate and candlelit restaurant, filled with foodies and food pairings that surprise and delight. Included amongst the foodies that evening in a restaurant barely holding ten tables, sitting in a dimly lit alcove flanked by several other people, sat Patricia Wells, her husband, and Ina Garten (better known throughout the U.S. as the “Barefoot Contessa”). I knew of Patricia’s legendary cooking courses offered each year in Paris and Provence, and had long dreamt of a day when I had the good time and good fortune to participate in one. And Ina’s program on the Food Network was one that I recorded regularly, sharing her recipes with my family often (love, LOVE, Parker’s Beef Stew). I was giddy with excitement upon recognizing these amazing ladies and immediately shared the news with my husband, Andy.

With Ina Garten at Au Bon Accueil

With "Barefoot Contessa" in Paris, 2008

Whereas we had just sat down for our meal, Patricia, Ina, and their group were just finishing theirs. My new fiancé-turned-husband humbly approached their table and expressed my adoration, asking for perhaps a photo after their dinner was complete. They immediately waved me over, inquiring all about our wedding, our children, and experiences, so far, in France, and then Ina stood for a photo.

The experience had me floating on air! To offset their trouble and acknowledge their generosity, we motioned for the waiter and insisted on picking up the tab for their dessert course, which we had just interrupted. They accepted and, moments later, a round of champagne arrived at our table and they toasted us and our future. (After all, we WERE newlyweds!)

Signed Menu, Au Bon Accueil, Paris

The evening ended with a signed menu, a lovely photo and a memory to cherish. We walked home, as if on clouds, to our suite under the Eiffel Tower, excitement brewing for our next two weeks thru France, Monaco and Italy. Surely, it too was now charmed. It was a truly magical moment and I knew I’d never forget such a special experience in such an adored city. Little did I know that Chef Wells would not forget it, either.

Flash-forward: Whidbey Island, WA – November, 2011

Conversing with Patricia, 2011

Catching Up with Patricia, 2011

Three years later, standing in a restaurant on Whidbey Island, WA, Andy and I laughed and spoke with Chef Wells about the encounter in Paris in 2008, who, to our amazement, vividly recalled it all. She kindly inquired how the balance of our trip unfolded and we were able to relive the memories with her and share additional foodie experiences we enjoyed through Lyon, Dijon, Florence and Rome, such as our visit to Paul Bocuse — even getting tips from Patricia on future visits and ideas for additional foodie highlights our next time around. She personally invited us to attend her legendary cooking class, and we assured her it was indeed on our bucket list!

Patricia Wells will always hold a place in our hearts and I’m happy to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying her latest cookbook, Simply Truffles. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Provence with a week to spare, you must join her for this once in a lifetime experience. In the meantime, I’ll settle for ‘Simply Truffles’ and my memories of our lovely dinners at Au Bon Accueil and The Inn at Langley.

Santé!

An Enjoyable Evening with Wells

Prepping the Cheese Course

______________________

A detailed menu from our night at The Inn at Langley follows, along with our menu choices at Au Bon Accueil in Paris and information on Patricia’s week-long foodie cooking course in Provence.

Simply Truffles Book Tour Dinner,
The Inn at Langley, November 17, 2011:

LE MENU

Reception
Canapés

Opening Acts
Goat Cheese “Reserve Oreos” with Truffles, Warm Oysters and Truffle Cream
Etienne Chéré Brut Champagne

Salad
Belgian Endive, Pine Nut, Chive and Truffle Salad
Michel Delhommeau 2010 Muscadet

Soup
Pumpkin Soup with Cream, Curry, Pumpkinseed Oil and Truffles
Francois Chidaine 2009 Vouvray

Risotto
Truffle Risotto with Parmesean Broth
Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape

Poultry
Seared Duck Breast with Truffled Sauce Poulette
Philippe Alliet 2009 Chinon

Cheese
Truffled Chaource

Dessert
Truffled Honey Pears, Smoldered Spruce Cream and Walnut Sugar
Vilmart & Cie Ratafia

______________________

Au Bon Accueil:
http://www.aubonaccueilparis.com

LE MENU

une entrée, un plat, un dessert

Menu à 31 euros

Les entrées 8,5

Salade verte au vinaigre de framboise, parmesan et lardons fumés
Velouté Dubarry et petits croûtons dorés
File de maquereau mariné mi cuit à la plancha, navet caramélisé
Pâté en croûte de canard et sa petite salade

Les plats 17

Filet de maigre de ligne à l’huile d’olive, tombée de chou et légumes verts
Pavé de flétan de ligne poêlé et radis long confit
Pavé de rumsteack Charolais, ragoût de lentilles vertes du Puy
Marget de canard du Gers rôti et sa galette de pomme de terre

Les desserts 8,5

Terrine en gelée d’orange et pamplemousse
Salade de fraises à la verveine fraîche et émulsion de formage blanc
Ananas rôti et pain d’épice aux pommes, sauce caramel
Sablé Breton à la rhubarbe confite, compotée de rhubarbe et glace vanille
Baba au rhum et crème chantilly
Millefeuille aux fruits rouges et crème pâtissière a la framboise
Tartelette de citron verte meringuée
Mousse de cafe aux cacahuètes caramélisées et en mousseline
Moelleux chaud au chocolat noir Guanaja

Sélection de fromages affinés

______________________

Provence Cooking Classes with Patricia Wells

http://www.patriciawells.com/

chanteducFor several weeks each year Patricia and Walter Wells open their 18th-century Provençal  home for personalized cooking classes for a small number of participants eager to share in the food, wine, and culture of one of France’s most blessed regions. Students cook with herbs, salads and vegetables from the garden, grapes from the vineyard, and olives from the groves. They sip homemade aperitifs from the orchards, and prepare roast meat and poultry in the wood oven fired with vine clippings from the vineyard. The house wine is Clos Chanteduc, the fruity, fragrant red Côtes-du-Rhône from the property. The five-day English language program includes hands-on cooking sessions led by Patricia and Walter, as well as their guided visits to markets, vineyards, shops, and local restaurants.

Each day’s program offers something different: The menus prepared together and shared around the farmhouse table, the insider’s guide to the regional production of olives, oil, and cheese, and tastings from the rich selection of local wines, including the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the heady and varied Vacqueyras and Gigondas, as well as the huge variety of top quality Côtes-du-Rhône. All instruction is in English. Recipes are geared to the home cook. Participants are supplied with aprons as well as detailed recipe booklets that are theirs to keep.

The class is limited to 12 participants. The week begins with dinner on Sunday night and ends after lunch on Friday. The fee is $5,000 and includes market visits, all tastings, and transportation for local visits. The fee does not include lodging. (Information on housing as well as the specific week’s schedule will be sent when students enroll.)

The schedule will  include Sunday’s welcome dinner; morning classes with lunch on four days with a midweek winery visit and tasting,  followed by lunch in a restaurant; and additional classes and dinner on two different evenings. The other two evenings will be free  for students to explore on their own or simply take a break.

A spouse or friend traveling with the student will be invited to the final lunch on Friday. He/she can also join the group for the winery visit and restaurant lunch afterwards, for the cost of the meal.

An Evening of Modernist Cuisine

Posted in Foodie or Wine Experience, Philanthropy, Recipes, Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 15, 2012 by Stephanie
……….
My husband and I recently had the pleasure of partaking in the culinary phenomenon that is Modernist Cuisine. Taking molecular gastronomy to a new extreme, Nathan Myhrvold (former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft) and Chef Maxime Bilet have taken the process of breaking down foods to their basic fundamental flavor components to a whole new level. It is truly a scientific art form.

Myhrvold’s company, Intellectual Ventures, studies and experiments with food in their lab using various techniques to maximize flavor, such as sous vide, dehydrators, immersion circulators, even a centrifuge! In fact, on a recent episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Myhrvold was featured in his lab with his centrifuge, spinning green peas at 10,000 revolutions per minute to separate out the various layers.  The top layer resulted in pea “juice”, a delicious light liquid described as “walking thru a cloud of peas”. The thin middle layer, which was thick, rich, and bright green, was described as the pea “butter” — the essence of the pea, rich and creamy, lovely piped onto bread or a crudite, with a very buttery texture. The bottom layer, which was the starch, was very bland and presumably discarded. Incredibly fascinating! Particularly when you think of all the applications with which you could utilize this technique.

Last Saturday, my husband and I were able to experience first hand how utterly original and revolutionary Myhrvold’s methods are. We settled in for a wild ride of curiosity, surprise, and joy, as we ventured into our 7-course meal consisting of seemingly normal dishes, prepared in a very abnormal way. Prepared by Chef Bilet and the disadvantaged-adults-turned-culinary-arts-students of FareStart in Seattle, we tried course after course of interesting foods, all highlighting the techniques and recipes from the six-volume book, “Modernist Cuisine”.

Some of the more notable bites were the deconstructed Mexican “elote”, which was quite spicy and marked by the freeze-dried corn kernels resting in a light, almost styrofoam-like bed of heat, and the Gruyère cheese puff, which consisted of a very thin outer crispy shell, filled with runny, warm Gruyère cheese sauce. Sublime! My husband made the mistake of biting into the puff, realizing too late that this one should be popped into your mouth whole. It was so unexpected and, yet, paired beautifully with the Maison Bleue Rousanne. And being a red meat and red wine girl, I coveted my Bunnell Mourvedre and pastrami course!

The complete menu, including wine pairings, is shared below. I hope you have the opportunity to experience this fascinating flavor-enhanced methodology soon. The complete six-volume, 2438-page “Modernist Cuisine”, is available on Amazon for $450.

Enjoy!

Snacks

Elote
freeze-dried corn, cilantro blossoms, brown butter

Wine: Maison Bleue Rousanne

Cheese Puffs
gruyère custard, fluid gel

Oyster Cocktail
Taylor’s Shigokus, cryo-shucked, pear, argan oil, oyster leaf

Dinner

Vegetable Stew
winter vegetables, centrifuged green peas, ricotta, Meyer lemon

Wine: Pomum Tinto Tempranillo

 Carrot Soup
pressure carmelized, carotene butter, coconut cream, chaat masala

Polenta
marinara, corn juice, toasted corn oil

Wine: Domaine Serene 2007 Evanstad Pinot Noir

Mushroom Omelet
shiitake marmalade, low temperature steam, constructed stripes

Wine: Bunnell Family Mourvedre

 Pastrami, Seattle Style
sweet onion sauerkraut, pickled mustard seeds, creamed spinach & barley

Dessert

Ice Cream Sundae
pistachio, strawberry, macadamia

Wine: Chateau Saint Michelle Dry Riesling or
Lodmill Cellars “Red Sinister” Late Harvest Merlot

 Gummy Worms
merula olive oil, vanilla, thyme

Hawaiian Paradise Series: Maui

Posted in Children in the Mix, Foodie or Wine Experience, Travel Tips, Traveling the Seven Seas with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2012 by Stephanie

Maui… Just the mention of it sends my mind adrift with images of palm trees and soft breezes, relaxed and engulfed in the scent of coconut oil.  It’s not your typical go-go-go destination.  On the contrary, it’s all about relaxing down to your core, warming slowly in the sun and reconnecting with oneself.  Maui is perhaps my favorite destination on this planet where I like to close my eyes and just “be”.  I’m sure if I lived on the East Coast, some little Caribbean island would occupy my daydreams.  Or if I lived in Europe, maybe one of the Greek isles would beckon my soul.  Surely, there are many beautiful, relaxing, tropical locales to be found on this spinning globe.  But since I live in Seattle, and Hawaii is a quick hop, skip and jump from my home, Maui has become my tropical destination of choice.

My first visit to this beautiful island was fifteen years ago and I was in my mid-twenties.  Even then, I was more drawn to the quiet, relaxed enjoyment of a destination, rather than the party scene.  Good food and warm sunshine filled my dance card, and every night I preferred to be fast asleep in a heavenly bed by the stroke of midnight.

With the gentle breezes, beautiful scenery and warm sun on my skin, Maui is simply a tropical paradise.  This probably explains why I have been back to visit five times over the past 10 years.  I am by no means an expert of this island, but I know what I like and have learned some tricks thru the years.

Towns and Attractions on Maui

Welcome to Maui!

Though Maui has evolved and, some say, “over-expanded”, the general areas of Maui and their respective draws have pretty much remained consistent.  The island generally caters more towards visitors and tourists on the West side, while the locals tend to populate the East.  Starting from the top of the island, the key tourist and resort areas down the west coast are Kapalua, Kaanapali, Lahaina, Kihei and Wailea.  You can find any type of lodging here from 5-star resorts to simple condo rentals to yurts!  But for me, I’m a resort kind-of-a-gal.

In general terms, Lahaina is the “downtown” area and it’s roughly in the middle of the island on the west coast.  It’s an old whaling town that offers some great restaurants (Lahaina Grill {formerly David Paul’s}, I’O, Longi’s, Gerard’s), some so-so chain restaurants (Hard Rock, Bubba Gumps), dance clubs, and tourist shops.   And sprinkled throughout all of these are the proverbial time share kiosks offering free local excursions in exchange for attending a presentation.  Oh yes, I’ve attended more than one time share presentation.

To the north, you’ll find Kapalua, a sleepy little golfing area with rocky beaches and home to The Plantation Course, the Ritz Carlton, and Merriman’s Restaurant.  You’ll also find Kaanapali, a conglomerate of resorts (Westin, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton) and restaurants, all connected by a long, paved walking trail that follows the beach and leads to Whaler’s Village.

Whaler’s Village is a moderately priced shopping area with typical island finds: sno-cones and local candy, Crazy Shirts and Tommy Bahamas, beach decor shops, sundries and other touristy items.  There is also a Pearl Factory kiosk, which can be found all over Hawaii, selling raw oysters that will be opened before your eyes, hopefully revealing a fresh water pearl inside.  My kids spend all their money here.  My son even paid for multiple oysters, just trying to see if he could get two that matched, in hopes of turning them in to earrings for a little girl he liked in 3rd grade.  We still have them some where.

Moving on… south of Lahaina, you’ll find Kihei and Wailea.  Kihei is a fairly busy area.  It’s more of a moderately priced area of the island and features public beaches that are fairly crowded. Wailea, in contrast, is very fancy, home to several great golf courses, high-end shops, upscale lodging and dining.  I would even say that Wailea caters to a somewhat older, more affluent, demographic, but that is likely because Wailea has traded in night clubs for golf clubs.  It’s quiet, relaxed and pretty.

Of all the choices on Maui, I highly recommend you concentrate your vacation in either Kaanapali or Wailea.  Here’s why:

Kaanapali

Life in a Cabana on Kaanapali

Kaanapali has a lot to offer both families and couples who want a quieter experience, but one still packed with conveniences, great beaches, snorkeling and people watching.  The beaches at the resorts along Kaanapali are well kept, offer good snorkeling up by Black Rock (Sheraton), are stocked with comfy cabanas you can rent out by the sea, and cater to you and your kids with food and drink options offered by friendly waitstaff.  The sound of children playing, a far off drum band and lapping waves will lull you to sleep in the sun.  It’s the perfect balance of relaxed, but not too remote — a little something for everyone.

My favorite places to stay in Kaanapali are the Westin and the Kaanapali Ali’i.  They are neighboring properties, so they have essentially the same beach experience.  The Westin is your typical 5-star property with a fun water slide and pools for the kiddos, outdoor dining, live music, a sno-cone bar and pretty koi ponds.  This is not to be confused with the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, which is further north and is a timeshare property.  The rooms are nice enough at the Villas, but the distance from the lodging to the actual beach is a major trek.  The Kaanapali Ali’i is a different experience entirely, as it is not a hotel, but a condo building.  This is only recommended if you are traveling with young children, as everyone staying at the Ali’i has kids in tow.
www.westinmaui.com

Pool at Kaanapali Ali'i

At the Ali’i, we rent a fully furnished unit that has 3 bedrooms, an updated kitchen with all the amenities, and a lanai that looks out to the pool and the ocean.  From our couch we can watch whales jumping in the sea!  It’s perfect because the pool is very nice with multiple areas of play and is bordered by a covered lounge area, several flat screen TVs, and about a dozen large stainless steel grills.  For busy parents who have a hard time rounding up kids and going to a sit down restaurant every night, this offers you the ability to BBQ your meals down by the beach while the kids continue to swim.  Everyone sits down in dripping swimsuits and enjoys dinner, throws away the paper plates and plastic utensils, and continues enjoying the day.
www.kaanapalialii.com

Perhaps the thing I like most about these two properties is that the pool is just off of the beach — separated only by a low hedge.  So you can keep a close eye on your kids, whether they are boogie boarding in the ocean or playing Marco Polo in the pool.  Most other properties we’ve stayed in on the island do not offer this experience, as building codes and requirements have changed thru the years, prohibiting such proximity to the beach (i.e., Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas).  Therefore, you usually have to choose one experience or the other, instead of both at once — a major drawback!

The other major advantage to these properties is that you can walk five minutes up the paved and well-lit path along the beach to Whaler’s Village, where you can find restaurants, sandy barefoot bars with live music, cute shops and services, frozen yogurt and more.  As a parent, it’s ideal to walk five minutes up the path for these conveniences than to pile the family into the car to go find them each day.  In fact, we barely use the car during our vacation, except to explore.
www.whalersvillage.com

Wailea

Wailea is located in a beautiful part of Maui, down on the southwestern tip.  It is a much more residential area, but has a few of the best hotels, great golf courses, a tennis club and high end fashion at The Shops at Wailea.  I have heard for years that the absolute best place to stay when in Maui is at Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.  But every time I try to book a stay, they are always sold out well in advance.  Furthermore, rooms start at $700, and up, per night, during busy seasons, and when you need two of them, like our family does, it packs a punch.  It is certainly a beautiful property and has perhaps the best spa on Maui (which I have personally enjoyed several times), so if you like to be pampered and are lucky enough to find a room, this is the place!
www.grandwailea.com

The Family at Nick's Fishmarket 2010

Another great hotel in Wailea is the Kea Lani, a Fairmont property.  I have stayed in this 5-star, all-white-building property (think Mykonos, Greece) and just loved it.  The white sand beach is very tiny, however, and it is slightly more windy down here than up north in Kaanapali.  But the food is always excellent at Nick’s Fishmarket and the property itself is very grand and massively laid out.  Every room is a suite and the huge, marble bathrooms are quite luxurious.  If you want a nice resort experience down in Wailea, and are traveling without children, this is the one for you.
www.fairmont.com/kealani

For the active traveler, great golfing, tennis and dining can be found at the Wailea Golf Club.  I played 18 holes here back in 1996 and the views were breathtaking from almost every one!  There were many encounters with the nene, Hawaii’s state bird (a goose), as well as other native wild life sightings, and they offer a slightly discounted rate if you start your play after noon.  Joe’s, which sits just above the 11-court tennis complex, offers panoramic views of the ocean and delectable gourmet food by Chef Bev Gannon, a 2004 James Beard award winner.
www.waileagolf.com

Regardless of where you call home during your stay on Maui, here are a few experiences you MUST commit to…

Mama’s Fish House

Lunch at Mama's

Oh my, this is the BEST food on the island, and perhaps anywhere in Hawaii.  Mama’s, located on Maui’s North Shore, features fresh fish dishes daily, such as Mahimahi, Opah, Ahi, Lehi, Opakapaka and Ono, all prepared and gently sauced to perfection.  The freshly squeezed juices make their cocktails utterly divine!  And, as if the 5-star foodie experience wasn’t enough, the view, beach and wild crashing ocean out front will make you stop and stare with your mouth agape for longer than it takes to read this post.  Trust me — do NOT miss this and get reservations as soon as you know you’ll be in Maui.  I’m told this was a favorite for the cast of “Lost”, who dined at Mama’s almost nightly!
www.mamasfishhouse.com

Hali’imaile General Store

Perched in a pineapple field, a bit off the beaten track (mid-way down Haleakala Hwy), the “General Store” is actually a wonderful little restaurant featuring fine American food with an Asian twist.  Fresh, local and tasty dishes excite your eyes and nose, entering your soul, the second you walk thru the door.  The next thing you’ll notice is how busy they are and wonder where all these people came from??  After all, you probably had to pull over and consult your map a few times before finding this place, confident you must be lost or that the island had been deserted.  Suddenly you’re fighting for the last 4-top and wondering why your husband didn’t make reservations?!  Forty-five minutes later, all is right with the world as you enjoy the most delectable pulled pork sandwich and glass of Oregon Pinot, vowing to remember next time… make a reservation!  Don’t miss this one.
www.bevgannonrestaurants.com/haliimaile/

Road to Hana

I wish I could say I had an amazing experience with this, but it was a major bust.  I’m adding it to the “must see” list because everyone claims it’s a spectacular experience, and I can see how it really could be, at least when the island isn’t having a dry spell.  We had to learn the hard way that the long and windy “Road to Hana”, normally alive with roadside waterfalls and beautiful vistas, can be quite unspectacular when everything is dried up.

We set out on the drive, with four kids in tow, our handy CD guide in the player, and eyes wide with excitement.  After the first two stops where the CD boasts of beautiful pools of water and gushing falls, we knew we were in trouble.  Sure, everything was green, but there was no water.  We continued on the entire drive like that, finally ignoring the mile marker signs and the guide altogether, with just one quest, making it to Hana.  Arriving there after dark, there was but one restaurant open for dining.  Four starving kids burst thru the doors, fought for the bathrooms, and then gratefully inhaled the most disgusting deep fried burritos and jo-jos I have ever seen.  Piling back in the car for the three hour drive back to our hotel, we knew it would be years later before trying this again.  Bust!  But I’m sure you’ll have a much better experience after reading this post…

Trilogy Snorkel Trip 2007

Snorkeling with Trilogy

A great way to spend a day in Maui is out on a catamaran, cruising over for a snorkel trip at Molokini.  Molokini is a small volcanic crater just off the southern tip of Maui, easily visible from the beaches of Wailea.  It is home to over 200 species of fish, as well as barracudas, turtles, and other sea life.

Thru the years, we have tried most of the snorkel companies, and have never had a bad experience.  But our favorite, by far, is Trilogy.  Trilogy just has newer, cleaner, pretty catamarans, they serve delicious cinnamon rolls and Kona coffee, and the crew is professional and has an outstanding attitude.  But take note: they do not serve any alcohol.  This is not a “booze cruise” as some of the other companies are known as.  Trilogy is also priced slightly higher than the competition, which is why we shopped around thru the years, but with Trilogy, you absolutely will not be disappointed.
www.sailtrilogy.com

If catamarans out to sea are not your kind of thing, consider renting some snorkel gear or a boogie board in town — we like Snorkel Bob’s — for a fraction of what you’ll pay at the resorts.  Rent it for the week and try out multiple beaches around the island (Snorkel Bob’s will give you a handy map).  Another great resource is Maui Dive Shop!
www.snorkelbob.com
www.mauidiveshop.com

Best Month for Travel

Lastly, the best time to travel to Maui, in my opinion, is in the month of February.  The annual whale migration occurs every year from mid- to late-September and lasts thru early May.  So you are guaranteed a plethora of whale sightings during one of the best months for travel here.  It is obscene how many whales you will see here!  I am not lying when I say it is difficult to take a picture of the water without seeing some part of a whale in the background.  Take these for instance:

Huge Humpback in February

Splash!

Whale Tail

Two Humpbacks

Every year, over two million people visit Maui.  If you’re lucky, maybe someday soon, one of those people will be you!

Happy Dance Time!

Maui 2007

Maui 2010

Hawaiian Paradise Series: The Big Island

Posted in Children in the Mix, Travel Tips, Traveling the Seven Seas with tags , , on September 21, 2011 by Stephanie

The most spectaular scenery I’ve ever witnessed in Hawaii was on “The Big Island”. It was there, on a trip in 2003, that I first saw an active volcano. Black lava slowly creeping forward, bits of red molten lava here and there, plenty of steam underfoot and very, very hot… it was fantastic! I couldn’t believe we were allowed to get so close. My 6-year old son’s tennis shoes literally started to melt, yet visitors and children were roaming around and exploring the crater, going much closer than we dared. We stood next to some street signs that had been buried a few years earlier from a lava flow and the tops of the signs barely reached our waists! It was crazy to imagine a street, much less street signs, in such a location, particularly when all we could see was black, lumpy, asphalt-like earth.

The Big Island of Hawaii is actually growing larger each year. Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, located inside Volcanoes National Park, has been almost constantly erupting since 1983.  The lava flows out to the sea, where it drops down, cools and resolidifies back into land. It is estimated that a whopping 491 acres of new land have been created since 1994.  This is not usually a fiery explosion of lava, just a mellow flow that oozes out, causing gradual destruction along it’s path, and then creation once it reaches the Pacific Ocean. The red glow can usually only be seen at night, but depending on the path and amount of lava, it may be viewed during the day from inside the park.

Another amazing fact about The Big Island is that it is one of the few places in the world featuring black sandy beaches.  This is the result of centuries of erosion of the hardened black lava, and is mainly found on the south end of the island. The black sand is absolutely gorgeous, striking, fine on the feet, and further, home to a large sea turtle population!  My son was completely enchanted.  He thought the sand had been colored black as a type of prank or island gimmick to attract visitors.  And to be so close to gigantic sea turtles with their gnarly shells and ancient, wrinkly skin, was like being an observer to the days of the dinosaurs.  He loved it!  Just make sure not to touch the turtles, they are protected and this is their turf.

Lodging options on The Big Island abound.  But if you’re traveling with children, I suggest the Hilton Waikoloa.  It is a beautiful resort with dolphins, a salt water lagoon, wooden boats that shuttle you around the property, fresh water pools, waterfalls and water slides, a private sandy beach, golf, tennis, spa, and several great restaurants.  There’s no reason to ever leave, except, of course, you’re in Hawaii!  The children’s programs are the best I’ve seen, giving the kids a chance to enjoy Hawaii on their terms.  They can kayak or snorkel in the safety of the on-site saltwater lagoon, play on the beach, and even make pretty Hawaiian necklaces.  All while mommy enjoys a cocktail by the pool and hopefully drifts off to sleep!  At the end of the day, the kids are exhausted and you are refreshed.  Thanks Hilton!

If your lodging options take you outside of a hotel or resort, my only advice is to make sure you have air conditioning!!  It gets quite warm and muggy here, even in the evening, and a girl needs to be able to cool off and get ready for her day or evening out in comfort.  Have you ever tried blow drying your hair in a hot, muggy room?  Putting on makeup only to have it run off your face??  Trust me… air conditioning is a must!

100% Kona Coffee-PDPAnd finally, if you find yourself in Kona, or really on any of the Hawaiian islands, you must enjoy the local coffee.  Kona coffee is killer!  Strong, rich, flavorful… even sold throughout Hawaii by Starbucks, but at a major premium.  I start every day in Hawaii with a cup of amazing Kona coffee!  And I always bring as much home as I can, with noble intentions of sharing with my friends and family, but usually just stock piling it for a few more months of delicious morning joe.  You must buy some on your next visit to Hawaii and make sure it’s 100% Kona, NOT a blend.  However, if you’re not flying to Hawaii anytime soon, you might just be lucky enough to purchase a small quantity of Starbucks Reserve 100% Kona coffee online and have it sent directly to your doorstep.  It’s only available sporadically, so keep checking the website.  Fortunately for me, my husband does a lot of work with Starbucks and recently brought home three (yes, THREE!!) half pound bags!  I’m saving these for the holidays!  After that, I’m heading back to beautiful Hawaii.

Aloha!

Hawaiian Paradise Series: Oahu

Posted in Children in the Mix, Traveling the Seven Seas with tags , , , , on May 23, 2011 by Stephanie

If warm tropical breezes, gentle lapping waves and fruity concoctions in the sun are your kinda thing, all I can say is, “Aloha!”  The Hawaiian Islands are our favorite place to travel for a little R&R with the kiddos. I’ve been to the island of Oahu three times, the island of Kauai, once, the Big Island, once, and Maui, about a half a dozen times. I think no matter how many times we go, we just never tire of the beautiful sunny days out here in the Pacific Ocean, letting the kids play on the beach until we are literally out of sunscreen, and hearing their exhausted and happy “good nites” at the end of each day.

There are so many fun things to do in Hawaii, ranging from golf and spa days to enjoying delicious local foods, snorkeling, shopping, biking, hiking, taking in a luau, or taking a tour of volcanoes by helicopter.  Yet every time we come here, we tend to do the same ol’ things.  Probably because those are the things that make Hawaii so special to us, and probably because all year long we dream of Hawaii and remember how those things make us feel: peaceful, relaxed, at one with nature…”unplugged.”

First up in this series of the Hawaiian Islands is Oahu!

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head

Oahu is the third largest of the seven major Hawaiian Islands, and the most populous.  The capital of Oahu is Honolulu, and it is the busiest city in all of Hawaii.  The main tourist destination in Honolulu, and what put Hawaii on the map as a luxurious island getaway, is the charming little beach town of Waikiki.  Waikiki is filled with shopping, luxury resorts, high-rise condos, and fantastic restaurants, all nestled under the protective shoulder of the iconic Diamond Head crater.  Its majesty dips down to the warm sea and provides a glorious backdrop for the sand, surf, sun and stars.

I came to Oahu for the first time in 1988 with my best friend, Sara.  We stayed in her family’s condo right by the beach in Waikiki and had the time of our lives being sun goddesses by day and party girls by night.  At the time, Oahu was the best island to visit, as the others were still too primitive or non-commercial for our purposes.  Nowadays, primitive and non-commercial sound pretty good to me — but back then, everybody came to Waikiki.  I remember dancing our butts off all night at Moose McGillacuddy’s, and actually seeing people we knew from back home.  Afterwards, we would walk along the beach (trying to dodge the huge cockroaches!), not wanting the nights to end.  Being a lover of fine food even back then, we made it a point to eat in as many high-end restaurants, as possible.  At the time, all the buzz was about a new restaurant named Roy’s, by Hawaiian-native Chef, Roy Yamaguchi, in Honolulu.  The restaurant was very elegant, the food was fresh and nouveau, local fish and flavors were featured, and it was absolutely fantastic. (Now wildly successful, there are 31 locations worldwide.)

In 1996, I returned to Oahu for a few days on my honeymoon.  Waikiki was still a party spot and by this time had become a little too commercial and busy.  Most people considered Lahina on Maui to be the “new Waikiki”.  Nevertheless, my husband had never been there, and I wanted him to see how special it was.  I recall him thinking the view of the water and Diamond Head was one of the prettiest he had ever seen.  He boogie boarded along Waikiki Beach for hours and had the worst sunburn afterwards.  It was nothing but t-shirts and cold cream for him after that.  Ouch!  We went back to Roy’s, but it didn’t have the same luster as it had previously.  It was slipping a bit.  Still very tasty, but the ambience was not the same.  After a few days in Oahu, we were ready to try out some other islands and slow the pace down a bit, so we hopped over to Kauai for a few days, followed by a week in Maui.

I returned to Oahu again, just last year (2010), this time with my husband, Andy, and our four children.  What a different way to see Oahu!  We had so much fun visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial.  Our son, who was 12-years-old at the time, is a huge WWII buff.  Nothing could have prepared him for how spectacular this tour was.  It brought to life all of the books and programs he had been guzzling in for the last several years, and gave him texture, definition and color to his imagery.   It was the highlight of our vacation for all of the children, even better to them than Ellis Island, which we visited in 2009 on a trip to New York — and I didn’t think anything could top that…  This time we did not try to incorporate a dinner at Roy’s.  We had since been to Roy’s on Maui several times and knew it was not what it once was.  Instead, we ate dinner with the kids at Duke’s in the Outrigger Waikiki.  Duke’s is right on the beach and has a pretty view, good steaks, and a great kids menu.  The open air atmosphere brings in the warm, salty air and live music plays nightly.  After dinner (and every Friday), there was a fireworks show on the beach at the Hawaiian Hilton and a good time was had by all.

USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

For anyone planning an upcoming trip to Oahu, whether with children, or without, I highly suggest spending a day at Pearl Harbor. In addition to viewing the USS Arizona Memorial, you can tour a sub and a battleship on the USS Bowfin and the USS Missouri.  They are spectacular!  Other fun things to do on Oahu are:

  • visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
  • hike up Diamond Head on the paved trail
  • throw on a sarong and hit a Luau (best is at Paradise Cove)
  • head over to the North Shore to enjoy surfing, or just watch some amazing surfers
  • drop some cash at the Ala Moana Shopping Center (Louis Vuitton, Prada, yada, yada, yada)
  • visit the Dole plantation, the Honolulu Zoo or the Waikiki Aquarium
  • swim, catch some rays, relax and have a Mai Tai!

I’m not sure when I’ll get back to Oahu.  Maybe someday with grandchildren in tow.  I know many things will have changed by then, but if I look out to Diamond Head, I know all my memories will come back to me and I’ll see my best friend, Sara, dancing and laughing, my husband boogie boarding out in the surf, my children ooh-ing and ahh-ing at a battleship and fireworks across the Hilton lagoon.

Aloha!

______________________________________

Official Pearl Harbor Memorial
www.pearlharboroahu.com

Polynesian Cultural Center
www.polynesianculturalcenter.com

Paradise Cove
www.paradisecovehawaii.com

Duke’s Restaurant and Barefoot Bar
www.dukeswaikiki.com
**Make sure to have a piece of Hula Pie!!

It’s About More Than the Food

Posted in Philanthropy, Reviews with tags , , , on May 18, 2011 by Stephanie

Today I was inspired. I’m talking large-scale inspiration.  And it’s all David Carleton’s fault.  It started innocently enough: my husband and I met an old friend for lunch.  We wanted to catch up and talk about how we can get more involved in community service.

I met David about 6 years ago when I was doing some volunteer work for FareStart.  FareStart is a non-profit organization that essentially takes in homeless, or disadvantaged, individuals, and provides them with a 16-week culinary arts training program, while providing food, shelter and clothing needs.  In addition, they provide life skills training, counseling, and ultimately help place them in a food services position within the community.   When I met David, I had been volunteering with FareStart for about five years, producing and running their power point presentation that runs concurrent with their annual live auction gala each October.  David joined them to help with their marketing initiatives and offered me some help on getting logos, photos and such.  It was our only year working together and, at that time, our interaction was brief.

FareStart Delivers Meals Around Seattle

A few years later, we connected again when both of our sons ended up in the same 3rd grade class and on the same basketball and baseball teams.  Due to family demands, I was no longer helping out at FareStart, but David was still there, fervently working for the cause.  David had an idea.  He wanted to take the FareStart model, which was wildly successful in Seattle, and bring it to other communities in other states to replicate the success and touch even more lives.  Sort of the “teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” idea.  I love this man’s commitment.  Go big or go home!  Back then, it was David and one other guy, trying to get this idea off the ground.  Today, just five years later, David is the Director of Catalyst Kitchens, with a staff of 80.  He has helped roll out the FareStart model in dozens of new communities, and will launch 50 new programs within the next five years.

FareStart Students & Teacher "Sam"

Taking a tour of the FareStart facilities with David, I literally started getting goose bumps.  I had long known about how amazing and life-changing FareStart was, but I had never really had an official, behind-the-scenes tour before.  My husband and I had an epiphany.  We had a real connection with how tangible and possible it is to change someone’s life.  I suppose it was seeing the 20, or so, students in action in the kitchens, performing their duties and focusing on getting the meals out, that made such an emotional connection with us.  They were a part of something; they were learning job skills; they were proud.  It’s about more than the food.

This year, we are committing to volunteering more, donating more, getting involved and making a difference, showing the impact of positive change to our children and living each day remembering how fortunate we are.  Writing a check is the easy part.  Becoming vulnerable to another person’s plight and witnessing a life changed is where the real involvement begins.

Thank you, David, for re-opening my eyes and being my hero, today.  The dedication you have shown to this cause is as much of an inspiration as the cause, itself.

And congratulations to FareStart for winning the 2011 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award!!  A true validation for decades of hard work and making such an amazing difference in the lives of so many.

If you’d like to experience FareStart for yourself, join them any weekday for lunch, or attend one of their Thursday “Guest Chef” dinners.  A superstar local chef will lead the students in preparing a delicious three-course meal and, hopefully, you will get to hear from a graduating student giving testament to the impact FareStart has made on their life.  Bring tissues!  For reservations: http://www.farestart.org/restaurant/reservations/index.html

______________________

FareStart
700 Virginia St.
Seattle, WA 98101
206-443-1233
www.farestart.org

Catalyst Kitchens
206-787-1503
www.catalystkitchens.org

Lyon, France: a Gastronomical Wonderland

Posted in Foodie or Wine Experience, Reviews, Traveling the Seven Seas with tags , on May 16, 2011 by Stephanie

Lyon Travel guide

It is widely believed that the food capital of the world is Lyon, France. Stocked chalk full of bouchons (French bistros) and Michelin-rated restaurants, Lyon is brimming with a renowned cadre of spectacularly well-trained chefs.  Second in size and wealth to Paris, it rests comfortably between two major wine-growing regions: the Beaujolais to the North and the Côtes du Rhône to the South, and is nicely flanked by two beautifully flowing rivers: the Rhône, which originates in Switzerland, and the Saône, which is a right tributary of the Rhône and converges with it here.  The architecture is enchanting, the food and wine are legendary and this truly is one of the prettiest of French cities.  Surely by now I’ve convinced you to plan a trip.  No?  Well let me continue…

Local delicacies abound in Lyon, beginning with many specialty pork dishes and sausages, quenelles, which are fish or meat dumplings, assortments of charcuterie eaten mid-day with a glass of Beaujolais wine, and the best macaroni and cheese on earth, rumored to be the result of many wonderful local cheesemongers paired with an influx of migrating Italians over the past few decades.  Moderately priced meals are found all over the city and the salade de jour is the “Salade Lyonnaise”: lettuce with chunky, salty bacon (frisée aux lardons), croutons and a poached egg on top, which is then broken and mixed with the vinagrette just before consumption. Yum!  The Lyonnaise potatoes originated here and are widespread in fine dining establishments all across the U.S.  Made with sliced potatoes fried in goose fat with onions, they are rich and delicious. In fact, just make this my daily starch from now on!  Regardless of where you eat, or what you eat, your meal is sure to be a delightful play of traditional ingredients used in a non-traditional manner. 

Making an art of going to the Sunday farmer’s markets to purchase and prepare the best French produce, dairy, seafood, and meats, the French savoir faire dictates that the people of Lyon find everything from fish to frog legs and lettuce to lentils at these outdoor havens.  Local cheeses are especially plentiful and the best-known of all is the St. Marcellin cheese, which is a yummy cow’s milk cheese that is so soft and ripe, it runs all over the plate and is, therefore, often served in a bowl!  The best French ingredients abound right here in this lovely city and you are pretty much a foodie by birthright, or payment of property tax.

As a visitor to Lyon, you are immediately challenged just to sample a few of the local delicacies, made by just a few of the world-class chefs, served in just a few of the haze of dining choices… but when I visited Lyon, I had barely enough time to take my luggage to my very tiny hotel room and get the lay of the land before being rushed straight to Paul Bocuse.  Paul Bocuse is THE restaurant in Lyon!  Known for their brilliance in technique, ingredients and presentation, and lauded all across the country (and world, for that matter) for the genius, flair and following of Mr. Bocuse, my husband and I had the pleasure of dining here, and specifically added Lyon to our French itinerary for the sole purpose of seeing for ourselves what all the fuss was about.  Sure enough, the meal was a parade of one amazing course after another with a presentation like I have never seen before, or since.  The china, the silverware, the decor — all impeccable.  However, a rather strange thing happened that night that neither of us expected.  At some point during the evening, between the procession of courses, the removal of plates and swapping out of utensils over and over again, the “show” took on a life of its own and somehow became a comedy.  Maybe it was the near collision we were in on our way to the restaurant that left our rental car’s side mirror worse for wear.  Maybe it was that mid-way thru the meal, Mr. Bocuse, himself, began making his way around the tables and taking photographs with the patrons, appearing more like a robotic, made up version of a chef than the actual legend that he is.  Maybe it was the exhaustion of the day, the steady flow of wine, the intense, extremely bright lighting, or just the sheer thrill of getting a table here…  Whatever it was, laughter overtook us that evening and we simply could not stop.  After two hours, we found ourselves racing thru the final courses and left in a haze of shame and giggles that still makes us shake our heads in embarrassment and wonder.   How could we disrespect Mr. Bocuse like that?  What really was that funny?  How can one meal cost so much??!

I suppose we will never know what turned an otherwise delightfully elegant evening into an episode to rival most third-grade staring contests, but whatever the answers, the next time we return to Lyon, we vow to eat in many lovely, quaint bouchons and try many other local foods and wines.  We’ll probably even dine at Paul Bocuse, again.  Just next time without the giggles.

Paul Bocuse
L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges
40 Rue de la Plage
69660 Collonges au Mont d’Or
Tél. : (33) 04 72 42 90 90
http://www.bocuse.fr/accueil.aspx

Menu

Grande Tradition Classique

préparé pour l’ ensemble de la table

Escalope de foie gras de canard poêlée au verjus, pomme gaufrette

Soupe aux truffes noires V.G.E.
(plat créé en 1975 pour l’Elysée)

Turbot au Champagne

Granité des vignerons du Beaujolais

Volaille de Bresse en vessie «Mère Fillioux»

Sélection de fromages frais et affinés «Mère Richard»

Délices et Gourmandises
Petits Fours et Chocolats

200€ par personne

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