I travel, cook, eat, observe, interact, live and write. As a chef/food, wine and travel writer, I look for connections among people, their activities, the environment and what they eat that can tell the story of a region/culture, whether that be in the remote Andes Mountains or the streets of Philadelphia. Publications include my travel web site on Argentina (www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com) and articles covering a diverse range of countries and cultures at www.travelpenandpalate.com, Hellenic News of America, Original World Travel, Examiner.com (International Travel, International Dining Examiner, Culinary Travel, Food & Recipes and Philadelphia Fine Dining) and Suite101.
Industry experience includes over 35 years as a chef, chef educator, hotel and restaurant manager, catering and teaching: history, writing, theater, culinary arts and business.
I lived for many years in Puerto Rico and Canada (Nova Scotia). I travel extensively in southern South & Central America, Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and southern Africa.
Member: International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) – Board of Directors & Chair Membership Committee
Member: American Culinary Federation (ACF)
The Annamite Mountains divide Vietnam’s one thousand mile strip of mountains and beaches along the Pacific Ocean. The south is tropical year round, but northern winters can be cold and damp. Political upheaval in the late 18th century led to the Nguyen Dynasty’s triumphant unification of the northern and southern factions in the early 1800s.
Yet political upheaval seems to have been the natural order often until 1975. The end of America’s Vietnam War allowed the Vietnamese to concentrate on what they enjoy the most — doing business. Whether it’s a BMW auto dealership in Hanoi or a convenience store in a rowboat on a bay, the Vietnamese are capitalists. It’s part of the throb of real life in Vietnam.
Part of life is also stunning natural beauty, crazy traffic, the silence of fog on a bay and the iridescence of a fresh pearl just shucked from its shell. One trip is not enough. This exploration highlights five key destinations in the north.
Decorated artificial trees can be seen in the window walls of downtown condos, the cafes on Beach Drive are full of festive diners inside and out on the sidewalks and kids are talking to Santa under the Live Oaks on a balmy Saint Petersburg Christmas season evening.
It’s starting to feel a lot like a tropical Christmas.
South Florida is the American mainland tropics and a festival based on a return of the sun – winter solstice/Christmas – seems lost when the sun shines for only a couple hours less during this season. Yet of course Christmas is beyond climate and all areas of the globe have their own expressions.
Lighted boat parades are a Florida tradition and why not considering the enormous number of privately owned sea craft in the state. Both towns and yacht clubs put on numerous floating displays during December.
Especially for children, St. Petersburg turned North Straub Park into Snowfest 2015 the first December weekend. Complete with 65 tons of snow that created a sledding area under the Banyan trees, the festival boasted an artificial ice skating platform, karaoke Christmas carol singing, crafts and, of course, sno-cones.
Traditional decorations on houses and the streets are popping up as if the tropic in all its natural glory does dress up for the holidays.
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Among Florida’s Roaring Twenties grand hotels it seems Al Capone slept in many, including Casa Marina. The mid-1920s Prohibition era was profitable for Florida including Jacksonville Beach. The beachfront Mediterranean Revival club-like Casa Marina, complete with a sprinkler system, opened in 1925 to a high living bi-coastal clientele.
Ninety years later on the deck of the Penthouse Lounge & Martini Bar overlooking the Atlantic’s pounding surf Casa Marina serves a premium Tequila Margareta – without the slushy ice – that I’m confident infamous Al would approve.
Read what intrigued even the big Al to Jacksonville Beach…
Blessed with Florida’s agricultural and ocean abundance at their doorstep, restaurants in St. Petersburg don’t have to search far for quality ingredients.
A relaxed Gulf of Mexico life style and plenty of Florida sunshine draw residents and tourists to a plethora of cafes, fine dining, bars and beach side venues serving traditional fried fish platters to truffled wild mushroom risotto. With an emphasis on independent ownership St. Petersburg chefs have the freedom to experiment or just create the best grilled grouper sandwich on the beach. Here’s a dozen to try in the St. Petersburg area…
Of all the Hielo Continental Sur‘s 49 glaciers the park’s tourist star is Perito Moreno. It’s located within Parque Nacional Los Glaciares established to preserve a vast region of Patagonia’s unique Austral Andes eco system. It’s accessible in the south from El Calefate – a town with all amenities on Lago Argentino – and in the north from El Chaltan – Argentina’s trekking center.
Read why Perito Moreno is a Patrimony of Humanity…and why what you hear is startling.
Yet tranquility reigned on these soft days of late August showers that alternated with brilliant sunshine. Everyone on the streets – punctuated by bright red, deep blue or even burnt orange painted houses – settled into the rhythms of the photo perfect port town with the distinct sounds of seagulls and a charming child-size waterfront amusement park.
Kinsale was founded in the early 1300s by the Plantagenet dynasty of England. Based on the success of Celtic Mediterranean sea routes, for the next 500 years Kinsale would become the wine distribution center for Europe generating vast fortunes….
…and attention as it was fought over for centuries with the very independence of Ireland in balance. Read why
The legend of Irish ‘pirate queen’ Grace O’Malley – Ó Máille Clan chieftain – is in the history books, yet as important as that was it would be passing down her entrepreneurial pluck and the aristocratic titles and privileges conferred on succeeding generations that would perpetuate Grace O’Malley’s family into the 21st century.
Adding to this allure is the photogenic village of Westport and elegant Westport House creations of enlightened 18th century concepts in estate planning.
So morphing Westport House estate during the 1960s into a family-oriented tourist attraction made perfect entrepreneurial sense.
Lest one think St. Petersburg is an example of the old joke that Florida is ‘God’s little waiting room,’ the attendees at September’s Grand Tasting were well under the age of this seasoned culinary journalist. St. Petersburg is attracting residents from a vibrant cross-section of educated world citizens that thrive on the arts, sun, beach, boating and fine food. An explosion of fascinating venues more than satisfies all of these eclectic tastes.
With a rapidly recovering economy after the 2008 downturn, St. Petersburg, Florida has established itself as an art and restaurant destination on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Fourteen restaurants and eight wineries are featured in…
Both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Morean Arts Center are masters at engaging the imagination of visitors whether through first century Roman iridescent glass or discovering the best cupcake artist in St. Petersburg.
Just like fine art, culinary creations can reach artistic heights. The Morean Arts Center has sponsored the Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest for the past five years. It’s an opportunity for the city’s baking artists to be judged by both professionals and the general public. You can read about the region’s burgeoning art scene at…
Perhaps poutine is an apt example of a half-century of culinary evolution in Quebec City. Invented in the 1950s, this fast-food combination of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds and smothered in beef gravy became virtually the Quebec national dish and for years the butt of jokes in other parts of Canada – that is until the 21st century. In recent years poutine has changed under the talented hands of imaginative chefs and has migrated to major North American food centers from Philadelphia to Vancouver. From cafes to fine dining restaurants, additions from smoked bison to wild mushrooms and even foie gras now grace hand cut fries, squeaky organic cheese curds and lighter herb flavored gravies.
That same evolution in cuisine under both the talents of seasoned chefs and a new generation brought up on the media’s internationalization of tastes are transforming Quebec City into a sought after dining destination. Yet traditions remain; they’re simply being tweaked. The same incomparable food products Quebec agriculture has always produced now take center of the plate as the following nine city restaurants so admirably prove.