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Calaveras County: Spooky Skulls and Creepy Caves

Calaveras County: Spooky Skulls and Creepy Caves

Now that we’re a few days into November and the holiday spirit is rapidly spreading like a deadly contagion, I must finally admit that Halloween is over. With the spooky season behind us – unless you consider the very real possibility of a Thanksgiving coma […]

The Ultimate Moving Abroad Checklist

The Ultimate Moving Abroad Checklist

Hey! I’ve recently collaborated with Wendy, the author of this guest post. She asked me to write up something for her post on advice for our younger selves before that first big trip abroad. In exchange, she’s shared this helpful information about moving abroad. Thinking […]

Where My Path Leads: Grief and Travel

Where My Path Leads: Grief and Travel

I’ve spent a few days trying to decide if I would write this post. It felt somehow inauthentic, planning key words and tags for a post about my grief. At the same time, this is as authentic as it gets. Which is why I decided to write this piece after all. How can I call myself a storyteller if I neglect to tell my own story?

My Story: Grief and Travel

Five years ago today, my dad died.

He was young, only forty-five, but it turns out cancer doesn’t care.

Five years might sound like a long time, to you. Or it might sound like a short time. The reality is that when you’re slogging through grief, it’s neither. Time loses relevance. Sometime during those nebulous five years after my dad died, I began to travel.

GriefI’d done some traveling before. My family moved across the country when I was fifteen and I got to see quite a bit of the U.S. from the passenger’s seat of a Penske truck. My dad drove. We stopped at the Grand Canyon and at the World’s Biggest Tumble Weed and a couple of other places, I’m sure. I also spent two weeks in Northern Ireland when I was sixteen. I think that’s when the travel bug really bit me. But traveling after my dad died was different.

Traveling with grief is different.

I’m not traveling to escape my grief. I know that travel is often marketed as an escape from whatever shittiness life’s handed you. But there aren’t enough white sand beaches or soaring buttresses or breathtaking sunsets to escape losing my dad. Because it’s part of me.

Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy myself. Please don’t think that I spend every moment of my travels (or even of any given day) mired in grief. But it changes how I look at things. I weep when I visit St. Peter’s in Rome. My dad was a great artist and art lover and it breaks my heart to know that he will never see that beautiful place. Everything that I love about travel – food, wine, art, music, culture, history – I learned from him.

So no, travel is not an escape.

If anything, I think about my dad more often when I’m traveling. But that’s not a bad thing. Hell, grief’s not a bad thing.

People always say “it gets better.” It doesn’t. It just gets different. But that makes sense, because I’m getting different.

I travel because I love it. And I grieve for my dad because I love him. Grief doesn’t mean I’ll always be sad, just like traveling to fascinating new places doesn’t guarantee I’m going to have a great time. They are both a part of the same path and I’m finding out where that path leads.

 

I love you, Dad. I’ll see you on the road.

 

Why Puglia, Italy Is Better than Cancun

Why Puglia, Italy Is Better than Cancun

What if I told you that there’s a summer holiday destination better than Cancun… for a fraction of the price?
That somewhere is Puglia, Italy.

Unsalted: A Story of Perugia, the Pope, and Pane

Unsalted: A Story of Perugia, the Pope, and Pane

Is there anything better than bread? I don’t think so. Of course, this begs the question: is there anything worse than unsalted bread? Again, I don’t think so. The other night I made a hearty stew for dinner, a dish that just begs for bread so […]

Italian Food: What It Taught Me About Food and Travel

Italian Food: What It Taught Me About Food and Travel

Italy changed my relationship with both food and travel. It introduced me to Italian food… real Italian food. The entire Italian food culture, in fact. It revolves around goodness. Good ingredients, good wine, good company. Now, Italian foodI’m obsessed and I spend a lot of my time daydreaming about gelato and handmade pasta and fresh green olives.

But it didn’t use to be like that.

Before Italian Food…

The summer of my sophomore year of college, I spent a month in Italy, studying. Before that, I didn’t consider myself a “foodie.” The truth was, I had a love-hate relationship with food. I cooked a lot, often trying challenging recipes to impress my new boyfriend. But I tried not to eat too much of what I cooked. This was a hold-over from high school. I’d been unduly concerned with my weight, which never actually strayed that far from just this side of too skinny.

While my body image was healthier in my early college years, my apathy toward food hadn’t changed. I wasn’t even overly excited by the idea of a month’s worth of authentic Italian food. Mostly, I was looking forward to practicing my language skills. I know, what a nerd.

Literally a week in Italy was all it took for me to realize that I was a fucking idiot.

Lessons in Cooking and Eating in Italy

Included in the University of Salento’s foreign students’ program was a weekly class at Cooking Experience Lecce. Every Tuesday, we would walk together across the main piazza and down the worn stone steps to the ground floor kitchen where Gianna held court. The kitchen had an arched ceiling and was made of stone, giving it the feeling of an ancient wine cellar. Minus the industrial refrigerator and gleaming gas stove. High windows let in light from the garden where we would sometimes eat what we had cooked. But best of all was Gianna herself.

Perhaps 5’2″ at a stretch, Gianna was a vibrant, blonde fireball. Bouncing around the kitchen, she would call out instructions, platitudes, and encouragements in the same rapid Italian. Sometimes, the quick dialogue would be interrupted by long, drawn out syllables, each punctuated by her hand, pinching the air. These were the most important nuggets of truth. “Make sure to blend the custard at high speed, because raw eggs are per-i-co-lo-si-ssi-mo!” And we would remember to beat the bloody custard senseless, lest we risk the danger of raw eggs.

What Gianna Taught Me

Four cooking classes total, during which we tried our hands at several regional dishes in addition to the classic fare. I made two types of pasta by hand, gniocchi and orecchiette. Both delicious and both rather ugly compared to Gianna’s perfect sample batch. I made parmigiana, opening my eyes to the wonderful world of eggplant. We also dove into desserts and I made the Salentinian pastry pasticiotto and the classic tiramisu. Italian food

But the best thing I learned in Gianna’s stone kitchen, she taught us the very first night.

Heaping plates of orecchiette, dressed with arugula and fragrant olive oil, sat in front of us. Two bottles of wine stood open on the table. The pasta on my plate was a melange of sizes and shapes, nothing like the homogenous batch you’d find at the pastificio on the corner. But they tasted of triumph. As we began eating, Gianna spoke, swirling her wine around and around. It was as hypnotic as the Italian rolling off her tongue.

For the first time all  night, she was sitting, finally still. Her words were slow and melodic. My recollection of the speech is fuzzy now, due in part to my less than stellar Italian at the time, the wine we were drinking, and the dulling of memory with the passing of years. But I do remember some of what she said.

Mostly she spoke about wine.

“Do not drink wine because you are thirsty. For that, we have water. Do not drink wine because you want to get drunk. There are better drinks for that, too. Do not drink a wine unless you love it. Do it because it makes your heart sing.”

In that moment, I realized what a beautiful country I was in.

Extra-Curricular Lessons

Of course, it wasn’t just Gianna’s sage teachings that changed my relationship with food. In fact, the best instructor was Italy herself. The Italians have a culture that revolves around food. Sharing a meal together is an hours-long affair. Walking home from work, you get a heaping cone of gelato from your favorite gelateria. Ingredients are fresh and inexpensive.

This last bit I found the most surprising. In the United States, we don’t prioritize fresh ingredients. Local produce, meat, and dairy is so expensive that it almost isn’t worth it. In Italy, many things are more expensive than they would be back home, but never food. Italians simply do not stand for shitty ingredients or sky-high prices.

And finally, in Italy there is nothing wrong with eating. And I do mean EATING. Sit down for a four course meal and then leisurely chat and laugh over a bowl of fruit. Go for apperitivi which means pre-dinner drinks and also pre-dinner bar snacks like small sandwiches, olives, and crackers. Pick up a bag of freshly picked loquats from the fruttivendolo on your lunch break and eat all ten of them. No one cares.

Part of this is because Italians walk a lot. Old European cities just aren’t meant to be navigated by car, so many Italians get around using the old shank’s mare. But most of it comes from the slow, relaxed nature of the Italian culture. If you’re healthy and you’re happy, who cares how much bread you ate last night? Good food is meant to be eaten.

Food as Culture

The other thing that Italy taught me is that food is culture. Sharing food is an act of love that crosses cultural boundaries and language barriers. Cooking together means sharing so much more than just food, though. To teach me a recipe is to teach me your language, your history, your religion, your culture. If I can learn that recipe, maybe I can carry some of that language, that history, that religion, that culture with me in my hands, like muscle memory. It is an act so intimate and humbling. I want to spend my whole life discovering other cultures in people’s kitchens.

Someone once told me, “Do it because it makes your heart sing.” And oh, friends. This makes my heart soar.

 

Cave Exploring: Not as Scary as You Think

Cave Exploring: Not as Scary as You Think

Afraid of cave exploring? Think that there are monsters lurking in the dark? Watched too many horror flicks? Let’s debunk those fears and do some damage control.

Thank You, Mom. Love, Your Traveling Daughter

Thank You, Mom. Love, Your Traveling Daughter

I think it must be a special kind of hell to have a traveling daughter. Thank you, Mom, for letting me do this crazy thing I love.

Sun, Sand, Sea: What to Do in Seaside, Florida

Sun, Sand, Sea: What to Do in Seaside, Florida

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by visiting the quaint town of Seaside, Florida?

 

Nestled along the Emerald Coast, Seaside is made for walking. Literally. The town was designed with pedestrians in mind, every street leading down to the pristine white sand beaches.

My friend Caitland and I arrived at a quarter to eleven, gaining an hour on our drive over from Tallahassee. The charming town square (more of a half circle) was full of people, lined with converted Airstream food trucks and farmers’ market stalls. A Saturday tradition here in Seaside, where locals and daytrippers alike sip coconuts and munch fresh produce, smelling of sunscreen in their flip-flops and wide-brimmed hats. Even though  it’s a small town, there’s a lot you can pack into one day. I’ve compiled three things that I think should definitely make the itinerary if you’re traveling to Seaside anytime soon.

What to Do in Seaside, Florida:

1. Hit. That. Beach. Seaside Florida

Seaside FloridaI mean, obviously. It has to be said, though. When you go to Seaside, expect clean white sand. Clear, warm water. Cobalt blue umbrellas lined up down the beach as far as the eye can see. Don’t worry, it’s not a private beach. You can sit there. You can even sit under one of those enticing umbrellas if you want. There are shacks up and down the beach where you can rent them out. They rent out kayaks and paddle boards, too. Cait and I brought towels, so we decided to forego the umbrella. Although the sunburn on my ass the next day was an indicator that maybe we shouldn’t have.

The water was the perfect temperature for wave bobbing, although the waves aren’t really great for surfing. I saw some guys attempting it, but they didn’t have much luck. It is the Gulf Coast, after all. If you’re into architecture, like me, you can walk along the beach. Every boardwalk down to the sand has a unique wooden pavilion, designed by a different architect. So you get a great view whether you’re looking at the water, the shore, or the many bikini-clad bodies strewn along the sand.

2. Get Raw and Juicy.

Seaside FloridaI’m not being obscene. That’s the name of a juice bar in Seaside that sells coconuts, among other things. I’d never drunk out of a coconut before, but Cait and I were looking for something to do before hitting the beach again after lunch, and it struck our fancy. Best decision we’ve ever made.

 

Seaside FloridaNot only does Raw and Juicy sell coconuts to drink, they will also fill that coconut with prosecco or saki plus a flavoring of your choice. We of course went with the alcoholic option. While he was boozing up our coconuts (we had to sip out 1/3 cup of the coconut water already inside) the owner told us how he’d stumbled upon this ingenious business plan. About a year ago, he got a batch of coconuts that were too green to sell. The water inside was still bitter. In an attempt to salvage the batch, he started experimenting, eventually hitting on the perfect ratios. Now, he sells more boozy coconuts than anything else in the shop.

I can see why, too. The combination of prosecco and sweet coconut water was spot on. It felt cool and refreshing, but also nourishing. Coconut water is crazy good for you after all. Plus there’s added thrill of drinking out of a coconut, which made me feel very tropical.

Seaside Florida3. Grab a Bite.

One thing you’ll notice as you come into Seaside’s main square is that there is no shortage of places to eat. There’s also a lot of shopping available, but that’s not what strikes my fancy. The best way to enjoy Seaside’s restaurant scene, however, is to get a table with a view of the water. Cait and I ate at the Pizza Bar and Trattoria (an offshoot of the much larger Bud and Alley’s) for lunch and snagged a couple of Aperol Spritz while we were at it. The delicious food and drink, cool ocean breeze, and stunning view made the perfect combination.

Later, we were taking a final turn about the square before heading back to the car. The Great Southern Cafe happened to have their Happy Hour menu on display. Half off wine and cocktails, $3 beer, and $10 for a dozen oysters on the half-shell. I think Seaside Floridayou know what happened next. That’s the thing about Seaside. You think you’re ready to leave, and it draws you back in again. Twelve oysters, some pinot grigio, and an hour later, I found myself wondering if we should just stay for the sunset.

Unfortunately we really didn’t have time for that. But I can’t wait to get back to Seaside, Florida to discover what else there is to see and do. I really think I’ve only scratched the surface.

Italian Drinks: A Digestive Love Affair

Italian Drinks: A Digestive Love Affair

First things first, while these Italian drinks are definitely alcoholic and you can get drunk off them, that’s not what they’re for. They’re for digestion. I know, sexy, right?