A Close Shark Encounter

“What are they doing here?” I asked, looking over the boat’s edge at 10-foot-long sharks circling. It was after dark a few hundred meters from the coast of a remote island in the Galapagos. A flashlight shining in the water revealed a dozen sharks, the beam bouncing off their beady eyes. “I e-mailed them,” said…

The Secret to Stellar Salt? Welsh Water

What happens if you put a pan of sea water on the stovetop? In 1997, Alison and David Lea-Wilson walked to the edge of the Menai Strait on the island of Anglesey, one of the most scenic and pristine areas of the Welsh countryside, and filled a saucepan with salty water to find out. This…

The Secrets Behind Real Balsamic

Eating in Italy often reveals everything we are doing wrong with food. We muddle dishes with too many ingredients. We use subpar ingredients. We lack patience. We want picture-perfect produce year-round and don’t pay enough attention to the seasons. We are wasteful. After every trip to Italy, I come back not only with a full…

Cafayate: Wine Country in Argentina

After trotting along a gravel road and cantering through sand dunes, the horses started to climb. Maneuvering across small streams, they moved from the flat valley up towards the snow-capped Andes Mountains. This morning horseback ride was my introduction to Cafayate, high-altitude wine country in the northwest corner of Argentina where vineyards range from 5,400…

Drinking Mezcal at the Source

I almost missed my flight to Oaxaca. That’s the danger of a long layover — too much time to kill. Once I’m settled into a multi-hour layover, once I’ve found the restaurant or bar where pilots and flight attendants and locals are eating, once I’ve paid my bill, and settled in at my gate with…

When to Order the Chicken

Chicken gets a bad rap. In restaurants, it is often the neglected dish. People who order it can be seen as being unadventurous or boring. When served boneless and skinless, it’s often associated with diet food. But me, I love chicken. There are few dinners more comforting than a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy….

Driving in Italy

Driving around Italy is full of humorous moments. A nun walking out into the middle of thick traffic with her arm sharply extended, palm out, to stop traffic. The supposedly two lane coastal roads the width of a bus that become especially interesting to traverse, when a bus is coming the opposite direction. The tiny…

The Pulse of Portland

Back in September, I spent three days and three nights immersed in the local tango scene in Portland, Oregon (reporting for my recent New York Times story: In Portland, A Warm Embrace of Tango). By day, I interviewed dancers and teachers, observed practice sessions, and took my first one-on-one tango lesson. By night, I attended…

Snapshot of a Saturday on the Basque Coast

Saturday in the Basque Country began like this: I stepped into the shower, turned on the water, and looked out the window. Just beyond the glass, a cow was grazing. He had one eye on his breakfast and one eye on me washing my hair. After my own breakfast, I headed out for a drive…

The Honey Harvest in Portland

When we drizzle honey on our oatmeal (or our Greek yogurt and granola, or in our salad dressings) — we think we’re making a smart, healthy decision. How many of us have raced through a grocery store, grabbing a honey bear, believing the label when it says “honey” that the contents inside are actually honey?…

Pairings That Pop

When I got engaged last year, I was suddenly faced with a fridge full of champagne. Generous friends and family unknowingly prompted a series of experiments at my apartment — what goes with champagne? We started out with traditional pairings of cheese, maybe a few oysters. Yet the more I talked to winemakers, bartenders, and…

Hands Like Shovels

I’m not always the most prolific Tweeter, but in honor of St. Patrick’s Day this year — when there is so much bad content being published about Ireland — I suddenly had a flurry of things to say in 140 characters. These were some of my favorites: The Irish don’t eat corned beef, and they…

Best American Travel Writing 2013

On Monday I was on the phone with a colleague of mine who had received an early copy of the Best American Travel Writing 2013, edited by Elizabeth Gilbert, out this week. She turned to the back of the book, listing Notable Travel Writing of 2012, and told me the good news: a story of…

State of the Cocktail in New York

For a few weeks at the beginning of the summer, I was given a fun task: talk to bartenders across New York City about how cocktail culture is changing. While the secret speakeasy has a certain allure, all the bartenders (and customers) I talked to noted that hospitality is back, that secret entrances and impossible…

An Italian Postman

I could walk for hours in the foothills of Campania and never encounter a soul. Each afternoon I left the rural Italian village I was calling home to head out on a daily walk. I spent mornings studying the language over a cappuccino, and when my brain could absorb no more, it was time to…

How the Irish Skinny Dip

When you sit down to write a story, you never know where it’s going to wind up. Sitting at the desk in my apartment on Waterloo Road in Dublin, I wanted to write a story about the side of the Irish capital people seemed to be missing. Whenever I encountered fellow Americans (or any foreigners)…

Where to Stay in Dublin

I became a traveler again, faced with all a traveler’s problems. I was in the center of Dublin — the city I called home from 2008 – 2010 — and instead of a resident, I was a visitor with a visitor’s worries: where to stay, where to eat, what to do, how to manage my…

Writer in the Kitchen

Chef Paul McCabe looked down at my feet, making sure I was wearing correct shoes for the kitchen. ‘Those will do’ he said, motioning for me to follow him through the open kitchen and back into the prep kitchen of Kitchen 1540, the award-winning restaurant at L’Auberge Del Mar, a boutique getaway just north of…

Positano Bites Deep

In 1953, John Steinbeck wrote about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar: ‘Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’. And later in the article, ‘In a few days we became aware of Positano’s greatest commodity – characters’. Steinbeck, a master…

The Affordable Side of Dublin

Things have changed in the city that used to be called one of  ‘the most expensive capitals in Europe’. It’s affordable again. During the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, you had to search to find value, but now the city can once again be called affordable. Cheap flights and packages have made trips to…

A Sense of Place

Does the food we eat deliver a sense of place? One of the pleasures of traveling is sitting down to a meal that so distinctly represents the place we are visiting that those flavors and aromas tunnel deep into our memory. But what about the food we eat when we aren’t traveling? Can we similarly…

Grapes, Goulash, and a Glass of Wine

Would you get your hands dirty in the name of goulash and a good glass of wine? One October day in a village along the Rhine River in Germany, this question was presented to me. I looked up at the steep hillsides, full of ripened Riesling grapes just waiting to be picked. Wondering when I…