International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know


chianti 8

Cooking like Italians means using simple, incredibly fresh, minimal ingredients.  But wouldn’t you love to know some secrets?  Well, ditto for me and my kids.  Thus a cooking class while in Florence (see “Spring Trip Part 5” post) was prioritized as a must-do activity.  The hubby? Not interested (in the cooking part, but definitely in enjoying the end results).

The Westin Excelsior knocked it out of the park with their recommendation for a class in the lovely Chianti home of Paola Paggetti (  The day began when her husband Mario Anichini picked us up at the hotel at 10 am for the drive to the home. Mario pointed out many sites in Florence and then beyond.  Some were ancient sites, while others included several wild baby boar dashing across the road!

We got started almost immediately. We spoke with Paola the previous day to decide on the menu:  Bruschetta, fresh pasta (sauce to be determined), a veal dish, and finally tiramisu. We would learn how to make all the dishes and then enjoy them for lunch.  Below, what the French call “mise en place” — everything in it’s place before one begins.

Paola organized the order of the dishes based on the time needed. For example, the tiramisu requires chilling so that was up first up.  And the meat required some time to cook so we got that going as well.

Above, Paola teaching Sam the delicate art of “folding” ingredients required for the tiramisu.  Below, the proud team with our finished dessert. 

During the entire “course,” Paola pointed out key takeaways, including discarding the “core” of garlic cloves. I never knew that; in fact, it adds bitterness if left in.  Likewise the timing for adding salt to a dish (if at all), and the reason.

Of course, the biggie is making pasta from scratch.  Three ingredients. Flour (a superfine Semolina – see photo), egg, water. And a million possibilities. No fancy pasta machine either; just our hands and very clean wooden boards. Of course Paola’s years of experience benefitted us. In the end, it is all about how it feels — the texture of the dough, etc. So simple and yet so necessary to try again and again. Mario captured us in our very serious mood of trying to get it right. We did ok!

 Below, the garden tour. Clockwise from upper left:  bearded iris; apricots; artichokes; lettuces; fava beans.

Below, Mario with a basket of just-picked fava beans.  We shelled them and enjoyed with a bit of salt and olive oil.  Delicious!

The secret to the excellent bruschetta was not only preparing the tomatoes but the bread as well. Paola baked thin slices of baguette in the oven until just crisp.  We spread raw garlic on the bread before spooning the tomatoes.  And one must eat this immediately!  We did. Along with the most excellent and simple pasta with the highest quality butter (which label is shown below) and parmigiana of course.  Also shown is one of two bruschetta platters, and the veal stew.

All set for lunch in the lovely dining room below.

Have I made pasta from scratch since the class?  No. But every time I open my cupboard and see my authentic “00” superfine flour, I am one step closer.  I have the recipe in detail.  I just wish Paola were here with me to provide her excellent guidance.  At least I can be reminded of her beautiful philosophy displayed in her home, seen below.  I couldn’t agree more.



Things I LoveU.S. Travel


savannah 14

When considering where to enjoy a favorite holiday, the beautiful destination of Savannah, Georgia, was unanimously selected.  After three terrific days in Charleston (click HERE ) we continued our family trip just two hours’ away.  This was a first visit for all.

En route, we simply had to go back to a surprise find from the hubby’s and my trip last year (click HERE) especially for son Sam to see.  Magiamo in Hilton Head is “your home away from home” for any fan of The Ohio State University.  Football, basketball and even Cleveland teams are all represented at this fun eatery, a must-see destination.  We were told that folks show up hours in advance for big games in order to view with other rabid fans.  How fun is that??   Below, Sam shares with his followers:  “You cannot believe this place.  OH-IO!”

Accommodations were at The Alida, which enabled us to walk to many spots for both dining and sight-seeing.  Below, the hotel is to the left while the Plant Riverside complex (shops, restaurants, other hotels)  is seen ahead.

Below, the walkway along the Savannah River — which is on the other side of the Plant Riverside building (above).

Savannah could be the most dog-friendly city ever.  I’m fairly certain I saw more people with dogs than with children!  There are abundant parks and pathways for our furry friends.  Our favorite one is seen below (cuteness overload).

Highlights of the many sights enjoyed:

Forsyth Park (in the Historic District – South)   A great number of folks walking around, enjoying the lush grounds.

Congregation Mickve Israel  — there’s a favorite word in Judaism which is “beshert” or “meant to be.”   In this case it was our timing for seeing the synagogue. Although closed, we randomly arrived just when the flowers were being delivered for that evening’s Sabbath service.  The person on duty allowed us to come in for a brief moment to see the inside.  Someone was looking out for us for which we were the grateful recipients.  What a magnificent building — the third oldest synagogue in the U.S.

Birthplace for The Girl Scouts

A truly fun favorite, the Prohibition Museum where these are three of the best signs:

Finally, a few words about this “Fit for Foodies” city.  Two in particular of our restaurants were outstanding — the iconic Olde Pink House (the best fried chicken ever) and an unplanned meal at Sam’s great find, Fleeting at the newish Thompson Hotel.   Not only was the food delicious, but the view (below) from the rooftop bar is a must-see.  And, finally, Leopold’s for ice cream where people have been coming for 102 years.

When one is too busy eating, one must share a photo from Leopold’s Instagram feed above.  If taken during our visit, you’d see the line for as far as the photo goes.  This place and so many others make Savannah a terrific destination.   Can’t wait to go back.

International TravelThings I Love



In just a week’s time, the hubby and I got a true taste of Uganda — from the bustling international Entebbe airport to the Congo border, the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park  and even crossing the Equator.  It is a country with spectacular landscape, welcoming people, adorable children eager to waive hello plus countless species to view.

But, there’s also considerable government control as evidenced by the banning of Facebook.  And, were it not for citizens planting small crops to take to market or consume at home, hunger can be a challenge for much of the population.  With that, we were very happy to do whatever we could to help those dependent upon tourism with their livelihoods.

Wide load — but not the widest by far!

We had two more animal encounters, both unique in their own way  ~~


The 40 km Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park flows between Lake George and Lake Edward through the heart of main game viewing area.  The different perspective of water viewing versus the previous land viewing was enjoyed for a relaxing couple of hours.

Above and below:  Many have asked if I ever felt nervous or scared on safari.  The short answer is no.  But, one must be VERY careful around these massive creatures — especially when there is a calf in tow as pictured here.  One could caption this:  “Proceed at your own peril.”  We backed the hell up.

Below is the ingenious work of the black and white Kingfisher birds who dig holes to protect their eggs from any prey.

One of many crocodiles seen in the area.

Co-existing seen everywhere among the species.



Unlike the mountain gorilla trek covered in the last post (click HERE), our descent into the Kyambura Gorge was relatively short, significantly less steep, and ultimately very manageable.  While the hubby opted out midway upon arrival at a difficult passage (below), I proceeded with a park ranger and our driver/guide William.   After immediately spotting a group of fast-moving chimps, we went quite a bit further to have an up-close encounter that made the trek and completed our trip sightings.

On the lookout — flat and muddy.
The help is greatly appreciated.
Barely visible at first
Camera shy

That face ..


I was laser focused on not slipping in the muddy and wet (but flat) terrain.  My glasses fogged up from humidity and my phone (used for photos) was in my pocket but was somehow very dim, so basically I have zero visibility.  And then I hear “Hello?  Hello?? I can’t hear you!”  And I look at my phone and realized I accidentally dialed my sister Margie in Los Angeles, who came through clear as a bell.  In a deep gorge in Western Uganda near the Congo border.  But try making a call from Coldwater Canyon in Los Angeles and there’s no reception.  No, we didn’t actually speak.  In a panic I disconnected from just being baffled at the whole incident.  We’ve of course had many a good laugh since via text.

At this point, our formal itinerary from Africa Travel Resource came to an end at the (literally) picture perfect Ndali Lodge.  I encourage you to click on the link to read the story of this amazing place, which land dates back nearly 100 years.

The open air gym
With gracious owners Aubrey & Claire Price

There’s just one caveat for staying at Ndali :: Must love dogs.  Or at least not mind them.  Personally they were a sight for sore eyes having been away from our three for so long.  Two were mere puppies — not more than 10 weeks at the time.  One of the older ones slept on our porch all night.  How can you not love Basil, the brown guy upper left.

Cocktail hour

And, finally, two last incredible views.   Next post :: Africa Hits & Misses plus R&R in Bermuda

International TravelThings I Love



Down on the farm in … Tanzania??  That would specifically be Gibbs Farm, ideally located in the green and fertile hills near the Ngorongoro Crater.  It’s difficult to convey the sheer beauty in that part of the country.  And it was a complete departure from our time spent in the Serengeti (see previous posts).

View from the Gibbs Farm terrace
Our cottage at Gibbs

The concept of “farm to table” food could have originated at Gibbs with it’s 10 acres of vegetable and fruit gardens, picked and consumed twice daily as shown below in the menu and salad.  Then there are 200 chickens providing nearly as many daily eggs, cows, pigs, ducks, goats, a turkey, rabbits and a few domestic cats.

The vast produce beds

Impressively, nothing goes to waste.  There’s a very sophisticated composting system with 14 staff tending the garden’s needs.  The essential crop rotation is a lot of hard work — most by hand.  Then there’s the need for night security to keep the local elephants and baboons away, who will otherwise eat the crops.

Coffee Beans

The main crop in the area is coffee and it’s everywhere.  I learned it’s a six-year investment from seed to usable beans.  That is a commitment to say the least, but the end result is a delicious and aromatic product.  Corn and bananas are the other enormous crops; the by-products are staples in the Tanzanian diet.   With an ideal location near the equator (reminiscent of a 2014 visit to Ecuador), this so-called (by the hubby) “gardener girl” was in heaven and more than a bit envious.

Below:  Masses of italian parsley, broccoli (top); artichoke field, kohlrabi which made for a delicious soup, pineapple and a pumpkin field

Below: the duck pond in foreground.  The goats climb up the ramp around the tower and enter the top to escape hot weather.

We made the drive to Ngorongoro Crater where one must first ascend to the rim before descending to the floor of the immense area created many millenia ago by volcanic eruption.  Unlike the Serengeti where zebras or gazalles would scatter if the vehicle got too close, in the crater they are near enough to touch (but not allowed nor advised).  Additionally, the different animals seemed to congregate more freely.  And the landscape is just breathtaking.

NOTE:  The following photo was just awarded PHOTO OF THE WEEK by the esteemed travel site Peter Greenburg Trusted.Travel.News.  I am honored!

Driving down to the Crater floor

Very pregnant momma
The (not very bright) warthog — aka “Pumba”
Cape Buffalo
Pink Flamingos
Picnic in the Crater
Fortunately, safari vehicles are made for this kind of driving

After our stay, we made the four-hour drive to Kilimanjaro International Airport for the hour flight to Entebbe.  We should have had our results from covid testing (administered more than 48 hours prior) at the Serengeti departure.  A negative result is necessary both to leave the country and enter Uganda, our next destination.

If you’ve seen the fabulous movie Argo, with the nail biting ending, that is a good metaphor for our experience.  Not exactly life or death but still there is never a desire for an “oopsie” to occur and go to a Plan B.  Fortunately, with the assistance of our ATR agent in London and the local Asilia team on the ground, the results magically appeared minutes before the gate closed.  I even offered a bribe of the airport personnel with our plentiful boxed lunches from Gibbs, but to no avail.  I was happy to give the food away regardless.  Everyone was very kind and simply abiding by the rules.

Proof sent to our agents that we made the flight!

Next post:  Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest



U.S. Travel



After enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (click HERE for last post), the next stop was two nights/one full day in Sheridan, Wy., where a lifelong friend (since first grade) has long resided with her husband.  It didn’t take long to understand the draw.

My friend Gwen ..

For us, this stop was right in line for the itinerary — Sheridan is on the way to Mt. Rushmore from Yellowstone.  That simply made it more convenient but we would have routed accordingly to make the stay work.

En route to Sheridan. Maybe that’s “+/-“

We toured Sheridan’s neighborhoods, saw lots of new housing developments, wide open spaces, an actual Main Street, a beautiful new YMCA complex, medical center, college and golf course.  While there’s no Trader Joe’s, there’s good shopping and coffee.  Brinton Museum is highly regarded for western art.  And there’s lots of really nice people.

Bison and elk refuge right in town

I was so happy to finally see Gwen and husband Rick’s Sheridan home and vast property (12 acres), not to mention a menagerie including falcons (2), chickens (13 adult plus young ones), roosters (2), pigeons/doves (150ish), dog (one – Hattie) and snap turtles.

For this gardener, a dream come true!
Why would you ever leave this view?

Dinner at home with great friends, some excellent Russian River Pinot, seeing the property and animals, insanely cheap gas (WTH, California?) — all made for a wonderful time in Sheridan.  Hopefully a return visit won’t take as long as the first.  Next up:  The Dakotas ..

One of Rick’s prized falcons
Future producers

Below:  Scenes from Sheridan

Rick and Bruce by the pigeon/dove house
Bidding us adieu in front of our hotel
This view is everything.
Things I LoveTo-Do List



Suffice it to say, we don’t know what we don’t know.  How profound is that?  When it comes to upcoming travel, that is certainly going to change.  And no one knows for sure just how much.

The Italy trip previously written about certainly isn’t happening now. We’re looking at November as we speak.  It’s usually a good time to travel, well in advance of the holiday season.

Here’s an upside:  I recently wrote about the importance of brand loyalty.  You know all those horror stories about waiting on hold to get through to the airlines?  American Airlines actually called me! True enough, they inquired how we wanted to handle our April 17 departure to Italy with return May 11, from Bucharest to LA, via overnight at Heathrow.  Would we prefer a voucher for future travel or a refund for taxes and fees?  While these were mileage tickets, the fees were still significant.  Not less than 24 hours after the call, the miles (140K per peson) were reinstated and fees refunded.  Loyalty pays.

The hubby and I might yet do something in May depending on when baseball resumes.  We’ve explored everything from an island trip to road trip including Mt. Rushmore (if the National Parks reopen). It’s still fluid.  No doubt, we’ll certainly notice how surfaces are cleaned, who’s wearing gloves, and have a heightened sense of our surroundings.

I feel blessed to have three passions at home to keep me busy.  It’s amazing how the hobbies keep those pesky things on the “to-do” list undone.  Someday I’ll rearrange the bookshelves and clean out bathroom drawers.  Just not now.


This has been a passion since the 90’s when there was even a home greenhouse (long since given way to an outdoor kitchen).  I now keep it simple.  Cut back healthy plants after blooming; water and feed them in a low tray with pebbles (creates humidity) positioned with good indirect light; watch for regrowth.

With more available time, I decided to investigate why I continue to get those dreaded spider mites (fuzzy white bugs) — especially this time of year.  Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) in a spray bottle is as good as anything to get rid of these creatures.  It’s tedious but necessary to look under each leaf and wipe away traces to fully eradicate.  Be sure to also clean containers, pots and plant supports.

There’s currently 15 plants in my house in various stages, containers and arrangements.  They make me happy — so happy I clearly have a problem discarding them (where’s Marie Kondo?).  Trader Joe’s makes this habit way too easy … thankfully.

Simple is best. Store bought plants; arranged at home.
Same as above.
Round container holds three plants — good for at least two months.


My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
These gorgeous stems are from a cymbidium plant that blooms faithfully every year. They last for weeks after cutting.


The hubby loves to comment on a $20 (home-grown) cucumber.  Only he would amortize the total cost of installation, maintenance, plant material, pest deterrents, etc.  But can one really put a price on joy?  I say no.  My collaborator-in-chief Javier amended all the beds, installed a new drip system, and planted.  Upside to no April travel:  Earlier planting.  Being at home means I can keep an eye out for early trouble signs.

Plant selection; my collaborator Javier; Japanese eggplant (first ever!); one of the beds.
Waiting for beans to sprout; heirloom tomato; first blackberry; fig plant.


Even the Wall Street Journal had a front-page story on the scarcity of flour and yeast in stores!  Is that the craziest?  I bake and then look for recipients to get the goodies out of the house (neighbors have been great as has my gardener and his team).  Making soups from the contents of my weekly produce delivery is fun (my freezer is FULL!)  And a first attempt at pizza was inspired by purchasing the type of flour I see used on cooking shows (00 Artisan).  My daughter shared a fantastic local gourmet distributor housed in a nearby warehouse that mostly sells to restaurants and caterers.  Pricey?  Yes.  But if you’re looking for 50 types of olive oil and nearly as many mustards, then go.  Oh, and cheese selection, the french butters ..

Immaculate and FULL shelves at Epicurious Gourmet
From top left: Pizza ingredients; dough overflowed; before and after of pizza with calabrese sausage and classic margherita.

Explore your passions until we can share a meal and some wine together.  At home or away. In person.