Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Captain: A Man of Substance

His head fell into my lap with exhaustion, preceded by the rest of his Neapolitan body. He was wet and cold and the night sea water was rough and dangerous.

A fisherman’s trawling net was caught in the motor of our sail boat. A family of seven and a crew of three were with us on an overnight transfer from fire-breathing Stromboli in the Aeolian islands, off the northern coast of Sicily, to the great seaside city of Napoli. Darkness fell and the boat motored on. It was rough, our 46-foot Beneteau swimming upstream directly into the wind. Tough conditions for sailing in any case, but more pleasant to navigate if not been in a rush. We needed to get the family back, so we motored full-throttle.

We waited for the darkness to bring calm, a chance to sit down to a proper dinner, but that calm never came. Unusual for the Mediterranean.

We were hungry but afraid to eat. The sky was clear and stars appeared, but the sea churned as if the wind had an invisible hand in the stirring. It was going to be a long night. I gave my guests bread with honey as to comfort.

I went to my own cabin near the
prua to try for sleep though the dishes were crashing around in their holds. A stray closet door kept breaking loose, swinging open with a bang. With my son, Graham, helping watch I shut out the chaos in my small cabin. Five minutes later, hearing a huge noise, I bounced up and ran out to the poppa, the stern, to take a look.

Captain Nardella, 36, knife in hand, was stripping off, heading into the crashing water. A fisherman’s trawling net was tangled in the motor. If he couldn’t get it loose by hand, he would have to cut it. He knew that if he didn’t free it, we would have to wait for the fishermen to come to us, which would take hours, equivalent to a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in a storm.

Dripping, he came up onto the deck and revved the motor stronger, standing in his wet tee-shirt. I offered him a dry one. He wouldn’t take it, the wet shirt drying on his body in the cool wind. His bare legs were exposed; hairy, tan and strong. Once he was sure we were out of danger, he felt the cold. A deep chill set in alongside the exhaustion. He bundled in a wind parka while I took a turn on watch.

Sitting cross-legged with my back to the boat, I told Tony to rest his head in my lap. It would keep my legs warm and give him a place to lay his head. There were no other dry places to sit on the boat. He collapsed and I covered him in the only wool blanket on board.

Jumping into the waves had been heroic, risky and a bit renegade. A short rest was in order. He was tense and trembling. Trying to get a few winks in between watches is a captain’s classic dilemma. He would get comfortable, then shoot up to look around, then close his eyes again.

I stroked his forehead, trying to relax him. It relaxed me as well. We were in this together. He turned onto his side and ever-so-gently put his hand on my crossed leg to brace himself. It was the touch of a gentleman. I looked down at this man in my lap, this hunk of courage, so gentle, sweet, capable and intelligent and…felt a pull in my heart. His broad shoulders fit into the curl of my legs. It was not just his love of the sea, his spontaneous opera when at the helm, he was not only a capable captain, but a sensitive intellectual with a PhD in wild orchids. (Napoli was once the cultural capitol of Italy and the place to send your children to be educated.)We spoke once, on the bow of the boat, about his good fortune. He was full of gratitude to be born in Napoli, the son of a doctor, at the foot of Vesuvius in a village of sailors. He spoke willingly about his
Napolitanita, how they thrive on drama, deep feeling and the friggatura; the clever getting away with va fan cuolorule-breaking that delights a free soul and their appetite for living in the flesh, eating well,living large, simply and sensibly.

When the elements were with us, instead of against us, sailing with him was a blue dream, like being on the back of the surfboard of a skilled surfer, going up and down the swells with controlled abandon. Whehew! Fantastico! Che pezzo di oumo! What a man!

How I appreciated the man he had become. One to scoop up, to have and to hold. It wasn’t the years between us or the fact that he was already taken that made it impossible. Or that I have no
Neopolitanita’ in purezza to match, fiery and demanding enough to hold the line. Nor do I have soft cappuccino-colored skin. It wasn't about that.

I missed in that moment, a man of my own to adventure with, wondering if there is such a match for me. There was no rain, but my cheeks were curiously wet. Emotions tumultuous as the the sea.

Then I realized; I am forever meeting and adventuring with amazing men and women in my work, all the time. Relationships can be geographical, about place, and connection. About the wind. Something unspoken. A glance. Trying to keep others and each other safe in a storm. An unconditional relationship, strong, available and true.

A smile cracked through like the sun.

Tony Tony, moi e Anello, Amalfi portmaster.
We eventually arrived safely in port after 22 hours of rough seas, what normally takes 16 on smooth. The drama, and the tenderness, now a thoughtful memory.


Culinary Travels in India: Udaipur and the Lake Palace Hotel

Udiapur is known as the city of Lakes.

The Lake Palace Hotel was conceived (in romance?) and built in 1746 by Marharana Jagat Singh II. It spreads across a four acre island, a complete vision of white marble.

Somewhat Venetian, the ground is not visible at all. It seems rather mythical and floating. One has to arrive by boat (anywhere one has to arrive by boat captures my attention) and I felt instantly transported into never-never land. Inside, royal butlers attended to my every need (even hooking up to modern day internet!). They stood with umbrellas as I waited for the boat under the Rajasthan heat. This was no Disney Land show. It is now exactly what it was several hundred years ago.

A turbaned flautist presided over the interior lily pond as I dined serenely alone, getting lost in the new flavors before me, my mind open and calm with a view to the lake.

Later, I visited the kitchen with awe. Here in this five-star hotel, they were cooking with wood fire. Not just in a deep tandoori oven, but in small painted terracotta ovens, that sat on the waist-high counter that housed the fire. Black terracotta cooking pots were settled over the bright coals. A flat stone girdled one of them, as a place to grill.

Fire is fire wherever you go, what is cooked is very similar. How it’s presented—who’s cooking it and to whom—are what distinguishes it. I asked the chef a few questions about his cooking, he said he was inspired by his grandmother. Cooking was just cooking to him, until it became noticed as a celebrated art as recent as the 70s.

I remember the presentation almost more than the food. I had eaten Indian food in America and England, but not in India. I realized that I was in a whole new realm of regional display. Palatial at that. It was easy to dream myself a Palace dweller. More than likely I would be in the kitchen, rather than wearing jewels in the Kings Court. But one never knows.

Raw mango puree with salt and mint.

Sarson Ke Phool: broccoli marinated in mustard paste and slow roasted sitting on crispy karum bread.

Soola Mung: Chicken marinated with chili and ground onion paste, salt, pepper, lemon juice, then grilled in a tandoori ovem.
Sangri: ongbeans, sliced and sauteed w/pickling spices mixed with dried fruit

Tnikri Dal: melange of three types of dal with garlic, ginger and chili's, cooked in an earthenware pot.

It was my first Indian meal presented on bone china. I was alone, and therefore, I was able to concentrate on these new flavors and indeed sink into their company. My own private concert with notes I had never tasted. Not only was I delighted, but intrigued. What was the genius that brought these spices together? Thousands of years of creativity and necessity. It was the greatest welcome. I did not feel alone at all.

After dinner, I was led through the City Palace, with it’s mirrored rooms and peacock mosaic archways. I started to get the picture of life in a place of this majesty and magnitude, impressed most by a swarm of bees that made a home on the side of a balcony.

No doubt royal bees.

Learn more about our 12-day culinary program in India.

Being Like Bob

I was not surprised when Ms. Kinney told me she wanted to bring her husband of 30 years along on her trip to Morocco.

It was, however, a surprise that he was 93 and able to travel well. My father would have not wanted to go anywhere at 90; he was quite content to stay at home.

Bob Kinney, on the other hand, was ready to go. Each morning in Morocco Bob showed up for breakfast bright eyed. I would ask him, "How are you?" and he would say, "I'm fine! Just happy to be alive! You know, I never expected to live this long."

I asked him, do you have a motto? He replied with certainty, "Do it now." That's different than "Just Do It," I thought. "Do It Now" means that we have no time to waste on not doing, on complaining or sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. He seemed to understand the "go with the flow" mentality that my guests must slip into, once they realize that I am absolutely in charge not only of our itinerary, but also of their relaxing.

Bob was born in Maine and still speaks of it fondly. He wasn't drafted into the war, as he was better suited to run a certain food company called "General Mills." He would have liked to go straight into officer's training, but stayed home instead to his company like a tight ship. "You must put the responsibility of the product into the hands of the workers. This way, you will always have them listening and working on your behalf, because they feel invested in the success of the company." Bob was in charge of 120,000 employees.

It was with that same spirit and dedication that he accompanied his wife Margee, equally adventurous and enthusiastic about everything, on this fall's program to Morocco. Bob's other motto was,
"Say YES to everything." Even riding up to 6,000 ft, to the Kasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, on the back of a mule. I was more reluctant at first, having had folks 10 years his junior not comfortable with such a thing. Bob is not a jock, but he has a lot of joie di vivre.

He stayed well the whole trip and delighted us all. On our final night, he was even up dancing alongside the belly dancers. I asked, "Okay Bob, which was more exciting: the mule ride up and down the steep slopes or belly dancing with those lovely women?" He looked at me shyly and said, "The belly dancers for sure!"

I'm printing tee shirts that say, "Be like Bob." Happy to be alive. We should all take that as our motto for living a long life.

Giving thanks for all that we encounter and for the incredibly inspiring people I get to meet on my trips.

Here's a toast: Crumbs on tongues! Sips on lips! Wild Adventures at home and on trips!

With love and wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving,


Discovering the Cuisine of Majorca.


My mother had a poster on the back of the bathroom door when I was young, of a woman foraging through a brass market. “Majorca” was written across the top.

The name confused me. Yet, I remember letting it roll around my tongue. I loved the sound of it. Some years later, I learned of its origin in the Belariac Sea. Now I was headed there, at the invitation of a friend.

Mediterranean islands float my boat. Yet, these Majorcan islands are not off the coast of Italy, my home away from home, but off of Spain in a neighboring sea.

Pleasantly surprised, the food on Majorca is super. I won’t say superb, as it would give the wrong impression.

There is an attention to the food that is most definitely “Mallorquin” and distinguishes itself from mainland Spain. Everything is most definitely local. When they say
lechona, they mean the suckling pig from the farmer down the road. Tender, juicy, and drippling with crackling fat, the tradition is to dip it in aioli, a garlicky mayonnaise.

I knew I was in trouble. Five days on this island would be all I could take.

The covered marketplace near our neighborhood of Santa Catalina in Palma, offered an array of local fare. There were three stalls that stood out and grabbed me instantly. The first was the corner café for
caffé con leche. It was a long and narrow bar that barely had room for the barista and yet it had small wooden tables inside. It strikes me how we love to be in the thick of things. Men were drinking already at 9:00 in the morning. A couple were discussing intimate stories.

While stirring spoons of sugar into their coffee, while my friend and I bellied up to the bar. Old bars tell stories and bartenders know exactly what you want if you come a second time. They place things in front of you without asking. You don’t challenge their intuition, you gesture "thanks" with a nod. Old men inevitably stand around with a cane, a hat and a dangling cigarette. Their clothes are still from the 50s.

The other stalls are no less intriguing. One couple sells dried local figs, soaked in anise liquor, wild fennel and honey from the shop owners bees. We ate our weight in them, before coming face to face with a lady in a sweet apron making doughnuts. If I told you that I don’t make a habit of eating such things, you wouldn’t believe me. I don’t. But here, it’s a must. It’s what they eat and have eaten for ages. We are privileged to visit the other side of the world and be in their cities and homes. It’s a good excuse anyway to eat quite succulent and normally fattening food.

We all know that when we travel, calories don’t compute the same.

October rain came and fall descended on the sunny island. Three sweaters and a scarf sufficed to take a drive to the
Santa Maria del Camifor the open-air Sunday market. Not only the market draws a Sunday crowd, but so does the Cathedral with the blue dome. A house along the road between the two was strung with a curtain of red pepper ristras. I bought natural sponges and dark beeswax candles. We didn’t buy Jamon or cheese. Or bread. We have been eating pombolly (bread with garlic and tomato rubbed on it) and jamon and cheese at every meal. And this day, we were driving up in the hills to eat wood-fried oven roasted lamb at Es Verger, a family run farmhouse restaurant.

A soft terraced hill of gnarled olive trees and brush came alive with a bit of moisture. The road made switchbacks almost to the top. The smell of sheep was heavy in the air. We could even hear the bells. A crowd of people were gathered around the door of what looked like an old general store, with sheep staring on from a neighboring stall. Inside, a 10-year-old boy was working the cash register of a bustling room full of tables and people in what looked like an old barn. Plates of food were being served from pots being pulled in and out of an old wood fired oven. A grey-haired woman the height of my shoulders was in charge, minding a lower oven of coals that kept a bowl of roasted potatoes warm. At least 200 people were sitting at long tables in various rooms of the barn. We sat up in what must have been the old thrashing room.

Bottles of homemade red wine came to the table along with hand-cured olives with herbs and
alli-oli. It was the best and most garlicky aioli to date. I had been avoiding eating too much of the stuff, but this rustic scene inspired me to forget and I got caught up, swathing my bread into it, scooping large heaps onto my bread just like the Mallorquin. We were hungry for the roasted lamb and it was taking a while.

When we finally got our plates, we dove in. The wine already had us singing, but now we were full of gusto. Our friend and driver Tomas, showed us how it was really done. Afterwards, bones were piled high and just like the olden days, we fell onto our stretched-out arms on the table in a veritable food coma. We sobered up with a walk on the
Comino del Castillo. We needed fresh air and the ride down was zig-zaggy and tight.

Paella was no small thing at Club Nautico in Porixol, yet it was a bit pallid, but tasty enough. Eating it in the sunshine is a must, especially with some nice
vino tinto. A strong traditional dish, everyone has their way of preparing it. I find restaurants heavy handed. I prefer to have it in someone’s home. That being said, saffron rice cooked in a seafood broth, topped with shrimp, muscles, clams and savory chorizo must not be dismissed.

A walk on the beach was in order and it wasn’t just around the bend. Tomas drove us to the southeast of the island to the Solobrar of Campos, where the salt mines are. These salt mines come from 130 reservoirs of saline water that provide a home to a wealth of vegetation, birds and wildlife. The
flor de Sol delicious and sun-dried, has a particular flavor, no doubt something special from the Baleriac Sea.

Further down a small winding road, we arrived at the beach. I couldn’t wait to take off my shoes and take a walk on the cool sand. Summer must be wonderful here in Majorca. We drank local beer while the sun went down. A sailboat passed in front of the sinking sun.

Our days in Mallorca had come to a bright red round end.

Moroccan Fish Pastilla Recipe

Guided by master chef Bahija, we learned to make a traditional Moroccan chicken pastilla during the 2010 trip to Morocco. 

Ready with our assortment of spices

Adding saffron to the chicken.


Bahija crushes almonds for the chicken pastilla by hand, a method she
laughingly refers to as the "Berber food processor."

By popular request, the recipe for a fish and seafood version of the pastilla follows. Enjoy!
FISH PASTILLA (Pastille au Poisson)
The below recipe uses filo dough to form the crust of the pastilla. Traditionally, Moroccan pastilla is made with warka, a slightly less-flaky, more malleable pastry sheet. In the United States, warka can be found in many Middle Eastern groceries, but filo dough also makes a suitable substitution.>> 1 pound of filo dough
>> 5 T melted butter
>> 2 egg yolks
>> 14 oz white fish, cut in pieces
>> 14 oz. shrimp
>> 14 oz squid
>> 2 diced onions
>> 4 cloves garlic
>> 2 Tablespoons parsley
>> 5 oz. vermicelli
>> 1 teaspoon cumin
>> 1 teaspoon paprika
>> 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper
>> 1 teaspoon saffron
>> 1 teaspoon harrissa (spicy tomato paste)
>> 1 preserved lemon, quartered and pulped
>> juice of one lemon
>> butter

Sauté fish in a skillet with 1 teaspoon of butter for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
Sauté shrimp for 5 minutes, separately, add salt and pepper. Sauté squid with salt and 1teaspoon harissa.
Sauté onion in a little butter until translucent.
Soften vermicelli in hot water, drain and set aside. 
Melt a little more butter and add half the of the fish (you will save the other half) to the pan, together with all of the shrimp and squid. Add parsley, vermicelli, garlic, cumin, paprika, preserved lemon, lemon juice, saffron, salt and pepper. Mix and simmer in the pan for 10 minutes (or a bit longer if necessary, to ensure that the vermicelli is cooked.)
Butter pan for the pastilla. 
Place 5 leaves of filo around in a fan, starting from the center (like we did in class with the warka) and brush with butter. Add one more in the center and brush again with melter butter. 
Add filling, spreading evenly. Add the fish pieces that you saved and place them around the top of the filling. Brush outer leaves with butter and beaten egg. Fold the leaves of filo over the filling, trying to keep it round. Brush again with butter. Add one or two sheets of filo on top. Tuck in well. Brush again with butter and remaining egg yolk.
Cook at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes or until golden. Decorate with lemon slices and cilantro. Slice into wedges like a pie. Serve hot!

Recipe: Tuscan Winter Salad with Egg

Writing about Capri today, I savor the thought of fresh cherry tomatoes with wild arugula, a signature summer dish with fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

But in February, I am in Colorado, and this winter salad strikes a cord. It has a European sensibility and taste for a winter’s want for something light and tasty.

This recipe came from my friend, Frank Stitt, perhaps my favorite American chef and southern gentleman. His restaurants Highlands Bar and Grill and Bottega, in Birmingham, Alabama are unbelievably good. His flavors, produce and know-how are completely authentic. I stepped into Bottega for the first time 8 years ago, ordered a fried oyster salad and fell in love. I said to the waiter, "Who is this man?!"


A winter salad sure to please, as we look forward to the brightness of spring.

> 2 T extra virgin olive oil
> 1/4 lb pancetta in one piece, unrolled and cut into lardoons (1/4 by 1/4 strip)
> 1 shallot finely chopped
> 8 very fresh organic eggs
> Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
> 4 cups of mixed young lettuces, such as frisee, arugula, young big and romaine
> 2-3 T of Sherry vinegar
> 4 slices of baguette

Warm the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2-3 minutes, until it just begins to crisp and render it’s fat. Add the shallots and cook for one minute until softened.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and season with sea salt an pepper. Pour the eggs into the sauté pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the eggs are just set, 2-3 minutes.

Combine the lettuces in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add the vinaigrette and toss.

Add the warm eggs to the salad greens and toss lightly. Divide the "egg salad" among four plates and garnish with toasts.

Recommended wine: Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Considering the impact of changes in Egypt on travel in North Africa.

Hi Peggy:

I joined you on your Tuscan trip in Sept, 2002 with my friend Pat. I am thinking about Morocco for my next culinary and cultural adventure, but I’m concerned about the political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and that region in general. What are your thoughts?

Best wishes,



Hello Jennifer,

Nice to hear from you. I can assure you that I feel absolutely safe traveling to Morocco, and bringing guests with me, in the coming months.

I am reminded of the time that I spent time in Morocco on 9/11 and the months and years just after. As an American traveling at that time, I received much heart-warming support from the Moroccan people, both close friends and strangers. What I have to say about the current political climate in North Africa is rooted in my comfort with the Moroccan culture, and from the views and opinions of many of the my contacts there, who vary in background and experience.

The government in Morocco is different form that of Egypt and other North African countries in that it is a monarchy, not a dictatorship, with a young and progressive King. He has done a lot to increase the welfare of his people and, in general, they love and respect him. Morocco also began to institute political reform some years ago. Morocco is also separated geographically from the Middle East--in many ways, it is more an extension of Europe.

I feel that what is happening in Egypt is astoundingly positive for the Arab nation. The youth of that region are changing the old mentality--something that influence from the West cannot accomplish on its own.

Here is some additional reading that you might find useful, an article from Reuters,
"Morocco Unlikely to have a Tunisia-like Uprising."

If you have any other specific questions, please do let us know. We would love to have you join us!


Our booking coordinator, Merete, moments after a lesson in "How to Wrap a Turban" from two experts on the beach in Essouairia, during our Spring 2010 program.

Morocco: Feast of the Senses. Four rooms remain for our April trip!

"We're making couscous, tagines, and Moroccan breads; and through this amazing food, we're going to learn the spice of life," proclaimed Ruth Reichl, when she joined us in Morocco two summers ago.

Watch a preview of the show that we shot together for Gourmet and PBS here, or taste Morocco for yourself this April 3-12

Morocco: Feast of the Senses
April 3-12, 2011--Four rooms left!

November 6-15, 2011
$4,940 single room
$4,500/each double room

- 6 nights in a luxurious Marrakech guesthouse in the lush Palmeraie neighborhood.
- 2 nights in the Atlas mountains
- 1 candlelit night in the Portuguese-influenced coastal city of Essaouira

Email us or call our booking coordinator, Merete, at 303-910-0897 to reserve your room.