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Stairway to Heaven: Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta

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Heavenly bodies on the horizon

I’m not a morning person. So when I saw the itinerary for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I did a double take. 6 a.m. start time! With a little coffee, I managed to make it through the early morning(read 4 a.m.) trips from the hotel to the park, all bundled up in my layers of thermals and wool. After learning from my hotel concierge that this was the largest ballooning event in the world, I was a bit curious…

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Piñon Coffee keeping this California girl warm!

Once I saw a few of these colorful globes take to the sky before dawn, all of my fatigue melted away. The few brave balloons, known as the “Dawn Patrol”, tested the wind patterns for their fellow fiesta goers still on the ground. This scene was absolutely stunning!

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The Dawn Patrol takes flight

What’s even better than the visual of the gas balloons set against the vista of the Albuquerque mountains, is the sound of them lighting up. The powerful “whoosh” of the helium and hydrogen flooding these giant globes is almost as magical as the sound of the crowds cheering them on as they lift up to the heavens.

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Leo lighting up the early morning sky

And what a crowd! I literally saw generations of families, young and old, groups of friends, couples on honeymoons, photography clubs, and every combination of group you could think of. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is fun for everyone. If you don’t marvel at this magnificent event, then there’s something definitely wrong with you!

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No filter needed!

My family decided to attend this annual display of color to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. In between balloon fiesta fun, we got a chance to sample some of the delicious cuisine in Albuquerque, known for its generous use of red and green chiles. If you don’t like spicy – ask them for super mild. Trust me on this one!

When we weren’t eating the tasty New Mexico treats(like sopapillas), we did some shopping in the town square and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. My favorite finds were a store called Masks Y Mas, which housed art, jewelry, and of course, masks. Then just a few doors down I discovered, Off Broadway, the most decadent vintage shop that had me pulling at my purse strings as I piled my dressing room with a number of gorgeous gems. I walked away with this wool coat – perfect for the brisk New Mexico breeze!

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Vintage wool from Off Broadway keeping me warm!

After some well-deserved naps, my family and I headed back to the park to witness what is known as “Balloon Glow”. This evening event is not to be missed, as the visual of vibrant balloons against the night sky envelops you. Everywhere you turn there’s some new wonder to be seen. It’s no surprise that this is the world’s most photographed event, with over 25 million photographs being taken each year!

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Twilight Twinkle glow!

Since the balloons don’t embark at the evening events, you’ll get to wander among them in all of their colorful glory. The hum of the gas lighting up these beauties gave me the chills! And hearing the oohs and ahhs coming from everyone around you, all of us in collective childlike wonder, is enough to give you goosebumps.albuquerque-balloon-fiestaalbuquerque-balloon-fiestaIf you want the true VIP experience at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, get tickets to the Gondola Club. And don’t wait until the last minute! We waited a bit too long and were only able to get them for one morning, but we’re sooo glad we did. A hot breakfast buffet, open bar, and fire pits greeted us as we descended on the park for another early morning of fiesta fun.

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Get your tickets early!

And when you’re ready to get up close to the balloons, there’s a VIP tram waiting to drive you closer to the action. This is one of the best Gondola Club benefits since the park is over 350 acres big. The highlight of that morning was watching Annabelle, the Creamland Dairy mascot, finally come into her udderly full glory. After the team tried for a couple of days to get her up, she finally made it to the skies and set sail with the rest of her balloon friends. The crowd went wild as she was set free!

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C’mon Annabelle – you can do it!
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There she goes!
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It’s raining ice cream!

These balloons are too gorgeous for words. No filter is needed for your photos! In fact, I spent very little time editing photos because the light and color of the New Mexico sky is just perfect. Pro tip – bring an extra memory card and a portable charger. You’ll be out there from around 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so it’s good to be prepared. And bring a backpack or bag to hold your gloves, hats, etc. You’ll want to shed some layers as the sun comes up – it gets surprisingly warm!

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Space Odyssey – New Mexico style!
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The largest ballooning event in the world!
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Come back señorita!
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Star Wars action along the Albuquerque horizon
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Some of the 1,000 balloons represented!

Swirling in a serene symphony led by Mother Nature’s wispy winds, the balloons drift above your head and then eventually out of sight. The heavens, dotted with color, will leave you in awe. As I watched everyone gaze up at the sky, some of us snuggled next to our loved ones for warmth, I felt so happy to be here. What a unique experience!

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New Mexico True!

Even with the early mornings and bone-chilling cold, I would do it all over again. There’s nothing like gazing up at the sky and watching the balloons dance along the desert sky. Next time this California girl will pack her earmuffs. And I’ll make sure to get my Gondola Club tickets well in advance!

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Smiles from the most photographed event on earth!

Do you want to visit Albuquerque? Then fill out the form below!

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Top 5 Insights at the Travel & Adventure Show

I recently went behind the scenes at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure show, which is just one stop along the travel show’s ambitious tour throughout the United States. With my press pass, I was able to go behind the scenes and speak to some of the tour operators and country representatives about what makes their travel experience unique, and why travelers should spend their precious vacation time heading to their destinations. Here’s what I learned:

Never judge a book by its cover. Just like the old saying goes, think twice before passing judgement. Especially on a country you’ve never been to! When I spoke with Elsie from Bella Guatemala, I was surprised to learn that this Central American country could be an adventurous “girl’s trip” hot spot. How so? Well, Elsie shared with me that not only can your fellow girlfriends hike inside a volcano, but they can also follow that daring adventure with a spa trip near one of Guatemala’s picturesque lakes – awesome! And since Guatemala is one of the world’s largest producers of jade and silver, your girlfriends can participate in a jewelry making course with local artisans. Sounds fun to me!

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Relaxing at the edge of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Wellness is not a trend. Spa retreats and detox destinations made their foray into the travel landscape years ago as “alternative” travel. But if recent trends are any indication, like the $500 billion spent on wellness vacations in past years, wellness travel is here to stay. I had the lucky fortune of interviewing the cofounder and president of Wellness Tourism Association, Anne Dimon, who has been in the wellness travel sector since 2004.

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Wellness at Carillon Miami

“Wellness truly means something different to each of us, but generally it is simply the overall health of the mind, body, and spirit. When a wellness vacation is planned with intention or with a specific objective in mind AND it is the right fit, it can truly be a gift to oneself that keeps on giving,” Anne shared. I was even more thrilled to learn that Anne had helped plan the Wellness Sessions at Virtuoso Travel Week 2016 where I learned about Miami’s Carillon Wellness Resort. I excitedly told her that I had a trip to Carillon planned for April, and she smiled ear to ear when I told her about my very first wellness vacation in Spain many years ago. Stay tuned for more on Carillon…

Explore your own backyard. I’m lucky enough to live in California where there are plenty of escapes within a two hour drive, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken advantage of all that my home state has to offer. And I’m sure that can be said for most of us. A couple of my favorite discoveries at the Travel & Adventure show are right here in my own backyard! After speaking with the team from Visit 29, the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, I added this stunning natural oasis to my bucket list. Besides being an art colony to artists like Noah Purifoy, Twentynine Palms hosts the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival – a must see for all of you stargazers out there!

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Noah Purifoy outdoor museum

Another find was Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge. This luxury resort in the California High Sierra is perfect for family reunions, girls’ getaways, and year round fun – no matter what the season is! At the Travel & Adventure Show, the team shared with me some of their favorite amenities, including a private tour in their shuttle that has no roof so you can see all of the beautiful nature around you. I have to do this soon!

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Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite

Explore the “other” landmarks. Each country or travel destination has its proverbial bucket list landmark. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Peru has Macchu Picchu, New York has the Statue of Liberty, and so on. But if you want to avoid crowds and have an experience that’s just as authentic and meaningful, sometimes it’s ok to head off the beaten path.

When talking with the team from India Tourism, I was enthralled to learn about all of the other places to see besides the Taj Mahal. On the west coast of India is Maharashtra state, which is home to the historic Ajanta and Ellora caves. These exquisite specimens of architecture are also a glimpse into the country’s faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. And in central India, there’s the magnificent Khajuraho temples, a UNESCO heritage site that dates back to the powerful Chandela rulers. Definitely lots of exploring to do here!

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Khajuraho Temples

Africa is not a country. Well, I knew this already. But I often hear travelers say, “I want to go to Africa”. That’s like someone saying, “I want to visit North America”, and I think we can all agree that a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island is going to be quite different from a weekend in Cabo San Lucas.

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Lochinvar National Park, Zambia

Did you know that Africa is a continent made up of 55 nations. Wow! I admit I didn’t really understand its size and scope as a travel destination until the Travel & Adventure show when I had the chance to talk to representatives from Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and specialty tour operators highlighting a diverse range of experiences. Did you know that Rwanda is the safest country in Africa, and the 9th in the world? And that you can see gorillas, chimps, and other primates in their rainforest habitat?rwanda-chimpanzee-volcanoes

Or maybe birdwatching is more your thing…and if it is, then head south to Zambia where you can visit Lochinvar National Park and see over 400 species of birds. Amazing! There’s always the African country of Tanzania for those travelers who want that unforgettable wildlife safari or an enviable beach vacation on some of the best beaches in the world along the Zanzibar coast. My bucket list is growing…

If after reading this, you’ve added a few new places to your travel bucket list, email me to help you plan your next trip. You won’t be disappointed! I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Let me help you plan your next trip!

 

 

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Curating LA: There’s An App For That!

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Aleph and the Rock exhibition at HILDE Gallery

One thing I love about what I do is uncovering hidden gems and unique experiences around the globe, whether it’s Rio de Janeiro or London. But my favorite resource for discovering the latest happenings in the art world is right here in my hometown of Los Angeles. Started over 3 years ago by Shelley Holcomb, Curate LA is one of my favorite apps – I use it weekly! Thrilled to meet the genius behind this handy tool, I had the lucky chance to sit down with Shelley at Hauser & Wirth, one of my favorite art spaces in the city and hear about the evolution of Curate LA, Shelley’s top picks on where to see art in L.A., and why this city is experiencing its artistic rebirth.

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Talking all things art with Shelley Holcomb, co-founder of Curate LA

Tell me how you got the idea for Curate LA?

After living in L.A. for a while, I found that it was hard to find one central resource for art spaces. I met my co-founder, tech developer Alex Benzer who had this handy map of tech events all over L.A. and I thought, “We need something like this for the art world!” And so it happened. Los Angeles is such a sprawling city – it was nice to see all of the data aggregated in one place.

The iOS app came from people using the site and giving their feedback, expressing a need for it. Ultimately though, one of the main reasons I wanted to develop Curate LA was I found that the artists and spaces I frequented weren’t being represented in any art publications or resource for the public. I wanted to create a platform to promote artist-run spaces and marginalized artists who aren’t typically represented at the larger institutions – level the playing the field in a way. It’s been a long journey, but the success of the app has shown that other people are interested in diversity in the art world as well.

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PAM Residencies featuring Amanda Horowitz and Bully Fae with “Installation of the Plumbing Tree”

A native of L.A., I pretty much grew up at LACMA and love art! What was your introduction to the art world?

The women in my family are artists, so I’ve always been encouraged to be an artist. Growing up in Mississippi though, I wasn’t exposed to it in a way that you are in a city; the nearest museum was 2 hours away. My defining moment for becoming an artist was in high school. I had a mentor that taught me how to paint like Rembrandt, I won awards, traveled all over the U.S. and eventually got a full scholarship to art school. Art school was my way out of Mississippi. I think I’ve been trying to play catch up ever since and expose myself to as much art as possible, hence starting Curate LA.

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The Underground Museum

So you mentioned earlier that you’ve been here 9 1/2 years, and after all this hard work with Curate LA, what are some of your top picks on where to see art in Los Angeles?

1. Underground Museum: “This is the one place I always send people. The story behind the museum is inspiring, they are really doing the best job at community outreach, and their shows are always well curated.” Founded by the late Noah Davis, a painter and installation artist, the Underground Museum is now run by Davis’ wife, Karon, also an artist, with the focus of bringing art into a community where there typically were no high-end galleries or art institutions.

 

2. PAM: “This is a small space in Highland Park run by Brian Getnick, who is a talented performance artist, choreographer, and sculptor. Brian invites artists to use his space for a month, doing workshops and then at the end they do the weekend performance with interactive art. He has very active programming and there really isn’t any other space in L.A. doing anything like it.”

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On the set of “Slow Jams and Afghan Hounds” at PAM Residencies featuring Tim Reid and Meg Whiteford

3. Abode Gallery: “Katie Bode, who is also a writer, runs the gallery out of her home in East LA. It’s always beautifully curated and I love that her programming features women artists, and a very personal curation with the intent to foster community & conversation.”

 

4. Arturo Bandini: “Artists Michael Dopp & Isaac Resnikoff have created a gallery out of a shed they built in the parking lot of their studio; it’s such a unique design. They text their invites and don’t advertise their shows, and if they do, it’s occasionally through Curate LA. For the openings, Nick Fisher, another artist, makes his own drinks, mixers, and beer. It’s always a good time.”

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“Gates of Hell” at Arturo Bandini

5. Night Gallery: “They started in a small space in a strip mall in Lincoln Heights next to a taco joint. Their walls were black and just like it sounds, they were only open at night from 10pm-2am. Their current show High Hell featuring Mira Dancy is awesome – go see it. It’s been amazing to watch their evolution as a gallery!”

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Hilde’s latest story of our last days on Earth

6. HILDE: “Run by Hilde Helphenstein, who is such a smart, thoughtful curator, HILDE is almost a year old and she just opened another space up in Oakland. She’s always thinking about the conversation between the artists and the art. She weaves something together with another piece across the room that you would have never thought of. It’s magic.”

 

7. 24 Hour Charlie’s: “It’s not even really a space. It’s more of a project by artists Andrea Marie-Breiling and Charlie Michenberg and their concept is a roving exhibit that’s open for a full 24 hours and that’s it. Once it was at a house in Malibu, and then their own house, and it’s more of a party environment with an artist community vibe. What I love is that they invite guest curators who are typically artists themselves.”

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“ANGSTZEITEN” by Liv Aanrud, Jamie Felton, Alice Lang & Dustin Metz curated by Don Edler at ELEVATOR MONDAYS

8. Elevator Mondays: “Don Edler definitely takes risks with his programming. The space is an old elevator shaft in his studio. It’s an interesting format because it’s very constrained. It’s a specific type space and although it is very small, he does a lot of performance type shows and installation. This unique space is a jumping-off point for connections, relationships and dialogues that continue outside of the gallery.”

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“NAKED EARTH”, Matt Taber & Scott Nadeau, ELEVATOR MONDAYS

You mentioned the importance of curation with many of your top picks. What makes a good curator?

Diversity is important. Having and thinking about what story you’re trying to tell your viewer, design, layout, and the conversation that the artists are having with each other and with you. Thinking about the exhibition as a whole and also how the artists will work together. It’s so important.

As an LA native, it’s nice to see a resource like this in my city. Do you consider LA an art destination?

Absolutely! L.A. is an artist driven city. Now more than ever artists are taking agency over the current here, the art market, and the art landscape. A lot of artists that are being picked up by larger galleries are because they’re seeing them at smaller artist-run spaces. Artists are pushing each other right now in L.A. – it’s amazing to see! The city is hard to navigate because it’s so spread out, but what’s special about L.A. – there’s so much space! And the app is a great way to discover all of the art in this sprawling metropolis.

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“Big Sky(Lovers)” by Theodore Boyer at HILDE Gallery

What’s next for Curate LA?

We’re growing it here, and my vision is to grow it outside of L.A., but we’re working on getting funding. For L.A. specifically, we are expanding the team and looking to produce more content about L.A. with video content. It’s all about artists in L.A. and how the city influences them and their practice. Honestly, I had no idea it would come to be what it is now, so we’ll see what happens!

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“Why isn’t there a Curate LA in every city?”

Do you love art? Want to visit LA?

 

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Brazil’s History: Plate by Plate

When I took my trip to Iguaçu Falls earlier this year, I expected to see magnificent waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and endless lush forests. Who wouldn’t in this glorious part of Brazil that is considered one of the natural wonders of the world? What I didn’t expect to witness was a culinary tour of Brazil’s history, produced by the talented chef, Fabio Tavera.

“Why don’t we give value to simple things? We think, ‘oh this is from the south, the Amazon, it’s from immigrants’ – Casa do Chef is a response to all of this. We have great food here in Brazil and we need to break it down so people can understand. Understand what’s in our food, understand our people, understand our society.”

 

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Chef Fabio’s intro was merely a hint of what was to come. Having lived, worked, and traveled in Brazil over the past 15 years, I thought I knew a thing or two about Brazilian cuisine. All of that changed as Chef Fabio took the “stage” at his rustic and inviting culinary school called Casa do Chef. “After 16 years working in kitchens, now I am having the opportunity to present Brazilian food in a broader way, relating the historical and anthropological approaches, garnishing this experience with music, which is also my passion. Casa do Chef has been my dream for years.”

And I felt like I had just fallen into a epicurean dream! While my tastebuds were teased with the first dish from the Tupi, Chef Fabio walked us through the dish, dissecting this fish in a history lesson peppered with culinary facts. “The Tupi didn’t use salt at all; you won’t find it in Amazon cuisine. They used peppers and chiles as a preservation mode for meat and fish, and their curing technique is different. Their ritual of smoking is the fusion of the four elements – earth, water, air, and fire.”

 

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Watching Chef Fabio prepare the plates for our first course, I listened intently as he continued to describe the features of this prehistoric fish, pirarucu. “The pirarucu is the biggest scaled fresh water fish in the world. Because the fish scales are so huge, the only way to catch it is in the river during dry season when it gets stuck because of these strong scales. But that’s what makes the meat so good!”

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Dressing the fish with pineapple, roasted peanuts, and honey, Chef Fabio continued – his knowledge the perfect hybrid of TV favorites, History Channel and Food Network! “The Guarani Indians domesticated the pineapple and peanut, here in this area of South America. And when the Portuguese arrived, they noticed that the bees made honey from flowers. At this time in Europe, honey was of very poor quality, so this was one of the first Brazilian exports.”

Chef Fabio recommended starting with a bite of the jambu, an herb from Amazon forest, that has a strong aroma and gets the tongue numb, perfect to eat with this fish that’s been seasoned with fresh chiles – no spices or salt! Enjoying the balanced, smoky flavor, I marveled at how delicious this “sodium-free” dish was – and made a note to integrate some of these healthy techniques when I returned home. Chatting with Chef Fabio as he plated our next course, he shared that Japanese cuisine was one of his favorites because of the beautiful presentation and lightness of flavors. As you read on, you’ll see that same artful influence evident in all of Chef Fabio’s Instagram-worthy presentations.

When I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through his side-by-side comparison of moqueca, one of my favorites! Having been to Bahia, Brazil’s Northeast state known for its gorgeous beaches, I was already aware of the strong African influence in its culture, music, and food.

 

“This mixing of the trade routes with the Portuguese is really evident in what most people know today as moqueca baiana; the mango, lime, and coconut came from India. The cilantro from the Middle East, onions and garlic from the Orient. But what moqueca looked like 600 years ago is here on the left. Fish, urucum, oil from the native Brazilian coconut – babaçu, chili, and of course, no salt.”

Having sampled both, my tastebuds weren’t sure which way to go! I loved the caramelized, simple flavor of the native technique, but I also found the familiarity of the cilantro mingled with the coconut milk delicious. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose!

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Listening to Chef Fabio describe the fusion of foods from all over the world, I thought about the similarities between Brazilian and U.S. culinary history. Both countries had a strong Native Indian food culture that was often aligned with spiritual practices of the tribe. After the arrival of European settlers, much of that history was drastically changed, with many indigineous techniques lost. I felt really grateful to see Chef Fabio reviving some of those techniques here in his cooking school.

 

Next up on the Casa do Chef tasting menu – Carne de Sol, which Chef Fabio said was the perfect dish to highlight the Indian, Portuguese, and African influences. But as he explained, carne de sol is actually a misnomer! Finding out that I spoke Portuguese, Chef Fabio carried on in his native tongue, saying that it’s more of a “de lua, de noite, do vento” because of the aging process. And the description of his homemade clarified butter – well, I’m sure you can imagine how my stomach responded.

“Normally, manteiga de garrafa, or clarified butter, is done the French way – skimming the solids and the clarified butter remains. But this way – a heavy cream is reduced until it’s almost caramalized and solids remain, ending up more like a cheese.” My stomach screamed – “yes, please!”

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Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through the rest of this colonial dish. “We use the ancient method of soaking the abóbora, or pumpkin, in limestone for 10 minutes and then cook it in molasses. This is the African influence with the sugar cane grinders and the use of molasses.” The finishing touch? A hollandaise sauce, using that same delicious manteiga de garrafa…OMG!

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And finally, Chef Fabio’s presentation of feijoada. This is one dish that most tourists have tried on their trips to Brazil, and is what most consider Brazil’s national dish. “This food we call ‘Brazilian’ is new, developed in the last 100 years – at most! Through recipes and ingredients, my idea is to demystify feijoada, and enhance some things that we never thought we could.”

Chef Fabio’s history lesson on feijoada was as much a surprise for my Brazilian colleagues as it was for me. “Meat was rare for everyone in those times. The invented story of feijoada being a ‘marginal dish’ with scraps and leftovers that was fed to the slaves is false. All parts of the slaughtered meats were preserved because there was no refrigeration as we have today. So everyone ate the same thing. This notion that the diet of a slave and the main lord was different is a bit of a myth, with the exception of sugar, which was very expensive.”

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After snapping some shots of this tantalizing plate, I finally enjoyed this Brazilian classic, with Chef Fabio’s special touch. “You know feijoada has a Portuguese influence too, but theirs is with white beans; ours with black beans. Here it’s not deconstructed, just presented differently for more texture. And since the concepts have changed in this invented dish, I invented mine”, he said with a sly wink. Savoring each bite, I thought about how American cuisine is also a melding of immigrant influences, and the bevy of restaurants that are in my Los Angeles neighborhood: Mexican, German, Korean, Armenian, Peruvian. A true melting pot!

Nibbling on the most picturesque sampler of Brazilian dessert classics, I looked up to hear Chef Fabio emerge from the kitchen, serenading us with a flute performance. A true Renaissance man! Historian, musician, and talented chef – how lucky I was to have had this enlightening epicurean adventure through Brazil.

To book your visit to Foz do Iguaçu and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity at Casa do Chef, contact me today!

 

 

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Mama Teresa

While waiting to check in at my new hotel, Mama Shelter, I overheard the receptionist telling the story of the lobby’s colorful artwork. “Designed to incorporate the art of a local Indian tribe, the theme here is inclusivity. Mama Shelter wants to include everyone; we welcome everyone here”.IMG_1949

This new boutique hotel in Rio de Janeiro is a welcome addition to the funky art neighborhood known as Santa Teresa. Sitting at the top of a windy maze of intertwining roads, Santa Teresa is home to top restaurants like Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro, as well as stylish boutiques such as Baoba, which sources their textiles from Angola and Mozambique. And just across from Mama Shelter is the Centro Cultural, an old villa which hosts art exhibitions and live music performances for the local community.

But you won’t have to go far to hear great music. Mama Shelter has a great rotation of jazz musicians and hip-hop deejays that add even more vibrancy to their hotel. There’s no better way to start a Sunday than by sitting in their open-air restaurant and enjoying a bountiful brunch with a bottle of rosé and those funky beats in the background.

Speaking of funky beats, during my visit to Rio I had the lucky fortune of sitting with DJ Vivi Seixas and hearing about her career, and the evolving path that it’s taken over the years. Born into a family of Brazilian music royalty, Vivi grew up being surrounded by music. “I listened to good music from an early age. As a teenager, I had my doubts and everyone expected me to be a singer or guitar player, like my father.”

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That stifling comparison made her nervous and so like any teenager forging their own path, she went abroad at age 18. “At that time, everyone went to the U.S. to study, but I wanted something different so I went to Australia.” A pioneer in many ways, it was here that she discovered the music that moved her: electronic music. Her eyes glittered with happy memories as she recounted those days, “After a visit to a festival, I met a deejay, DJ Tati Sanchez, who took me to some parties and showed me the scene there in Australia.”

This was just the beginning of her musical career. Back home in Brazil, she recalled telling an old boyfriend about a dream that she was playing music for a crowd of people. He nudged her to pursue this craft citing her innate rhythm and good taste, so she took classes, practiced at home, and started playing for her friends. Inspired by everything from Leonard Cohen to Brazilian forro, Vivi explored the full range of electronic music, playing lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop.

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But Vivi felt she wanted to make people move and dance instead of chill out. “I had to find music that I liked. Back then I didn’t have much reference of what was techno, what was house, what was trance. I had a friend who said, ‘Here’s my music, you can drag whatever you like to your files’. I explored his whole library and he said, ‘Everything you dragged to your folder is house music’.”

Like any true house deejay, Vivi had to cut her musical chops on vinyl. In 2006, she went to San Francisco to do a music production course and it was here that she really honed her craft with all mediums of house music, learning from Chicago house greats like Mike Frugaletti, Mark Farina, Chris Carrier, and Hector Moralez. “It was there that somebody told me, ‘If you want to play house music, you have to learn how to play vinyl’.”

So that’s what she did. This rite of passage paid off and now DJ Vivi travels all over Brazil. Talking about her love for house music, which she says is so versatile and has varieties that can be played at a beach party, wedding, or club, Vivi does have plans to get back into producing, in addition to finishing her university degree. “Here in Brazil, the scene is changing to provide opportunities to deejays who can also produce. I’m looking for a studio to make that happen – to make that bridge.”

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Her latest bridge? Remixing the Raul Seixas songbook. “I was invited by Warner Music to make a CD with remixes of his songs. It was truly a mashup of dub-reggae, drum & bass, blues, house music. But my dad’s fans are very protective of his music.”

Experiencing criticism and backlash from the die-hard Raul fans, Vivi walked carefully across this musical divide of rock ‘n’ roll and house music. “Although many people have done musical tributes to my father, people think there’s nobody as good as him. So I had to find a way to do it organically, combining electronic music and musicians. I loved the result.”Vivi5

An emotional project that’s been well-received by fans from both camps, the tribute to her father was a reminder of their eternal connection. “I felt like he was there in the studio. I found this piece of him talking on a cassette tape, and I used his words as an intro – ‘Let’s start. I don’t want things from the past. I want something new.’ It was as if he had given me a blessing throughRaulSeixasguitar the music.”

With chills up my spine, I showed her a photo of some art that was made in tribute to her father by a fan – a self-made artist in the favelas of São Paulo. Giddy at the thought of someone using recycled pieces to make such astonishing art, Vivi talked about her community service work in the favelas here in Rio.

“I work with Jardim Gramacho, next to the Lixão, the dump here in Rio, and I teach music. I used to give money, but I felt the need to help people in a different way.” We talked about our work with non-profits and the work I do with young girls and photography back in Los Angeles, and the mothering we do with these at-risk children in our local communities. “Seeing children doing their homework on piles of trash – it makes you value what you have. And be in the moment of gratitude.” Grateful I definitely was. To have this unique opportunity to sit across from such a vibrant and talented woman, who is forging her path and helping others along the way.

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Walking back to Mama Shelter, I became entranced with all of the street art – everything from murals to mosaics, all lending an artistic flair to the streets of Santa Teresa. One of the best features of Mama Shelter is that it is part of the Accor Hotels family, an extensive network of boutique and luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for me, their sister property Hotel Santa Teresa is right up the street and I was able to purchase a day pass to their pool. No need to trek all the way to the beaches now! I had a tranquil, secluded setting to enjoy.

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Sitting back in my lounge, I thought about my interview with DJ Vivi Seixas and her fortitude to her craft. How great to meet someone so passionate about their work, and then to pass that knowledge on to the youth in her community through service. My work with Las Fotos Project gives me that same satisfaction. Seeing young girls express themselves through photography and writing makes me feel like a proud mama! Having just wrapped our annual fundraiser prior to my Brazil trip, I thought about one of my favorite quotes about mothers: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s words couldn’t be truer for the work that both Vivi and I do with children in need.

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Surrounded by a green garden full of art, flowers, and of course that marine-colored pool, I drifted off into a dreamy trance, lulled to sleep by the soft sound of Marisa Monte playing in the background. What finally woke me up was hunger pangs!

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Tearing myself away from the pool was my hardest task of the aftmama-teresaernoon, but a dinner reservation at Térèze was all the motivation I needed! This top rated restaurant sits atop the neighborhood with a twinkling view of Rio’s seductive sunsets below.

But the real reason to come here is for the food. Like all Accor Hotel properties, the menus have a French influence. Which is a good thing since the French are known for excelling in all things gastronomy. Let’s start with the bread plate. Uttering a soft, “oh my God” when my waiter set it down, I didn’t know which piece to choose. A sampling of butters, cheeses, and savory marmalades accompanied my choices, making my decisions a bit more delectable. Then a salmon pave dish that was so artfully prepared, I felt a bit guilty taking my first bite. Crispy fresh vegetables, coconut-parsley sauce, and a hibiscus-infused foam danced around baroa quenelles. What is a baroa quenelle you ask? It’s the perfect fusion of Brazilian ingredients and French technique. The baroa is a bright, yellow vegetable known as the “carrot-potato” to Brazilians. And a quenelle is a beautifully shaped scoop, usually used for sorbets and ice creams, but in this case, it decorated my dinner plate just perfectly.

Back in the embrace of Mama Shelter, I sat on the colorful terrace and caught up on some emails, Instagram, and all of those technological advances that allow us modern humans to connect while traveling. But what I loved most about this visit to Santa Teresa was connecting with a new neighborhood, giving me more reasons to love Rio!

Contact me to plan your visit to Rio de Janeiro today…

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Swimwear: Lenny Niemeyer

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure & Pedicure: Granado Pharmácias

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Bespoke London

It was in 2014 that I had the pleasure of meeting bespoke tailor Joshua Kane. I had seen a larger than life image of him skateboarding at an exhibit hosted by the Somerset House, eventually making my way to his showroom to purchase one of his signature necklaces called “The Shear”. Since then, I’ve followed the daring designer’s career, as he moved from his old showroom to the new Fitzrovia location, launched a women’s line of bespoke suits, and most recently, breaking records at London’s Fashion Week with his well-attended show “Journey” at the iconic London Palladium.

Joshua Kane’s journey weaves design schooling at Kingston University, where he graduated with Honours, formal fashion experience at varied design houses like Burberry, Jaeger, and Paul Smith, and an entrepreneurial spirit that had him designing bespoke suits out of his small flat not long ago. Fully enveloping the motto, “Blood, Sweat, and Shears”, Joshua’s path is his ethos. His undying passion is evident as he shares what “bespoke” means to him. “Bespoke comes from Latin, ‘to speak for’, and that’s what we’re doing here. Each conversation, as well as each product, needs to be personal to our clients.”

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As with all serendipitous journeys, Joshua’s recent Autumn/Winter show broke fashion week records, showcasing a joint men’s and women’s collection. The show entranced the audience with an opening fit for the opera house. As a pair of ballet dancers twirled and swayed across the stage, a string quartet playing Adagio for Strings enveloped the crowd. Drawn in by the duo’s symphonic energy, Joshua’s show began and his perfectly tailored looks were shown to all. It was a show like no other. It wasn’t just a catwalk of the latest fashions; it was an absolute sensory journey.bespoke7
His bespoke fittings follow suit. “After the client walks away from showroom, I want them to love it because of the experience they’ve had”, the designer imparted. As we moved through his showroom, I asked Joshua what inspires him. “Skateboarding, because when you think about it, the movement, it’s quite like a dance, really.” Just like the dance that closed the show at Fashion Week – inspiring to all of us who sat there in awe.

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One of my favorite things about traveling is partaking in local customs and learning a bit about the culture in the process. The art of afternoon tea is definitely one of those British customs you’ll have to enjoy while in London. But don’t settle for just any tea service. The high tea at The Berkeley is high fashion and a nod to tailor-made design.
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The Berkeley’s “Prêt-a-Portea” experience changes seasons, just like the fashions on the runway. Executive Pastry Chef Mourad Khiat draws upon the latest season’s designs to inspire his menu of bakes and biscuits. Baking expertise runs in Khiat’s family, where he learned this difficult art from his father, also a pastry chef. Eventually honing his skills at culinary school and abroad, Chef Khiat finally brought his eye for delicious and delicate detail to The Berkeley.

Having just celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2016, The Berkeley compiled a cookbook featuring Khiat’s signature recipes. The perfect souvenir for any baker, confectioner, or aspiring pastry chef, this recipe book is filled with encouraging quotes from Khiat, “Showcase your icing and styling skills with this chocolate butterfly fascinator”, exquisite photos, and of course, templates for you to attempt these beauties at home.

Browsing through the book, I sampled on sumptuous tea sandwiches, a bite size spinach and feta muffin, and my favorite – scorched tuna in a horseradish beurre blanc. Absolutely mouthwatering! Sitting in a room flooded with natural light, I perused the selection of teas that would accompany my sweets still yet to come.
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Before heading to London, I came across the beautiful and beguiling Instagram of Luna Mae London. Luckily, I secured an appointment with founder and bespoke lingerie designer Claudia Lambeth, given that her calendar was full with Valentine’s Day and Fashion Week related deadlines. Claudia’s infectious energy was a pleasant surprise as I arrived at her showroom. Eager to share the story behind her exclusive brand, Claudia welcomed me to her Mayfair location, where she conducts private bespoke fittings.

While catching up on all things underpinnings, Claudia shared a bit of her design philosophy. “At Luna Mae London, ‘Bespoke’ means two things. Firstly, we pride ourselves on the fact that each Bespoke piece is made to measure and handcrafted in Britain, supporting British craftsmanship. Secondly, alongside the beautifully made bespoke garments we create a truly bespoke customer service, whereby a client is guided through each step of the bespoke process and their unique needs and desires are catered to.”

It’s evident from first touch that her pieces are not only unique, but crafted from the highest quality material. Her silk, a triple A grade satin silk, is sourced from Como, Italy, while the Italian macramé embroidering and beaded detailing is exclusively designed for Luna Mae London. No detail is left to chance: solid eighteen carat gold fittings are individually hand-cast in London’s Hatton Garden and beautiful monogramming is applied to each bespoke piece. As she showed me some of her bespoke lingerie, which has over 40 structured pieces, as compared to the average 5 that a mass-produced bra entails, Claudia talked about her artistic muses. “Alexander McQueen is a major inspiration to me. I am also greatly inspired by beautiful photography. In particular, I admire the work of Helmut Newton and Sam Haskins.”

Both being women who travel quite a bit, we compared notes on what’s always in our carry-on. Whether it’s to visit international clients or to promote the Luna Mae London brand, Claudia always takes her Luna Mae London loungewear: a silk slip, kimono, and eye mask. “The eye mask in particular is a lovely essential that I always use on the flight,” she added as I mentioned my nagging jet lag. As I wrapped up my appointment, Claudia and I talked about changing trends in lingerie, some of our favorite hosiery brands, and what else to see in London.
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Leaving the Luna Mae studio, I made my way to the pop-up shop for Fine Cell Work. This London-based organization offers rehabilitation programs to prisoners, who are trained in the art of fine needlepoint and embroidery. Marveling at the elaborate designs, I learned a bit about the organization’s origins from Dr. Katy Emck, Fine Cell Work’s Founding Director. “Our founder, Lady Anne Tree, the daughter of the former owner of Colefax & Fowler, Nancy Lancaster, was a regular visitor to HMP Holloway women’s prison in the 1960s, and our first needlework commissions were sewn for the Colefaxes in the 1970s, by life-serving prisoners at that prison. These were two large intricate needlepoint carpets, drawn up by the Royal School of Needlework and sold for £10,000 apiece.”

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Surrounded by everything from lavender sachets, decorative pillows, and holiday ornaments, Dr. Emck continued with the founder’s story. “Early on, Lady Anne had the idea that prisoners would make beautiful things at the highest level they could be truly proud of, and have the chance to earn and save a nest egg for their release, so they could escape the cycle of poverty and crime.” As with most worthwhile ventures, there was a bit of a challenge to this model since prisoners weren’t legally able to be paid for work which they were completing in their cells. But Lady Anne persisted, lobbied, and eventually the law changed, and in 1995 Fine Cell Work was officially registered as a charity.

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As I walked through the shop, at Pimlico Road until early July, I thought about the fine tailoring of Joshua’s bespoke suits, Claudia’s intricate stitching on her bespoke lingerie, and was grateful that this organization gave citizens a chance to contribute their own handmadbespoke-londone pieces of art. When I asked Dr. Emck how she defined “bespoke”, her response seemed to embody what is truly special about commissioned pieces. “Hand stitching is inherently unique, as each item differs from the other slightly depending on the stitcher. Many, often hundreds, of hours of work have gone into the pieces. The pleasure of understanding the provenance of the piece, as well the joy of knowing it was made especially for you, and only one exists in time, is endless.”

Purchasing a few souvenirs for friends and family back home, I looked at the special designs and bespoke pieces on the shelves. Thinking about this calming past-time, I wondered how many of the prisoners transferred this skill to life outside. Dr. Emck enlightened me, sharing some of the success stories and recent commissions by the V&A Museum, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens. “The sense of pride in hand-crafting a stunning piece of work, which you then get paid for and that somebody wants to buy and put in their home is a significant achievement for our stitchers. It gives them work skills and it gives them experience of success. It also enables them to be part of a community that is not about crime.”

Upon parting, Dr. Emck and I traded stories of our experiences on boards for non-profits, the value of helping those in your local community, and the trend in pop-up shops. Grateful for such a meaningful visit, I wandered up the street, feeling lucky for the freedom to experience the multi-faceted city that is London.

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A Belmond Journey

While you’re in London, the last question you’ll ask yourself is “why leave?”. With iconic music landmarks, bespoke fashion, and provocative museums at every turn, it’s no wonder that this metropolis is one of the most visited cities in the world.

But an excursion that you absolutely must put on your itinerary is a luxury train journey with the Belmond British Pullman. These train cars have many a tale to tell, having hosted notable guests like Sophia Loren, President and Madame Vincent Auriol of France, and Sir Laurence Olivier. Rich in history, these cars were used in some of the famous rail services of Britain including the Brighton Belle and the Queen of Scots. The British Pullmans, all of which have been refurbished and restored to lavish, yet comfortable grandeur, are named after American George Mortimer Pullman, who designed these trains to be “palaces on wheels”.

And it definitely felt like a palace from the moment I first stepped foot on the train. Greeted by friendly staff eager to help me settle in to my plush chair, I sipped on my peach bellini while taking in the art nouveau decor and delicate vintage details. Waiting for other guests to board, I read up on these luxury rail cars like the Minerva, Audrey, and my car Perseus, which was Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train car in 1965.

 

Before long, our journey started as we pulled away from Victoria Station and headed towards the English countryside. While enjoying the most sumptuous brunch of Scottish smoked salmon, caviar, and a warm buttered crumpet, all served on the British Pullman’s signature china, I quickly became friends with the travelers across the aisle. Well-versed in the British legal system, my neighbors shared some of the nuances of their system and recommended I visit the Royal Courts of Justice when back in London. What I loved most about our conversation was the personal, cross-cultural exchanges that can only happen while you’re traveling. We discussed the differences between the British and American systems, the U.S. constitution and its cultural grip on gun laws, and what it means to rehabilitate a citizen in the justice system.

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Looking out the window, I drifted off into a pleasant state of daydream as our journey wove through farmlands edging out of a winter frost. Grazing sheep and fields of pheasants dotted green pastures, while the gray clouds broke up as the sun beckoned. It was already turning out to be a beautiful day.

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As we arrived in Bath, our destination for the day’s journey, we were guided through the ancient town on a short bus tour that showed us the highlights. Our guide pointed out Jane Austen’s old haunts, the distinctive architecture of the city, and where to wander at our leisure, all while slipping in some interesting anecdotes.

 

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Exiting the bus, our guide whisked us past the long weekend lines to visit the Roman Baths. Once inside, it was like a flashback to my AP Latin courses from high school. Statues of Roman politicians like Julius Caesar and Vespasian lined the open terrace that overlooked these historic waters. As I sat under a blue sky with these statuesque stone figures above, I reminisced on my school days as president of the Latin Club, where we attended annual conventions that held everything from chariot races to spelling bees, all eventually ending in a nightly toga party.

Making my way up to the exit, I passed my self-assigned patron goddess Minerva, and marveled at the interior baths and stone architecture of this ancient site. With a few hours to roam the city of Bath at my leisure, I headed up towards the hill that led to Royal Victoria Park.

The best part of this Belmond journey is that there is something for everyone in Bath. You can meander through antique stores, catch a rugby match at a local pub, or if the weather is nice, sit outside in one of the parks and observe the greenery lined with intricate cathedrals, buildings, and monuments.belmond4

Always a purveyor of art galleries and museums, I wandered up Broad Street towards the Fashion Museum. Along the way I found Magalleria, a little shop that merged two of my favorite things: art and magazines. Named one of Bath’s best shops in 2016, Magalleria specializes in curating rare, provocative, and artistically designed publications. If you’re in need of a gift or a souvenir, browse their “gallery”. You’re sure to find something that is a smart alternative to a coffee-table book, and won’t weigh a ton in your luggage. After talking with Susan, Magalleria’s owner about the changing landscape in print publications and how artistic magazines are making a comeback, I made a mental note to connect her with a few publishing contacts back home.

Passing quite a few enticing bars and cafes, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about choosing a place to eat, as I would be treated to a delicious dinner on the British Pullman after departing Bath. All the more time to wander these quaint streets!

My final stop in Bath was to the Fashion Museum, which seemed fitting as it was Fashion Week back in London. I started with the newly opened exhibit, Lace in Fashion, that displayed intricate designs, dresses, and decor dating from the 1500s. Walking past gowns by Balmain, Dior, and a beaded dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor during her controversial trip behind the “Iron Curtain” to Moscow, I thought about my recent visit to the Luna Mae showroom, where dreams of bespoke lace lingerie come to life. Seeing this craftsmanship behind glass gave me a new appreciation for this elegant material.

As the British Pullman rolled out of the station, I thought about the Romans’ contributions to transportation, the developments since that era, and how much we depend on these various modes today. Watching the sun set, I savored each bite of the most delicious cauliflower soup, a perfect starter to the freshly made seasonal menu served for this trip’s dinner.train

Over a few more courses which included a delectable daube of beef, dauphinoise potatoes, and a cheese plate sampling regional cheeses from the British Isles, I caught up with my neighbors about what they saw on their afternoon in Bath. As it turns out, we all carved different paths throughout the town, each of us highlighting a favorite experience.

Winding our way back to London, I was already thinking about when I could travel on another Belmond journey. Luckily there are many options to choose from! The newly launched Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury touring train, glides through rugged countryside, winding along the striking scenery of Ireland’s northern coast. Or choose the highly anticipated Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper service, where you can see the spellbinding curves and natural crevices of Peru.

Regardless of your destination with the Belmond Trains, one thing is for certain – you’ll definitely have the trip of a lifetime. My journey on the luxurious British Pullman is something I hope everyone can experience on their trip to England. The superior service and world-class gastronomic fare provided by the British Pullman team, the intimate and daring conversations with your travel companions, and of course, the postcard scenery along the way all add up to create a unique journey for each of us. And really, that’s what travel is all about – the journey.

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Aquele Abraço

Loosely translated as “that embrace”, the title of this famous Gilberto Gil song captures the sentiment of the first time I stepped foot on Brazilian soil 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve had the fortunate fate of vacationing, living, and adventuring in this country that welcomed me in its warm embrace like a close friend.Sarah_Taylor_9

And it’s felt that way ever since. Having continually returned to Rio de Janeiro, or the “cidade maravilhosa” as it’s known by its neighbors and fellow Brazilians, I discover a new facet of this glittering urban gem with each visit.

My latest discovery happened, serendipitously as it seemed, when I attended a yoga class one Saturday morning. I met Kauan at a cultural center down the street from my apartment in Botafogo. As she arrived, I instantly knew she was the teacher from her commanding walk that was fit for a reigning queen. Although I practice yoga, I found myself struggling to keep up with her challenging class “Flexionamento.” With every one of her lithe movements and authoritative, yet reassuring chants of “respira” and “relaxa”, I felt a tad more at ease as the class progressed. After class, I had the chance to learn more about my captivating instructor. Trained in dance performance with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts, it turns out Kauan is a bit like royalty. She comes from the Gracie family, pioneers in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and fitness champions throughout the world.

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Arataca storefront, Copacabana

Upon learning that we were both raised in Los Angeles, we became instant friends. As we talked, Kauan shared the story of how her family made açai famous. This Amazonian fruit, touted for its antioxidant and energy-boosting qualities, is somewhat of a Brazilian delicacy. Kauan recently learned of her family’s connection to the açai culture here in Rio while casually eavesdropping a conversation between a patron and the man behind the counter at Arataca, a Copacabana landmark frequented by author Paulo Coelho and other Brazilian greats.

Her eyes glistened as she recounted the details: “I go into Arataca and overhear this old man saying that he brought açai to Rio, but I knew that he had to be wrong because as far as I knew, it was my family who brought açai to Rio. So I asked him to tell me more and it turns out he was a retired pilot who used to fly the plane that literally brought açai from Pará to Rio.”

As the story goes, Kauan’s great uncle Carlos lived in the building above Arataca and used to eat this delicious, cool treat after training. Being one of the key members of this famous sport family in the city, and throughout Brasil, people started to emulate Carlos, his diet, and his lifestyle, and began to enjoy this ambrosia from the north, making açai more popular as the years went on. “No one here really ate it before”, Kauan mused, “so in a way my family brought it to Rio, too!”

Enthralled with her story, I asked if she’d take me to this açai landmark. Learning more about her story over this delicious local delight, Kauan said that she had been dancing her whole life and that given her family history, fitness and health were always at the forefront of her life. She recounted how in her post-graduate work in Italy, she didn’t really find the dance and styles she was looking for and eventually made the move to Rio, a natural next step in search of her family’s roots and progression as a dancer. “The outdoor lifestyle drew me in immediately. Rio stimulated a lot in me – I knew I wanted to stay.” Luckily, her transition was easy. She landed a job as a dance teacher after attending a class at a nearby school with a friend. The teacher, commenting on her “talent, spontaneity, and connection with the students”, hired her immediately. It was here that Kauan got connected with Carlinhos de Jesus, famous samba school choreographer and judge of Dança dos Famosos.

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Kauan and her post-workout treat

For all things gastronomy, I defer to my friend and celebrated food photographer, Tomás Rangel. With the tough assignment of photographing Rio’s award-winning restaurants and bars for Veja’s annual Comer & Beber issue, Tomás is the source for whatever pleases your palate. Lucky to have him as my tour guide on an afternoon stroll through Santa Tereza, I was enchanted with the old world charm of this neighborhood that offers sweeping views of the city.

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Our first stop was to an unnamed padaria that Tomás stated had the best “pão de queijo”, or cheese bread, in Rio. And he should know. With family lineage from Minas Gerais, which is known for having the best pão de queijo in the country, Tomás made some recommendations on other places in the area to grab a bite, including the outdoor café, “Simplesmente” that sat right across from our anonymous bakery. Wandering around the winding streets of Santa Tereza, we stopped at the Museu da Chácara do Céu to take in some of the breathtaking views that offered a panorama of the city below and a glimpse of the ever-watchful Cristo Redentor. Cristo

Weaving our way through the streets lined with boutiques, bars, and beautiful churches, we stopped for a drink at Bar do Mineiro. Sticking with the theme, we both agreed that it was a welcome reprieve from the afternoon jaunt. Having lived in Minas, I asked Tomás about his impressions of Minas cuisine and if it’s impacted Rio menus. We compared notes on our favorite dishes from this state, deciding that Minas Gerais should be on every foodie’s bucket list. Ruminating on the delectable demands of his assignments as a food photographer, Tomás and I decided that I would have to return to the city soon to continue my sampling of Rio’s culinary scene.

On the way back from Santa Tereza, I stopped by Catete, a neighborhood absent of any tourist flair, but with all of the energy of this city’s heartbeat. I wandered over to Palácio do Catete, wanting to see the photography exhibit by anthropologist Anthony Leeds entitled “O Rio Que Se Queria Negar.” Roughly translated as “Rio In Denial”, Leeds’ black and white photos highlighted life in the favelas during his fieldwork in the 1960’s, casting a sobering and poignant glimpse into the construction of Rio’s landscape.

FavelaWhile reading the captions on each picture, I realized although I had lived in Brazil and traveled here many times, I never quite understood the labor migration and urban development that resulted in this city’s sprawling ghettos. I returned to my apartment and looked up some of Leeds’ work, which led me down the virtual path of a crash course in Brazilian socioeconomics. My curiosity, possibly intensified by the occurrence of Brazil’s recent Dia da Consciência Negra, a holiday analogous to our Black History Month here in the U.S., heightened the similarities between the two countries when it comes to the intersection of race, class, income, and upward mobility. That evening, as I translated some of the lyrics of the samba songs woven throughout Leeds’ images, it was with a heavy heart that I began to understand the title of the exhibit and I wondered at what point we’ll stop denying injustice and begin to acknowledge the chasm that exists between our communities.

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Vendor

Of course it wouldn’t be the quintessential Rio vacation without a visit to its beaches, made famous with songs like João Gilberto’s “Garota de Ipanema” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” Rio’s beaches are not for the faint of heart. Before you even step foot on the steaming sand, you are greeted by an ambush of sights, smells, and sounds that embody the carnival spirit that this city is famous for sharing with the world. Once you’ve nestled into the sand with a chair and umbrella, highly recommended by the way, you’ll see vendors selling everything from rosaries and holy cards, to beer and bikinis. This flurry of activity is set against the backdrop of bronzed bodies basking in the balmy heat, some of whom stand like proud peacocks on the shore.

When I need a respite from this lively scene, I make my way to the rock formation that divides Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Arpoador. An ideal lookout for those trying to capture the perfect shot of Dois Irmãos in the distance, or for locals diving off of the cliffs into the whirling sea below, Arpoador always feels like a world away, although it’s only a few steps from the avenue. While up here, I make it a point to meditate and thank the universe for the magnificent memories of my visit. As I bask in the glorious sunshine, I can hear the hum of the frigate birds swooping by, some diving into the waves that wash up on the rocks nearby.

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Lenny Niemeyer store in Ipanema

To outfit yourself for the coastline of Ipanema, or really anywhere else in the world that admires gorgeous beach attire, you must stop by Lenny Niemeyer. Beyond just outfitting you with a proper Brazilian bikini for your beach visit or afternoon pool party, Lenny’s colors, cuts, and canvas of styles put most resort wear to shame. Made famous by word of mouth amongst Rio’s fashion mavens of the 80’s, Lenny combined her background in architecture with a love of lush landscapes and natural beauty to launch her eponymous swimsuit collection. One visit to her boutique will provide you with everything you need to look the stylish part on your warm weather adventures.

Making my way along the animated Ipanema avenues, my next stop was to one of my favorite music stores, Toca do Vinícius. This is a mecca for anyone who considers themselves a Bossa Nova enthusiast, or for those in search of an obscure Brazilian jazz record. Named after one of the godfathers of bossa nova, Vinícius de Morães, this tiny treasure of a shop captures the spirit, and the soundtrack, of Rio. Standing in this “library of bossa nova”, I am instantly transported to memories of sitting in my grandfather’s office with the melodies of João Gilberto playing in the background.

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Interior of Toca do Vinícius

 

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Untitled, by Adriano de Aquino

Later that afternoon, I headed to the other side of town to the Museum of Modern Art. I was again transported to 1960’s Brazil, revealing yet another perspective on life during this tumultuous time in the country’s history. The exposition, “Opinião 65”, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the original exhibit that introduced controversial artwork by Roberto Magalhães, Antonio Días, Carlos Vergara, Hélio Oiticica, and other avant-garde artists who used their canvases to speak out against the military coup of 1964. Given the protagonistic context of this period in Brazilian history, it is no surprise that this spirit of rebellion showed up in other art forms of this era.

 

While looking at one of my favorite paintings, Fausto, Mefistófeles e Guida, an oil piece by Carlos Vergara, I was instantly transported back to my first visit to the opera with my father. He took me to the San Francisco Opera House to see Faust, quite a hefty piece for my first opera, making it all the more memorable, of course. Devouring any material I could find about the plot, I eagerly read up on Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles, the Devil’s representative. Oddly enough, I identified with the protagonist’s hunger for endless knowledge, and empathized with his perpetual plight.

As I wandered through the exhibit, I was drawn to the sound of bossa nova muddled by voices in Portuguese, eventually ending up in front a video piece featuring interviews of some of these neo-expressionist artists. Discussing the initial exhibit in 1965 and how it was a radical departure from what had been done in Brazil until that point, Vergara stated that “our goal was not only to fight the military, but to fight complacency. The complacency of the people with themselves, and we had choices to make. Art is a field of action.”

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Fausto, Mefistófeles, e Guida by Carlos Vergara

Back home in Botafogo, I met up with one of my former students to catch up over at one of my favorite neighborhoods spots, Hell’s Burguer. While it’s not the only

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Trifecta at lunch

burger joint in town, it has definitely made its mark with the locals, as there is rarely a time I’ve been by where there isn’t a bit of a wait. But it’s well worth it. The menu is small; burgers and fries, with a small sampling of beers and other cold beverages. My usual order is simple: the house named Hell’s Burguer, a juicy, grilled rib meat patty topped with a generous amount of cheese, both sandwiched between a soft bun. It’s accompanied by steak fries perfectly cupped to scoop up the house-made spicy sauce, nicknamed “So Hot It’s Stupid.” Which it’s not. Brazilians don’t really have a palate for spicy food, unless you’re in the northeast or a few other pockets of Brazil. Either way, try it, as well as their Voodoo BBQ Sauce – they’re both delicious!

After finishing our hamburger feast, my student, a fellow football fanatic, talked about the upcoming Rio Olympics and the changes that were happening all over the city. Working to strengthen the infrastructure for this impending sports competition, Rio has faced quite a few challenges preparing itself to host athletes, fans, and tourists from all over the globe. But the more we talked, we both remained hopeful that this “marvelous city” will live up to its nickname as it prepares to showcase this historic event on its urban stage in just a few months.

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Under The Bridge

While walking through Art Share’s exhibit honoring the 6th Street Bridge, I wondered how a piece of architecture could come to represent so much for a community. This Los Angeles landmark, made famous by movies, video games, and maybe the occasional music lyric, connects the burgeoning Arts District of Downtown L.A. with the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Set for demolition this month, the iconic structure was the theme for the gallery’s “Ode to the Bridge” exhibit.

The viaduct, now on the National Register of Historic Places, leaves behind an inspired collection of diverse artwork: gelatin silver prints, canvas wrapped photographs, satin laminate on gatorboard, all capturing what will soon be remnants of LA’s history. bridgeartAfter spending a couple of hours at the exhibit, I did a little research on the bridge and the reason for its impending doom or development, depending on who you ask. Reading through old press releases and snippets from the Los Angeles Times, I came upon a quote by the architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham: “The point about this giant city, which has grown almost simultaneously all over, is that all parts are equal and equally accessible from all other parts at once.” Access: that’s what this bridge stands for.

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“Seeking Heaven” by Asylm at The Container Yard

Prompted to learn more about the bridge and the art history of the neighborhood, I put on my tourist hat and enlisted the help of artist Steve Lopez to give me a tour of the area. Snapping some shots of this soon to be demolished structure, Lopez and I talked about what moved him to pursue a career as an artist. “Los Angeles graffiti was my outlet. It allowed me to be angry and not feel insignificant. It seeded me with courage to stand up against the fear of violence, authority, and assimilation.” Using art as an outlet for the simmering frustration of being raised in two competing worlds, both culturally and physically, Lopez got his start here on the streets of L.A. Honing his skills through formal education and exposure to other artists in the field, he now has his work represented at galleries all over the U.S., including Hive Gallery in nearby downtown L.A.

The Arts District is where every street corner is a gallery, every wall a canvas. Guided through what Lopez called a “hub where international artists converge”, we wandered past works by David Choe, Alex Kizu aka “Defer”, and Asylm while Lopez mused on the intersecting history of hip hop, art, and politics here in L.A.

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Steve Lopez in front of David Choe’s mural in L.A. Arts District

Stopping for a bite at Zinc Café, Lopez and I compared notes on how we thought the city has changed. Both LA natives, we laughed at the idea of being tourists in our own city and discovering its hidden gems. Ruminating about how the neighborhoods have evolved, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, we did agree on one thing: Los Angeles has become a destination for artists, art enthusiasts, and art historians.

With all of this renewed art appreciation comes boutiques, bars, and restaurants, or sometimes all three as is the case at Zinc. I first discovered Zinc when I came to the grand opening of Black Milk’s flagship U.S. location last year. It was by accident, which is always the best way to

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Patio dining at Zinc Café

discover a neighborhood dining gem like this. Since then, I’ve been back a few times and enjoyed the savory pizza blanco, a perfectly fluffy quiche, and their decadent dark chocolate brownie, but it wasn’t until my second visit that I realized the menu was completely vegetarian. There’s a room for every mood at Zinc: it has a front patio, an outdoor garden, a back bar, and a gift boutique that has a bevy of hostess gifts to pick up on the way to your next party. Glancing up at the wall in the back bar of Zinc, I noticed some paintings of the 6th Street Bridge and thought about how bridges not only connect neighborhoods, but cultures, communities, and generations.

The next stop on my self-imposed art walk of Los Angeles was the recently opened Broad Museum in the center of downtown. The newest addition to the family of museums that dot this urban sprawl opened in September and sits next to the equally striking Walt Disney Concert Hall. If there’s one word that describes the art at the Broad, it is “provocative”. Walking through the different rooms, I was met with a vast collection of modern art, some of which struck me as vibrant and dynamic, and others as vile and revolting. But one of the most striking pieces of art at the Broad is what architect Liz Diller labels the “veil”, or the outer façade of the structure. This veil, which Diller describes as beautiful because “it’s distorted, incomplete, ragged at the top”, has added a new dimension to Grand Avenue’s skyline.

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The “veil” of the Broad Museum

Driving along the endless stretch of freeway towards the next stop on my seamless staycation, I thought about how the freeways bridge the suburbs of this sprawling cityscape. With Santa Monica as my next stop, I was grateful for the clear freeway that was uncharacteristically absent of any traffic. The song by the Missing Persons had it right: nobody walks in LA. Unless you are walking to the valet, the nearest bus stop, or those rare metro stops, you’re in a car and you’re going to need this transportation to see all of the highlights that this city has to offer. As the antiquated GPS in BBC’s 1972 documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles narrates: “get in the lane marked ‘Santa Monica’ but watch out for traffic, and remember that flashing a signal does not constitute any right of way.”

My home for a few days of my staycation was the Ambrose Hotel. Santa Monica’s first LEED certified hotel, which artfully blends eco-friendly decor with what they call “holistic hospitality” sits right outside of the bustling shopping district of this southern California tourist destination.

The Ambrose Hotel, founded by hospitality industry veteran Deidre Wallace, is the perfect combination of luxury, culture, high design, and sustainability. Wallace, who noticed a gap in the market for “affordable luxury and healthy hotels”, said that going green was not an afterthought that she just added to certain elements of the hotel, but rather an integral part of the hotel and her business. And it definitely shows, even down to the smallest details in the bathrooms, organic refreshments in the lounge, and the helpful complimentary local transport service.

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Guest bikes at the Ambrose Hotel

I took a ride around the neighborhood on one of the bikes provided by the hotel, and marveled at the endless blue sky dotted with palm trees along the coast. Shooting photographs of the seductive sunset, I watched, listened, and eventually joined in as tourists from all over the world captured moments that would keep these memories alive long after they’d return home. And then I thought about how lucky I was to call such a picturesque place home. A place where people from all over the U.S., as well as the globe, come to catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy shore, and this coastline that they’ve seen in so many Hollywood movies.

My art tour continued at one of my favorite destinations, LACMA. Celebrating its 50th year in Los Angeles, this museum is where I’ve seen everything from King Tut’s tomb to Stanley Kubrick’s provoking manuscripts to Diane Von Furstenburg’s divine dress collection. Growing up, I spent countless Sundays here with my aunt Reenie as my guide and I fondly remember the first time I saw Diego Rivera’s work while she provided insight and perspective on the murals that I’d one day see in his native Mexico. Now I frequent the museum with friends and visitors from all over the world, passing on the knowledge I’ve learned over the years.

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Chris Burden’s Urban Light

On my most recent visit, I was lucky to catch the last days of the Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada exhibit. Purifoy, the pioneer who brought art education to the California prison system, created masterpieces from his surroundings here in Los Angeles and throughout the Mojave Desert. His art is provoking and poignant, highlighting some of the more tragic moments of L.A. history. Using debris from the Watts riots, Purifoy’s sculptures, photos, and transcripts are a timeless reminder of how much healing still needs to be done in our local urban communities.

As I drove along the freeway back to downtown, I thought about how these highways acts a bridge, connecting the streets and the people. Streets that have hosted momentous occasions like the passing of an Olympic torch or the last flight of space shuttle Endeavor, while at the same time bearing witness to riots and outraged citizens. And then I was reminded of Lopez’s statement about art and how it was a vehicle for him to channel outrage and anger, ultimately acting as a cathartic release. This is one of the primary purposes of art; to provide a platform for people to express their perspectives, their emotions, their soul. Without art, our communities lack a healthy means to express the challenges and successes in their lives.

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Phillipe’s customers waiting for a local delicacy

Hungry for a bite to eat, I stopped at Phillipe’s, home to the original French dip. While the origin of the sandwich is debatable, one thing is for certain: this deli is always packed. And rightfully so. The sandwiches are perfectly crispy on the outside and soaked in the signature au jus, making each bite a sumptuous morsel. Dining here with my father, he reminisced about how he would frequent Phillipe’s with my grandfather back in the day. Whether they were headed to a nearby Dodger game or a Rams football game, Philippe’s always made the perfect take-along sandwich. Always eager to share a good story, my dad’s eyes glistened as he recounted the good ol’ days in Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles County Public Library

Back in downtown, I had the opportunity to join a private tour of the Los Angeles Public Library. The tour, led by our animated and encyclopedic docent, Diana, was a convergence of all things that make me happy: books, art, and history. Spending childhood summers between the beach and my local library, I was instantly transported to that larger than life feeling I had as a child when I walked into the Rotunda Room. Its centerpiece is a magnificent Lee Lawrie-designed chandelier, which helps

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Statue of Civilization by Lee Lawrie

to illuminate the murals lit up by the natural light that floods the room. These murals, completed by Dean Cornwell in 1933, colorfully depict the history of California. Cornwell, who studied under Frank Brangwyn in London, used his artistic background as an illustrator to influence his renderings for this ceiling. Standing there in awe, I was delighted by Diana’s anecdotes about the artists, their style, and inspiration for the artwork in the library. My favorite piece on the tour was Lawrie’s Statue of Civilization, with her veined marble dress decorated with icons symbolizing progress and development throughout history. She glows from natural light that flank her from every angle while holding a torch, a tribute to the library’s theme: “The Light of Learning”. Crowned with angels and a bear, both nods to the city and state symbols, she looks across to the children’s room, another art-filled universe within this beautiful landmark.

My final stop of the day was to one of my favorite downtown eateries, Bottega Louie. The restaurant is always bustling no matter what time of day I dine, and the food is always delicious. My favorite dish, the trenne pasta, combines the most delectable and tender short rib pieces with seasoned kale and is set atop pan-seared pasta, with fresh parmesan as its finishing touch. Whether meeting friends or hosting out of town guests, Bottega Louie is always the perfect place to meet for a meal. Having dined here countless times since its opening in 2007, I’ve dipped in to pick up sandwiches and sweet treats from their Instagram-worthy patisserie, savored their smoked salmon benedict while brunching with friends, and enjoyed their wood-fired pizza after a night out.

Heading home, I drove east across the 6th Street Bridge for the last time. Tears welled up in my eyes with an uncertainty about what the future holds on many levels. But there’s one thing I know for sure, I’ll definitely be back, with each visit just as memorable as the last.

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Hecho en Los Angeles

As American As Mole

“I am an American discovering America”. These words by Marsden Hartley never rang truer than during my trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This enchanting artists’ colony has been on my travel bucket list for some time. I had no idea the rich history, both culturally and culinary, that awaited me in this southwestern town.

A lover of all things epicurean, I enrolled in a cooking class at the suggestion of my hotel concierge. Santa Fe School of Cooking hosts a wide array of hands-on courses and tasting menus, which made it hard to choose, but I ultimately decided on “Mole & More”. Mole, a dish with endless ingredients and prep time that would deter most home chefs, has always intimidated a seasoned cook like myself. Little did I know that our instructor, Chef Michelle Chavez, would guide us through the process with ease, providing helpful tips and tricks along the way.

Chef Michelle Chavez provides a historical introduction to our class
Chef Michelle Chavez provides a historical introduction to our class

Michelle, equal parts historian, teacher, and foodie, began our four-hour session with an introduction that rivaled my AP US History class. During her talk, I learned more about this region of America than in my four years of high school history classes. “Every group of people who came through Santa Fe, be it on the Camino Real or the Santa Fe Trail, left an indelible impression on our food and culture. To remove one from our history would change our ways drastically”, shared Michelle as she pointed out the bountiful culinary traditions of those who had come before. “Corn, beans and squash, collectively known as The Three Sisters, were gifts of the native population, as well as the wine grapes, pigs, sheep, wheat and other cultivars brought by the Spanish.” She shared stories of the Pueblo, Zuni, and Oaxaca heritages, highlighting the often overlooked contributions of these Native Americans to this plentiful cuisine and culture.

Prepped ingredients ready for
Prepped ingredients ready for Michelle’s mastery

While Michelle mixed fresh beans, roasted fragrant chiles, and simmered Abuelita chocolate, she offered suggestions on everything from making bone broth to cookie-crumb crust. Scribbling down every word on my recipe sheets, I was eager to try these suggestions back home. With Food Network-style presentation, Michelle wove around the room with each course neatly timed. Each dish exceeded my palette’s expectations, and had a precise mixture of sweet and savory, all while offering that signature New Mexican spice.

As class came to a close, I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle and thank her for an unforgettable experience. After telling her about my spotty knowledge of American history, she recommended that I read Blood & Thunder by Kit Carson. Eager for a deeper insight to the history of New Mexico and the southwest, I added the book to my wish list. Not wanting the class to end, I asked Michelle for a photo and barraged her with other questions. Obliging, she mentioned that she was working on a book and that her travel bucket list location was “to the spice markets of Northern Africa and India; basically anywhere that has a strong food culture with great biodiversity.”

Weaving my way up through the center of town, I thought about my impromptu history lesson and what this area must have looked like centuries ago. I imagined towering rows of corn, fields of colorful squash, and an earthy expanse set against the stark blue sky and hovering mountains.

Entry to the New Mexico Museum of Art
Entry to the New Mexico Museum of Art

Stepping into the courtyard of the New Mexico Museum of Art, I now understood why so many artists had been drawn to this magical place. The Will Shuster murals that lined the courtyard offered a glimpse into what life was like on this land long ago.

Museum courtyard lined with artwork by WIll Shuster
Museum courtyard lined with artwork by WIll Shuster

Once inside the museum walls, I walked through the exhibit enjoying a multitude of interpretations on early American life. From Diego Romero’s Romanticism-inspired piece Olympia to Fritz Scholder’s larger than life Pop-Art Super Indian, I was overwhelmed by the wash of hues and textures that this “Summer of Color” inspired exhibit displayed. One piece drew me closer, and I stepped towards it in a cautious manner. The Scout, by Warren E. Rollins, made me wonder what was going through this man’s head.  Capturing the uneasy feeling of a stranger approaching, “Do I retreat? What do they want? Where are they from?” Rollins’ work left me pensive, yet uncomfortable.

Detail of Rollins'
Detail of Rollins’ “The Scout”

Moving on to Taos Pueblo-Moonlight, the neighboring oil painting by E. Irving Couse, I longed to step into the picture. A familiar, yet somber mood came over me as I studied the family around the fire: an elder passing on generational wisdom to an eager child.

Leaving the museum, I crossed through the square and absorbed the fresh breeze on this crisp, spring evening. Inspired by the varied artistic expressions, I took some photographs of passersby and local architecture. While seeking out my next stop, a local vendor in the square recommended that I take a walk up to San Miguel Mission.

San Miguel, the oldest church in the United States, has a simple façade washed in the burnt almond color that is ubiquitous in Santa Fe. With each creaking footstep, I made my way along the pews, admiring the quaint and homely church.

San Miguel interior
San Miguel interior

Approaching the altar, I dropped in some coins and lit a candle for my nephew. As I knelt down at the wooden altar, I looked into the foundation of the church. Squinting to make out the placard below, I could see the ruins of an Indian home dated 1300. My eyes welled up with heavy tears, overcome with the emotion and burden from the day’s lessons. I silently wept for all those who had lost their homes and habitats in that early round of colonization.  Walking slowly out of the small church, I wondered what it would be like to be displaced and lose my house and heritage in the process.

Foundation of San Miguel altar
Foundation of San Miguel altar

Once home, I was eager to try my hand at the menu that Michelle had so synchronistically prepared during my trip. Lucky enough to live in Los Angeles where many of these ingredients can be found, I reviewed my notes and assembled a shopping list for my recreation of “Mole & More”. Noting a few holes in my ingredient list, I called the school and ordered a few things to complete my menu.

Spicy honey from Santa Fe School of Cooking
Spicy honey from Santa Fe School of Cooking

I created a new acronym, WWMD, as I repeatedly asked myself through the lengthy preparation, “What would Michelle do?” With a few tweaks and twists, I prepared a spicy and sumptuous feast for a few friends. My delectable dishes were devoured in what seemed like minutes. Sharing stories of everything from summer romances to systemic racism, my guests and I enjoyed a fragrant and fulfilling meal. Pleased with my performance, I recounted stories and insights from my trip to Santa Fe and vowed to return to the southwestern town before year-end.

Santa Fe, New Mexico airport
Santa Fe, New Mexico airport