This post had an incredibly hard time birthing itself into the world. I made repeated attempts to translate into binary form a host of feelings and musings and revelations that have come from this pandemic period, but nothing quite captured the gist. This post still doesn’t capture it, but I tried.

I remember the last time I tried to encapsulate this range of emotions – when I’d just been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. There are so many synchronicities between the pandemic and cancer and I say that without a hint of irony. There was the beginning of the pandemic – that period in March and April – when we were just starting to emerge into our new reality…the feeling of waking up every morning and saying “oh shit, this is real”. The isolation from family and friends. The confusion and depression. And the elephant in the room, the ever looming possibility that we – or our loved ones – could die from this disease. The possibility that if you scratched your nose the wrong way, comingled with the wrong people, or rode the elevator after someone who might have breathed out tainted droplets, you could have made an irreversible mistake.

But here’s the good news – and this comes from someone who knows a little about challenges where death is a conceivable outcome – there is always a silver lining. 

I say this with a well-read nod to the slew of recent articles, such as this one and this one and this one, that have emerged on the topic of “toxic positivity”. It’s okay to not be okay they all report. Own your baggage. And I agree. It’s important to feel our feelings, not to buckle under the pressure of showing a shiny happy face to the outside world. But I also feel that it’s my duty to report that when life gets torn down to the studs, the rebuilding can often produce a better, stronger, more reliable house. We may be too lost in the weeds of our current situation to fully appreciate our opportunities for personal (and cultural) growth, but they are there. 

I wish I could have taken a dose of my own medicine in the spring of 2020. Early quarantine nearly broke me. In an ideal world (a world very much unlike the current state, hi, yes, clearly) I would have been able to extract myself from my depression with a gentle reminder that “this too shall pass” or “may I live like the lotus, at ease in muddy water” or even “raise your damn vibration girl, you’re better than this”. But that’s the thing about depression – often you don’t know that you’re depressed until you’re waist deep in the sludge without your gaiters on, grasping for mercy while you sink.

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‘Tis been a season of West Coast adventuring. Not a singular season as much as a series of seasons. From the flower blooms of April to the rain-belt of mid-September, I’ve ventured high and low this year, with Portland at its epicenter.

What started as a realistic attempt to see if west coast living is really my jam (and hence my family’s jam), developed into a multi-pronged effort to visit Portland as much as humanly possible within a 6-month period.

After forfeiting my family’s usual spring break vacation this year – they headed west to Los Angeles – I decided to spend the week in Oregon, my casita away from home.

I’ve written about Oregon in the past, but something has always drawn me to this place. There’s a sense of spirituality in the shifting mountain mists, the coastal waves, the smell of white pine and Douglas fir. Oregon makes me want to shed my New York mask, pull on checkered flannel, and just be. And smell. And do. Hike, watch, drink, and eat. All of the local tidbits and doodads, the hearth-baked artisan breads, the grass-fed meats, the stinky cheeses, and the only-to-be-found in the Pacific Northwest edibles – marionberries, cloudberries, Rainier cherries, Walla Walla onions… I have yet to eat geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”), but someday. At the very least, it’s on the list.

I did barehand my first full Dungeness crab, nose to tail, while watching those humbling coastal waves roll in; dunking sweet day-caught meat into browned butter prepared by the most utterly talented Portland-area chef, Althea Potter of The Southeast Wine Collective. So there’s that.

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Many moons ago, I was a 20-something study abroad student in Australia when I decided to train down to Melbourne for the weekend. I was by myself, and what felt like an adventure at the time of booking soon became a stressful few days. I quickly realized that while I loved to travel with a friend or group of friends, solo travel wasn’t my thing. I had a hard time venturing out to dine alone and recall racing out of a movie theater when the film was over, worried that someone would see me by myself. The horror! I’m not sure what my angst was about, but I highlight this story only to illustrate how far I’ve come.

Solo travel has become my favorite way to travel. Perhaps it’s a result of family life, motherhood, generalized chaos, and/or the desperate (albeit temporary) need to get a break from it all….but I now look forward to vacations where nobody joins but me and a stack of books.

From recent trips to British Columbia where I spent days hiking into the mountains, reading, and cooking out of a mini fridge and induction oven….to Portland where I made plans with friends with whom I’d been long out of touch…..I find that solo travel resets me and recharges my batteries like nothing else, making the effort of tackling work/kids/homework/afterschool activities all the more dignified.

Earlier in June I was invited to visit The Loren Hotel at Pink Beach in Bermuda, 4 days of bliss that felt more like 4 weeks. When I mentioned that I’d be visiting The Loren on my Instagram page, one of the first comments was that The Loren was one of the most exciting developments to happen in Bermuda in the last 25 years. 

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Friends, it’s been a while since I posted. The subject of my break isn’t the topic of this post, I’ll save that for another time. It’s been a long, hard, and in some ways, rewarding year filled with personal growth and introspection.

But at a certain point, once the drama of this last year began to fade into my rearview mirror, I felt that it was time to start working on food + travel projects again. The nice thing about my work on the internet is that my community is always here, waiting with open arms to invite me back into discussions about pork shoulder and piña coladas.

Speaking of which (the piña coladas, extra rum please) I had the immense pleasure of finding myself en route to the Cayman Islands last week. Surrounded by a group of women who would make me laugh until my belly hurt. I’d traveled with two of them before, Laura and Emily, so I knew that my time away would be filled with great conversation and plenty of rosé champagne. Two more women, Gillie and Carly were new friends, and people that I’ll lock & load into my cell phone for future adventures, of which I’m sure there will be many.

We touched down in Grand Cayman on Thursday afternoon, chilled to the bone from our frigidly cold air-conditioned flight to warmer climes. And though rain had kissed the area for several days before our visit and gave us a quick greeting as we unpacked our bags, sprinkling the beach with golden dewdrops, we’d have 4 straight days of sunshine ahead of us.

Our hosts at the Westin Grand Cayman at Seven Mile beach had reserved us a double decker cabana on the beach, and there we parked our hungry behinds while the final bits of darkened sky cleared up. We placed an order for some shared appetizers of creamy clam dip, smooth sesame-intense hummus, and conch fritters, along with a few cocktails to wash it down.

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If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ll have seen my frequent work for the olive oil company Lucini Italia. It’s been one of the most rewarding partnerships of my professional career, one based on mutual respect, support, and a darn strong love of olive oil.

Meaning “little glimmering light”, Lucini is the impassioned project of a husband-and-wife team who visited Tuscany several years ago, fell in love with the food, and lamented the lack of high quality extra virgin olive oils here in the United States. So they set about building a brand that would reflect the purity and quality of their beloved Tuscan oils, featuring first-pressed oils harvested early in the growing season to capture the peak of freshness. Although Lucini’s Premium Select Extra Virgin Oil from Tuscany is still their flagship product, the company (now owned by California Olive Ranch) wanted to create another extra virgin olive oil that would reflect the same quality standards, but would be priced for everyday use.

Entre Cielos Resort & Spa

The South American high desert region of Mendoza, popular for it’s famous wine export, Malbec, might seem like an odd choice for an American-based, Italian-inspired olive oil company to set up shop. But as we – Lucini’s brand ambassadors – have learned over the past few months, the soil and temperature conditions in Mendoza are ideal for growing Mediterranean crops such as olives, wine, nuts and citrus. Furthermore, Italian farming expats have been moving to Argentina for generations, and with them, have brought the skills and techniques to develop a bright green and peppery Argentinian extra virgin olive oil that rivals the finest Tuscan product.

After developing recipes for Lucini over the past few months, the company was eager to fly several of us lucky bums down to Argentina to see the olive oil-making process in person. We would visit two of their producers – the Perez family farm – which still uses an Old World hand-harvesting technique that produces a higher yield, but is a more labor-intensive (and costly!) process. And a second producer – Olivaterra – based in San Juan in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, which processes olives at the other end of the spectrum: large-scale and machinery-intensive, relying on the latest and greatest in olive oil processing capabilities (hello drones!)

The Perez Family Farm

Both experiences were fun and educational, with sights and sounds that were worlds apart, yet accomplished the same goal: a high-quality Tuscan-style extra virgin olive oil, as useful for cooking as it is for finishing.

But our Lucini hosts wanted us to experience much more than olive oil. Argentina is rich in culture and we were encouraged to soak it all in – the sun, the food, the people. After all, tourists don’t visit Tuscany simply to experience its lush olive oil tradition. Our Argentine itinerary was packed with visits to various wineries, restaurants (Francis Mallman’s 1884 Restaurant was a dream for those like to cook with fire), and the loveliest B&B tucked into the mountains. There, we rode horses, feasted on charcuterie, and I tackled two full plates of meltingly tender lamb shanks for dessert. Followed of course by our real dessert – flan – drizzled, as to be expected, with Dulce de leche.

El Enemigo Winery

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