leopold-schmidt.jpgsteve_zaillian.jpg Olympia is a charming little city in the Pacific Northwest, set down on rolling hills surrounded by forests of Douglas-fir, bigleaf maple and red cedar – a pretty, speckled egg resting in a nest of twigs.

This is the old part – the far end of the Oregon Trail, settled on Native American land by Europeans in the 1850’s – where Leopold Schmidt founded the Olympia Brewing Company in nearby Tumwater Falls and sold his beer, if you recall, with the slogan, "it’s the water," which I’m surprised none of the hundreds of water bottlers has adopted now that Leopold’s beer business has folded.

olympia-brewing-co.jpg This is Downtown Olympia, with its century-old buildings, its perfectly-proportioned Capitol, its tree-lined streets on which people drive politely and you can always find a place to park – often without a meter – near the still-family-run bookstore or café or bike shop you want to go to.

But that’s not where I wanted to go, or rather needed to go, to help my son move into an unfurnished apartment.  We needed to head over to the other part of Olympia and it is this part – which I imagine you’d find outside most other American towns of its size – that I’m still trying to figure out as the plane banks over Puget Sound taking me home.

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salad.jpgI know it sounds blasphemous but one of my favorite restaurants in Paris is an Italian joint. Casa Bini lies just south of the Boulevard Montparnasse in a two-story building housing the family of Mrs. Anna Bini. The food is traditional Puglian with a large menu of classics and house favorites that never change. The principal allure of the place is the leaflet of daily specials. I have rarely encountered the same dish twice and the specials always impress so much so that my family, and most people I know in Paris, list Casa Bini as one of their favorites.

I had dinner there a few days ago with a couple of my cousins and the food was delicious as always. The nice thing about a place like Casa Bini is that you always know what to expect; friendly staff, dusty pictures of the Italian countryside, and dimly lit dining rooms. It is the culinary delights coming out of the bustling kitchen that are novel. My cousins and I arrived at about 8 to the warm welcome of the eldest Bini son, a small round man with a baldhead and thickly Italian accent. As was expected we all ordered from the daily offerings boasting tons of fresh seafood and other seasonal ingredients from the best Parisian markets.

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rio_de_janeiro.jpgRio is a city of many contrasts, light and dark, mountains and sea, poverty and wealth. They mingle together as does the light at dawn or dusk, then separate, giving glimpses of glorious beauty and extreme ugliness. One might say, 'like life' and just so, pulsing through this cosmopolitan city, with its sprawling environs, dazzling beaches and majestic mountains you can sense the exciting rhythm of its spirited people. A conglomerate of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural beings who truly believe in their way of life and give thanks daily to the Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvellous City.

Founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, this guttural language is still spoken by its inhabitants, Of course, for visitors, translations into English are everywhere and most people have a basic understanding and are able to communicate, on one level or another.

There is a multitude of interesting sites for those with intellectual leanings. The Cultural Corridor in the heart of downtown Rio includes a number of historical buildings such as the National Library built in neoclassic style where the smallest book in the world is on view. The gorgeous Municipal Theatre is modeled on the Opera Charles Garnier in Paris. It was known as Rio’s most luxurious and extravagant building and, lit up at night, 'tis a glorious sight to see, being the center of Rio's cultural activities.

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mother_children.jpgWhat does traditional Southern cooking, and traditional Jewish cooking have in common.  One word.  BEIGE!

I was in the Great Smokey Mountains over the weekend, visiting the part of my family who settled there many years ago.  My sister-in-law is a world-class cook, so I knew I was in for some yummy home cooking.  I rarely taste home cooking any more.  It's just me at home.  And I've taken to referring to my kitchen as that room with all the white stuff that I used to be in all the time.

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CR-WeatherMost of my travel is food focused. I’m headed somewhere to meet people who make interesting food tied to a place and to taste that food. Over the past decade I find that the line between vacation, educational junket and personal exploration has blurred. If I travel with food friends then we tend to be like dogs searching for the same tasty bone to turn up. It can get weirdly competitive or punishingly about the next bite even when enough bites have been had by all.

When I started traveling as a kid I wandered. Often I traveled alone, free to choose this road at that speed to stop and see this thing, sink into the culture of that place and eat those dishes. They were my decisions at my pace. No “have to” or “can’t miss”, just wandering and discovery. I miss those days. Of course time tends to be an impediment. I don’t have an extra five or six weeks to spare anymore, so focus is to often at the root of today’s travel.

But, recently a friend (who loves to cook, but is not a foodie) took possession of a long sought shack on the beach in the Pacific Northwest of Costa Rica. She was taking the first trip back to see how the beginnings of rebuilding the shack were going and to install her 21 yr old son for a two-month stay as “remodeling supervisor”. Would I come along?

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