Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For The Traveling Music Lover: North America's Top Ten Cities for Live Music


August, 2009: The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the world’s largest organization of professional travel journalists and photographers, recently polled its members to come up with the “Top 10” best North American cities for live music.
“Travel should involve all five senses, and one of the great travel experiences is listening to live music in the places where it originated or in spectacular settings,” says SATW president, Bea Broda.
Listed in order of votes with comments from SATW writers, here are North America’s “Top 10” destinations for live music.
1. New Orleans, Louisiana,
“New Orleans bleeds music – it’s in the air, in the water, in the people. You can’t go to New Orleans without the music swallowing you whole.” Lisa A. Tomaszewski, travel editor, HMP Communications
2. New York City,
“Where else can you “Rent” a seat next to some “Guys and Dolls,” let down your “Hair” and be transported anywhere from the “South Pacific” to “Chicago,” and leave the theatre thinking, “Mamma Mia!” that was some enchanted evening!” Evelyn Kanter, freelance travel writer/photographer
3. Austin, Texas,
“Only in Austin, Texas can you go for super-delicious and inexpensive barbecue, sit outdoors at a picnic table and hear decent live rock at no additional charge.” Carole Terwillger Meyers, travel writer
“Austin is home to the yearly South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, where nearly the entire city becomes a music venue for a week. There are hundreds of live shows a day, making it just as fun for locals as for industry executives.” Joshua Hinsdale, freelance travel writer
4. Nashville, Tennessee,
“Nashville isn’t just the ‘home’ of country music. It’s the heart and soul of country music.” Steve Winston, freelance travel writer
5. Chicago, Illinois,
“Chicago's reputation as home of the blues can't be understated, with live shows available at clubs every night. The diverse neighborhoods and city-sponsored events also offer live music, from Old Town School of Folk Music to Lollapalooza in Grant Park and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It's all here, all the time.” Laurie Borman, freelance travel writer
6. Memphis, Tennessee,
“Barbecue and blues, blues and barbecue. Memphis is a foot-tapping, sensory delight.” John H. Ostdick, freelance travel writer
“Doesn’t get any better than Memphis, Beale St. and barbecue, wow, what a concerto. Plus the ghost of old Elvis is always hanging around somewhere, munching on a fried banana and peanut butter sandwich and strumming his guitar.” Rich Browne, host, Barbecue America
7. Montreal, Canada,
“Montreal has anything you might want, with a European accent.” George Bryant, freelance travel writer
“Montreal is a hotbed of world music, and free music festivals!” Nancy Lyon, freelance travel writer/photographer
8. Las Vegas, Nevada,
“From Elvis and Frank through Barbra and Barry to Celine and Bette, Vegas has been THE venue every great act hopes to get booked into. And with all the smaller lounges at the major hotels, you can catch talent on the way up, too.’’ Bob Jenkins, freelance writer.
9. Branson, Missouri,
"Where do top sidemen go when they tire of the LA lifestyle? To Branson where they can play their music at any of its 52 live performance theatres, enjoy life on three pristine lakes and 12 championship golf courses. Every day's a musical high, but the Christmas scene is fabulous!" Lorraine O'Donnell Williams, travel writer.
10. Denver, Colorado,
“Red Rocks is the most visually stunning outdoor amphitheatre in the country, maybe the world. “ Ted Alan Stedman, freelance travel writer
“A concert at Red Rocks should be on everyone’s bucket list…Red Rocks is one of a kind.” Kim McHugh, freelance writer

The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) is a non-profit professional association that works to promote responsible travel journalism and to provide professional support for its members, including travel journalists, photographers, editors, electronic media, film lecturers, television and film producers, and public relations representatives from the travel industry.

For more information on the Society of American Travel Writers, visit:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Iconic Dining - Twenty Places to Dine Before You Diet: Part Two

Searching for the best tables in the world? (This one is in Puebla, Mexico) Read On!

Touring The World, One Meal at a Time

Here's the next five iconic dining experiences that should be on every traveling gourmand's list. Let me know if you have dined at any of these, and leave a comment if you would like to nominate a foodie destination for the list.

6.Castle Mallow, Ireland - Dine in your own castle, with staff. Order what you want, but be sure to include fresh soda bread, freshly caught salmon from the Blackwater River that runs past the estate.

A warm inviting home with an engaging staff of family retainers, this fine castle was the 16th-century seat of the Lord President of Munster and the home of this family for four centuries. You may stroll through the eight-hectare (20 acre) deer park, where over 100 white deer roam freely (a christening gift from Queen Elizabeth I to her god-daughter). The 'new' castle, occupied since 1689, overlooks the stately 'old' castle ruins, a national historic monument.

Before dinner enjoy a game of snooker in the billiard room or a quiet drink in the drawing room. The castle can be rented, complete with staff, at

7. Eigensinn Farm, Ontario, Canada -Michael Stadtlander's amazing dinner which is a four hour walking dinner with each course taking place at a different station, where he and his wife Noboyu have designed an art installation that matches the food course.

The barbecue is made in the shape of a red wattle pig and the roasts being grilled are from the same red wattles, served with an apple and sage sauce, baby green beans and dumplings with caramelized onions and bacon ( made from the same red wattles) .

That was course #5 in a twelve course feast. Eigenssen Farm has been named the sixth most expensive place to dine in the world by Forbes Magazine.

8. Iles de la Madeleine - The lobster festival every June is one of those dining experiences that seafood lovers should put on their must-do list. The islands produce the best lobster in the world, because of the cold water and the rocky, as apposed to sandy, sea bottom.

Most of the dining rooms are modest, and can be found in the small inns dotted around the island.

The seafood is unbeatable, but the scenery - red cliffs, blue water - is spectacular too.

9.Dine With the Nobility at Swinton Park Hall, Yorkshire - If you time it right, the resident Lord and Lady might join you.

You can watch the white deer run in the park outside the window, while tucking in to a great venison stew. Not really that disturbing.

The historic hall has a cooking school as well, and you can arrange to take classes while enjoying a stay.

10. Tea with a Princess in Beautiful Bermuda
- Stay at the pretty pink Princess ( Fairmont Hamilton Princess)one of the nicest hotels anywhere, and be sure to book a room on the gold floor so you can enjoy the lovely high tea each day.

Breakfast is served on the patio in the warm Bermuda sun. Lovely.

And you can finish the day with a "Dark and Stormy", Bermuda's official cocktail
( made from dark rum, ginger beer and lime juice)

So there it is, part two of a culinary journey around the world. Be sure to leave a comment if you've been to any of these. And check in again for part three.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Iconic Dining - Twenty Places to Dine Before You Diet - Part One


A list of the twenty of the most interesting places in the world to dine, chosen not so much because of the haute cuisine as for the adventure and mystique that is part of the dining experience - food as a total body encounter that raises the whole concept of appetite to a different level.

Got a great place where you have dined memorably? Let me know and I'll add it to the list. Have you dined in any of these iconic rooms? What was your experience? Tell me about it.
Here's the first five,, all examples of dining with the ghosts of history, great views of the world, intriguing architecture - a back story for every menu. Bon Appetit!

1. British Virgin Islands - an intimate picnic/barbecue on a secluded beach in Virgin Gorda, with chilled champagne and caviar - part of the dining experience when you cruise on the SeaDream.

2. Tromso, Norway - At the Peppermolle,( Storgata 54) (That's The Peppermill in Norwegian) in Tromso, you can dine with the memory of Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, who had his last meal in this pretty restaurant. The Amundsen Room is decorated with photographs of the famous Polar explorers, many of whom used Tromso as their base, and the food is genuinely authentic Norwegian cuisine - smoked salmon tartar, grilled caribou, fillet of monkfish. If you dine in the summer, you can take a walk after dinner in the long daylight, enjoy a chilled beer on a patio, or savour the views of Bergenfjord and the northern lights.

3. Amsterdam, Netherlands - How fitting that, in this country devoted to growing flowers and all sorts of green things, one of the best dining experiences is in a converted greenhouse.

One of the best, and a totally appropriate choice for a Dutch meal, is Restaurant De Kas, situated in a gorgeously restored greenhouse designed by architect Piet Boon, and dedicated to serving the freshest food, much of which is grown in the greenhouse itself or on its farm property outside the city. Dining there for lunch is a light-filled experience, but in the evening, with candles and subdued lighting, it’s romantic and cozy.

The food is excellent. They serve a fixed price five course meal consisting of a collection of starters, main course, a cheese course and dessert. There were fresh oysters with foamed oyster liquor, grilled polenta with scepes, spinach and hazelnuts, and a tartar of ‘skrie’, Norwegian and Dutch baby shrimp, paired with a champagne aperitif just for starters.

4. Wadi Rum, Jordan - dine in a bedouin tent on middle eastern specialties, like couscous, tabbouli, vegetarian shami (sauteed patties of chickpea and green vegetable served with sweet-and-sour pomegranate sauce and crushed walnuts), and lamb Koubideh (skewered lamb kebobs with grilled tomatoes) Sit on thick carpets, and lean back on a fat pillow. Afterwards, enjoy a few inhalations from an aromatic houkah.

5. Sydney, Australia - It's always an experience to dine in an architecturally special place - Guillame's in the Sydney Opera House serves Mod-Oz food with wonderful views of the opera goers and the Sydney Bridge.

To work up an appetite, you can do the famous Sydney Bridge Climb before dining.

So there it is, part one of a four part series documenting the most interesting places to dine in the world. Have you experienced any of these?
Log in soon for Part 2.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ottawa for Foodies

Cointreau and Maple Syrup: A Bit of Paris in Our Canadian Capital

Chef Herve fixes the class, arranged attentively in front of him, with his intense blue eyes. He is explaining the intricacies of that elusive and challenging French concoction, pate a choux. This deceptively simple mixture of eggs, milk and flour will, in the right hands, result in those most glorious of patisseries – the éclair, the ‘religieuses au cafe’ or those elegant swans filled with cream that are to be found only in the best pastry shops. Choux pastry, Chef informed us, was invented by an Italian pastry chef called Opelini in 1540, but it was developed and perfected by French chefs.
Chef is explaining, while he demonstrates, that it is crucial to add the next egg yolk only after the first has been correctly incorporated. “Do not over mix. Do not under mix. You will know, if you are paying attention “– ( he stares pointedly at one sleepy student who is having trouble keeping his eyes open) “precisely when the time is right.”
In the overhead mirrors, and on the television screens at the side of the room, we watch as he drops one yolk into the flour and milk and begins to stir.
He holds up the bowl “Not yet”, and stirs again.
“Not yet.” More stirring.
“ Now! It is ready for the next yolk.” And amazingly, we can clearly see that exact moment when the texture of the mix changes from too runny to just right.
I make a note. I will need to know this for the practical class to come. I have made pate a choux before. To be more accurate, I have attempted pate a choux before, with varying degrees of success. This afternoon, however, I will be playing with the big kids in the kitchen, the candidates for the Cordon Bleu who will be out to score big marks for their éclairs and swans. I don’t want to embarrass myself.
The Lyonnais accent of Chef Herve, the fanatical devotion to the details of cuisine, the sparkling white chefs’ jackets with their bright blue logos, - all would suggest a Parisienne kitchen. This, however, is the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Ottawa, the only fully accredited Cordon Bleu in North America, and one of only two cooking schools named to the list of the ten best on the continent.
Housed in the renovated Munross Mansion on Laurier Avenue, Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute is teaching students from around the world to master the art of French cooking. The school, which originated in Paris in 1895, got its nme from the 1578 foundation of the Order of Knights of the Holy Spirit. The members of the order wore a medal suspended on a blue ribbon, and their spectacular feasts became legendary. The expression “Cordon Bleu” was later applied to mean an outstanding chef. Today there are 22 schools located in 12 countries. It is owned by Andre J. Cointreau, a direct descendant of the French Cointreau liqueur and Remy Marin cognac dynasties.
There is little doubt that the Ottawa Cordon Bleu is a bit of Paris transported to Canada. The minute you enter the door, the French style is front and centre. The high ceilinged rooms on the main floor are decorated in yellow and blue, with echoes of 17th century France, designed by Le Cordon Bleu’s sister company, Pierre Deux-French Country. It is an elegant and sophisticated space, particularly the small private dining rooms and the award winning restaurant run by the school, Signatures. The building for many years was the University Club, and, in the dark panelled bar, you can see the place where Pierre Trudeau spent many an evening when he was a student.
It isn’t until you enter the teaching areas that you realize that this is also a thoroughly modern state-of-the-art culinary school. The practice kitchens are immaculate stainless steel, with a fridge, stove and work for each station. On the top floor is the piece de resistance – an over the top fabulous teaching kitchen with Electrolux ovens and white tiles whose equal can be found in only one other place in the world – the kitchens of the Queen Mary 11.
I spent a full day at the Cordon Bleu – the morning in the demonstration lecture, and three hours with the students in the teaching kitchen completing the day’s cooking assignment. We were to produce six eclairs, three chocolate ones and three mocha ones, three religieuses, (a small ball of choux place on top of a larger ball, glazed and piped with pastry cream to resemble a nun’s habit), and three swans.
I’d like to tell you that my swans were a thing of beauty. I can tell you that they tasted heavenly, and that Chef Malik, in charge of marking the students in the practice kitchen, tasted one of my éclairs and deemed it to be “quite good.” Also, I was not at the bottom of the class. The sleepy-eyed boy ruined his first batch of pate a choux and never managed to produce even a deflated éclair. However the young girl next to me who looked to be no more than eighteen, and who is obviously on a fast track to her first Michelin star, was finished significantly faster than anyone else in the class, and her swans and éclairs were works of art.
I loved every minute of my day here. It was exciting and demanding, but it is not for everyone.. I know cooks who have taken every cooking class you can name who would love to take the challenge of a day in the company of such dedicated chefs. But I also know some who would be intimidated. For them, the school offers evening or weekend courses, covering things like plate presentation, hot and cold soups, or decorative garnishes. There are three day to four week courses in traditional bread baking and French Regional cooking. It is also possible to just sit in on the morning demonstration and lecture, without doing the kitchen practical. There is a class for every level of interest and expertise.
Outside the class, Ottawa seems to be claiming the culinary crown. I dined in the brand new Metropolitan, a bistro that rocked with energy and style and served an authentic steak and frites to rival any Paris bistro. Wilfreds, the dining room in the Chateau Laurier, is serving exquisite local specialties like Rack of Wild Nunavut Caribou with braised pearl barley and sun-dried blueberries. One morning I toured the Byward market with the executive chef from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and learned his secret sources for unpasturized cheese, the best rasberries and the dearest fingerling potatoes. He even introduced me to a woman on the market who sold a slice of fungus from which you could grow your own oyster mushrooms. How French is that?
In fact, these days in our capital, if you squint your eyes a bit, the Peace Tower could look a lot like the Eiffel Tower.

If You Go
Stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier- a wonderful and elegant hotel that is perfectly situated in the centre of everything. Book a Gold room if you can afford it - the rooms are fresh and pretty and huge, and the Gold Lounge is a real bonus. The Byward Market is close by, as are the parliament buildings. It is a not too difficult walk to the National Gallery.
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
TEL (613) 241-1414

The Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute
(613)-236-CHEF (2433)
Toll Free: 1-888-289-6302

Via Rail
There are several trains that will take you hassle free to the train station in Ottawa, a ten minute taxi ride from the centre of the city.