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Recent Blog Posts

How a Portuguese donut became popular in Hawaii

Malasadas have been popular in the Atlantic Ocean island chains of the Azores and Madeira. But, the sweet treat is also a favorite over 7,000 miles away in a Pacific archipelago. What is a malasada? Malasdas ( Malasadas are fried yeast balls. Once cooked, they are covered in granulated sugar. Similar to a beignet, malasadas…

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Ljubljana’s famous dragon

Slovenia’s capital is famous for its outdoor market, impressive Jože Plečnik architecture, riverside cafes, and a very ornery dragon. Ljubljana origin story Legend has it that Ljubljana was founded by Jason of Jason and the Argonauts fame. Jason, with the help of Medea, stole the golden fleece. And, they were on the run from Medea’s…

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Split Rock Lighthouse

Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque beacons in the world, guiding the ships that navigate the dangerous waters of Lake Superior. Split Rock Origin Story Split Rock Lighthouse (photo: Brent Petersen) Even though Lake Superior is “just” a lake, it has some of the most treacherous waters in the world. Ships…

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The gorgeous murals of Kaka’ako, Hawaii

What used to be a rather derelict neighborhood in Honolulu is now a hip area filled with craft breweries, coffee shops, a beautiful waterfront, and a huge collection of murals. Kaka’ako origin story Artists creating a mural in Kaka’ako (photo: Brent Petersen) Before European settlement, Native Hawaiians used the area of Kaka’ako for fishing and…

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How Trotsky came to live and die in Mexico City

The Russian revolutionary spent the last few years of his life in exile in Mexico City before meeting a bloody end. Exile from the Soviet Union Leon Trotsky was a Bolshevik leader and one of the most prominent people to mold the early Soviet Union. He was known for heading the Red Army during the…

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Vegan Buffalo Sauce recipe

Buffalo Sauce, that spicy orange-pink condiment, is used to add some flavorful heat to a lot more than just wings. But, did you know that the traditional sauce isn’t vegan? Here’s a recipe that is every bit as delicious, but has no animal products. Buffalo Wings origin story Buffalo wings were supposedly invented in the…

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Crisp Point Lighthouse

Lighthouses are some of my favorite places to visit. And, you’ll find them everywhere. They’re on cliffs like Split Rock in northern Minnesota, or on gorgeous beaches like Cape Hatteras, or even in a city like the Little Red Lighthouse underneath the George Washington Bridge. Crisp Point Lighthouse origin story Crisp Point is a Lake…

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How a church I never visited became a part of my book

When we visited Croatia in 2011, the last thing on my mind was sculpting a novel from the experience. But, on the flight home, an idea popped into my head that wouldn’t leave me, so I ended up writing Truffle Hunt which was finally published in 2015.Because I didn’t know I was going to write…

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My favorite cab driver in Madrid

I’ve had some crazy taxi experiences. There was the guy in Naples who drove on the sidewalk when traffic got jammed up. Or the guy in New Orleans who made us get out six blocks from our hotel because he said the streets were closed (they weren’t, he just didn’t want to navigate the maze…

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I blamed my girlfriend for a seismic event

It was Sunday morning and my girlfriend and I were eating breakfast on the couch. “Could you stop shaking the couch?” I asked. You see, my girlfriend has a bit of the Jimmy Legs where she twitches her leg. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes, she gets the Jimmy Legs so…

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Delicious meatless “meatballs”

Whether you’re vegetarian or just looking for a something different, these meatless eggplant balls are the perfect way to top your spaghetti. Tips • Asian eggplant (the long skinny ones) work best for this recipe. They have fewer seeds, which can be bitter, and are easier to cut into uniform pieces. If you can’t find…

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An Italian bread made from scraps of dough

One of my favorite things about Italy is the culture’s ingenious frugality. Have grape skins and stems left over from making wine? Distill it into grappa. Dug up some stones from building a cistern? Construct a trullo. And if you have scraps of dough left over from bread making, you bake them into la piscialetta….

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Bajtra, Malta’s unique beverage

On the tiny island country of Malta, people enjoy a liqueur called bajtra, made from local prickly pears. But, outside of Malta, bajtra is practically unknown. Bajtra origin story Malta is a group of three islands in the Mediterranean Sea, about the same distance from Palermo, Sicily as the north coast of Africa. The hot,…

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How to make Limoncello at home

Homemade Limoncello is easy to make. You just need the correct ingredients and a little patience. Limoncello origin story You might be surprised to learn that the history of Limoncello doesn’t go back very far. Even though some claim that Limoncello’s roots extend almost as far back as the original cultivation of lemons, most food…

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I lied to Lyle Lovett

Backstage pass for 1993 Lyle Lovett concert (image: Brent Petersen) We all have a stash of stories about ourselves we like to tell. Over the years you tell these stories over and over again, learning which stories work and which ones don’t.  And you keep telling the ones that prove to a roomful of strangers…

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I tried making homemade vermouth. Here’s what happened.

Vermouth is enjoying a moment. If you want to make your own batch of the aromatic fortified wine at home, it’s pretty easy. As long as you avoid a few pitfalls. Vermouth origin story Vermouth barrel at Casa Toni, Madrid (Image: Brent Petersen) In 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented Vermouth in Turin, Italy. As the…

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How a meal for miners migrated to Michigan

Pasties have been a culinary staple in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for over 150 years. What started out as a meal for miners is now enjoyed by Yoopers and visitors alike. What is a Pasty? Much like a calzone or any number of other dumpling-like dishes, a pasty is, in its simplest form, dough filled with…

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Christmas on a plate in Santa Fe

One of the first questions you’ll be asked when eating in Santa Fe is “Red or green?” Your waitperson is inquiring whether you would like a sauce of red chiles or green chiles on your dish. By answering “Christmas,” you’ll get a combination of the two. Foodie Santa Fe Santa Fe has become a foodie…

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In Defense of Cheap Plastic Souvenirs

Recently, I was talking with my friend Mickela Mallozzi for my podcast. Mickela is the creator and host of the wildly entertaining show on PBS, Bare Feet. I’m paraphrasing, but Mickela made the point that rather than spending money on cheap little knick knacks, travelers would be better served putting their hard-earned dollars towards fun…

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Lisbon’s Feast of St. Anthony

Lisbon’s biggest party celebrates the city’s patron saint with a barrage of music and dancing, not to mention grilled sardines, wine, and potted basil plants. My St. Anthony experience. Before visiting Lisbon, I had a distorted view of St. Anthony. For many years, I lived in Rhode Island, the state with the most people having…

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Movies featuring each region of Italy

Italy is home to a vibrant film making industry that has been widely recognized over the years for its quality and innovation. And, many filmmakers have used Italy as the setting for their films. Abruzzo Abruzzo is a mountainous region of Italy that also boasts miles of stunning coastline. Several movies have used Abruzzo’s magnificent…

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New Zealand’s dessert named for a ballerina

I love a good culinary controversy, and the question of who can claim to have invented the Pavlova is a good one. Pavlova origin story Anna Pavlova was a world-famous Russian ballerina who performed in Wellington, New Zealand in 1926. While staying at a Wellington hotel the chef there created a dish for her and…

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10 movies that will make you love Sicily

Sicily is an extraordinary place filled with gorgeous scenery, a fascinating history, and interesting people. While many famous films are set in Rome (La Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday, Bicycle Thieves) or Tuscany (Under the Tuscan Sun, A Room with a View), Sicily provides a spectacular backdrop for many famous and lesser known motion pictures. The…

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The most popular fast food in Berlin

Doner Kebab (aka Doner Kebap) has only been available in Germany for 50 years. But, in that time it has become the most popular street food in the country with over 16,000 places offering the meal of meat and veggies wrapped in a pita. And, Berlin is the epicenter of the Doner Kebab. Doner Kebab…

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The best sweet treat in Madrid

Nope, it’s not churros y chocolate. It’s a pastry that came from Venice, gets its name from Italy, and was made famous in France Churros y Chocolate The best known sweet treat in Spain is churros y chocolate. All over the country, people start their morning by dipping sticks of fried dough into cups of…

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Shopping for candy in New Zealand

The Kiwis love their sweets and one of the best souvenirs you can bring home is several bags of “lollies.” What is a Lolly? What we Americans call “candy” and the Brits call “sweets” is referred to as a “lolly” in New Zealand (and Australia). You’ll recognize favorite confections like chocolate bars and licorice, but…

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Canelé – Bordeaux’s Column-shaped pastry

Visit a bakery in the French city of Bordeaux and you’re sure to enjoy cute cakes shaped like little Doric-style columns. Canelé origin story The art of wine making goes back over 8.000 years. These early wines were simply fermented grapes and likely had a harsh taste. But, somewhere along the line, an ingenious person…

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Corn Smut, Mexico’s fine dining delicacy

All over Mexico, Huitlacoche is savored for its subtle elegance. But, somehow, this culinary gem is ignored in the U.S. where the fungus is given the derogatory name of “corn smut.” What is corn smut? Huitlacoche (Image: Monica Ortiz) Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut and Mexican truffle, is a corn fungus. Normally, Huitlacoche…

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Hawaii’s love affair with Spam

Spam, that processed canned pork product with the distinctive blue and yellow packaging, is incredibly popular in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaiians eat, on average, five cans of Spam every year. Five cans! Spam’s Hawaiian Origin Story Spam, short for SPiced hAM, was invented as a way to market the relatively unpopular pork shoulder cut. Due…

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Naples’ custom of sharing espresso with strangers

Customers visit caffès in Naples each morning and order two espressos. But, they don’t drink both. The second one is called a “Caffè Sospeso” or suspended coffee.   Caffè Sospeso Origin Story Naples was once a powerful city, rich both economically and culturally. But, after Italian unification in 1861, Naples fell on hard times. Cholera…

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