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Beth Peluse

Puglia Food Market

Best Food Region You’ve Ever Been To – A Taste Vacations Team Dish

By Food, Taste Vacations No Comments

Our team here at Taste Vacations has traveled all over, sampling some of the best (and on the flip side, probably some of the worst) food the world has to offer.  For this month’s Taste Vacations Team Dish, we wanted to know “What’s the best food region you’ve ever been to?”

Here’s what the team had to say:

Kerry Dopler Kerry Dopler

Kerala India, the city – Kochi, the restaurant -Dal Roti, the dish – Fish Molee. Aromas engage your senses as your boat harbors in the port, locals and tourist’s alike flock to one alley every day around noon, they stay well past sunset often mingling in line to help the time pass as your stomach growls. Smile after smile leaves the door, reminding you that it is worth the wait. And it was, every day. We extended our stay in Kochi to three weeks not because we loved the city or because the daily activities were so abundant and fun but because it was the best food I have ever had in my life. I will return one day hopefully with nothing more in mind than growing old and fat, but ever so happy.

Sarah Wolcott Sarah Wolcott

I am absolutely enthralled with Oregon’s food scene, currently.  And not just because I am an Oregonian!  Keep Portland Weird is the motto of the city and this transcribes just a little bit to the food scene.  It’s not a weird food scene but, rather, a food scene that pushes boundaries and encourages experimentation.  

We are so fortunate to have access to an amazing breadth of food products in the pacific NW and the chefs in Portland utilize the fresh bounty of the sea, produce from the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon and ranches in Eastern Oregon to their fullest advantage.  Salmon and steelhead from the rivers and the Pacific ocean during spring and fall. Cherries from the Gorge in early summer. Fresh blueberries, blackberries and filberts (aka hazelnuts) fill plates in the late summer.  

Dungeness crab that is such a sweet, sweet delicacy.  Grand taco trucks.  Hops from the Willamette Valley (and Yakima Valley in WA) go into our craft beer.  Pinot noir grapes plucked from some of the best pinot producing vineyards in the world.   Hipsters in skinny jeans and with tailored mustaches.  Ranchers with dirty boots and skin tanned by hours working in the hot eastern Oregon desert.  Salty commercial fisherman whose ocean hauls make me smile the most.  

The restaurants in Oregon (and not just in Portland) are thriving with creativity and access to amazing food products.  

Allan Wright headshot larger Allan Wright

I absolutely love the cuisine of Italy and could eat Italian food every day for the rest of my life. But in terms of cuisine that knocks your socks off, I feel the French produce meals that jump out as outstanding. It really doesn’t matter whether you are in Paris or an outlying region, it just depends on the restaurant, the chef, and what you order. I have been guiding our sister company, Zephyr Adventures’, Provence Biking, Wine, & Food tour frequently in recent years and so this region stands out to me now for its excellent cuisine using fresh ingredients. Plus, being down south in France, I get some of the Mediterranean garlic and olive oil-based dishes I love in Italy.

Reno Walsh Reno Walsh

Oaxaca, Mexico is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is the food outstanding but the people are so kind and the culture is authentic. I’ve been to this part of Mexico and specifically Oaxaca City several times over the years, including one time when I first experienced La Noche de Rabanaos, the Night of the Radishes. During this event, people from throughout the countryside arrive in the city’s zocalo (town center or square) to exhibit their elaborate carvings of oversized radishes.

The last time I visited was for my honeymoon. My wife and I took a private cooking class during our time in the city. It started with a shopping trip to one of the city’s many farmers markets. Walking through the market is an experience on its own with so many unique things to see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Back at the home of the chef  we spent the day with (who is now a friend), we learned the secrets to Oaxaca’s molé, although we have never been able to duplicate it since.

We also made fresh Squash Blossom soup and fresh tamales using a recipe that had been passed down for generations in our chef’s family. That meal is something we often remember fondly. In fact, thinking about any meal in Oaxaca makes my mouth water. With so much of the food being produced in the surrounding countryside, almost everything you order is fresh and local. Something we learned during the most recent visit was the fact that dried peppers are considered a spice, so it’s okay to bring these back to the United States. Their peppers are unique and are a key ingredient in several of our favorite recipes. And, one can never return from this region of the world without some of Oaxaca’s authentic chocolate and maybe a bottle of Oaxaca’s delicious Mezcal. !Buen Provecho!

Busy City Street

Travel Items You Can’t Live Without – A Taste Vacations Team Dish

By Taste Vacations One Comment

For this month’s Taste Vacations Team Dish, we asked “What travel item can you not live without?”  As frequent travelers, there seem to be a few items that begin to become essential to our packing lists for our various journeys. Once you get past the toothbrushes and clean underwear, it’s interesting to hear what makes the list.

Here’s what the team had to say:

Reno Walsh Reno Walsh

Some of the most fascinating aspects of travel are the people we meet, the new sounds we hear and sometimes the new languages we interact with along the way. For me, however there are also certain times tuning out from these new sounds and conversations and tuning in to my own musical accompaniment enhances the journey. Watching the world go by from a window seat, walking through streets filled with color and history, watching waves reach their final destination or kicking back with a drink at a local café, these are times a cool soundtrack can help me transcend the now. Travel is an experience that gives us an opportunity to think a little bit about what we believe, about where we came from and about where we are going. Music helps me appreciate those opportunities for perspective.

Kris Thomas Keys Kris Thomas Keys

I have two things I don’t travel without, and apologies if these sound like product commercials, but I love them so much!

  1. My Patagonia down shirt. Temps on flights (or even car trips) can vary, so I always have it with me in my backpack or purse (it can crumple down to the size of a grapefruit). Even when I travel to where it is “summer,” there are places that turn on the AC or get cooler when the sun goes down. This lightweight item provides a layer of insulation that ensures that I am always the right temperature. Because it is black, it also doubles as a dinner jacket when necessary and looks classy with a dress or jeans. Bonus: every one of Patagonia’s down products come from birds that were not live-plucked or force-fed.
  2. My Oofos sandals. I don’t love to wear shoes and always prefer sandals or bare feet whenever possible. These babies are super comfortable to wear when pounding the pavement of a new city or taking a hike, especially when it’s hot out. And I’m kind of funny about having my bare feet touch carpeting or showers in some hotel rooms, so these are handy to have since they are waterproof. They are very lightweight and easy to pack, plus they are also black so can pull double duty as my dress-up shoes (if you know me, you know what a fancy dresser I am…not) when going out to dinner. When I get home, I can throw them in the washer, too! Bonus: they are designed to revitalize your feet!

Sarah Wolcott Sarah Wolcott

They aren’t sexy travel items…in fact, they are just rectangular in shape. Typically the color white. And really flimsy. But I can not live without (drumroll, please…) ENVELOPES!

Letter sized envelopes are handy to travel with for a number of reasons: to stuff receipts into and organize (especially if there are any write-offs!); use as bookmarks in your travel books; and to house a “kitty”. Two of my girlfriends and I travel to a new, international destination every year and the kitty makes splitting up expenses so easy. The idea behind the kitty is to make paying for common expenses like gas, transportation, groceries, hotel and f & b as easy as possible. Everyone traveling together contributes the same amount of cash every time the kitty needs to be replenished, one person is in charge of holding onto the kitty and handling each bill, and as a result, the haggling over who owes who what is eliminated. Voila! Envelopes are necessary for housing the kitty which has become a staple way for me to travel with friends.

Beth Peluse Beth Peluse

I always try to pack a comfortable, yet versatile dress that can either be dressed up or down depending on our plans for the day or night.  Usually a LBD (Little Black Dress) does the trick – I can wear it over a bathing suit as a cover up at the beach or I can pair it with heels and a colorful necklace to go out to dinner. Another travel essential for me is a wine opener that can also open beer bottles (though when flying, I’ll bring it only if I have a checked bag). Nothing’s worse than packing up a picnic, getting to a beautiful, peaceful spot, and realizing that you have no way to open your delicious bottle of wine!

Kerry Dopler Kerry Dopler

Other than dental floss (which is a pretty boring topic), the one thing that takes precedence over all other items, the one thing that I think about for weeks before a trip, the one thing that is always with me, that I look forward to almost as much as the vacation itself, is a paperback classic. It has to be one I haven’t read before and a lot of it depends on the destination.

If it’s a winter trip, Russian Literature: Turgenev, Tolstoy, Pasternak or of course the safest way to avoid disappointment, Dostoevsky. Now if it’s a beach trip, Latin American Literature all the way. They are by far the best storytellers in the world. I have burned through thousands of pages sitting by the most beautiful beaches in the world. When I think back to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, yes I think of the beautiful water and the fresh coconuts and the amazing mangrove tree that provided so much welcome shade, but mostly I think of my dear friend Maqroll the Gaviero and his Adventures and Misadventures by Alvaro Mutis. While in Malaysia I got to know Isabel Allende and have never been taken to such far away places in so few words. During my treks through the Himalayas, I began to relish classic English Lit from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf, even straying to Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

I love history, and perhaps the journeys I was taking with my fictional friends created a richer context for the wild and ancient lands I was exploring. I find my memories of travel are woven into the fabric of a collective imagination, both dreamed and historically grounded, that found its most perfect expression in those beautifully rounded soft pages of so many paperback classics.

Group Dinner in Italy

Your Last Great Meal – A Taste Vacations’ Team Dish

By Taste Vacations No Comments

At Taste Vacations, we love to discuss anything and everything to do with food and drinks – from the newest cocktail trends and unique recipes we’ve tested to the different beers and wines we’ve tasted.  It’s not only fun to hear about new experiences to add to our list of things to try, but it’s interesting to hear why a certain dish or drink was so memorable to that person, whether it is due the ingredients used, the atmosphere or setting you’re in, or the company you’re with.

Because of this, we thought we would share the Taste Vacations’ team’s answers to the question:

What was the last great meal you had?

Allan Wright  Allan Wright

As a family with a young child, getting opportunities for great meals outside the home is limited! The best meal I have eaten recently was at Watercourse Foods, a vegetarian restaurant in Denver. My wife Devon, our 18-month old daughter Sydney, and I joined two of our good friends and their daughter who was born exactly one week before Sydney. The four adults each ordered a different “hash” dish, a vegetarian version of the traditional Corned Beef Hash. All four of us loved our dish. I ordered the Toulouse Hash with “smoky marinated portobello, artichoke hearts and a fresh broccoli with home fries, scrambled tofu and blue cheese.” Sydney loved her pancake.

Kris Thomas Keys Kris Thomas Keys

I’m sure that Billings, Montana is not at the top of the list when one thinks of culinary greatness.  However, it is the nearest “big city” to my little town of Red Lodge and can provide some good options for occasionally eating somewhere different than our handful of home restaurants.  

After work on Friday night, my husband and I drove an hour to Billings to treat our friend (to celebrate her birthday) and my mother-in-law (to celebrate her new job) to dinner at a new restaurant called Commons 1882.  They had fun drinks on the menu (for only $6!), plus a bunch of great tapas dishes that we ordered and shared (every last bite!): Mushrooms in Sriracha Sauce, hand-cut French fries, fresh mussels in a garlic wine sauce served with crispy baguettes, and panko-dusted calamari.  I also had one of the best and freshest salads I have had in long time (and I make great salads, if I may say so), tossed with a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  My husband ordered Korean tacos, which were also delicious. 

It was one of those meals that made me want to come back the very next night and try everything on the menu!

Sarah Wolcott Sarah Wolcott

One of the last great meals I ‘ve had was after the recent Winter Yellowstone Zephyr Adventures tour I met up with a small handful of friends.  They all live in Montana and we convened at our mutual friend’s house outside of Bozeman. The group has known each other for many years; we met while teaching skiing in Germany almost 15 years ago. 

My buddy, Michael, is a commercial fisherman in Alaska for part of the year.  He is also the one who gave me the nickname, “Tractor”, and, more importantly, always has a freezer full of seafood.  After a day of soaking up the hot water at Chico Hot Springs at the end of February, we went back to Michael’s cabin and feasted on baked, smoked black cod (also called Sablefish); pan seared Alaska scallops from the waters of Kodiak; roasted red potatoes from a winter CSA (brought from Oregon); and a simple green salad.  We drank Pinot Blanc from St. Innocent Winery outside of Salem, OR and King Estate Pinot Noir from the southern Willamette Valley.  

Black cod is hard to come by in the US.  It has a dead sexy mouthfeel after just a few minutes in a hot oven (think: luxurious, naturally buttery, and separating in perfect mouthsize bites) and sells, primarily, on the Japanese market.  Black cod is an expensive item in the retail market and I am privileged to have been able to feast on such an exquisite and hard to come by fruit de la mer.  

It is hard to go wrong with salt and pepper and a quick sear in a cast iron skillet with sea scallops.  Like the black cod, the sea scallops we ate had a naturally silky mouthfeel to them.  There is nothing stringy or unrefined about great quality scallops that have been cooked to perfection.  Their almost sweet tasting meat, in combination with the plumpness, makes them a great creature of the sea to pair with a number of different wines.  The Pinot Blanc had enough viscosity to enhance the scallops and also just enough zip of acidity to balance out the two, rich, seafood selections.  

It’s hard to tell what really made the dinner….the amazing food?  The warmth from the wood stove that filled my friend’s cabin in the woods beyond Bridger Bowl ski area?  The smiles and laughter and stories that were told that evening that absolutely filled the tree house to the brim?  I went to bed  with a full belly and a heart warmed by being surrounded by the best of friends.  

Beth Peluse Beth Peluse

My last great meal was when my husband and I went out to celebrate my birthday. We had decided to start the night at a new cocktail bar we had been dying to try called The Betty in Chicago.  The decor is like stepping into the set of Mad Men – classic dark wood, mid-century modern furniture and fixtures, and a whole wall of interesting memorabilia and artifacts. Kind of like being in a really cool antique store.  Their cocktail menu was creative and fun.  I had an interesting and colorful cognac and gin cocktail while my husband had a deconstructed gin and tonic where he got to play mixologist with interesting bitters choices.  While sipping our tasty concoctions, we had fun chatting about the past year and planning out our next big vacation.

After that we headed to my old neighborhood, Lincoln Square, where I had my first apartment in the city.  We had dinner at a little BYOB brick oven pizza place where Mark and I used to go when we first started dating, called Pizza Art Cafe.  They have amazing pizzas – but the pièce de résistance is their bruschetta.  It’s hands down my favorite bruschetta I’ve ever had. They take a pita-like dough, add olive oil, tomatoes, basil and feta cheese, and fire it in the brick oven.  I could eat an entire order of it all by myself!

The combination of fun new cocktails, a nostalgic eatery, and conversation with my favorite person really made the night one to remember.

Sonya Mapp Sonya Mapp

A great meal that comes to mind was a breakfast I had last fall. Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal, and although this breakfast did not consist of a fancy, or even creative, it was memorable because of the location.  

My husband and I enjoyed a camping trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. It rained all of the first night, but we stayed toasty and dry in our tent-trailer. The next morning, as we made our breakfast of whole grain, hearty pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup and heaps of Idaho huckleberries, the clouds began to clear, and as we sat down at our tiny table we were treated to a sunrise reflecting off the jagged peaks. We ate our pancakes and leisurely sipped on French-pressed coffee as we enjoyed the view and planned our day.

Sawtooth Breakfast

 I’ve had many pancake breakfasts since then, but they never seem to “stack up” to that camping trip!

Reno Walsh Reno Walsh

After a cold day of skiing and snowboarding there’s nothing quite like refueling with homemade chili served with good bread for dipping, plenty of cheese and a few glasses of a favorite local brew. 

Of course, the chili ingredients are muy importante. I was fortunate enough to harvest a White Tail Deer last year and we made some of the venison into sausage with lots of spice and flavor. Heather (Reno’s wife) and I also had a good growing season in the garden and had put away lots of frozen, dried and canned tomatoes that we use in the chili. We also added peppers, onions, cilantro and garlic. Then we throw in a few cans of organic black, pinto and kidney beans, add a few secret ingredients, grate lots of extra sharp aged white cheddar from Wisconsin, cut a few limes and the meal is almost complete.

The next step is to bike down to the local Blackbird Bakery to get a loaf of fresh bread and then stop into the Bozeman Brewery on the way home to fill a couple of growlers with a refreshing Pinhead Pilsner and Hopzone IPA. Sometimes we run into a few friends and have to stay for a pint which is fine because we already have the bread and the chili is simmering. When we get home, its time to put on some vinyl, pour a few pints, crack the bread, fill a few bowls with some of that delicious homemade chili and top it off with a handful of Wisco cheese.

Buen Provecho!

Feel free to join the conversation, what was your last great meal?

Tales of a Beer Hunter in Belgium

By Beer, Taste Vacations No Comments

Beer Hunting in Belgium

“In Belgium, a beer hunter can never rest on his barstool.”

This past August, beer hunter and writer, Joe Wiebe, joined us on a thrilling hunt for the best beer in Belgium.  His account of his journey, Beer Hunting in Belgium, is being featured in this month’s TAPS Beer Magazine.

Though the active trip Joe went on was with our sister company, Zephyr Adventures, the Taste Vacation Belgium Beer tour makes similar stops in the top beer cities and villages in the country – Brussels, Boullion, Ghent, Watou, Brugge, and more. The difference between the two tours is that we don’t participate in the active portion of the trip Joe describes (hiking and biking), and focus on the local culture, food, and, of course, beer.

Set out on your own beer hunt on the Taste Vacations Belgium Beer Tour  July 26 – August 1, 2015, or gather your friends and make it a private tour on a date of your choosing.



Malbec Red Wine Glass

Argentina’s Flagship Wine – Malbec

By Taste Vacations, Wine No Comments

When you think of Argentine wine, you most likely think of Malbec, and for good reason.  Though Malbec is grown in at least 7 different countries, Argentina is the clear leader in production –  accounting for over 75% of Malbec acres grown. The grape originated in France but found its way to Mendoza, Argentina in the mid-1800s where it has thrived ever since.  This is mainly due to Argentina’s broad temperature ranges and clay soil along the Andes mountain range.

Argentina Vineyard

Malbec has a wonderful blackberry, plum, and black cherry fruit flavor with a peppery, sweet tobacco finish. It pairs nicely with red meats, hard cheeses, and earthier flavors such as grilled meats and mushrooms.  It has grown in popularity over the past several years and even has its own holiday, the Malbec World Day, that occurs every April and is celebrated around the globe. If Malbec is one of your favorites, you might want to look up a local event in your area and join in the fun.

Or better yet, visit the source of this delicious wine on our Chile and Argentina wine tour. Since most of Argentina’s wine regions are located just off of the Andes, you’re treated to beautiful and breathtaking mountain views while enjoying the country’s most renowned varietal.  For more information about our Taste Vacations wine tour, visit the Chile and Argentina wine tour page.