Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, April 30, 2010

back to france? you decide

The volcano giveth as it takes away.

A trip by the France Tourist Office, cancelled because of the Iceland volcano, has been rescheduled.

I've been invited back to France in June, at least partly because of the astonishing contest success of a series I wrote for The New-Herald last summer about following in the footsteps of several artists in the south of France. Find Following Picasso, Light Leads the Way and Enduring Magic at or just key in Picasso at

This trip is to the Languedoc region in southwest France, a remote, little known area of dramatic scenery, small villages and France's equivalent of the Grand Canyon. One overnight is in a 16th century chateau, and a dining stop will be in a building that once housed shepherds in remote meadows with their flocks. We'll be hiking, including a walk along a trail used by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, an ancient pathway also known as the Way of St. James in Spain and eating food that's fresh and rustic, like the surroundings.

The French Tourist Office will be hosting me and other writers and will provide us with English interpretation and cultural insights for our stories. If I go, I'll be traveling with a laptop so I can blog, as Ive done in the past (see archives here), I'll be bringing my camera to capture images and this time I'll also be bringing a small video camera. It's work, indeed, but it's good work and I love doing it.

But time is valuable and I have a lot of other commitments here for Wednesday Food, Thursday Health, Saturday Religion and Sunday Community plus Travel, most of which I'll have to do before I leave home. Before I commit I need to get a sense of whether these will be stories you want to read.

Weigh in here. I'd like to know your thoughts and if there are other places you'd rather read about, let me know that too. These trips are hosted so I must depend on the hospitality of others who know what valuable folks you are for their destinations. I need to decide in the next few days, so don't delay...should I stay or should I go?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

grounded by volcano

I should be in London now, but I’m not.
Because I always try to get some exercise and fresh air after an overnight flight, I had expected to be strolling into the Pheasant Pub (above) about now, ready for a good pub lunch. It’s close to the Heathrow hotel where I’d been booked and I discovered it last year on another trip (
But Celebrity Cruises, which was among the millions of victims of the volcano erupting over Iceland, canceled the voyage late Wednesday. I learned this in an email Wednesday just as I was about to print out my Continental Airlines boarding passes for Thursday flights from Cleveland to Newark Liberty and on to London Heathrow, where I was to have arrived at 8:20 a.m. today London time (2:20 a.m. here)
Celebrity was hosting frequent passengers, journalists, travel agents and would-be advertisers on a pair of two-day, back-to-back cruises. But the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull beneath a glacier and the subsequent ash plume and five-day closing of busy airspace over England changed all that.
Brits on holiday and business all over the world were stranded and couldn’t get back to London Heathrow — Europe’s busiest airport. So Celebrity stepped in and offered to take its brand new ship on a mission of mercy to Bilbao, Spain where Brits and vacation were stranded. (
After five days without aircraft, UK-bound food and other perishables, stored in coolers in Holland, South Africa and elsewhere, was spoiling and shortages were forecast.
“We weren’t affected a bit,” said Painesville native Beverly LeBlanc, who lives in London. A food writer — and former News-Herald reporter — LeBlanc is working on a cookbook entitled “365 Soups” and has tested about 300 recipes at this point. “There are no food shortages and the only difference I’ve seen were fewer tourists on the tube and around town.”
Like others living in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales she became acutely aware of the lack of air traffic and the clear blue skies overhead. Instead of being criss-crossed by jet trails the dissolved into an ever-present haze, the sky was clear and without aircraft.
When air space over the UK and much of Europe was reopened Wednesday, I monitored a host of web sites to learn if planes were falling out of the sky due to volcanic ash. Much as I really wanted to trust the decision makers, I knew there had been a lot of pressure to get flights back in the air and I hope they had, as they claimed, kept safety at the top of their priorities.
Websites I visited included London newspapers and the air navigation folks at The latter was so overwhelmed with internet traffic that it put up a temporary site just for volcano updates.
I also learned that the News-Herald website ( is not alone in receiving strange postings. One poster to a UK newspaper complained that the volcano was an insurance scam on the part of Iceland. Another wrote of being stranded in Hong Kong where overnight his hotel room price went from $200 a night to $800 a night. Lots of folks were stranded with their laptops and plenty of time to weigh in on their plight.
Today on the BBC site, things are back to normal and one must search for news of the volcano.
Instead of enjoying a quick visit to London and short cruise on a brand new ship, I’ll be enjoying my tulips in Mentor and will perhaps make a visit to the Geauga Maple Festival.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

London bound barring volcano plume

Volcano willing, I’ll be headed for England on Thursday. Adventure is guaranteed although it might not be quite to my liking.

I’m asking News-Herald readers for their suggestions and input.

A rather minor volcano in the south of Iceland has sent a plume of ash into the world’s busiest air space, grounding hundreds of flights and closing airports in much of Europe, including Heathrow where my flight is headed. It’s been called the biggest disaster for aviation since flying began and is costing billions. One news account said Britain might be facing food shortages this week because its air space has been closed since late last week.

Celebrity Cruise Lines, which is hosting me and dozens of journalists for the preview of a new ship, hasn’t canceled our journey yet.

I’m keeping an eye on Eyjafjallajokull web cams, which have an English version but need no translation. ( sends out live video feeds from four cameras surrounding the glacier, which has long been a popular tourist attraction in Iceland.

The explosions of magma through the surface of the glacier are dramatic. Because the lava passes through ice on it’s way toward the earth’s surface it explodes into the sky, sending ash up to 30,000 feet in the air.

The good news is that the plume is now at 10,000 feet, which means that aircraft could conceivably fly above it, but the truth is the airspace over London is closed until at least 1 p.m. Tuesday. (That’s early morning here)
Millions of people are stranded, including thousands at London’s Heathrow Airport, where I am headed. I am also monitoring British websites, and for the latest news.

I originally had intended to ask News-Herald readers for their London suggestions and hidden gems they may have discovered on their own visits. I’ll only be in the city a half-day, but I'm on the lookout for good stories, photos and videos. Those who followed my travel communiques by blog (July-August 2009) know that I usually can cover a lot of territory in a short time.
Now, however, I’m also asking your advice on getting there, including strategies for coping with delays, which will be inevitable. I’ll have my laptop along with me, so should be able to keep readers updated while I am on the road.

I have a feeling I’m about to get a first-hand education on why frequent business travelers are called Road Warriors.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Mentor's National Park: Garfield's home

A walk through President James A. Garfield's one-time home in Mentor reveals a lot about the the 20th U.S. president and the Victorian era in which he lived.

Some of the items, such as a portrait of Napoleon, might seem odd, but Garfield had no military training and when he was sent to command a regiment in the Civil War he began to study Napoleon. Napoleon became his muse and the portrait still hangs in Garfield's Lawnfield home. More than 80 percent of the house's furnishings were original to the Garfields and were used every day by James, his wife Lucretia, their five children, his mother and her dad, who all lived there.

The Garfield family lived in the home until the 1930s when it was transferred to the Western Reserve Historical Society to be preserved and operated as a museum. In the 1950s, Garfield's grand daughter-in-law, Eleanor Garfield, lived in a house on the property when she was mayor of Mentor. Garfield descendants have remained in the area and willingly share family lore with the National Park Service, who now operates the home. The usual $5 admission will be waived Saturday and Sunday April 17 and 18 and April 24 and 25 as part of National Park Week, so it's a great time to stop in at the home at 8095 Mentor Ave., just east of the the Great Lakes Mall.
The library that Lucretia Garfield had built after her husband’s assassination houses his many books and other things from his life. It became the first presidential library.

A wreath sent by Queen Victoria to Lucretia Garfield when the British monarch learned of the president’s death was sent away for preservation within a week of its receipt, so is now seen in the home’s vault, top center.

The Barge of Venus on the Garfields’ dining room table was on display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia when the Garfields visited. It was believed acquired there, possibly by Lucretia Garfield, who’d been a college art major when she met her future husband and appreciated its fine design.

The ground-floor bedroom, where it was cooler, was used as a summer bedroom by the Garfields, who moved upstairs in the winter. As a widow, Lucretia used only the winter bedroom and had this room transformed into a smoking room.

James A. Garfield was very close to his mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield, who was widowed when young James was only 2. She lived with her son and his family at homes in Hiram, Washington, D.C., the White House and Mentor. She was the first presidential mother to be present for her son’s inauguration.

Visitors to Lawnfield often ask interpreters about the spider motif inlaid into this table and found on wallpaper and other furnishings. Spiders and their webs were a symbol for good fortune during the Victorian era.

Chief interpreter Todd Arrington tells how Garfield was a book-loving scholar his entire life and many of his original books are preserved here, in his office, as well as in the home’s library.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bake-Off flashback

By now the whole world knows that local finalists Linda Bibbo and Susie Bowser didn't win the Pillsbury Bake-Off's top prize. Sue Compton of New Jersey won for her Mini-Ice Cream Cookie Cups - a really stunning recipe you'll find in Wednesday's News-Herald food page.

Everyone but me probably watched Oprah yesterday to learn the winner. But I don't have TV so I went on-line to when I got home from work last night. That's not the recipe I would have picked, but, then, I don't much care for sweets.

There were many great contestants and some wonderful dishes. Who would ever think of putting a refrigerated biscuit into a waffle iron, or of using the outside of a muffin tin to shape a cup?

All their recipes are in Pillsbury"s 100 Winning Recipes cookbook, just out and available at supermarkets for $5.

I have to encourage everyone who cooks and is the least bit creative to enter the 45th Bake-Off set for 2012. Rules, which require the use of certain Pillsbury products, change slightly from year to year but I expect they'll be out by spring and we'll let you know. Finalists usually have a deadline a year before the Bake-Off, and are notified by September whether they'll be finalists in April 2012.

I met some pretty dedicated home cooks while in Orlando this time... and you can meet some of them here in my videos. I asked many of them for their cooking tips and am sharing one of the best with you.

The Apricot Sour Cream Tea cookies made by Margaret Parsons were brilliant.

David DeMatteo of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, was from a long line of Pillsbury finalists and had the drill down as a science. His mom was there twice, his grandmother once and when his brother was a finalist a couple of years ago, David came along to see how things worked.

I thought Bridget Ulrich was a great good sport, coming to cook at the finals just two weeks before her due date as a first time mom. She prepared her Jumbo Burger Cups with grace and style.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bake-Off scuttlebutt & cooking

The $1 million winner of the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off will be announced Wednesday on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Many of the assembled food editors are grumbling, because they"ll have only the names of the four finalists when they put their Wednesday food sections to bed on Tuesday night. Scuttlebutt has it that The Food Network is apparently boycotting the Bake-Off because of that decision just two weeks ago to give Oprah the scoo .

The Food Network was a huge presence at the last Bake-Off - in 2008 in Dallas - but was nowhere to be seen on the competition floor Monday. No one is saying why officially, but several food editors admitted they almost canceled when they learned the news.

Some of the assembled food editors have been to more than a dozen Bake-Offs and a few have even served as judges. For each Bake-Off Pillsbury chooses 12 judges from among the country's food professionals. A few of them noted that familiar Pillsbury faces from past Bake-Offs also are missing this year.

But the competition itself ran like a well-oiled machine on Monday, when the 100 finalists began cooking their prize-winning recipes at 8 a.m. and finished up at noon. They worked at 100 identical mini kitchens, each supplied with the ingredients and utensils called for in their recipes. They shared refrigerators and volunteers, many from the Pillsbury offices in Minneapolis carried away dirty pans and took their dishes for refrigeration when needed.

Pillsbury executives and other employees helped contenders get their creations to the refrigerator for the cooling process, carried away the dirty dishes and helped when competitors weren't familiar withfood processors or other equipment .

We caught up with Steve Hiller, Pillsbury Vice President for research and development as he was bussing away dirty pans for contestants. "We do what ever is needed," he said. "This is the third time I've worked a Bake-Off and every one is a lot of fun."

Here in Northeast Ohio we're cheering for Linda Bibbo of Bainbridge Township, who is a finalist for the second time. Contenders can cook their way to be among the top 100 finalists three different times, and then they retire for life. The Bake-Off began in 1949 and in recent years has taken place every other year.

Yolanda Sue Bowser, who was listed as being from Solon, is actually from Parkman. She works on the bun-slicing line at Schwebel's in Solon, which is probably why she slipped under our radar as a local contender. Her Chocolate-Cherry-Pistachio Brownies are in the Sweet Treats category.

But winning is nothing new to Sue, as she prefers to be called. She once won dinner with the mayor for painting she did and she won a sailboat in a dance contest.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stylishly simple spring parties

Colin Cowie , who gives parties for a living, shared some of his food, drink and decorating ideas for spring and summer in a dazzling presentation for food writers, who surrounded him like a group of star-struck girls when he was done.

The South African born Cowie came to this country at the height of apartheid, naively intending to "do something" in Hollywood. "I had $400 and two suits to my name," he recalled.

Strictly by accident, he encountered the people planning a wedding for Playboy's Hugh Hefner. "It was awful," he said of the concept. " The world's most eligible bachelor should be heralded with trumpets and fanfare, champagne and caviar instead of a taco bar." He told them his ideas, and the rest is history.

Since then he's put together events for the rich and famous, including one party that cost more than $10 million to give. Last week he was in Washington. D.C. at the height of the Cherry Blossom Festival putting together a party for the ambassador to Abu Dhabi.

His slide show clearly showed his concepts of food as theater and keeping things simple so the host and hostess can enjoy their guests rather than be confined to the kitchen. He showcased a gazpacho party for summer in which guests select their ingredients from glass bowls and pour the gazpacho over them from a pitcher.

His attention to detail and knack for making a celebration into something personal was clear in the advice he offered. "Seating is important, too," he said. "Keep your chatty Kathy at one end of the table and your librarian at the other. Separate husbands and wives."

Common sense is often overlaid with fantasy.

"There's no such thing as too many candles," he said. "Start with the best ingredients and you can't go wrong."

The following recipe certainly marries form with function and is simple besides.

A Checkerboard of Roasted Peppers

2 each large red, yellow and green bell peppers
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and cut in halves lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons capers
Preheat broiler. Arrange peppers, in a single layer, on a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Run peppers under the broiler, turning frequently with tongs, until the skins are blackened all over. Using tongs, transfer the peppers to a brown paper bag. Close the top of the bag and set aside for 15 minutes. Remove peppers from bag and peel, stem, halve and seed them. Place peeled pepper halves in a shallow dish .In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and oil, whisking to a blend and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the peppers. Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.. Remove the peppers from the marinade and trim the edges to make squares of equal sizes. On a large flat platter, arrange the squares, alternating colors, to create a checkerboard effect. Crisscross the anchovies diagonally over the peppers to make a lattice pattern. Place an olive half at each junction of 4 peppers. Sprinkle the arrangement with the garlic and capers. Cover the peppers with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to serve. Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
His Website has more recipes and photos.

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New way to experience flavor

The concept of "Flavor" is comprised of Taste plus Mouthfeel plus Aroma plus X-Factor contend Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of the "Flavor Bible." The research behind their great book, which has become a staple for food writers and good cooks everywhere, lists ingredients alphabetically and details the tastes that have a special affinity with each of them them.

Unami - the so-called fifth taste after sweet, salty, sour, bitter s sometimes explained as savory or mouth-filling taste. "In Europe a combination of anchovies and porcini mushrooms has been created to replicate that," said Andrew.

Knowing that apple pie goes beautifully with vanilla ice cream is behind the creation of dishes such as a chilled apple cider soup napped with a drizzle of vanilla maple. "It's all about making the familiar new again," said Karen as she and her husband led one of the workshops for food writers gathered in Orlando for the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Tasting is believing.

As they spoke, servers delivered plates with baguette slices topped with creamy ricotto cheese, a slice of prosciutto and a serving of eucalyptus honey. A flute of prosecco was poured at each place.

We were challenged to taste the cheese topped baguettes alone. "That's the creamy crispy combination," Andrew said. Add a sliver of prosciutto and salt comes into the formula. Drizzle a little honey over it and the sweetness transforms it again. A sip of prosecco adds an element of tart.

The X-Factor, according to the husband-wife authors, is a spiritual element that engages the emotions, such as praying over a leg of lamb at dinner.

Their Website has much more at

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Pillsbury BakeOff Orlando

I'm here in Orlando for the Pillsbury Bake-Off along with Linda Bibbo from Bainbridge and 99 other finalists vying for the $1 million top prize. The excitement is building as judges and food writers from all over the country arrive at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek headquarters. It's an every other year competition that this year will be done a little differently.. the top winner will be announced Wednesday on the Oprah Winfrey Show instead of here at the Bake-Off.

Many of my fellow food writers are not too happy about this turn of events since our food sections are published on Wednesday and we won't be able to announce the big winner as we had planned. Instead we will be telling our readers the names of winners in the four main categories: Breakfasts and Brunches; Dinner Made Easy; Entertaining Appetizers, and Sweet Treats. Those four will be whisked off to Chicago where the Oprah Winfrey Show is produced as we fly home ourselves. We learned about this just a week ago.

Food editors and the 12 judges gathered last night fir dinner behind the scenes as EPCOT, where we met each other over tastes of some of the newest dishes being served at Disney World venues. We also met the chefs and heard about directions Disney is going in its food service.

We were told not to discuss the Bakeoff contenders or their recipes with the judges, who must remain unbiased. They'll be cloistered away when the contenders take to their 100 identical mini-kitchens on Monday to prepare their creations.
I caught up with one woman who had served twice as a judge and this time is here as a food writer. She advises that judges pace themselves for tasting the 100 dishes and to come hungry.

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