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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Washington DC earthquake repairs still underway

It was a year ago today that an earthquake rumbled across the Virginia countryside and sent tourists and others scurrying away from shaking buildings in Washington, D.C.Some buildings still are affected.
Last weekend when I was there I witnessed netting still strung beneath the ornate ceiling at Union Station, where bits and pieces of the 1904 building continue to fall off. Designed by Chicago skyscraper creator Daniel Burnham, it was closed for a time for restoration work that was completed in 1988.

The Washington Monument, which closed right after the Aug. 23 quake, still is closed. I saw workers using what appeared to be mountain climbing gear were near the top of the spire-like pyramid to make repairs. A billionaire history buff donated $7.5 million so the cracks could be repaired
A seismic study commissioned by the National Park Service and released last Thursday determined that last year's 5.8 magnitude earthquake was not likely to be repeated in 2,000 years

The Washington National Cathedral, which also dates from the early 1900s,. was another building that incurred serious damage in the rare earthquake. Several tons of hand-carved masonry on the cathedral’s three high towers were damaged.  But today the Cathedral announced receipt of a $5 million gift from the Lilly Endowment Inc. for restoration of damages. The Indianapolis-based Lily family was instrumental in building the cathedral.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shoe shopping in Toronto

Shoe designer Jeff Brodawka tells my friend Melanie how his shop Browawka & Friends came to be.

If I didn't have bunions I probably would have bought shoes during my recent visit to Toronto.
While ambling down Queen Street West with two longtime Torontonian women pals, we stopped to look in the window at Brodawka & Friends, a stylish shoe shop.
Contrasting colors and textures transformed the footwear on display into works of art and we were nowhere near the Bata Shoe Museum, a must attraction in Toronto for any shoe lover.
The spare and modern minimalist shop displayed the shoes on pedestals to showcase them for those choosing to walk around and view them from all angles.
One pair sported bright blue laces with a lipstick red  tongue and soles, with heels tottering into the stratosphere.
Bunions, I'm afraid, are destined to keep me in flat soled shoes until I make a leap, as my friend Cathy did, into the world of foot surgery.
When we stepped into the shop for a closer look we met Jeff  Brodawka, a hands-on type of guy who is the proprietor. More fashion conscious than I am, my Canadian friends recognized the name John Fluevog, with whom Jeff had long worked in Vancouver. But now he's back home in Ontario and opened his store in June.
My ears perked up when he told us that his travels to Mexico helped to inspire his venture in Toronto.
"I work with a small factory in Leon, the epicenter of leather and shoe-making," he told us.
I knew that Leon is the hometown for many of Painesville's Mexican natives, and that lots of them left the tanneries of Leon to pursue new jobs in Lake County's nursery businesses. Quite a few of them have since become American citizens and operate restaurants and work in other businesses in the area.
"They have tanneries, molders and designers all in one city and I really liked what I saw," Brodawka said. Working with the shoemakers, designers and leatherworkers in Leon, he chooses the colors and textures of leather for his stylish shoes and brings them to Toronto, where they are being well received despite their $200 and up pricetags.
He also imports linen socks from Japan and designs wool and cotton ties which he sells at the shop. It's at  1114 Queen Street West in case you want to take a look for yourself.
My June visit was research for a story about Toronto's newly evolved food scene which you'll be able to read about on Sept.9. Catch it a day earlier online.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One mushroom lover to another

Here's an Associated Press story I just had to share:

For $200 a person, the Four Seasons Resort Vail is sending out guided expeditions in luxury SUVs to look for mushrooms. The Mushrooms & Mercedes program includes a lunchtime break with wine, cheese and prosciutto, and ends with a three-course mushroom-themed meal back at the hotel.
The resort offered 40 spots on its mushroom expeditions this year, with remaining hunts on Sunday and Aug. 24. Nearly every spot has sold.  At the first session, participants gathered at 10 a.m. in the back of the hotel’s Flame restaurant for  coffee and pastries. They chatted up guide Larry Evans, a tall, tan former University of Montana mycology professor and examined the multitude of mushroom shapes he had collected the day before.
After Evans gave a short, lively presentation on what they might find, the group set out in two Mercedes SUVs for Shrine Pass off Interstate 70. Each hunter was sent out with a basket holding a mushroom-cutting knife, energy bar, apple, water and whistle to blow for help. The SUV drivers brought sunscreen and umbrellas for shade.
Evans advised foragers to check near trees and dips in the soil, where squirrels might have smelled truffles, and to grab anything resembling a mushroom.
The group scattered into the lodgepole pines in 58-degree temperatures, some eager, some anxious.   An hour later, while sipping wine, snacking and sitting in camp chairs the Four Season staff brought, the group reconvened to examine the dozens of mushrooms they had collected.
There were round puffballs, a scaly hawkwing, and some lactarius mushrooms that are milky when cut. Evans pointed out one that he suspected was from the Amanita family, with warts on its cap, an edge like a pleated skirt, and gills underneath the cap that didn’t touch the stem. It was poisonous.
 Later in the hotel’s kitchen, Executive Chef Jason Harrison’s staff demonstrated how to clean mushrooms and cooked two types that Evans deemed edible from the foragers’ collection. One white mushroom that grows in clumps tasted like asparagus. A large, brown cap of another had an earthier taste, the group decided.
The hotel staff poured more wine.
Then before the Flame restaurant opened for dinner, Harrison seated the adventurers for a mushroom and arugula salad with ice wine vinaigrette and chicken chasseur (also known as hunter’s chicken, with a mushroom-based sauce) atop sweet corn. A dessert of chocolate and macaroons followed.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

France terroir still there in wine tasting

I first tasted the Mourgues du Gres red wine right after a walk through the garrigue around the vineyards. To me it looked like weeds and I was glad I was wearing pants and had on good footwear since the terrain was gravely and steep in places.  I was also glad I wore a hat since the sun was shining brightly and the day was turning into a hot one.

It was late in May and the vineyard was not far from the Rhone or the Mediterranean. My nose made me realize this was no patch of weeds when I picked up the scents of this landscape - lavender, wild roses, wild thyme, mint, fennel, rosemary and even olives against a backdrop of flinty hot earth.

We returned to the tasting room and suddenly the Mourgues du Gres red wine showed me what terroir was all about. I'd tasted the South of France landscape I'd just walked through.

World Wines in Mentor was able to get a case of the Mourgues du Gres Les Galets Rouge for its Saturday night wine tasting to sample the vintages of the south of France. I was there with my map, wine atlas, copies of my travel section and great anticipation to taste this old friend again. I also brought my laptop so folks could see a slideshow of Languedoc - the region from which the wines come.

I wondered if the wine could possibly survive the 3,000 mile trip to Mentor and still taste of the garrigue I wrote about last month. I was afraid that my active imagination might have been the critical element to that aha! moment when I experienced terroir firsthand. (  See those stories at  and )

I am delighted to tell you that one sip took me back to that delightful afternoon of walking among the fragrant "weeds" of the garrigue to which Anne Collard introduced me.

I am even more delighted to learn that so many folks at that tasting also gave a thumbs up to this particular wine that World Wines will now be stocking it.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Failure of shortened links

I hate when shortened links using tiny url or bitly websites don't work. There's no figuring out why, at least in my admittedly limited grasp of things internet related. And there also seems to be no fixing them. Create them again and you get the same configuration of characters and they dont work either.

But that's what has happened in my previous blog about the south of France stories I wrote last month. One of them is something I am really proud of, but people have let me know that it comes up "not found" when they use the link I created and listed. The idea is to make a shorter link.. one that fits into the 140 character parameters of twitter posts.

But the story I really want you to see can be found at  That's the long link, not the shortened one. You should be able to click on it and go right to the story. ... or cut and paste it into your browser and see it that way.

Now if that doesn't work, all I can suggest is that you rely on the print edition of the paper. I'm a subscriber myself, are you?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Taste the south of France with me

World Wines in Mentor has managed to locate some of the wonderful wines I drank during my visit to the South of France this summer and will be pouring them from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday. That's Aug. 11, the day before my next South of France travel section is delivered to subscribers in their Sunday paper.

Last month I wrote about a walk among the vineyards at Morgues du Gres and how astonishing it was to experience the aromas of wild fennel, roses, thyme, rosemary and other wonderful scents among the vineyards and olive trees. When we returned to the winery  for our tasting we could taste those very same flavors- part of what the French called terroir.
Click  on these links to see those stories

I'm looking forward to tasting that wine again in Mentor and wonder whether it will taste the same.

Ill bring my laptop and a great DVD showing scenes  from the South of France, including some of the places Ive written about.  I'll be ready to talk travel, terroir and whatever else comes up among those who join me at the wine shop, 8760 Mentor Ave.

Then you'll be able to read about the Canal du Midi and Carcassonne, two other pieces in the puzzle that's terroir. 

Two-Michelin stars for lunch at Le Castellas

Our table at Le Castellas awaits, but one of us got there first and left his water bottle.
That's me, third from the right, with members of our press group visiting the South of France. 

One of the best meals of my recent trip was enjoyed at Le Castellas, which enjoys two Michelin stars for both its 20-room hotel and its dining, which is overseen by Chef Jerome Nutile.

La Castellas is in the cobblestone village of Collias between Nimes and Avignon. Its perfectly restored building originated in the 1700s and retain all the charming details of another time, along with the conveniences, such as air conditioning, that people expect  in the 21st century.

I was served this wondrous dish of truffle napped asparagus. Who said a diabetic must be deprived?

Because I am a diabetic who carefully controls by consumption of carbohydrates, the kitchen was advised of this when our reservation was made. Our press group was escorted to the lush terrace, where an ancient wisteria spread its shade and water from fountains splashed in the background.

My amuse bouche.

An amuse bouche, served on a tiny cutting board for each of us, included a tiny pork fritter with tartar sauce,  smooth chicken liver mousse in a shot glass, a miniature cake with anchovies and a tiny pizza served lollipop style on a toothpick. That certainly got our attention for starters.
Sommelier Jean-Luc Sauron oversaw the pouring of a local Viognier. Because of my diet restrictions, my meal was somewhat different than the others.  Our tuxedoed servers all sported bright green ties, a color that was echoed with my dish of asparagus napped with slices of truffles.
The main course was veal with foie gras and wild mushrooms with summer veggies napped with walnut oil.
Fresh baked rolls are always a mainstay and choices abound.

I passed on dessert but admired its appearance.  Find out more at

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Shop Narbonne Market for tastes of the south of France

The Marche covered market in Narbonne is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week.

When I stepped into the covered market in Narbonne, in the south of France, I thought I'd look for horse, which I understand is eaten in France.
Not that I was thinking of buying it, mind you, just to see if it was being sold.

Not being a  French speaker, I sought other more visual keys to what was what. But among the meat vendors, no horse was to be found.
But I found fresh wiggly eels for sale and had to wonder how they prepare them in this part of the world. I enjoy eating smoked eel as sushi but that's the only way I've had it and haven't a clue what's involved in making eel for dinner.

The 100 year old Marche, as it's called, is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day and is  just about the same age as our own West Side Market. The extraordinary market in Cleveland is the one by which I measure all other markets and I seek them out wherever I travel.

Small tables are among the vendor stands in the market for those who just can't wait for lunch.

I saw folks eating lunch at tables within the market and thought that might be a good effort for the one in Cleveland.
If I ever return to the Languedoc region it likely will be to rent a boat and cross the south of France on the Canal du Midi, which you'll be able to read about on Sunday in Travel. The Robine Canal, which runs through the middle of Narbonne, hooks up with the Canal du Midi and is itself a likely looking waterway for an excursion like I hope to someday undertake.
The canals were built in the 1600s to transport the region's wine from the Mediterranean areas to the Atlantic Ocean, where the  wine was loaded on ships and carried to England and America. These engineering wonders were replaced by the railroads as a means of transportation and are today devoted mostly to tourism.  
An olive vendor offers me a taste of her picholine olives, a specialty of the Languedoc region in the south of France. 

When I return as a tourist, instead of a travel writer, I will provision my boat at the covered market in Narbonne, if I can. First on my list will be picholine olives, the lovely green fruit to which I was introduced by  Anne Collard, when I walked her land and saw her vineyards at Chateau Mourgues de Gres. I wrote about that in an earlier travel section which you can read at Anne told me then that  picholine olives are harvested for eating in late September or early October, while those destined to be pressed into olive oil are harvested later, in November and December. Younger olives make a fruitier oil, she told me, while older ones make a sweeter and somewhat darker oil.

Hand made goat and sheep cheeses shaped in rounds and logs tempt shoppers

Local cheese will also have a place on my market list in Narbonne, where dozens of round and oval goat and sheep's cheeses were nestled behind a chilled and glass covered counter.
A shopper makes her choices among dozens of kinds of cheese.

I envied those who were shopping, because I was on the go and  without a cooler for perishables.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Fontfroide Abbaye dine where monks prayed

In the foothills of the Corbieres mountains of the Aude department in the South of France is the Abbaye Frontfroide, which was founded by Benedictine monks in 1093 but is now restored and in private ownership as a stunning venue for special occasions.

The cloister of Frontfroide Abbey is a lovely spot in the midst of several buildings

In the 1100s when it became linked to the Cisterian order, headquartered over the border in Spain, it became one of the wealthiest and most prominent of all the abbeys and was home for more than a hundred monks and lay brothers. When Pope Innocent II declared his crusade against the Cathar sect in 1208, Frontfroide became a center for the movement that concluded when the Cathars were wiped out. (Think catharsis) In the 1300s the Black Death claimed 75 percent of the abbey's occupants but its immense wealth allowed it to return to prominence and its building to be restored by the church. Thousands of acres around theabbey were farmed and used for the production of sacramental wine. And the cold spring, after which the Fontfroide Abbaye was named, provided plenty of water in times of drought
The abbey escaped destruction in the French revolution (1789) but began to fall into decay. Only seven monks still lived there at the end of the 19th century and in 1908 it was purchased at auction by the Fayet family, who carefully restored it over the years and continues to operate it.
Hour-long guided tours, that can be arranged in advance, are an ideal way to see the abbey and learn of its history. Be sure to step into the amazing rose garden, which was begun in 1990 and is passion of the current generation of the Fayet family owners.

The abbey contracts with a brewmaster to make its beer and its Corbiere wines continue to be made on the premises.

Our tour followed a perfect lunch in La Table de Frontfroide framed around a filet of duck breast and Corbieres wine along with a hoppy beer also produced at the abbey.
Members of a motorcoach tour tuck into lunch at La Table de Frontfroid,  the dining room crafted from a onetime stable at the 1,000 year old abbey.
Catch the Aug 12 Travel to learn a little more about the Cathars and how the beautiful hilltop city of Carcassonne looks like a fairytale yet  fits into that grim chapter of church history.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

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