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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Making soap in Marseille

Make your own soap at this tiny shop near the Old Port of Marseille, where soapmaking has been a tradition for hundreds of years.

The mistral, which roars across the south of France, is credited for the clear and sunny climate of Provence and the magical quality of light that has long been appreciated and captured by generations of artists.
It’s typically a weather phenomenon of fall and winter, but when we experienced it in September we were told it can happen any time. High pressure over the mountains to the north funnels down the Rhone River valley to the Mediterranean creating cooler 45 t0 60 mph northwest mistral winds.

When Van Gogh worked in Arles he depicted the wind by showing closely planted cypress trees protecting farmers’ fields from the mistral’s fury. He was said to love painting outdoors, even during the mistral. He put his canvases on the ground so he could work while holding them in place with his knees and defeat the wind.
The mistral also is credited with Marseille becoming known for its soap making — begun when it supplied soap to the soldiers of the Crusades.

"The wind makes our skin dry so we have always made soap from olive oil,” said Jean-Baptiste Jaussaud, as he welcomed our small group into his La Grande Savonnerie, a small shop near the old port of Marseille. By 1786 the city had 48 soap makers producing 76,000 tons of soap and sending it all over the world.

As we learned about the history of soap making here, we each had the opportunity to press out our own bar of soap with the city’s name “MARSEILLE” impressed into its surface. The shop also gives classes in natural cleaning products and natural cosmetic products.
Most of us also bought colorful soaps to scent our luggage and take home as gifts.
Details: La Grand, Savonnerie,  36 Grand Rue 13002 Marseille, France. Book a workshop at 339-5063-8035 or email

I'm now working on  the Nov. 10 Travel section, much of which will be framed around my rail trip from Paris to Provence. This and other blogs will give you some of the back story.


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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eating eel and bull meat a Provencal treat in France

Ingredients for bouillabaisse are sold at the waterside morning fish market in Marseille

 Eating in France is always an adventure and regional specialties help to underscore the sense of place. Bouillabaisse, which originated among fishermen as a way to use some of the catch not easily sold, was something I enjoyed at Miramar, just steps from the morning fish market on the waterfront of Marseille.

Bouillabaisse includes conger eel, spiny red hog-fish and gurnet for starters, with sea bass, red mullet, monkfish and some crustaceans cooked together quickly in a mixture which sometimes includes sea water, or white wine.  Seasonings include saffron, which gives it a lovely orange color, onion, tomato, thyme, garlic, sage, fennel and a slice of orange peel with maybe glass of cognac for good measure. Every place has its own version and fans which claim it as the best. But, in my opinion,  Miramar is state of the art.

A server at Miramar shows his table the just cooked bouillabaisse he's about to serve

A table falls into silence as people eat their bouillabaisse with great concentration.
A paste of hot Spanish peppers and toast, served alongside it, is meant to sharpen the sauce.
In France the bouillabaise is served in two courses. The first is the broth in which the fish are cooked for about 10 minutes. Some spread the toast with the pepper paste and place it in the bowl before the broth is poured over it.

 It’s eaten like soup using bread on the table to sop up the last taste. Then the fish, which has been placed in a separate dish, is eaten. To judge by the silence that falls over an animated table when the dish is served, people in Marseille take their bouillabaisse very seriously,

A poster at the 2,000 year old Roman arena advertises an upcoming bullfight in Arles.

 In Arles, one of my favorite cities in Provence, bull fighting has a long tradition and bull’s meat stew with olive was on the menu for dinner at Le 16.

Le 16, a fashionable small bistro in the old part of Arles, has a picture of a bull on its wall.

Bull fights, which take place in spring and in fall in the 2,000 year old Roman arena in the center of town, do not result in the bull being killed, as is the case in Spain. Instead the matador plucks a ribbon from in between the bull’s horns — a dangerous proposition to be sure.

 There’s also a running of the bulls in the streets of Arles, but the horns have balls placed over their ends to lessen the danger.
 The bulls come from the Camargue, a nearby delta in southern France where two branches of the Rhone River meet the sea. The bulls roam freely on the grassy marshland, as do the striking white horses which also live here.
A good fighting bull can live and fight for a decade before it becomes dinner.

Bull's meat stew was my dinner in Arles

I was the only one in my group of six to order the bull’s meat stew, but I found it to be delicious. I will be making my next beef stew with olives.

p.s. Click on the restaurant names in contrasting type above to go to the web sites for these great places. Then you will see their menus, be able to make reservations and enjoy the food for yourself.

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Passport fair successful

About 25 people came to the Passport Fair, staged at The News-Herald by Maureen Kelly, Lake County Clerk of Courts, and two of her staffers. Freelance photographer Dustin Lopez also was on hand to shoot the required 2 by 2-inch photo for each applicant.

It's a service that's always available at some post offices and at the two Lake County Title Bureau offices, but Kelly took this effort on the road as set up at the newspaper's offices  in space generally dedicated to the Community Media Lab.

Applicants had to provide their birth certificate and show another form of identification, in most cases a drivers license. The application, which took most about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, included the usual name, address and phone number plus details about other names used, mother's maiden name,  date and place of birth for parents, eye and hair color and other identifying details.

Their were a fair number of applicants who said they wanted to visit Canada, and they were told about the Passport Card, a less expensive option that allows crossing the border by land and traveling by ship in the Caribbean. It's just $30 compared to the $110 for an an adult passport, but does not permit a return by air, even in case of an emergency. So most of those who want to get back to Canada applied for a regular passport, which is good for 10 years, Both the Passport Book and the Passport Card also have a $25 execution fee, in this case payable to the Clerk of Courts.

Lots of these folks said they were delighted to finally be applying for a passport so they could travel, You can hear the excitement in some of their voices if you view the two videos with this post.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Get that passport with everything in one place Oct.11.

Maureen Kelly and I cooked up the idea of a  Passport Fair at a wine tasting one recent evening and now it's ready to take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 at The News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave. in Willoughby.
Staff from her Lake County Clerk of Courts will issue and process the paperwork and a photographer will be on hand to shoot the required photo. That photo will cost $11, but photos can also be secured in advance at area drug stores. The Fair is for new passports only, but her staff will be able to tell you how you can renew an expired passport or get a passport card for land travel into Canada.
A birth certificate also is needed. 
The information will be submitted to the U.S. State Department which will issue the passport and mail it back to the applicant in about four weeks. Kelly's crew will even tell applicants how they can track the processing of their passport. The government shut-down has not affected this process, according to  Kelly.
An adult passport, for those 16 and older, is $110 and good for 10 years. A child passport, for those 15 and younger, is $80 and good for five years.
Those wishing information about renewal of passports, or land travel into Canada also can get information at the Passport Fair.
A headcount is needed to determine staffing, so call me at 440-954-7199.
I'll be there handing out October travel sections, and talking travel with those looking for inspiration. As anyone who knows me already knows, I live and breathe travel.
 Hope to see you there.  

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Max & Erma's redo at Mall brings out the band

The Mentor High School band was there and so were portly Max and Erma  costumed characters.
Thursday’s “grand reopening” of Max & Erma’s, a freestanding restaurant in the east Great Lakes Mall parking lot next to Barnes & Noble, drew a packed house crowd for a look around, the chance to sample munchies and taste free Thirsty Dog beer. Passing motorists tooted their approval
Bar manager Matt Michealis said the eatery closed for five-and-a-half days to undergo a re-do which included new flooring, furniture and lighting and to expand the bar. It’s part of a system-wide effort to re-ignite growth for the Columbus, Ohio based restaurant chain.
“Some employees took their vacations then while others pitched in to help us and got full pay,” said bar manager Matt Michaelis. Debuting was a new fireplace with views from both sides. On one side a new date-night seating area, intended for adults only,  was rolled out. On the other side of the fireplace are high top tables with crystal chandeliers overhead.
Kitschy memorabilia still fills the walls to dispel any impression of a high tone makeover signaled by the eye-popping chandeliers.
Free, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies go to customers on Wednesdays.
At the opening, live entertainment in the bar included Charles Kema on ukelele and acoustic guitar. Once a month entertainment on Fridays is something Michealis said he hopes to establish, “depending on how it’s received by our customers,” he said.
In keeping with its commitment to the community, Max & Erma’s pledged 20 percent of purchases that day to support music programs of Mentor Public Schools.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tour the Airbus 380 with 500 on board

The giant Airbus 380 flies between Washington D.C. and Paris with 500 people aboard.

I chose to fly from Dulles International on my recent trip to France so I could again travel with Air France on its giant Airbus 380. On my return the flight it carried 500 people - 450 passengers and a staff of 50 and I got a tour..
At takeoff, the aircraft almost seems to lumber into the sky, becoming graceful as a giant butterfly at reaching its five mile high cruising altitude.  Earth’s human landscape grows smaller as aloft becomes its own place and we’re immersed in  clouds. Frequent flyers know they’re  not always soft and fluffy as they appear from  below, but this huge plane conquers them into insignificance.

A camera mounted on the aircraft's tail gives passengers real time views on the screen mounted on the back of seats. Watching from the pilot's point of view is especially interesting at landing.
Captain of the clouds is the aircraft itself which has cameras mounted above the flight deck, beneath its body and on the tail with a view facing forward. On the return flight it’s still light so when Halifax Nova Scotia comes into view it’s worthwhile to choose it on the touch screen mounted to the back of the seat in front. In addition to films, TV shows, game and other features, the screen also has an interactive map that permits zooming in on places below and regular updates on arrival time, the time in Paris and the time in Washington, our destination.

Meet Laurence, the Air France flight attendant who gave me a tour of the giant, two-level aircraft.
on the return flight. She's one of the 25 flight attendants serving this huge population.

Laurence took me upstairs to see the upper level, a rather intimate space where many passengers were sound asleep, despite traveling by day.. As we moved  forward toward business class the seats reclined into near beds, with privacy separations between them, not unlike the cubicles I and my colleagues inhabit during days at work.
This is one of the bars where passengers can help themselves.
 Business and premium economy class passengers have the use of a pair of stand up bars and a small lounge area with four screens and seating.


I couldn’t visit first class since privacy is one of the things those folks pay dearly for -- several thousand dollars depending largely on when the flight is booked.

There are a pair of changing rooms there for first class passengers to change into night clothes and back again into business attire when they arrive at their destination.  Most of them spend the flight  sleeping in real beds with plans to hit the ground running when  they arrive.
This changing room allows first class passengers to change for sleep in flat bed like seats.

  I met Francois, the purser, who runs things from an office between the first class cabin and the flight decks where several pilots preside. He is surrounded by several screens which allow him to

monitor everything on the flight from water levels aboard the aircraft to meal service.

 Several different meal categories are available according to which of four classes of service are booked. My meal in economy class included a choice between mustard chicken and a risotto,complete with salad,  bread, cheese course  and dessert.
Purser Francois constantly monitors  screens that tell him  what's going on in all parts of the plane.

As purser, Francois is like a mayor, in charge of this 500 person town as it flies  between France and America.
 The flight crew, which stays overnight in the DC district of  Georgetown, heads back to Paris at 4 the next day.  “Although we’re really tired, we try not to sleep right away so we can get a full night’s sleep at night, Laurence told me.
“But there’s plenty to do in Washington  for a couple of hours.”

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Off switch for takeoff and landing may soon be on

The blissful disconnectness once seatbelts are fastened is likely to end soon, as more airlines bring wi-fi to the skies. Now, after a year of study, an advisory committee has recommended that the FAA relax its rules about requiring devices to be turned off once the aircraft’s doors have closed and again at landing. . And flight attendants have reported that they’re often ignored when they tell passengers to turn off their devices
Some experts say there’s no evidence that the iPads, mobile phones and other electronic devices can interfere with the operation or navigation of an aircraft.
Reading e-books and watching movies loaded onto tablets is permitted once an aircraft has reached 10,000 feet.
But electronic devices also must  be turned off again once the aircraft descends for landing. “This means anything with an on and off switch,” said my flight attendant, leaning into my row to clarify as I raised my cellphone to the window to snap a photo as my United flight prepared to land at Washington Dulles.
 But for now flying away is a time without tweets, emails, instagrams, or other manifestations of our strange age.
Without their constant presence I at first feel deprived without my electronics
Then I settle in to embrace being en route, an appropriately French term for the state I’ve entered to reach Paris.
It’s near nirvana to tuck away the smart phone, tablet, notepad as we  rise above the highways, road signs, traffic jams, cubicles of an earthbound infrastructure. They grow ever smaller then soon are lost as we rise above the clouds.
Cloud contemplation fills the void left by the absence of incessant  texts, tweets and other synonyms for engagement with audiences real and imagined. It’s nice to really be in the here and now.