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Feature Fri Jun 27 2008

Dispatch from Europe

My husband and I have been on our honeymoon for nearly two weeks; with a little over a week to go, we are fat and happy.

We started in London, and as far as food goes, here's the report: it's not great, and it's really, really expensive. Edinburgh was less expensive, but again, not particularly a foodie's Graceland.

That would be Italy, where we've spent the majority of our time. Our first stop was Rome, a barrage to the senses. Despite that we joined the masses of tourists visiting the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel in 95 degree heat, we found respite in wonderful afternoon snacks and long, late-night meals. Our favorite meal to date was at L'Orso 80, a casual spot with an Antipasti Dinner. For 13 euro apiece (about $20), we feasted on 15 small dishes that the waiter seemed to just keep bringing to the table. They included beans in tomato sauce, four meatballs, cauliflower with capers in olive oil, prosciutto and salami with melon, buffalo mozzarella, roasted red peppers, crisp fennel slices, a salad of celery and Swiss cheese with lots of black pepper, very vinegary mushrooms, stewed green beans and tomatoes, and bread crisps - plus, of course, the house wine, a whole bottle for just 8 euro.

We also ate a traditional five-course meal in Rome at a family-run spot called Der Pallarmo. An Italian Mama with a white scarf wrapped around her head cooks up the same meal for everyone in the restaurant, complete with antipasti, pasta, meat or fish, vegetable and dessert. Each table also gets a half-liter of house wine and a liter per person of sparkling water. For 46 euro, or about $70, we ate an antipasti course consisting of heirloom tomatoes (seemingly the only kind they have here in Italy, whether in the grocery stores or restaurants), salami and prosciutto, chicken croquettes, bread, and the most delicious lentils I've ever tasted, plus a huge plate of black olives. Frankly, we could have stopped there, but of course we didn't. Huge bowls of rigatoni-shaped pasta (but bigger and flatter) came next, coated in a rich tomato and cheese sauce. Then she served green beans that had been stewed with lots of bay leaf and then refrigerated, garnished with a bit of olive oil and mint. The meat was nothing special, to be honest: a piece of pork au jus. Dessert knocked us off our feet, which is saying something in Rome, capital of gelato. A tiny shot glass of the sweetest mandarin juice accompanied a custard pie still warm from the oven. The custard hinted of lemon and was laced with mandarin bits, and the crust was a sumptuous cross between biscotti and danish - soft but crispy, sugary but not sweet, buttery but not flaky, crumbly but structurally sound enough to hold a half-inch thick layer of custard. Delicioso!

After Rome, we went to Siena; I could write a book about the wine we drank there, but since there are about a million books written about Tuscany, I'll write instead about our next stop: Cinque Terre. Cinque means five, in this case five small fishing villages of pastel homes clinging to the cliffs that plunge into the Ligurian Sea on Italy's northwest coast. The crystal clear water is the perfect temperature for swimming and deep enough to dive into safely from the cliffs, which we did under the expert guidance of a group of local boys.

We worked up quite an appetite climbing and swimming; fortunately, there are plenty of local specialties here to sate a hungry appetite. The homemade focaccio is amazing with giant finger holes. We picked up a nice hunk to take with us on the train to Venice, where we're headed today. We also grabbed a jar of pesto, which Italians say is best produced in this region. The locally grown figs almost made me weep with joy, their flesh was so sweet. We also enjoyed Cinque Terre's signature anchovy antipasti: the tiny fish are poached, filleted and served fresh, rather than cured as they typically come in the U.S. With a dose of olive oil and lemon juice, they taste wonderfully rich and a bit tangy. We washed down our food with Campari and soda, made the way the locals do, with a dash of prosecco to top it off and tone down the bitterness of the liqueur. For dessert, we sipped sciacchetra, a dessert wine with strong peach, walnut and raisin undertones, produced by the climbing grape vines cultivated on stepped farms high above the Ligurian.

We're off to Venice, and then Paris - then home. Our consolation is that we'll arrive at the height of the farmer's market season, and with a nice stash of Italian wine.

by Mandy Burrell

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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