Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cooking Around the World

Anything that combines food and travel definitely gets my vote. So when I heard about the new Bravo show, "Around the World in 80 Plates," I knew I had to check it out.

The concept is pretty simple. Twelve chefs travel around the world, putting their cooking skills to the test in various competitions. Each episode takes place in a different city where the chefs learn the local cuisine, customs and cultures. In the first two episodes, the chefs have been split into two teams and have to race through the city completing tasks that will educate them on local fare. Whoever wins the competition gets to use the "secret ingredient" at the ultimate challenge, where the teams take over a restaurant's kitchen, recreate the delicacies they tasted earlier and have the residents of the city judge their personal interpretations of the dishes.At the end of the competition, the diners pick which team they like best. The losing team then has to pick one of its chefs to go home.

In the first episode, the chefs were in London. They went on a pub crawl where they tasted steak and kidney pie, blood pudding, and fish and chips--and of course drank lots of great British beer. The winning team won the right to use potatoes in their dishes, which is pretty much a staple in all British dishes, while the other team was not allowed to use that ingredient. It was certainly interesting to see what they used to substitute for potatoes, and all the dishes they created looked amazing. I personally love traditional British pub food, so I could appreciate everything they made.

The second episode takes place in Lyon, France. The teams race through the Beaujolais countryside, where they face some interesting sheep challenges. In the first task, they have to identify the six cheeses that are made from sheep milk, and there are at least 20 cheeses on the table. That's a lot of cheese, but I would certainly be ok with that challenge, because I love cheese, especially French varieties. Later, they had to taste eight different kinds of wine and pair them with the foods that were infused in the bottles. The winning team was taught how to make a famous regional dish, pike quenelle with nantua sauce, from a master chef in Lyon, while the other team had to fend for themselves on how to make the signature dish. It seems like a simple meal, but its actually kind of complicated. Once again, it was interesting to see how the teams executed the dishes. It really made me want to try all these French delicacies, and I certainly plan on visiting Lyon the next time I go to France.

The next city is Barcelona, Spain, a place I've actually been. I really hope they have to make tapas, because the city is known for its simple, shareable dishes. I'm curious to see what happens. 

I am definitely enjoying the series, though I do prefer Top Chef when it comes to cooking shows. So, I recommend the show for anyone who really appreciates international cuisine and world travel.

Monday, May 21, 2012

That's a Wrap: Follow Up on Tour de Cure

Last Sunday, my aunt and uncle rode the final leg of the Tour de Cure, ending an 11-day biking journey up the coast of Australia to raise money to cure cancer. After 1,700 kms, the organization was able to reach 5,231 school children and raised over $2.1 million Aussie dollars!

I can only begin to imagine the emotions running through the riders as they reached the end of the course, pain, sadness, joy, exhaustion, success--what a whirlwind. My aunt's last update describes her feelings better than I could.
The ride in was very emotional. The thrill of making it, the exhaustion and pain of the last 11 days, the joy of seeing so many partners and families embracing, and being part of an amazing team all came to a head as we rolled to the finish. It was a truly great experience and hugs, cheers and tears that followed were deeply heart felt.
Writing about this amazing  effort is one way I am contributing, but it doesn't even begin to show you what these riders went through. Luckily, there was a camera crew with them the whole way, and a documentary is set to be released later in the year. So here is a little preview for you.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who Dat? New Orleans Calling

The Crescent City. Big Easy. NoLa. N'awlins. Whatever you call it, you can be sure there is no place like it.

I got the pleasure of experiencing this amazing city over the weekend, and I can verify that I have never been anywhere like it before in my life. New Orleans dances to its own beat, speaks its own language, and certainly has its own flavor.

I flew into town on Friday afternoon and was picked up by a limo service set up by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. They took me to my hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, a Waldorf-Astoria property. It was beautiful, elaborate red and gold drapes, sparkling crystal chandeliers, marbled flooring. I had a queen suite, which included a sitting room and sleeping room, large closet and bathroom. Pretty swanky, I felt lucky.

After dropping off my stuff and quickly changing into some more weather appropriate clothes, I decided to walk around a little before meeting a representative from the CVB for dinner. I headed over to the infamous Bourbon Street...and it was everything and nothing like I imagined, all at the same time. I was told it was an ongoing party, and it certainly was, but it was one of the most insane parties I've ever witnessed. Five o'clock on a Friday, and people were out in throngs, drinking, dancing, wandering through the streets with drinks in hand, without a care in the world. I felt out of my element, I must say, I was in desperate need of a drink.

So I headed over to Tropical Isle--a recommendation from the girl who checked me in at the hotel--and purchased my first Hand Grenade. It came in a tall, plastic, bright green container with a grenade for the base. I knew that New Orleans had an open container policy, and that I was free to walk on the street with my drink, and yet I was hesitant. The stricter rules of Chicago were ingrained in my head, and I found myself hovering around the door for a couple minutes before finally stepping back on the street. I blended into the crowd much better, that's for sure. The drink was pretty strong, and I am ashamed to say that I could not finish it before heading over to dinner. (In my defense though, this was a work dinner, and it would be unprofessional to show up drunk.)

I met Jenn from the NOCVB at Palace Cafe on Canal Street for dinner. This three-floor venue was quite elaborate, with a winding staircase in the middle of the room, retro-style tiled flooring and subtle decorations that hinted at the building's musical roots.

The first thing we ordered was a bottle of Pinot Noir--since we both love red wine--and then we started the meal off with a fresh loaf of bread and a signature appetizer, the crabmeat cheesecake. The chef also brought out a complimentary tuna tartar for us to sample, which was quite good. But the cheesecake was certainly different, but oh so delicious. I opted for Andouille Crusted Fish as my entree, a pan-roasted fillet served with crystal beurre-blanc, chive aïoli, rissole potatoes and vegetables. Jenn went for the Rib-eye and shrimp, and requested that it be topped with crab meat. I quickly learned that many locals ask for this on their dishes, since crab can be added to basically anything. Even though I didn't add crab, my dinner was incredible. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the potatoes and vegetables were super flavorful. I tried a little of Jenn's dish, too, even though I'm not the biggest shrimp fan. I was feeling pretty full by the end of it, when suddenly the waitress brought out a platter with three different desserts--compliments of the chef, again--and my belly was somehow able to make room. We tasted the Pecan Pie, the Strawberry "Cobbler" Cheesecake and a Spotted Lemon Cream Cake. All so scrumptious.
Appetizer: Crabmeat Cheesecake

Dinner: Andouille Crusted Fish

Dessert: Pecan Pie, Cheesecake, Lemon Pie

I got a tour of the venue, and the manager took us up to the second and third floor to see the rooms that were available to rent out for group events. My favorite was the wine cellar, a wood-paneled room with shelves of wine bottles that reached to the ceiling. In the center was a large round table set up nicely with placemats, dishware and candles. It had a classic, almost msyterious feel to it, and Jenn noted that it smelled like New Orleans. I wouldn't really know what that smells like, but since she's a native, I trusted her instinctive nose.

On Saturday, I woke up early and went for a quick run down Canal and over to the riverfront. It was a beautiful morning, but pretty humid, which I was not used to. After my workout, I made my way over to Cafe Du Mond, the place in New Orleans to get Beignets. The line was already pretty long by the time I arrived at 9:30, but luckily there was a to-go window, which wasn't as long of a wait. And it was a good thing, too, because just as I got under the patio roof, the rain started pouring down. So I asked for my cafe au lait and order of beignets--they come in threes, no other option--and nestled myself on two chairs in the corner near the kitchen, stuffing my face with the delectable powdered-sugar covered fried dough. I can see why they come in orders of three, it's tough to have just one. Still, the thought that I was squatting, while other people stood and waited for tables made me gobble down one of the donuts and quickly vacate the spot in case someone else needed it. The rain was starting to lighten up, but since I didn't have to be to my next destination for another hour, I decided to check out some of the local shops.

The first shop I entered had free samples of a local treat called pralines, a combination of carmelized sugar and nuts, sometimes mixed with milk or cream, creating a consistency similar to fudge. I tried almost every available variety--chocolate, original, banana. All so good. Then there were a couple samples of hot sauce, so I took a chance and dipped a piece of popcorn in one of them. My tongue has never known such pain. But I guess New Orleans is known for its spicy food.

I walked down magazine street to the World War II Museum, where I watched a film called "Beyond All Boundaries," which chronicled the U.S. through its journey in the war. It was a 4D experience, so the seats vibrated when there were intense battle scenes, lights flashed all around to represent bombs going off, and props moved on and off the stage with every changing montage. It was really well done. Then I walked through the museum and read through the thousands of facts and figures about the war, glanced at all the pictures, artifacts and trinkets from soldiers and their families. I went over to the restaurant attached to the museum, The American Sector, a John Besh establishment. I enjoyed the Crab Ravigote, a light crab-topped salad with avocado and bacon, and a small bowl of jalapeno cheese grits.

After lunch, I walked over to catch the rail car and rode it down Charles Street to see all the beautiful homes that line the road. Unfortunately, the rain clouds rolled back in right as I was about to board the car, so while I stayed dry, the view was a little ruined by the torrential downpour outside. Still, I didn't let the rain ruin the experience, it was still enjoyable.

I returned to the French Quarter and did a little bit of shopping before meeting the sales manager for the Red Fish Grill, a popular local restaurant. I stepped into the vibrantly loud spot and was immediately transported into a festive party. With exposed brick walls covered in old photograph clippings and fish paintings, a sea-colored floor, oyster mirrors and metal fish hanging from the ceiling, the restaurant was certainly eclectic and fun.

A fresh loaf of bread was brought to the table, and Lauren ordered us a bottle of wine and asked to start us out with the green onion shrimp toast. As I glanced over the menu, I decided I had to try gumbo, since I'd never had it before, and Lauren agreed. And, to come full circle with it, I opted for the Alligator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo, might as well go all out. For my entree, the waitress suggested that I try a house specialty, the Hickory Grilled Redfish, with tasso and wild mushroom Pontalba potatoes, topped with sautéed Louisiana jumbo lump crabmeat (there it is again) and a lemon butter sauce. It was absolutely amazing. The mixture of the richly seasoned fish and the fresh crab meat, on top of the potatoes was delectable, and I had trouble slowing myself down as I shoveled bite after bite into my mouth. But I knew I had to leave room, because we had dessert coming up. I ordered the signature double chocolate bread pudding--which requires 20 minutes to prepare--and Lauren went for the bananas foster ice cream sandwich. When the treats arrived at the table, the indulgence truly began. Mine came in a tin bowl, topped with vanilla ice cream and a piece of chocolate almond bark, and then the waitress poured white and dark chocolate sauces on top. The bananas foster was served with rum caramel, which was lit on fire and then drizzled around the sandwich of ice cream and fresh bananas.

Bananas Foster

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

Lauren gave me a tour of the restaurant and its rooms upstairs, which were pretty cool. Then she showed me a bar area, and had the bartender make me a cosmopolitan to go. Since I'd already had half a bottle of wine, I really didn't need the drink, but since it would be rude to refuse--and it was free--I took it along with me as I walked back to the hotel.

Sunday, I woke up early and visited the hotel fitness center for a quick workout. The room was very nice, with plenty of cardio machines, free weights and lifting machines. They kept it nicely stocked with bottled water, fresh fruit and towels. I finished my workout, got ready and headed downstairs to meet my driver who took me out of the city to visit Nottoway Plantation, the largest remaining antebellum mansion. The 64-room, three-story mansion was built in 1859 by John Hampden Randolph, where he lived with his wife Emily and their 11 children. It was built using the wood from local cypress trees, which was incredibly durable and had an impressive resistance to termites. The home was designed in Greek and Italian style and features 15 1/2-foot high ceilings and 11-foot doors, as well as ornamental iron railings, 12 hand-carved marble fireplaces, hand-painted Dresden porcelain doorknobs, brass and crystal chandeliers, hogany stairways with velvet carpet and even a bowling alley installed for the children. It was was truly a castle.

I enjoyed a lovely brunch in the resort restaurant, complete with a crawfish topped omelette, sausage jumbalaya, slices of smoked salmon, fresh fruit and warm rolls of bread. I finished the meal off with a scrumptious piece of carrot cake, and then headed over to the mansion for the tour. Our guide was super charismatic, knowledgeable, and passionate about the plantation's previous residents. She also had some interesting opinions about racial concerns in the area, which I felt could have been kept to herself. However, they did not dampen the experience in the least, and I really enjoyed walking through the house and learning about all the various rooms and artifacts. When the tour finished, I spent a little time walking around the grounds and taking pictures. My driver was suppose to pick me up at three to head back to New Orleans, but since I didn't require all that time, I decided to give him a call so we could return a little earlier. That way I could see a few more sites around the city before my final dinner.

When I got back to New Orleans, I hopped on the rail car again and made my way to the Garden District, which boasts some of the most gorgeous homes in the city. There are also a lot of great antique shops and cute boutiques. If I had more time--and everything wasn't closed because it was Sunday--I would have shopped around a little bit. I made my way through the neighborhood, enjoying the beautiful homes and quaint eateries. Then I headed over to the World of Mardi Gras, where all the floats for the parades are created. They toured us through all the various stages of the building process, from conception and design, to construction, painting and decorating. As we were walking through the warehouse, the show Top Gear was filming some scenes for its small cars episode, where the guys weave through the floats. It was pretty cool to see a show filming live, right in front of you.

My last dinner was at Tujague's Restaurant, a New Orleans tradition since 1856. It serves a nightly six-course dinner with the choice of four entrees. I wanted a drink, something sweet and refreshing, so I went with a Pimm's Cup, and it was very good, so good I had to remind myself to sip slowly. True to form, I was brought a roll of fresh French bread and butter, as well as my first course, a delicious shrimp remoulade, with a red and white sauce. As I've mentioned, I'm not the biggest shrimp fan, but this dish certainly made me favor the crustacean a little bit more. Then I was brought the soup of the day, creole shrimp, followed by a sample of their house specialty, the beef brisket with special creole sauce. I seriously think they need to bottle that sauce and sell it, I would buy it. I selected the fresh, crusted white fish entree, with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The chef also wanted me to try the chicken breast with home-made potato chips, so I actually had two main dishes. I tried to eat as much of both as I could, but I figured as long as I tried both, it didn't really matter if I actually finished them. Before I was completely stuffed, they brought me chicory coffee and strawberry sauvignon topped with fresh whipped cream for dessert. All in all, a very satisfying meal. The only problem was eating by myself, but not the worst thing, since it was free.

Before I left, the bartender made me a Ramos Gin Fizz, made with gin, lemon and lime juice, egg white, sugar cream, orange flower water, and soda water, a very traditional New Orleans drink. If I was more of a whiskey drinker, I would have tried a Sazerac, but unfortunately it's not my liquor of choice. But if you want something truly New Orleans, go for that, it's one of the oldest cocktails in the country.

On Monday morning, my final day, I walked over to the Old U.S. Mint to meet the communications and marketing director for Louisiana State Museums, Arthur. There was some kind of miscommunication, and he did not show up at our scheduled time. So, I walked around the French Market for a little bit until my meeting with the director of marketing for the French Market Corporation. She was right on time, and gave me some background information about the district. Encompassing six blocks, it includes 20 retail shops, performance venues, restaurants, cafes, a flea market and a farmers' market. It also features a number of historical monuments scattered throughout, as well as scenic walkways and public art displays. I was able to connect with Arthur briefly before I had to return to my hotel. He quickly took me through a couple floors of the U.S. Mint, and then we nearly sprinted over to The Presbytere, another of the museums in the French Quarter. It's closed on Mondays, but I was able to walk through a couple exhibits, including "Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond," covering the history and science of the storms, as well as chronicling the aftermath of Katrina through eyewitness accounts, artifacts, and multimedia displays. I also got to see "Mardi Gras: Its Carnival Time in Louisiana!" which traces the story of the parades and balls from their inception to present day. It was a whirlwind tour, for sure, and I would have liked to see more. (Just one more thing I'll add to the list of things to do when I return.)

After a quick stop at Cafe Beignet to grab a catfish po'boy for lunch, I booked it back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and meet my driver to take to the airport. As the car drove me away from the city center, I couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of regret. There was so much I didn't experience, so much more I wanted to see. I knew I would like New Orleans, but it still took me by surprise in so many ways. My dad always said there were a select number of cities in this country that are truly unique, and New Orleans is one of them. I now see what he was talking about, and I am eager to write this article for my freelance job so I can spread the word about just how special it is.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Support the Tour de Cure

If you know anyone who has battled cancer, is suffering through it, or has--sadly--passed away from the disease, then you will love this post.

The Tour de Cure started in 2007 in Australia, and has grown into a national charity and cycling tour. The goal: Cure cancer. Each year, the organization selects cancer projects, and directs all funds to those initiatives. Participants pledge to bike the route as part of a team, raising money for their efforts and the overall goal of beating cancer.

My Aunt Kathy is riding in the 2012 Signature Tour, which is currently in its 7th day. It kicked off on May 3 and will last 11 days, as riders make their way from Brisbane to Mission Beach, 1,656 km (1,029 miles).

I have received a couple updates from my aunt, since they log their acitivities every few days. She seems to be doing very well, admitting that it has been grueling at times, but definitely rewarding.

Some days are longer than others, with respect to both distance and mental/physical strain. The third day was shorter, 135 km, but there were 45 guest riders, which meant more stops than usual. Day four Harvey Bay to Seventeen Seventy--265 km--was the longest day so far, according to Kathy. She woke up at 3:30 in the morning and they were on the road by 4:20. It took them over 11 hours to reach their final destination, but my aunt's pace was a personal best, which certainly deserves acknowledgement.

Day five and six sounded epic, and I give my aunt so much credit for what she is doing, it is simply incredible. In the course of three days, the group covered 700 km, an unprecedented feat for the tour riders, and one that will probably not be repeated in future routes. Not only that, but the teams have reached out to over 5,000 school children to spread the foundation's message, and they have raised 1.7 million Aussie dollars for the cause. Not too shabby.

While the biking aspect is a serious deterant for me, personally, I will say that I am very jealous that my aunt and the other riders get to experience so many different areas of the continent. The scenery, she said, is breathtaking, and she rides through so many different kinds of terrain. On top of that, they stay in different towns and villages each night, meeting with locals and learning about the regions. What a way to travel.

Here are a few pictures from the Signature Tour Blog:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What I Wouldn't do for a Margarita and a Connoli

Not a whole lot, it would seem.

This past weekend, I enjoyed a number of new experiences in Boston. Yes, this was my third trip to the city, but my best friend, Emily, made sure nothing overlapped with my last visits--or very little, at least.

What made the weekend even more exciting was that it fell in line with two holidays--Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby. Needless to say, there were many festivities going on around the city and we definitely joined in the fun.

Papagayo chips, guac and pomegranate margarita
Shortly after I got off the plane and met Emily at her office, we made our way to a Mexican restaurant, Papagayo in the Waterfront District, and got the party started early, ordering the special margarita of the day, along with some chips, freshly made guacamole and quesadillas. We spent most of the afternoon catching up on each other's lives, getting lost in long conversations about jobs, relationships, the future and random stories that only best friends can understand. Before the day got too nostalgic, Emily's coworkers met us out at the bar for some Corona's, sangria and more margaritas--and an over abundance of chips and salsa. Before the drinks could hit us too hard, we left Papagayo and headed over to Emily's apartment in the swanky Beacon Hill neighborhood.

We quickly dropped off bags, changed outfits and headed out for the evening to Harvard Square, the hipster-filled neighborhood right next to the Ivy League university. There we met up with Emily's friends at Border Cafe, a Mexican and Cajun-style restaurant. The place was packed with a variety of groups, from bubbly students to young businessmen to growing families. The restaurant was vibrant and bright, with banners, streamers, and sombreros hanging all over the colorful walls. It was a battle just to reach the bar, where I had to scream our drink order to the bartender. Luckily, he's used to the wild atmosphere, and delivered our margaritas in a flash, poured perfectly over ice and rimmed with salt. We had to wait for about half an hour before being seated, but we had our deliciously strong margs to keep up happy, so definitely not the worst wait I've ever had a restaurant.When we sat down, the waiter brought baskets of warm chips and scrumptious salsa. We all ordered more margaritas and beers, and then put in our dinner orders. I got chicken enchiladas, with a side of beans and rice...all for less than $7. So much great food for cheap, and in Boston (well, Cambridge), it was awesome! We finished off the evening at Cambridge Common, where I tasted a local brew called Narrangansett (I'm not clear on the exact pronunciation, so please don't ask).

I would have liked to spend more time in Harvard Square, it was super cute and eclectic, with so many different shops and eateries and attractions. The neighborhood has been around for over 100 years, so it holds a lot of history and culture, on top of a modern atmosphere. Emily has already put it back on the list for my next visit.

Paramount Kitchen
The next morning, Emily and I got up and went to brunch at a famous joint in Beacon Hill called The Paramount. This legendary spot has been around since 1937, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner, cafeteria-style all week long. The line can stretch out the door, and when we got there, it was nearly there. But Emily told me it was worth the wait, so we stuck it out. I kept looking for a hostess to put our name in for a table, but I was quickly informed that is not the way it works here. You wait in line to order your food, and they will not seat you until you have your meal. This guarantees that food is served hot and fresh, made right in front of your face. You just have to hope that a table opens up by the time you reach the counter. At first, I wasn't sure this system would be efficient, but I was pleasantly surprised. Tables consistently turned over, and no one was ever left standing with plates in their hands waiting for an opening. I ordered a spinach, feta cheese and tomato omelette, and Emily got the broccoli and cheddar omelette, both served with toast and home fries--which are some of the best I've ever had. After breakfast, we had a girly afternoon filled with manicures, pedicures and shopping along Charles Street.

Emily with the Upper Crust boxes
That evening, we hopped on the T and made our way to Central, another neighborhood across the Charles River in Cambridge. We went over to one of Emily's friend's apartments where we watched the running of the Kentucky Derby. (We put a friendly wager down, and I ended up picking the winning horse, I'll Have Another!) We had a couple drinks there and then went to grab a quick bite before meeting a few more friends out at Miracle of Science Bar, which fosters a peculiar--yet awesome--fascination for chemistry, making it the epitome of geek-chic. It's menu is hand written on the wall in the form of the table of the elements, and the crowd is varied between hipster artists and adorable nerds.  After one or two beers there, our crew made our way over to The Field, a divey, Irish pub that was oddly welcoming despite being somewhat dark and dingy. The crowd is laid back, friendly and fun, and there are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained, including pool tables and darts, which our group gladly played until closing time.

Sunday, Emily and I woke up late, and slightly hungover, but nevertheless eager to jump into the day. Emily planned for us to go to the Red Sox game at 1:30, so we rallied ourselves and got ready. After a minor mishap with trying to print the tickets (I think my next gift to Emily will be a printer) we headed down Charles Street to grab a quick bite before heading to the stadium. We stopped at Upper Crust, another local favorite serving up large slices of thin crust pizza. I would have liked to try one of the featured pizzas, like the Beacon Hill (sun-dried tomato and breaded eggplant) or the Uncommon (bacon, pineapple and jalapeno pepper) or the Swellesley (Arrabbiata, with parmigiano-reggiano, chorizo, crushed red pepper, garlic, olive oil and basil). However, they only sell single pieces of cheese, pepperoni or the slice of the day. Lucky for me, the slice of the day was broccoli and feta, so we got one of each kind and split them.

We jumped on the green line and made our way to Fenway, where the true Boston sports fans live and breathe for their beloved Red Sox. The area around the park is smorgasborg of pubs and bars, souvenir shops and food stands. The vibe is inescapable, and you cannot help but be pulled into the excitement, even if you aren't a Sox fan--and I'm really not. Still, I found myself cheering for them as they went up against the Baltimore Orioles. We were a little nervous about the weather, so we put on a couple extra layers in case it was too cold. But once we found our spots in the bleachers, we found we didn't need them at all. The sun was beating down so intensely, I peeled off everything until I was just in a tank top. I even got a sunburn! The Red Sox fell behind early, but managed to fight their way back with a grand slam from rookie Will Middlebrooks. At the end of the ninth, it was tied 6-6. Emily and I figured someone would score in the next inning or two, but we were wrong. The game turned into an epic battle, spanning 17 innings and nearly six hours. We left after the 12th, so we didn't see the end, but it was not a good day for the Sox.

Emily and I had a pleasant stroll along Commonwealth Avenue, a beautiful street lined with old brick townhouses. We walked through the Public Gardens and Boston Common before strolling back into the hilly, tree-lined streets of Beacon Hill. Since I was in Boston, it was necessary to have some seafood, so we grabbed some sushi rolls from a place called Fin's right around the corner from her apartment. We brought it back to her place and enjoyed the delectable spicy tuna roll, Boston Roll and Rainbow roll, along with a lovely glass of Malbec.

We were thoroughly enthralled with the season finale of Amazing Race as we ate our dinner, but we also had the thought of one of Boston's best desserts on our mind. (No, not Boston Cream Pie, though it is sinfully good.) The treat I am referring to can be found on Boston's North End, also known as Little Italy, in one of two famous pastry shops: Mike's or Modern. The dessert: Cannolis. There is a debate as to which one serves the best, and I was determined to try at least one from either spot. But Emily couldn't record the show, and the pastry shops closed at 10. What were we to do? We made an executive decision. Since it was a two-hour finale, and it would take us 40 minutes to get there and back, we opted to miss most of the first hour and run over to the North End, hopefully making it back in time to see the last crucial hour of the show.

And so the race began. We walked--at a quickened pace--up to Faneuil Hall, through the Market and over to the North End. Again, I would have loved to spend more time in this area, with its Italian restaurants and cute boutiques. However, we were on a mission. Since we reached Modern first, that's where we went--and Emily insists it's actually better than Mike's. The second I walked in, I was in heaven. The treats lining the shelves transported me back to my days in Rome, and the desserts in the glass case made my mouth fill with saliva. Even though I was still somewhat full from the sushi, I knew I could make room for this. I ordered the chocolate-dipped shell with the classic ricotta filling, which they sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar. We practically sprinted back to Emily's apartment, with one or two close encounters with cars and cobble-stoned streets. Once there, we dove right into our cannolis, and much to my elation, it was phenomenal. I mean, there really are no words. It was all I could do not to scarf it all down in bite. I made sure to savor each moment.

The perfect ending to a fantastic weekend in Boston.