Category Archives: places I remember

California Dreamin’ – #IGTravelThursday

California is home, or was. Somehow after over a decade living on the East Coast, I still consider myself a Californian.  It isn’t that I don’t love where I live now, but more that California is a part of me.

That said, I don’t often find myself back home. When I do, I drink it, breath it, take it into me like I might never get back again. Whether it’s toes in the sand on my favorite beach, watching the sun rise out of the desert dunes, or losing myself in the forest, California always sparks the best day dreams – and some of the best Instagram travel stories too.


A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

Nothing beats a California Sunset.  

On horseback, one of my favorite ways to explore anywhere!


A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

And of course, what is better than a California wine to end any day? Doesn’t matter where you are!


A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

The great thing about an Instagram Travel story, is it  stays with you no matter where you are – or how cold it is there!


I’ll just pretend I’m back here and ignore the snow outside. #sandiego A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

Finding travel daydreams on Instagram is one of my favorite things to do. Reeta from House of Anais has taken me all over, from Finland to Slovenia, through lush green fields in England. And that’s just in her post for this week! 

Do you have a great Instagram travel story to share, or want to find more? Join the monthly Instagram travel-related linky hosted by Skimbaco Lifestyle, and click through all the Insta-Travel-Awesome below.


The Language of Food (plus a giveaway)

I think James Beard put it best when he said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” In my travels across the globe there has been but one constant – food is the key to understanding.

Recipes are historical notations to the lives we live, a connection to those that came before us. A meal prepared and shared with others ensures that a piece of our story is passed on. On my recent trip to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board, I had the privilege to share a meal with Robin Lim Lumsden, author of “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining.”

Belcour: Jamican, French and Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining The title itself hints at what an amazing story Robin tells with food. Jamaican of Scottish, Chinese, French and English descent, who also spent time living in Chicago, Robin herself is the proverbial melting pot. Alongside beautifully photographed dishes in the book, you’ll also find family photographs going back generations. Some tell the story of her family’s contribution to the founding of Jamaica’s iconic Red Stripe brewery, others chronicle the journey that brought her to Belcour and it’s own transformation from estate to an organic farm that produces many of the ingredients found in Belcour Preserves.Yogurt and Stewed GuavaOver a dish of fresh yogurt topped stewed guava, I began to develop a bit of a girl-crush on Robin. She has all the swagger of Bourdain, the approachability of Nigella, and subscribes to a Hemingway-esque philosophy that any meal is made better with a tot of scotch – for the cook!

In every dish she made for us there were tales of love, notes of bittersweet memory, a salting of pride and joy, all with healthy sprinkling of laughter. With each bite, Belcour became a part of me. Leaving, even after having only been there for a few hours, was difficult. I know I will go back.

Lilly Pond at Belcour LodgeFor the time being, I visit Belcour by making some of the dishes in her cookbook. My family has a tradition of sharing Sunday brunch, most often at home. Honestly this is mostly so I can only cook once on Sundays! When I got back from Jamaica it seemed only fitting to make a Robin-inspired meal.

Ackee and Saltfish auicheThe book has an entire section dedicated to brunch!

My sister-in-spice, Julie Cohn from “A Little Bite of Life” and I want you to cook up a story or two (okay, all the stories) from Robin’s book. Below you can enter to win a copy of the award-winning, stunning, one-of-a-kind… “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining” And just in time for holiday entertaining season!

Be sure to visit A Little Bite of Life for extra entries AND my twist on Robin’s Crab Cakes with Mango. Yum!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board for a culinary trip around the island. All opinions are my own, I was not compensated for this post. I purchased the prize(s) myself, because I truly want to share them with you!  

Inspired Travel: ‘Voluntourism’ in Jamaica

Jake's Treasure Beach Jamaica

Radiant white sand beaches, crystal, limpid waters that allow glimpses of flamboyantly-hued fish without the need to even get your hair wet…is it any wonder that millions of travelers flock to the Caribbean each year?  Umbrella bedecked tropical drinks beckon, and the Islands offer a perfect setting for relaxation and recreation.  But, for those who want a more involved vacation, a new type of  “All Inclusive” is taking hold, melding tourism and volunteering  – Voluntourism.

On a recent trip to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board, I was afforded the opportunity to explore the island beyond those stunning shores. The result was – to me – a deeper, richer, more inspired travel experience that sent me home with a warm feeling that had little to do with the copious amounts of rum that filled my checked baggage.

The Blue Mountains of Jamaica as seen from Strawberry Hill Resort
The Blue Mountains of Jamaica as seen from Strawberry Hill Resort

The Blue Mountains

Climbing the winding road up into the mist covered Blue Mountains is a surreal experience.  Here it is most obvious how Jamaica (Xaymaca) earned it’s moniker – The Land of Wood and Water. Lush forests bursting with vibrant flowers give way to rain-swollen streams that glisten in swaths of brilliant sunshine. The road itself is dotted with countless vendors, offering everything from peanuts to Red Stripe.

Did I mention the goats yet? Goats are everywhere. They rule the road with little concern for passing traffic.  In fact, I’d swear that more than one of them had a few choice words for our little expedition as we impeded upon their leisurely stroll down the center-line.

Overlooking the valley, with a view that stretches all the way to Kingston and the bay, sits a Georgian estate house built in 1805. Decorated with period pieces and bursting with historical artifacts, the house sits at the head of the Craighton Estate Coffee Trail. Along the twisting paths that lead to the gazebo overlook of this 400,000 acre coffee plantation, you can witness first hand the budding sustainability movement in Jamaica. 

An active member of the Certified Rainforest Alliance, Craighton Estate produces non-GMO coffee employing social and environmental sustainability best-practices. The result? A world-class product that is rich, smooth and has zero acidic aftertaste. Seriously, I didn’t even put sugar in mine and it was bliss. 

The life cycle of a Craighton Estate Coffee Bean
The life cycle of a Craighton Estate Coffee Bean

Along with the best coffee I’ve ever had (and I’m addicted a connoisseur)  Craighton also boasts a man beyond match, Alton Bedward…whom I’ve deemed, “The Most Interesting Man In Coffee.” Not only is he passionate about his fellow Jamaicans owning and bettering this already nearly-perfect product, he knows more about the global cultural and historical impact of coffee than I’d venture anyone alive today.

For example, before Alton I had no idea that marriage matches in Turkish culture are often effected by the prospective bride’s ability to impress her future in-laws with her coffee making skills. A visit to Craighton should be on the list of all who travel to discover.

Treasure Beach

On the undeveloped South Coast of Jamaica sits the aptly named Treasure Beach. Here farming and fishing remain a way of life, as they’ve done for generations.  In many ways this seemed to me to be  the heart of Jamaica. Perhaps this is because I was raised in a rural farming community where cattle roamed – though not nearly as freely the goats do here – even more bold than in the mountains.

The area emits a provincial warmth that permeates every corner. Friendly locals and expats gather at the diner and sit in the open-air upon makeshift picnic tables, enjoying Blue Mountain coffee from a mismatched collection of mugs that accompany the amazing breakfast and ardent Sunday Football discussions.  A proud farmer walked us through his fields, beaming as he displayed the beet crop  he’d pulled fresh from the ground for our inspection.  Yes, in a land of dazzling beauty, Treasure Beach is a gem. 

Surrounded by the same beaches and waters that draw so many to the resorts down the coastline, Treasure Beach has much to offer. Among those offerings is the opportunity to ensconce yourself within the community through many voluntourism activities. Such as those provided by Breds – The Treasure Beach Foundation.

Jason a Generational Farmer in Jamaica
Jason – a generational farmer in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica – shares his story and freshly harvested beets.

Breds was established by local hotelier Jason Henzell and Peace Corps volunteer Aaron Laufer in 1998.  Their focus is on fostering community empowerment through programs designed to enhance the education, vocational training, recreation, and livelihoods of the Treasure Beach community, while also ensuring the sustainability of the environment that nurtures it.

Breds also provides a mutually beneficial connection between the tourism sector and the community. They offer many avenues for visitors to explore, gain understanding and contribute – all while having a great time! 

Fishing in Jamaica

Resources for Planning Your Voluntourism Visit to Jamaica

Youth and Environment: Breds Foundation. They can help arrange your visit and tailor activities that fit your skills.

Health: Issa Trust Fund. The mission of the Foundation is to provide a system of prevention, health promotion and education, community health improvement and other services to promote well-being and development for the people of Jamaica.  As the mother of a child who suffers from asthma, their recent inhaler campaign was near and dear to our family. 

Environment and Education: The Sandals Foundation

The very best resource in planning your trip is the Jamaican Tourism Board (JTB) itself. They have a unique program called, “Meet The People” which offers visitors a chance to explore beyond the resort and experience the Jamaican way of life.  The program is available at no cost to individuals and families. Whether you want to bump up your dance moves by learning to dance to a reggae beat, delve into the Jamaican art scene with a local artist, learn from Rastafarians the story that led to the rise of this religious form, or master the art of making traditional Jamaican dishes, the JTB staff is there to guide you.

In fact, they set me up with an amazing local chef and cookbook author and I can’t wait to share the tastes and history I learned with you! Post and GIVEAWAY coming soon!

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival: Family, Fun, & Food!

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Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could zip around the globe in one day, making stops at your favorite spots and giving jet lag the slip? Until the descendants of Gene Roddenberry come through with that molecular transporter we were promised, you may just need to take a trip to Busch Gardens® Williamsburg.

Yes, Busch Gardens® Williamsburg is an amusement park that can take you around the globe in a single day (or a couple if you’d like.) 

As an Ambassador for the park, my family and I recently visited the park to put this concept to the test. Was it a coincidence that we just so happened to be there for opening weekend of their annual Food & Wine Festival?   

Yeah, no.

Don’t get me wrong I love a log flume as much as the next girl, but really you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all. Now if you’ve got goat cheese crepes and a Côtes du Rhône, that’s my kind of thrill ride!

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Deemed, “The Most Beautiful Theme Park in the World”, Busch Gardens® Williamsburg takes you on a global adventure featuring rides, shows, and YES food from delightful destinations like: Italy, France, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Canada and Germany. Grab their mobile app on iTunes or in the Google Play Store to help you navigate better than Columbus! Trust me, it’s much better than using a standard park map.

Talk about globe trotting!

The park also boasts an array of wildlife, making this more than just a spot for wild rides like Verbolten. The teen daughter suckered me into riding this one. Um, it drops you… on purpose! I literally did not stop screaming for the entire ride – maybe a few minutes after as well. We all fell in love with the majestic, and a bit mischievous Clydesdale horse and big fluffy sheep in Scotland. The cheeky nine year old had to ask why the Bald Eagle didn’t have any pistachios. 

Damn you Colbert!

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My anglophile offspring were in dazed by the swinging scene in England where Busch Gardens® Williamsburg has welcomed another British invasion with their London Rocks show. These kids watch far too much Dr. Who.

Sculptures and sculptured gardens mark your entrance into Italy. Grab a gelato and stroll through a piazza dotted with shops that feature Florentine glass and fun Italian-esque baubles. I loved that many of the rides here played off a Da Vinci theme. It opened up some great conversations about the time we’ve spent in Italy and the places that my husband’s family still lives. Other than that “center” in Florida, I can’t think of another theme park that sparked such amazing conversations. 

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One thing Busch Gardens® Williamsburg does really well, is mixing rides for all age groups into each area you visit. The big kids can test their nerve on Loch Ness while the smaller thrill seekers can ride the mini Clydesdales just feet away. As the day winds down, and feet get tired, hop on the REAL steam locomotive train that circles the park and revisit the palaces you loved most. 

Another great way to find a respite during your day is a private cabana. We rented one for the day, and it was BRILLIANT!

Nestled in the Wild Reserve next to Lorikeet Glen, our cabana included seating for four, a lockable storage area, FOUR Quick Queue® passes, a spacious mini-refrigerator, EIGHT bottled drinks (we grabbed VitaminWater, bottled water and sodas), PLUS complimentary photo. Note the photo is one of those where you look ridiculous screaming on a roller coaster, not the photos with the Clydesdales – learned that one the hard way. The Queue® passes alone are $20 a pop, and we all know how NOT cheap drinks are in a theme park, combine that savings with having a place to rest and store the loot you found in France and the cost of a cabana makes total sense. They start at $70 in the low-season and go up to $120 during peak times.

kaytie and the dale

The culinary portion of our global tour took us from crepes and wine in France, to beer and cheese in Belgium, gaspatcho (one of my favs!) and sangria in Spain to bangers and colcannon in Ireland. Each country featured dishes authentic to the culture they represent, and paired with iconic adult libations of each nation. The festival also featured the Art of Food, with exhibits highlighting culinary artistry from melon carving to cake artists that had been featured on Food Network. Nibbles range from $4 up to about $14 for wine tastings.

The Busch Gardens® Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 23 – June 29th for 2014.

Busch Gardens Collage

The whole family had a blast, we can’t wait to head back for Halloween!


This post was made possible in part by my participation in the Busch Gardens® Williamsburg Ambassador program. My family and I were provided park passes in order to experience the park and share with my readers.  All other items, including the Cabana, food and wine (oh the wine), I paid for. My opinions and those of my family are 100% our own – because YOU deserve nothing less!

“Taste Washington” a Food & Wine Pairing Journey

Julia Child Wine

Traveling through the taste buds is the ultimate experiential journey. Few things serve to acquaint you better with a culture or destination than getting to know the culinary landscape. The beauty of this is that you don’t necessarily need to be in the geographical area to experience what it has to offer.

Visiting cultural enclaves like “China Town” or “Little Italy,” in any city can transport you without a passport. Letting your taste buds to the traveling can also be the start of your journey. Fall for a felafel and you may find yourself booking an exotic adventure to the Middle East.

Food is a universal translator, we all speak fluent “Foodie,” no matter what we like to eat.

I suspect the language of food was the the idea behind “Flavors of the World,” a culinary series and adventure launched by Omni Hotels. Last year at the Omni Berkshire in New York I fell in love with Peddlers Noodles – Char Kway Teow, one of the award-winning foods included in the “Simply Street Food,” portion of the series.

Char Kway Teow or ‘Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodle,’ is a popular dish throughout Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, that was made famous by local street food vendors. Chef Andy Oh of the Pan Pacific Orchard put a modern twist on the dish and it was a featured offering at Omni Hotels. The best part? Chef Oh’s recipe was made available online (check it out here) allowing me to recreate it at home and test it out with several wines.

My favorite? Cashmere by Cline Cellars. A silky, smooth blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah, it paired perfectly with the sweet crab meat and spicy chili paste in the dish.

Watch out Singapore… here I come!

This spring Omni’s latest offering is, “Taste Washington.”  Let your taste buds travel to the Evergreen State with some of Washington’s best wines, hand-selected by the culinary adventurers at Omni, and paired with iconic culinary creations from the region.

“With dishes inspired by local flavors and the indigenous cuisine of Washington State, guests can enjoy: Handmade Washington Cheeses served with fig jam, honey and olives, Dungeness Crab Fritters, Dungeness Crab and Snap Pea Soup, Apple and Fennel Salad, Roasted Salmon served with Wild Mushrooms and Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream.” ~Omni PR

They had me at cheese with fig jam. Honestly it’s a reconnaissance mission, we have so many figs come summer I want to learn how to make jam out of them.

washington figs and cheese

Want to taste a bit of Washington, but your travels are taking you to Dallas, Boston or beyond? March 7, 2014 – May 31, 2014, Omni Hotels nationwide will be serving up the wines and bites mentioned above in their bars and restaurants, as well as offering a “Taste Washington” package. The package includes a Washington cheese plate, Washington bottle of wine and Washington apple delivered in-room upon check-in.

I may be stuck here in Washington, D.C. at the moment, but I’m looking forward to letting my taste buds travel to Washington State. Next stop… Pike Place Market and a Girls Weekend with cookies for breakfast!


(The only sponsors for this post were my taste buds. I was not compensated in any way. Though if you stay at Omni for this event I’m willing to take wine and/or figs as a thank you!)