We just concluded our wonderful, delicious, joyous Provence Gastronomad Experience. We just landed in the US, and miss France already. The hardest part is saying “good-bye.” We said it to our wonderful Gastronomads, who joined us for a week of delicious fun. We said it to our dear French friends. We said it to the medieval villages, the breathtaking valleys between and the wonderful food and culture of Provence. And we also said “good-bye” to the lavender, which surrounds the farmhouse that makes our home during The Experience.
Today is the first day of summer, which France celebrates with music everywhere. We took a few steps to check out a band at the end of the street. Amira ran into friends, and I retreated back into our apartment. But I did snap this pic of her walking back down our little street.
We’re living at this moment in little town in France, which we love. It’s called Pernes-les-Fontaines.
Technically, it’s a village of fewer than 10,000 people in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the Vaucluse Department, the Carpentras Arrondissement and part of the intercommunalité of Les Sorgues du Comtat.
Forget all that. It’s a town in France, and one of extreme beauty and charm. (Our apartment is 40 feet away from a moat! Should the Visigoths try to sack the Lower Rhone again, we’ll be ready this time!)
Anyway, we enjoyed a lovely dinner last night with two wonderful friends of ours — an amazing couple, Olivier and Aurore, engineers both. (Aurore owns a gamification training and education company, and Olivier designs technology hardware for education.) Together, they have created an open maker-space called the FabLab, where all are invited to come and learn, build, create, collaborate, explore ideas and make stuff.
While checking out their cool new space last night, Olivier pointed to a partially disassembled washing machine, which he said would be converted into a beer brewing system. Incidentally, he mentioned, the owners of a local brew pub expressed intention to teach the craft of beer brewing to anyone interested at the FabLab. They told us about the brew pub, called Bar à Bières La mousse Gourmande, which we had passed walking by many times, but of which gave no notice.
With time short today, we ventured in to sample some beer. Which was excellent. We loved everything about this place. A few good house-made craft beers on draft. A great selection of good beers by the bottle (including Lagunitas, for fuck’s sake). And really nice people.
This was our view as we sampled Dutch craft beer at sidewalk, canal-side tables, first with the setting sun, then with the full moon. Amsterdam is a damn nice place for doing nothing.
Amira has a meringue problem. Which is to say that she's gained a reputation in restaurants in multiple cities as a meringue maniac. (She'll sometimes call ahead to make sure they've got the hard stuff, and that it's very fresh.)
One restaurant in Mexico City removed an item from their menu literally called "Too Much Meringue," probably because it had too much meringue. Now they make it only for Amira.
Meringue is simple; it's basically whipped egg whites and sugar and sometimes lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar. They make it differently in France, Italy and Switzerland.
French meringue is different from Italian or Swiss meringue in that the egg whites are still raw, which is why French meringue is good only after being baked or cooked. Italian and Swiss meringue can be used as frosting or in other desserts without being baked, and is more stable over time.
French meringue itself is easier to make. But the desserts made with that meringue can be hard to make, and require a lot of pastry kung fu.
We're in France doing our last-minute preparations for The Provence Gastronomad Experience -- one spot for a couple just opened up!). So Amira is in French-meringue heaven!
Our Provence Gastronomad Experience is a French cheese lover's dream.
France has a way with dairy products. French butter is amazing. French pastries can be sublime, in part because of the quality of the butter.
And nobody makes cheese like the French.
Every region of France has its specialty cheeses. And Provençal cheeses are amazing.
If you want to explore the exquisite cheese of Provence, you'll definitely want to join our Provence Gastronomad Experience.
We're going to taste cheese in salad, during picnics, with truffles, as part of wine pairings and for no reason at all. And, of course, we'll eat cheese the French way -- between dinner and dessert.
We'll eat amazing new cheeses you've probably never tried, every day.
Good news for you cheese lovers: We just had a spot open up for our upcoming Provence Gastronomad Experience (for a couple), which takes place June 24 - June 29.
During the Provence Gastronomad Experience, a small group of us will stay together in a beautifully restored French farmhouse, a short walk from a picturesque medieval village. From there, we’ll strike out to explore the very best of everything Provence has to offer, from the rocky vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the canals of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to the sunny beaches of the Côte d'Azur.
We'd love for you to join us in June on this unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Our Provence Gastronomad Experience could be called the Lavender Experience. Provence is the global epicenter of exquisite lavender fields, and we surround ourselves with it, learn to distill it, eat it in honey, desserts and other provencal treats -- we practically (or, if you like, actually) bathe in it.
Yeah, sure, we taste Provence's best wine, cheese, cuisines, pastries, truffles, bread and more. We explore one of the most breathtaking European regions at the peak of summer, when the lavender is in full bloom. You'll meet our food and wine visionary friends, who will receive you like family and share the unparalleled culinary culture of Provence. And did I mention lavender?
Good news for you lavender lovers: We just had a spot open up for our upcoming Provence Gastronomad Experience (for a couple), which takes place June 24 - June 29.
During the Provence Experience, a small group of us will stay together in a beautifully restored French farmhouse, a short walk from a picturesque medieval village. From there, we’ll strike out to explore the very best of everything Provence has to offer, from the rocky vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the canals of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to the sunny beaches of the Côte d'Azur.
We'd love for you to join us in June on this unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Venice is amazing, historic and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s also radically overcrowded with tourists. Every day, thousands of visitors crowd together to see and take pictures of (mostly selfies) of Piazza San Marco, Rialto Market and the Santa Maria della Salute church.
As with other places burdened by overtourism, Venice gets hammered by far too many people trying to see and do far too little.
So the City of Venice has come up with a wonderful concept they call “Detourism.” That means to explore far more broadly, with an emphasis on discovering things off the beaten track, rather than to join the hoards crowding the city’s “Greatest Hits.”
That’s what Amira and I do when we live abroad. That’s what we do (and did) on our Prosecco Gastronomad Experience, which includes Venice. Yes, we see the major attractions (always in a way that avoids the crowds). But we also explore several Venetian islands, some of which are unrecognizable as being part of Venice. We find quiet spots to drink wine by the water, check out islands mainly populated by actual residents, rather than tourists, and and even spend time on a farm. (Yes, Venice has farming — a fact most visitors to Venice never learn.)
The Gastronomad way to travel is “detourism” — which means the opposite of tourism and also implies going off the beaten track where people don’t normally go. These little-known places are where you can find the true soul of Venice — or wherever you go — and experience the true joy of discovery.
We love the concept. We love the lifestyle.
Sprinting across Rome to meet a friend at the Vatican (our friend Rev. Robert R. Ballecer, a.k.a. “Padre” of TWiT fame) and having successfully completed our epic and wondrous Prosecco Gastronomad Experience with six beautiful people, we’re taking a week off to explore parts of Italy we’ve never encountered.
Of course, we’ve been to Rome before. We came here on our honeymoon. But after Rome, we’ll travel to Naples and Sicily. And the anticipation of discovery in these places fills us with lightness and joy.
Veneto, Rome, Naples, Sicily — whatever, man! We’re in Italy!! And we’re living la Dolce Vita!
You can't buy happiness. Or, at least, you can't buy lasting happiness. The reason is a psychological phenomenon called hedonic adaptation. (Or the "hedonic treadmill.")
The theory goes that we each have a baseline of happiness (some people are just naturally happier than others). When great things or horrible things happen to us, our happiness goes up or down accordingly. But after we get used to the new thing, our happiness level reverts to the baseline.
That shiny new smartphone makes us happier than our old phone did, but only for a short time. We ultimately revert to our previous level of happiness -- we "adapt" to the "hedonism" of owning an overpriced new gadget.
In other words, new things and new experiences do make us happy. But once they're no longer new, their effect on our sense of happiness fades with the novelty.
It turns out that we never loved that new phone because its features were great. We loved it because it's great features were new.
Living as a gastronomad, moving constantly from place to place and actively exploring new food and cultural experiences, leaves hedonic adaptation in the dust.
This month alone, Amira and I have lived or will live in Silicon Valley, Barcelona, Venice, the Prosecco Hills, Rome, Sicily, Fez, Chefchaouen, Marrakesh, Meknes, Essaouira and a tent in the Sahara. We rarely stick around any place long enough for the newness -- and the happiness -- to wear off.
There are many aspects of living as gastronomads that are happiness inducing — the friendships, the memories, the cultural enrichment.
But one aspect that’s under-appreciated is the happiness that comes from new experiences.
Happiness comes from many places, including personality, relationships and overall income level and wellbeing. We can't control some of this. But we can make life new all the time by living as globe-trotting Gastronomads -- and never letting hedonic adaptation catch us.
I noticed this ad in The New Yorker today run by the City of Vienna. They’re advertising visiting the city. But most of all they’re slamming Instagram tourism, where people spend all their time simulating leisure for social media followers instead of actually enjoying themselves.
Their slogan is: “Enjoy Vienna. Not #Vienna”
And: “Unhashtag your vacation!”
If you visit the campaign’s web page, which is unhashtag.vienna.info, you’ll be greeted by a friendly lecture on the stupidity of Instagram tourism, with an invitation to visit Vienna for a “digital detox.”
At the bottom of the page is a button that links to “Six signs you should think about a digital detox.“
The page also links to the City of Vienna’s Instagram page, which is mostly photos of a bunch of buildings.
I just bought this product, which is called the Anker PowerCore Fusion Power Delivery. I like it because it does double duty as a charging plug and a mobile battery.
When Amira and I are out and about, we carry at minimum one Pixel 3 and one iPhone, and at most we add to that my Pixelbook, iPad and Amira’s MacBook Pro.
The device has one USB port and one USB C port and plugs into a wall. If I find an outlet, I can plug two devices in at once, and they both charge from the power outlet. When the devices are done charging, the PowerCore Fusion Power Delivery switches to battery mode, and the outlet charges the battery.
If I don't find an outlet, I can charge two devices at once from the battery.
In battery mode, it will charge both our phones, or my iPad, but not my Pixelbook or Amira's older MacBook Pro. When she gets a new MacBook, it will charge from the battery via USB C.
The USB port uses Anker’s PowerIQ technology to identify the device, then use that device’s rapid charging protocol for fast charging.
In the past, I would walk around with a mobile battery, two cables and two plugs -- one each for USB C and Lightning. Now I can get the same capability with just this one device, plus the cables. And it fits in my pocket.
After a long drive across the increasingly arid Eastern Morocco and greeting our favorite desert Berber, Mohammad, our Morocco Experience Gastronomads, Amira and I drove out to the edge of the orange sand dunes of the Sahara and got ready to mount camels for a ride to our camp.
A boy came running across the flat open stretch before the dune and appeared to be holding a cat by the neck. Is it dead? Does he want to sell us a dead cat?
When the boy got closer, we saw that the cat was actually a Saraha-dwelling desert fox called a fennec fox. And it was alive.
We turned down the fox, but paid him 5 dirhams for a picture.
We just concluded our two-week, nationwide Morocco Gastronomad Experience and are at the Marrakesh airport. All airport staff suddenly stopped working to break their Ramadan fast for a meal called iftar, just before we intended to pass through security.
The security guards insisted that we share their food, and gave us these delicious things (don't know what they are, but they're both savory and sweet at the same time. (I guess we looked hungry.)
It's a small thing, but it filled us with gratitude.Read More
Wrapping up our preparations for The Morocco Gastronomad Experience, which begins Monday, we stopped to snap a selfie with this amazing scenery in Moulay Idriss. What a cool town! What a beautiful area.
A few years ago, while lost in the Fez medina, we stumbled across a small family restaurant cooking tagines on coal in the alley in front of their restaurant.
We had a good feeling about it and decided to have lunch there. We ordered a couple of tagines and a small salad.
Other patrons were all local, and the staff unceremoniously dropped their bread directly on the table for them. For us non-Moroccans, they put our bread on a plate.
So many Fez dives are tiny, and lack bathrooms or any place for you (or the people making the food) to wash hands.
This place, however, has a nice sink with powdered soap right there in the dining room.
The food was delicious and cheap. We enjoyed it and left.
Then today, while not lost but passing through a remote corner of the medina, we encountered the restaurant again, and decided on the spot to have lunch. And it's just as delicious as we remember.
So I'm now elevating this restaurant to my favorite in Fez. It's cheap and basic, but the fact is that their food is super delicious.
I don't know the name of the restaurant, however, because their sign is in Arabic and they don't show up on Google Maps.
But we know how to get there now, and I'm sure we'll be back. Maybe we’ll even take our Morocco Experience Gastronomads there.
Amira and I had dinner at an undisclosed location here in Morocco — a pretty nice restaurant with some pretty good food. While ordering, our owner/waiter asked if we wanted wine. I said yes. And he said: “We don’t have our liquor license, so if you have wine please be discreet about it.” And so when he brought the wine in a glass, he also brought an empty can of Coke so it looked like I was drinking a soft drink. I looked around the restaurant, and just about everybody had empty cans of various soft drinks on the table.
Essaouira in Morocco reminds me of my home town of Carpinteria, California. Carpinteria is famous for its gently sloping beach, which means that you can walk out into the surf 30 yards and still only be waist-deep in water.
Essaouira's beach is far bigger, wider and more gradual. You can walk out 100 yards here and only be waist deep.
Better still, the water in Essaouira is warmer, and there's no tar to step on.
The only two downsides compared with Carpinteria is that in Essaouira you'll encounter trash in the water.
And also: camel pellets.
That's right. Some enterprising local camel and horse owners will take you on rides on the beach. Riding camels on the beach is actually a must-do activity if you ever make it to Essaouira.
You can also rent a quad bike and do donuts in the sand. And Essaouira is notoriously windy, and so it's a kite-surfing paradise.
Amira and I like to take long walks on the beach whenever we can. And Essaouira is great for walking. You can walk for miles on the sand. One curiosity along the way, just south of the town is what appears to be a rocky formation on the beach. Upon closer inspection, it looks like a man-made structure completely fused with natural rock.
The structure is called Bourj El Baroud, an 18th-century watchtower for a castle built for the Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah. That tower was destroyed by a flood in 1856. And it was built on a Phoenician structure.
Anyway, it’s great to be on the beach here in Essaouira. It’s just like home — plus ancient ruins and camel pellets.
Essaouira is Morocco's favorite beach town, popular not only with European holiday-maker types, but also Moroccan families from elsewhere in the country. (Our gorgeous gang of Gastronomads is going to love it, too...)
Street food is everywhere. And the most popular kind of street food appears to be escargot.
As the sun goes down, families crowd around these escargot carts, and kids as young as two seem to love them.
I'm personally not aware of any other place where escargot is a popular street food.