Last fall I had the pleasure of going on my very first visit to Japan. It was an otherworldly experience that’s taken some time to process—I mean, the taxi doors open by themselves, the toilets bowls wash you and vending machines dispense delicacies like warm sake and fresh brewed coffee, ground to order. In other words, if life is about the details, it seems that the Japanese have mastered the art of living. I already knew I loved Japanese food. But here are a few more things that I learned during my time in Tokyo and the neighboring Saitama and Chiba prefectures:
1) The cats in Japan are really cute
If you’re familiar with my Instagram feed, then you know I’m cat crazy. Well, not only is Japan home of Maru, the world’s cutest and most famous Internet cat. It’s also home to the phenomenon of the feline station master. It is what it sounds like—cats who live in train stations and are in charge of them, too. I felt very fortunate to catch these three bosses eating breakfast at Goi station on the Kominato Line in Ichira, Chiba.
I love the Rachael Ray Every Day test kitchen. Dearly. Not only are the staffers tireless in their pursuit of recipe perfection, they’ll magically appear with food—like so many lunch fairies—if they even suspect you might be trapped and hungry at your desk.
One thing our test kitchen doesn’t have, however, is a view of Paris. So when I encountered another that did, I couldn’t help but be seduced. And I’m here to confess my fling.
It began not in the kitchen itself, but on a staircase landing I hit en route, where I fell under the hypnotic spell of a pink macaron whirligig.
Why the installation? It signals that you’re on the doorstep of the macaron maestro himself: one Pierre Hermé, also known as Paris’s “Picasso of Pastry” and general dessert deity about town.
Baussan, left; Hermé, right
Among Hermé’s biggest fans is L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan. And their new holiday collaboration is the reason I—and several other reporters—wound up in that test kitchen. Where better, thought Hermé and Baussan, to celebrate some of the foodiest beauty products in history? (I should note that the November attacks hadn’t yet happened, so everyone was feeling more festive.)
As Hermé’s staffers gave us macaron-making lessons—don’t overmix your batter, or it’ll be too runny to hold a nice shape—we talked ingredient combos that work as well on your skin as in patisserie. Take rhubarb, clove, nutmeg and grapefruit—a super-fresh foursome you’ll find in the Pamplemousse Rhubarbe Body Lotion, among other products. Or honey-crystallized mandarin, which scents the heavenly Miel Mandarine Hand Cream.
Then there was bitter orange blossom, jasmine and Immortelle flower—a trio I couldn’t get enough of, whether in perfume or pastry form. (Hermé makes tons of floral desserts, as I’d already discovered through careful recon at one of his ice cream outposts.)
Violet-flavored ice cream and candy mixed with other deliciousness
“Many of the ingredients in L’Occitane’s holiday collection have appeared in my pastry,” he noted during the launch. “But while I normally work with my mouth, this time I was working with my nose.” (Lest you miss the pâtissier’s imprint on each scent, the perfume bottles are even shaped like abstract macarons.)
After a bit more chitchat, my dalliance with the dessert demigod ended.
I’ve since returned to the loving embrace of our own test kitchen—with the bonus pounds to prove it (I came back just in time for holiday treat testing). Still, monsieur Hermé, we’ll always have Paris.
One of your favorite childhood fixtures has officially grown up: Snow cones are now appearing at restaurants, bars and food trucks–complete with local ingredients, artisanal syrups and the occasional splash of booze. Time to explore the next ice age!
Brabo Restaurant in Arlington, VA, serves up the kickin’ Old Town Ginger snow cone, a refreshing blend of kaffir lime vodka, ginger beer syrup, mint liqueur and ice chunks, all of it topped with lime zest and chili flakes. braborestaurant.com
At the Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls shop in New Orleans, the specialty is made with light-as-air shaved ice (versus the ground kind you’re used to) and crowned with house-made syrups such as watermelon-jalapeño and cardamom cream. iwsnoballs.com
Kauai’s Uncle’s Shave Ice serves up shave snow, a Hawaiian take on a Taiwanese treat that starts as a frozen block of water, milk and syrup (try the Asia-inspired lychee or dried plum), then gets shaved into creamy ribbons. uncleskauai.com
Sno con Amor at L.A.’s Hollywood Farmers’ Market fancies up raspados (Mexico’s answer to the snow cone, served in a cup) with handmade syrups. Two faves: lime-mint and grapefruit juice with vanilla bean. snoconamor.com
In true Bay Area style, Oakland’s Skylite Snowballs makes nearly everything from scratch with local farm fare. The result? Seasonal syrups–from pluot to lemon-ginger–poured over crunchy ice and served from a truck. skylitesnowballs.com
By Jenna Scatena
The Le Creuset dishes I’ve accumulated over the years get a lot of love in my kitchen, from the classic 5 qt. oven to my treasured tarte tatin pan. So when I was invited to visit the Le Creuset foundry, in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France, the birthplace of this iconic cookware, where all of the company’s cast iron products have been produced since 1925, I jumped at the chance!
Paul Van Zuydam, the Chairman of the company, bought Le Creuset in 1987 at a time when it was unclear whether or not the company would survive. Not only did he bring it back to life, he managed to turn it into one of the most prestigious cookware companies in the world.
After a 2 hour drive north out of Paris (and a lovely lunch with Paul Van Zuydam of quiche, salad, cured meats and local cheeses), we entered the lobby, complete with a mini museum with some classic pieces since retired, like these yellow beauties from 1945-1955.
Frédéric Sallé, the most affable plant manager, gave us the tour of the foundry, which recently expanded just in time for the company’s 90th anniversary. I was so impressed by how he warmly interacted with the workers like they were family.
Our first sight upon entry to the factory was bins full of Dutch Ovens and skillets. Be still my heart! We were all a bit floored when we found out they were seconds, soon be melted down and re-cast.
“There was so much to love about my journey in Morocco: The food was scrumptious, the people were friendly and I even got to ride a camel! I brought my camera everywhere I went so I could share my favorite family memories with you,” Rachael Ray.
“In my family, we celebrate milestone birthdays with a shared experience. It makes the most memorable gift, whether you’re on a shoestring budget or have limitless money to spend. When my sister Maria’s 50th birthday was approaching, there was no question about where we’d go: Morocco. That’s me and my sister, Maria. To me, riding a camel felt like riding a bumpy sofa!”
”You can find some beautiful things at wonderful prices, like these handmade metal lamps.”
“My photo tip? Don’t center your travel buddy (yup, that’s John!) or a landmark. It’s a more interesting shot if it’s a bit off-kilter.”
If you’ve known and loved a BBQ trail in your day, or vineyard-hopped with the best of them, we’ve got your next great trips right here: five food routes so tempting, we apologize to your driveway for the impending skid marks. Immediate departure not an option? Stay tuned and get an edible preview as we share exclusive regional recipes!