Tag Archives: Tourism

1 plane, 3 trains and a taxi

My last assignment found me in Italy for Saveur Magazine.  After a trans-continental flight and three trains, I realized I still had another train and a bus ride ahead of me before I was to arrive at my final destination, the town of Gubbio in Umbria.  At that point, I had been up 38 hours straight.

Exhausted, I reluctantly ditched my attempt at being the savvy, thrifty traveler and grabbed a taxi…and I was thrilled to arrive in my hotel room an hour later. The concierge didn’t even take my credit card or passport he just handed me a room key and said we would settle everything after I slept. I must have looked pretty bad.Blog02

Image of light coming thought the window in my hotel room waking me up for my first day of shooting.


Filed under assignments, Hotels, International Assignments, Italy, Lidia Bastianich, photography, Rome, travel

A foodies pilgrimage to “Mecca”

My love for Julia Child started long before I discovered food and long before I started photographing it. I remember watching the show with my mother while I was growing up. My brother was even into it, he’d walk in and, without a word sit down to watch with us. There we were the three of us mesmerized by Julia.


IMG_0284The funny thing is that I have no recollection of my mother ever attempting to cook any of her recipes. We never even talked about her food…we would just watch. It wasn’t about the technical details of her recipes for my family; it was completely 100% about Julia. Throughout my life, Julia’s show always had the ability to make me stop whatever I was doing and watch. It was as if I was back home again with my mother and brother, sharing those afternoons with Julia.

Julia01Fast forward to 2004. I was in D.C. editing a story at National Geographic. I was in a really bad place too. The assignment I was working on was getting the best of me and I felt like I didn’t have the pictures to show for it. I was feeling pretty insecure and kind of doubtful about my future. I woke up one morning in my hotel to headlines in the Washington Post about Julia Child’s death. I read her obituary that instant, then re-read it again and again. I was so taken by it that I even cut it out and saved it – I still have it to this day. I learned more about Julia’s life and her career in that obituary then I had gleaned from watching her all those years. She didn’t discover her passion for food until her late 30’s; the next ten years she would spend writing a book she lamented over and rewrote several times, testing the recipes endlessly. After several false starts, in 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking was finally published, and went on to earn national acclaim and become a best-seller. We all know the rest of the story, how Julia’s life and career developed and how she went on to become an icon in American cooking.

Julia02In 2001, Julia Child donated her kitchen in its entirety to the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in D.C. Her husband Paul had designed this kitchen just for her; it had special high counters to accommodate her height, and it was also the same kitchen where most of her show had been taped.

After learning of her death, I knew I needed to visit Julia’s kitchen at the Smithsonian. The moment I came upon it, I was moved. I studied every detail in the kitchen and read every word on display. Eventually, after an hour I found myself cross-legged on the floor of the museum, watching old Julia shows. That afternoon, her kitchen became a great source of inspiration to me. It somehow provided me with the encouragement I’d especially needed that week, a reminder to keep pushing through the struggles and setbacks in my own career the way Julia had. It also made me realize how important it is to just keep moving in the direction you want your life to be, no matter how many no’s or maybe’s you hear. Since then, I have read every book I could find on Julia and purchased the box set of her old shows, drawing as much encouragement and inspiration as I could from her life and her work. And when I go back to see the kitchen in D.C., I’m still moved just as much as I was the first time I visited. It’s like going home…one of the safest places on earth…and a reminder to keep pushing towards your dreams.



Filed under About Penny, Chefs, Domestic Assignments, Encouragement, food history, french food, Inspiration, Julia Child, travel, Washington DC

Vietnam…a photographer’s notebook


vietnamblog171What do you do after spending 14 plus months
renovating/reconstructing/rebuilding your house? I should mention that we house-hopped the entire time – 5 months with one friend, 5 months with another, 3 months with another, 2 weeks house sitting in an air stream, 3 weeks with my dad who lives an hour away.
I know, I know…CRAZY.

There is so much I would do differently now that I’m on the other end, so much. Even down to the trip we took after we moved back into the house.

“Relaxing trip to Vietnam” is what were we thinking. What we really needed was a few weeks in the Yucatan, swimming and sipping margaritas on the beach. What we did was an adventure trip covering the breadth of the developing country of Vietnam.

What was the thinking behind this? Well, it went like this:
Both my partner and I have traveled extensively; between the two of us, we have covered somewhere around sixty different countries. We both wanted a location we’d never visited before (this was tough…think Nepal,Antarctica)…plus it needed to be affordable. Scratch Australia, New Zealand, China, then we thought Southeast Asia. Not enough time to get to Laos and Cambodia; Thailand maybe too touristy…we landed upon Vietnam. Totally affordable, beautiful and the food culture there…AMAZING.

It was all that, truly, but from the minute our feet touched land in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City),it was an over-stimulated, multitasked, completely scattered journey.

Vietnam has to have one of the most visual cultures I have ever photographed, right up there with the old City in Delhi.
Life in that country is truly lived on the streets
and the people…such amazing faces, such beauty. The food possibilities there are endless, endless. All the food stalls on the streets are present from the north in Hanoi to Da Lat in the mountains and Nha Trang on the coast all the way to the south in Ho Chi Minh City. These street foods can reveal so much about the history and the culture of this beautiful country. It was like photographing a circus, the Super Bowl and a food festival all at the same time.

Try doing that for two weeks. I needed a vacation from my vacation.

Above are some of my favorite images from the trip. I tried to limit the number of photographs I posted, here’s where a good photo editor goes a long way, but honestly it’s Vietnam…seriously, you can’t show that country in a few photographs…


Filed under About Penny, Asia, assignments, Favorite Places, food history, International Assignments, photography, travel, Vietnam

A Day in the Life of Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo

A few months ago, I was in Chicago for an assignment at Rick Bayless‘ restaurant, Topolobampo, which serves upscale interior Mexican food.

Bayless, an award winning chef, cookbook author, television personality and restaurateur, has a passion for Mexican food. He’s built an entire career out of sharing this passion. His knowledge and love for the people, their food and the country is intoxicating.

Having worked with him a few times previously, I’ve witnessed his knowledge of Mexican food and history first hand. It’s pretty inspiring.

I grew up around Mexican food. My mother and aunts were amazing home cooks with a focus on border Mexican fare: calabacita con pollo, guisados, arroz con pollo and the ever-present carne asada. I know my fair share of Tex-Mex and border Mex, but interior Mexican is another story. Having someone like Bayless guide you through a market in Puebla, Mexico or take you on a journey of his favorite eateries in D.F (Mexico City) is unforgettable. The words and stories behind the food we ate elevated the experience to a whole new level.

Not surprisingly, spending a day photographing Bayless’ restaurant for the April issue of Saveur Magazine was an equally amazing experience.

I spent 26 hours in Chicago for this assignment. 18 of these were at Topolobampo. The story: a day in the life of one of America’s top restaurants.

The day started before the sun was up and I left after midnight when the last table had been cleared and all the line cooks had cleaned and packed up. At the end of this long, exhausting day, I couldn’t help but feel really happy and fulfilled, primarily because of all that I learned, seen and photographed. This was one of those assignments that makes me love what I do.


Filed under assignments, Chefs, Chicago, Domestic Assignments, Encouragement, Favorite Places, Mexican Food, My Mentors, photography, Restaurants, Rick Bayless

Paradise for $50 a day

tulum-21This past weekend I took a gamble in Tulum, Mexico and did not book a hotel in advance. When travelling in the Yucatan, I like to see where I am staying before committing and, in this case, scouting the hotel upon arrival paid off in a big way.

Diamante K, just off the main beach road in Tulum, is the kind of escape you picture after a stressful, hectic week. You can see yourself relaxing in a hammock next to the ocean with a gentle breeze keeping you cool. You can hear the waves break on the shore, and when you look up… myriad shades of blue. Within earshot there’s an open air restaurant, at the wave of a hand a waiter comes to your hammock carrying a freshly squeezed limonada, a plate of guacamole, and freshly made tostadas. Open your eyes because it truly exists.

The cabanas are thatched-roof huts situated on the beach less then 100 feet from the ocean and offer perhaps the most romantic setting of any hotel I have ever visited. Each bed is suspended from the ceiling so in the evenings you are gently rocked to sleep by the breeze coming in from the Gulf. The price is almost unbelievable.

I should warn you that there are some sacrifices necessary when staying here…communal amenities! But, the open-air bathrooms are nestled into a grotto and the outdoor showers have water running through suspended shells onto a bamboo floor in a private hut. The hotel calls this “eco chic,” but I call it, “I really don’t give a !@#?” I’m on a beautiful beach, in an incredible setting … WHO GIVES A HEEHAW IF THEY SEE MY HOOHOO! I’ve thrown caution to the wind. I’m already planning my next trip back.tulum-11


Filed under Hotels, International Assignments, Mexico, travel, Tulum