The Sisters Who Survived Auschwitz

Washington Post: the sisters with their cousin, Sergio. 
"Andra and Tatiana Bucci were only 4 and 6 years old when they were taken to Auschwitz, the most infamous Nazi concentration camp," we learn in the tragic, yet joyful Washington Post video below.

Pain, suffering and the thrill of life starting all over again. That is a true escape. Not only did the little girls live but they were also reunited with their parents and return each year to Auschwitz with Italian students.

What was their secret? Now in their 70s, they are the among the youngest Holocaust survivors. Follow them on the "train of remembrance." Thousands marched through the camp today, in the savage winter, to honor those who died so long ago, to make sure they were remembered.

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Free concert: Tired Pony: On the Road to You

By Candace Dempsey, author of Murder in Italy, the true story of Amanda Knox 

"You are the drug that I can't quit. Your perfect chaos is a perfect fit. So I'm on the road to you ..."
Hey, "Shameless" fans: Maybe you fell in love with that haunting song, "On the Road to You" on the "Just Like the Pilgrims Intended" episode? That's how I discovered Tired Pony. Click below to watch an entire concert by this super group.

The concert was in London, their first-ever. They're sort of an imaginary band dreamed up by Northern Ireland's Gary Lightbody (of Snow Patrol) who "enlisted an impressive roster of players including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Belle and Sebastian’s Richard Colburn to help him write a twisted love-letter to the States." You don't need to know all that. Just enjoy. Their album is "The Place We Ran From," recorded in Portland, Oregon.

And, yeah, Zoooey Deschanel does sing "Shameless" song, aka "On the Road to You" on the album, but in concert it's the fabulous Irish singer Lisa Hannigan.

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True Love: Tasting Mexico's Rivieria Maya

By Candace Dempsey, author of Murder in Italy, the true story of Amanda Knox

Ever since I read the best-selling novel,  Like Water For Chocolate, I've known that Mexican cuisine, real Mexican cuisine, isn't overly spicy, fattening, or unhealthy. Relying on fresh vegetables instead of meat, it's a luscious blend of local ingredients cooked in ways that are both simple and complex. Chilies and homemade corn tortillas star in this show, not to mention superb chocolate, avocado and lime. The dishes reflect many influences: Mayan culture, Italian immigrants, Spanish conquerers and the ingenuity of the Mexican people themselves, turning what's readily available into a feast.

I've dreamed of tasting authentic Mexico cuisine for years--at its source. So I couldn't wait to fly to the Yucatan Peninsula for the deluxe Cancun-Rivieria Maya Food & Wine Festival. We sampled delicacies for four days, choosing among 30 culinary events, from wine and mescal  tastings to beach parties, cooking demonstrations and talks by famous chefs. We even saw a cook-off featuring Aaron Sanchez from the Food Network's "Chopped" vs. the celebrated chef Mexican Josefina Santacruz who owns restaurants in Mexico City, Acapulco, Washington D.C. (Sorry, Aaron, but Josefina's succulent, chia-infused seafood soup edged out your delicious risotto.).

White sands, blue water: Maroma Resort on Riviera Maya, Yucatan Peninsula. 
"This is the food of the streets, of your mother's kitchen, of the best restaurants," said Chef Juan Pablo Loza at Orient Express's elegant Maroma Resort & Spa, where we dined under the stars one night, enjoying a six-course meal of Mayan dishes cooked over a fire, with Mayan dancers all around us.

At the Maroma resort, I  enjoyed my first authentic Tamal (what we call a tamale--essentially a corn wrapper--in this case stuffed with earthy wild mushrooms, with a poblano chili sauce at the bottom of the dish) . I never tired of the blue surf on the white sand beach--not to mention the "arrival drink"--a soothing, pick-me-up made with XtabentĂșn (Mayan anise liqueur), rum, honey and lime, served in a glass with a salted rim.

The Maroma attracts superstar guests, including Tom Cruise and Michelle Williams, drawn to its private spas, secluded beaches and excellent service. But Riviera Maya also has other luxury, all-inclusive resorts--popular choices for destination weddings. Not far from the airport in Cancun, it offers great food, Mayan ruins and the whitest, most powdery beaches this side of Waikiki.

Billed as "the only authentic culinary tour in the Riviera Maya," the annual food festival is sponsored in part by American Express and attracts foodies from all over the Americas. One goal is for chefs from different regions to learn from each other. Mexican chefs swarmed around Enrique Olvera, known as "world's most influential Mexican chef." The creator of Mexico City's Restaurante Pujol, he's opening a new restaurant soon on Playa's La Quinta Maya shopping strip, known to English speakers as "Fifth Avenue." Rumor says he's also eyeing New York. 

An even bigger draw was Italy's Massimo Bottura (seen here with chef fans). You don't want to know how hard it is to get a reservation at his world-famous Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, Italy. Yet he was charming, friendly and down to earth, eager to share cooking secrets, pointing out how important it is for chefs to meet and influence each other by tasting, tasting, tasting.

"I don't like to travel," he insisted at a press conference, gesturing like a windmill. "I don't need to leave Italy, no. So I get this call. They ask me to come to Mexico, I say no. But they tell me, they love you in Mexico and then I say, okay, I come."

Many events kicked off at all-inclusive resort of El Dorado Royale, where we had spacious rooms just steps from the ocean. It has its own gourmet restaurants, caters many destination weddings and is within an easy drive of Mayan attractions and shopping in Playa del Carmen, the main town.

Over the four days, I tasted everything from hot-off-the-press tortillas to enchiladas stuffed with potatoes and leeks, served in a yellow mole sauce. Gnocchi made with a Mexican pesto, with ground chia leaves instead of basil. Authentic chili rellenos (stuffed roasted poblano peppers, light and juicy, unlike the U.S. version), steamed shellfish, clams, shredded deer meat and even crunchy deep-fried grasshoppers and salted ants (the better to enjoy shots of mescal). In Mexico, wine is paired with the spices, not with the protein, we learned. So it's perfectly okay to drink red with fish and white with meat. We had fun, breaking all the U.S. rules.

One night, to introduce us to the wonders of Mexican beer, the super-luxe Fairmont Riviera Maya treated us to a six-course tasting menu. Who knew beer can be paired with food, just like wine, and is just as complex and adaptable?

Hard to say which bite was the best, but I still dream of this succulent little turkey number from Oaxaca (in bowl at right). Doesn't it look like a bird's nest? I found it at the Oaxaca table at the very first event, deep within the nature reserve Xcaret. In a big room open to the sky, with gardens all around, every region had its own tempting table. This beautiful dish is made with turkey, simmered in a dark chile sauce that turns the meat almost purple. The cook shreds the turkey and spreads it over a just-made tortilla with a quail egg on top and a squeeze of lime.

Isn't that a dainty dish to set before a king?

Photos by Candace Dempsey. Beach photo courtesy of Maroma Resort.  
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