travel + food : cacao in ecuador

When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
— Regina Brett

When my friend and former editor of Style at Home magazine texted me and said, “Do you want to go to Ecuador and shoot a cacao story in the Amazon?” I immediately texted back and said “I am packing my bags now!”

This shoot was truly a dream come true for me - I am a super passionate about food and also about giving a hand up to people around the world. Style at Home has been a longstanding media partner with ME to WE and our Ecuadorian trip was to help highlight the introduction of ME to WE Chocolate That Changes Lives. When you purchase this award winning and super delicious chocolate it helps to provide income in WE Villages.

Our amazing cacao adventure began when I met up with the teams from Style at Home and ME to WE in Quito, Ecuador. Then another flight to Coca and a thrilling but long motorized canoe ride up the Rio Napo. We arrived at Minga Lodge just in time to see the sun set over the Amazon and fall asleep to the noises of the jungle.

I can’t even express how amazing it was to visit the cacao farms and meet the farmers. I learned so much about cacao and how chocolate is made and I’d love to share that with you!

ME to WE chocolate is made from the highly prized Cacao Fino de Aroma. known for for its fruity and flowery flavours. Once the cacao is ripe, the pods and pulp and are allowed to ferment in wooden boxes for about a week or so. Then the beans are left to dry. When completely dry, the beans can be roasted, winnowed and conched, all of which is typically done at a production facility..

We did a more rustic version by roasting our beans on an open fire, and rubbing off the thin papery shells with our hands. The nibs were hand ground into an aromatic paste and then the competition began - each of our team members were given many possible ingredients to add to our chocolate. A winner was declared after we tasted all the creations. Yum, yum. yum! The empty plates speak for themselves!

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.
— Charles M. Schulz
What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.
— Katherine Hepburn

il borro I italy

A few springs ago, I jetted off to Italy to shoot at the Il Borro estate in Tuscany.  That sounds so amazing and it really was a dream come true!.  Il Borro is a beautiful medieval village that dates back to 1254, by conservative estimates, and was the home to many prominent families over the centuries.  Ferruccio Feragamo purchased the estate in the 1980's and has been bringing it back to it's former glory as a destination.  This makes me so happy because history is being preserved for the future.

Il Borro has lovely accommodations, delicious restaurants, a spa and a gorgeous winery and most importantly . . . horses!   I hope you enjoy a little glimpse of this lovely estate . . .  



garden & gun | asheville on tap

I am very lucky to live pretty close to Asheville, North Carolina – the rising beer capital of America . . .   We loved getting this assignment from Garden & Gun magazine.  I mean who doesn’t love touring breweries & restaurants and staying in nice hotels?  I was really impressed with the young brewmasters and their enthusiasm for their craft.  And even though I am gluten-intolerant, I admit I had a few sips of some beers they worked so hard on!

We’ve included photos from the Wicked Weed, the Wedge, and Highland Breweries but these are only a few of the 40 + craft breweries located in Asheville!

We stayed at the Grand Bohemian, a beautiful hotel with the rustic feeling of a European hunting lodge mixed with old world elegance.  The have an excellent restaurant, a gallery & spa and have been named one of the best hotels by Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler!

local favorites | mateo bar de tapas

Want to try some Spanish inspired tapas with a Southern twist?  Mateo bar de Tapas in Durham is wonderfully delicious and has such a warm feel. 

I loved everything we tried there and especially I remember the roasted spring onions.  Owner Matthew Kelly told us how the onions are sold all over the streets in Spain.  We had a small sampling of the many plates offered –  Patatas Bravas, Gambas, Alemendras and of course some jamon.  Seriously yummy.  

Mateo’s also has an impressive offering of sherry.  We didn’t get to try any since it was on the job but the beautiful painted menu on the mirrors looked amazing!

Can’t wait to go back again soon!

for the love of... italia

I joked on Facebook that I have almost run out of the best aged balsamic vinegar and so I decided to go to Italy tomorrow.  Some thought I was joking but I really am headed out tomorrow for a dream come true shoot at Il Borro, a luxury Relais & Chateaux property in the hills of Tuscany!  My dear friend Krista is coming from Scotland to assist for the shoot and then we are actually going to have a real holiday.  It has been so long since I have had true rest.  I can’t wait to taste the organic olive oil on the farm we are staying and enjoy all the amenities at Il Borro too.  I will be in Firenze for Easter and for a couple of days afterwards – it will be a time for soaking up art and amazing architecture, taking walks down long country roads and drinking wine & eating local food.  Here is a photo from my last trip to Italy.  Arrivederci!

style at home | debbie travis’ london

We were so excited to have the opportunity to travel to London with Style at Home editor Erin McLaughlin to shoot Debbie Travisfor the magazine!  I remember Debbie from her original TV show The Painted House so it was pretty fun to show up at her London townhouse and her greet us with her sparkly smile.  Of course since The Painted House, Debbie has gone on to do many amazing things from more television shows, producing, creating her own licensed products for various companies and winning lots of awards.  She is now restoring a property in Tuscany and even holds a girl’s getaway.

We spent two wonderful days with Debbie, one photographing her delightful townhouse and one exploring the inspiring design stores about London.  Debbie was kind enough to shuttle us around the windy London streets in her car.  She knows the neighbourhoods like a pro – I was glad I wasn’t driving!

I was wowed by the Designer’s Guild – so many beautiful patterns and colours, gorgeous furniture and accessories everywhere you look!  What a treat to be there with Debbie and Erin both. . .  After a lovely lunch and a trip to Portobello Road it was a wrap.  Just one more thing to do – get a photo with Debbie for my mum!

And off Erin and I went to get some Pimm’s (more about that tomorrow).  Read more about Debbie’s London here.

traditional home | on rue satin

I am thrilled that photographs from my trip to Susan Hermann Loomis’ beautiful cooking school On Rue Tatin have been featured in the April issue of Traditional Home magazine!  Stephen Exel writes of his culinary experiences at the On Rue Tatin cooking school found in the little town of Louviers.  My mouth is watering for the fresh local ingredients we found at the farmer’s market and for the lovely ambiance of the former convent converted into cooking school.  Delightful and delicious

garden & gun | the party barn

It was such a pleasure to be assigned to photograph Bittersweet Farms for Garden & Gun magazine.  This idyllic property, owned by the Bechers, is near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina.  The barn was constructed out of the most beautiful wood from reclaimed barns brought down from Pennsylvania.  There are belted Galloway cows, meadows for dogs to romp and in a small vale sits an amazing twig sculpture called “Hocus Pocus” by Patrick Doherty.  See a few of my favorites below followed by the article.