Friday, October 27, 2017

What is ‘Day of the Dead’ or Dia de los Muertos?

“What is Day of the Dead?” my friends ask when I tell them I am headed to Mazatlán, Mexico, for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos festivities.
Photo by Eva Rinaldi-Wikimedia Commons
Day of the Dead is perhaps a misnomer since the colorful celebration takes place over two days, on November 1 and 2, rather than on just one day. The name could be also considered misleading by English speakers who typically associate the dead with sadness and maybe even a little macabre fear.

On the contrary, the traditional Mexican festivity is a time to joyously honor relatives and companions who have preceded us in death. The ethereal scent of crushed marigolds fill the air as altars or ofrendas are prepared in homes and businesses and decorated with flowers and photos of those who have died.
Ofrendas are also made for celebrities. James Brown ofrenda by carmichaellibrary via WikiMedia Commons

Threshold in time 

It is believed that this is a threshold in time and space when the dead can visit their families so favorite food and drink, including tequila, mescal and other liquors, are placed on ofrendas to attract souls of the deceased.
Photo by Carmichaellibrary at Wikimedia Commons.
The sacred tradition goes back before the Spanish conquest of Mexico to the time of the Aztecs and other indigenous people who held month-long festivals to honor the dead. The Aztecs celebrated during the ninth month of their calendar (August in our calendar). After the Spanish arrived, the Aztec festival was synchronized with the Catholic holy days of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. Day of the Dead has been morphing ever since into a truly Mexican experience. It must be remembered that traditions are distinctive in different towns and continue to change to reflect the local culture.
Aztec Queen Mictlancihuatl, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Mictecacíhuatl the “Lady of the Dead” of Aztec mythology watched over the bones of the dead and presided over festivals honoring the deceased, according to An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. Today La Catrina, a well-dressed female skeleton has become the symbolic hostess of Day of the Dead. Besides La Catrina, calaveras or skulls have also become icons of the fest. Skull motifs are seen on altars, costumes, special foods and even on tequila labels.

Life Continues Through Memories of Others 

During the day, families get together in cemeteries to clean headstones, fondly remember grandmothers and grandfathers and pray for them. The living bring picnics of food and drink and maybe even hire a band to play for this life-affirming celebration.
Photo by Jared Zimmerman via Wikipedia Commons
In many towns, people gather in the evening for a callejoneada or alleyway stroll. Live music and people with painted faces, dressed as La Catrina dancing in the streets lend a Carnivalesque vibe to the promenade. I am looking forward to learning more as I travel to Mazatlán to partake in the celebration and explore the liminal space. Read more at

Friday, October 6, 2017

La Taverna degli Orsi: a Gourmet Feast

After tromping the Alps of Piedmont, Italy, it's always a pleasure to replenish at a typical mountain restaurant. One that serves hearty stews of local vegetables and Fassona alla piemontese the renowned local beef and wine of the region. It's also an added bonus if the proprietor is willing to share amusing stories and sprinkle each course with laughter. Andre Tolasano, owner of La Taverna degli Orsi, is such a host. He calls his establishment in the Italian ski town of Limone "a typical mountain restaurant," but it is anything but ordinary. Every item on the ever-changing menu is skillfully prepared in his kitchen from the best available local foods and then perfectly paired with the appropriate wine.

I met Andre, who goes by the nickname, Prince, at his restaurant while on a Hedonistic Hiking gourmet walking holiday. We hiked high into the Alps during the day and at night, our small group of sixteen reconvened for gourmet feasts. Dinners always included local fare and this night, Prince had hand-written our menu cards and entitled them "Bear Night." For the name of his restaurant,  La Taverna degli Orsi, means Tavern of the Bear and the mountain restaurant was decorated with the mammal's motif.

We munched on homemade sausage and sipped Spumante Brut Rose by Josetta Saffirio, a light-colored bubbly, as Prince told how he made the sausage with garlic brought from his hometown of Caraglio, an Italian village known for the pungent plant. The intense 13.5 % alcohol content of the wine, made from Nebbiolo d'Alba, the quintessential Piedmontese wine grape, said Prince, washed out the garlic taste.

After the aperitif, we were presented with the first of three appetizers. "In the Piedmont region it is typical to have three small appetizers before the main course," Jackie Parsons, owner/operator of Hedonistic Hiking told me later. The first was a not so small, a crispy walnut, celery and pear salad topped with a generous slab of moist cheese. "It's made with goat cheese of this valley," announced Prince, pouring more of the Rose'.

Prince then opened a Roero Arneis DOCG Daivej from the winery of one of his best friends. Deltetto winery has been producing wines in the prestigious Piedmont wine area since 1953. The white wine had a smooth mouth feel and its aromas of pear and fruit complimented the salad and the second appetizer, a pastry hand-stuffed with salad and topped with Basne iaido sauce.

"Much too much food and much too much wine, but who cares?" said one of the hedonists, Guy, who had come all the way from Australia for this adventure in eating. We were watching Prince at a side board prepare the wine glasses for the next course. After uncorking the bottle he conditioned the first crystal goblet with a bit of the wine, swirling the glass with a flourish of his elbow. He poured that bit from the first glass to the second and did the same swirling motion. He repeated the procedure for the next fourteen glasses signaling to us that this next wine was special indeed. 

He then turned to us and announced, "My best friend is Barbaresco, the next wine. It is very tannic, but with a soft taste… It goes very well with the next course, local veal raised by my family. The wine is a bit sweet on the tongue with a subtle licorice taste. 

The main was a roasted veal stew cooked for eight hours and served with potatoes and a finger-sized squash. In Italy, the term 'veal' means meat from calves up to a year old, differentiated by the Italian word for ‘veal milk’ that denotes the younger version, which we in other parts of the world would consider veal.

A Muscato accompanied the dessert of berry cake finished with French cream sauce. And as if that weren't enough, once we were all finished with our dessert course, we were offered grappa, the grape based Italian brandy digestive.

Prince knew that it would be a perfect ending to the "Bear Night" and another gourmet feast with Hedonistic Hiking tours.

Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. She writes about hiking, food and wine. Disclaimer: Vagabonding Lulu was a guest of Hedonistic Hiking gourmet hiking holidays, yet all opinions are her own.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Least-Known Secrets from Experts at Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup

This last weekend I attended the Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup high in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. I got to rub elbows with celebrity chefs, taste $80 bottles of wine with international wine experts and learn insider secrets on how to smoke and barbeque. I picked up a lot of good tips at the cooking demonstrations and wine tastings, so I’d like to pass them along to you.

Celebrity Chef Harry Soo at Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup

Never rub a rub

When TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters reality show’s head cook Harry Soo speaks, backyard barbecue wizards listen. In the fun cooking demo with Harry, one of the world’s top BBQ contenders, he said “Never rub a rub. You should pat the rub in.” Makes sense! I loved his demonstration about smoking meat because Dan and I just bought a smoker and I’ve been a bit intimidated to use it much. With Harry’s encouragement and tips, I now feel confident. Another lesson learned: shake the bottle of rub before using. “The big particles might have settled to the bottom,” said the founder of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ Even coating of the rub is one of the secrets to his success. Others are his personal line of rubs and sauces, available online.

BBQ expert Meathead Goldwyn holds 20 lbs of Texas Waygu Beef

Trim off the bone

“The bone cannot flavor the meat,” said Chef Meathead Goldwyn, “but what it can do is much up your cooking.” The celebrity chef demonstrated grilling with buttery Texas Waygu beef from A Bar N Ranch. “Bones are a heat shield – perfect for the reentry of the space shuttle, but not for cooking. Boneless allows you to cook more evenly.” 
Meathead Goldwyn is the founder, barbecue whisperer, and hedonism evangelist behind the world's most popular outdoor cooking website, and author of the New Your Times Best Seller Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

Vagabonding Lulu and Irby Wood at Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup

This wine is a steal!

At the Wine Appreciation Seminar, I tasted eight superb wines with pricing points from $19-82, but the one that blew my proverbial socks off was the 2009 Chateau Lassegue, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France. The Bordeaux blend had an earthiness of mushroom and dark fruit flavors. I tend to enjoy Old World wines best, but why, or why did I have to so love the $82 bottle of wine? The tasting led by Irby Wood, second generation Jackson of Jackson Family Fine Wines (think Kendall-Jackson) was a way for me to experience high-end wines. Insider secret? Wine expert Irby, who travels the world from California to Chile to France with his family’s wine business, says this bottle is a steal at $82. And with my wine sleuthing experience, I think I might be able to find an even better deal. 

Spook Keller, founder of Atomic City hot sauce

Spice up your Pina Colada with Radioactive Hot Sauce 

OK, us hot lovers have tried hot sauces in Margaritas and Bloody Mary’s, but this is the first time I’ve seen heat added to Pina Coladas. What a taste treat! Because each variety of pepper has different measures of spiciness and heat activation times, if you blend the precise recipe of many pepper varieties, you can come up with a “smooth” heat. You can find this harmonic blend of spiciness in pepper sauces from Atomic City Foods, Los Alamos, NM, The flavor-forward condiments won’t burn out your mouth. Who else but an engineer from the Los Alamos atomic lab could invent such a perfect concoction?

Atomic City Piña Colada Recipe 
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz white rum
1 oz coconut cream
½ tsp Agave syrup
1 tsp Atomic City Caribe sauce

The annual Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup showcases Western hospitality in a relaxed mountain environment. The friendly and social celebration is ideal for anyone who appreciates the best in exceptional cuisine, cooking demonstrations from top chefs and wine tastings hosted by professional sommeliers.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kindness of Strangers: Camino Angels on the Primitivo

While walking along cow pastures and woody stands, I had not seen a soul for the past three hours. But I was accompanied by huge thunderclouds, hanging heavy with the rain that seemed destined to come. The low clouds refused to release, and I silently prayed for the showers that would dampen the oppressing heat and humidity that had been building all afternoon.
I was walking the Camino Primitivo, an ancient pilgrimage path that connects Oviedo in Asturias to Santiago de Compostela via Melide in northern Spain. While trekking, I was also editing and updating a Camino guide book for the route for a London publisher. I was not surprised how much the lists of restaurants and accommodations had changed since the last edition in 2013. 
With the growth of interest in walking the various Caminos that spider web through Europe, there was sure to be many changes and additions. But I was surprised by the amount of construction in the backwoods of northern Spain that was changing the actual route.
Course changes meant that I needed to document those route deviations in the Camino guide book. I needed to stop, make notes and maybe retrace my steps to ensure accuracy. The frustrating search for San Salvador de Soutomerille, a small 9th C church, had me back-tracking through hot, farm fields. I finally decided that the ancient chapel must be on the alternative route that, although I was sure I had taken, I must not have followed. My 23-pound pack seemed twice as heavy as it did that morning when I left O Cadavo. I spent two extra hours and retraced three miles combing the remote countryside.
 That was the reason that by 4 pm I was walking alone. My pilgrim friends would have checked into Albergue Casa da Chanca, the place where we’d agreed to rest for the night, hours ago. I still slugged along under the sweaty heat of the pregnant clouds. I was climbing towards Lugo, which lies on a hill surrounded by three rivers. As I climbed, I got nearer and nearer to the clouds that were turning black. My prayers were about to be answered.

I set my pack down under the sheltering arms of an oak, opened my pack and as I reached to put on my raincoat, the skies opened. Hunching down, I fit my rainfly around my backpack as the rain pelted down. I was getting hammered and as I stood up to survey my situation in the thunderstorm, I knew I’d have to stay in place under the tree on this lonely farm road for a while. I could see a barn at the intersection ahead of me, but it looked deserted and locked. I thought of my friends sheltering in the albergue. I was looking forward to reconnecting with them for dinner; this surely put a kibosh on that.

For some reason, I looked back up the tree-lined road where I’d just come. Maybe I heard something that caused me to look. But there, up the lane, were two Spanish people walking their dog. The country couple huddled under a big umbrella, which maybe seemed so large because they were so short of stature. The man held the umbrella in one hand and his wife’s shoulder in the other. As the rain pelted sideways from the wind, he pointed the umbrella towards the gusts and steered his wife to another oak on my side of the road. Their Golden Retriever crouched at their ankles.

After an afternoon without seeing anyone, they seemed like angels to me. They appeared out of nowhere, and I thought, “They’re old folks, walking their dog. Their home MUST be close by.” I waved a hand of welcome, and the woman waved back. We stood under our prospective trees for what seemed like 20 minutes. I had no idea how far I was from Lugo, but it was already after 5 pm, and I was giving up hope on meeting my fellow pilgrims for dinner. I felt sad that after such a frustrating day, I would miss the compassionate companionship of fellow walkers.

When the storm finally let up, the villagers began walking. I waited, and we trod through the light rain together. We only smiled and laughed since none of us had a handle on the other’s verbal language. After about a mile, and the third country intersection, the wife pointed to the right and said, “Camino.”

I said, “No, yo voy a su casa. You quiero un taxi.” No, I go to your house. I want a taxi.” They both smiled and motioned onward. And we kept walking and walking. So much for my theory that old people take short dog walks. Another twenty minutes, I could see a line of row houses through the twilight drizzle. We must be reaching the outskirts of Lugo. “Esta es la casa de mi amigo,” she smiled. “Llamará un taxi para ti.” This is my friend’s house; she’ll call a taxi for you.

Muchas gracias,” I cried. The door opened, and the wife explained in rapid Spanish as I slid, dripping, into the entryway. I was happy to have the introduction because the friend spoke no English and I couldn’t understand her Spanish. She left me standing on the linoleum at the door to go upstairs to get her millennial son to call a cab.

She came returned to ask me a question, which I couldn’t understand. After repeating it three times, she went back upstairs to retrieve a huge, thick cotton towel. Toalla! Towel! That’s the word I didn’t recognize. Then she asked me if I needed a shirt – I could understand the word camisa. No, the towel would do, I somehow explained. I felt bad about all the water on the floor that was dripping off of me, my raincoat and my pack. But I helped her mop it up. The kindly mother made her son come down to explain that the taxi would be here soon. His English was about as good as my Spanish.
The taxi arrived and whisked me to Albergue Casa da Chanca. The ride was only five minutes long, and I realized how close I was to town when the thunderstorm had broken loose. Rodrigo and Ximena, my pilgrim family from Mexico, welcomed me warmly. They laughed at my stories of misfortune and Camino angels, and I had fifteen minutes to unpack and dry off before we went back out into the rain for a late dinner. There, over octopus and white wine, I repeated my story of the kindness of strangers to Lazlo and Peter, our Hungarian friends.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, a travel writer based in Munds Park, has written three books about the Camino de Santiago. Go to Amazon at

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Angel Fire Food & Wine Roundup Aug 24-27, 2017

The Angel Fire Food & Wine Roundup is bringing together celebrity chefs, whiskey and wine makers, brewmeisters and musicians to Angel Fire, New Mexico, for your tasting and sipping pleasure. 

Angel Fire Resort courtesy photo
Forage for mushrooms in the surrounding tall-pine forests with culinary masters, listen to music while sipping wine or be part of entertaining cooking demonstrations. It's all happening August 24-27 when foodies, bev enthusiasts and music lovers converge in the southern Rocky Mountains. 

Angel Fire Resort courtesy photo
I'll be there to celebrate this last of summer blast. While I sip and swirl, hubby Dan will be downhill mountain biking at the Angel Fire Resort. What better way to ride the mountains than to get a chairlift ride up? 

We'll both attend the dutch oven cooking demonstration before he heads back to the woods for some zip lining. 
Angel Fire Resort courtesy photo
I'll hang out near the lake and get one of my favorite cookbooks signed by author and foodie radio show host Cheryl Alters Jamison. I'm sure to learn a lot at the whiskey tasting and I can't wait to saddle up to some Northern New Mexican cuisine or southwest BBQ. There's something for every one.
Angel Fire Resort courtesy photo
For the full lineup of events and guest chefs go to:
Angel Fire Resort courtesy photo
I'll be changing my flipflops for cowboys boots as I head up to the mountains of New Mexico -- a perfect transition of summer into fall. Why don't you join me?

Purchase tickets here: 

Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig, a travel writer, writes about food, wine and walking from her home near the Grand Canyon.

 Wine tasting. wine festival, foodie event, guest chef

Friday, July 7, 2017

Planning 'Last of Summer' escape? Think 'Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup'

Next month I’m celebrating the last of summer with an escape to the Rocky Mountains. The end of August can be hot in Northern Arizona, so I’m looking for a cool retreat in Angel Fire, New Mexico. Some of us in the Southwest don’t know that the Rockies extend all the way down to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. With Angel Fire as your destination, you don’t have to drive as far away as Aspen or Vail, Colorado, to get to higher, more temperate resort towns.

Join me in Angel Fire, for the Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup, a foodie event which offers us the best in: 

  • Western cuisine,
  • Wagyu beef,
  • Fine wines,
  • Craft brews,
  • Artisanal spirits and
  • Western hospitality with famous chefs, winemakers, brewers, and distillers.
I can’t wait to hob-nob with celebrity chefs, take selfies during wine tasting events and snap Instagram photos of the lake and Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s tallest mountain. Dan will be trying something new: downhill mountain biking at Angel Fire Resort while I enjoy the food and wine. It’s not far from his first love, dirt bike riding, me thinks.

Here’s the insider’s scoop: 

As a special bonus, Angel Fire RV Resort, Northern New Mexico’s premier year-round luxury camping destination, is offering a Food and Wine Roundup RV Package. The new package offers RVers a significant savings when they book a minimum 3-night RV Stay, which includes tickets to the first annual food festival. The four-day western-themed food and wine event will take place August 24 – 27, 2017.

“The Angel Fire Food and Wine RV Package is for any RVer who loves to combine their love of travel with their love for food, cooking, wine, and whiskey,” explains Kate Collins, director, Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup. “This event will offer a little bit of something for everyone. From mushroom hunts to chuck wagon cook-offs, reserve tastings, and private chef in-home dinners. Combining the Food and Wine Roundup event with our luxury RV accommodations and all the outdoor activities we offer, it’s the perfect place to take in the last few days of summer.”

Along with any 3-night RV stay, the Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup RV Package offers over a $350-dollar savings and tickets to the following events:
  • 2 Tickets to the Thursday afternoon cooking demonstration by guest chefs Wendy and John Hail, from Hail’s Holy Smoked BBQ.
  • 2 Tickets to the Thursday evening wine tasting by Black Mesa Winery.
  • 2 Tickets to the Friday morning Cooking Demonstration with James Beard Foundation award-winner and cookbook author, Cheryl Alters Jamison, and Harry Soo, the head chef from Los Angeles-based Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ.  
  • 2 Tickets to the Saturday Grand Tasting
Located at the foot of Carson National Forest, The Angel Fire RV Resort features sophisticated amenities. These include an upscale clubhouse with outdoor firepits, a hot tub, a spa-like bathhouse, leisure games, free wi-fi and on-site laundry set amongst a serene natural wonderland. Guests can enjoy the crisp, cool air and take in the views of Wheeler Peak.

The four-day festival includes:

  • Guest chef luncheons,
  • Cooking demos by top chefs from around the country,
  • Dutch oven cooking demos,
  • Reserve tasting,
  • A Grand tasting,
  • Wine seminars,
  • Mushroom hunts,
  • Guest chef dinners in private residences,
  • silent auction events and
  • artisanal spirits and craft brew tastings.

In addition to all that, you could opt to take part in a Boot Scootin’ BBQ and Western Dance at the Angel Fire Resort Country Club, a benefit golf tournament, a Bloody Good Bacon Brunch and Chuck Wagon Breakfast event - check prices.

Chicago’s, Meathead Goldwyn; Texan Cowboy Gourmet Chefs, Tom and Lisa Perini; and Harry Soo, Head Chef at LA-based Slap Yo Daddy BBQ are just a few of the attending chefs leading cooking demos.
  • Chef Goldwyn is the founder, barbecue whisperer, and hedonism evangelist behind - one of the world’s most popular outdoor cooking websites, and author of the New York Times Best Seller “Meathead. The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.”
  • Chef Tom Perini and his wife, Lisa are best known for perfecting traditional cowboy cuisine for the past 40 years at Perini Ranch Steakhouse, a gourmet Cowboy restaurant located on the working ranch in Buffalo Gap, Texas.
  •  Slap Yo Daddy BBQ is the love child of TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters Head Cook Harry Soo. Slap Yo Daddy BBQ, one of the top-ranked Kansas City BBQ Society teams in America, was chosen among over 5,000 professional teams to appear on TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters Season One in 2010.   In the Season Finale, SYD stunned the nation by defeating all the teams in the show including two BBQ World Champions in the winner-take-all Rib Throwdown in Texas.
  • Angel Fire Resort’s head chef from Elements Restaurant Kevin McCaffery will be serving the Boot Scootin’ BBQ and the Bloody Good Bacon Brunch.

A full schedule of the festival, attending chefs, and tickets can be purchased here   

For more information about the Angel Fire Food and Wine Roundup RV Package and to make a reservation

Angel Fire RV Resort