Turn on the Food Network and it's hard not to catch a glimpse of Rachael Ray. The bubbly waitress-turned-foodie hosts three shows: 30-Minute Meals, Inside Dish, and $40 A Day, where she travels the world eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner (plus a snack) for under $40. She's the author of eight best-selling cookbooks, the latest is Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Get Real Meals--and as if that weren't enough, this September she's launching a magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and getting married in Italy.
Window or aisle?
The last thing I ate from a minibar?
Jumbo, gigantic cashews.
I won't leave home without....
This funny thing I got in Flight 001, called the In-Flight Food Survival Kit. It's got all of these little spice tins, plus individual packets of mustards, sauces, and condiments. It's got about 20 different spices and I use it on in-flight food and sandwiches. I love it. It's my favorite little thing.
The best trip I've ever taken? And why?
About ten years ago I traveled to Italy with my mom for her 60th birthday. It was the first time the two of us traveled together and she just couldn't stop talking. She told all of these stories about my grandfather who was Sicilian, we met our Italian cousins for the first time, and we really had to live on $40 a day. It was stressful, but we did it, and we had fun. We started in Rome and drove our way to Sicily, across the Straits of Messina on the ferry with our car, got lost out in the country a bunch of times--we had a blast.
My dream trip
I've already had them all. I love to travel so much that every trip I take becomes dreamy in one way or another. I guess I'm most looking forward to my honeymoon in Africa. It's the first time I'll ever have been there.
The movie or book that inspired me to pack my bags
When I was about five or six years old, my mother gave me a book called the Casual Observer. It was about this little girl who travels the world observing and meeting different people while asking them questions along the way. She was a little vagabond. One day when I went to school, my teachers asked me to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up so I drew a picture of this weird little girl with a bonnet on. My teacher said, "So what do you want to be?" And I said, "a casual observer!" I always thought that it was a real profession, but I think I became very much what I wanted to be.
My greatest travel pet peeve
The airlines have gotten increasingly cheap and it seems to me that the services onboard should be going up, not down. If they're all on the verge of bankruptcy, they should be working harder. You've got no pillows now, in coach they took away all the food, and you have to pay for even mediocre snacks. It just seems backwards. If I was a waitress and I tried to treat my customers that way I would've been fired by my own mother, who I worked for most of my life, a hundred times. I wish that we as travelers had more power over the airlines. It's very frustrating to have to be polite to people when they're giving you really bad service.
How I deal with jetlag
I'm not a good napper. No matter what I have to do or what level of caffeine I have to intake, I really like to stay awake when I get to wherever I'm going until at least early nightfall. If I have a nap, I'm done. I'm screwed up for days. I've got to go in, hit it hard, drink the caffeine, and try to assimilate as soon as possible. Plus I always try and do something--not too strenuous--but something that I'm looking forward to that I've never done before as soon as I arrive. I distract myself from thinking about being tired.
If I could travel with any living person....
My mom and my fiancé are both really fun. I prefer to travel with someone that I have a really long relationship with because they understand much more about what you get out of travel. It sounds ridiculous but my mom makes a great travel companion, and in fact we travel all the time.
I'll never go back to ____________. And why?
I hate saying never, but I'll never go back to Paris in the springtime, it's much colder than they say. It was absolutely frigid when I was there. I had to go out and buy a whole other wardrobe. I love Paris in the springtime? Well, not me. There was hail, sleet, and it was freezing.
If I could be anywhere right now....
That's easy for me. I've been away for seven weeks so I'm exactly where I want to be, home, in the middle of the Adirondacks. This is always my favorite place. I love to travel, but like Dorothy said, there's no place like home.
Look in the dictionary under Europe and you will surely see Rick Steves' name. Over the past 25 years, he's expertly guided us through across the Continent, United Kingdom, Ireland, and beyond, entreating us to become temporary locals and educating us on how to be smart independent travelers. Rick Steves is the author of 30 European travel books, the host, producer and visionary behind nearly 100 travel shows for public television entitled Rick Steves' Europe, and the owner of Europe Through the Back Door, a company that leads 300 tours to Europe annually. He's also the perfect interview subject for "Window or Aisle?", our travel Q&A. Window or aisle? Window, please. The last thing I ate from a minibar? Cashews and orange juice. I won't leave home without... My laptop. The best trip I've ever taken? And why? I think three trips worked together to shape me as a traveler: Europe the first time on my own (as an 18 year old in 1973) - it expanded my back yard. India in 1978 and 1983 - it humbled me culturally. El Salvador/Nicaragua in 1989, 1991 and 2005 - it awakened me politically. My dream trip? Italy in the spring with no Fiats or Motorbikes anywhere and an ability to speak Italian. The movie or book that inspired me to pack my bags? Name of the Rose, Trinity, and Solzhenitzen's open letter to the Soviet Leaders. My greatest travel pet peeve? Beds with rubber covers under the sheets so I don't stain the mattress. They make me sweat. I rip them off and stow them under the bed. How I deal with jetlag? I put a fake departure date on my calendar two days before I really fly and get everything related to the trip done by that deadline in order to leave home well-rested. I work until I'm too sleepy on the flight (usually giving me two hours of sleep just before we land). I switch my wrist watch and mind to local time when the pilot announces what time it is where we're landing. Once in Europe, I stay active and productive on the day I land (jet lag hates bright light, fresh air and exercise). I plan on waking up wired the first morning at about 5am and suffer through the next day or two with a sleepy lull in late afternoon and then enjoy being 100 percent and immersed in Europe. If I could travel with any living person... Myself so I could accomplish twice as much research or get the job done and get home twice as fast. I'll never go back to... Hong Kong. It's a shoppers' Nirvana...but just not for me. If I could be anywhere right now... River rafting with good friends in Idaho. For more on Rick Steves, visit his website (ricksteves.com). You'll also find information there on his latest and greatest products, such as his complete 2000-2005 seven DVD anthology, which includes 43 complete "Rick Steves Europe" TV shows, outtakes, and bonus interviews.
Eat Like a Local: California's Monterey Peninsula
Many of the restaurants on California's Monterey Peninsula are aimed at out-of-towners. Lovely views of the sunset on Monterey Bay are supposed to compensate for overpriced, mediocre food, all too often served in faux seafaring surroundings. The best spots, not surprisingly, are more inconspicuous, beyond the bustle. Visitors make the mistake of heading to Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, but a far better place for fresh seafood is unassuming Monterey's Fish House, on a busy road near the eastern edge of town. From spring through late fall, local salmon (around $15) is likely to be on the menu. Huge, tender prawns, straight out of the Bay, are a delicious splurge--order them grilled ($29). Most fish comes grilled, blackened, pan-fried, or sautéed with butter, lemon, and capers. And all the wines on the restaurant's list are available by the glass, a rarity. Opt for one of the Monterey char-donnays, like Bernardus, Morgan, or Chalone. If you simply can't give up looking out at the Bay, funky Loulou's Griddle in the Middle on Municipal Wharf No. 2 serves a mean breakfast and lunch. At breakfast, the banana griddle cakes arrive perfectly fluffy ($5.50). Egg dishes, from simple omelets to scrambled eggs with squid, come with home fries sprinkled with tomato, caramelized onion, basil, and Parmesan. A huge cup of clam chowder is thick without being gloppy, and filling enough to make a light lunch ($4). The local sand dabs--a type of flounder--are tender and delicate ($10). They're served in a sandwich, but it turns soppy too quickly. Getting them on a plate with crispy fries is a better way to go. You'd hardly expect to find a French bistro among the supermarkets and gas stations of Highway 68 in Pacific Grove, Monterey's neighbor to the west. But Fifi's Café Bistro is a little slice of Paris at a reasonable price; nothing tops $20. The homey coq au vin--two chicken leg quarters with carrots, onions, mushrooms, and potatoes in a rich wine sauce--is a frequent special ($15). And the steaming bowl of mussels could just as easily be found at a Parisian café ($7.50 as an appetizer and $15.75 as an entrée with French fries). The Monterey Peninsula has plenty of Mexican restaurants, but one of the best is Zócalo, with locations in Pacific Grove and downtown Monterey. Meals start with warm chips and two salsas, one version made with roasted tomatoes, the other with tomatillos. Pozole--a pork and hominy stew more often found in Mexican homes than in restaurants--is dense and flavorful, and accompanied by Zócalo's handmade flour or corn tortillas ($7.75). Those tortillas also wrap succulent grilled fresh snapper in the fish tacos ($9.75). Chile rellenos are juicy and coated in a light egg batter ($7 at lunch, $10.50 at dinner). Copies of The Surfer's Journal by the door and surfing snapshots by the register are clues that the old-fashioned Little Swiss Café in Carmel is popular with dudes looking to fuel up before hitting the beach. The soft cheese blintzes are a specialty ($6.50). And the eggs Benedict are the best around ($10). If only the coffee were as rich as the Hollandaise sauce. A playful mural--it's said to depict the Dutch countryside in four seasons, but it somehow includes the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa--spans three of the walls and provides silly eye candy. A fun alternative to Carmel's haute dining is a picnic on the beach. Stock up on provisions at The Cheese Shop on the lower level of the Carmel Plaza Shopping Center, next door to Chico's. Owner Kent Torrey is generous with the samples. The shop carries about 300 varieties from nearly 20 countries. (Nothing local, though--Monterey Jack was popularized in the area in the 1880s, but golf courses replaced pasture land, and the best Jack cheese now comes from Sonoma.) There's also bread from the Palermo Bakery in nearby Seaside, and an impressive selection of international wines. Two local standouts: the 2003 Kali Hart char-donnay ($13) from Talbott Vineyards, and the pinot noir from the Krutz Family Cellars ($25). Carmel Beach is just down the hill. Lay down a blanket, and take in the most authentic seascape around. Restaurants Monterey's Fish House 2114 Del Monte Ave., Monterey, 831/373-4647 Loulou's Griddle in the Middle Municipal Wharf No. 2, Monterey, 831/ 372-0568 Zócalo 481 Alvarado St., Monterey, 831/373-0228, and 162 Fountain Ave., Pacific Grove, 831/ 373-7911 Fifi's Café Bistro 1188 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 831/372-5325 Little Swiss Café Sixth Ave. between Dolores and Lincoln Aves., Carmel, 831/624-5007 The Cheese Shop Carmel Plaza Shopping Center, Carmel, 831/625-2272
How to Buy Koa Wood on the Big Island
There's only one place in the world where koa trees grow: Hawaii, where the beautiful, red to chocolate-brown wood has been prized for centuries. Generations of Hawaiians believed that each koa tree was blessed with a special energy, or mana, and tribes reverently selected trees to be made into traditional dugout canoes, paddles, furnishings, and surfboards. Today, expert woodworkers carve bowls, chopsticks, jewelry boxes, knickknacks, furniture, ukuleles, and necklaces out of koa. Due to logging, fires, and overgrazing, Hawaii's supply of the special wood has shrunk in recent years, and prices have skyrocketed. Nearly all of the trees that remain are on the Big Island, which is where you'll find the best value for gorgeous handmade koa souvenirs. Color, Grain, Feel: Koa trees take 50 or more years to mature, growing upward of 120 feet and six to seven feet in diameter. They sprout out of old lava fields, and the dark, volcanic soil is responsible for the wood's trademark deep tones. The most coveted grain of koa is curly and wavy, which lends a dazzling, almost three-dimensional effect. Koa has a very hard and heavy feel, similar to walnut, and it seasons well without warping or splitting. A well-crafted item will be made of pieces of wood that are alike in color and grain, with sharp edges, strong joints, and no sanding marks. When it's finished, it should have a lustrous, slightly golden hue and a glass-smooth surface. Farmers Markets: At the Big Island's open-air farmers markets, you'll find dozens of inexpensive koa items to bring home -- chopsticks for $15, small boxes for $40 -- as well as fresh produce, chocolates, nuts, and tropical flowers. Try the Hilo Farmers Market (Wednesday and Saturday), in downtown Hilo, or the Kailua Village Farmers Market (Thursday through Sunday), in the Kona Inn parking lot in Kailua Kona. Haggling isn't customary, but some vendors will give you a deal if you're buying in bulk. Bring cash. Buying Direct: Most galleries mark up items considerably, and the shops inside the resorts on the northwest Kohala Coast are especially overpriced. The one exception in this part of the Big Island is the Harbor Gallery, where the prices are decent. Buying direct from the woodworker can sometimes save you money, and it's always exciting to meet the artists behind the art. A couple of upcoming events make it easy to do just that. From February 9 to 27, top artists will be showing and selling their works straight to the buyer at the Big Island Wood Show, inside the newly opened Chase Gallery in Hilo. The Big Island Woodturners Show at the Wailoa Center, also in Hilo, features hand-turned bowls and vases, from March 4 to 26. Another option is contacting the Hawaii Wood Guild, which will recommend woodworkers with no referral fees at any time of year. You negotiate prices directly with the artist, you can ask that the work be customized, and many craftsmen will even let you snoop around their workshops. Shopping Hilo Farmers Market Corner of Mamo St. and Kamehameha Ave., hilofarmersmarket.com Kailua Village Farmers Market 75-5744 Alii Dr., Kailua Kona, 808/329-1393 (ask for Lee) Harbor Gallery Kawaihae Shopping Center, harborgallery.biz Chase Gallery 100 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, chasedesigns.com Big Island Woodturners Show Wailoa Center, 200 Piopio St., Hilo, bigislandwoodturners.com Hawaii Wood Guild, hawaiiwoodguild.com
They Want to Suck Your Blood
What you'll find in this story: bed bug information, travel information, travel news, travel safety, hotel information They're a quarter-inch long and light tan to dark red in color, and at night they crawl out of hiding to look for warm flesh to feed on. When they find a host, they inject a numbing agent so that they can suck blood undisturbed. Most people never know that they've been bitten. After a half century during which they virtually disappeared from first-world countries, bedbugs are back. The National Pest Management Association says that bedbug activity in the U.S. has increased 500 percent over the past three years, and a few well-publicized lawsuits have some travelers paranoid. But what threat do bedbugs really pose? And what can you do to ensure that you sleep tight and don't let you-know-whats bite? The truth is, the chances that your room will be infested with the blood-feeding insects are extremely low (lodging owners say mice, ants, and roaches are far bigger problems, if that's any consolation). Still, it's possible to find bedbugs almost anywhere--skeevy motels and first-class resorts alike. There's no evidence that bedbugs spread disease or cause any serious harm to people, but just the idea of them can ruin a good night's rest. Here's what to do after you check in. Rip off the bedding: Examine the folds of the mattress and any crevices around the headboard area, where bedbugs have been known to hide out. Dotted brown-gray stains on the mattress can mean bedbugs are regular guests there. Examine the sheets closely: "Tiny blood spots on the sheets are their calling card," says Dr. Gary Bennett, a professor of entomology at Purdue University. Take a whiff: An infested room will have a sickly-sweet smell. Don't put luggage on the bed: Bedbugs spread primarily by stowing away in the baggage of oblivious travelers, so avoid helping them find a new home.