Ask T+L: Cooking Programs in Tuscany, Middle East Safety, and More
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Ask T+L: Cooking Programs in Tuscany, Middle East Safety, and More

Antonio Barbieri/Concierge

Ask an Expert: T+L Italy Correspondent Valerie Waterhouse

Q: Know of any great reasonably priced cooking programs in Tuscany? —Kris Karvelis, Northville, Mich.

A: Outside Arezzo, at Agriturismo Fattoria la Striscia (3 Via dei Cappuccini; 39-339/880-1017; three-day courses from $287 per person, not including lodging), you can learn how to press sheets of pappardelle to wafer-thin perfection in the airy kitchen of an 18th-century farmhouse. Students at Tenuta di Capezzana (100 Via di Capezzana, Carmignano; 39-055/870-6005; five-day courses from $1,578 per person, double) make bistecca alla fiorentina, the unofficial dish of Florence, and visit a local chocolatier. Organic Tuscany (Il Pino Certaldo; 347/417-5907; six days from $2,225 per person, double) offers tricks for making addictive basil pesto and includes lodging in a frescoed 17th-century villa.

Q: I want to take a cruise, but I’m on a budget. Thoughts? —Manon Tardif, via e-mail

A: T+L A-List agent Lois Moran has a tip: choose a port of call that’s close to home to avoid pricey flights. Travel in the shoulder season (fall in the Caribbean or Alaska; spring in Europe), when rates are low. Reserving early is also key. Silversea Cruises starts booking two years in advance at a discount of 60 percent that decreases as cabins fill up. Oceania Cruises has similar early-bird bonuses, with two-for-one fares and complimentary flights. One especially affordable option: Carnival Magic, the newest ship from Carnival Cruise Lines, has seven-day Caribbean cruises from $659 per person.

Q: I’m thinking of traveling to the Middle East. What safety precautions should I take? —Catherine LeGraw, San Francisco, Calif.

A: We recommend registering with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a service that keeps you up-to-date on security announcements and ensures that the local U.S. embassy can reach you in case of emergency. At press time, the State Department had issued several travel warnings for the region, but T+L A-List agent Malaka Hilton, of Admiral Travel International and AuthentEscapes, says that visiting now has its advantages. Fewer tourists can mean more-accessible museums and lower-priced hotel rooms (some with money-back guarantees if the political situation should turn for the worse). Before you leave, keep on top of the news, and don’t skimp on travel insurance. Once there, steer clear of military and holy sites (and public transportation) and limit after-dark exploration.

Q: We’re heading to Europe this summer and want to bring home sausage. Any advice? —Jake and Dottie Paxton, Fort Dodge, Iowa

A: While USDA regulations do allow you to bring in small amounts of meat and poultry for personal consumption, you would have to declare it, at which point customs may confiscate them under Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service restrictions. Why go through the trouble when you can get some of the best products stateside? Genuine jamón ibérico—the king of cured meats—recently became available after two Spanish producers were given the green light to introduce it here (see for information). Set on an edible souvenir? Consider preserved fish, which is allowed. In Italy, mosciame is a must. The tuna, salted and cured, is perfect sliced thin with a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil.

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