Category Archives: My Stories

St. Kitts and Nevis

The warm glow of the mid-day sun caressed our faces as we disembarked the American Airlines flight that had brought us to St. Kitts.  It was winter in Boston and the surrounding countryside had been blanketed in deep snow drifts. when we departed. We peeled off layers of sweaters and our down jackets to embrace the 80 degree temperatures.  After we cleared customs and immigration, we took a taxi to the public ferry terminal along the waterfront and awaited our departure for Nevis.

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St. Kitts and Nevis comprise an island nation of approximately 47,000 people, mainly of African descent.  It is one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies and is located 1,300 mi southeast of Miami, Florida. Formerly known as St. Christopher Island, St. Kitts was discovered by Christopher Columbus and claimed for Spain in 1493. The first English colony was established in 1623, followed by a French colony in 1625. The island alternated repeatedly between English and French control during the 17th and 18th centuries, as one power took the whole island, only to have it switch hands due to treaties or further military action. Parts of St. Kitts were heavily fortified, as exemplified by UNESCO World Heritage Site at Brimstone Hill and the now-crumbling Fort Charles. It was in 1783 that the island became British for the final time. The island originally produced tobacco, but changed to sugar cane in 1640 due to stiff competition from the colony of Virginia. The labor-intensive farming of sugar cane was the reason for the large-scale importation of African slaves. The importation began almost immediately upon the arrival of Europeans to the region. Sugar production continued to dominate the local economy until 2005, when, after 365 years as a monoculture, the government closed the sugar industry.  Tourism is the primary industry today and the islands are a destination for major cruise lines.

Crossing the two-mile channel between the islands took about 45 minutes. Nevis is less developed that St. Kitts.  Goats and donkeys run wild and an occasional Green Vervet monkey can be seen crossing the 19-mile road that rings the island.

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Nevis is dominated by the volcanic peak of Mount Nevis in the center and is fringed on its western and northern coastlines by sandy beaches that are composed of a mixture of white coral sand with brown and black sand which was eroded and washed down from the volcanic rocks that make up the island. Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. For the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young sea captain, and is where he met and married a Nevisian, Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation-owner.

We transferred to a taxi in the port town of Charlestown and headed for our hotel, the Nisbet Plantation, childhood home of Fanny Nisbet.  Palm trees and brightly-colored cement homes dotted the roadside and flowering trees and shrubs complemented the landscape. We were greeted at the hotel, which bills itself as the only plantation resort on the beach, by the manager and complimentary rum punches. Nisbet Plantation boasts the Great House with its wide porch and formal restaurant, 38 duplex-style cottages with Caribbean decor, beach bar, surrounded by palm-thatched cabanas along the beach, pool, tiled hot tub, and the pool side cafe where breakfast is served. Although our cottage had air-conditioning, we opted to open the plantation shutters and enjoy the sea breezes.

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The beaches on Nevis are not renowned for snorkeling, although snorkeling equipment was available at the hotel where we stayed.  The surf is rough and coral reefs are few and far between. Places to rent bicycles, kayaks and small catamarans are plentiful, but our goal was to relax and read on the beach or to venture inward and do some hiking in the rain forest.

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We discovered that the meals at Nisbet Plantation were outrageously expensive and every place on the island added 22% that comprised a 10% service charge with 12% government-mandated fees. As we were not participating in the meal plan because we enjoy exploring and sampling the local fare, we were free to roam and discovered that Oualie Plantation Resort just up the road offered a delicious and more-reasonably priced breakfast which featured a sumptuous Calypso omelet (peppers and onions in a spicy tomato-based sauce) that we preferred. Another option for breakfast was the Fancy Jamaican Bakery in Charlestown which served hot “patties” or crispy turnovers filled with beef, chicken or cheese.

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Our hike up Mount Nevis, a dormant volcano in the rain forest, was the most challenging we have ever done – slippery, muddy trails only a foot wide on the edge of plunging cliffs! We rappelled down one steep slope with a rope that was tied in place, did some nearly horizontal rock climbing to keep from falling off the hillside, traversed old stone steps and rickety, corroded iron ladders. Took us 5 hours and we returned to the Golden Rock Plantation Inn for a much-deserved rum & ginger at the end of the day.

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The iron ladder on the Mount Nevis hike

The iron ladder on the Mount Nevis hike

The Golden Rock Plantation Inn  was surrounded by luscious gardens with a majestic view of Nevis Peak. The cut stone sugar mill, since converted to hotel accommodations and an open air restaurant, dated back to the early 1800s. It was magnificent and we enjoyed our most memorable meal there a few days later. We wish we had discovered it sooner and would definitely consider staying in one of their 19 unique cottages should we ever return to Nevis.

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Mahi Mahi in an orange citrus sauce with coconut rice

Mahi Mahi in an orange citrus sauce with coconut rice

Reluctantly, the week ended all too soon, although it was a wonderful vacation and a great break from a New England winter.

Rwanda

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I recently returned from a three-week trip to Rwanda with my daughter, Gretchen, and my granddaughter, Avery.  Gretchen is the founder and president of a non-profit that helps women and girls by teaching them how to start social entrepreneurships to solve problems in their communities (www.globalgrassroots.org).  My primary purpose while there was to babysit Avery while Gretchen taught her class to a group of new students.

When we landed at the Kigali airport it was dark, in the mid 60’s with no humidity. The airport was small – only 2 baggage carousels – with the only difference from small airports in the US  being the passport check, the high fence around it covered with razor wire and the guards carrying kalashnikovs!  The city of Kigali was more developed than I had expected. The ride to our “guest house” reveled hilly terrain sparkling with house/street lights, moderate traffic, paved 4-lane roads lined with shops (most with hand-painted signs above them) and lots and lots of people walking around despite the absence of sidewalks. The hotel was called “Heaven” and was in a gated compound.  (We loved telling taxi drivers, “Take us to heaven!”) They had an open-air bar and restaurant, but only 3 rooms. Ours had ceramic tile floors, 2 beds – one king and one single – with mosquito netting, a small refrigerator, a large wardrobe, a standing fan, small desk & night stands/lamps. The walls were plaster & the ceiling bamboo. It was very spacious and had a private bathroom. We ate dinner on the deck at the hotel restaurant the first night overlooking the lighted hills in the distance. We shared a roasted vegetable salad and then had mushroom orecchiette which was fabulous!
I didn’t research this area before we left as I might normally do before traveling, and my role as Nanny and lack of transportation limited my ability to really explore. We were on foot/stroller while Gretchen was teaching class. If we were to take a taxi anywhere we had to bring the car seat & then lug it around with us when we reached our destination. So, Gretchen selected a safe neighborhood (expats, ambassadors, presidential palace) within 20-30 minutes of a downtown area that offered shops & people watching OR we could walk to the Hotel des Mille Collines (thousand hills) which was very luxurious in a guarded complex (kalishnakovs every where) with pool, bar and outdoor courtyard and an expansive team of service providers. This was the hotel on which the movie “Hotel Rwanda” was based.
Gretchen arranged our travel itinerary so we could recuperate from the 20+ hour trip and adjust to the time change on the weekend before her class began.  After breakfast on the first morning we were there, we walked downhill for about 45 minutes to the craft market – a triangular cluster of about 30-40 little shops painted bright blue and green. I think it was a co-op of sorts as there seemed to be a “manager” who wanted to direct you to various people’s shops. Merchandise included brightly-colored bags, aprons, woven baskets, beaded jewelry, carved masks, statuary (lots of animals), bowls, etc. It took us a little over an hour to get back, so we got some good exercise too.
On the first morning of Gretchen’s class, her driver came to pick her up at 8:45. Avery had slept through the night, only stirring a couple of times. We went to breakfast early (during the week we only have a choice of eggs, scrambled or fried, white toast,  (no meat), diced fruit, a drinkable yogurt and coffee or tea. Alas no crepes or eggs Benedict! We spent our day at the pool at the other hotel and had a great time in the chilly water.
The next day we were able to accompany Gretchen to her class. The classroom in the long, low tan brick building was not illuminated by electricity. Cement floors and parquet-patterned reed ceiling formed the backdrop for the class. Daylight filtered through the barred windows casting dim shadows off the blue plastic chairs which had been arranged in a large circle. Thirty- eight chairs were occupied – most by participants in the social entrepreneur class, others by Gretchen, her Rwandan employee and interpreter on this day, a Dartmouth graduate who oversees the Liberian eAcademy that Gretchen started, the man who runs her program in Uganda, and three graduates from a recent retreat Gretchen had held.
Gretchen started with breathing and exercises to evaluate each person’s mood and to focus on being fully present for the next few hours. She explained that there would be a break for tea (and bananas as it turned out, which attracted the little grayish-brown monkeys with the black faces), and the afternoon would be spent with a demonstration on how to list issues that need to be addressed in a community and to show how they are linked together.
I left the classroom then to take Avery for a walk. We left the compound and headed down the road for the shops along the main boulevard. (I noticed only the main roads are paved – the others are dirt) we walked for about an hour. Bought a bib (she’s been making a mess of her favorite Italia shirt & then gets upset when we try to wash it) and we returned for the afternoon session for about half an hour before lunch – a typical high-carbohydrate African meal of rice, potatoes, peas and chicken (very spicy).
My thought about the morning? I was surprised to see that about 7 of the people in the class were men and that everyone was eager to participate and raised their hands to comment. Some of the students had come from as far away as the Congo.
Gretchen is amazing as an instructor! She manages to explain complicated ideas (social entrepreneurship) to people with limited education through an interpreter with patience, respectfulness, and enthusiasm. All her helpers think she is incredible! As I understand it, once they identified the social issues that needed to be addressed,  they discussed “what assets do you have to work with.”
That afternoon after class, we headed for the Rwandan Genocide Memorial.  The exhibits in the museum started with “What was Rwanda like before?” It gave a very thorough description of the effects of colonialization on the country and how the Rwandans were forced to get identity cards in 1932 (anyone with more than 10 cows would be a Hutu and anyone with fewer cows would be a Tutsi.) Step by step, the exhibits documented the government & Hutus elimination of the Tutsis. So hard to understand genocide in this day and age. It was really overwhelming.  (The book “The Devil Came on Horseback”  about our son Brian’s experiences in Sudan which was co-authored by Gretchen was sold in their gift shop!)
We changed hotels after four days to be closer to where Gretchen’s classes were being held. Avery and I mostly spent our days taking walks or going to the pool, although we were included on field trips with the class.  One afternoon, we drove 1 1/2 hours out of town to a little village called Biymana to see two of Gretchen’s projects working. (Did you know that Global Grassroots funds approximately 50 projects that touch the lives of over 50,000 people?)
The drive out of the city was great – lush hilly terrain terraced with banana groves, coffee trees, rice paddies & raised vegetable beds accented by cement houses, most with clay tile roofs. I saw a goat or two tied up to a post near a garden plot and 4 cows once, but other than that there were no animals. All the crops are planted and harvested by hand – they have no plows of any sort, no horses or oxen, no tractors! We passed hundreds of people walking along the side of the road carrying baskets of produce or bundled goods on their heads, mothers with babies wrapped in brightly-colored fabric on their backs, mini-buses and motorbikes.
The first project was one that taught single mothers how to sew so they could support themselves. The group had four treadle sewing machines in a small cement building in the center of the village. The second project was a building project at a primary school for a girl’s washroom. At the school, over 1,000 students were waiting for our arrival! The response from the groups whose projects she funded was incredible. Gretchen was so low-key and gracious. I was so proud of her and the opportunity to see her work in action.
Avery is a real little ambassador! She offers her doll to people as a token of good will and then waits for them to give it back. She’s always so delighted when they accept it! And she loves all the children so much.
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Saturday was the day the students in Gretchen’s class presented their proposed ideas for funding. The money that Gretchen awards them is supplied as a grant and is not micro-financing with requirements that it be paid back.  Instead, she helps them figure out how their projects that be sustainable.
One person from each group presented their proposal based on a structure Gretchen had given them. They started by drawing a diagram of the roots of a tree with problems stated on each “root” line.  All of the projects presented were water projects, but the problems covered a broad spectrum of issues that affected women and girls with scarcity of water or poor water quality at the base. Some of them included infidelity (if we had more water, the women could wash and their men would want to be with them instead of finding someone else), sexual abuse (women raped on the way to collect water or they trade men sex for collecting water for them),  and domestic violence  (men are angry when it takes their wife so long to collect the water in the morning). When they listed their assets, they included things like volunteers, a hammer, a chair, knowledge and wisdom. It really broke my heart to see how little they had to work with and reminded me of how much we take for granted on a daily basis.
After the presentations, we headed for Akagera National Park for the rest of the weekend to go on a safari. The first part of the drive outside the Kigali city limits was again lush countryside but with far more banana plantations than we had seen before (we learned that potatoes were planted around all the banana frees to use the space wisely) and many fish farms – all tilapia with raised huts in them that housed rabbits. The rabbit droppings fed the fish and vegetation was grown hydroponically to feed the rabbits. We had noticed that most of the restaurants had tilapia on the menu, but didn’t realize it was local.
As we continued our drive, we turned off the main road onto a pockmarked dirt road studded with big rocks that was difficult to navigate. We noticed that the terrain began to change. The soil became redder and the houses (about 10×15 with one door and a small window on each side) were no longer made of cement but rather of “bricks” made of red clay and straw with corrugated metal roofing. There were fewer trees and the land flattened out. We still saw lots of people walking, carrying plastic yellow “gas cans” for water collection at central pumps in the villages, HUGE bundles of sticks in 4-foot lengths balanced on heads, women “sweeping” the dry red dirt outside their houses, laundry spread out to dry on bushes, children rolling bicycle tires with sticks (no toys or balls here), a few goats and small wood fires outside some of the houses.
After about a 2-hr drive, we arrived at the locked gate to Akagera National Park. It closed for the night at 6PM and there were security guards posted to protect the animals. They admitted us and we stopped at the Visitor’s Center to pay the entrance fees. The next morning accompanied by one of the Park Rangers we headed down a deeply rutted road into the game park. The park is at an altitude of 1,400 ft. and had two different habitats – marshland along the lake and vast grassland on a flat plain and the hills overlooking it. There is mostly scrub brush, acacia trees, eucalyptus, grasses and we saw papyrus growing. Remember they used that to make paper in ancient times? The ranger said it is used today for roofing and also for woven mats. It looks like giant dandelion puffballs in green and brown – about 8-10 ft tall and a foot across!
The first game animal we sighted was a water buck (like a mule deer). The park ranger explained that when they are killed, they release a hormone which poisons their meat. We saw impalas (small bronze colored deer), roan antelope (the largest antelope & very rare, it’s the size of an elk), oribi (another small deer), topi (an antelope that can run 70 kph), duiker (small deer that hops like a kangaroo), water buffalo, warthogs, and giraffes. Giraffes feed on acacia trees, which have thorns.  The giraffe’s tongue is extra tough so they aren’t bothered by them. We saw giraffes at many locations in the park. The elephants were feeding too. Unfortunately we didn’t hear any of them “trumpet.”  Zebras each have a slightly different pattern of stripes – like fingerprints. We saw hippos, although we only saw their eyes & ears as they were all submerged. There were two extremely large crocodiles sunning themselves near the hippo pond, but we weren’t allowed out of the car to get a close shot. HUGE termite mounds were everywhere and dotted the landscape like gopher holes.
There are 535 species of birds in the park and we saw: Grouse (which the ranger said tasted like chicken), guinea hens, kingfishers, white broad coucal (large like a hawk), grand parrot, woodpeckers, egrets, herons, eagles, go away bird (because it’s cry sounds like “go away, go away”), buzzard, bustard, red turacol (which was black until it spread it’s wing sto fly and they were a brilliant red), a beautiful iridescent turquoise starling and 4-5 more whose names I failed to record. It was a great day of animal sightings and we arrived back at the lodge at 3 PM in time for a quick swim & late lunch before the drive back to Kigali.
Avery and I spent the next day hanging around the hotel (playground, building with brix, stories, plants, searching for lizards, etc) and then went for a walk with Gretchen after she returned from her class. We walked about 30 minutes to the Kimoronko Market – largest market in Kigali. On the way we passed a young boy with a bucket of hard boiled eggs & a salt shaker. I don’t know how much he was charging for each egg but it looked like a great business venture. The market was amazing – HUGE with fruits & vegetables, meats, fish (merchants who sold meat wore red coats like doctors & those who sold fish wore white), hardware items, housewares, shoes, clothing (much used), and so much more. Everything was packed floor to ceiling in a huge metal-roofed cement building twice the size of Wal-Mart – unlit except for scattered skylights. We bought bananas, mangoes, carrots, and yellow sunglasses for Avery. One young man followed us around with a fragrant bag of basil be wanted us to buy. Another was hawking her freshly shelled leas. and the woman next to her was peeling cloves of garlic. Seamstresses had their treadle machines set up in the aisles, A cobbler was mending shoes and using a hand-turned sewing.
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Everything was so cheap there. They have one hundred franc coins and then five hundred, one thousand, two thousand, and five thousand franc bills. There may be larger ones, but the average person would never use them nor be able to make change for larger bills. I think in their economy, they equate to $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 bills, although they are worth so much less. An appropriate tip for a porter or taxi driver is 5 francs (70 cents) and, as waiters here get only 10% tips with food so inexpensive – we had homemade spinach ravioli the other night and it was only 3000 francs or $4.25 – a tip for an entire meal might only be 1,000 francs or $1.40! It’s easier to understand then why the average person in a village might subsist on only $300/year. (And also why they can’t afford $1,500 water tanks.)
We taught Avery some Rwandan words – hello, animal names and some body parts. She was really picking it up fast. The language native to Rwanda is kinyarwandan (keen-rwandan) although most of the population also speaks French which was first introduced by Catholic missionaries long ago. English has only been taught in the schools for about 4 years. When I hear Rwandans talking, it sounds so much like Tagalog or Japanese (how can countries so far apart speak somewhat the same?) and the words when written look like Tagalog. Here are some common words/phrases:
Good Morning – Mwaramutse
Hello – Muraho
Thank you – Murakoze
How are you? Amakuru
Fine – Ni meza
Good job – Akazikeza
Listen – Umva
Good bye – Murabeho
Toilet (a very important word) – ubwiherero
Water – Amaze
Foreigner (or white person) – Muzungu
Grandmother – Nyirakuru
Grandchild – Umwuzukuru
Wine (also important) – Divaya
And, yes, these are all spelled correctly although I battled that little spell checker guy over some of them as I was typing this story.
At the end of the two-week class, Avery and I joined Gretchen’s class for a field trip to see two water projects. The first was Seraphine’s – the woman with only a 2nd class education whose team installed a water tower. Global Grassroots funded the installation of these water towers outside a church.The well they used to go to (still being used by people who live close to it) was a 3+ mile walk down rutted roads. Seraphine said they will never stop thanking Global Grassroots for helping a bunch of women with nothing make their dream a reality.
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Then we visited another site within the Kigali city limits where Global Grassroots had funded the building of a water hut and a water tank on a spot where there was once just a pile of dirt. They use the money they make to buy health insurance, purchase sanitary supplies (soap, etc.) and to buy school supplies for children.
One of the participants in Gretchen’s class commented on how they were taking these classes to learn how to solve social issues and start their own sustainable non-profit. But, he said it made such a difference seeing that Gretchen’s model worked and that there were successful projects that had used it. He said they were able to meet face-to-face with people who had started with nothing and had worked hard and had achieved success.
Speaking of which, Gretchen explained to me that the first year she started these projects she just gave grant money but didn’t think to do any follow up. Now they have a project manager who does keep on top of all the projects to make sure everyone is doing okay. In addition she has an advisory council made up of the leaders of the 5 most successful ventures. Global Grassroots bases its success on how well they do what their participants want – not what Global Grassroots wants. They ask their participants how Global Grassroots can do its job better. Gretchen calls this participatory development. In other words, the people decide what they need and Global Grassroots empowers them to get it done – rather than Global Grassroots deciding what they need and either doing it for them or telling them what to do. It was really amazing watching Gretchen’s projects in operation. Everyone is so, so thankful and Gretchen is so, so humble.
Friday’s graduation ceremony for Gretchen’s class culminated in a special dance program. The dancers were amazing!  The students were middle school aged, so professional and enthusiastic. They’ve won national awards for their dancing and have also won national awards in math! Their sponsor told us they work with them and teach them time management so they can get their homework done and still have time for dance!
Again, it was an amazing trip.  Wish you all could have been there with us.

Vegetarian Retreat Menu – Part 2

Black Bean Burger

Here are the remaining menus for the retreat. The participants took a break and went to a local farmer’s market for dinner on Day 7 – besides various prepared foods, the market featured live music, organic meats, cheeses, baked goods, jewelry and knitted items for sale. The recipe for the Black Bean Burgers is at the end. Enjoy!

Day 7Lunch
Quinoa Salad
Apples

Dinner
Farmer’s Market

Day 8Lunch
Black Bean Burgers with Avocado & Alfalfa Sprouts
Blue Corn Chips
Oranges

Dinner
Veggie Pizza
Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Day 9
Lunch
Veggie wraps (humus, red onion, tomatoes, carrots. cucumber)
Oranges

Dinner
Ginger & garlic linguine with scallions & water chestnuts
Sesame grilled tofu
Steamed Broccoli
Apple Crisp

Day 10
Lunch
Cheese Quesadillas
Black Bean Soup

Dinner
Tempeh Coconut Curry
Brown & Wild Rice
Sesame Green Beans
Ginger Ice Cream

Day 11
Lunch
Curried Pumpkin Soup
Egg Salad Sandwiches

Spicy Black Bean Burger with Avocado, Alfalfa Sprouts
And Chipotle Mayonnaise

Ingredients:

Black Bean Burgers
2 15-oz cans black beans, drained well
6 green onions, finely chopped
½ c. finely chopped seeded red bell pepper
¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ T. minced seeded jalapeno chili
2 t. ground cumin
1 large egg
2 T. plus 1 c. yellow cornmeal
6 T. olive oil
6 whole wheat hamburger buns
2 large avocadoes, sliced
Alfalfa sprouts

Chipotle Mayonnaise
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chipotle chilies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Directions:

Place drained beans in a large bowl. Using hand masher, mash beans coarsely. Mix in green onions, bell pepper, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in egg and 2 T. cornmeal. Place remaining 1 c. cornmeal in small dish. Shape bean mixture into 6 flattened patties. Turn to coat in cornmeal. Heat 3 T. oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Fry bean burgers until firm and crisp, adding more oil as needed, about 6-8 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to whole wheat buns and garnish with avocado slices and alfalfa sprouts. Chipotle mayonnaise: Mix the mayonnaise, chipotles, cilantro, and lime juice until well blended. Refrigerate and allow flavors to blend before using. Serve 1/8 c. on the side. Makes 6 burgers.

Vegeterian Retreat Menu

Blueberry Tart

I have been hired as the chef for a ten-day Conscious Social Change Retreat near Hanover, NH. The weather has been glorious – intense blue skies with soft summer breezes and most of the meals have been served outside overlooking the pond. The menu is vegetarian, and luckily I have not been challenged by any dietary restrictions. (During a previous retreat, I had one woman who did not eat soy or garlic, one who was gluten intolerant & one who was vegan! Creating a menu that met everyone’s needs was interesting.) Here is what I have served the first few days of this retreat:

Day 1
Dinner
Pasta Primavera
Massaged Kale Salad with Sesame Oil
Brownies with Raspberries & Whipped Cream

Day 2Lunch
Veggie Bacon BLTs
Potato Leek Soup
Carrot Sticks
Apples

Dinner
Fried Rice with Peas, Water Chestnuts, Mushrooms & Scallions
Pot Stickers with Ginger Dipping Sauce
Stir Fried Snow Peas, Mushrooms & Carrots
Fortune Cookies

Day 3Lunch
Veggie Patties on Rolls with Lettuce & Tomatoes
Blue Corn Chips
Carrot Sticks
Apples

Dinner
Spinach & Mushroom Quiche
Tossed Salad
Sour Cream Cake with Berries & Whipped Cream

Day 4
Lunch
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on Multi-Grain Baguettes
Tomato Soup
Oranges

Dinner
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos with Avocado, Tomatoes, Scallions, Cheddar & Sour Cream
Blueberry Lemon Curd Tart

Day 5
Lunch
Curried Tempeh Salad Sandwiches
Pasta Salad
Blue Corn Chips
Carrot Sticks

Dinner
Grilled Vegetables in Pita Pockets with Tzatziki Sauce
Corn in the Cob
Watermelon
Veggies on the grill

Day 6Lunch
Vegetarian Chili
Jalapeño Corn Bread
Oranges

Dinner
Mushroom Risotto
Green Bean, Mozzarella & Tomato Salad
Frosted Brownies and Sliced Strawberries

My recipe for the Blueberry Lemon Curd Tart:

Crust
1 1/2 c. flour
3 T. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening

Lemon Curd
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice
4 large egg yolks
5 T. butter, cut into pieces

Blueberry Topping
2 quarts blueberries
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch

Directions:
Crust – Blend flour and sugar in bowl. Cut in vegetable shortening until it is crumbly and looks like small peas. Add 7 T. ice water and mix with a fork until it forms a ball. Turn out on floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Fold in half and fold in half again. Set it gently in a greased tart pan or pie plate and unfold. Crimp the edges. Place a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper in the bottom on the pie shell. Fill with rice or dry beans and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from oven and discard paper and rice or beans. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork and return to oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from oven.
Lemon Curd- Whisk sugar and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and then. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken (about 8 minutes). Remove from heat and spread on prepared pie shell.
Blueberry Topping – Measure out 1 c. of he blueberries and place in a medium saucepan together with sugar and 1/2 c. water. Bring to boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 2 T. water. When water and blueberries have come to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until the blueberries start to burst. Stirring constantly, add the cornstarch mixture and simmer for a minute until the mixture becomes translucent. Immediately remove from heat and add remaining blueberries. Carefully spoon the mixture over the lemon curd in the pie shell. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

A Trip to Hawaii

Kayak Kaneohe Bay (3)

My last post in the “52 Weeks of Food” series was a little delayed because I have been in Hawaii visiting our son, Eric, and his wife Donna. I had a wonderful time hiking in the jungle past waterfalls, kayaking, snorkeling, browsing through the Asian Market, touring an historic mansion near Diamond Head, sampling products at the Kailua Farmer’s Market and indulging in some amazing cuisine at the local restaurants.

One night we ate at a Moroccan restaurant, Casablanca, in Kailua. It was like stepping into an “Arabian Nights” fantasy! I sat on a low bench in the Oriental carpet draped room lit by hanging lanterns and Eric and Donna sat on chubby leather ottomans. The meal began when our server poured warm water over our hands over a silver catch basin and handed us terrycloth towels.

Hand washing

Hand washing

The towels also served as our napkins. Our first course was Harira Soup, made with tomatoes, lentils and/or chickpeas, saffron, parsley and coriander. Next followed a Moroccan Salad plate of creamy hummus dip, light tabbouli salad, rich eggplant, bright roasted bell peppers, tart tomatoes and flavorful carrots served with wedges of fresh-baked flat bread. My favorite course was the B’stilla, a savory pastry, flaky outside, dusted powdered sugar and cinnamon, with a moist, hot interior of finely shredded chicken, chopped almonds and eggs. I had lamb with honey and almonds as my main course and we were pretty full by the time dessert arrived – a deep-fried honey dipped funnel cake and hot cinnamon tea.

The highlight of the trip was a birthday celebration at Alan Wong’s restaurant in Honolulu where Eric had arranged for us to sit at the “Chef’s Table,” which was actually a special location (for one dining party only) in full view of the kitchen where we could observe the culinary artistry and ask questions of the chefs.

At the Chef's Table

At the Chef’s Table

One of the more interesting appetizers, “Poki-Pines” consisted of Crispy Won Ton Wrapped Ahi Tuna Poke Balls (pronounced poh-kay), Avocado, and Wasabi Sauce. What made them resemble porcupines was the clever way they were deep friend which made strips of won ton wrappers stand up in the air like quills. We also watched them serve the evening’s “Soup and Sandwich” appetizer, which initially had sounded awfully filling. In reality, the chilled tomato soup was served in a martini glass with a piece of lavash (thin flat bread) balanced on the rim of the glass topped with a small grilled cheese and Kahlua pork sandwich. The chilled tomato soup and chilled cream were squeezed simultaneously side-by-side in the martini glass – the separation of the white and red in the glass was beautiful and was swirled at the top to create a yin-yang design!

What did I order? Ginger Crusted Onaga (Red Snapper) with Miso Sesame Vinaigrette, Organic Hamakua Mushroom & Corn, which was moist and flavorful.

Ginger Crusted Onaga

Ginger Crusted Onaga

And for dessert I couldn’t resist “The Coconut”
which was Haupia (coconut) Sorbet in a Chocolate Shell served with tropical fruit and Lilikoi (passion fruit) sauce.

The Coconut

The Coconut

Following our meal, I was presented with an autographed copy of the menu!

Time to Say Goodbye

amalfi-lemons

My Italian had vastly improved, and during lunch service at the restaurant by the pool, I was better at understanding what the guests ordered when the waiters called out the orders to us. The tagliarini with lemon cream sauce was the pasta of the day again and Alessandro let me prepare most of the orders. I remembered how my husband, Craig, liked dinner served on a warmed plate so it wouldn’t cool off quickly and I dipped each serving plate into the hot water in the pasta cooker (like a deep fryer, only filled with circulating hot water) and then dried it with a hand towel before I transferred the pasta and sauce from the pan to the plate. When lunch service ended, I helped straighten up the left over ingredients and covered containers of parsley, chopped tomatoes, lemon zest and minced garlic with clear plastic wrap so they could be returned to the main kitchen. Then I followed Alessandro to the elevator to say good-bye to Chef and change for the bus ride home.

The weather was beautiful outside when I emerged from the hotel restaurant in the afternoon.  I decided to take the ferry back to Positano instead.

When I disembarked at the long public pier, I removed my sandals and walked along the beach letting the gentle waves wash over my feet.  I was looking forward to spending my next day off reading a good book in one of those chaise lounge chairs shaded by big, colorful umbrellas that you can rent by the day.

As I walked through the sand, I found myself again thinking about my life. What is my passion? What brings me the greatest sense of satisfaction? What makes my heart sing?  I didn’t have any qualms about starting a new venture at this stage of my life (you’re only as old as you feel, right?)  I think the most important aspect of my summer experience was the fact that I had been able to decisively choose for myself what I wanted to explore. I enjoyed cooking,, but I decided that I didn’t want to own a restaurant. I wanted to cook at a more leisurely pace over good conversation with family and friends and a glass of wine in one hand. I suddenly realized that my husband and children were my greatest joys. I had traveled half way around the world to search for something meaningful in my life only to discover that I had it all along. The ringing of my cell phone interrupted my thoughts.

“Hello,” said Craig. “Happy 38th wedding anniversary!  I love you, honey. How are things going?”

“Buon anniversario,” I replied in Italian.  “I’m coming home!”

The next morning I dragged my suitcase up the hill to catch the bus to begin the complicated route to Rome, which would require two bus rides, two train rides and a taxi before I reached the airport for my departure flight.

As I sat on the covered stone bench waiting for the first bus to take me from Positano to Sorrento, an old man walked up the road with a heavy plastic shopping bag in his hand.  When he reached me, I said,

Buon Giorno. Che bella.”  (Good Morning.  The weather is beautiful).

Buon Giorno,” he replied with a big grin.  Then he reached a weathered hand into his sack and pulled out one of those huge yellow Amalfi Coast lemons and handed it to me.

Grazie,” I nodded with a smile.  I scratched the skin of the lemon with my fingernail and inhaled the strong, citrus scent. The sky was streaked with pink and blue like a washed-out beach towel and the sun was just beginning to peak around the mountains to the east.  As I watched the old man walk down the hill toward the center of town, I mused It’s going to be another beautiful day in Positano.

Gelato

imageThe Gelateria at Bucca di Baco Ristorante in Positano displayed a rainbow of colors arranged in stainless steel pans in its refrigerated case.  Tourists enjoyed cones and cups of gelato while browsing through the souvenir shops and watching the plein air artists paint the Duomo (church) by the beach or the fishing boats resting on the sand.

Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, except that it is lower in fat and cholesterol than ice cream. It has 2-8% fat versus the 15-30% fat in traditional ice cream. Gelato uses the freshest ingredients—milk rather than cream, eggs, and natural flavorings. It is very dense because it has less air whipped into it than does ice cream, and therefore has very intense flavors: pistachio, hazelnut, lemon, strawberry, chocolate, tiramisu, mango, peach.  Gelato must also be served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream so it is soft enough to scoop because it is so dense.