Category Archives: Travel

Travel: Ashland, Oregon

The town of Ashland is located in Southern Oregon about 16 miles north of the California border. In the early 1820’s early Hudson Bay Company’s hunters and trappers passed through the area via the Sisikyou trail. When gold was discovered in a tributary of one of the local creeks in the 1850’s, a town was established and rapidly expanded. Schools, churches and businesses were established, including a large employer, Ashland Woolen Mills, which produced clothing and blankets from local wool. In 1871, the Post Office dropped “Mills” from Ashland’s name and in 1872 Reverend J. H. Skidmore opened a college, Ashland Academy, a predecessor of Southern Oregon University. In the 1880’s San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon were joined by rail through Ashland.

Today Ashland is ranked in the top 10 of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America,” and is a cultural hot spot, with award-winning galleries, theaters and restaurants.  Ashland hosts the world-famous Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Chocolate Festival and is located in the Rogue Valley wine region. Surrounded by the Siskiyou and Cascade, it is a prime area for hiking and outdoor activities.

My husband and I spent two weeks in Ashland in early March, but we were not there for the amenities the charming town had to offer.  We were there to cater meals for a Leadership Academy hosted by Conscious Social Change ( ). Eighteen University of Virginia students had arrived to learn how inner work, mindfulness, and personal transformation could drive social innovation, systemic change and make them better leaders in the future. The retreat was held at the Buckhorn Springs Resort, a rustic lodge and collection of cabins which had once been a mineral springs healing destination for native tribes including the Rogue, Klamath, Shasta and Takilma tribes, and then for white settlers beginning in the 1890’s. The students would be housed in the historically-restored cabins, surrounded by beautiful scenery, fresh air and the babbling sound of Emigrant Creek.  

Buckhorn Springs Lodge
The Meeting Room and one of the Cabins

Although I had hosted large dinner parties in the past, I don’t think I realized what I was getting into. I must admit I have greater respect for food service workers and caterers in particular now! I never could have handled this assignment without the support and energetic assistance of my husband, Craig.  We were responsible for providing three meals a day to ravenous university students.  Conscious Social Change wanted the menu to be vegetarian, and the meals had to meet the dietary needs of one person who was gluten-free, two vegans, and one person with a severe nut allergy! It was quite a challenge, but also immensely satisfying to meet the goals and receive so many compliments for the food we prepared. One student commented: “Thank you for making the best vegetarian food, it made me think twice about eating meat!”

So, how did we do it?  We decided to set up a buffet breakfast that consisted of hard-boiled eggs, assorted yogurts (including soy yogurt), granola (no nuts), assorted packages of instant oatmeal, regular and gluten free bread and bagels, vegan butter, regular butter, vegan cream cheese and regular cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, bananas, oranges, coffee, tea (regular and herbal) with milk, soy milk, half and half, soy creamer, and oat creamer.

Much as I would have liked to prepare a daily quiche or gourmet muffins, this met everyone’s needs and left us free to begin prep for the rest of the day’s food. These were hungry college students! jjWe loved working in the commercial kitchen and wanted to offer hearty homemade soups for lunch each day accompanied by bread, rolls or a sandwich of some sort. Soups were Broccoli and Cheese, Vegetarian Chili, Tomato Basil Bisque, Red Potato, Leek and Corn Chowder, White Bean, Spinach and Orzo Soup with Vegetarian Meatballs, and a rich, creamy Curried Pumpkin. One girl told us she didn’t eat pumpkin, but she tried it and even came back for seconds!  I think the garlic bread, grilled cheese sandwiches and the vegetarian wraps were all big hits.

Commercial Kitchen

Our evening meals consisted of Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna with a Tossed Salad and Vegan Cheesecake for dessert, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos with Corn on the Cob and Chocolate No Bake Cookies for dessert, Mushroom Bourguignon over noodles (or gluten-free penne) with a tossed salad and Apple Cranberry Crisp for dessert, Asian Stir Fry with Broccoli, Bell Peppers, Snow Peas, Mushrooms, and Water Chestnuts over Jasmine Rice with Banana Egg Rolls for dessert, Ratatouille over Brown Rice with a tossed salad and Peach Crisp for dessert, Beyond Beef Cheeseburgers with Sweet Potato Fries and the Chocolate No Bake Cookies for dessert, and we ended with a Make Your Own Pizza night with assorted ice cream and sorbets for dessert. Bless my husband for slicing more than 20 pounds of mushrooms that week and washing mountains of dirty dishes because the commercial dishwasher was not working.

We loved interacting with the students and it was a great experience!

Travel: Woodstock, Vermont

Summer is finally here in New England! The past year has been dominated by the Covid-19 Pandemic, and we have dutifully restricted travel and entertainment. But now that we have been fully vaccinated, we are venturing out like bears emerging from hibernation. 

My husband and I used our quarantine time wisely – focusing most on completing home improvement projects – but we desperately needed a getaway that offered some personal pampering.  Travel to other countries was still restricted, so we decided to pick a destination within a day’s drive from our home in Maine. New England features so many historic grand hotels. After evaluating amenities and activities, we decided on the Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock, Vermont.

Woodstock, Vermont is a classic New England village with general stores, farm-to-table restaurants, fine art galleries, and boutiques. The Inn itself dates to 1793 when Captain Israel Richardson built one of the first lodging accommodations in the village. The original two-story Richardson’s Tavern changed ownership many times over the next several years, undergoing numerous alterations and additions, quickly exceeding capacity as the arrival of the town’s first railroad brought many new visitors to the area.

Moody Heath, an expert carver and a local cabinetmaker carved a large golden eagle mounted above the Tavern’s entrance, and Richardson’s Tavern was renamed The Eagle Hotel in 1830. The Woodstock Inn adopted the eagle symbol into their brand identity, and the original eagle carving is preserved in the Rockefeller ballroom

The Woodstock Inn gradually fell into a state of disrepair and was purchased by Laurence Rockefeller in 1957 with the intention of tearing down the building and constructing an entirely new hotel. Since the opening of the new Inn, the resort has been expanded 4 times with revisions to guest rooms and public spaces. In 1970 The Woodstock Ski Touring Center was opened and in 1986 The Woodstock Racquet & Fitness Club opened south of the Golf course. In 2010, the addition of a 10,000 square foot, LEED-certified Spa facility that features 10 treatment rooms,

When we arrived we were welcomed by a huge stone fireplace surrounded by comfortable seating areas in the lobby, reminiscent of an old lodge. Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we were directed to the lobby bar where beer, wine, cocktails, coffee, tea, and fresh baked cookies were available. We had a chance to explore while we were waiting and discovered a gift shop, game room, the spa and numerous restaurants. Dining options included The Red Rooster, Richardson’s Tavern, Petey’s Pourhouse and the Conservatory. Because Covid 19 was still an issue, only the Red Rooster was open that evening, but it offered a combination menu with selections from the other eateries as well. 

When our room was ready, we were delighted to learn that we had been upgraded. The room was very luxurious and featured a king bed and a spacious sitting area, Our dinner at the Red Rooster that evening was spectacular and the service unparalleled. My husband ordered the Surf and Turf – seared Georges Bank scallops, braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes and a tomato and leek relish. I had the Duck Two Ways – a seared duck breast and an apple smoked duck leg confit, with a white bean and root vegetable cassoulet.

The next day, we took a short hike in the village up to Mount Tom.  The hiking system in the area includes 80 miles of trails and tempted us to return during the winter when we could do some snowshoeing. After our walk, we retreated to the state-of-the-art Spa for massages.

The Staff at the Woodstock Inn and Resort has the ability to make guests feel like they are the only ones there.  It was a truly remarkable getaway and we highly recommend it.

Other near-by destinations to explore:

 Billings Farm & Museum: Take a half-mile walk to learn about the farm operation a century ago. The museum features a restored 1890 Farm House, Jersey dairy cows, draft horses, Southdown sheep, and heritage chickens, interactive programs, award-winning historical exhibits, and seasonal events.  Admission to the Billings Farm & Museum is included for Woodstock Inn & Resort guests.

Simon Pearce: Stylish designs and elegant glassware, tableware, lighting, and home decor all handcrafted by American artisans. Glass is blown everyday at their flagship hydro-powered mill and store in Quechee, Vermont.

King Arthur Flour: America’s oldest flour company, founded in 1790 in Norwich, Vermont. Sample artisan bread, take a baking class, get great recipes and shop in the baker’s store.

Vermont Institue of Natural Science: (VINS) is a nonprofit, member-supported, environmental education, research, and avian rehabilitation organization headquartered at the VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vermont. Open year-round, the 47-acre campus features state-of-the-art raptor enclosures, exhibit spaces, classrooms, and interpretive nature trails.

Farmhouse Pottery: Woodstock, Vermont based artisanal potters offer unique one-of-a-kind handmade pottery, décor, candles, lotions, bakeware, gifts and more.

Antique Shopping: Shop where the antique dealers shop — The Quechee Gorge Village Marketplace! Featuring over 450 booths in over 18,000 climate controlled square feet. Vermont’s largest and most popular antique center located in Quechee, Vermont.

Shackleton Thomas: Fine handcrafted Charles Shackleton furniture and handmade Miranda Thomas pottery made using traditional techniques in Bridgewater, Vermont.

Harpoon Brewery: The Harpoon Riverbend Taps and Beer Garden, located in Windsor, Vermont and the same building as the brewery itself, offers a full selection of Harpoon beers straight from the source along with delicious food to pair with your pint.

The Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, VT is a nationally recognized science museum with more than 125 exhibits interactive exhibits on nature, technology, and the physical sciences. The Montshire’s unique, 100-acre riverfront setting includes a Woodland Garden, nature trails, David Goudy Science Park, and the Hughes Pavilion. Visiting exhibitions, education programs, and special events are offered throughout the year. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Travel: Antigua & Barbuda

Antigua English Harbor

Winter tends to be colder and longer in Maine than in other places where we’ve lived.  We always are well stocked with firewood, food, wine and have indoor projects and books to read that keep us busy.  Still, a warm weather break is something to which we look forward.  Our favorite destination was always St. John, USVI, but the island was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year and is still struggling to rebuild.  Thus, we’ve been exploring other Caribbean destinations and selected Antigua for this year’s getaway. Had we known more about the coronavirus situation at the time, we might have cancelled our trip.  Luckily we had a great time and came home in good health.

Fort Barrington

The view from Fort Barrington

Originally known as “Wadadli” by the native population, the island is located in the West Indies and is approximately 11 miles wide by 14 miles long. was renamed Antigua by Christopher Columbus in 1493. In 1632 a group of English colonists left St. Kitts and established the first permanent British settlement in Antigua which rapidly developed into a profitable sugar colony. Betty’s Hope, Antigua’s first full-scale sugar plantation was so successful that other planters turned from tobacco to sugar and imported slaves to work the sugar cane crops. However, the American War of Independence disrupted the sugar trade in the late 18th century and Great Britain abolished slave trade in 1807.  Today, tourism is the primary industry

The irregular shoreline offers over 300 white sand beaches (nearly one for every day of the year) and is ringed by coral reefs which provide excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. Abandoned British forts are scattered around the island (we liked the hike up to Fort Barrington), one of which protected English Harbor, the site of a restored British Colonial naval station. “Nelson’s Dockyard” was named after Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson who made the island his home base in the 1780s. The dockyard houses an excellent marine museum and a marina that caters to super-yachts.  The Antigua Yacht Club nearby hosts “Sailing Week” each year – one of the top regattas in the world.

Antigua Yacht Club

There are numerous all inclusive resorts along the white sand beaches of Antigua, but Craig and I have always enjoyed sampling the local cuisine in small cafes, so we opted for a boutique hotel sans meals.  We stayed at the Buccaneer Beach Club on Dickinson Beach which was set in a tropical garden with a free form pool. The hotel features 16 apartment-style rooms and two larger cottages.  We liked the fact that we had a kitchen and could prepare our own coffee and breakfast each day before setting out to explore a new beach.


Besides spending our time on the beach or exploring the forts, we managed to do a little hiking. There are a lot of hills on the island, with Mount Obama at being the highest at 1,319 ft. The hike from Wallings Dam to Signal Hill (elevation 1,198 ft) was great.  We started at the Wallings Nature Reserve and passed a zip line canopy tour venture along the way – something to try the next time we visit. The views at the top were magnificent!


The highlight of the trip for me, given my interest in food, was on Valentine’s Day when Craig signed us up for a Caribbean cooking class with Nicole’s Table (  A short drive from Dickenson’s Beach, Nicole and Adam’s house was perched on the top of the hills with views of the ocean. She served us her famous rum punch and put us to work preparing coconut chips, fried plantains, pineapple salsa, a sour cream lime dip, jerk chicken, plantain tostones, red beans and rice and delicious coconut tarts.  In addition, Nicole’s husband Adam gave us an introduction to rum class with tastings of rum from various Caribbean islands.  It was a fantastic experience.


We reluctantly returned after our two week vacation, but vowed to return.  Antigua is highly recommended.










Travel: The Maritimes

Craig and I recently spent a week in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Although there is a CAT Ferry which travels from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, we decided to drive up to New Brunswick so we could explore the countryside, and from there planned to take the 2-hour ferry to Nova Scotia.

As we headed north, we were aware of an increase in the pine and spruce trees lining the highway. New Brunswick is known for its woodlands, mountains and the Bay of Fundy, known for extreme tides and whale-watching.  The extreme tides wash an abundance of fish into the Bay of Fundy, attracting the whales. We spent the first night in the port city of St. John and had dinner at one of the restaurants bordering the long-standing St. John City Market.

The next morning, we went to Fallsview Park so we could see the Reversing Falls, where the tide changes average 40-50 feet and the rapids flow backwards at high tide. It would have been a whitewater kayaker’s dream! On our trip to the ferry landing, we also stopped at the Irving Nature Park and hiked along the shoreline underneath the evergreens on woodchip paths.


The Maritimes are known for their seafood – lobsters, plump sea scallops, succulent oysters, mussels, halibut, haddock and cod. The ferry from St. John deposited us in Digby, the scallop capital of the world! Our bed and breakfast overlooked the harbor and the scallop boat fishing fleet! It was a short walk into town where we sampled some superb restaurants. We also drove down Digby Neck to a beach where whale sightings were common but failed to see any.

From Digby, we drove south to Kejimkujik National Park which is also a National Historic Site. The National and Provincial Park systems in Canada are very well maintained with great visitor centers, camping and calendars of events. Keji (“Ked-gi”) was the site of early Mi’kmaq Natives. Kejimkujik is a Mi’kmaq word meaning “tired muscles” and may refer to the hard work of trapping and catching fish in fishing weirs in the rivers. The Mi’kmaqs had dwelled in the area for thousands of years, built birch bark canoes and made weirs of stone or wood to dam the rivers and divert the fish. When we went hiking, we saw a lot of first growth hemlock trees.

We spent the next two nights at a B&B in Lunenburg, a colorful fishing village on the South Shore of Nova Scotia originally settled by Germans. The Maritime Museum there was fantastic and gave us a good glimpse of the seafaring trades. We met a very interesting “Old Salt,” a former scallop boat captain who explained exactly how the scallops were “raked” from the sea beds and gave us a step by step procedure for making his favorite recipe from salt cod!

Our final destination was Prince Edward Island, where we stayed at Shaw’s Hotel in Beckley Beach on the North Shore. Shaw’s is an old country Inn built in the 1800’s and is still run by the same family! It was truly luxurious and only a half mile to the beach – miles of red sandstone dunes. The restaurant menu was amazing! PEI mussels are my favorite & I was not disappointed. It was a nice finish for our second honeymoon!

We both wish we’d had longer to explore Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, and Cape Breton, but we will save that for another trip.

Travel: Turks and Caicos


New England winters are very vibrant – there is always a lot going on around the Seacoast! In addition, it’s a great time to work on a project (Craig does woodworking and I do stained glass) or just cozy up under an afghan and read a good book next to the woodstove. But winter this year stretched out a little longer than usual and we desperately needed a warm-weather break. Neither of us is enamored with glitzy resorts or all-inclusive destinations. We prefer exploring the culture and cuisine of a Caribbean island that offers great beaches, good hiking and excellent snorkeling. A direct flight is nice too, but not always possible. So, we decided to explore Turks and Caicos this year, which is rumored to have the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean, a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas. The gateway island of Providenciales, known as Provo, is home to expansive Grace Bay Beach, with luxury resorts, shops and restaurants. Scuba-diving sites include a 14-mile barrier reef on Provo’s north shore and a dramatic 7,000 foot underwater wall off Grand Turk Island. The official language is English and the currency is US dollars. But Providenciales (“Provo” to the locals) was too developed for our tastes (it had a Club Med and similar resorts, high end shopping and expensive restaurants), so we headed for North Caicos – accessible by ferry and very undeveloped.

Our Airbnb host arranged a taxi to meet us at the airport and deliver us to the Caribbean Cruisin’ ferry on the eastern end of the island. She asked if we wanted to stop at a grocery store on the way, but we assured her we would do provisioning on North Caicos. The IGA on Provo is huge with a spectacular selection of food products. (Note to self: Definitely stop and shop on the way to the ferry next time.) The ferry ride gave us our first glimpse of the beaches along the shore. We’ve traveled all over the world, but I must admit, they were most definitely the best we’d ever seen. In fact, the beaches stretch from six to 14 miles along the coast of the islands and are made of soft, white sand like talcum powder that come from the eroding limestone on the islands. The water is a neon aqua and was mesmerizing! When we arrived at the ferry landing on North Caicos, our rental car was waiting (also arranged by our Airbnb host). We followed our host’s Mom to the house and were pleasantly surprised by the location (in the middle of a village named Whitby), and amenities (short walk to the beach, coffee, fruit and bagels in the fridge). The warm, salt air was a delight. We quickly changed clothes and went for a tour of the island and a search for a grocery store.

North Caicos (and the next island over, Middle Caicos) are mostly undeveloped. North Caicos only boasts a population of 1,500. A recent hurricane had frightened the hundreds of flamingoes and they relocated elsewhere in the Caribbean. The huge land crabs roamed across the unpaved roads in the evenings and many of the cement block houses were abandoned. But, we were in a perfect location – within walking distance actually to a grocery store (that got fresh produce on Mondays) and both a great, casual restaurant, the Silver Palm, and the Pelican Beach Bar that served the most amazing pina coladas!


We stocked up on basic essentials at the grocery store and a bottle of the local Bambarra dark rum at the liquor store and headed back to the house.

Our first full day was spent on the beach, just walking and swimming, and then back to the house to read on the patio. We dined that first night at the Silver Palm Restaurant where the owner/chef Karen and her husband, Poach, spoiled us with fresh seafood (conch fritters and whole fried snapper) and information about the island. Her rum punch is legendary!


The highlight of our vacation came on Monday with a fishing trip. We had hired a local, Captain D, to take us out for inshore fishing. Trip Advisor reviews raved about him and said that he would clean all the fish you could catch and send it back to your Airbnb rental with you. We were excited about feasting on our own fresh-caught seafood all week. We chartered him from 9-2, spent most of the time fishing and then went snorkeling off the boat (waters were a little choppy) for about an hour before returning to the launch area where he cleaned our fish for us. We caught three good-sized barracuda (the largest one was 32 pounds!) We had seen barracuda with their scary teeth while snorkeling in the past and didn’t know they were edible. Apparently, predator fish at the top of the food chain can carry dangerous toxins, but these fish didn’t pose any problems for us. Captain D told us a few ways to cook the fish, but we opted for the charcoal grill at our rental house and a little lime juice. It was delicious!


As for hiking, we mostly walked along the beach although we did hike the Middle Caicos Cross Island Trail which wound along the coastline and across pitted limestone cliffs.



We saw only one other couple on the beach the entire week we were there It was heavenly and very, very relaxing for us. We definitely plan to return some day.


Travel: Bahrain

I recently returned from Bahrain where I went to visit our son Eric who is stationed at the Naval Support Activity there. It was my first visit to a Middle Eastern country, and he was a great tour guide. We started by going to the Bahrain National Museum so I could learn some history about the country. I learned that Bahrain is an island country and an Arab constitutional monarchy situated in the Persian Gulf between the Qatar peninsula and the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Originally referred to as Dimun, it is rumored to have been the site of the Garden of Eden, although it is mostly a white sand desert today sparsely spotted by date palms. The natural pearl fisheries dominated its economy and the pearls were considered the finest in the world, until Japan started cultivating pearls. Oil was discovered in 1931, production began the following year and oil remains Bahrain’s most exported product today.


On the second day, Eric took me to an old fort and museum. Archeological excavations revealed that the fort had existed for over 4,000 years through 6 different civilizations – the last time it was rebuilt was by the Portuguese in 1521.

One of the more fascinating compounds in the fort showed how dates were placed in troughs in a room, weighted down with boards and allowed to sit and soften until the date “honey” or liquor drained into a depression in the stone floor. The date tree trunks were used as the ceiling, covered by woven date palm fronds made into mats.

Summers are very hot there, often with a heat index of 130 degrees F, although we enjoyed moderate temperatures in the mid-80’s with a slight breeze. I found the various souqs (markets) fascinating – gold, pearl jewelry, spices, and Persian carpets abounded. Food was fantastic and I especially enjoyed the karak (spiced chai), balaleet (egg and noodle dish), shashouka (eggs and tomatoes) and the shwarma (marinated lamb or chicken wrapped in khubz or flatbread).


The men making the flatbread placed the rounds of dough on a cushion and slap them onto the sides of a stone oven. Another person removed them with a hook. The flatbread is served with every meal and is used to scoop up the various meats and vegetables that are served.

We also toured the circa 1800 home of the Sheikh in the old part of the city, the Royal Camel Farm where I got to feed the camels, the Grand Mosque which can accommodate 7,000 people during prayer where I had to change into an abaya and head scarf, and had a Bahrain cooking class where we made machboos, a spiced rice and chicken dish.

The Sheikh’s Palace


Feeing a baby camel


The Grand Mosque


Inside the Mosque


Learning how to make machboos

It was an amazing cultural experience. And to top it off, Eric and I raced go karts around a Grand Prix course (I came in last in the heat of 14 cars, but Eric was only a half second behind first place)

Ready to Race

AND I got to be Eric’s date to the Marine Corps Ball where we toasted his brother and our oldest son Brian, former Marine Corps Captain.


Marine Corps Ball 2017




Travel: Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast

In mid April, I traveled with my daughter, Gretchen to Castello di Spannocchia ( ) – an educational center based on an organic farm in Tuscany, 1,100 acres of forests, pastures, and crops of which 900 acres are harvested for forest products; 130 acres are cultivated for grains, legumes, and animal pasture; and 15 acres are dedicated to grapes, olives, and fruit. In addition to maintaining 800 olive trees and a large vegetable garden, Spannocchia raises local heritage breeds of farm animals and produces regionally-recognized salumi (salt cured pork) products. We were there with 20 others to attend a two-week oil painting workshop led by Stan Mohler (, our favorite local Seacoast artist. Most of the participants stayed in the Villa, but because Gretchen’s partner Daniel and her five-year old daughter Avery were accompanying us, we opted to rent one of the rustic farmhouses on the property.

We prefaced our workshop by spending three days in Rome to explore Italian history, culture and cuisine. Rome was very crowded and although it was early in the season, there were a lot of tourists and groups of school children everywhere. Notable sights we saw were the Roman Forum, where Caesar and other Roman diplomats conducted business and lived, the Pantheon, actually a place of worship but also an architectural marvel with its unsupported domed ceiling, the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and the Coliseum, where the gladiators fought with each other and with animals (apparently it had sawdust on the floor to absorb the blood from these battles).

When we left Rome, we rented a car and drove to Spannochia where we spent the next two weeks receiving instructions in painting techniques from Stan before spending the day outside in front of our easels attempting to capture the magic of an Italian landscape with a brush and a palette of colors. I was by far the least experienced artist there, but it was inspiring none the less. Daniel watched Avery during the day while Gretchen and I painted. They visited the donkeys, pigs, and chickens, shopped for groceries, took walks and naps. We returned to the farmhouse each day to a fabulous meal that Daniel had cooked!

At the conclusion of our workshop, Gretchen, Daniel and Avery headed to Florence and then to the Italian Rivera to explore. I flew down to Naples to meet Craig just as his flight was arriving from Boston. He had been unable to join me on the Amalfi Coast when I did my culinary arts internship in 2007. I was eager to show him the area, where I had lived and worked and to do some hiking, in particular the Sientiera degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, along the cliffs above Positano.

During our two-week stay in Positano (dubbed citta verticale because the city is virtually built on the side of a mountain) we hiked, took a cooking class and visited a buffalo farm where mozzarella is made. Bufala mozzarella is the best in the world and the buffaloes were treated like royalty! They had “showers” each morning, like the veggies in the supermarket are sprayed with water, got massages, listened to classical music, slept on rubber mats and got itchy backs scratched with large brushes like you’d see in a car wash.

Craig and I really enjoyed the cooking class, which was taught by the chefs at our hotel restaurant, Buca di Bacco ( ). We made eggplant parmesan, gnocchi (potato dumplings) with fresh pesto, homemade tomato sauce, pizza, and an almond cake. Then we got to eat lunch and they provided wine and champagne.

One of our hikes was up hundreds of steps to the top of Positano and another was through a valley where there were remains of paper mills.

The city of Amalfi used to be world famous for its rag paper and it was the primary industry in the area. When all the paper mills closed, the area shifted to raising lemons. The Sfusato di Amalfi lemon is h-u-g-e – like a grapefruit and is more fragrant than the lemons we have in the US. Most of it is used to make a liqueur Limoncello, which is served ice cold.

The last hike that we did was 7.8 miles along the ridge of the Lattari Mountains overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. The hike took us 6 hours and ended with 1700 steps down to the beach and back to our hotel.

It was an amazing trip!

Thai Cuisine

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by Europeans. Thus, its cuisine is authentic and has only been slightly influenced by bordering countries or traders.

Thai cuisine is very spicy and focuses on dishes which are well balanced in four areas – sweet (usually palm sugar or coconut milk), salty (fish sauce and salt), sour (lime in several forms and tamarind) and spicy (chilies). Meals served in restaurants are accompanied by a quartet of sauces brought to the table – fish sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, dried chili flakes, and palm sugar. Rice is served at most meals, (usually jasmine rice, but also sticky or glutinous rice) and sometimes noodles. Cucumbers are often served to cool the palate. I was told recently that additional ways to counter the spiciness is to add more rice, add sugar, or drink more beer!

Thai food was traditionally eaten by the right hand while seated on cushions on the floor, but today most Thais eat with a fork and large spoon. The fork is held in the left hand and is used to scoop or push into the spoon which is held in the right hand. Chopsticks are reserved only for noodle dishes.

The Thai pantry can be stocked from items available in the international aisle at a grocery store or a local Asian market. Lo’s Seafood in Portsmouth, NH carries Thai canned goods (coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, fresh chilies (bird’s eye chilies or very tiny chilies are hotter than larger chilies), Thai basil and cilantro. Green, yellow and red curry pastes (hottest to mildest, respectively) can be made from scratch or purchased already prepared.

The following recipe for Chicken Coconut Milk Soup is one which we prepared at the Thai Farm Cooking School while I was in Thailand recently.

Tom Kaa Gai (Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)


½ c. water

¼ cup of peeled, thinly sliced galangal or ginger

1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced into one-inch pieces

½ cup halved grape tomatoes

½ cup sliced mushrooms

1-5 bird eye’s chili peppers

1 chicken breast, sliced thinly and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 can coconut milk

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1 stem of cilantro, finely diced

3 sliced scallions

1 T. fish sauce or soy sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of lime juice


Combine water, galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes and mushrooms in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to boil. Remove stems from chili peppers and crush open by banging down with your palm on the flat side of a heavy knife. Add chili peppers, coconut milk and chicken pieces to broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until chicken is milky white all the way through. Fold kaffir lime leaves in half along spine and remove spine of each leaf to release flavor. Add to soup with cilantro, scallions, fish sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes to intensify flavor. Finally add lime juice (soup will be too bitter if lime juice is added too early.) Lemongrass pieces, kaffir lime leaves, chilies and  galangal or ginger root should be removed prior to serving as they are all too tough to chew. Serves 2.






Travel: Thailand

I recently returned from a trip to Thailand, the “Land of Smiles,” with a friend, Joyce Tucker. We spent five nights in Bangkok, a week in Chiang Mai in the mountains north of Thailand, and three days on the beach at Pattaya. It was very hot and humid this time of year, but it cooled off in the evenings and all of our hotels had swimming pools, which was nice. We had a great trip, as we each like to explore the back alleys, eat street food and browse through the local markets.


Bangkok is a very busy city with congested traffic – lots of motorcycles and “tuk-tuks” or three wheeled vehicles that you can hail for short trips. There are shrines everywhere to the recently deceased king who was very progressive and well loved. The temples are beautiful with intricate tiled roofs, gilded ornamentation and marble plazas.

And there are numerous street vendors – some preparing grilled meats and fish on sticks (about 30 cents each), others serving fresh mango, tiny bananas, and pineapple pieces in plastic bags, stir frying rice or offering a myriad of noodle soups. We each passed up the huge pile of wiggling bugs (bamboo worms) a vendor was getting ready to fry in a wok though.

Thailand is also famed for its massages. For the full body massages, you are completely clothed and your body is bent in numerous unusual poses and your back and legs are stepped on, but the foot massages, which usually last one hour and cost less than $5, were heavenly.

In Bangkok we toured Jim Thompson’s house to the east of the old city. Apparently he used to work for OSS (precursor to the CIA) back in the 50’s and 60’s. He planted mulberry trees, cultivated silk worms and started using Muslim workers to hand weave silk. The fine weave & gorgeous colors caught the attention of Hollywood and were used in the movie “The King and I.” After that, orders started coming in and business was a success. The six houses he disassembled and relocated to Bangkok were combined to make a memorable home and his early antiques were fascinating.

We spent one day wandering through Chatuchak Market north of the city, but saw only a tenth of the 8,000 stalls on 35 acres. What we did see included live plants (beautiful orchids), garden equipment & ceramic pots, pets (koi, dogs, cats & tropical birds like parrots), aquarium & pet supplies, clothing, fine jewelry, cosmetics, herbal medicines, furniture, beautiful leather goods, linens, china and ceramics, art work, sculpture, silk, wooden plates, trays, salad bowls, places to eat and, of course, massage parlors.

We weren’t too far from the Chao Phraya River and had wanted to take a boat ride so we managed to avoid the “private river tours” for 1,600 Baht and opted instead for the local ferry at 30 Baht (less than $1) for a great one hour trip. We saw a lot of strange fish around the piers that people were feeding and later learned that you can buy fish and snails at the market that you throw into the river as a symbolic gesture to rid your life of bad luck. These fish are not caught by anyone because no one else wants the bad luck!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is framed by mountains and, although it is a city per se, it lacks the tall skyscrapers and congested traffic of Bangkok. There are remnants of a beautiful brick wall that appears to have ringed the old part of the city at one time and temples of a slightly different style. We stayed an historic Thai house in a walled compound with luscious gardens and a pool. The main house is shuttered to keep it cool. The original owner was a teak trader and the house has spectacular carved woodwork and smooth teak floors inside.

We had arrived in time for the Sunday night market, where merchandise for sale was different than in Bangkok (lots of leather goods and silver jewelry, soft Thai cotton clothing and a lot of teak carvings as well.) Did you know that Teak forests are under government supervision as they are endangered, and most teak today comes from Burma (Myanmar)? There are teak trees growing randomly throughout Chiang Mai. They have yellowish bark, large light green leaves and bunches of white flowers with a lacy appearance. Enjoyed people watching, musicians and getting in our walk in although it was in the crowded market stall-lined street instead of the countryside. We managed to get a foot massage too as there were places at the market set up to make people’s feet happy.

The next day, we hired a driver and went out into the country to the hot springs past rice paddies and open fields dotted with shacks reminiscent of the Philippines. We visited numerous silversmiths (the silver comes from Burma – often from melted down coins) and silk weavers, where we watched them spin thread from cocoons and then weave very fine cloth. We spent about an hour soaking in the hot mineral baths before returning to Chiang Mai.

While in Chiang Mai, we also took a Thai cooking class from Thai Farm Cooking School. We were picked up at our hotel in the morning and went to a large covered food market where our instructor took us around and showed us the difference between types of rice and identified various ingredients we would be cooking with (galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, hot basil, turmeric root and Thai ginseng or finger root).  Then we travelled north of Chiang Mai to an organic farm and spent the day preparing five classic Thai dishes under an open-air pavilion.

When we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to play with the rescued elephants, we traveled in an open pickup truck with bench seats on both sides of the truck bed. We drove up to about 4,000 feet on a series of tight hairpin turns through small hill tribe villages (where fuel, should you need it, is dispensed from metal drums and charcoal was being made in brick beehive ovens) and then turned down a deeply rutted dirt road to the camp. This was not a modern, commercialized operation. It was a truly authentic experience. The elephant jungle sanctuary rescues elephants from logging (where the ones we played with had been used), circuses, riding and performing. Here they had 32 elephants who live in groups in the jungle and who are cared for by mamuts (handlers) from local villages. They can only safely maintain control of about 7-8 at a time with lots of tourists around, and we had seven and 35 people from various countries to play with the elephants for a day (French, Brazilians, Filipinos, Brits, and an assortment of Americans). After we arrived at the end of the road, we were all handed big bunches of bananas (just cut from the trees) and had to carry them down a dirt trail to the camp over bridges made from bamboo lashed together with twine!

First we met the elephants and fed them bananas and sugar cane. (Elephants eat 300 kilos a day) You have to yell “Bon Bon!” to get the elephants to open their mouths, although most of them wanted to take the food from us with their trunks! One of our elephants was pregnant (they have a gestation period of 18-24 months), one was a male (4-years old) named Peter who was especially playful. His mom, grandmother (she was 35 and had polka dotted ears), and his aunt were all in the group.

We got to pet them too. They have wrinkled, leathery skin with coarse bristles of hair on it. Their tongues are pink, their eyes are brown and they have the longest eyelashes! After feeding them and following them through the jungle while they snacked on bamboo, we all walked down to the river so they could get some water. The mamuts gave a command & they took up water in their trunks and sprayed us all! It was very hot outside & felt really good. Then we had lunch – stir fried rice with chicken, sautéed vegetables, fried chicken wings, and wedges of watermelon. Bottles of water were available throughout the day. A short rest on the woven grass mats under the corrugated tin awning and it was time to make “medicine” balls for the elephants. They were comprised of bananas, herbs, bark from a special tree, and rice – all pounded by us with mortar and pestle and then shaped into tennis ball sized “meatballs” which we had to feed to them. and rub mud on them. We ended up wet and muddy as well, but it was a small price to pay for such a great experience.

Pattaya Beach

Pattaya Beach, about 2 hours by bus south of Bangkok, reminded me of Manila more than any other place we’ve seen in Thailand – the absence of wats (temples), Buddhist monks and photos or shrines of the recently deceased president was striking.

We spent our time at the beach where a wide, brick paved walkway bordered the beach and the sand is blanketed with beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. Power boats and jet skis whizzed around and there were platforms in the water like little aircraft carriers where people who were parasailing took off and landed. There were dozens of them in the sky.

People watching was lots of fun as the town was packed with tourists from so many countries. We enjoyed the vendors who came by carrying and selling: slices of pineapple, hot ears of corn or huge prawns steaming over charcoal braziers, fried soft shelled crabs, carved wooden elephants, steamed whole fish, Selfie sticks for mobile phones, cotton print dresses, imitation crocodile handbags, cotton candy, sunglasses, foot massages, ice cream bars, temporary tattoos, mangoes, parakeets in cages (?), Rolex watches, plastic blow up beach toys, lottery tickets, potato chips with flavored like wasabi and hot Thai basil, black velvet paintings of tigers, strawberries, durian (phew!), jewelry, and hair braiding in addition to toilet paper (The majority of Thai toilets were Western-style, but did not have toilet paper.)

We had an amazing trip – food was so good, lodging and transportation inexpensive and the people were very gracious.  If you go, best time to travel is before the rainy season which starts around June.










Travel: The Grand Canyon


I have just returned from a week at the Grand Canyon, where our oldest son, Brian, is working as a Law Enforcement Officer for the National Park Service. The vistas were spectacular – pastels of pink, sage green and purple with an occasional California condor gliding overhead. We hiked, biked and explored the South Rim. Unfortunately the mule ride to the base of the canyon and the river rafting trips down the Colorado River are booked months in advance, so they will each have to wait for a future visit.


The Grand Canyon encompasses 2,000 square miles and is over a mile deep with the Colorado River running through it. It is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. The ecology of the canyon changes from north rim to south rim. From tall pines to desert cactuses, the canyon offers plants from 5 of the 7 vegetation zones in the U.S. The weather also varies greatly from the rim, where it is moderate and breezy to the base where it is much hotter (temperatures of 107oF expected today!)

Desert View Watch Tower

Desert View Watch Tower

I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the canyon and admired the architecture designed by Mary Colter to capture the essence of the southwest – a stone watchtower with the interior adorned with Native American mural and the Hopi House with its handmade Native American treasures – beautiful woven rugs of bold earth tones, turquoise and silver jewelry and splendid pottery.

Navaho Medicine Bowl

Navaho Medicine Bowl

This is a medicine bowl used for ceremonial purposes and is etched with drawings of a Yei or Navajo deity, similar to the Hope Kachinas. Navajo pottery is formed using rolled coils of clay which are then hand burnished and fired in a pit using wood and dung. The “fire clouds” or black markings that appear on the clay result from the hot coals directly touching the pots during the hand-firing process. Most pottery vessels were used in cooking. If it was used for water storage, it was covered in pine pitch to make it waterproof.

The Tusayan Museum in the park includes an 800-year old ruin of a U-shaped pueblo that contains living areas, storage spaces and a kiva, or ceremonial circle. Tree ring studies indicate that the site was occupied for about twenty years, beginning around 1185. I especially enjoyed the exhibits of Native American artifacts found in the park and the side trail which identified how the early inhabitants used the vegetation. The pinon pines, for instance, were used for firewood, their pitch was used to waterproof baskets and the pine nuts were harvested for food.

It was a great trip!