Joshua Tree National Park

Sculpture at Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center
Cool metal sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park.

Crisp winter air and clear skies shape the day as we make our way to the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. Our first trip to this area and Joshua Tree National Park, we are eager to begin our exploration. A helpful and informed ranger at the Visitor Center guides us on what to see and do during our 5 hour visit. We follow his suggestions and drive up to Keys View, then do two loop trails – Barker Dam and Hidden Valley.

Landscape, Joshua Tree National Park
Austere landscape as we make our way into the park.
The famed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.
Wild armed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.

Joshua Tree National Park is immense, covering nearly 800,000 acres. Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park – “high” and “low” desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush.

The Mojave Desert, higher in elevation, slightly cooler, and wetter, is the special habitat of the Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land.

Looking for a place to park and eat our picnic lunch we spot some massive boulders. Reading the map/guide we learn the park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths bear witness to the tremendous earth forces that shaped and formed this land.

Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.

Turns out these rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. Magma rose from deep within the earth. As it rose it intruded the overlying rock. As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks/joints formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Over time the surface soil eroded, revealing heaps of monzogranite scattered across the landscape.

Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View provides stunning panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from an elevation of 5185 feet. The southwest side of the ridge drops nearly a mile in elevation into the Coachella Valley. The San Andreas Fault, stretching 700 miles from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco, runs through the valley.

Panoramic at Keys View
Panoramic at Keys View

Driving down from Keys View we head to Barker Dam to walk the 1.3 mile loop trail. Built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use, the dam today forms a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife.

watering hole

watering hole man, Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree

Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.
Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.

Near the end of the trail right before you head back to the parking lot there is sign for the petroglyphs. The main area of the petroglyphs are right behind the sign in a big rock that appears to have a part cut out of it.

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

bird_new As our day draws to a close, we head to Hidden Valley. A short, mile-long interpretive trail through an area rich with history, wildlife, and rock climbers.

Back in the early 20th century, the area around Joshua Tree got a lot more rain than it does these days. Before the land was protected in 1936, ranchers and prospectors tried to make a living in the region, and one of the most colorful was a man named William Keys. Keys built the nearby Desert Queen Ranch. He blasted his way through Joshua Tree boulders to let his cattle graze on the untouched grassland in Hidden Valley and made improvements to Barker Dam.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

The current climate is much drier and the pastures have mostly vanished, but this short and easy hike into Hidden Valley will give you a nice glimpse at some of the region’s plants and animals.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert getaway that boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in southern California. From the weird and wonderful Mojave Desert to the vast and stark Sonoran Desert. Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide shows readers the park’s highlights and hidden gems. Fascinating chapters on the region’s history, geology, ecology, archaeology and wildlife reveal the story behind the scenery. Gorgeous color photos showcase the park’s namesake Joshua trees. Detailed maps reveal over 20 of the park’s best hikes. An indispensable travel guide for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers on a budget.

International travel benefits the brain

A recent article in The Atlantic quotes Mark Twain, who wrote in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The article goes on to talk about how travel may help us be more open-minded and increase our creativity…

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

Link to the full article…  For a More Creative Brain, Travel

Reading about The Innocents Abroad got me thinking about other classic travel books…

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck – enjoyable read while traveling in Baja, Mexico.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – enchanting memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – in 1974 he quit the London Sunday Times Magazine via telegram (“Have gone to Patagonia”) and disappeared into the then little-known and remote tip of South America.

Thank you Nikki for sharing the article and inspiring this post!

The Longest Road – Florida to Alaska

The Longest Road by Philip CaputoFeeling nostalgic this morning as I read rave reviews about a new road book in the NY Times…

Two years ago we converted our Honda CRV into a camper van and drove round-trip from Washington State to Maryland. Taking a northern route out and southern path home. Read about our adventures here:  US Cross Country Road Trip.

Back to the new book:  “The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean” by Philip Caputo. Mr. Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his book chronicles his trip in an Airstream trailer from one corner of North America to the other, asking everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large. From his publisher:

“Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.”

Recently, Mr. Caputo traveled to Missouri for a conversation with one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers, William Least Heat-Moon, the author of “Blue Highways” and “PrairyErth (A Deep Map).” Heat-Moon’s latest book is “Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road”, a collection of short essays taken from 30-plus years of travel. They had a wide-ranging conversation, covering their many years of travel. The New York Times published a condensed and edited version:  To See America, Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.

Here is a taste of their conversation:

CAPUTO: One of the things that’s impressed me about traveling in this country — and I’ve done a lot of world traveling, as you have, too — is not only the size of the country but the variety of the landscape, which is like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else. I mean you can be in Arizona or New Mexico and think you’re in North Africa, and not terribly far away it might look like the Swiss Alps, and someplace else — say, the Dakotas — looks like Ukraine.

HEAT-MOON: American topography is so incredibly diverse. If you’re traveling by auto, the windshield becomes a kind of movie. And we’re going to go out on the road, and we’re going to meet people who don’t think the way we do. And listen to someone who doesn’t think the way we do, we may learn something that could be useful, as well as something downright interesting.

CAPUTO: Yeah, I think one of the things I got out of this particular journey was running into people who will change your perspective, who will change the way you looked at things. And sometimes I think not just for the moment either, but permanently. And I think you’re right, that the country is big enough and varied enough, not only in its geographical landscape but its social landscape, that if I do travel to northwest Washington from southeast Georgia, or vice versa, I’m not going to run into somebody who thinks exactly the way I do and sees the world the same as I do.

Time to hit the road… well, maybe not until the house renovation is a little further along…

India, on my mind…

Photographs of tea plantations, net fishing, and parades during my visit to Kerala in 1997.

Different articles and books concerning India are crossing my path recently and bringing back many memories. January of 1997 I visited India with a group of 12 women. Our host was one of my social work professors – he taught us “group therapy” at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, but confessed to being terrified of the idea of leading 12 American women around his homeland of Southern India. For three weeks we traveled together from Chennai (then known as Madras), the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Kerala on the south-west coast. Sadly, I did not keep a written journal, fortunately my photos bring back many memories.

My professor generously planned several visits to his family’s homes. I remember at one uncle’s home during our first few days in Madras, there was a computer and we took turns writing one email each – to our husband, parents, whomever. In mine I distinctly recall telling Jay that the sights, sounds, and smells of India were all new. Comparable to no other place I had visited. An orgy for the senses!

Some other writer’s travel articles that I have enjoyed reading lately…

In recent years, coffee planters in southwestern India have added lodging to their estates to earn income as the price of their commodity has fluctuated… Coffee Plantations in India Blend History and Hospitality.

Three insider itineraries for visiting one of the world’s most compelling and confounding countries… India in One, Two or Three Weeks.

Traveling in Kerala is as easy and rewarding as a glide through its backwaters. In this excerpt from an article first published in Lonely Planet Magazine, are the highlights, from coconut palm-lined coasts to elephant and tiger reserves… A Perfect Trip to Kerala.

Traveling on an Indian train is a reason to travel all by itself. India’s rail network is one of the world’s most extensive and the prices are very reasonable… How to Book Trains in India.

And some books to read on your plane, train, or sofa…

In India Calling, author Anand Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.

Let’s end with a quote from Will Durant (American philosopher, 1885 to 1981) ~

India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.

Safe travels.

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels's Grand Place during the Christmas season.
Brussels's glorious Grand Place during the Christmas season.

Each year Winter Wonders, Brussel’s Christmas Market, fills the city – from the world-famous Grand-Place of Brussels, around the Bourse, on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons. Hundreds of wooden huts offering hand-crafted toys, warming mugs of mulled wine, and moules mariniere by the bucket full fill the city centre. There is an outdoor ice rink (and a small rink for toddlers), a huge Ferris wheel and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers. The Grand Place is home to a huge Christmas tree, and the Town Hall provides the canvas for the stunning Christmas lights show. The festivities begin in late November and continue until January 1.

Jay and I spent the summer of 1976 in Europe and a few weeks in Brussels where his parents were living at the time. The Grand Place is the most exquisite and elaborate square I have ever experienced, especially in the evening when the buildings are lit. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. Considered one of the most beautiful places of the world, The Grand-Place of Brussels was registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998.

Victor Horta Museum staircase
Staircase in the Victor Horta Museum

Some of Brussels’ districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Victor Horta was a Belgium architect and designer and one of the most important names in Art Nouveau architecture. I remember visiting Victor Horta’s home/museum in Brussels with its incredible staircase.

Our favorite grater came from a very fun old second-hand shop, Les Petits Riens (little nothings), which we visited a few times with Jay’s mom. I just Googled and found a shop by the same name at 101, Rue Américaine! Sure would be fun to return and see if it really is the same one.

And the food… Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as “moules frites”, served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. There are friteries throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.

Belgian Chocolates, Grand Place, Brussels
Belgian Chocolate Shop in the Grand Place, Brussels

Jay’s parents remained in Brussels for a couple of years and when they visited us in Washington, DC a gift box of Neuhaus chocolates was always in the suitcase for me. Today’s reminiscing is inspired by a terrific article in the New York Times by Amy Thomas – Brussels: The Chocolate Trail… and includes a great list of the city’s chocolatiers.

“You have chocolate for tourists, and chocolate for Belgians,” Ms. Warner said of the national hierarchy in which chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois, Ms. Warner said, prefer the artisanal makers. “The big-name big houses are great. But seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.”

To prove her point, as we were leaving Wittamer, the century-old chocolatier in the center of the city that seduces both locals and tourists with its heritage recipes, Robbin suggested we go to Alex & Alex, a nearby Champagne and chocolate bar. Though its chocolates, made by Frederic Blondeel, aren’t made on-site, they’re acknowledged in some circles as some of the best in the city.

The bar is tucked away on one of the antiques store- and art gallery-filled streets that shoot off the Grand Sablon, Brussels’ central square. Its dark, cozy interior, along with the glass of Drappier rosé and array of square bonbons before me, was a lovely respite from the trolling chocolate tourists outside. I found the herbaceous notes of Blondeel’s basil ganache too reminiscent of pesto, but the “Alex’Perience” chocolates were another story. The first velvety impression of high-quality chocolate was followed by a flood of sweet, fruity cassis.

Amy Thomas’ new book, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) , will be released on February 1, 2012.

If you find yourself in Brussels by all means take the train to Bruges. “Much of the enchanting city center is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale, with stone footbridges spanning picturesque canals and cobblestone streets curving past turreted manor houses”… read 36 Hours: Bruges, Belgium for the full story.

 

 

Best Travel Book Gifts 2011

It’s that time of year again…

Do you have a dedicated traveler on your gift list? Or someone who stays close to home, but enjoys reading about faraway places and other cultures? Many of us enjoy spending a cold, winter’s day inside, cuddled up and cozy, gazing at pictures of places we love or hope to see someday. Books with a travel theme make a great holiday gift. Here are some books that caught my eye and have received good reviews:

How to Read ChurchesHow to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture by Denis R. McNamara. The perfect companion, small enough to fit in a pocket yet serious enough to give real answers. A must-have for architecture and history buffs, tourists, and churchgoers interested in decoding the styles and symbols of religious structures. According to the book, every building has clues embedded in its design that show not only its architectural style but also who designed it, what kind of congregation it was built for, and why. Organized according to architectural element (windows, domes, arches, etc.), each element is presented in chronological order.

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, Introduction by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Pilgrimage charts a new course for one of America’s best-known living photographers. Different from her staged and carefully lit portraits made on assignment for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Pilgrimage took Leibovitz to places that she could explore without an agenda. She wasn’t on assignment this time and she chose the subjects simply because she was moved by them. To read more and see some photographs, go to my post: Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage

The Travel BookLonely Planet The Travel Book by Lonely Planet. Even the most avid readers of travel guides and travel literature will enjoy this one. It is a coffee table book size with gorgeous photographs, reasonably priced, and it is very informative. All the writers who contribute to the Lonely Planet travel guide series have put heads, knowledge, and experience together and come up with an A-Z series of capsule profiles of every country in the world, 230 in number.

Andes by Michael Jacobs. The New York Times Book Review says, “Andes is a travelogue that’s scholarly and sociable in equal measure, by an author who’s as interested in ferreting out letters from 16th-century emigrants lured by the legend El Dorado as he is in visiting a museum dedicated to Bolívar’s mistress or checking out the transvestite bars of Ayacucho.” In this remarkable book, travel writer Michael Jacobs journeys across seven different countries, Andes by Michael Jacobsfrom the balmy Caribbean to the inhospitable islands of the Tierra del Fuego, through the relics of ancient civilizations and the remnants of colonial rule, retracing the footsteps of earlier travelers. His route begins in Venezuela, following the path of the great nineteenth-century revolutionary Simón Bolívar, but soon diverges to include accounts from sources as varied as Humboldt, the young Charles Darwin, and Bolívar’s extraordinary and courageous mistress, Manuela Saenz.

The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road by Paul Theroux. Theroux writes in the preface of his early yearnings to travel…. “I wanted to find a new self in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith. The Tao of Travel by Paul TherouxElsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too young to go, I read about elsewheres, fantasizing about my freedom. Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I saw that the most passionate travelers have always been passionate readers and writers. And that is how this book came about.” Paul Theroux celebrates fifty years of wandering the globe by collecting the best writing on travel from the books that shaped him, as a reader and a traveler.

Best Women's Travel Writing 2011The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World edited by Lavinia Spalding. This best-selling, award-winning series presents the finest accounts of women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples—and themselves. The common threads connecting the stories are a woman’s perspective and lively storytelling to make the reader laugh, cry, wish she were there, or be glad she wasn’t. Great book club read – fun, inspiring and thought-provoking.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography WonksMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings. Readers go on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the “unreal estate” charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. He also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been. Great gift for map enthusiasts.

1000 Places to See Before You Die1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. A #1 New York Times bestseller, 1,000 Places reinvented the idea of a travel book as both wish list and practical guide. This new edition is the ultimate bucket-list, and has 200 new entries, like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Qatar and Mozambique, plus budget-conscious suggestions for lodging and food. There are 600 full-color photographs, and the emphasis is on experiences: an entry covers not just Positano or Ravello, but the full 30-mile stretch along the Amalfi Coast.

The World's Must See PlacesThe World’s Must-See Places: A Look Inside More Than 100 Magnificent Buildings and Monuments by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Another beautiful coffee-table book with photos and 3-D cutaways and diagrams of places like Beijing’s Forbidden City, Mexico’s Chichen Itza and Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. Ancient, classical, and modern sites from every continent are included. Each featured site is selected for its uniqueness, or its historical or architectural importance, and many are  on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. This book inspires readers to visit featured sights, and will dazzle armchair travelers.

Why not give the gift of travel to a child? Read my post: Best Travel Books for Kids

Happy Holidays to you all!

 

Best Travel Books for Kids

Giving a book as a gift can educate and inspire kids. Giving a travel book can broaden their awareness about the world and other cultures, nurture their imagination, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Lonely Planet has a new book out that may do all this: Not-for-Parents Travel Book: Cool Stuff to Know About Every Country in the World. “In this book are the epic events, amazing animals, hideous histories, funky foods, and crazy facts…”. I just ordered a copy for our 3 year old friend, Max, for Christmas. What a terrific book. Each page is a colorful collage of photos, a map, and curious details about the country. Max and his parents love books and as children’s author, Emilie Buchwald says, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents”… and perhaps travelers as well.

Lonely Planet has also published its first series for children, Not For Parents books on Paris, New York, London, and Rome. The $15 paperbacks offer curious kids cartoons, photos and drawings packed with tidbits on local history, geography, the arts and pop culture. “Not For Parents: Paris, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know,” for example, mentions everything from crepes and the origins of plaster of Paris to a look at Deyrolle, a bizarre showcase for taxidermied animals.

You Can’t Take a Balloon Into… are wordless stories that takes readers on a great balloon chase. You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum tells the tale of a little girl who leaves her prized yellow balloon tied to a railing outside the Metropolitan Museum. Its string becomes untied, and the balloon embarks on an uproarious journey through New York City. With a cast of wacky urban characters in tow, the balloon soars past a host of landmarks and 18 famous paintings and sculptures. This escapade is repeated in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Delightful, wordless books that explore the magical relationship between art and life. Suggested ages: 5 and up. (My 3 year old friend, Max, enjoys this book with his mom. Just depends how much adult involvement there is.)

Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock takes us back a full century to Paris in its glory, when the Impressionists were still alive and the streets teemed with activity and fun-loving kids could meander for hours. Adèle meets her younger brother after school, and cautions him not to lose anything on the way home. The children take a leisurely route, visiting friends, a street market, a park, and two museums. Predictably, Simon leaves an item (his drawing, hat, knapsack, glove) behind at each location. How they’re returned to Simon will delight young readers as will McClintock’s detailed and intricate pen-and-ink with watercolor illustrations.

Books open up the world to children and encourage them to experience life. At Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference, Rick Steves said “Fear is for people who don’t get out very much.” Let’s make sure the next generation is out and about, learning how much in common we all have, and what an amazing place this planet is.

US Cross Country Road Trip

A funny thing happened on the way to the wedding… we decided to convert our Honda CRV into a camper van and drive from Washington State to Maryland. We are fortunate to have some liberty with how much time we take. Initially, we were thinking a month, but as we begin to plan, five weeks seems more reasonable. To plot our round-trip route we are using an application of Google maps – My places.


View Cross Country Wedding Trip in a larger map

Our travels will be a mix of Interstate and back road driving, and we are searching for our copy of Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. First published in 1982, this is the story of the author’s journey in an old van, to see the real United States driving only the lesser roads (marked on the map in blue). Jay remembers enjoying the interviews of characters he met along the road. And describes the book being about the journey versus the destination – the idea that as we slow down we see more.

Here are some other books that cross country travelers have enjoyed:

Hearing that we will be touring South Dakota, visiting both Badlands National Park and Bear Butte State Park, a  good friend of ours, Robin, suggested we read The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Jay will be posting soon on How to Convert a Honda CRV into a Camper Van… In the meantime, let us know what books you would recommend… audio book suggestions are welcome as well.

Please follow us on our journey. See “Stay In Touch” on the right sidebar and sign up to get our posts for free via email, RSS, or Twitter. Here are links to blog posts from the journey, as they happen:

Crossing the North Cascades

Dinner in Spokane, WA

Historic Wallace, Idaho

Butte, Montanta

Yellowstone National Park

Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

The New Landscape in Iowa

Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY too

Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials

Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

Japan – Lessons in Simple Living

Travels to Tokyo and Kyoto have given me and Jay a flavor for urban living in Japan, and in the Kyoto area the surrounding mountains and countryside suggested a rural way of life. And as we know from living on an island where some of us call the mainland “America” – remote, rural areas attract independent thinkers and alternate ways of life. So for a mix of reasons, when I heard that author, Andy Couturier, was visiting our local independently owned bookstore, Darvill’s, I was interested.

A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance

Andy’s latest book:  A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, tells 11 peoples journeys. Artists, philosophers, and farmers who reside deep in the mountains of rural Japan living simply yet surrounded by the luxuries of nature, art, contemplation, healthy food, and an abundance of time.

As I learned at the book reading, many of the folks in the book spent years living in India and Nepal, and “what they learned there powerfully influenced everything from from their emphasis on making things with their own hands all the way to their spiritual and philosophical orientation toward life.” Now back in Japan they are living out their philosophy – providing for their needs with minimum interaction with the huge economic system that surrounds them and realizing great freedom.

As I read the chapters and savor the stories, I find myself thinking – what is my philosophy?  and how can I live more simply and joyfully while reducing my footprint on our planet. Good food for thought, and, as Andy says of his book, “even if it only serves as a window onto a different set of possibilities and lets you meet some very extraordinary people, and perhaps gives you a smile or a laugh, that will have been enough.”

About the author:  Andy Couturier has studied Buddhist meditation and many other Asian philosophical systems, and has traveled extensively in Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. He has been a researcher for Greenpeace and taught writing for more than a decade. He is the author of Writing Open the Mind: Tapping the Subconscious to Free the Writing and the Writer and has written for Adbusters, the MIT Press, Kyoto Journal, Creative Nonfiction, The North American Review, The Oakland Tribune, and Ikebana International. He directs his own creative writing center, The Opening, at www.theopening.org.

Singapore for business and pleasure

Singapore is one of my favorite cities to visit. Though I generally visit on business, there is always time for pleasure… and Singapore is a fine place to enjoy dining, night life, lush tropical parks, beaches, and shopping.

Singapore River Boat and bridge
Scene along the Singapore River

Singapore’s legendary efficiency is obvious from the first moments after arrival. You will breeze through customs in a matter of seconds, thanks to their embrace of modern technology.  On the way into town from the ultra modern airport, you may note that cars never go over the posted speed limit. The streets are immaculate as they wind through a veritable garden of paradise. Then the city appears ahead – pristine, luminous, shiny and new.

The Fullerton Hotel with River Kids sculpture
Sculpture surrounds The Fullerton Hotel (in the background)

My destination is The Fullerton Hotel in the downtown financial and arts district. The hotel’s Colonial style belies the cool modern interior, welcome in the tropical heat of Singapore. Built in 1928 on the Singapore river, the Fullerton Building was the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life. It was home to three of the most important institutions of Singapore – The General Post Office, The Singapore Club, and The Chamber of Commerce. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a visit… there are several excellent restaurants, as well as a first rate international buffet, and a bar that is set amidst the lovely original ceiling and pillars of the old Post Office… and enjoy an evening stroll by the river to enjoy the various sculptures along the way.

Singapore Sculpture Business Men
Fantastic sculpture of business men near the hotel
Singapore Sculpture Three Men
Another fine bronze sculpture in the area

The legendary Raffles Hotel is a short walk away. Immortalized in the novels of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, the hotel exemplifies Singapore’s colonial-style architecture amid lush tropical gardens. Go there for tea, drinks, or fine dining – including the Long Bar – home of the world renowned Singapore Sling, and the Tiffin Room, which continues the tradition of Afternoon Tea. The Raffles Hotel Museum looks at the history of the Hotel largely in the context of the Golden Age of Travel. This period, spanning 1880 to 1939, saw the rise of popular tourism and coincided with the opening of the Hotel. This was the era when Singapore was known as the “Crossroads of the East“. Museum hours are 10 am to 7 pm daily. There is no admission charge.

Singapore River Tree
Strolling along the Singapore River

My favorite time to shop is at night, to see buildings adorned with garish signs, and people strolling down the streets, chatting with friends, looking for bargains. Though there are numerous places to shop around downtown, if you are shopping for electronics, cameras, and gadgets, consider heading over to “Little India” – a bustling earthy part of town, where you can let your hair down and haggle with the merchants for the big deal of the day. The various pictures on this blog were taken with a camera I bought in Little India – Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with 3.5x 24mm Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lensmy favorite camera, ever!

To fortify you for your evening of wheeling and dealing, follow your nose to one of the wonderful Indian restaurants that are everywhere in Little India. Hidden among the bustle of Little India is Race Course Road . On this tiny lane you will find Banana Leaf Apolohoused in three units of a two-storey shophouse it is most famous for its fish head curry. The restaurant has been open for 30 years, serving both North and South Indian cuisine to locals eager for a taste of great curry, and tourists, like us, who have heard about this a restaurant from an expat friend (thank you Pam!).

Singapore Indian Food
Our feast at the Banana Leaf Apolo

A recent article in the New York Times Travel section, 36 Hours in Singapore, offers up more ideas of things to do and places to stay…

“A long tradition of strong regional cuisine and strict hygiene laws makes for some of the world’s best — and safest — street food. Nowadays most of the hawkers are concentrated in covered food halls so that ingredients are kept cool, and preparation methods and cleanliness can be kept to a uniform standard. At the Maxwell Road Food Center near Chinatown, vendors sell everything from dumplings to onion pancakes to dessert: at Tian Tian (No. 11), try the chicken rice; at Hokee (No. 79), the soup dumplings, and at No. 848, fresh fruit and juice (one, a bitter gourd and honey mix, promises “to reduce heatiness (sic).” Prices are 1 to 8 Singapore dollars.”

Yahoo Travel offers 5 of Singapore’s best restaurants with a view

  • Sky on 57, Level 57 SkyPark Tower 1, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 10 Bayfront Avenue
  • Level 33, #33-01 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, 8 Marina Boulevard
  • Barnacles, Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Road
  • Clifford, Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay
  • iL Cielo, Level 24, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road

And the Lonely Planet Singapore (City Travel Guide) gets good reviews as a handy paperback (200 pages) and written in conjunction with a Singapore resident. The expanded coverage of neighborhoods includes two new walking tours and three new excursions; plus helpful cultural insights & local secrets from a comedian, curator, theater director, writer and scholar. If you have access to a computer the content is updated daily at lonelyplanet.com.


Book gifts for travelers & food lovers

Today I read about two interesting books – one for the travel lover and the other for the food lover on your gift list (or to add to your own wish list, as I have).

Seattle folks know Nancy Pearl as their librarian until 2004… now many of us know her as a book reviewer for National Public Radio (NPR) where she travels the world talking about books and writes. Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers is her latest offering. Whether you are up for an adventure or looking for a good armchair read, Pearl recommends fiction and nonfiction titles for over 120 destinations around the globe.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Nancy talks about her favorite reads:

Michael Mewshaw and his book Between Terror and Tourism: An Overland Journey Across North Africa. I had given up reading Paul Theroux because he’s so cranky, but Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town was great. Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (ironically titled — the walk is not short). Colin Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road; In Siberia). Peter Fleming (Brazilian Adventure), who was the brother of Ian Fleming.

My next find of the day is Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition by Georgia Pellegrini. Browsing the first chapter I learn that Pellegrini is a supporter of local growers and authentic flavors. Her chapter titles disclose the nature of her heroes: The Potato Breeder, Fighting for Salami, Butter Poetry, The Persimmon Masseuse… and each chapter closes with a couple recipes using those foods.

Pellegrini is a professional chef who attended the French Culinary Institute in NYC and worked at the renowned Gramercy Tavern. She now travels the world tasting good food and meeting the people who make it.

Springtime in Kyoto, Japan

April 2007 found us in Tokyo and Kyoto for 10 days… I tagged along on a business trip of Jay’s. Here are some notes and impressions I jotted down at the time… this blog covers Kyoto.

Sketch with watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan
Watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Springtime in Kyoto… showers of cherry blossoms. There is a happiness, a festive feeling associated with the blossoms as they fly through the air, some attaching to our jackets… a sense of the seasons… time passing.

Our overnight visit to Kyoto begins with the Shinkansen – the bullet train. Japan is where regular, high-speed railways began, and in 140 minutes we are transported from Tokyo, the bustling capitol of Japan, to the relatively quiet, historic city of Kyoto. At the recommendation of a friend, we stay at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto –  a beautiful 15 story hotel above Kyoto station – centrally located and convenient for our one night stay.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto is an integral part of the architecturally striking masterpiece, the JR Kyoto Station Building, which also includes a department store, museum, musical theater, and a vast underground shopping mall. For art lovers, the elegant Hotel Granvia is home to over 1000 pieces of stunning art based on the theme of “The Contrast of Modern and Traditional Art”. The artwork of Kyoto-based artists, some of the most famous in Japan, is prominently featured among the paintings, sculptures, and industrial art on display and accentuated by photographs adorning the guest rooms.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto, JR Kyoto Station
The Hotel Granvia is an integral part of the architecturally striking JR Kyoto Station Building

Our treasured guide for this first whirlwind experience of Kyoto is Old Kyoto – A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns by Diane Durston. The author lived in Kyoto for 18 years and has compiled a very personal guide to Kyoto’s elegant past that can still be found if you are interested and willing to explore the city’s narrow, quiet side streets.

One of the pages I have turned down in Durston’s book is for the restaurant Takasebune whose lunch special is tempura. Located near the Takasegawa Canal and named after the flat boats that used to carry merchandise up the canal, Takasebune is a small family restaurant. Our “tempura teishoku” includes a generous bowl of miso soup, rice, pickles, and a basket of crisply batter-fried tempura shrimp, fish and vegetables. As recommended by Durston we dine at the tiny counter in front where we can watch all the culinary activity. Feeling like giants in this small historical space we are served a delicious, inexpensive lunch.

Takasebune known for crispy tempura and fine fish dishes
Traditional Takasebune is known for it's crispy tempura and fresh fish dishes
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan

After lunch we continue our walk to Ippodo Tea which Durston says” has been perfuming the neighborhood for 140 years with the finest green tea from Uji, the most famous tea producing region in Japan, just south of Kyoto”. The smell draws us in as do the old timbers and old tea jars lining the wall. Helpful clerks will steep a sample cup of tea and guide you in your purchase.

Asahi-do Ceramics is easy to find, housed in a modern building on a main street. They offer the widest selection of Kiyomizu ceramics in Kyoto (ceramics made in the area below Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple). There are two types of Kiyomizu ceramics: porcelain and earthenware. Both types are thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel and decorated by hand. Lovely selection of ceramics displayed in a gallery setting.

Our final destination requires a cab to find and is well worth it. Aizen Kobo Indigo Textiles is on a narrow backstreet in the textile district of Kyoto. Master dyer Kenichi Utsuki still works in this 120-year-old building, where he was born and raised and where his father and grandfather worked as textile artisans as well. Today his shop is one of the only places in Kyoto where handwoven, hand-dyed, and hand-embroidered garments of hon-ai or real indigo are attainable.

The key to the rich blue that Japanese indigo and Aizen Kobo are famous for is in the microorganisms produced when the indigo plant is fermented. To keep these bacteria healthy and the dye potent, Kenichi must maintain it at an optimal temperature, and feed it a carefully calculated mixture of wheat-bran powder, limestone powder, ash lye and sake.

Getting the fermentation right takes about two weeks, after which the vat of indigo can be used to dye for a few months. Depending on the kind of material being dyed and the depth of color desired, an item must be dipped and then sun-dried between 20 and 50 times, a process that often takes months. This makes the appeal of chemical indigo dye pretty obvious: with chemical-based indigo, preparation takes less than an hour and one dipping usually does the trick.

Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan
Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan

Stimulated by the days experiences we arrive back at the hotel exhausted. I can’t walk another step. The hotel offers an array of dining possibilities and we choose a restaurant on the top floor with sweeping views of the city. After dinner, a great bath and lights out.

Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse
Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse

Our second and last day in Kyoto. We head out early, walking a route that takes us down the narrow and quiet side streets for a glimpse of Kyoto neighborhoods and daily life. For us walking is key… bringing all the senses to bear. We delight in seeing the vacuum sitting on the perfectly clean carpet in front of the idyllic garden area of a guesthouse, as we take in the pleasant aromas of tea brewing and cakes baking.

Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan
Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan

Nestled in the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto is known as Japan’s most beautiful city and is often called “the city of a thousand temples”. Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto thus spent a millennium as the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion. During this time Kyoto accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines – built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. And Kyoto was one of the very few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombings during World War II.

Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan

After a morning of walking around the famous temples and beautiful gardens surrounding them, we find ourselves back on the Shinkansen, headed back to Tokyo and our flight back home.

Recommended Reading

Old Kyoto: The Updated Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns by Diana Durston

Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital by Judith Clancy

36 Hours in Kyoto, Japan a travel article by Jaime Gross at The New York TImes

Fishing with John

When Jay & I settled in the Pacific NW almost eight years ago, locals spoke of a memoir about fishing in the Northwest – Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer. In her middle age, Edith, who had lived a sophisticated, urban life in New York, met a commercial salmon fisherman in British Columbia, married him, and spent the next four years fishing with him on his 41′ troller, the Morekelp. As transplants from the Washington DC area, Jay & I identified with Edith’s wonder and the sense of adventure she found in the Pacific Northwest.

Last Friday we spent an afternoon on the water with our own fisherman friend, John. Our task was easy enough – bring lunch and cold drinks for the three of us and meet him at the dock at 11am.  Prawn season in the San Juan Islands lasts only a hand full of days, so all the fisherman are eyeing the tide charts in anticipation. We motor toward Spieden Island, and John’s “secret spot”, hoping to avoid the crowd. As we arrive, we smile… there are fisherman everywhere – it seems the secret is out! Not to worry though, we are armed with John’s special bait recipe and I am confident that the four traps we lower into the depths (300 to 500 feet) will do the trick.

Once the traps are baited and lowered, we relax in the brilliant midday sun to enjoy our lunch. Immediately afterwards John begins work on the electric winch – this is the first use of the season. Turns out that a little improvising is needed to make it work but the guys succeed and soon the first trap is on it’s way up!  We all think that it feels extra heavy, laden with a full catch. What a sight! As the trap clears the water we see over 40 gorgeous spot prawns pulsing with life in the cage.  Their eyes glow fluorescent copper. Quickly they are released into the waiting bucket… a few escape onto the deck, adding to the excitement. Jay sorts them and the undersized prawns are released back to the water.  We having a satisfying number of “grandpa” jumbo prawns.  As we move from trap to trap, the catch gets better and better.

Our day ends happily with our quota of spotted prawns! With their succulent sweetness, they will be the stars of our Mother’s Day Fettuccine Alfredo!

Spotted Prawns from the San Juan Islands, WA
Spotted Prawns from the San Juan Islands, WA

Our recipe is inspired by Saveur’s Original Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo with Fresh Prawns

1 1/2 lb. prawns or shrimp (cleaned,reserving shells to create stock)
1 cup white vermouth or white wine and 1 cup water for stock
1 lb. dried fettuccine (I am gluten-free and recommend Tinkyada Brown Rice Fettuccini)
1⁄4 lb. unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 lb. finely grated parmesan (about 3 1⁄4 cup)
chopped tarragon and Italian parsley for garnish
black pepper

  1. Clean the prawns. To make the stock, place the shells in a pan with 1 cup water and 1 cup white vermouth or white wine and bring to a simmer.  After 20 minutes, remove from heat, and strain liquid and return to heat.  Bring to a boil, and poach prawns in the stock for about one minute, until done.  Remove prawns with a slotted spoon. Only add as many prawns as will be covered by the boiling stock.  It’s OK to cook the prawns in batches.  Set the poached prawns aside in a bowl.  Gently simmer the stock for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Cook fettuccine, following directions on the package, until pasta is al dente. For the best results, Saveur says to use dried pasta, which doesn’t break as easily during tossing as fresh egg pasta does.
  3. While pasta is cooking, cut butter into thin pats and transfer to a large, warmed platter, along with the olive oil. Drain pasta and place the pasta over the butter and olive oil on the platter.
  4. Sprinkle grated parmesan and prawns over the pasta and drizzle with 1⁄4 cup of the prawn stock.
  5. Using a large spoon and fork, gently toss the pasta with the butter and cheese, lifting and swirling the noodles and adding more stock as necessary. (The pasta water will help create a smooth sauce.) Work in any melted butter and cheese that pools around the edges of the platter. Continue to mix the pasta until the cheese and butter have fully melted and the noodles are coated.
  6. Garnish with chopped tarragon and parsley, and a grind or two of black pepper to taste.
  7. Serve the fettuccine immediately on warmed plates.

SERVES 4 – 6